Avignon

On the way to Avignon we stopped at Aix-en-Provence for lunch. We were only there for an hour or so, so I didn’t get a chance to poke around or take any pictures, but it was a very beautiful city. The quality of the light was such that I understood immediately why the city and surrounding area attracted so many artists like Cezanne and Picasso.

Avignon was also very beautiful.

Le pont d’Avignon. It cost 4€ to go on it so I danced under it instead!
avignon

Sunset over the walls:

Monte Carlo

On the way:

There:
monte carlo

The casino:

I didn’t gamble, but I did wander around admiring the architecture (Charles Garnier) and watching other people gamble, and ok, pretending I was in a James Bond movie just a little bit. It’s a very quiet casino, all you really hear are the voices of the croupiers calling out in English, French or Italian. Even the slot machines are almost silent.

Cannes

I liked Cannes a lot better than Nice. Unfortunately we only had about an hour there before we had to hop on the train back to Nice to get ready for dinner.

Proof that I swam in Cannes!

There were lots of cute kids on the beach at Cannes. It reminded me of our old family holidays at Kaiteriteri. It was actually a good time to go, as the air was still warm but the beach was very quiet. I hear Kaiteriteri is completely different now and the beach gets packed in high season, just like all of the beaches in Europe.

Nice

The weather improved dramatically once we got to Nice. It was good to walk around, see the beach and the old town. The narrow streets of the old town were bustling with shops and restaurants and almost had a bazaar-like feel to them. As you can see, we also walked up the hill for a beautiful view over the town and the sea.

Up the top of the hill some people were having a lot of fun with homemade go-karts. This one was possibly called “everything AND the kitchen sink”:

The beach was ok, although it was rocky, not sandy. We didn’t think the people sunbathing looked very comfortable!

The downside of Nice was the hotel. The welcome they gave us consisted of a list of rules for Contiki groups, and they’d taken all the complimentary tea and biscuits from our rooms! The day manager was the stereotypical snooty Frenchman. I really think they shouldn’t treat Contiki groups like that because in the off season we would have been bringing so much business to their hotel. There was another busload of Contiki people staying there too.

The rooms they gave us also had very primitive locks on the doors (massive gap between the door and the jamb, and if you wanted to deadbolt them you had to lock them from the outside – we’re used to hotel rooms that lock themselves), which was what led to the major disaster in Nice – while both Contiki groups were at dinner, our rooms were broken into and all cash was taken. I never leave cash in hotel rooms and luckily Rachael, who almost did, had decided not to, so we don’t even know if our room was broken into (for some of the rooms, the cash was gone with no sign of the lock being broken etc. Kind of suspicious). It all happened on snooty guy’s shift although by the time it was discovered the hapless night manager had to deal with it. I went along in case translation was needed but although the gendarmes spoke no English the night manager’s English was good, so I didn’t let on that I spoke French and eavesdropped instead. Apparently the hotel had been broken into a couple of months previously. The gendarmes were not impressed.

Anyway, we’ll never know what really happened, but I hope Contiki finds another hotel or that this one at least puts proper locks on the doors!

Autumn colour at Borough

007

Go to flickr and look at the large size if you want to fully appreciate the coolness that is macro focus. In a bustling food market you don’t have much time to set up a shot but this one came out pretty much as I wanted – the alien broccoli stuff (what is that stuff called, anyway?) in super-sharp focus surrounded by the fuzzier-looking kale.

Which reminds me, Miz Booshay aka Donna asked the other day what kind of lens I use on my camera. To which I replied (in my head): Hahahahahaha! (please forgive me)  In fact my camera is a compact Canon A710 IS with no special lenses or anything. But to tell you the truth it is by far the best compact camera I have ever used and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get great photos with little effort. Or, if you want to put more effort in it offers shutter priority, aperture priority or full manual modes. I am very happy with it and as you can see I am getting some good shots from it, although it makes me want to upgrade to a more professional camera! But it is using this camera that has encouraged me enough to want to upgrade. One day…

Cinque Terre

After Pisa the weather cleared and we arrived at our stop for the night, La Spezia. La Spezia is the gateway to the Cinque Terre, five little villages clinging to the cliffsides on the Mediterranean coast right at the top of Italy. We hopped on the train to explore and managed to get to two of the villages. It was the most relaxing time I’d had all holiday, mainly because of this:

My first paddle in the Mediterranean, at Monterosso. Anyone who’s known me for a while will know that me + water = bliss. Even if it’s just my feet. There’s something very cleansing and calming about it. It was also surprisingly warm!

The villages are accessible by rail, by boat in summer, and they are also connected by a series of walking tracks, including the famous “Lovers Walk” between Riomaggiore and Manarola. Unfortunately because of the rain there was a landslide risk and the walks had been closed. Another thing on the list to do later. I think next year I will spend a few days walking between all the villages. It’s only a max of 1.5 hours between each one, but I wouldn’t mind going at a nice leisurely pace. I will go in the off season again though (mid-spring or early autumn) because I loved how quiet the villages were, and apparently they get packed in high season.

The picture postcard shot (Manarola):

Dinner was back in La Spezia, the local speciality of penne with pesto Genovese. After dinner consisted of a gathering in the local laundrette. And that was our final night in Italy.

Stay tuned for:

– Nasty in Nice!

– Charming Cannes!

– Where to go in Monaco! (ok, that one’s lame. But YOU just try to alliterate, pun or rhyme “Monaco”)

Pisa

This photo doesn’t really convey how wet and cold it was, or what a roaring trade the illegal street umbrella vendors were doing (seriously, as soon as our bus pulled up in the car park they descended on us, umbrella-filled backpacks at the ready). Being a Londoner I was prepared, but the rain was so hard it penetrated my umbrella. That has never happened before! We took the requisite photos and spent the rest of our appointed one hour in Pisa huddled in a cafe eating hot chips and pizza (I don’t even think anyone made any puns about pizza in Pisa). Box ticked!

Florence

Florence was, of course, gorgeous:


This fake David comes nowhere near the real thing though!
We went to the Accademia gallery to see him, and he was just amazing. Beyond words really. The amount of detail and emotional impact is so much more than you get from any of the copies.

I really wanted to go to the Uffizi gallery too, which is the biggest art gallery in Florence, but I decided I wanted to do it properly, so it will have to wait until next time I am in Florence.

And really, what to say about Florence itself? Birthplace of the Renaissance, home to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, oops I mean Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, Machiavelli (for those without a political philosophy degree, you ever hear the phrase “the end justifies the means”? Machiavelli.), Galileo, Dante, the Medicis, and in more recent times Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo. That’s a pretty star-studded guest list. In a way Florence still feels like you may turn a corner and see Leonardo walking somewhere with plans tucked under his arm, or Michaelangelo storming around mouthing off every other sculptor in town. It’s a place where you really can feel the history, the art, the culture. In fact, I deliberately left out the Uffizi so I would have to go back. So it’s farewell, Florence, but not goodbye.