Tag Archives: travel

High on Cusco

Even before the plane started its decent for Cusco, we could see the tops of mountains that appeared to be level with the airplane windows.   Everyone talks about how high it is in Cusco—but until you’re there, it’s just talk.  At 3,399 meters (11,152 feet), it’s about as high as we’ve ever been without ascending a mountain by trail or chairlift.   So many warned us about altitude sickness, but we both had barely any problem, aside from a little shortness of breath the first day and a mild headache. I had a prescription for Diamox, but decided not to take it after I read the contraindications.  We followed the popular advice for altitude sickness:

1 – drink plenty of water – check!

2–get enough rest and take naps – check!

3—drink lots of coca tea – check!

4—move a little slower – check!

5 – don’t drink alcohol…er…four out of five ain’t bad, right?

Our time in Cusco was brief but eventful.  We visited the Cathedral, and really enjoyed the leadership of Mario, a very knowledgeable local guide.  Wandering the town of Cusco itself was fun, in spite of having to thread through a gauntlet of locals hawking everything from tours to shoe shines, massages to banquets…tourism is big business in Cusco.

Speaking of business, I have to mention the Hotel Casablanca.  It is a very inexpensive budget hotel in a central locaction in the village of Cusco.  The rooms are clean and perfectly nice, with private baths, hot water, cable TV.  There was even a high-speed internet connection, something I never expected in a town where so many of the local people still dress in traditional costumes and carry heavy loads up and down the mountains on their backs.   At times it looks like it could be 500 years ago—and then somebody pulls out their iphone, and the illusion is broken.   The owner of the hotel, Juan, is in his 70’s and moves and speaks very slowly…but he is the most helpful person we’ve ever encountered in our travels.   Not only did he pick us up at the airport, he drove us around a bit first so that we’d have the lay of the land.  In addition to the usual advice about altitude, he had the staff carry our bags upstairs, even our day packs, lest we suffer from altitude sickness, and they immediately served us coca tea in our room.

On the day we traveled to Machu Picchu from Cusco, Juan checked our tickets to be sure we knew the how’s and where’s of getting there—Peru rail, combination train and bus.  Since there is more than one station in Cusco, and the arrangements can be complicated, he not only had a taxi waiting to take us to the station at 5:30 a.m, he was up waiting for us in the lobby, and accompanied us in the taxi to be sure we got off without any problems.  Really sweet!   When it was time to leave Cusco, his daughter, Rocio, checked on our flights and printed our boarding passes without our asking.   The staff brought us tea, water, and served a breakfast of our choosing each morning.   We really thought we felt like part of the family–this was a budget hotel with 5-star service.   http://www.booking.com/hotel/pe/casablanca.en-gb.html?aid=311984

We enjoyed lots of things about Cusco.   Not least was a fabulous dinner at Cicciolina, near the Cathedral.  Great service and outstanding cuisine at a fair price.

On the main avenue, Avenida del Sol, the  stonework of Qorinkancha, an ancient Inca temple once completely covered in gold, stands as the foundation of the church of Santo Domingo, built on the spot–after removing the gold, of course

We also love to visit markets, and the market of San Pedro is fascinating for the produce, meats, breads, cheeses, and for the native Andean people who bring their goods to sell there.   Watermelon is in season, and we saw people munching on big hunks of melon nearly everywhere we went.

Just strolling through the village was a lovely experience, with extraordinary views of the sky and mountains at every turn.  On our last day, we stopped for coffee at the Plaza de Armas, the main square where the Cathedral stands.   While we were sitting and sipping, there were two groups celebrating The International Day of the Woman.   One group gave out purple ribbons, carried purple balloons, and insisted in giving out “abrazos – gratis” (free hugs) to every woman they saw.   A little weird if you’re not accustomed to embracing strangers on the street.  The second group was a bit older on average, with about a 50/50 mix of modern and traditional native attire worn by the participants.   They played drums and carried signs protesting poor treatment of women and workers, as well as lies and corruption of government and politicians. I think they might be called “Occupy the Andes.”   It made for a colorful morning.

Of course, Cusco is the starting point for most people going to Machu Picchu, either by hiking trails, or by rails or roads.   That experience, and the corresponding photos, will have to wait for another post.  Enjoy the pics—click on one and toggle through using the arrows to see the slide show.

Once in love with Lima

(To view as a slide show, click on an image below and toggle through using arrows)


The first stop on our South American tour was Lima, Peru.We stayed in a small hotel in Miraflores, and having arrived very late at night, we had no idea that the city was such a roiling, bustling, crazy anthill. Thinking that we would move around town by foot or by public transportation, as we usually do, we found ourselves absolutely confounded by the bus system. There are private and public buses, electric buses, vans and mini-vans, and I am in awe of anyone who can figure out who goes where, when, and for what price. Intimidated, we walked in Miraflores instead, and when we went to central Lima, we took a taxi. We were happy to discover that: a) distances are far greater than one expects and b) taxies are dirt cheap. We had a great few days in Lima, and every person we encountered was friendly and helpful.
Why begin in Lima? We have always wanted to visit Machu Picchu, and so would have to fly into Lima before heading to Cusco and then Aguas Calientes in order to go to the famous site. But, to anyone who has met us, you will not be surprised to hear that the burgeoning culinary scene in Peru was an equally compelling reason to spend some time in the capital. It did not disappoint. Incredibly fresh ingredients, particularly seafood, can be found from the funkiest little café to the poshest “Nuevo Peruano” restaurant. We had three especially memorable meals. El Cordano was special just because of the location close to the government seat; an old, traditional bar/restaurant that has served every Peruvian President since independence. The typical Peruvian food was simple and very well prepared, and the vibe was a little like time traveling. Second, Huaca Pucllana restaurant, set right in the ancient ruins, was outstanding for the views alone. Although a little higher-priced than our usual haunts, to sit in this incredibly unique setting, a pre-Columbian restored adobe ceremonial center from Lima culture, dating back to 400 AD, was otherworldly. A little charred octopus while sitting among the ruins–why not? Last, and most memorable for me, was Pescados Capitales in the warehouse loft area of the Miraflores disctrict, where we had some of the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. I will dream about the scallops, they were that good.
But we did more than eat and drink and walk our feet off while in Lima. Naturally, there are churches and cathedrals to visit. Two of the most important are the the Cathedral of Lima and the Iglesia Santo Domingo, where the first University in the Americas was founded, (sorry, William and Mary). The Cathedral, where construction began in 1535, is the place where conquistador Francisco Pizarro is interned, and where he was reunited with his head in the 1980’s—a pretty fascinating story. The crypts were deliciously creepy, and the cathedral quite lovely. The Iglesia de Santo Domingo and its priory, however, house the most important bones for Peruvian Catholics—the skulls of three saints—Santa Rosa de Lima, the first Saint to be canonized in the Americas, San Martín de Porres, the first African-American saint to be recognized by the Vatican, and San Juan Macías.
While visiting one of the two main squares in Lima, Plaza San Martín, we came upon a crowd of people carrying placards and demonstrating for workers’ rights. It was fun to hear the Peruvian version of the Internacional being sung in the square. Next we moved on to the Plaza de Armas, where the Cathedral, Government Palace, and Santo Domingo are all located. Distracted by the demonstrations at Plaza San Martín, we arrived too late to see the changing of the guard at the Palace. No problem—my new bff Percy Olazabal (yes, it’s a Basque name!) told us to come back at 6 en punto to see the guards march again for the lowering of the flag. After asking about our travels and hometowns, he posed, rifle at the ready, for a photo with me. Not something that would happen at the White House or Buckingham Palace, is it?
While in the Central part of Lima, we had to stop at the Hotel Bolivar, a grand old hotel, although its grandeur is a bit faded now. I remembered drinking Pisco sours there—too many Pisco sours—when I was barely out of high school. It was nice to go back and have another drink—this time just one—so many years later.
Our stay was perfect in Lima, if not a little too short. While strolling out to the beach area one morning, after asking directions of yet another friendly local who was so helpful he practically offered to carry us, Ray turned to me and said, “I’m in love with Lima!”

Missing Barcelona

I’m not saying that we missed Barcelona—we definitely “hit” it.   But we miss it now.   What a wonderful city!  From the great public transportation, to the food, to the lively night life, to the architecture and design—we loved every minute.  Even though this was not our first time in Barcelona, it was the longest time we’ve stayed in the city, and we started to feel like we really know the place now.  But, of course, there are so many Barcelona’s.

We stayed in a small apartment that we were able to rent through a company called “Easy Flat Barcelona.”  They have several apartments for rent on a short-term basis –and this one was ideal.   Clean, comfortable, modern (except for an elevator straight out of Moulin Rouge) and right on La Rambla, just steps away from the Plaça Cataluña, the biggest crossroads of the city.   The apartment is one bedroom with a sofa-bed in the living room, which came in handy as our son joined us for a few days during our stay—that made it extra-special. We got lucky once again, and the October weather was mild.    We all were surprised by how crowded with tourists the city was, even during this “shoulder season.”  I guess there is really no slow period in this high-energy city.  www.easyflatbcn.com

We concentrated on Gaudi architecture this trip—visiting the Palau Guell, Guell Park, Gaudi’s futuristic sub-division that was too far ahead of its time to be successful,  and of course the “block of discord.”  We also visited the Sagrada Familia cathedral—Gaudi’s unfinished work that may be completed in our lifetimes—but perhaps not.  Unique in all the world, it’s a place that must be seen to be believed. Last spring we had visited the Cathedral as well, and the photos of the cathedral posted here are from that trip, when the weather was colder but clearer. This news program gives a great overview: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50142539n.

A highlight for us was a visit to the Caixa Forum, a terrific museum in a former Modernista warehouse.  It  was recommended to us by the Massachusetts neighbors we happened to bump into  in Palermo—great tip!   We would not have known that the Caixa was having a special exhibition of Pissarro’s works unless they’d told us.   It absolutely blew us away—67 beautiful Pissarro’s on exhibit, and the best examples of the artist’s work I’ve ever seen—just incredible.   If you are fond of impressionist, this exhibition alone would be worth a trip to Barcelona.aOne new experience was to visit Barcelonetta, the beach area that has enjoyed quite a renaissance in recent years.  Although no longer really beach weather, the promenade was still busy with people walking and cycling along the waterfront on a beautiful fall day.  We found a really great no-frills  restaurant there Bar Villoro—we chose it because it was the only one where lots of locals were dining—large groups of men eating and drinking and playing dominoes, business people having lavish lunches and wine, and we three American tourists.   I immediately started talking to the owner because his resemblance to my late Uncle Felipe was startling.   He assured me that all his family is in Barcelona, so he could not possibly be a long-lost relative.  But he took care of us as if he were.   We had some of the best rice dishes we’ve enjoyed in Spain.   A real feast as the photo will show.   Two bottles of wine and some after-dinner drinks too—it was a low-key day after that–we all needed a siesta!

Another memorable meal was at Les Quinze Nits on the Plaça Reial.   Every day when we were in the area, we saw the long lines to get in, but we managed to walk right in and get a prime table on November 1, since it was a holiday and the lunch crowd was late getting started.   Timing is everything!   We enjoyed a starter of mixed fried fish and seafood and two great entrees—one of hake and one of fresh tuna.   Now we know why people line up.  We had a great three-course lunch with wine in an ideal location for 45 Euros!   Quite a bargain, and the food lived up to the hype.

We did our share of tapas crawls in the evenings as well.  A couple of our favorites were Basque-themed.   Even in independent and proud Cataluña, the Basque style of cooking and eating has caught on.  You can imagine the craziness on the streets—especially on LaRambla, for Halloween.   Another  post will include a video of a bicycle “parade” –shaky as it is while being jostled  and almost knocked down in the festivities.

On the day we visited the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s first significant architectural achievements, we walked the couple of blocks from our place and walked through the incredible building—just the beginning of a career that would transform Barcelona.   The whimsical chimney decoration on the roof is that last part of the tour, and we were lucky enough to time it perfectly with a gorgeous sunset over the city—better to be lucky than clever.   We adore the photos from the rooftop.

The visit to Guell part was also great—although there was one unpleasant surprise.   It seems only a week before we arrived, the city started charging admission to enter this formerly-public park.   A huge mistake, I think.   We spoke to someone who told us that they receive 10 million visitorsto the park each year, and that the city was being greedy by closing most of the park to the public and charging admission, even to locals.   Even within the park itself, there are still rope lines and additional admission charges for certain buildings.   A real mess.  The lines were long, the staff disorganized and as confused as we were.   Hopefully, they will work these kinks out soon, or acquiesce to the local pressure to return the park to the public.

La Boqueria market adds yet another chapter of “food porn” to our collection.  What an amazing place to visit and to sample food from the many stands and booths serving everything you can imagine—hams, sausages, empanadas, seafood, sweets, the works.   A wonderland for foodies—and again, just steps from our door on La Rambla.

The best part for us, though, was being able to explore Barcelona with our son.  We’ve been traveling a long time, and were starting to miss the family.  Having one family member come to us was a wonderful treat!

From Barcelona, we picked up the Ryndam for our long slow trip back home.   Will 14 days on a ship be too much down time?    We’ll keep you posted.

Click on a thumbnail and use the arrow to scroll through the Barcelona pictures.

Sicily – Part two

The second part of our Sicily trip was a little more relaxed–at least until the volcano exploded.The previous post shows it on video.   From Syracusa to Taormina, the train ride was brief.  When we arrived at our hotel, high above the beaches we were surprised that our room didn’t have a sea view, since nearly everything faces the sea.  Then we realized that instead, we had a view of Mt. Etna.   Even better! http://www.continentaltaormina.com/uk/

There was an exquisite terrace and rear garden, with a gate leading to stairs that took us right to the Via Umberto, the main drag of Taormina.  It is an impossibly romantic city, something out of a fantasy.  We enjoyed a very fine dinner and as we were walking back, heard some great music drifting down from one of the steep side streets, then followed it.   A couple of cocktails and a beautiful setting, some nice people to chat with, good  music, what more could we want? How about an exploding volcano?  

We had already booked our bus trip to Mt. Etna the next day.   What we didn’t know yet, of course, was that it would erupt that very morning.   We could see the explosions all along the ride up, and when we stopped for a photo op, we were surprised that we could also HEAR them!    It sounded like an artillery range, and it was all very thrilling.   When we arrived at the 1900 meter station, we were told that the cable car to the crater could not run that day, of course, because of the explosions taking place.   But there was no problem hiking up the mountain.  So that’s what we did.

The hike was kind of steep and the terrain a little rough because it was so loose and slippery.  Ray described it as climbing a pile of cinders.  But we made it as high as 2400 meters, and were quite pleased with ourselves for our endurance and bravery!  Besides, we had to keep up the tradition of climbing something–a tower, an arena, a mountain—at least once each week.    It really wasn’t scary at all, and the locals are pretty blasé about the eruptions—it’s not all that uncommon.   Still, we felt so lucky to be able to see it happening.  Our dumb luck seems to be holding out.

Last stop in Sicily was Palermo.  We just had a day there before flying out to Barcelona.   The city itself was a bit of a shock to the system, noisy and crowded, even on a Sunday.  We knew that with limited time we should visit the Palazzo Dei Normanni and Cappella Palatina. It was worth the long walk through noisy streets, because the Chapel has some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics I have ever seen.   A really inspiring sight.

Now let’s talk about senior discounts.   In most of Europe, they offer discounts for “pensioners” –sometimes 60 and over, sometimes 65 and over.    But,  many places say that the discount is only for E.U. citizens.   In Sicily, we were incensed to read that the senior discount was for “EU citizens, Canadians, and Australians.”   It usually means a saving of 5 to 15 Euros per admission.   Why not US citizens, because they think we have too much money?   Haven’t they been reading the papers—don’t they know the US is broke and deeply in debt???   

So, occasionally Ray asks for the senior discount, and they refuse without proof of E.U. citizenship.  I told him to try saying he was Canadian or English.  (His Spanish and French would give him away.)    In Palermo, he tried this and received the 75 percent discount on his ticket.   We were satisfied, until we heard an American accent, standing just behind us on line, saying “I’m going to try saying that.”

Of course, Ray started up a conversation with him immediately, and asked, “Where are you from?”  Guess what the answer was?  “Great Barrington, Massachusetts.”     Two couples who lived about 5 minutes away from us, with some mutual friends.   We’ve even been to at least one party at the same time.   Why wouldn’t we go thousands of miles to meet new friends from the neighborhood?  

Check out the pics—especially the ones of the volcano, which I think are just beautiful.    Click on a thumbnail and then use the arrows to scroll through.

Sicily–a great start

We decided we’d had enough driving for awhile, so we did Sicily by train.   We were hesitant about dragging bags from place to place and making connections, and it did limit us to just a few towns, but it  worked out really well for us.   We flew into Palermo and then took the train to Agrigento.   The Valley of the Temples is such a fantastic experience, it was worth doing even though it was nearly a full day’s travel to get to our next destination.  Eight Greek temples of the ancient world remain there, some incredibly well-preserved, going back as far as the 6th century BC.  There is something so powerful about contemplating the many civilizations that have made the island of Sicily their home.

The Grand Hotel Dei Templi was not really well located, I’d rather have had a B&B in town, but we figured out the buses and managed to get where we needed to go, at least in the daylight hours.   At night, we were stuck paying for taxis.   That said, the hotel itself is in an absolute time warp—not to ancient Greece or even Sicily circa 1900—more like Oceania circa 1970. A bit weird.   The first night we enjoyed one of the best dinners we’ve had on the entire trip.   The restaurant Ambasciata di Sicilia, which has been a city staple since the end of WW I, has a beautiful terrace overlooking the city rooftops.http://www.ristorantelambasciatadisicilia.it/ The weather was mild enough to dine outdoors, so of course we did.   The Pasta con le Sarde was incredibly fresh—thick pasta with fresh sardines, wild fennel, and a touch of mint.   We wanted to lick the bowl!   Swordfish in every possible form is served all over Sicily, and we had two swordfish dishes, one of involtini, swordfish rolls stuffed with pine nuts, bread crumbs, raisins, and some other secrets I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  So yummy.  The other swordfish dish was a steak served with tomatoes, olives, capers, and wine.   Incredibly rich and flavorful.  The wine, a Sicilian Nero D’avola was just gorgeous, and we found it ironic that it was called “Castel Venus” since we were sitting there overlooking a castle with Venus rising in the night sky. Poetic! I’ll leave it to your imagination to explain why the photo of the wine label is blurry. We enjoyed the food and the atmosphere so much that we even had coffee, dessert, after-dinner drinks.  We didn’t want to leave.   But eventually, the taxi came and whisked us back to our weird little hotel where we had warm gin and tonic (the ice machine was broken) and went to bed. http://www.grandhoteldeitempli.it/

Next day, we had a long trip to Syracusa.    We knew there would be a three-hour layover in Catania, making the trip take the better part of a day.  But the good news was that the train station is quite central in Catania, so we could check our bags at the station and walk to the Piazza del Duomo, visit the Church dedicated to St. Agatha, and have a nice lunch of pizza and salad before heading back to the station.  We asked someone directions and he gave us very clear instructions: “Continue on this street until you run into the elephant.” It sounds even better in Italian.  He was talking about the Fontana dell’Elefante, featuring an elephant, symbol of the city, carved from black lava from Mt. Etna, in the beautifully-designed Piazza.  This little excursion was something we could never have done in an airport layover.   I must also note that every single person we spoke to in Sicily, from taxi drivers to strangers on the street, were helpful and welcoming, kind and friendly.

We arrived in Syracusa and settled in for the night.   In the morning, we visited the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, with its Teatro Greco amphitheater, where  Euripides’ plays were mounted and Archimedes is said to be buried.  We also had to see the celebrated “ear of Dyonisus,” the cave with ear-shattering acoustics.  And, yes, I did sing.  I sounded amazing, I thought, until an English choral group entered the cave and did a well-rehearsed dirge.   THEY sounded amazing.

On Ortygia Island, the old city of Syracusa has been inhabited for two thousand years.   The Piazza del Duomo was lovely, dominated by the cathedral incorporating architectural fragments from a 5th Century BC temple to Athena, with 26 of the original columns still in place, and the cathedral built over it.  This cathedral honors patron Saint Lucia.  St. Lucy is a very important Christian martyr, and we also have special feelings for Lucy because that is our granddaughterwe ’s name!

But the most thrilling part of being in the Piazza was the smaller Church of St. Lucia on the other side of the square.   Here, Caravaggio’s “La Sepoltura di Santa Lucia”  (the Burial of St. Lucy) is displayed.  After many years in a nearby museum, it has been returned to the church.   Artwork of this magnitude seems to have even more power when viewed in situ–just beautiful. We couldn’t take photos in the basilica or the Church of St. Lucy, but the link will give you a taste of the Caravaggio: http://stevengivler.blogspot.com.es/2011/12/viewing-caravaggios-burial-of-st-lucy.html

We also visited the Palazzo Bellomo museum, a 13th-century palace with a very good collection of paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.   After that, we took  a walk all around the Island of Ortygia. It took longer than expected and went through a couple of sketchy areas,  although the sea views were quite beautiful.  But I wouldn’t recommend doing it again.

The next day, we were ready  to chill relax in Taormina.  More about that in the next post, including the explosions on Mt. Etna!

Please click on a thumbnail and look through our pictures of Sicily, part one.

Nîmes , Marseilles and Cassis

We couldn’t leave the Arles area without a quick stop in Nîmes.   Yes,  another Roman arena—but this one is probably the best preserved Roman Arena in the world, with 24,000 seats and 60 arches.  There is also a temple, the Maison Carrée, surviving almost intact from the Roman Empire, smack in the middle of the city, dating to 4 BC.   Pretty amazing.

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After that, we drove south to Marseilles.   We had a bit of a problem finding our apartment in this big bustling city.  Then, when we finally found it we were sorry we did.  It was a garret straight out of La Boheme, a seedy seven-story walk-up with some maintenance issues.  We complained, the owner got us moved into a better place (not a GREAT place, but better) a few blocks away (this one only six stories up!) and the rest of our time in Marseilles was great.  It was the first place in all of our bargain-basement lodgings that was not acceptable.  Considering all the moving around we’ve done, one bad experience is not so tragic.

We were so very happy that Ray’s old chum John from the UK decided to meet us in Marseilles for the weekend.  It had been several years since they’d seen each other, and though I’d met John when he was in New York, we had not known each other as couples. As expected, Julie is as fun-loving and sweet as John.   J & J stayed in the Sofitel near the old port—much more elegant digs than we had, to be sure! Good thing, or they’d never have agreed to travel with us again!  Nevertheless, they stopped by our ‘hovel’ to share in the lovely wines we brought back from the Cote du Rhone wine tastings earlier that week.  Incredible vintage Gigondas in water glasses, sitting on Ikea bar stools in a 6-floor walk up.   Definitely a contract between beverage and setting.  It was such fun just to be with them.  We couldn’t have had a better time, and I know that it won’t be several MORE years until we get together again.   Ray and I were both so touched that John and Julie took this trip just to spend some time with us—that’s real friendship!

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ImageBeside enjoying some wonderful seafood dinners and way too much wine in Marseilles, we took a drive together to Cassis to see the port and the amazing Mediterranean fjords—the Calanques.  The little port town of Cassis is post-card pretty, with castle ruins, fortress walls, sunny beaches, and a charming port with sport, tour, and fishing boats—and the occasional uber-luxury yacht.

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We had a lovely lunch outside on a café terrace before boarding a boat.   John is not the world’s most enthusiastic sailor, and we were warned that the sea was a bit rough that day; but he was a great sport and managed to get through the trip without-er—incident.  Gouged out by glaciers thousands of years ago, the dramatic cliffs and inlets are incredibly beautiful.  I was envious of the kayakers we saw in the inlets, even though conditions seemed pretty challenging.   If we’re lucky enough to visit Cassis again, I know we’ll give the kayaks a try! (If they don’t have a “no geezers” rule!)

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Ray has really enjoyed driving the winding and scenic routes all through our travels, and he has been a great navigator and adventurous wanderer throughout.  But nothing compares with La Route des Crêtes.  This winding road up to the top of Cap Caneille (the largest of the cliffs with a 1200 foot drop straight down) and then on to the next town, La Ciotat.   The views were worth the white knuckles!   Then back to Marseilles for some well-deserved wine and another great dinner.

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Next morning, we took the “petit train” –the little tourist put-put—from the old port up and up through the narrow streets to the Basilica de Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the city. Another high point—literally and figuratively.   Magnifique!

The Camargue–Provence

After driving up into the mountains of Provence, the open flat lands of the Camargue were quite a contrast.   This marvelous area contains everything from rice fields to ranches for the bulls raised here for both bull games and the ubiquitous taureau dishes served in every restaurant.   The Camargue is also known for the salt flats, from which a terrific culinary product is produced and sold throughout France.  (We learned to use it sparingly, as the flavor is really intense compared with regular sea salt.)   The small light grey or white wild horses also inhabit the Camargues, and are said to be one of the oldest known breeds.  The drive through this area was so scenic and the terrain and plant life so varied, we felt as if we’d driven to another country.  But it’s just another side of wonderful Provence.  At La Capelìere we walked the nature trail and enjoyed the shelters built at various points where we were able to stay hidden while using the high-powered binoculars to spot ducks, grey herons, and hundreds of flamingos.  Apparently, the flamingos summer here, but some of them enjoy Provence so much that about one fourth have now taken up permanent residence, and no longer migrate.  I can understand that inclination. We didn’t see any of the wild boars that roam this area, but we enjoyed walking through the preserve at on a short hike that included different environments:  forest, wetlands, salt marsh, and lagoon.  We had a perfect day for this excursion, warm and sunny but not too hot.   By October, the mosquitoes were no longer a problem, and we stayed to enjoy another of those great picnics with wine we had bought on our Cote du Rhone tour the previous day, along with wonderful cheeses and bread we bought in the small bakeries and cheese shops in the town of Arles that morning.

As we were heading away from the marshes to visit Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the little beach community on the west ernend of the Camargue, I mentioned to Ray that we hadn’t seen any wild horses.    Then we rounded a curve in the road and there they were—lots of them.    We were able to get very close–they were not the least bit people shy.   Gorgeous creatures.

Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer was a quirky little beach resort with kind of a counter-culture vibe—probably because it is a mecca for the Roma community. (a.k.a. gypsies)  It reminded us a little of some New England seaside  communities.   Definitely not the French Riviera crowd at this resort.  We were so lucky to have this mild fall weather, when the beaches are still warm enough to enjoy in mid-to-late October.  We are so lucky for a lot of reasons!!!