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Postcard from Paris: Paris had its own ideas

11 May

11 May 2019.

A two-hour delay followed by a complete cancellation of our train from Bayeux set the stage for the Paris portion of our trip. I learned a new word in French, supprime, that is “removed” or “canceled.” <SIGH> France, why are you so petulant?

So what if we arrived two hours late? Et alors? The day is lovely, we’ll skip our plans to journey to Saint-Denis and instead enjoy the sun (we had been cold in Bayeux) and parade around the Champ de Mars to the Trocadero and back. We had three more days to execute our minimal plan. This is our 6th stay in this delightful city so there are few “must sees” only the desire to walk hand-in-hand, eat well, drink wine. Our first night’s dinner at Le P’tit Troquet was magnifique!

View from our room on the night of arrival.

Day 2: So what if it is raining? We will enjoy the Musee d’Orsay! Arriving at opening, tickets in hand, we entered with a small crowd and enjoyed almost an hour with the Impressionists on the 5th floor. Last time we were here, there were schoolchildren everywhere. This time, we were knocked to the side only a couple of times by people with selfie-sticks ensuring those at home would know they’d seen a Renoir in person.

I love Musee d’Orsay as much for its architecture as for its collection.

Rain? We walk. It is only a drizzle, like at home. It comes and goes.  Stop in a cafe for espresso and croissant. How Parisian! The Monnaie de Paris was open and uncrowded and pretty interesting, extremely well-done. Ah! Here is the sun, for five minutes. No rain! Lunch at a small place we know (after 6 visits, we have places) across from poor old Notre Dame. Lovely salads and we got to hear the owner’s tale from the “Day of the Fire.”

Poor old Notre Dame! Work is underway.

Another view of the icon.

Tres bien! It is not raining. “Let’s cross the river and walk back on the right bank,” suggests Ric. Luckily we hit the porticoes along Rue de Rivoli just before the rain comes, along with thunder and lightning, eventually a DOWNPOUR with hail. As it eases, we jump into the Metro station at Concorde. Non mais oh! A train passes by without stopping and security steps in to close the station. We are unclear but we think a manifestation or maybe just President Macron moving about. It was a holiday (VE Day). We must walk again and now it is raining in earnest. Soaking wet we arrive back at Hotel Relais Bosquet. We must have dinner close by as we already have 20,000 steps on the Fitbit! But of course, the sun comes back at 17:30 and though chilly it was not a bad evening.

Clearing at sundown, once again!

Day 3: The morning is dry, broken clouds, off to see the Basilica of Saint-Denis, right on our Metro line #8. Coffee on the piazza? Mais oui! The church is open but to our chagrin (as this is rather out-of-the-way from Central Paris), a strike has struck and one cannot visit the museum or the tombs of the kings.

We could see a few tombs from the sanctuary but I have no idea whose this is.

 

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Basilica of Saint-Denis, resting place of French royalty.

Not to worry, we’ve meant to tour the Opera Garnier! Off we go. But today, instead of being open 10:00-13:00, it opens at 13:00 which is two hours off. Let’s walk to Canal St. Martin, then, for lunch since the weather is holding. Whoops! Here comes the steady rain. We find a store and wait awhile, losing interest in our plan for an outdoor lunch. Abort! Find a Metro. Let’s just go home and find lunch. I also find also a manicure and pedicure to pass the rainy afternoon. Once again, the evening turns nice. At least we are able to make our reservation at Les Cedres du Libnan! A fine evening for a walk and a wonderful meal with Lebanese wine.

This sums up the weather on several of our outings.

Napoleon’s Tomb at Invalides, beautiful under (finally) clearing skies at sunset.

Day 4: Now we are cooking! Today it is mostly cloudy but I need my sunglasses on our urban hike! I will write more on Project Easy Hiker soon, but when you are in Paris and have a couple of hours, the Promenade Plantee aka, La coulée verte René-Dumont is worth exploration. It hardly seemed possible we were still in Paris!

The Promenade Plantee is atop an old railroad viaduct from Bastille southeast toward Bois di Vincennes. Serene!

No rain! No umbrella! 10,000 steps on the pedometer before lunch! We won’t talk about the Metro station closure, the wrong way tram, or my leaving Ric behind at the turnstile when his ticket didn’t work. We will speak instead of glorious moules frites, divine Italian food in Paris at Il Sorrentino (Vermentino, grappa, and polpo!), and something to blog about.

These walkers had about 15 dogs between them. Some unleashed, many triple leashed. 15 dogs at 15 Euro per dog maybe 225 Euro for an hour?

It snowed last week in Liguria. At least we weren’t there!

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Postcard from Normandy: D-Day, camembert, and more

8 May

8 May 2019.

The famous Invasion in June of 1944 changed Normandy forever and the (mostly) English-speaking hoards have continued to invade for the past 75 years. Luckily the locals are still celebrating the arrival of the Allies and welcoming Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Australians by millions. We ran into a lot of Dutch as well.

Bayeux is about as close as you can get to the D-Day beaches and not be on them. It was our base for a week. Crowds aren’t bad, but the town and surrounding hamlets, cemeteries, beaches, and museums are gearing up for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Windows are painted in greeting, museum exhibits are being reworked, and hoteliers are preparing to clean up.

Window painting, Bayeux, honoring the 75th anniversary.

Window painting in Bayeux, honoring the Invasion 75 years ago.

A tour of the D-Day sites alone could take a week or more. Every village that secured a relic tank or WWII airplane has a museum, and every village has a tank or period airplane, not to mention oodles of ammunition, rusted helmets, German and Allied weapons, medic kits, and uniforms. Our tour guide told us there were 60+ museums in Normandy dedicated to the Invasion. We did not visit them all.

German battery, Pont du Hoc, now a tourist lookout.

This little Dutch boy was having a blast playing in an overgrown bomb crater, Pont du Hoc.

If you have seen “The Longest Day” you know the scene where the parachutist gets caught on the clock tower of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. True story, kitchily depicted today.

After visiting a couple of (good) museums and spending 9 hours touring sites like Sainte-Mère-Église, Utah and Omaha Beaches, and the German and American cemeteries, we were pretty much on Overlord overload. Still, every time we ventured to another location, a bit more about D-Day was revealed. We realized our grasp of that day — of the entire Invasion — was not equal to the event. Sure we’ve seen movies, read books, maybe even paid attention in high school history class, but being there is sobering and overwhelming. The statistics (numbers of parachutists, numbers of planes, numbers of ships) are mind-boggling.

The logistics make what FedEx does every day look like a children’s party.

We had lunch at the cafe on Utah Beach, built in a building (the only building) that remains from that day. All WWII veterans are invited to sign the bar or any other surface in the cafe.

Utah Beach is now for walks with dogs and building sand castles. Like Oregon, it is too cold to go in the water. Except that is, of course, what thousands of men did on D-Day.

Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for us was seeing Port Winston at Arromanches. This was a Mulberry Harbor, a temporary portable harbor established to support the Invasion until the Allies could secure the ports held by the Germans. Neither of us had read much about this except in our Rick Steves guidebook.

The various components were fabricated in England and sunk in the Thames River to hide them from German surveillance. Shortly after D-Day, they were towed across the Channel and the harbor constructed. Seeing the remains of the caissons and floating piers along with displays and dioramas in the excellent museum brought to life the enormity of the operation.

View from above Arromanches. You can still see some caissons offshore.

WWII photo of the actual temporary harbor.

A piece ot the floating roadbed called a “whale” used in Port Winston. Ric for scale.

We had the luxury of a week in Normandy. Plenty of time to absorb the WWII history and ample time to devote to the countryside, medieval history (William the Conqueror was from Caen), and food. I swear my pores are oozing Camembert. We tried to drink enough red wine to whisk those nasty artery blocking fats out as fast as we consumed them. We’d make a nice healthy salad in our apartment in the evening with great local produce, lean chicken, a whisper of olive oil and balsamico, but we’d add Camembert. We did not, however, have butter on our baguettes. The cider, too, is a wonderful thing and quite perfect with the local food. Goes great with mussels freshly harvested and served ala Normande with (God help me!) cream!

Fresh scallops, anyone? No question that there were not frozen.

Fresh chicken too. Maybe she’s just for laying?

On the Aure River in Bayeux, two waterwheels are still spinning.

We hiked up La Côte de Grâce above Honfleur for the view of the Pont du Normandy.

In Barfleur, the Fête du Printemps was underway with curious street decoration.

Cute Barfleur, filled this sunny Sunday with French people out for a drive and lunch, which is what we were doing.

One can cover a lot of miles in Normandy without seeing all of it. We confined ourselves to the area from Honfleur in the north to Barfleur near Cherbourg and Caen. We realized part way through the week that this area of France requires additional time if one is to include Mont Saint Michel as well as points north like Etretat.

I guess a return trip is in order. Save me some Camembert.

Postcard from Alsace: Wine, Wisteria, and Storks

30 Apr

30 April 2019.

It is always time for wine in France’s Alsace Region, but only for a short time in the spring do the storks roost here to rear their young. Until we arrived we had no idea about this annual migration nor did we know how revered the storks, or cigognes blanches, are.  They are symbols of happiness and faithfulness bringing fertility and good luck. There is a fun read here from the Seattle Times a few years ago.

Ric captured a close up of this nest with both parents present. They were clicking away at each other, their method of communicating. The nest is perched atop a steeple. Note the supports. The towns build and maintain platforms to support the huge nests.

The storks feature prominently in town art,

We have had a full itinerary, one day taking a tour of a small portion of the Route des Vins d’Alsace visiting three family-run wineries, and another day exploring the beautiful and tiny villages, spotting storks, and enjoying the seasonal decorations that adorn every house, shop, and square. Wisteria drapes from walls, roofs, and trees, enhanced by bunnies, eggs, and other signs of the just-past Easter holiday. The air is fragrant with lilac.

The wisteria is at its peak while the tulips have just faded.

A day hike through the vineyards got us away from the hordes and tourist buses in Colmar, which has been our base for five nights. There has also been plenty of time to enjoy the local cuisine.

Flammekueche or tarte flambée, depending on your language choice. Think of it as Alsatian pizza. It is FABULOUS.

As usual, we are car-free. I can imagine why a car would be helpful in this region as public transportation is a bit thin. With the help of a taxi driver named Isa, we have managed quite well. Three times Isa took us to villages that were difficult to reach by bus. We feel like we have our own personal driver in Colmar. Three taxis were far more economical than renting a car for 4-5 days.

For now, I will let our pictures do the talking. Between us, we took far too many in four days: almost 500! Watch for a post (soon!) over at Project Easy Hiker as well about our backroads walk from Riqewihr to Ribeauville along with our visit at the Centre de Reintroduction which has helped in stork recovery.

One of the more brightly colored buildings, this one in tiny Riquewihr. Can you see the bunnies in the window boxes?

The decorations would be tacky on one house, kitschy on two, but when every building has them, it is a theme.

Even this restaurant in Turckheim was bedecked. This is where we had the tarte flambée along with seasonal white asparagus, another specialty of the region.

In Alsace, they use some very old wine barrels such as these beautifully decorated ones from a bygone era.

An eye test chart in an Alsatian winery. The real test for me was pronouncing the names.

Even in the overast that predominated our days in Colmar, the buildings are charming. No wonder this area is called “La Petit Venise.”

 

 

Southern (Oregon) Coast surprises

29 Mar
29 March 2019.
Where does one go for a break when one lives on the Oregon Coast? Another part of the coast, naturally.
When we lived in Portland, Cannon Beach was our coastal-town-of-choice. We usually enjoyed two, 3-or-4-night off-season stays each year, often with dog in tow. In fact, knowing we enjoyed Cannon Beach even in colder weather led us to decide to live on the coast.
However, in 30-odd years of living in Oregon, we had never ventured south of Florence! It was high time to go before the tourist season kicks in and Highway 101 becomes a convoy of gigantic RVs pulling tiny cars.
For one reason or another, we chose Bandon as our base and we were delighted with the decision.  It is less than four hours from home: far enough for a getaway but not so far as to require a driving marathon which neither of us enjoys.
Because the immediate post-Lewis and Clark history of the Oregon Coast is one of exploration and shipping, there are myriad lighthouses so in my mind I dubbed this The Lighthouse Tour, but there were other surprises awaiting us: among them, cranberries, sheep, and lakes.

Cranberries

I knew we grew cranberries in Oregon. I did not know they were grown so close to the ocean. Turns out Coos and Curry counties are the epicenter of the industry. The well-ordered, burgundy-hued fields would make Marie Kondo proud. There are many bogs and sloughs in the Bandon area but these fields, clearly visible from the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (aka, Highway 101), were dry. Seems they are only flooded to harvest the berries. Wouldn’t that be fun to see?

We did not get a good shot of the cranberry fields, but they are not “bogs” at least at this time of year. They are fields rimmed with berms to allow flooding for harvest. Photo by KnightedAirs

Sheep

Who knew the southern Oregon coast was prime territory for sheep? As green as the area is, we felt transported to Scotland where sheep grazing within view of the ocean is commonplace. While sheep farms are not as common here as in the Willamette Valley or Central Oregon we also were not traveling on an Interstate so we traveled closer to the pastoral views. Something about sheep always makes me happy.

Sheep and cows graze with a view of the ocean, Cape Blanco,

Lakes

Oregon is not lake country. Rivers we have. The Pacific Ocean, of course. As I hail from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Oregon has always seemed a little light on freshwater bodies. Driving along 101 south of Florence, there are a lot of lakes, some due to dams created by the famous Oregon dunes. It really is a peaceful drive from Florence to points south, unlike 101 near us. While the photo below is of a tiny lake, some are huge. Look up Siltcoos Lake or Tahkenitch Lake.

Lake Marie in Umpqua State Park, a stone’s throw from an ocean beach but fun — and safe — for kids and dogs.

The Trip

We spent four days exploring, mostly under clear skies. Bandon makes a nice base with some good restaurant choices, plenty of lodging options, and a choice of river or ocean views. We chose the Bandon Inn, on a hill overlooking the old town where one can walk to many restaurants.

Sunrise view of the Coquille River, Bandon, from the Bandon Inn.

Our travel day south afforded an opportunity for a few scenic stops between Newport and Coos Bay. One of our favorite coffee stops is in Yachats at the Green Salmon, with the best pour-over coffee we’ve found. Amazing pastries, too, and you could have a different sandwich every day for a month. They will lace any drink with CBD if you like. We never get past the pastries and coffee. Haven’t tried the CBD.
Bypassing Cape Perpetua, having visited there several times, we proceeded to the dramatic Oregon Dunes and the Umpqua Lighthouse in the eponymous state park.

The Umpqua Lighthouse still operates, now as a Private Aid to Navigation (PATON) as the personnel assigned to the Coast Guard station were relocated in 2008. It shines with a distinctive red and white Fresnel lens.

This is what people like to do at the Oregon Dunes. Only a few hardy souls out in March, but ATVs are available to rent at many locations nearby.

Arriving in Bandon about 16:00, we had time for a loop through the old town, where we discovered that night’s dining destination, Bandon Brewing Co., where pizza reigns! (Watch for a review over at Our Weekly Pizza very soon.)
Heading south the next day our focus was on Cape Blanco and Port Orford. Further south there were road closures and delays due to landslides last month, so we limited our wandering a bit. Cape Blanco turned out to be a delightful stop with an easy walk to the closed-until-April light. We were the only visitors on this warm and surprisingly wind-free morning. Imagine the hardships in living in this remote location when the light was built in 1869?

The Cape Blanco Lighthouse can be toured during limited hours, April-October.

From this viewpoint on Cape Blanco, it is easy to see how important the lighthouses were to ships navigating the Oregon Coast.

Port Orford is a dot on the map but Port Orford Heads State Park and a surprising ocean-front restaurant make it a perfect combination for outdoor fun and refreshment. Port Orford Heads offers a network of paths with remarkable views far out-to-sea made even more interesting by the unique rock formations. Here we saw one formation that looked like a whale and another resembling a henge sunk into the Pacific. We spotted our first whales of the season, beginning their northward migration to the feeding grounds in Alaska. It was shirtsleeve weather by late morning, convincing us that spring was at hand.

Lovely view of the entrance to Nellie’s Bay at Port Orford. From this bay, the Coast Guard used to launch their lifeboat. There is a museum dedicated to these brave “surfmen” as they were known.

Offshore islands at Port Orford Heads. This is a terrific whale watching viewpoint. See the “henge” far out to sea?

We could have spent the day on a handy bench overlooking the whales’ path, but growling stomachs called us to lunch at The Redfish. The cafe’s ocean view was surpassed only by the cuisine. Their fish tacos were the best I have eaten. Ever. Well-seasoned, grilled rockfish, encased in grilled tortillas (firmer for the grilling so they don’t fall apart) with a tasty, non-drippy slaw, and an underpinning of queso fresco plus salsa fresca. We passed on the fries and were rewarded with a large side salad dressed with a compelling citrus vinaigrette. I wish we lived closer. Or that they would move.

The Redfish Cafe at Battle Rock Wayside Park. best fish tacos ever.

Another day we passed in-and-near Coos Bay. First stop: Shore Acres State Park. Our promised sunny day started out with patchy fog and cleared to cold and windy near the ocean, far from the shirtsleeve weather of Port Orford. We were almost alone for an hour-long exploration that included the amazing formal gardens at Shore Acres, on the former estate of timber baron Louis Simpson.
From the website:
The initial holding was purchased from Louis J. and his wife, Lela G. Simpson, in 1942, and included the Simpsons’ oceanfront estate with its formal garden. Later additions were acquired from other owners between 1956 and 1980. The garden fell into disarray in the period 1942-1970 but it has been restored to perhaps an even grander scale than that achieved by Louis Simpson. “Shore Acres” was the name given by the Simpsons to their large estate on the spectacular Cape Arago sea coast. The house sat on a precipitous bluff overlooking the rocky ocean shore. The Simpson family was important in the development of the Coos Bay area, beginning with Captain Asa M. Simpson, who founded the town of North Bend after his arrival on Coos Bay in 1855. Simpson and his sons were leaders in shipping and the lumber industry. They owned land from Cape Arago to North Bend.

Almost alone at Shore Acres on a day of pounding surf and cold winds.

Dramatic surf at Shore Acres.

The former Louis Simpson Estate is now a state park, Shore Acres. I am told the current garden is more beautiful than the Simpson’s was. They have the best gift shop we’ve been in. Ever.

Found this tiny bunny having a snack at Shore Acres. We never see them in Lincoln City. He was so small, maybe 2 pounds.

Not far away, the lighthouse at Cape Arago once kept ships from harm. When you see the rocks all along this part of the coast, even far offshore, it is no wonder shipwrecks were common and lighthouses necessary.
Moving on, the aquarium at Charleston was closed (one of the perils of off-season travel is fewer days open and shorter hours) so we headed to Coos Bay. The heyday of lumber that built this port has passed but there is a tidy downtown core with a pleasant boardwalk and, surprisingly, a railroad museum whose open day our visit coincided with. Fish tacos from Sharkbites didn’t quite compare to the Redfish but they were of excellent quality.

Oregon Railway Museum. This outdoor museum is best savored on a dry day. You can walk through many cars, including some ancient cabooses. Limited hours.

There is a nice boardwalk along the waterfront of this calm natural harbor.

One can spend a nice morning just taking in the views from Bandon itself. When the sun is at your back, the Pacific shows itself best. Once again, we found ourselves virtually alone while we tromped around Coquille Point in Kronenberg County Park on a mild March morning. A lovely loop with vast views takes one along the cliffside to see the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge bursting with bird life. Table Rock, Cat & Kittens Rocks, and Face Rock are among the formations that capture the imagination.

Cosmo the puffin watches over the Coquille Point Nature Preserve. He is made of plastic pollution found in the ocean, part of a project called “Washed Ashore.”

Face Rock, one of the fanciful formations off the coast at Bandon.

While there are many dining options in Bandon — we tried several — the Bandon Brewing Co., Bandon Coffee Co., and Edgewaters were our favorites. Edgewaters was so impressive we dined there twice. Seafood Romesco (like a cioppino), a creative arugula salad, and a unique preparation of calamari caught our attention, as well as a decent local wine list. For the population, Bandon’s restaurant options far surpass those in Lincoln City.
I thought of this as The Lighthouse Tour as they are abundant on the coast. Between Lincoln City and Port Orford, we passed lights at Yaquina Head, Heceta Head, Umpqua, Coquille, Cape Blanco, and Cape Arago. But we found much more than lighthouses in our south coast break. Next stop: France in late April!
If you would like to know more about walks and hikes, head on over to Project Easy Hiker for a companion piece.

Second edition: “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena”

2 Feb
2 February 2019.
If anyone ever tells you writing a book is difficult, ask them how the editing and publishing process went.  Publishing is to writing as cooking is to eating: It takes a lot longer to create the meal than to eat it. At least it does for me, self-published as I am. The writing process was a piece of cake. Floundering through Kindle Direct Publishing gave me a stomach ache.  In fact, the author page links still are not working on all Amazon sites. Grrrr.

Ric on a new walk at Passo Gardena, with Jimmy Hutte in the distance. Many of our walks feature great places to relax and have lunch along the trail.

It has been a while since I last posted in November. We’ve been very busy. The last trip was, in part, to update our book and at last, we have published the second edition of “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena!” Now containing 23 hikes (previously 20) and updated information as of autumn 2018, this is the book to take along on a trip to Ortisei or anywhere in Italy’s Val Gardena. There’s not much written in English in detail on this part of Italy. 
We had such a magnificent trip again last fall that I could hardly wait to get this published. Alas, the writing and (worse) editing process did take some time, but now the content is fresca fresca fresca, as our Italian friend Pellegrino used to say.

The approach to Fermeda on one of our new walks. How about having pizza with this view?

If you have never been to the Dolomites, put it on your list and spend a week. Heck, spend a month if you love hiking and mountains. Our best trip ever was passing the month of July parked in Ortisei while we did the initial research and writing the first edition.
Click on over to Amazon.com and get your copy, paperback or Kindle. Also available worldwide on Amazon.it, Amazon.co.UK, Amazon.de, or any other country Amazon site you buy from.
Note the first edition is still out there because that is where the reviews are. I am hoping to see some reviews of the Second Edition soon! (Hint Hint.)
I will be back with a new post soon about cooking while traveling. Until then, Ciao!

This little marmot was hanging out with his “madness” at Seceda, above Ortisei. Hiking directions are in our book.

We make a point of hiking to this little chapel at Rasciesa each trip.

Also from one of our new walks at Passo Gardena. What a view!

On the trail from Ciampinoi to Passo Sella, a marvelous view of the Sciliar.

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