Reflections and Tips

Now that I am home Safe and Sound….I feel the need to slowly acclimate to my own culture again. I guess I basically just want to sit here and continue to let the reality of my experience seep in.
You know how something in the future can feel like such a dream….like it will never really happen, the time will never actually come. It is a bit frightening to me that something in the very recent past can also feel like a dream….did it actually happen….was that really me?

This dream of mine could have never become a reality without the support and understanding of my family. My parents fed it, my husband accepted it, my children were I think kind of proud of me. My sister-in-law, probably unknowingly gave me a last minute pep-talk that I needed at the time. And my friends humored me by letting me share.

I began this blog, truly not knowing what a blog was. I always thought they were self-indulgent and pretentious. And I guess they are, but being able to put my thoughts and experiences down each day was such a needed outlet for me; both then and for the future. Without this daily account, I fear my days would have rushed together into a beautiful, overlapping blur. With this, the tangled knot of words that tumble constantly in my head, became an account. An account that can transport me at will… sort of time travel. Allowing me to revisit places, people, moments. In the future, I will probably be able to see aspects more clearly than I did in the moment. This is pretty special.

I am glad to be home. I am thankful for the 2 nights I just had with my family of four under the same roof. When I would wake up in the night, unsure of where I was, that realization was wonderful.

I started a list (many actually) during the trip of things to do when I return home.
*Low-key entertain more….someone else arrives, go in, grab another table and chairs
*Find a recipe for coccolo, make, eat, repeat
*Keep the ingredients for Aperol Spritz on hand and embrace the Aperitif!
*Write Franco & Grazia
*Seek and enjoy some of the same things I loved in Italy at home
*Contact woman I met that teaches Italian lessons via skype and continue to learn the language
*Make my own pasta…fatta in casa

As promised, here is a shot of all the ephemera I packed out of Italia.

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My dad said it looks like the only paper I left behind were euro. And he’s about right. Remember, I needed a carry on bag for only this.
oh, and these…

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I do think carrying a collapsable, smallish bag is a good travel tip…..

Here are are few more I jotted down.

These are things I always had in my purse….it may seem like a lot, but I can substantiate everything in here.

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Here is my black borsa I referred to often. The brand is Co-Lab by Christopher Kon and it was perfect!! The ONLY thing I would want to change about it is give it a zipper closure instead of a magnet one. But it withstood a lot and still looks brand new.
Inside you will find; Sunglasses, an extra pair of readers, a collapsable water bottle, wipes, tissues, wallet with passport inside, fan (love it), hand sanitizer, lotion stick, Chapstick (albeit Dior), phone, camera, extra charged battery, phone case that is charger in one, small journal, pen, sharpie, gum, advil (not easy to find over there), shout, bandaids, earphones (for audio tours…thanks JP), baggie (don’t laugh…you have some extra yummy bread from somewhere….ya take it with you for later), hair tie, fingernail file and pashmina (visiting churches, cooler evenings, dress you bought that stretches out too low when you sweat…..multi use!)

Here is what I carried in my overnight bag.

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Lovie from Avery, clear folder with files (hotels, tours, trains, etc.), zipper pouch with all chargers and adapters, scissors, extra pair of under garments, go to dress, socks (just incase a room gets cold and you do not have enough covers), deodorant, comb, brush, bath gel, moisturizer (I highly suggest visiting Sephora a couple of times and getting a few samples a sample or two of perfume is a must as well) toothbrush & paste and make-up.

Here is what I slimmed down my makeup regimen to-

20130728-183406.jpg The glasses are there just to show you the size.

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That is all. I researched and bought these in December, never opened them, just tucked them away until the trip.

Other essentials-

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Although all but one of my B&Bs had “hairdryers”, I played it safe and packed my own.

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Here are a few more tips from me regarding packing…
*First and foremost….invest in a good, lightweight suitcase with rubber wheels. The wheels are key, especially on the streets of Italy…investing now will save you grief later.
*Pack early and often. I truly started packing a good 6 months ahead of my trip. I would revisit it every few weeks, add to , take away…I still made mistakes, but they are fewer I am sure due to this.
*If traveling alone, make sure you can handle what you have and still “look” in control.
* As far as clothes go….my main tip is pack and wear what makes you feel good (inside) and fairly comfortable outside. I have always heeded the advice of Billy Crystal’s SNL character Fernando, “It is better to look good than to feel good.” And in Europe, what matters is that YOU think you look good. Because I am here to tell you, ANYTHING GOES!! ANYTHING.
But….here is my 2euros….
*an outfit you wear there, pack away and then wear home is great
* anything too big, will get bigger
* dark and tight show sweat
*dark, sleeveless shows deodorant and if that LBD MVP gets white all under the arms, it loses its appeal.
*light, flowy, prints are best
*Maxis are great day and night
*breezy is good but being caught up by the breeze is not (at least for me)
*although heels are worn, (and Lord knows I love my wedges) I only brought sandals….walking on those uneven, cobblestone streets is a challenge.

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I only wore the fold up flats on the plane to and fro, but it was nice to know I had pair of comfy shoes in reserve. The flip flops are a must for beach and bathrooms. The little white pumas were worn (reluctantly) three times; both bike rides and my aborted hike in Cinque Terre. Thank goodness I did not go with my mental image of the girl on a bike cruising along with flowing skirt and scarf…especially on the 18 mile Tour de Apian Way.
The two pair of sandals were workhorses. Again I suggest investing in good, leather sandals. The Tory Burch pair have rubber soles which was great for hilly towns. The nude pair I probably wore the most. Their thin straps allowed for swelling without discomfort.
*I may have already mentioned this but 1 purse is best. Cross body is essential.
*bring your nail-polish for toenail touchups
*White and flowy is very chic….don’t know if you can have too much white
*I think I have touted the merits of a “Travel Pant” enough
*1-2 mix match swimsuits
*wash cloth….not white
*socks and foot lotion
*packable hat (fedoras look the sharpest)
*packable umbrella
*If you are staying several days someplace and you have room, a couple of plastic hangers…never enough
*a mailing tube for posters, art, etc.
* a couple of sharp, white v-neck t’s
and as for my must have…a polar fleece blanket….forget it….we cut a throw in half for this trip and I will tell you, a 1/2 of a blanket does not a blanket make….and it is a pain to pack.
* if traveling with others (husband, kids) EVERYONE needs to carry their own things…guys should not be timid about man bags….Mom should not be in charge of anyone else’s anything…

Much of this might sound silly but I did a lot of research on line for packing tips and could not find much more than “Be sure to bring athletic or walking shoes”…I don’t think so…..
So some of these tips would have helped me.

Later on this week, I hope to post a Best Of list and photos, but for now I need to go make good on some of those promises I made to myself…

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Buon Appetito Ya’ll!

Roam’n Home

When I would leave each town that I had thoroughly enjoyed; Roma, Capri, Monterosso, Firenze, each departure would be bitter sweet. Each visit gave me more than I had anticipated. Each brought sites and experiences that delighted and surprised me. Yet each time, unless I was ready to take up residence, I was ready for the next step.
With the ending of this trip, I feel the same. I am not sick of travel. I am not lonely. I am not aching for the USA. But I am ready. Ready to hold my family. Ready to share. Ready to hear what was experienced in my absence.
So I walk out of Le2 with no regrets.

I had asked Gilles, my cab driver, to pick me up at 8:00am. With my flight out of Nice scheduled for 10:55, Gilles assured me 8:30 would get me to the airport with plenty of time for shopping there. I think that was his way of telling me to push it back even further. However, early arrival has been my mode during this trip. I would rather sit where I am to be than sit waiting to get there.

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I roll myself right outside the city walls and wait. I have no qualms about spending the extra euro on a cab this morning. The walk, bus, train, bus to the airport with a flight to catch makes my stomach tight even after the fact. Too many opportunities for issues there.

Gilles arrives right on time.
We talk a bit during the drive. He shares his opinion of visiting the US. He says he did once for a stop over heading to Hawaii when he was young. He says that now, when he travels, he wants to experience not necessarily an “adventure” but another culture and he feels like the US does not offer that. I think he has a point.

Check in at the airport goes easy. My United flight is being taken by Lufthansa.
We board on time and the first leg is a quick flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

I will tell you that I am sad at this point that German and French are the last two languages ringing through my head. In retrospect, switching my arrival to Vence and flying out of Roma….might have been better…..but……research…..a lot of this was about research.

Remember, my original intent 5 years ago was to “live” in Italy for the entire summer. But when it came down to making a choice of location, I simply did not have the background to make that choice. So, the trip changed. I roamed the areas I thought I would like thinking that would help me cross cities off and or highlight some.

This trip has definitely done that for me.
Cross off Albenga.

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Cross off in the Tuscan countryside with no wheels.

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Cross off France.

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Did I enjoy Vence? Absolutely. But did it surpass Italy? No. Did I think it might? I wondered…

Put another, darker line through Napoli.

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Do I still want to make a kamikaze run (with someone else) in searching for their best pizza? Yes. Do I think it can top the one I had in Sorrento? I challenge them….but don’t tell them that….they scare me.

Highlight Roma. Put a star by Trastevere.

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Highlight Capri. Know I would ONLY ever want to stay in Anacapri.

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Re highlight with stars and exclamation marks Monterosso!!**!!

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Now that I have visited all cinque of the terras, Monterosso reigns uno to me. I did like Riomaggiore too.

Firenze might move to the top of the list as far as a place I would want to “set-up house”.

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Loved the neighborhood I was in.
Love the size and accessibility of the town.
Love the art.
LOVE the FOOD!!

Question mark by Sorrento/Amalfi Coast.

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I enjoyed my time there very much. Probably would not stay in Sorrento proper again, but might want to investigate some of the smaller hotels along the coast for a place for pure relaxation. A perfect place to hole up and not do much exploring.

Know that Milena’s B&B in Chiusi is a wonderful location to use as a home-base for exploring Toscana and Umbria. There are still towns in these regions I would put on my list for next time.

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See….headway was made!

On the plane, I am happy that I brought my own stash.

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Going from the food I have been eating to airplane food is almost cruel.

I will say the flight attendance on Lufthansa were probably the cheeriest I have ever had. It is almost like they have told them, “Just this once, go out there and be the epitome of an old school flight attendant. Be super helpful and chipper…..just this once.”
They made me laugh they were so nice. So Lufthansa earned their wings with me.

By the way, those beautiful muffins I bought in Vence…so, so yummy!

Arriving in the US made me laugh too…

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Uuuhhhmmmm…I don’t think so Denver Airport foodcourt……

At the end of my flight from Denver to Austin is when I about had enough of sitting on a plane. I can never figure out how people sleep during flights….I just can’t do it.
This flight was delayed a bit but we finally arrived in Austin around10:00 pm. That makes about 22 hours of travel from Gilles to Austin.

I was SO HAPPY to see Dalton waiting for me at baggage claim (even if the Ferrari wasn’t….it made it to my doorstep the next afternoon though).

Blaine and I took Dalton back to his Austin digs and headed home. Of course I had to show Mom and Daddy that I had made it HOME safe and sound then it was off to bed.

I am sure that most of you have had enough of my stories by now.
But I do want to close this journey with one more post tomorrow.
Just seeing the “trash” I brought back will be worth it!!

See you then!

Dernier Jour

Embracing the idea of returning home tomorrow, I wake up and begin packing.

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The only thing I do differently this time, is take out the bag that has been lying flat and dormant the entire trip and stuff it will all the ephemera I have collected; train tickets, every single receipt, empty sugar packets, an espresso spoon from here and there (ssshhhhh), map after map, corks, labels, pamphlets, flyers, menus….I have an affection for remembrances like these.
The plan is to create a piece of art or two with them….better in my opinion than anything one can buy.

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Removing this amount from the Ferrari makes it much easier to zip and a bit lighter as well. Only needing to make it from the cab to the airport checkin with 3 bags, I think it is doable. I will also pack my black borsa into the Ferrari putting all important items into my “overnight” bag.

As I pack, I consider what to do with my last day.
I could take the bus again into Nice and hangout at the beach…but I have to tell ya, after the waters of Cinque Terre and Capri…these waters/beaches do nothing for me. The only upside would be being able to say “yeah, I spent a day lying in the sun on beaches of Nice”…..I decide I have enough stories….stories that I love. So I cross that off my list.

I decide I will walk through Vence again and then take a short bus ride to Saint Paul. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French RIviera. It is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries. Plus I already know how to get there….

When I walk out of the B&B I notice that Wednesday must be Vence’s “market” day.

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These are basically the same in most towns. A market where you can buy a bra, a pair of harem pants and a skillet from the same vendor…
After I pass through the area of the gypsy vendors, I come across the food market….this, I like.

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I buy some more cherries; a bag for today and a bag for the plane.

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I buy two of those little muffin things….both for the plane….

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As you can tell, by 9:30 they are almost already sold out.

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Are these the cutest little bags ever!? After I step away, I put both muffins in 1 bag to save the other for my growing pile of treasures.

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20130726-132026.jpg Another crepe place I would love to squeeze in…

20130726-132056.jpg Love their mosaic tables.

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I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something different between Italian vegetables and fruits and French ones….I think one seems a bit more rustic and the other a bit more polished.

20130726-135744.jpg Baby olive trees!!!

20130726-135814.jpg Complete with baby olives!!

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20130726-135953.jpg Another item for the “road”.

After walking through the market, I decided I needed to go back to Le2 to rid me of my haul before going on to Saint Paul.
When I arrived Caroline was pulling this out of the oven.

20130726-140208.jpg tarte aux pommes…que c’est beau!

She told me they were having a dinner tonight and did I want to be included? Since this place was advertised as a “Bed and Bistro” and I had yet to see them cook….it was now or never.

Before leaving town, I visited Our Lady of the Nativity. One of the pieces of art there is a mosaic by the artist Marc Chagall.

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In the balcony area of the church, there are also wood carvings depicting Christ’s Crucifixion.

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After this, it was on to Saint Paul. Oh…..but wait….another street vendor selling something that looked good to eat….I had to stop and try.

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He would ladle a liquid onto a large, round pan he had just prepped with olive oil.

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He would place it in the wood fire oven and slowly turn it, allowing it to bubble and brown.

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This is when he asked me how many pictures I was taking. “A lot” I replied. He then told me how much he would charge me for them…..he was joking….I think.

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After about 5 minutes, he takes it out of the oven and

20130726-141612.jpg viola!

At this point I still have no idea what I am waiting in line for (kinda like the people at the Duomo). Is it savory? Is it sweet? I think it is sweet.
I ask him what is in the mixture.
Chickpeas ground, olive oil and water….that’s all. Ok…I think it is savory.

He then takes a little spatula and begins to quickly scrap up pieces adding them to the plates that number however many people are waiting.
He then asked me if I wanted the seasoning on mine. I told him I wanted it however he thought best.

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20130726-141930.jpg Salty and Crunchy on the outside, a bit gooey on the inside….my kind of cheap eats!!

OK…NOW off to Saint Paul…

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In Saint Paul, I am greeted with these wonderful mosaics in the streets. Saint Paul is another precious little medieval town, definitely worth a visit.

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I head back to Vence, clean up and I still have a couple of hours before dinner at Le2. So I roam a bit more then light at a cafe for a glass of the rose and some time to reflect. I am starting to fill in my “Best Of” list.

20130726-151906.jpg Oh yeah, and some french sweets for the plane.

When it is time to find my spot at a dinner table, I say au revoir to the streets of Vence and head back to Le2.
Again I think the gathering is that of friends. I am totally confused by the “bistro” title in their name. When I arrive, another table has to be set for me, which feels a bit awkward at first but what the heck. They throw out another red and white gingham checked table cloth and we are set.
One of Caroline’s friends (they send whomever speaks the best english my way) comes over and asks what I would like for dinner. I am thrown because there is no menu, nothing posted…
she asks, “plat d jour?” “Sure” I respond.

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20130726-154323.jpg My last glass of wine….

After a while the area is pretty crowded. People hover not knowing whether it is a restaurant or a party. I still don’t know because at times, they would go in, return holding a table and a few more chairs and more people would join in.
I forgot to mention that there is music as well. Really nice guitar and saxophone. They said it was “bassa nova”.

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Later in the evening, they ask if it is ok to sit somebody else with me. I get a Sammy Hagar looking frenchman. He speaks a little english so we talk a bit. At one point he tells me in a hushed tone that he is an “actor”. When he says this, he holds his hand to his face as if to say, “Please don’t tell anyone else….I am trying for incognito”. Secret is safe with me buddy.

Before I turn in, I ask for a piece of Caroline’s dessert and cannot be understood. I whip out my phone and show the photo of it I took earlier…Like Napoleon said, “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours.”

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I return to my room enjoying the sounds from the party below before saying bonne nuit one last time.

Matisse in Nice

OK…Have ya missed me? I have not been able to post. The internet in my room at Le2 is super spotty. If I go out in the hall, stand on 1 leg by the window, it seems to connect, but when I turn to go back in the room….I lose it again.

So let’s catch up….

Another item on my list while in Vence was to visit the Matisse Museum in Nice. The tourist office had given me a flyer highlighting the museum.

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In reading it last evening, accompanied by a glass of the area’s Provence Rose, I learned it was closed on Tuesdays. So Monday was my only choice…that makes it easy.

While I enjoyed my typical French breakfast,

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I created a couple of “flash cards” to aid me in my travels.

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That ought to about do it right?

I knew there were 2 buses that would take me into Nice. One, the 400, I rode to Vence when I arrived. The other, the 94, I believe, was supposedly a more direct bus into Nice. I chose that one.

When I made it to the bus circle in the new area of Vence, the 94 was there and waiting. Perfect.
I boarded and told the driver I wanted to go to the Musee Matisse…..I get a stare I am all too familiar with….but this time it is in French….
I repeat….nothing….so I whip out my iphone flashcard….still nullite…
I show him the map illustration in the Matisse flyer and say, “Nice”….
“Ah…oui, oui…Nice”
But this is not said in a friendly way, this is said like, “sure lady, whatever, move on and sit.”
Loud and Clear….so I did….but as customary, I sit CLOSE to the driver….
My first choice in seats, a bit behind the entry door but the first to the driver’s right was taken….by a young girl who seemed to be “involved” with the driver. So I had to take my 2nd choice, directly behind the driver….and the barrier behind his seat.

We are on our way as I follow the scheduled stops on my bus route/schedule handout.
These are VERY helpful….I suggest grabbing any and all while visiting a city. HOWEVER, the stop the Matisse flyer said to get off at was not on the list.
We pass through Cagne Sur Mer….my old stomp’n grounds, so I know Nice is coming up….
Long bus ride short, I could not get any help from the driver, his girlfriend (they were in some sort of tiff… The ENTIRE drive, he would look back at here….while driving….whisper….look apologetically, and she in return would whisper…..and look down.
Give me Italians that yell everything and ya know where you stand!!
At one point, feeling a bit desperate, I got her attention and asked, “Do you speak ANY english?”
I received a curt “No” with nullite eye contact….she wouldn’t even entertain the international pointing and gesturing….
ANYWAY, an hour later, we are at a stop with lots of other buses. I notice everyone is getting off here. I reluctantly try the driver one more time, showing him, once again, the map in the flyer. I get a parting point and “tourist office”. I exit sharing my best French glare….. (later I spotted the two under a tree making out).

OK…time to access….I do not want to turn on my phone. ( that thing has made me nervous the entire trip…next trip I will definitely get an Italian SIM card put in upon arrival…that way you pay up front and when you use it up….you can pay more…. )
I have zero idea where I am. I have zero idea where the musee is located in reference to where I am….so I walk a bit, looking for the allege “tourist office” always keeping the location of the “bus circle” in the front of my mind….
I see no tourist office…so my last resort is a taxi…..
As you know by now, I hate paying for this, but it is the only means I can find to my end.
I get in the air conditioned Mercedes and say, “Musee Matisse s’il vous plaît” and we are quickly on our way.

The good news is I COULD NOT have walked to it, it was a bit of a drive up from the main part of the city.

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I am excited about this visit for a couple of reasons. Number one, I love Matisse. Number two, I love visiting WHERE an artist worked and Number three, from the flyer, I learned that there is a special exhibit now through September celebrating the 50th year of the museum….again, perfect timing. There will be pieces on loan from other museums that are not part of the housed collection.

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I need to tell you this before “we” enter…once again there are no photographs allowed inside the musee, so you will just have to take my word about some things…

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Matisse Museum presents the exhibition “Matisse. The Music at Work”. The exhibition is divided into two parts; The Silence of Music and The Sound of Colour.

As I have mentioned, I have always admired Matisse’s use of line. Much like Picasso, his friendly rival, Matisse’s use of line looks fluid, effortless. During this exhibit and reading his words, I am encouraged to learn that this “ease” came with study and practice.
In one narrative, Matisse likens drawing with a “crayon” to that of playing the violin with a bow. He explains that the smallest distraction during the execution of a line can involuntarily bring with it slight pressing and can influence a line adversely much like that of the wrong pressure on the bow brings an off note to the music.

“Accuracy, clarity, harmony- the movement in which the hand sings”. Henri Matisse

Also being able to see his work close up, noticing the draftsman like marks on a piece that you once felt were pure inspiration.

At one point in his life, Matisse took up playing the violin seriously. When his wife inquired as to why, Matisse shared that he had a fear of going blind. He explained that a blind man must give up painting but not music. I found this touching.

One of my favorite displays was a collection of scraps in the middle of a room. Each individual piece of cut out, painted paper was mounted in the center of a large piece of white paper and set in a gold frame. These frames were then hung on kind of a “poster” display mounting…where you could flip through each one. I loved seeing these discarded pieces. The pin holes, and in some the pins, were still evident where Matisse would pin to a wall to consider their placement in his overall design. Can you imagine just owning this small treasure? Something he had held, used his large scissors to create those beautiful organic shapes and then thought…”No, not this one”.

I love that his family kept them and that they want the viewer to understand his process….and my students wonder why I never want their “scraps” thrown away….

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Blue Nude was a popular piece my students chose to replicate in their painted paper collages. Seeing it in person, with its imperfect cuts, overlapping shapes and pencil marks made me understand the process better.

Matisse’s use of line, color and pattern earn him a special place in my heart. I am thrilled to have visited the town that meant so much to him.

“I decided never to leave Nice, and remained there nearly my entire existence.” Henri Matisse

After I left the museum, I wanted to visit Matisse’s tomb. I was finding entry to the cemetery difficult, there was construction going on around it with tarps and scaffolding concealing the entrance.
I did however see an open gate, so I went to it. It was being blocked by a van, its doors open by the gardeners that were working inside. I entered tentatively. The woman working inside was no help when I asked, “Matisse’s Tomb?”

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I walked through the pictured area, not seeing what I thought I was looking for. Each time I would follow a short walkway, it would dead-end. Quickly I decided to leave before the gardener closed the gate. Spending the night locked in here did not give me a warm feeling.

Finding a bus back to the center of town proved difficult as well. The one I did find, parked close to the museum, was in the driver’s words “caput”. As I walked considering my options, one of those double decker buses stopped near. You know the type….the ones “tourist” ride while listening to commentary….
This is usually NOT an option to me, but remembering how difficult getting to the museum proved, I stuck my head in and asked the driver, “Do you speak english.” “Yeah, sometimes,”he said with a drawl…. At this point, I welcomed an english speaking smart A….

He told me that for 20euro I could ride the bus and get off at the bus center when I wanted. He did advise me that he thought it was not a very good deal thought. However, the taxi to the museum cost the same and this guy I could communicate with, so I hopped on.

At the center of Nice, I got off and walked around a bit..

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At night, the “people” on top of those poles illuminate in different colors.

To me Nice is a busy, tourist packed town. I walked a little along the promenade that defines the “French Rivera”…… I’ll take Monterosso….

Back at the bus circle, I hopped on the 400 and headed back to Vence.
When I arrived, hungry, I found a sidewalk bistro that offered crepes.

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With only one day left, I enjoyed an evening stroll then went back to the room to research and read.

Monsieur Matisse

So why Vence? Why come to France after a month plus in Italy?
Let’s go back to the planning stage(s) again.

By January 2013, the outline of the trip was pretty much nailed down and it was tutta Italia.
And then inspiration came from someone else. Henri Matisse.
Early in the fall semester, we began studying Henri Matisse in Art III.
Matisse had long been a favorite of mine.

I was visiting Washington D.C. with Mom and Dad in, I will guess and say, 1986? One day while Daddy attended a no doubt thrilling auditing conference, Mom and I sought refuge from the oppressive heat in the National Gallery.
I have a strong memory of seeing a Matisse for what I remember as the first time. You would think I would remember the exact painting, although I think it was “Still Life with Woman Sleeping”, I cannot be certain.
What I do remember are the colors, the unmistakable use of black line simply, yet fluidly rendered to create the feminine form. I remember being able to see the cloth of the canvas where the paint on the brush had run thin. I remember staring at his signature.
I remember the mood; the mood in the painting and the mood it evoked.
I did not feel sad or melancholy as I do when in the presence of a Van Gogh. When I looked at a Matisse, I felt happy, content. At that moment, Matisse leap-frogged Monet as one of my favorite artists. (Monet is no longer even in the top few, although I love and admire his work.)

I was excited to introduce my students to Monsieur Matisse. In preparation for this introduction, I viewed a documentary, A Model for Matisse. The film highlights a little known and tender relationship between Henri Matisse and a Dominican nun, Sister Jacque-Marie.

“The unlikely pair worked together from conception to completion of Matisse’s tour de force, the Chapelle du Rosaire (Chapel of the Rosary) in the French village of Vence” (Carnegie Mellon News)

After I viewed this, I felt as if I had spent an evening with Grandma Guidry. Sister Jacque-Marie reminded me so much of her. I bought the dvd, shared it with my students and mom and dad.

I was aware of the chapel of course, but the film was the inspiration for my visit to Vence.

So fast forward to Sunday morning. Last night, I was reading a bit about the area, noted the limited hours of the chapelle for tours but also noticed mass on Sundays at 10:00 am.
I did not want to get my hopes up, but I thought how wonderful that would be.
I assumed it would be a short bus ride over to the chapelle, having spied it on the opposite hill last night. But at breakfast, I was told it was a short 15 minute walk (he later added 15, 30 an hour? to his declaration).
I like the idea of walking. I feel more in control that way.

As I followed my hand drawn map, stopped every once in a while for support. There was one woman that actually looked at my information and tried to listen to me. After a moment she said, “Aaaahhhh Matisse.” It was as if she knew him….listening to her say his name was beautiful. She continued on in French, but smiled and nodded making me feel I was heading in the correct direction.

20130722-201320.jpg OK…Looking good.

20130722-201447.jpg bon bon

20130722-201626.jpg And Voila!
While I walked, I still had no idea regarding the protocol of attending mass….I continued to keep my hopes at bay. But RIGHT when I arrived, a woman came from the chapelle, unlocked the gate and welcomed the few waiting in….I just followed.

Photographs in the chapelle are strictly forbidden…that means that the people that just entered a church, made the Sign of the Cross and prayed and prayed….disregarded that commandment…..however, I could not bring myself to do so in the chapelle proper. I took a couple of photos before entering, in the foyer, and one of my feet as I stood. The other photos I have are poor ones from the internet, but I wanted you to be a little familiar if you were not.

Entering, I was prepared for the stark design and lighting. What I was not prepared for was the size of the chapelle. It it tiny! I would say it is a bit larger than our living room and kitchen put together, a bit wider, but that is it.

20130722-202358.jpg Above the entrance.

20130722-202422.jpg In the foyer.

20130722-202455.jpg A photo without the chairs for mass.

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The tile walls with Matisse’s drawings of Mary and Jesus and on the back wall, the Stations of the Cross simply drawn in his unmistakable style.

20130722-202702.jpg The alter and tabernacle with the sun from the stained glass shining in.

20130722-202905.jpg Me in awe.

I was struck by the appropriateness of ending my visit of cathedrals and attendance at several masses in stunning, grand surroundings at this simple, beautiful chapelle. From Papa Francesco to this very personable French priest. It made me smile.

It was still early, about 9:40. I secured a spot and then walked back to the door of the confessional. I think of all the aspects of the chapelle, the door is my favorite. So simple, patterned of course and white.
As the chapelle began to fill, an older man walked through greeting everyone. He would shake hands, ask where they were from (in french) and then speak briefly to them, myself included. When we spoke, he said, “oohhh la la people from United States, Spain, England, France….oooohhhh la la”. As I suspected it was the priest.

This was a wonderful way to end my trip. The surroundings, the intimacy…
And if that was not enough…..He made sure I heard the message. They passed out the readings in each language needed.

Martha, Martha,
you worry and fret about so many things,
and yet few are needed, indeed only one.”
(Luke 10:41-42a)

Did He choose this for me!!??!!

As the mass began, I could tell although I could not understand a word, this man was speaking to his parish….in such a small, intimate setting, he would speak, ask questions (even thought EVERYTHING in French sounds like a question to me) and people in the church would answer…there was interaction going on…it was wonderful. He would laugh, they would laugh. He would ask, they would respond. He would ponder, they would nod their heads….

EVERY aspect of the chapelle was a collaborative effort between Matisse and Sister Jacque-Marie, including this cross, the chalice and candle sticks on the altar and the vestments.

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Even if you are not into Matisse and art, I recommend seeing “A Model for Matisse”. I am happy to lend you my copy or you can rent it on Netflix.

After mass, I returned to the historic center of Vence, walked around a bit (again, A LOT of things are closed on Sundays) and decided to “visit” another artist, Marc Chagall. I do not know much at all about Chagall, but everything I have seen on his personality point to a very happy, playful man.

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And when there is a special exhibit in your own “backyard” why not right?

The rest of the day did not bring much. I did a bit of research regarding my plans for tomorrow, followed another one of Nicolai’s restaurant recommendations

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Walked home

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Got in bed with a new good book and listened to the church bells ring all night (that is not a bad thing).

Arrivederci Italia ** Bonjour France

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As I wait for (what I think to be) my last train in Italia. I consider what is all behind me.

The trip/dream that seemed so far in the future is now slipping through my fingers. A trip that was proposed five years ago, now only has about five days remaining. Time is a funny thing isn’t it.

Many people did not understand me (or anyone I guess) doing this trip on my own. One person even responded, “Oh how awful!” when I first told her about it.
But it was something I thought I wanted to do. “Thought” because you really cannot know. Planning something on paper becomes something quite different when other people/places/events get thrown in the ring.
I do not know if the correct word is “adventure”. I think for me it was more about being independent…my way…no ties….no worries that I might screw something up or make someone else mad or disappointed. Or a much stronger possibility, I get my feelings hurt.
Go, See, Turn Left, Turn Right, In, Out, Sleep, Eat, Sit, Walk, Wait……it was all up to me.

I do not think a person can chase their dreams from place to place, but I think you can walk through a lot of them.

I kinda thought this trip would change me…if good happened, if bad happened…I’d be a better person for it. And to tell you the truth…I do not think that has happened. I remember asking my mom, during a walk several years ago, “How does someone FIND themselves?” and she quickly responded, “I do not think it is about FINDING but about DEFINING.” So, with this, I get to add another little number to the definition of Me.

As I sit on platform 3 of the Albenga stazione, I begin to once again get nervous regarding boarding the correct train. The announcements keep saying something about a retarded train and the people around me got off the last one that stopped here and are still standing around waiting.
My train to Ventimiglia is to depart at 10:38, but “people” are telling me to board the one here now and it is a bit early….even the attendant says, “Si, si , sisis…Ventimiglia” When I show her my ticket. The part that confuses me is that this time I actually have a PRIMO class with assigned carriage and seat….and I have been in Italia long enough to know a 2nd class train when I see one….but as has been my philosophy…there’s ALWAYS another train going somewhere…so I hop on.

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Who needs PRIMO class and air conditioning anyway….not me in the past 24 hours…and YES, these are the same clothes I traveled in yesterday….I told you I did not unpack ANYTHING…more on that when my travel tips come out on another post…..

Anyway, I have this beautiful fan that I painstakingly picked out in Firenze…and they DO come in handy…
So we chug along….every so often I ask someone, “Ventimiglia?” By the way the “g” is silent…..
and 6 out of 7 give me a “Si, si, sisisi.”
The deal is now that I am on a train that left at a different time, and it is a 2nd class one, I have no reference of when we should arrive. My last schedule made it look like it was about an hour trip…on a 2nd class train, considering the stops….that could make it 3 days for all I know…

We are traveling along the coast. The water is not as pretty as it was behind me…nor the towns as picturesque.

We arrive in Ventimiglia and at this point, all prearranged travel is over. At this stop, I have to wait at the long information/ticket booth housing a real person. As I wait, I survey the options on the destination board. Nice ville is where I think I need to go in order to catch a bus to Vence, my final destination.

So 6,80euro later, I have a ticket to Nice ville in hand….the train is to depart in minutes…great timing…

This train has no air either, so I stand near a window a lot of the time. As we are leaving Italia, there is a big, dark cloud over the mountain behind us….awww…I think-a she eees-a crying-a for me-a.

We pick up speed, traveling through many a L O N G tunnel. I can’t help but get kinda spooked in them. They seem lawless to me…during an especially long one, I notice the clock on my iPhone slips back an hour….creepy!!!

And also, at some point, the language around me has gone from Italian to French….
At least with the Italian language, I could understand every 10th word or so. The andiamos, ciaos, adessos, echos, quas, alloras and bravas sprinkled about comforted me. Now all I hear is “blah, blah, blahblahblah, oui.” Not good.

Arrivederci Italia! Grazie di tutto!

The train makes a stop but it is not mine. As the doors open, I hear the unmistakable sound of the announcement system in the stations. This makes me SMILE!! During the trip with the kids and mom, we laughed so much at that little “jingle”. I can still picture the kids doing this little jig when they would hear it…I am laughing now and that feels good.

20130721-150342.jpg Bienvenue en France!

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20130721-150556.jpg The Nice ville station.

I enter the train station and size things up….in French…..no clue….so I just look for lines.
I am assuming at this point that I need to get a bus to Vence. From the itty bitty amount of research I did, I think I am about 20 miles away or so.
The first woman says, “Blah, blah, blah, blahblahblahblah, no.” Gotcha…But luckily she points in english. So I go there.
Here I find out I need to board another train to Cagnes Sur Mer and THEN a bus to Vence.
I can do trains.
At first I get a bit nervous when she says, “Blah, blahblahblah” while shaking her head. She seems disappointed to tell me the next train does not leave for over an hour.
No problem…I can do waiting as well.

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20130721-151416.jpg THIS is the last one…I guess…

This train is PACKED!!! Anticipating my stop coming fairly quickly, I do not push and shove to get on, I instead squeeeeeeze on at the end, securing a spotish by the door. I do not know HOW one would exit if they were actually seated with luggage somewhere.
I know I am on the right train, but I can NOT understand the perky little French girl that is announcing the stations….
Standing by the door is an attendant. I casually hold my ticket where he can see my stop, thinking he will either make a face that we have already passed it or alert me when we are getting near.
My slick technique worked!! Before we stopped, he started moving people out of the way, because at the station the opposite door was the exit door. He took my bag and placed it on the platform for moi. Merci monsieur…

So NOW I look for a bus right? OK, I find a window…the two people behind it speak very little english. I speak ZERO french…but again the pointing gets me from one “point” to the next.

I remember on my first trip to Europe with Mom and Jim. When we left Italy, I had this thought (I wish I had italics there) that French would come easy to me…I actually thought that! Instead, I was a nervous wreck each time someone would speak to me…here we go again.
I think the encounters I had with people in Italy, were more casual. I felt they were willing and kind of enjoyed the exchange.

OK, so the guy behind the glass points me to the street….I think he said something that sounded like “collage”….but as he said it he looked around for help….none came.
So I exit and hang a right….I walk along with my worldly possessions….and a line from Hope Floats comes to mind, “You stink Justin Matisse.”

A bus, there’s a bus…..so I runish, stick my head in and say, “Vence?” He shakes his head no and points…got it…..So I keep walking….across a freeway….again, Daddy would have loved that. But I just could not pay for a cab not knowing how far or close, hard or easy something else would be….lesson learned.

20130721-152854.jpg I find a bus stop….and I look and look at these…..I have to just call them letters….they are not even words to me….

20130721-152953.jpg Then I stare at this one long enough and start making something out. I THINK I might be in the right place. About 10 minutes goes by, bus 200 passes….I think it is the 400 I need, and then it arrives.
I board and pay.
I will be honest…at this point, I am near crumbling. I am tired (thank The Lord for the overnight in Albenga….a day from Poggibonsi would have never worked), I am hot, I am sweaty, I stink AND you guessed it, I AM HUNGRY!! The cappuccino and croissant at the Hotel Magnolia are long gone.
AND to top it off….I really don’t have a clear idea of where I am headed….I know WHY I am going to Vence, but where it is is not how it seemed on paper.
When I see a beautiful town perched on a hill, I tap the woman next to me and point trying to convey that that point is a question. She looks at me blankly and says “Saint Paul”.
I do not even know enough to know whether Saint Paul and Vence or one in the same and this woman is not interested in the promotion of world peace.

I will cut to the chase…Vence comes after Saint Paul. In Vence, you will be let out at a little bus circle. At that point you need to once again choose a direction to walk.
I again could not contact my B&B before arriving, so I fire up the cellular and follow the blinking, blue dot to the labyrinth of Vence…
then I resort to the international pointing method again.
Near tears I arrive to my B&B, Le2 (Le Deux….don’t make yourself look REALLY silly and call it Le Two…) which is closed. Locked, closed, lights out….
In my fog, I figure out that I am suppose to call if they are closed. Which I do and Nicolai comes to let me in.
There is an additional funny story about a family that is also waiting, saying they have rented the entire place and have the key, but I cannot convey Nicolai’s “frenchness” in dealing with her…

Nicolai is very sweet and helpful as he shows me to my room, turns on my AIR CONDITIONING and makes me a reservation for dinner tonight at a bonne restaurant and not a touristy one. Nicolai…my hero!!!

And Voila….my room…

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I am SO pleased with the room and get downright giddy when I feel how comfortable the bed is!!

I take my time cleaning up. There is a concert in the square tonight, but since I have reservations, I do not need to worry about the crowd.

My quick walk through Vence tells me that this is just about the cutest little French town ever! I look forward to exploring it more.

I throw on one of my MVPs. A Rachel Pally maxi. I have worn this dress to dinner in every town I have been in.
I find the restaurant easy enough and happy to sit enjoying a view that is not rushing past me.

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If you look closely, at the center left, you will see a white building. I believe that is the Chapelle Du Rosaire, the reason for my stop in Vence.

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I order and relax.

Before what I ordered arrives, the waitress brings this to me and says, “Blah, blah, blahblah a glah, marscapone”.

20130721-160218.jpg We are not in Kansas anymore!

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et pour le dessert

20130721-160556.jpg Are those cute or what!?

I walk past the craziness of the concert….happy not to pay 30euro to mix with that

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And I roam home…

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20130721-161434.jpg It’s not like me to miss a wedding…

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20130721-161514.jpg My street, rue des Portiques

20130721-161625.jpg See the 3rd floor (they do not count the street level) to the left? Those are my windows.

20130721-161758.jpg My flash ruined the feel of this…the first flight was lit with candles…

20130721-161838.jpg 2nd and 3rd flight, motion detector lights…and then ma chambre and mon point de vue

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Bonne nuit!

passare

I know you are starting not to trust me when I say this, but this post is going to be a short one…AND I am going to put 2 days together.
But for this….I really need to think…
OK..let’s see, Thursday morning I woke up at the farm, wondering what to do with my day. I have asked for tours of the farm, I am told they will tell me when they give one. I asked about cooking classes in nearby towns, I am told classes are suspended due to the festivals.
Like Zsa Zsa…maybe farm living is not the life for me….
OK…that being said though….give a a scooter, and the lay of the land, a house with a kitchen, a small town 5 of km away….and I think I would love it.
But, as Blaine would say, “It is what it is” and I is off to lay at the pool.

As I walk down to the pool, I am asked if I will be joining the dinner tonight. I decide one again to use that 35 euro and perhaps go into San Gimignano….so , “No grazie.”
I try to strategically place my time for lunch….I decide 1:00ish is good.
I enjoy another fabulous, “light lunch” which I think just means no PAAsta. Instead I ask for caprese, bruschetta, salami and prosciutto e un bicchiere di vino bianco. It was ALL wonderful.

When I return to my chaise at the pool…I am relieved to see it is still “mine”.
At this point I roll around my options for the remainder of the day. Then the clouds start rolling in. This time a bit heavier than yesterday. I sit at the pool until the wind and rain drives me to cover.

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I feel my decision is made for me and I sit and enjoy the view and watch the rain (again, much like being at Meeker…and when I embrace this, I am good).

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**side note** I do not know if you can see it in these last images or not, but the spot on my camera lens seems to be getting worse. I am not sure how this happened since the lens only opens when you are taking a shot…but it is getting on my nerves….so I am packing up the canon and going from here on out with the iphone camera**

As evening comes, I begin to get a bit hungry….problem…I declined dinner and morning is when they take the headcount…Lucky for me, I wrapped up a small piece of pecorino and a slice of bread in a napkin….that will have to do.

Time to start planning tomorrow’s exit. Sonia is to pick me up at 9:15, but I think if I could get her to come earlier I might be able to catch an earlier train. I am a bit concerned about a 7 minute gap in one of my transfers tomorrow.

However, the next morning, Sonia is unable to come early. So I worry and continue on.

Friday-

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These poor traveling pants…I hope I have not worn a hole in the seat that I am unaware of. By the way, above is the validation machine….with my ticket punched I head to the listed platform.

Once here, I am reminded that you can do anything at a train station in Italy; change clothes, make out,

20130720-090947.jpg Workout. I will say, this guy did get a few stares….even here!

I board the crowded train to my first scheduled destination; Empoli. I decide to sit with the luggage to help me with my exit.

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The next connection is the tight one, but I am up for the practice.

As I am sitting on a jump seat amidst the luggage, the mint green one rolls from one door to the opposite on a turn. Now, I did not tell you this earlier, but in Cinque Terre I got yelled at for touching someone else’s luggage. It bothered me for a good part of that morning….and I worked hard to let it go, so trust me without any further explanation…
So, I am sitting there as we bump along, not sure what to do. Then we come to a stop….the doors open, out falls the mint bag, onto the platform….I still sit….I DO NOT want to get yelled at again, in any language. One guy that saw it happen, simply stepped over as he exited…still it sat. Finally, and this is all in 1 minute or so. A girl, looks at it….looks at me….asks something…..I shrug….she shrugs….looks around, then tosses it back on as the doors shut.
CAN YOU IMAGINE….your luggage just falling out a train door and you never realizing it!!?? I can now.
A couple of stops down, as things thinned a bit…for just a bit….the owner of the bag came to retrieve and store with her. I SO wanted to ask, “Do you speak english?” and tell her the story…but as has been one of my goals here….I just deal with me.

I make the next connection without issue. Then in La Spezia, I board with the rest of Italia.

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This is a 4 hour 2nd class journey to Albenga, so I do my best to jockey for a seat and eventually I get one….in an actual chair.

During the next 4 hours, I finish the book I have been reading, look through an instyle, get hungry, enjoy a few sips of water (impossible to go to the wc on a 2nd class train with all my stuff) and watch the countryside go by.
During a portion of this leg, some 19-20ish American students are seated within earshot….gee how I have enjoyed NOT understanding the language…..

After La Spezia, we travel through Cinque Terre. Oh how I would love to hop off the train and go grab a frittto misto cone in Riomaggiore!!

Also, by the way, Genova has molto, molto, molto stops. That is one of the reasons this 2nd class train takes 4 hours….it stops everywhere!!!

And I arrive Albenga.
A little background as to why I am stopping here…..basically all I have there is I thought I would break up this longer travel day, and we had heard it was pretty….research.

So I arrive Albenga again with no clue where to head. Last night I tried to contact the hotel but could not find an email for them. So at the station, I had to turn on the cellular data for my phone. I have only done this a couple of times….but no way around this one.

I find the hotel on maps, follow the blinking, blue dot and viola….

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Let me choose one word to describe my hotel…..how about “basic”.

20130720-093126.jpg Yes the lighting this THAT giallo.

20130720-093234.jpg “Air Conditioner”
The lady at the desk understood my english perfectly until I asked if there was air conditioning in the room. “I-a no understand-a english-a well-a. speak-a slowly-a.”

20130720-093407.jpg Won’t be needing extra blankets…that’s for sure.

20130720-093444.jpg The all in one Garden, Terrace, Laundry Room.

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20130720-093546.jpg And the bathroom….lest you think I am getting spoiled…

It is almost 7:00 pm by this time, so I decide to not unpack….anything….leave my bags in the room and go for a walk.
Albenga is right on the coast…much like Cinque Terra…only…not much like Cinque Terre. But all in all still very pretty.
It looks as if another FESTIVAL is starting tonight….the vendors are setting up along the beach walk…let’s see, there were vegetable peelers, and hair adornments and lamps made out of coconut shells, cell phone covers…this is not Certaldo either I guess.

My hotel is a block away from the beach in the New part of town, so before the sun goes down, I decide to head to the old part of town.

20130720-094103.jpg Really old….Yep…another festival.

Truly though…these are so well done. It seemed the entire town (Vecchio) was involved and in costume. I did enjoy walking through and watching the preparations. I just did not want to get stuck here after the crowds hit, plus my walk back to the hotel was through a not so scenic part of Albenga.
So I will share some quick highlights.

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20130720-094353.jpg Loved this Medieval stroller!

20130720-094429.jpg Not too sure about me.

20130720-094447.jpg Not a care at all.

20130720-094507.jpg Really admire the details in preparation.

20130720-094551.jpg The town Baptistry.

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20130720-094633.jpg Now this was really cool, to walk up on a piazza and see these beautiful, fierce looking birds on their perches. It was just so fitting. I am sure the exhibition later would be interesting.

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Not sure if this guy is in costume….I think not and I also think he will be the one telling the festival goers to repent shortly….

As the crowd begins to swell, I decide I better head back and find a spot for dinner.
I chose a little place that I am sure is a chain of sorts, La Dolce Vita….fitting no?

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Although the food was good, another face to face encounter was what made the evening.
My waitress, Grazia, first was very patient as I decided which side of the restaurant I wanted to eat in;the pizza side or the fancier side. She let me sit down and look at both menus, coming by every now and then to give me her 2cents.
I chose the pizza side. Each time she would come by, she would want to chat a bit, advising about things to do, told me about the festival, etc.
Finally she asked where I was from. When I responded Texas…you would have thought I said Hollywood or something. She leaned back with her hands together saying “Takkk-sas! TTakkk-sasss! Oh my gosh-a…theeese-a eeesss-a fantastic-a I thheeenk-a.”
I just kinda sat there laughing and said, “Really?” She said, “What-a are-a you-a doing-a a HERE!??” Like this was the backwoods of Italy.
Anyway, we talked a bit more and before I left, I told her about Austin. She could not understand me well, so I wrote it down and told her to check it out.
When I got up to leave, she gifted me with one of their wine glasses, and a bunch of paper placemats….she also asked me to “Pleeez-a send-a me-a just-a one-a post-a card-a from Takkk-sass!” And she gave me her address.
With her hands together in a praying position, she told me she will hope and wait for my card.
Of course, the kiss/kiss followed and laughing, I went on my way.

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