Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Il Cane Emergenza

We had a trip to the emergency vet with Scully a few nights ago. Compare and contrast the following two experiences:

1.  Several years ago, while visiting my in-laws with our first dog, she badly tore her dew claw. There was lots of blood and she was in so much pain that we could not touch her paw. It was about 7pm. We located a vet nearby that had an after hours emergency service, called them, and drove right over. The vet basically trimmed off the dangling bit and bandaged her up in about 15 minutes. We paid $80. And I'm guessing this happened about 10 years ago, so let's go ahead and double the price if it happened today.
Just a little reminder of how darn cute Scully is.
2.  Several nights ago, while Scully was eating his dinner, all of a sudden he just ran into the living room making really weird faces and not being able to walk straight. This little fit passed by the time Nathan even called out my name, and Scully then indicated he had to go outside immediately. I was concerned enough by Nathan's report of his behavior to follow him outside, and there, I found him running around the yard, frantically eating all different kinds of grass and plants and shrubs. Just frantic. Now Scully is crazy, but this behavior was very abnormal. I made him come back inside, where he kept pacing to go outside and licking his lips. We called our normal, local vet here in Italy, but his office had just closed. We did some quick, internet research and while we felt like he might only have an upset stomach, the not walking straight and continued symptoms had us concerned enough that we wanted a vet to see him immediately. I remembered a 24 hour emergency service vet located in the village right next to our house, and a friend had told me months ago that they'd had good treatment there in similar situations. I called to ensure a doctor was on the premises and let them know we were coming in immediately. We arrived, waited about five minutes, and the vet brought us in for the exam. [And it's amazing how much Italian we speak when we have to. Panic brought up more vocabulary and grammar than I realized I knew.]. We explained what happened, he examined Scully thoroughly, told us he felt like it was nothing more serious than an upset stomach, but he went ahead and did a blood draw. Disappeared to examine and test the blood. Came back and gave Scully a shot of pain medication and another shot that we think was something like an antibiotic. Spent time talking to us. We discussed the possibility of stomach twist (deadly for dogs, and he assured us this was not the case). Then I also showed him a cyst on Scully's head. Scully used to get these cysts all the time in the U.S., and one vet told us not to squeeze them (usually, gooey stuff comes out - they are pretty icky) because of risk of infection. This particular cyst has not gone away like many of his others, so I'd previously made an appointment at our vet's office on base (many bases have vets to care for military working dogs, and they will see family pets on a space available basis) for an overall health checkup, thinking the cyst would be included. And during my appointment, found out that I would only be seeing a vet tech, not the actual vet, so to have the cyst looked at, I would have to make (and pay for) yet another appointment (and make the 1.5 hour roundtrip drive again). So this emergency vet took one look at it, reached out and squeezed it slightly, the entire thing erupted, he cleaned it out, and the end. He finished up by writing a prescription for Zantac to give to Bubba Boy. Entire cost for this treatment of in-depth exam, blood draw, pain shot, and 2nd shot, all at 9:30pm:  55euros (less than $70).

I'd like to suggest in the U.S.:  Access to affordable health coverage for our pets...Discuss/debate amongst yourselves.

So Long, Farewell

We really did have to leave Switzerland. Although on our drive out of the country, we discussed ways to get our daughter Swiss citizenship. For instance, as soon as I go into labor, if we head for the border (we already have the road sticker, so we wouldn't even have to stop), and I give birth in Switzerland, would that do it? What exactly are the rules on that sort of thing. I don't know that a whole lot of Western Europeans are running for the Swiss border to have children, so perhaps there are no rules governing this concept. I suppose we should just stick to our original plan of going to the hospital on base. But I'm not giving up the dream of a Swiss chalet. We could spend winters on a sailboat in the Caribbean and summers in a log cabin Switzerland. Ah, the dreams of the childless. About six more weeks until reality comes home to roost.

Lucerne's Chapel Bridge, Europe's oldest wooden, covered bridge.
Leaving Grindelwald Valley, we put Lugano into the GPS (our intended lunch stop) and headed out, driving through more gorgeous vistas. At one point, we passed a suspicious road sign that listed about six different mountain passes and their status (open or closed). We were going too fast for me to read the whole thing, but I noticed only two passes were closed. Surely out of six available ones, we were on the road to an open one. Right? We drove up, up, up, waterfalls everywhere, past the snow line, and in multiple places, past road barriers that were lifted up. Good news. Until we were almost to the actual pass. And the road barrier was down. We'd been driving up this particular mountain pass road for 45 minutes. Thankfully, the views were so gorgeous that doing the same trip in reverse was not a huge hardship. And it meant we got to see Lucerne. Checking our map and considering we didn't make note of which passes were open and which were closed, the best route seemed to be for us to stick to the main freeway all the way up to Lucerne for lunch, then come down the freeway into Italy. But by the time we reached Lucerne, we were tired of being in the car...and not only were we not out of Switzerland, we were two hours out of our way in the wrong direction! We took the Lucerne picture (truly, a gorgeous city), ate lunch, and got back on the road to Verona, where we'd planned to stop for the night. Verona of Romeo and Juliet fame. Unfortunately, Verona was about 30-40 minutes out of our way, and in hindsight, we wished we were just making for home. But we had hotel reservations that could not be cancelled and the thought of driving well into the night vs a nice dinner and hotel stay meant Verona won out.

We pulled into our hotel just before dark and heard the most unearthly screeching. Just horrid. And loud. Then a peacock walked around the corner. That made the screeching almost bearable. I've never stayed at a hotel with a pet peacock. I must have taken as many pictures of it as I did the Alps. I was even able to forgive it's shrieking when it began at 6am the following morning, mainly because it's peahen was out and about, so the peacock walked around for an hour with all his feathers displayed. Giving me a good photo op was worth the shrieking wake up call.

As far as Verona goes, it's a very nice, pretty city. There is a large amphitheater, and the night we were there, some sort of pop concert was taking place inside it. We walked around the pedestrian zone, took a picture of the wall of love letters at Juliet's house (from the one in the movie "Letters to Juliet" - if you saw the movie, both the wall and the letter answering club are real), and found one of the prettiest piazzas in all of Italy (Piazza d'Erbe). We were just really ready to be at home, so I'm afraid we did not enjoy Verona as much as I'd hoped...and we were both sad to no longer be in Switzerland. And a shrieking peacock woke us up at dawn.

Did you know peacocks could fly?
I didn't, but I saw it with my own eyes.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cow Field Blunders

Last full day. Big sigh. I did NOT want to leave Switzerland. Nathan, however, awoke with a terrible migraine. Our wonderful hotel hosts sent me up from breakfast with a tea tray for him once he awoke. The day was predicted to be sunny in the morning and storms moving in by afternoon. Since any light or movement hurt Nathan's head even more, I elected to go on a morning walk alone to give him time to recover. So far, we'd spent all our time over in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, but Grindelwald Valley, our base, had some pleasures of it's own. From our hotel, I could walk to a cable car that went only a short way up the mountain, and from there, our hotel host had informed me of a nice walk down to town. I headed off for the cable car station, finding views of a stunning glacier along the way (didn't even know we could see a glacier right from town). At the top of the cable car lift I found the two trails down to town, one quite steep and straight down, the other an obviously more meandering route. One problem. The gentler trail immediately began in a cow field...a cow field containing several large and vocal cows. I tentatively began walking along the path, but then the cows turned and seemed interested in me. So I ran (walked very fast) to a little fence built as an overlook to the luge that was also accessible from the cable car stop (I so wanted to ride that luge!). One particular cow came up to the fence I was behind, whereupon I realized the top of the fence I was using as my protective barrier reached only to her knees. The fence came to my chest, however, so I was at a distinct size disadvantage. At this point, all the cows had moved right into the path I was to walk down, so I walked back up to the cable car stop, intending to find someone I could ask about this path. The cable car attendant assured me that this path was indeed the correct one. Now I know in my head that cows do not attack. We lived on a dairy farm for a year and walked through the cow field numerous times - and I never got over the fear. They are just such massive animals, and I just think, "One bump and I'm down and trampled."

Now Nathan and I had spent the last two weeks quizzing a doctor friend of ours about various activities I could or could not do on vacation. "Can I go on a waterslide? Can I go white water rafting? Can I go horseback riding?" And so on. He continued to patiently tell us, over and over, "What we want to avoid is trauma to the abdomen." (Funny aside: Our first morning eating breakfast, our hotel host, who had already quizzed us on my due date, girl or boy, etc., suggested one particular valley where we could go base jumping. Base jumping! He walked away, and Nathan and I cracked up, saying, well, base jumping was not something we even thought to specify on our list of do and don't questions). So now, here I am in the Alps, alone in a cow field with extremely healthy cows who seem to want to approach me. This seems like a recipe for trauma to the abdomen. I didn't know whether to wish for other hikers to weather this field with me or to be thankful no one was around to see me walking along and muttering over and over, "What we want to avoid is trauma to the abdomen. If a cow bumps me, does that count? That seems like it could cause trauma, and what we want to avoid is trauma to the abdomen." I had been able to see the gate for the end of the cow field from my perch behind the "protective" fence, so I knew the path was short, or shortish. I just walked quickly and prepared my alternate route in the event the cows really began to approach me. I would know when they were coming up from behind since the cows really do wear bells. We bought one to put on Scully, but it scares him.
There are plenty of "Sound of Music" moments
Following my successful journey through the cow field, I breathed a big sigh of relief and continued on my pretty, little walk overlooking the gorgeous, green valley below. Until about 45 minutes later when I came to yet another cow field. This one had an electric fence that went ACROSS the trail. Just one fence line, so not a large fence, but in order to continue down to the valley, I would have to lay down on the ground and crawl under the electrified line, and then I would be in another darn cow field. This walking path was quickly losing it's appeal. I stood there for awhile, staring at the one, tiny little fence line, and began muttering to myself again. My alternative was to return to the cable car station, a steep walk uphill, and I'd still have to go through more cows. Crawl I did. Under the line, then, rather than staying on the path, I edged the fence line as far away from the cows as possible, made it to the other side of the pasture, and thankfully found only a similar, one line fence rather than a more insurmountable barrier. At this point, I was ready to be done with this path. It was only supposed to be about a 75 minute walk, so I knew I was really close to the end. I could only imagine what might come next. Actually, I didn't. It was a stream. A running stream across the pavement that I had to ford. It was just shallow enough to ensure slippery footing. Again with the muttering. Normally, none of these obstacles are a big deal, but at a time when my movement is a little impaired and my footing can be uneven, they were a little more challenging. Why, oh why, of all the walks we'd done in Switzerland, did this one have to be the one that Nathan was missing. The one time I really needed assistance...and cow bait.

The path finally ended, and I walked back into town. Nathan's migraine had lessened, and I, trying to be a good sport for the afternoon, suggested an afternoon bus ride reputed to be a quite scenic ride. Thankfully, the tickets were expensive, and upon further discussion, we found that we both just wanted to relax in the hotel room for the afternoon. This plan worked out because shortly after we ate lunch, the skies opened up in a cracking good thunderstorm, which we enjoyed from our covered balcony while napping and reading. While we would have enjoyed one more sunny day to enjoy some more hiking, our bodies and feet were aching, and we'd been away from home a long time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Best Day of Hiking Ever

Our forecasted sunny day dawned, and we headed back over to the Lauterbrunnen Valley (only a 15 minute drive) to take the cable car up to Murren, another car free, mountain town, this time on the opposite side of the valley. Hikes from Murren provide the views of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. On our trip the previous day to Wengen, we'd actually hoped to hike a ridge line on a walk reputed to be one of the best in the region...only to find the route was still closed due to snow...in June. Not something we expected, but at an elevation of 7000 feet, we should have. We wanted to do a walk called the North Face Trail from Murren - actually, from yet another "town" (hamlet) a cable car ride up from Murren. Stopping in at Murren's Tourist Office, we found that one part of the North Face Trail was open - not the one we'd planned to hike, but we'd take what we could get. Riding the cable car up even higher, we stepped off at Alpenhubell and into glorious mountain views. The Jungrau mountain was front and center, right in our faces, the entire hike.
I'm 26 weeks along here.
Switzerland has these handy, yellow, directional signs that point your way toward towns, toward specific hikes, etc. Sometimes they just say "Wanderweg," which means walking trail. While these little signs are normally quite helpful, the North Face Trail signs gave us some confusing moments. The trail has a few split offs where you can walk to different towns, walk a different trail down, and so on. The trail we were following ended, or so we thought, at the front door of a house. We thought we'd missed the trail and gotten on a long driveway, so we backtracked, picked a different split, and that trail just petered out fairly quickly. Our only other option was to follow yet another split that headed up. We did not want to go up, so we headed back down the "driveway," and in walking on and over the front doorstep to peek around the corner, found the trail did in fact continue...along the side deck of the house, down some stairs, and then back on the real trail again.

We reached Murren in the amount of time the trail signs had listed (oh yeah, those handy walking signs also list distances and/or hiking times to the destination - so efficient!), and we were quite proud of ourselves since we've tended to become slow pokes. Although we had aching feet, we were just not ready to give up those views and call it a day, so we headed out from Murren on a family friendly trail (mostly flat and mostly paved) to the next village down the mountain, where we could catch the cable car down to the valley and our car. This second trail had views of all three of the biggies in this mountain world, and we had a slow pace with lots of stops for "photos" (i.e., rest). Even now, when I look back over our photos, I cannot get over the beauty of this region. Nathan called this his best day of hiking ever...high praise indeed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Finding Paradise

Back to our vacation that now seems like it was eons ago, we based ourselves in the small town of Grindelwald, the next valley over from Lauterbrunnen Valley. We loved the town, and while a couple of the guidebooks I read listed it as crowded and touristy and kitschy, we found it to be a lovely, friendly town with plenty of restaurants from which to choose, some nice places to sit and enjoy the mountain views, and very friendly people staffing the hotels, restaurants, and shops. With our three day trip, we mostly planned to do hiking and hoped to do one day trip, possibly to Lucerne, as well.

This area of Switzerland is what you see on postcards and brochures. Towering, snow-covered, Alpine mountains and gorgeous, green valleys with wood chalets dotting the landscape. At this time of year (early June), waterfalls cascade down all the mountains and hills. The most famous mountains of this area are the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, with a nice little legend to keep their order straight - The Ogre (Eiger) is kept away from the Maiden (Jungfrau) by the Monk (Monch). The Jungfraujoch at the top is heralded as the Top of Europe because it's the highest railway station in Europe, reached by railway and cable car. Servicing the valleys in this region are comprehensive, clean, scenic combinations of trains, cog rails, and cable cars. And Switzerland is EXPENSIVE! To go to Jungfraujoch costs something like $200. Some of the other, most scenic cable car routes were $100 and up per person. Since we just wanted to do some walking, we decided we'd get great views wherever we were and we could skip seeing the best of the best, i.e., heading to the tops of the mountains. And we were not disappointed.
Doesn't  the Lauterbrunnen Valley look like utter Paradise!
Our first morning dawned a bit cloudy, so we headed to Trummelbach Falls, a place where tunnels are carved out of the mountainside, and you can see various waterfalls of the glacier melt from the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. They are beautiful and thundering and we spent an inordinate amount of time playing with the camera to capture the beauty.

Then the sun came out and we headed up a mountain via cog rail to visit the car-free, mountain town of Wengen. Sadly, we found out after our return home, when Nathan posted photos on Facebook, that some military friends from long ago were staying in Wengen that exact day! What are the odds? We did not run into our friends - instead, we took a short walk through town, then headed down to the valley and our car via a hike down rather than the railway. The hike was a bit steeper than I expected in some places (not in the below photo!), and with my center of gravity having shifted to the front a bit, I had to take more care than usual on the steeper parts. But our walk was filled with great views, and we enjoyed picking out the beautiful chalets that would work for our vacation home. The hike down from Wengen just whet our appetite for more of those views, and with a sunny day forecasted next, we were looking forward to Day 2 in the Swiss Alps.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Interrupt This Program -

Lots going on this summer, and still to come on the blog is the Swiss finish to our vacation, a girl's trip to Istanbul, a quick visit to Sicily, and reporting on the Summer o' Beach (meaning we do a lot of lying about on various beaches). But I'm interrupting the more exciting, trip type stuff to report on Baby news. Actually, Baby gear. I got my shipment of stuff yesterday, most of it given or loaned to me by my sister, mom of three. The military provides us with a fantastic benefit when we live overseas of one shipment of baby gear. There are, or course, several rules, but we qualified. This means new moms (the allowance is only available to first time parents) can get the stuff they actually want, rather than being dependent on our very, very expensive choices out in town or our limited, but more economical, choices on base.

Nathan and I have spent the past few years trying to declutter. I'm worse at it than Nathan, but neither of us has been completely successful. And what do babies bring? Clutter. Stuff. More stuff. Stuff that multiplies and gets bigger as they get bigger. I think we're both having nightmares of drowning beneath piles of baby gear. To that end, we kept our baby shipment small. We have just the basics. The basics do not extend to Baby's clothing. See the picture? That is one out of 8 or 9 loads of laundry and only includes what my sister is loaning me - it does not include the stuff we've already bought or received as gifts. When my baby goods arrived yesterday, the clothes, including lots of blankets and some very bulky type items for cold weather, all fit nicely into two plastic tubs and one additional box. Then I made the mistake of opening those tubs and soon, Scully and I found ourselves trapped under piles of baby clothes that were multiplying like little Gremlins. Scully was running scared - his world is about to be completely rocked.

I can see my future now, and it has made me run, not walk, to Pinterest for every organizing tip in the book. Our biggest problem is that while we live in a decent size house, we have NO closets. This is Europe, people. No closets. We have a cantina with wonderful shelving...and everything in the cantina grows mold. We have a closet in our garage. When it rains, is it's wont to do all winter long, that closet streams water down it's walls...which equals mold. So where to turn? Under the bed space, which is all currently in use. Wardrobes, ditto. The key is to aggressively weed out belongings (please note, the key is not to cut down on baby clothes. Baby clothes are cute, and from what I hear, babies vomit a lot, so lots of clothes are actually necessary, esp to people who have a fickle dryer). So I dive into closets and wardrobes with every intent of throwing out things like the cigar boxes I bought six years ago when we were stationed in Key West, but then I realize all the things cigar boxes are good for...like storing tiny baby things. I study my shoe organizers and contemplate getting rid of some of my high heels, but I'm just not ready to face the fact that, since I stumble when wearing heels without a baby in my arms, my high heel days will be disappearing for the next several years. So I turn to my purses, which Nathan believes I could easily cut down. He is incorrect. I use all my purses, except for the bright red, leather, triangle tote that is so gorgeous. I have used it once, and I looked fabulous. The rest of the time it sits neatly organized on my purse shelf making me happy. But me thinks when one has a baby, one does not get a neatly organized purse shelf, or even a neatly organized purse. One gets an ugly, plastic-like, humongous diaper bag to carry around yet more baby stuff. In February, when I was visiting my sister, we went to a consignment store, and I found a very pretty, Coach tote bag that I thought would work perfectly as a diaper bag. My sister just laughed and laughed. Apparently, Scully isn't the only one about to have a rocked world.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Amazing Annecy

I was trying to do some blogging on the go during this vacation, so you may remember our sheer delight in picking Annecy off the map as our lunch stop and happening onto an incredibly beautiful city. I wanted to share just a little more about Annecy (pronounced Ahn-see), on the shore of Lake Annecy and rimmed by Alps. We drove to the lake and parked there, right by the pedestrian zone of town, and then enjoyed a too short wander through town while seeking out our cheese, bread, and sausage for lunch picnic. The restaurants and streets were filled with tourists, as well they should have been. A favorite was, of course, the Palais de l'Isle, which is the building featured in my prior post (Travel Can Remain Surprising). The Palais de l'Isle was a residence built in the 1100s, and subsequently served as a courthouse, mint, jail, and now, a local museum.
I couldn't resist adding another photo of Palais de l'Isle.
Annecy's streets and alleys meandered through buildings and over the canal, winding about, and we had to tear ourselves away for picnic time. We found a lovely, small store that held everything we needed for our picnic and made our way to the lakeside park. Oh, how that park soothed our green space deficit eyes. Naples has a ton of great things about it. Parks are not one of them. There are very few green spaces, and what few there are can take quite a trip to reach. To sit by the huge lake, covered by shade trees, and staring up at the Alps while eating our lunch was heaven. But, we eventually had to tear ourselves away and finish out the drive...Swiss Alps or bust.

Annecy had a number of boat rental options. Canoes, kayaks, motorboats, paddle boats. The paddle boats had interesting options of colorful lounge chairs, and some even sported a small waterside - awesome!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Few Of My Favorite Things

So you already know just how much I loved the French markets. I enjoyed not just the browsing and people watching, but taking photos of the stalls. So today is a photo day...some of my favorite photos of market stalls:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cotes du Rhone Wine Road

Buis-les-Baronnies, best market award - helped along
by the fact that our hotel is in one of those buildings on the right.
Picnic cherries
We spent our final day in France first at the fabulous, weekly market right outside our hotel room door - who would have guessed that our tiny, little village home base would have such a nice market. And like many small towns, it's quirky citizens were easy to spot. One night while eating, a bearded man galloped into town on his horse, followed by a pack of dogs. We saw his dogs again, but missed another episode of horse play. The market in Buis-les-Baronnies netted us a few gifts, both for others and ourselves, and following yet another picnic lunch by yet another river, we spent our final afternoon visiting wineries, ala the Rick Steves guidebook for driving the Cotes du Rhone Wine Road. Nathan and I had a bit of a miscommunication in wine buying expectation - I thought we'd pick up a few bottles, while Nathan planned to pick up a few cases. With a total of five vineyards and/or cave(s) (pronounced kah-vay) visited, Nathan's plan took over the entire back end of our station wagon. Our cantina is now well stocked!
Our driving tour views
A favorite stop was our final one, which we reached just at 5pm - Domaine du Marchon. With a plan to do a quick tasting, then return to the local village of Seguret for dinner, we walked into the tasting room and were greeted with, "Are you here for the tour?" Ummmm...yes? Turns out that Wednesdays at 5pm is the tour (in English - owners are Scottish) of the vineyard. We tramped up to the vineyard and learned about the soil of the region and the classification of Provencal wines - this is just what Nathan was wanting as he'd commented on the afternoon drive that he'd like to begin learning more about French wines.  We headed back into the winery to learn about the production side of things, and then on to the tasting room. I can't tell you much about French wine as I was paying only marginal attention. I was very distracted by our other tour group members, one a set of eight or so young people (college age). I won't go into detail as it would be rude - oh, okay, it's because it was the most unattractive group of people I've seen in a long time. I mean really, really unattractive - distractingly unattractive. And one girl had selected as her outfit a completely see-through top over her black bra, so I spent a lot of time pondering today's fashion and considering just how out of touch I must be. Then there was another guy, American, who seemed to know everything about French wine and kept handing out brochures for a gorgeous hotel. Nathan talked to him following the tasting and we found that he'd recently purchased said hotel and was at the vineyard to stock his restaurant. Anyone would have been distracted by all these interesting people, except Nathan, who was focused on actually learning about wine. Domaine du Marchon provided, by far, the most comprehensive tour and tasting we've ever attended, and it was one of the most enjoyable. Our final day in Provence was the perfect end to our exploration of the region. We saw beaches, mountains, markets, old towns, new towns, ruins, wineries, and took full advantage of our love for the French cuisine...which meant we had to plan on hiking off all the extra calories at our next destination, the Swiss Alps.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Old Towns, New Towns, Markets, and Ruins

Notice the Roman bridge on the right side of the picture
Vaison-la-Romaine is a quite popular town in our new region of Provence, and has a large, weekly market. We grew to enjoy a morning browse through the Provencal markets, so we drove over early to Vaison-la-Romaine as we'd read parking could become a challenge. While we found parking quite easily, we were so grateful to have arrived early because by mid-morning, the market was so crowded as to be unenjoyable as well as stifling hot in the maze of streets that blocked any breeze. This market was our least favorite - I think that because of it's size, the quality of goods was diluted. There were many more booths of what "cheap crap," so we had to hunt a little harder for the fun stuff, including our picnic lunch fixings. We had more of a late breakfast picnic just to escape the growing crowds and found ourselves sitting by a clear, rushing river just downstream from a Roman bridge built about 2000 years ago. What is remarkable about it is that a 1992 flood washed away all the modern bridges in the valley. Guess which bridge was left standing? As we explore so many incredible buildings and structures in Europe, from bridges to palaces, my engineer husband is constantly remarking on how we can't build things like this bridge anymore - I'm sure I've written about this before. Either we don't have the techniques, the skilled craftsman to do the quality handwork, or, most importantly, the money. Vaison-la-Romaine's bridge makes the point perfectly. We dawdled by the river for awhile watching a lady play with her dog while we lounged about eating cherries (fresh, market cherries - so, so yummy), then decided we'd best do at least a little sightseeing.

Just in case you've
never seen a squat toilet
Vaison-la-Romaine reportedly has some wonderful, Roman ruins in the New Town. We skipped those and opted for a climb up to the medieval, hill town. There, I found my one and only squat toilet. I'd been concerned that many of the public toilets I'd find in France would be such things, but so far, France had gifted me with numerous, easy to find, free, clean, stocked with tp and soap, public toilets. Medieval Vaison-la-Romaine is where I met my fear. At 26 weeks pregnant and a belly that had popped, I had grave concerns that squatting down to the floor would result in me not being able to get back up without some hand and knee placements in spots I'd rather not have any skin touch. But also at 26 weeks, sometimes bathroom breaks become vital. This is already too much detail, so let's just say that things worked out and I remained clean.

Back on the road, we headed to Orange to see the Roman theatre there, supposedly one of only three in the world with the acoustic wall still standing. A couple of fun facts on Roman theatre, one of which is more gruesome than actually fun:  (1) In plays, if a character was to be killed, a condemned prisoner would take the place of the actor at the last minute and actually be killed on the stage, and (2) the first Italian drama was developed right here in Campania (here as in our home, Campania, Italy, not Orange, France). Orange was a wonderful town. Bustling, with a large, newer town surrounding the old town, we would have liked to do some more exploring...but relaxing back at our hotel garden sounded more appealing to our aching feet on this very hot day, and this trip was all about skipping the high powered sightseeing and spending time relaxing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Exploring the Luberon

Pretty street in Roussillon

Le Colorado de Rustrel
Our next day in the region was for visiting nearby Roussillon (my original pick for our home base), the ochre cliffs of Le Colorado Rustrel, Mont Ventoux (of Tour de France frame), and ending up in our next home base of Buis-les-Baronnies to visit the Luberon region of Provence. Roussillon is startlingly attractive and quite different from every other quaint village we've seen in Europe in that it sits atop huge quantities of ochre, and all of the buildings in town have the ochre color. I'm not sure if they're made of ochre bricks or if the ochre is used to create a paint or plaster. We enjoyed a nice wander through the small town, gave thanks that we'd landed in busier, pretty Isle-sur-la-Sorgue as our home base, and headed out of town to Le Colorado de Rustrel, a park with lots of sandy paths among the ochre colored cliffs and rocks.

Mont Ventoux
From Roussillon, we headed toward Nathan's must-see sight in Provence, the top of Mont Ventoux, which I believe is used sometimes as the final point on the Tour de France route or is used as a Tour stage. Climbing out of the valley filled with lavender fields (and pulling over for a quick look at a working sheepdog herding some wayward sheep back across the road to the flock), we passed through a nice forest that thinned out to become a completely bald, mountaintop resembling the surface of the moon. Just white, limestone rocks everywhere. And at over 6000 feet, it's COLD at the top. We went from the Colorado de Rustrel, where we were guzzling water and had to sit in the car with the A/C running to recover from our hike, to Mont Ventoux, where I was pulling on jackets and wrapping a scarf around my bared legs.

Beautiful Buis-les-Baronnies
We ended up in Buis-les-Baronnies, a tiny, tiny village and one in which I was very apprehensive. This was to be our longest stay so far at three nights, and after spending nights in a town filled with restaurants, yummy ice cream parlors, and a beautiful river to walk along, I thought we might be bored silly in Buis-les-Baronnies. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We booked into Hotel Arcades de Lion d'Or, a lovely hotel in the Old Town - aka, the town since the only parts of town not in the "old" section were a few small stores and gas station on the road leaving town. Our hotel was so full of character with a room that felt like visiting a friend's home, a view of the Old Town and the weekly market out our window, and a beautiful, relaxing garden and pool (and hot tub and sauna, which we never used) to lounge in after our days of exploring. We found a restaurant on the edge of town with tables overlooking a scenic, mountain vista and a menu so appealing that we returned the following evening to try more of their food. Plus, nearing the end of a full week of traveling meant we welcomed some quieter, more slow-paced evenings.
Our hotel's relaxing garden
A favorite photo from Roussillon

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy Accident

Since planning of this trip happened so late in the game, most of the towns where I actually wanted us to stay were out of hotel options. So we ended up in surrounding towns, and in every case, we were delighted upon visiting the "first choice" town to find it much lacking compared to where we were actually staying. The first of these "accidents" landed us in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, perhaps the prettiest, little town we visited. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was our home base for two nights in the Vaucluse region of Provence. The town is adorable, built atop canals for it's 13th century, flour mill industry that later added textile and paper mills. Once hosting over 70 waterwheels, today, there are only a few left.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue's main canal on Market Day - lots of picnicking

Isle-sur-la-Sorgue's claim to tourist fame is it's antique stores and weekly, antique market. From Monday-Saturday, numerous antique stores inhabit stores on the canal. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is said to have the best antiques selection outside of the fabulous, antique markets in Paris. On Sunday, the market takes over the entire town, with antiques on one side of the main canal, and the rest of town holding the more typical, market wares. And by "rest of the town," I mean the entire town becomes a market. We were enthralled...and hot. Thankfully, with Isle as our home base, we could head back to our hotel for breaks. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is also where we figured out the best way to lunch in France is a picnic of market foods picked up in the morning and a pretty, shady lunch spot to enjoy it by noon. We typically found some type of soft, but pasteurized, cheese (the cheese sellers were excellent about pointing us to pasteurized cheeses that I could eat), fruit (cherries were our favorite pick), a baguette, and some type of sausage. And of course, a couple of light pastries.

Charming, tiny Gordes
We also headed over to explore the hilltop village of Gordes. Filled with buildings of stacked stone, the little village sounded like a wonderful visit. And it was, for an hour or so. We walked into town, took in the two or three streets that make up the village, and headed "home" to our small, but still vibrant, town. Gordes was a quiet visit with a couple of cafes, while Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a river to walk along, ducks to watch as they surf the river currents, numerous cafes and restaurants and shops, and enough people to feel vibrant without feeling overcrowded.
Love, love, love French stores - how beautiful is this display!
One of my favorite antique store finds
Me, enjoying the antique market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue...and
carrying around our lunch baguette