Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chapter 3hree: Menton and the Macabre

Vieux Ville - Menton

There are basically two ways to get up to the Basilica St Michel above town: 

a) by the half dozen flights of stairs from the street at the old port, or 
b) through the ancient meandering alleys that you enter from the sea level pietons (pedestrian-only streets), and small squares. 

We have done both, and I recommend the tiered stairs - far more interesting. In the hot summer though, you may want to use the shadier streets.

Much of the old city of Menton is in need of an upgrade - everything from a simple power-washing to a more costly plastering and repainting.

Is that a flying spirit on the wall behind the lantern? 

Or, the map of Africa behind Joanne?

(more on spirits below)

There is a day care/child-minding centre at the basilica square. I feel these little ones look so glum, so sad, wanting to go out and play, to go fishing, perhaps, but alas, they are behind bars ...

At the top of the hill, above the church steeples, lies the Cimetière de Vieux Château, commanding a magnificent view of the city and the sea. Old European cities often reserve the best real estate for the necropolis.

Why is that?

So the spirits of the dead can overlook the living from up on high.

Wandering around the cemetery was a rather macabre experience.

This is not a headless spirit (above). I ventured a little closer and found it to be a gown draped over a Greek or Roman column. Somewhat freaky at first. Then a sudden waft of cold air blew across my shoulders at my back. I quickly turned, and somehow my camera recorded a fleeting movement of a haunting presence - black, weightless, and floating, then disappearing behind a large tomb.

Lost in translation. We got the heck out of the cemetery, snaking our way down into town, in search of a yoga mat. For about fifteen years now I have been keeping myself out of the Chiropractor's office with a pre-breakfast stretching routine. I usually use a thin, roll-up yoga mat, and vowed to buy one in France as soon as I could. The small store we went into surely sold such a common item, but I was mistaken. Worse, I caused some trouble trying to explain what I wanted. The staff clearly did not speak English. I got confused with my French. Grasping for words, I meant to say excercise but instead said excorcisme.

Big-eyed, the cashier and a sales guy on the shop floor backed away from me, crossed their fingers in front of their face, and Joanne hissed in frustration. Quite flustered, I said, à demainà bientôt. My choice of departing words did not seem to change their composure. We left the store.

It's Friday, so a short train ride to just across the border into Italy -to Ventimiglia's large outdoor market where a wide variety of products are available for sale - edible, drinkable, and wearable.

(photo left) wingless, limbless green birds that resemble pears


Now, one cannot go to Italy without buying a pair of shoes there. The Italians make the best. The ones in the picture (below) were hand made in Florence.

Which pair did I buy?

To be revealed in a pre-dinner pose in a future posting in this blog

Dinner Recommendation: Maison Martin & Fils, Rue des Martins

It is time to leave Menton, pick up our car in Nice, drive very slowly west along the Med, then a little north to our next two-week stay in the Luberon: in Vaison-la-Romaine.

For more travel and other photography visit my website 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Chapter 2wo: Menton


The train ride from Nice was a delight - an early morning ride with only a few locals commuting  between Nice and Menton. This gave us lots of space to choose almost any seat we wanted, both of us selecting a window so we could watch the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea slipping by just below the tracks.

Whoa! All of a sudden we were in the dark, snaking through one of the longest tunnels on the Mediterranean coast - for both cars and trains - bored through the mountain that is the rock on which Monte Carlo (in the Principality of Monaco) is perched. Money, money, money. The half dozen or so train stations on the Riviera between Nice and Menton are rather grungy by comparison to the subterranean upscale train station in Monaco.

March in Menton on the Med, the Baie du Soliel

Train arrival in Menton with lots  of luggage was not fun. "Lots of luggage" is a relative term, I suppose. How does one pack lightly for a 4 1/2 month trip in France, spanning cool, wet spring, and hot summer, much of which is with a car and longish stays at places, then Paris. I could write a new reality chapter for Rick Steves.  

The super-organized SCNF did not include escalators in the Menton train station. The several flights of escaliers (stairs) are formidable.

Short cab ride to a terrific, newly renovated 2nd floor apartment on Rue de la Piéta, a short pedestrian-only street in the centre of the old town, 2 streets from the Med. We were greeted by Candice, and so starts our first real week in France.

Having a place with cooking facilities, being partners who know how to buy locally, and to know how to cook well in the foreign tongue on strange appliances, saves some money and adds to the mystery of being here.

Quai Napoléon lll

A couple of windy and wet days,
and we were in the perfect temperature for travellers - the low to mid 20s (Celsius).

Place Georges Clemence

Louis Laurent, Republican Mayor (1885 -96), stands forever tall 
in front of the Marie - City Hall

The rain and wind kept the boats in the marina for our first two days ...


... and patrons, from the cafe terraces.

Of course, March is noticeably off-season, and because of this we find many places are not yet open or are short staffed with less than full menus or services available. The upside of being here now is there are so few tourists around that there are no lineups, everything is discounted, we are treated more special, and there no crowds in front of my camera lens.

Menton is known for many things, particularly, the citrus festival, which we missed by on week. Too bad, it is quite spectacular. All we got to see was a headless Elvis during cleanup.

France's easternmost city on the Mediterranean also has some stunning architecture - everything from the medieval to art deco, to avant-garde. 

the covered market ...

 the winter palaces.

On one of our daily walkabouts, while taking a photo in the old city, I was stopped by a woman who suggested the next old doorway was much more interesting. She asked Joanne and I in for a coffee, and to meet her husband. We accepted, and were given wonderful hospitality by these complete strangers. This well- maintained old building was once the winter home of King Leopold of Belgium and Queen Victoria, with her retinue of 100 staff.

  Our hostess had just completed the painting of a trompe l'oeil inside their apartment doorway.

my eye on the street passageway of the Jean Cocteau Museum 

The weather improved and we began to walk 'till we dropped. This is always healthy, and in our case, a necessity in order to walk off the extra calories from all the great new French foods, and wines that we've been enjoying.

The huge, botanical garden, Val Rahmeh, east of the city was an exercise in marathon hillside walking brought on largely by navigational errors, due partly to the lost in translation phenomenon. On the one hand, we took a wrong turn; on the other, the old lady who sold us tickets for the excursion directed us to tour the vast - almost 3 hectare - preserve, rather than the shortest route through it back to the city, like we had asked. At the end of the day, we were in need of a greater than ever intake of rich food and an abundance of red wine.

The next day we were ready to tackle the vieux ville with its steep, narrow, and rough-surfaced streets.

Basilica St Michel towers above the old town, dwarfing the shrines around it

Next posting on Menton, some spirits, and the market at Ventimiglia, Italy.

For more travel and other photography visit my website 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chapter 1ne: Back Again

Back Again

On the first of March, 2017, we returned again to France: terminally married - Happy, Healthy, and Hurting a little more. We do not practice agism, so on the other-side-of-the-mid-sixties, walking on old world streets and roads, up and down rocky and root-entangled trails, and ancient stairs - many and steep, often bearing the weight of luggage or supplies from the market, we forge ahead.

My last Blog on France, In France with Friends, posted in 2012, is still getting a lot of hits.

We returned to France for a short stay in 2015, but 2017 is the year of the big one - one hundred thirty days. 

That's just over a third of a year! Actually, we will interrupt le grand voyage with a week or so in the lands of our ancestors - Norway and Germany. Some space will be reserved in the near future for a little saga and Geschichterespectively.

not the Hotel Trocadero


Nice, as always, is nice, especially at the end of a long travel day from Vancouver via Paris without sleep. Air France was really good to fly with - better than average in-flight cuisine, good looks and smiles from the staff. 

The bus from the Nice airport dropped us at the train station which is a five-minute luggage haul to our stay (2 nts) at Hotel Trocadero. A good, clean 3-Star, could-not-swing-a-cat in-the-salle de bain-size, accommodation, but we are on a budget, after all.

We highly recommend a product to stave off jet lag. It really helps us when we fly across several time zones. In fact, it is called No Jet Lag, a chewable tablet, every two hours. Odd though, I don't know why it works so well because you have to stay awake to get the dosage every 2 hrs, then another 20 min. to chew it down???

Maybe that's why I had no jet lag in Nice. But I stumbled around the old town a lot, not very clear-headed, just taking photos with abandonment.

A lot of people-watching - addicted as always by the wealth of images of regional France. 


We have been accused of being foodies. Guilty as charged. This journey is most definitely about eating, and drinking too. I will share some wine likes and maybe dislikes, and some other special cullinary finds in the weeks ahead.

In Nice, we chose not to eat at the Pasta Bastard, tried to eat at Chez Juliette, one of our favourite restaurants, but alas, they were closed - holidaying in Canada, huh.

We settled on a superb restaurant, a few blocks northeast of the old town, the VINGT4.

I expect to have enough material for every blog posting, to give special attention to what I will call Lost In Translation. Here is my first one. Did the T-shirt designer mean BITCH I'M THE BOSS?

credit for this photo goes to the brilliant photographer whose name is bottom right, 
if you can read it

The day we left Nice, we just followed our noses, and some of the other travellers in life, to the train station, where the SNCF hangs out, bought a couple of cheap tickets for the 40 minute train ride to Menton, a quiet, regal city on the Mediterranean, so close to the Italian border that one could almost spit Prosecco at it (swishing it around in my mouth as I write, actually), unravel a couple of kilometres of spaghetti to the Franco/Italiano frontier, or just yell really loudly, "Cement is here!" and you'd stop a church wedding.

Okay, maybe the Italian Riviera was not that close, but from any beach in Menton you can see Ventemiglia, the city on the other side of the border.

See next posting about Menton and environs ...

For more travel and other photography visit my website