Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rallying 'round "We are Niçois"

I got interrupted by a couple of political conventions in the course of composing this. There have been subsequent acts of terrorism, but I stand by my conviction that we must not let those acts stop us from living our lives as we would. 

You've heard about the horror in Nice. You've seen bodies, discreetly covered with tablecloths from the restaurants that line the Promenade des Anglais, where 14th of July celebrants were mowed down by angry man with a huge refrigerated truck. He zigzagged to maximize the fatalities, he even is said to have shot from the truck window. Over 80 have been killed, others' lives are still hanging in the balance. The perpetrator of the carnage was killed by police.  I posted the following on Facebook the morning after.

I've visited Nice many times, walked on the Promenade, pressed through crowds at Market, taken pictures of the beautiful (but stony) beaches. I've just returned from nearly a month in France. Following other recent terrorist acts in France, I think we always remained alert to the possibilities, but we have to live our lives based on probabilities, or we'd never leave our houses.
People are questioning in social media what the modern world has become. But I recall just in my lifetime the wariness and vigilance we experienced in the past when traveling abroad. My first trip abroad was in 1959 and DH and I were in crowds shoved around by the Guardia Civil in Spain. The next trip wasn't until the early '80s, but a day or two after DH2 and I walked out of the beer gardens at Oktoberfest in Munich, a trash can which we had surely passed, was blown up, killing several.
I began my frequent visits to Europe, particularly France, in 1999, and have always been aware of the vulnerability of my surroundings.
Nine days ago friends and I were having dinner in an outdoor cafe in Orange, France, when a loud sound, a shot-like sound, rang out on one of the side streets leading into a square. Time stood still. The wait-staff paused, looking in the direction. I glimpsed under the small cafe table as a possible refuge. Wouldn't happen. I think I unconsciously counted, then took a breath when there was no repeat. Life resumed. But it sounded so much like a gunshot and not a firecracker or backfire.
Now with Nice, and the growing sense that things are out of our control, I began reaching back into my recollections, déjà vu, and began to Google. I don't know whether it's more settling, or unsettling, to know that:
"One common misconception is that terrorism is a new and unprecedented phenomenon. In actuality, terrorism is not an invention of modern times. Indeed, the very words we use to describe terrorists show what a timeless phenomenon it is."
This is an excerpt from a short course on terrorism, which can be read here.

I will not let the recent images of Nice take away my beautiful memories of a beautiful place. I will not let the haters of the world make me a hater. I don't know whether you've ever been to Nice, but I don't want your only images to be those horrific ones.

I blogged about Nice after my quilters' tour had a stay there in 2013. My son accompanied me on his first trip to Europe. That blog, here, has my most recent photos from Nice.

I sifted through photos from other trips. Not the first trip. (Those are old-fashioned paper prints on the scan-someday list.) Some of those are splendid, through the eyes of someone newly seeing a beautiful place.

Nice is at the eastern end of the French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, which starts in the west at Marseille. That coast is an eclectic mix of rugged seaside beauty, maritime activities, smaller villages, and playgrounds for the rich and famous. Nice perhaps falls closest to this last. I took this June 2003 photo, looking westward from the rising coastal roadway. Nice proper lies within the arc with the lighthouse at the near end, westward to the left edge of the photo. There's misty coastal air, softening the view of this sparkling coastline.

That's me, sitting on the rail of the Promenade des Anglais, just above one of the posh, rocky hotel beaches below. Those were the days when the travelers' uniform was the black pants, light top, and all-purpose tourist purse slung over your shoulder. I stuck with my Birkenstocks on my problematic feet, considered terribly casual at the time.

My next visit was in late September 2004. I'd signed up for two sessions at La Sabranenque volunteer historic restoration work projects in Provence. There was a week's break inbetween sessions, and I rented an apartment in Nice to spend my time off. It was at the late end of the summer season, too early for the winter season. It was calm and restful. No crowds, no hustle, no bustle, the beach concessionaires striking camp and packing up. I walked and sat for hours along the Promenade, taking pictures.

Resting cyclist

Loading up the Wave Runner

One last SeaDoo to go

View from my little apartment's terrasse 

The Nice airport is not too far west of my apartment, and I can watch planes crossing over the water at what seems hardly higher than eye level. I'm not fast enough with the camera to get photos of them, but still have vivid memories of small private planes and midsized airliners silhouetted against a blood-red sun at sunset.

Beaching it, on the rocks and in the water

Contemplating life and the universe

Going fishing

Fisherman and friends

And, if you're a guest of a hotel . . .

This guy stands outside of the Hotel Negresco, perhaps the most recognized landmark in Nice. If you saw any news conferences from Nice after the attack, they may have been held in front of the Negresco. (I saw at least one from there.) The criminal drove the truck from west to east right past the Negresco, right through the holiday revelers.

The Hotel Negresco guy

The Negresco has a large reception area inside with an extensive art collection. I picked this formal family portrait as just one representative. It must be a famous portrait, but I can't find it on the hotel's website, nor by Googling "portrait of three dogs." Perhaps it's a traveling exhibit. Some of the odd light on it is reflections of windows. I think what pulled my attention to this piece out of the lot is that the subjects of the portrait are each looking in a different direction, not what usually happens in a portrait. "She" looks like she thinks I'm eavesdropping on something personal. "Butt out."

Heading from the bayside into the city

There's the ornate St. Nicolas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice -- on which a two year restoration has been recently completed -- first completed in 1912 with acknowledgement of the financial contribution by Emperor Nicolas II toward its construction. As well as being an amazing place to visit, there's a fascinating history of legal wrangling between France and Russia over ownership of the edifice, with recent findings. Read about it here.

A plaque acknowledging Nicolas II's contribution
to the construction of the cathedral

The capital of the Riviera for over 400 years between the 1st and 4th centuries was an elaborate Roman city called Cemenelum, up in the Cimiez area of Nice. This ancient Roman Bath has been excavated, and, as I recall, part or all of an amphitheater. Most of the ruins still lie beneath the current city. I'm a sucker for Roman ruins. I'd love to get back here another time. There is info from the Best of Nice blog about this area here.

The ruins of the ancient Roman Baths

The Riviera near to Nice is dotted so many beautiful places to visit. I'll finish with a couple of views of the opulent Villa and Gardens Ephrussi de Rothschild in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The villa is effectively a museum of antique furniture, paintings, statuary and other artworks. There are several theme gardens, with plants typical of different regions of the world. Google the Wikipedia entry for more information. The villa's operation is apparently under the operation of CultureSpace now, and its dynamic website is just too dynamic for my taste.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

In the garden

I'm so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, to Nice, the Côte d’Azur, and other destinations, although I do admit to having a soft spot for France. As long as I can keep moving, I'll keep traveling and I don't intend to let those who threaten violence stop me.  And I damn well intend to enjoy myself. 


Sunday, July 17, 2016

To the top! And other adventures ...

July 5

I lazed abed yesterday morning, watching branches and leaves dance just outside the windows, colors vivid, breezes gently washing into my room and over me. I played hooky from the morning's activities, recuperating from residuals of a queasy stomach, left over from the day before.  Incredibly, I skipped this week's only visit to the lavender fields. But that outing also included another visit to Grignan and its chateau. I'm now on the 7-day tour and some activities are being repeated from the 10-day tour. I'm chateau'd out.

There are only two tour guests guests in addition to me this time. They're young and vigorous. All the walking is taking its toll on me. Rather than trying to keep up with them, or slow them down to my pace, it's my plan to set out with my own goals for a day. And I like that. I'd done that on our Sunday at market in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I'd had one modest shopping goal, a scarf close to white but more interesting than just plain white. I accomplished that early on, and then circumnavigated the market-on-an-island.  I've yet to edit photos for that, so I'll try to get to it later. I'm having a heck of a problem staying awake evenings to blog after a busy day, so this trip -- as usual -- will be presented in flashbacks.

This is the day for Vaison-la-Romaine, on its Tuesday market day, but I have no shopping goal. My goal is to walk trudge, hand over fist, to the chateau at the top of the old village. Or, at least my version of the top. (You will see.)

Built in the 1st century AD, the Roman Bridge is a single span over the river Ouvèze between the Ancient Village and the newer one, taken here from the old side.

This is a nostalgia climb. I've been up several times, but if I make it this time, it is likely the last. I've just turned 79, and I'm anything but a fitness freak. I've tried to tone up a little for this trip, but sticking with a tone up program is not my forté. The idea of "maybe the last time" crosses my mind more and more often. I'm not at all sure ...

This is new: books for exchange, to encourage reading. I didn't read the entire message on the books. I have a vision of people on a pilgrimage partaking of them. Or cyclists staying in hostels. I pass many little lay-outs of books on my course upward.

But the story here is "up." I'm already huffing and puffing where the choice must be made between ascending through the Porte Vieille to the left (this one) or the Porte Nouvelle to the right. I am sticking with the old, and proceed up this path.

I stop for this photo. The Beffrois must be a very powerful family. I see signs of their presence in other villages. It's not until I get back to Google that I discover that the Beffrois are the Belfries, i.e., the bell towers in all the villages. This is the one that served the community house from 1523 to 1727.

There is anticipation of scenic vistas from the rocky rising hill that is the foundation of the village and the chateau. Unfortunately for the photo-happy tourist, the cobblestone roadways are lined with buildings on both sides, and the buildings with the views appear to be inhabited by the well-to-to who guard entrances to their properties with big iron gates. Here is one peek I got, holding my camera through the bars and cropping a view between two trees. Gorgeous, no?


We are reminded by one village resident that this is not only a museum for the enjoyment of tourists, it's their home. My translation: "The High-Village is inhabited!!! Visit and look at our beautiful stones. Please respect their silence."

But my theme today is "to the top." I've just come up here. It's steep. I must rely on my walking stick to balance me in the center smoothness. Or, I walk on the cobblestones at the sides so I can grab the stones of the buildings to help pull myself upward. (So humiliating when kids run up and down without effort, and it is a mountain-climbing adventure to me.)

I come to a spot where I'm uncertain which pathway will take me up toward the chateau. I back track a little and find this sign. If you think the wide steps between the risers are level, have another think. They're as slanted as they look. But there is a handrail as far up as I can see. Up we go.

I pause to look back down the "stairway."

Right across from me are stairs to someone's house. It doesn't look like it's currently in use. But it may be . . .

I have to cross an area of crinkled granite, no handrails, no steps, no safe place to take its picture. A solo traveler stops to offer me assistance across the area and I take it. He disappears on up the trail. Thank you, kind voyager. It seems silly that this is so difficult for me. I guess it's because my balance is so poor that when what I am seeing is so out-of-level, "upright" isn't always how I feel.

That yellow sign ahead is my "top." I didn't go beyond it when I had people with me and I certainly won't do it alone. The question at this point is whether I can get to the sign, from which I can glimpse the chateau. There is no handrail.

I make it to the sign, even behind it a little, but you can see why I hesitate to continue.

There it is. I can see it. I can prove it. But also notice the convoluted shiny granite that's necessary to cross to continue upward. I'm told it only continues a short distance before there is trail again -- after the fact. Still, I don't think I would have continued even had I known.

I descend by another route, and get a bit of a view, with the cypress trees so typical of Provence poking the horizon.

And it's not even lunchtime yet. I drop into an ice cream parlor on the chateau side of the river for a cool beverage. Lisa, today's leader, drops in and joins me. Later, the two other women in our group come in. I welcome them. They all eat. They drink. They leave. I'm happy to have the excuse to hang on to the table for the rest of our visit to Vaison, because I have another hill to climb during our afternoon visit to Séguret and I want to rest up.

I take another photo of the Roman Bridge, in contrast with the giant modern crane, each part of this old city. 

I head down, across the bridge, into the closing market. I need only go straight ahead until the roundabout at the other side of town, and turn left to the wine co-op to get picked up by Lisa. I push through crowds and market vans, past permanent shops ...

I don't realize for a while that instead of walking among disassembling market stalls, the streets are lined with parked cars, and there are no shops behind them.

I assume the road I'm on runs parallel to the one I want to be on. Never assume that anywhere in France. I believe the gird system of street layout is either undiscovered or intentionally rejected by French road planners.

I continue on. Eventually I come to intersections where no road looks more important than another, none looks like the highway into town we arrived on. I know I have to go to the right somehow to get back into town. Suffice it to say, I take a very long walk. I get reassurance from a bus driver that I'm finally on the correct road to get where I want to be. It's amazing how different a roadway looks walking than it does from a car, especially with respect to ups and downs.

*     *     *    *     * 

Séguret's perched village is tiny, compared to Vaison la Romaine's. There is a chateau that I've never actually seen. For some reason, we've never spent the time in the village to follow that road to the left and look it up.  We don't do it this time. Why? Now I need to come back and see what there is to see. Next time.

We enter the village from the side, up a dark stairway, and emerge near the fountain that looks very much like the one in Vaison, a classic village fountain. 

We actually have a purpose to entering here, rather than through the front. It deposits us very near the tiny ice cream shop for a must-have ice cream cone. A young girl fetches her mother from a nearby shop to serve us. Other people take notice and also join in. Lisa gets hers first. Most people take their ice cream and walk on. I'm not walking on cobblestones with ice cream, so I sit near the fountain to eat my cone.

Then I head to "the top." In Séguret, that for me is up to the old chapel, where I get a view across the countryside to les Dentelles, the jagged little range of mountains sticking up out of nowhere, that so charms me. 

And on outward under cloudy skies . . .

Stairways are just as cobbled as those in Vaison, but by now, they seem to be a piece of cake.

I'm back at the fountain. A woman asks me if I want her to take my picture on my camera. I have friends coming, they can do it, but it's less complicated to let her do it than try to explain, so she does and I thank her. Me in my goofy hat, that I purposely sought out in my hat stash to wear this year. I believe hats worn on the streets this year are more eclectic than ever. It would be hard to define a bad hat day.

It's time to leave this little village. Our car is parked facing downhill on the barely more than one-way road down the side of the village mountain. We head down for a turnaround, then wonder whether continuing in this direction may also be a road out of the village. We take the best-looking road when there are intersections. On and on we drive. It's beginning to sprinkle out. The "bestness" of the choices deteriorates. We come to a Y in the road. The "best" road to the right, leading uphill, is barred by an iron gate. The fork to the left, leading downhill, is impassable, as we discover with a loud clunk the moment we turn in that direction. Hill to the right of us, drop off to the left of us, no real space to turn around. We contemplate backing up several hundred meters to the previous intersection ... 

But first we try back and forth, wall to chasm. Whichever direction we start does not work. Megan gets out of the car, sizes it up, and proclaims we can get out to-ing and fro-ing in the opposite direction. Here she makes a final assessment . . . and we're out! 

We take no chances. We retrace our tracks and do not try options. We know we're right when we pass the horse and two donkeys we saw before we entered the wilderness.

Exhausting day, but I am sooo jazzed!