French Country Roads, We’ll Travel On, To Some Places, Where We Won’t Stop Long… (John Denver Called And Asked For His Song Back)

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A sigh of relief on a warm, sunny Tunisian morning. As expected (but we were all still a bit nervous), the Democrats have taken back majority control of the House.

Thank God. More work to be done, but it’s a start in the right direction as we oppose the coming months of Trumpian directives and support a huge swath of new women, LGBTQ, minority, and progressive representatives.

A big THANK YOU to all of the dedicated people working for the better of the country, to all those who voted, to all those whose long-dried tears created the tides of today, to anyone and everyone who believes in equality, honesty, respect, nonviolence, and compassion for all peoples…

In December of 2010 a street-stand fruit salesman was harassed, humiliated in public, and had his wares confiscated by government officials in Sidi Bouzid, a city in central Tunisia. About an hour later, after no official would listen to his claims, he poured gasoline on himself and self-immoltated. His subsequent death would turn him into a martyr and be a catalyst for the Arab Spring, where sweeping revolutions took place across the Arab world – Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Syria, etc. Unfortunately for nearly every country involved, the Arab Spring rolled into the so-called Arab Winter, when new crushing dictatorships and military governorships moved in to take over in the vacuums left by the recently ousted rulers and another generation of war and conflict exploded in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, which helped cause the current migrant crisis. (And perhaps the migrant crisis in Europe inspired much of the fear which has been stoked by far-right groups in Europe and America? The fear which catapulted leaders like Trump into power? Around and around we go in the history of geopolitical matters!)

To this day, the only Arab Spring country that succeeded in creating a democratic government has been Tunisia. We won’t focus too much on Tunisia right now (those posts are coming), but it just seemed apt to make a comment due to the election. Oh, and here is a glimpse of where we have been staying lately:IMG_7217

Anyway! Back to France. When we last spoke we had visited the hilltop town of Èze and yacht-filled Monaco. The next day we jumped back on the train and visited gorgeous Menton, the last French town before the Italian border.IMG_7219

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Menton
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Menton
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Menton

 

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Yummy Sunny French Life

Hurrying quickly through Menton (though, of course, making time for a few oysters and a couple glasses of wine), we continued on the train to its last stop – right across the border in Italy. While the train ride to the small city of Ventimiglia is only a few minutes from Menton (It takes ~15 minutes to travel through three countries here!), it is easy to tell you have crossed into another country. While French Riveria towns are brilliantly colored in hot yellows, oranges, and reds (either freshly painted or simply long-lasting colors), Ventimiglia seems to be slightly more “authentic” in its layers: peeling paint adorns worn walls and older doors, weather vanes are a bit more crooked, and the tourists are few and scattered.Processed with Onetake with San Diego preset.IMG_7225IMG_7227

The town, like many in the area, is built on a hill/mountain and most streets wrap back and forth with abandon and up and down steep cobblestone steps. We wandered through the old town’s maze-like alleyways, exploring small squares with fountains still bringing water after hundreds of years. Heading uphill, we stepped gingerly past a slow-moving elderly Italian couple, their hands gripping tightly to each other and the steel railings, their methodical climb a nightly battle against aching, aging bones.Processed with Onetake with San Diego preset.

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After dinner we boarded the train to return home, but had barely moved before Italian immigration officers appeared and asked for identification. Neither of us had brought our passports, but my US license was sufficient proof since Americans can come to Schengen countries for 90 days visa-free per year. As the tension grew, I began mentally counting out how long it would take for me to take the train back to Nice, get Manchit’s passport, then take the train back to Italy to show it to the police. Luckily, Manchit uncovered a photo of her current Schengen visa in a WhatsApp message from a couple months ago – saved!

Feeling thankful, we were visited by French immigration just ten minutes later as the train slowed to a crawl once again. This time, I showed my license quickly and the officer who was supposed to check Manchit’s ID got distracted by another group and forgot to return before the train began moving again. Lesson learned – bring your passport (or a copy) if you are going across borders within Schengen. (Or travel with a lot of people at a busy time so the officers can’t check everyone!)

Our time in Nice finished, we took the train west and stayed a few nights near the small beach town of Saint-Raphael, a mostly uninteresting place filled with (too?) many French retirees. From there we visited movie-famous Cannes (small, expensive, didn’t stay long), and Antibes (bit larger, expensive, very nice Picasso museum, largest yachting harbor in Europe), and Frejus (very small, but has a nice McDonald’s and a GREAT supermarket [we probably go to more supermarkets than anywhere else while traveling FYI]).IMG_7516

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We were feeling a bit weary of the retiree-package-tour vibe, so we jumped back on the train, alighted in Marseille, grabbed a car and took off on a FRENCH ROAD TRIP, BABY! After ten days at the whims of public transportation, there is nothing better than grabbing the reins of control and traveling via car, motorbike, or bicycle. We visited more towns in five days than would have ever been possible by using trains and buses, and we were able to change our plans and drop into random places at a moment’s notice.IMG_7249IMG_7207IMG_7237 2IMG_7239 2IMG_7273

A few highlights from the days –

Avignon: a city which rose to fame in the 1300s because the current Popes decided to stay there instead of Rome!Processed with Onetake with San Diego preset.

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Staying with Claude and his two cute pooches: he spoke very little English, we spoke practically no French, but we had a great time!Processed with Onetake with San Diego preset.

Eating the BEST meal of our trip (so far) in Arles. The restaurant changes chefs every two months or so, and the current cooking team come from Vancouver. It felt a little strange to tell them the best meal we had eaten in France was made by Canadians!

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Les Baux-de-Provence: A stunning town built on a mountain. Nearby the absolutely breathtaking “Carrières de Lumières,” a lightshow of art projected inside a massive abandoned quarry and set to music. Very cool!IMG_7520IMG_7209Processed with Onetake with San Diego preset.

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Views from the top of Les Baux-de-Provence
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Amazing show inside the abandoned quarry
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Technicolor Dreamworld

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse: Beautiful town at the foot of a group of mountains, famous for its natural fountain. We climbed up to the old fort above the town for some views.IMG_7241IMG_7243Processed with Onetake with San Diego preset.IMG_7245

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Fall colors

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Gordes: Another old gorgeous town built into the side of a mountain.

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All of these towns/cities (and the other five I didn’t include here) were nice to visit for a couple hours, but any more than that and you would get bored, so renting the car was perfect. We could zip around to two or three different cities per day, enjoy driving in the French back country (I do not understand the speed requirements – on some of the craziest mountain roads the limit is easily twice what is safe, on some of the best straight roads through the countryside, the limit is half of what it could be…), and then head on home and share a bottle of wine and a couple of McDonald’s burgers. Just like a couple of true French travelers.IMG_7269

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Chat in a bit

D + M

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