Pizza in Pisa

The first half of today, we are spending in the small town of Pisa for obvious reasons – the tower.  It’s pretty much the only thing Pisa is known for, apart from being the birthplace of Galileo.

After all the stairs of yesterday, we were glad to have booked a guided tour to get us there and back, and even more glad that we had not opted to climb the tower’s 284 steps, which meant that when we arrived, we had plenty of spare time to ourselves to enjoy the small town.

So, a bit about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  This simple bell tower in the middle of the Square of Miracles (named not because of any miracles that happened here – rather that everything in the square is so beautiful that it is a miracle) has been leaning since day 1 due to the soft ground in the area, which weakened the foundations of the tower.

In any case, it is a major tourist attraction and all along the square you will find people trying to take that funny photo of themselves pushing the tower over.

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By 1990, it was on a 10º lean and it was decided it was tie to do something about it before it fell over.  They pumped concrete underneath the foundations to steady the tower and it now leans at 4º and is curved slightly as a result of the rectification works.

Deciding to stop for lunch in the little square while the other tourists were still occupied with their photo taking, we head to one of the little cafes selling pizza.  Each one in fact sells pizza, so it depends on whether you want to eat in view of the tower, or want to wander further away where the price is no doubt cheaper.  We ordered two ‘individual size’ pizzas, which were way more than we should have eaten but that were so damn delicious we couldn’t help but finish them off, did a spot of window shopping and then made our way back to the square for our walking tour of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral and the baptistry are also sinking.  The Cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II and it’s Romanesque architecture represents the wealth of Pisa at the time.   It was here that Galileo was baptised.  It was also here where he formed his theory of “isochronism of the pendulum” whilst looking at the chandelier swinging for incense ash coming down.  The chandelier, now known as “Galileo’s Lamp” can be seen in the Cathedral.

At the end of the day, we catch a local bus up to Piazza Michaelangelo for incredible views over the city of Florence until it begins to rain, forcing us to find the refuge of our villa.  Tomorrow, we will explore Florence.

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Not Every Day is a Good Day

When you are travelling, it’s not always fun and games.  Yes, I know – you aren’t working and you’re living it up in cities around the world, how can it not always be a good day?

Well, let’s just say there can be tough days.

Like the day we left Venice.  We began trailing our suitcases down towards the waterfront, when a local bar owner stopped us.  “There are no boats today”, he said.  We looked at him, not exactly comprehending what he was saying.  “There are no boats,” he repeated, “there is a special race on the water and there are no other boats running”.  But how do we get to the train station? I ask.  “You will have to walk, there is no other way”.  Great.  Now I don’t have any problem walking, and in fact the walk wouldn’t have taken that long, but we had a backpack each and two large suitcases which we would have to guide up and down all the canal bridge stairways from San Marco to the train station and of course I was helping Mum to carry her suitcase up the stairs also.

It wasn’t a joyous start to the day, and when a tourist walked right across and stood in front of me to take photos while I was trying to lug my suitcase up the stairs, I lost my composure.  Are you kidding me right now?  I asked her.  “Why don’t you carry your suitcase a different way, it might be easier” she dared to say to me.  Because I am also carrying my mothers suitcase up and down all these stairs and this is the easiest way for me because I am starting to tire, I said, as if I had to explain myself.  Why couldn’t this rude, selfish woman just move out of the way?

Anyway, we finally made it to the train station, albeit tired, hot and a bit mad.  We managed to buy a ticket and find a train that was going to the next station in Venice (a task in itself) and settled in to ride the next two stops.

Arriving at Venice Mestro, we had some time to fill in before our train to Florence, so we headed out of the station and across the road to find some lunch.  We sat at a cafe, where we were served the most horrid meal but the most sour-faced, nasty waitress I’ve just about ever come across.

Time to board the train – just about every platform at the station had a lift from the ground floor up to the platform – except ours, so once more I lugged both suitcases up the stairs.

Our train eventually came and we boarded, but the luggage racks were all full already, so I tied the two together and left them in the passageway behind us, checking every now and again to make sure they weren’t in anyone’s way.

Finally, an inspector came along and said I had to move the bags – fair enough, but I said to him where shall I put them, there is no room.  He pointed to a small space left on the luggage racks high above our head and said “Put it there, or wherever, I don’t care”.  But I can’t lift them, they are too heavy!  “I don’t care, not my problem”.he said.

Soon a couple of the male passengers started talking in rapid Italian – I thought, great, they are thinking what a stupid Australian, not putting her luggage in the right place – I struggled to lift one suitcase onto the high railing, but of course, it could not fit, so I was obviously just going to have to stand there and hold it up for the entire trip.

But it turns out the Italian gentlemen couldn’t believe how rude the attendant had been and they began discussing how we could accommodate the bags.  They kindly helped me lift down the suitcase on the high luggage rack to a vacant chair after checking with the person sitting next to it and I had to lob the other one on top of a bunch of other suitcases, which no doubt enthralled the owner of those cases.

One of the Italian gentlemen begged us not to think of all Italians as being so rude and chatted to us on and off throughout the trip, even helping us down off the train with our bags once we arrived in Florence.  Some faith restored.

With a few minor hassles and some more rude Italian attitude, we finally got ourselves on to the tramvia and arrived at our hotel, only to lug our suitcases up another five flights of stairs.

Tomorrow will surely be a better day.

The Artisans of Venice

The outlook for today is miserable.  The note at the reception desk says thunderstorms and rain all day long with zero hours of daylight (I admit I was sceptical at the zero hours of daylight bit).  Great day for sightseeing, especially via boat, island hopping style.  NOT.

However, stepping our way outside the hotel, there isn’t any rain in sight yet, so we start navigating our way through the alley ways of Venice, until we come to our waterbus stop to make our way to the first of the islands – Murano – where the famous Murano glass is made.  When you arrive at Murano, you’ll notice there’s a number of glass factories where you can see glass blowing demonstrations – we turned left off the boat at the Coronna stop and kept going as far as you could to a pinky red coloured building to see their demo for no other reason than we could see lots of people lined up outside.  They weren’t very pushy and just suggested that you could kindly leave a tip for a beer or coffee for the glass blower on your way out or stop by the shop if you felt like it.

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Original Murano glass, handblown by authentic glass masters, is generally VERY expensive so you need to check around to make sure you are getting good value.  There is a huge difference in the quality and style of the works between shop to shop and obviously the more modern amazing pieces are set at a higher price, but justifiably so.

I’m not wiling to part with much, although if this was my last stop there would have been a few pieces I would have gladly paid big bucks for, so my treasure to take home is this little horse…

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Burano is the island best know for its brightly coloured homes.

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Oh, and its lace.  Sadly, very little original handmade Burano lace is available nowadays, and it is generally very expensive.  Much of the lace on sale in the shops on Burano is machine made lace imported from abroad (think the People’s Republic of China).

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We manage to find a shop that at least has a working lacemaker in it and which it turns out has been visited by Elton John (who owns a property along the Grand Canal).  Here, we buy a few pieces doing our bit to support the local economy, before boarding the waterbus back to the mainland.

It’s fun finding our way home through really quiet streets, devoid of tourists for a change (I know I am one, but I mean to say the groups of day trippers and tour groups that plague the streets every five minutes in the most popular parts of town).  Quiet and different from other parts of town, this is really enjoyable.

Another thing thing that is really enjoyable is our final night dinner, which we decide to take in at a local cichetti bar.  Cichetti is Spain’s answer to tapas or pinxos – small pieces of food.  With cichettti, you choose from the selection of warm food first, before finishing off with any number of cold dishes, all washed down with your selection of red, white or sparkling wine.  Our cichetti bar is small and locals seem to pop by for an evening drink before moving on.  It’s really lovely and a great experience to end our trip with.

Our evening ends as it was supposed to being – with thunderstorms (massive booms of lightning louder than I’ve ever heard in my life) and constant drizzling rain, but it doesn’t matter cause we are tucked up in bed watching Eurovision LIVE for the first time.

Tomorrow – we hit Florence!

Who Let the Doge Out?

Aside from being the home of Marco Polo, Venice was also the birthplace of a couple of other history greats.

Giacomo Casanova, one of the most famous lovers in history – in fact so famous that his name is now defined in urban dictionary as ‘a smooth-talking charmer who has mastered the art of finding, meeting, attracting and seducing beautiful women into the bedroom’ – was born in Venice in 1725.

He was a clever fellow, despite his poor childhood and ‘theatre parents’ and under the watchful gaze of his grandmother he entered the University of Padua at the age of 12, graduating with a law degree.

Not long after he began his career of debauchery, among other things.  He found his passion in life when he had an affair with a 16 year old girl and her 14 year old sister…ahem….at the same time.  Years later he was to meet one of the sisters again (in the bedroom) along with her daughter, who just happened to be his daughter…confused?

He was a womanizer, a scam artist, alchemist, spy, church cleric, a prisoner…..the list goes on.  But that’s what makes his story so intriguing.

Whilst working as a church cleric, his gambling debts landed him in prison.  After this, he tried his hand at military life, which was short lived when he discovered it be incredibly boring.  No worries, he became a violinist.  He started tawdry affairs with everyone from married women to nuns and virgins.  After escaping from prison once more, he fled to Paris where he pretended to be a 300 year alchemist who could create diamonds from scratch.  Given his ability to lie with a straight face, he was pegged for a short lived career as a spy.  He became a wealthy man for selling state bonds in Amsterdam, but lost it all spending his fortune on his lovers.

Casanova’s schemes worsened and worse they got, the broker he got.  He ended up duelling with a colonel in Warsaw over an Italian actress.  He returned to Venice in 1774, but after writing a vicious satire of Venetian nobility, he got kicked out once more.  Casanova died aged 73, after being seized by Napoleon Bonaparte.

And one place you could be almost sure to run into Cassanova back in the day was Caffe Florian.  Caffe Florian jointly holds the title of the world’s oldest café with a cafe in Paris.  It was the only café that admitted women at the time, so it’s no surprise to find out that Casanova spent a fair bit of time hanging around here.

It’s sprinkling on and off today, so we head for an inside activity by visiting the Doge’s Palace in San Marco.  A doge was the most senior elected official of Venice and his palace was not only his home, but housed many of the various government offices.  We weren’t really expecting this visit to be very exciting – the building from the outside is quite lovely, and the grounds inside have nice architecture (in particular there were some wonderful old columns that used to feature at the front of the palace)….

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…but it’s not until you go up the stairs and inside the actual palace buildings that you begin to wonder where the hell you are and how you got transported back to this brilliant period in time…

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There was also the Prison and the Bridge of Sighs – not named as I thought because of its astonishing beauty, but because it was a bridge through which prisoners saw their last glimpse of freedom.  We ended up really, really enjoying our visit to the Doge’s Palace and thought it was well worth the €18 entrance fee.

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They say that wet, rainy cities spawn great musicians.  Like Andy Wood was to Seattle, so was Vivaldi to the Venetian classical music scene.  A true showman, but with loads of pure talent, he loved nothing better than to show off his fiddling (so to speak).  It’s surprising then, that there’s not a single statue to commemorate Vivaldi in Venice.  There is one way to celebrate the life and times of Vivaldi whilst in Venice though, and that’s to see a classical concert.

There are several on at any one time.  Tonight, we venture up the stairs of the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro to hear a performance of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, as well as Pachelbel’s Canone.  Performed by I Musici Veneziani complete with period costumes, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours in this city, which becomes so much quieter once the day trippers and cruise boat groups leave.  We had a wonderful evening listening to some incredible music.

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Did I mention how exciting it is to visit these places where such amazing historical figures blazed their trails and wrote their fortunes?  So exciting.

The Tourist

Ever since I watched ‘The Tourist’ starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, I thought it would be cool to ‘arrive’ in Venice via water taxi.  Speeding along, the wind and water spray in your hair….

So after two flights, one from Nice to Lyon and then onwards from Lyon to Venice, we are boarding the orange line Alilaguna boat (not at all like Johnny’s transfer) to the Rialto stop and dragging our suitcases up and down the many stairways over the canals, and navigating the twisting turning alleyways towards our Venetian hotel.

For our time in Venice, we are staying in Locanda Ca’Amadi – a building that dates from the 13th century and was the house of Marco Polo between the 13th and 14th centuries.  Marco’s family apparently owned several buildings in town.  In fact the balcony that overlooks the canal from the breakfast room of our hotel dates back to the 13th century, as its delicate state proves.

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During the 15th century, the palace was the residence of Count Francesco Amadi (hence the name) – a family of merchants who had great prestige in Venice and included important members of the political and clerical life of Venice.

History never ceases to amaze me and the more I travel and explore, the more amazed I become.

So who was Marco Polo?  He was the son of Matteo Polo, himself an explorer.  In 1260 Matteo and his brother Niccolo had sailed from Venice to the near east, ending up in northern China.  They met the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, who was very curious about their homeland, asking them all sorts of questions.  He gave them a message for the Pop to send 100 Christian priests to China.  Unfortunately the Pope died before they got home and they had to wait almost two years to give the message to the new Pope.

At the age of 18, Marco left on a voyage with his father and uncle, where they discovered interesting things such as ‘a peculiar kind of spring that spat out a black, oily liquid’ (oil). People used it to smear onto rashes and for curing ulcers on animals.  They used sign language to communicate and ask directions.

Meeting back up with Matteo and Niccolo’s friend the Khan, Marco became the Kublai’s attendant, returning with him to Beijing. The Great Khan sent him to different parts of his empire to investigate and report on conditions.  He even followed the Khan onto the battlefield in Manchuria.

After 17 years, he became homesick, and in 1293 the three sailed back to Venice to find it at war with Genoa.  Marco somehow landed himself in prison, where he dictated his story to a cellmate, a romance author who later released the story to great acclaim.  Upon his release, he became a wealthy merchant, marrying and living happily with his wife and three children.

It would seem Marco became more of a household name than his father simply because of his luck in landing himself in prison – he had no intention of writing about his travels.

We will start to explore Venice tomorrow, but for this evening – a nice pasta in front of the Rialto Bridge is in store.

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A Nice Evening out of Nice

On our second last day in Nice, I awake to find that all the plane tree allergies and cigarette smoke (the French smoke everywhere and often one after the other) have taken a toll on my system and I’m not feeling crash hot, coughing and coughing for most of the night.  So we opt for a quiet day.  Fresh croissants from the bakery next door, a nice late start, a bit of shopping and a spot of pasta for lunch.

Nice has long had ties with Italy (in fact Nice only became part of France in 1860 when Italy reluctantly gave her up in order to repay France for their help in defending Italy against the Austrians) so there is a lot of traditional Italian cooking to be found.

And as the Italian restaurant we have chosen for lunch is right next door to Fennochio, it’s only fitting we have ice cream for desssert – this time ginger, vanilla meringue and rose pepper.

Our last night in France is to be spent checking out how the other half live in the town of Monaco.  We have a guided tour and end up being the only ones on it, once again.  Our guide is lovely and full of information.

Along the way, we stop at several points overlooking the marvellous coast between Nice and Monaco.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world (first place goes to the Vatican City) and squeezes itself into just 2km².  It does well in this area though, housing not on the glitzy Monte Carlo Casino, but a grand prix racetrack, two harbours (filled with high end yachts), streets full of high end boutiques and loads more – in short, a playround for the rich and famous.

They speak Monégasque here – a mixture of French and Italian – and it’s citizens don’t pay income tax.  In fact, most of its citizens don’t even live here year round, but it’s not easy to become one of those.

One lady who did was the American actress Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier in 1956 and became the Princess of Monaco.  While the Prince was happy for her to continue her acting career after their marriage, the people of Monaco were not and she had to make adjustments to her new life.  She sadly passed away after a car accident in 1982.

About half an hour’s drive and we are back home in Nice.

Wrist Sniffing in Nice

We sat in the bar of the grand, historic Negresco Hotel, eagerly awaiting our cocktails, madly sniffing away at our wrists.  I love this scent!  “Mine’s better”, counteracted Mum.  In fact, I couldn’t stop sniffing and the reason was we were both wearing our brand new, self created perfumes to drinks this evening.  Well, how’d you do that, I hear you ask?  Go to Molinard.

Lucky for us Molinard is just around the corner.  They have been making perfumes since 1849, though not from this swish shop, rather from the town of Grasse which we drove through yesterday and for a small price, you can come and do a perfume workshop.

Selecting scents from a range of top, heart and base notes, based on what smells good to your nose, we create a collection of scent testing strips.  Then it’s a matter of picking them up and smelling them all together, removing or adding anything that seems out of place or missing.  Next, the assistant puts together the dosages of each scent to make up the bottle and voila – your own scent!

Mine has tangerine, orange and praline scents among others and I just love it.

We are staying in a great location here in Nice actually, right in the old town.  I’ve heard of people booking accommodation on Air B&B before, but I have never tried it myself.  When I saw Luke Nguyen (Vietnamese TV chef from Australia whose family runs the incredible Red Lantern restaurant) exploring the streets of old Nice, I wanted to stay somewhere like that – in a little apartment, perhaps with a balcony, right in the thick of things.  And that’s what we found when we went looking – Diane’s gorgeous apartment in Ville Vieux – ready and waiting for us.

We have a little grocery store on one side of us, a bakery on the other and we are not far from the Cours Saleya – the flower market, where we did our grocery shopping this morning.  We are also not far from a little ice cream shop called Fennochio that makes Beer flavoured ice cream.  They also have a bunch of equally as interesting ice cream flavours on offer and the only question is – how many times a day can I go there to make sure I tried all the obscure flavours without making myself look like an ice cream glutton?

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Disguises?  Pay some kid to go and get one for me?  Get someone different to serve me each time?  Turns out I needn’t have worried.  Because at Fenocchio, you can get as many flavours as you like stacked on that there old cone, as long as it doesn’t fall over in the process.

For my first visit, of course I tried the beer sorbet (which just tastes like beer really and not very refreshing), but better than the beer flavour was the cactus sorbet – unexpectedly sweet and not very cactussy at all!

Now it’s around midday and all of a sudden, a massive BOOM reverberates around Place de Palais – around the whole of Nice as well.  Don’t be scared, it’s a normal part of every day living in Nice and yes, it is the sound of a cannon.  Story goes that Sir Thomas Coventry-More, residing in Nice in 1861, had trouble making sure his wife came home for lunch.  She loved a bit of gossip and once she got out into the streets, there was no stopping her.  So he petitioned for permission to set off the cannon each day to call her home to lunch.  Even though the Coventry-More’s left Nice in 1866, the tradition continued as it does to this day.  The cannon is dispensed from Castle Hill but if you happen to be in the old town centre when it goes off, you could be forgiven for thinking it had been shot around the next corner – it’s that loud!

Boarding the little Nice tourist train along the Promenade de Anglais, we take a quick trip through the streets until we reach Colline de Chateau (Castle Hill).  Here we ditch the tram in order to stroll through the gardens and take in the amazing view of Nice from up high.

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And so it is we find ourselves sitting in the Negresco bar.  Our second drink comes around – complimentary because it has taken them 25 minutes to serve our six pieces of canapes -and we are still sniffing our wrists.

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Rendezvouz with Renoir

If yesterday’s drive was beautiful, today’s was simply stunning.  Unfortunately being the driver, most of the scenery will stay in my head, but let’s just say there were quite a few times when I was like wowa weewa!

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After a quick little visit to the village of Trigance, cut short by rain, we hit the windy roads again to travel towards our next destination, Nice.  Fog spread its hands protectively over the valleys and there was a vista like no other around every corner.

We meandered along enjoying every moment, stopping to buy preservative free perfume by the roadside and attempting to stop in towns along the way (driving here is not like driving in Australia AT ALL – in Aus, if you need to pull over or stop, there is plenty of places to do so, the bays are nice and wide and there’s just room.  Here, cars literally cram every little space on the roadsides, the bays are tiny and the drivers totally impatient – it can be quite panicking when you just want to stop to check directions or take a breather!).

Driving down through Grasse, the valleys and greenery give way to Tuscan style villas crammed on hillsides.  Somehow we missed the turnoff for the town centre of Grasse and continued on to Cagnes Sur Mer, where after circling the same set of streets for ages, we finally found the Renoir Museum.

Pierre Auguste Renoir settled down in this property known as Domaine des Collettes in 1908.  He was already suffering from rheumatic arthritis badly by this point, requiring his paint brushes to be strapped to his hands to allow him to continue painting.  From the Impressionist school of painters, his most famous works were Luncheon of the Boating Party (my favourite), the Ball at the Moulin de la Galette and La Loge.  He also took up sculpting when he moved to this property and continued his artistic ventures until his death in 1919 at the age of 78.

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It’s not far to Nice now, but I’ve somehow to got to find some petrol and return the hire car in the centre of Nice which is harder than it looks.  Finally we find petrol, but when you return the car, there’s no clear lots to drive into like back in Australia.  Instead you need to park in an underground car park and then lug all your luggage up some flights of stairs before you find a lift to get back up to the road.  I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed the last bit of today’s journey.

One more obstacle faces us before the day is out – to find our apartment (which we do without much struggle thanks to the directions of the Air BNB owner) and lug our suitcases up four flights of stairs, taking instructions about the apartment completely in French from the owner’s friend.  I hope we have understood everything correctly as she leaves, but my head is still spinning from the drive.  I need a drink.

Thank goodness we find that without much hassle and we sit overlooking a fairly quiet Place du Palais watching a drunk madman throw things around the square.  Ah, welcome to Nice.

Drive Time

Another fast train ride takes us to Aix En Provence where we pick up hire car to ‘indulge’ in a nice drive through the south of France.  ‘Have you driven a Peugot before?’ asks the friendly lady in the Sixt kiosk, her bright orange jacket emitting a glow around the office.  No, I say.  I’m sure now her friendly smirk should have been a warning in itself, because it seemed like an hour later I was still trying to get out of the carpark!  It must have seemed irrelevant to tell me how to set up the GPS which has trouble finding our destination when I play around with it.  It seemed even less relevant to tell me there is a small ring like bit of plastic around the manual (eek) gearstick that you need to lift up in order to reverse or that there is no hand brake to speak of, it’s automatic when you put the car in park (I think).  It’s a one way lane out of the carbay, with hire cars packed closely all around you and a constant stream of drivers who wish to go the wrong way down the lane.  Finally someone tells me about the reverse trick and the Sixt gentleman kindly gets the car out of the small space for me and we are on our way.

Kind of.

I have a lot to learn.  I do have a manual license and always prefer driving manual cars.  Though having had no car for the last year and a half, I haven’t done a lot of manual driving – this bit doesn’t bother me.  What does bother me is that I’m trying to get my gear driving memory back into seamless mode, while trying to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road.  Indicate to go over, oops, no that’s the windscreen wipers.  The mirrors all seem like they are in the wrong place and to top it off, my route takes me straight onto the A8, where the speed limit is 130km/hr in the slow lane.

After a few mean beeps from other drivers who obviously believe the speed limit is just a guide and also that there’s no need for indicators, I get into my groove and am even surprised to find myself getting up to 140 at one stage.  Finally we get off the A8 and begin our crazy, windy ascent to Trigance.  The scenery is incredible, if you can take your eyes off the road for more than one second.  It’s a constant battle between, 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear, up/down, up/down as the car negotiates the corners and other drivers veering dangerously onto the wrong side of the road.

A few small villages appear along the route, gorgeous little places full of charm.

Finally we arrive in Trigance, to our home for the night, perched high on a high overlooking the Valley of Verdun.

We.  Are.  Staying.  In .  A.   Friggin.  Castle.  Tonight!

A true life castle.

Chateau de Trigance was “an ancient fortress for meditation built by the monks of the Saint Victor abbey from Marseille in the IXth century”.

Our bed is four poster, the restaurant is in a kind of a cellar with old suits of armour and there are friggin turrets on top!  Turrets!

Can you tell I’m excited!

Ahem, anyway….

Our room is set along a terrace overlooking the Verdun Valley.

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It’s getting nippy outside, so we head to the salon where we take part in a medieval aperitif called Hypocras which was a wine based drinks mixed with spices and cinnamon, occasionally served warm (but not in our case).  We read about the history of the castle and enjoy the space, nibbling on the pre-dinner snacks bought to us by our host.

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Then it’s time for dinner.  Our meals are mini medieval banquets!  Mum’s reads like this:

Castle surprise soup – not sure what it was – tasted almost like the zucchini and basil soup I make back home, but much creamier and just absolutely beautiful.

Petits farcis d’agneau du Haut Var, roquette a l’ail
(Different vegetables stuffed with ocal lamb and araomatic herbs, rocket salad with garlic)

Magret de canard a l’orange, legumes verts
(Duck breast and its orange sauce accompanied by green season’s vegetables)

Plateau de fromages affines
(Selection of fine cheeses, including some beautiful local artisanal ones)

Creme brulee pistahe et mangue rotie
(Roasted mango and pistachios ‘creme brulee’)

My menu also includes the Castle Surprise Soup, different vegetables and selection of cheeses, but with a main of Supreme de pigeon, sauce fruits rouges, cuisses confites et beignets de pleurotes (Roasted pigeon breast and its candied legs, red fruits sauce ‘peurotus’ mushrooms in pastry) and Biscuit coco, duo de mousses passion et cafe (Duet of passion fruits and coffee mousse on a coconut biscuit).

The food was amazing, the service really, really great and the experience just couldn’t be beat, but after all that hair-raising driving and a feast of mass proportions, there’s nothing more appropriate in store next than an early night.

Fourviere’s Treasures

With no particular agenda in store for today, a bus trip around the city is in order, and our first stop, was not really something I had an interest in seeing because I saw plenty of ruins in Europe on my last trip.  But we followed the other tourists who trudged off the bus and up the hill and we came to the ruins of a entertainment complex built by the Romans around 15BC and they were just incredible.

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The two complexes (a smaller and a larger ampitheatre) could hold 13,000 people all together and it was the heart of city life for almost three centuries.  From this point on Fourviere hill, you get an incredible view of the city of Lyon below.

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Once you reach the top of the ruins, you are a short walk away from the Fourviere Basilica.

When travelling in Europe, there are also a lot of churches.  You kind of get a bit blaise, thinking oh great, another church.  wow.  And, although it’s beautiful from the outside, like most other incredible churches, you could be forgiven for thinking this was yet another one of those churches, snap a photo and walk on by.

But then you make the choice to go inside…

…and it makes you so glad you didn’t dismiss it.  Fourviere was built between 1872 and 1884 on the site of what was once the Roman Forum of Trajan.  The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is attributed to the salvation of the city from the plague that swept Europe in the 1600’s and sits on the hill keeping watch over the city of Lyon and her people to this day.

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