Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

Pueblo Mágico

After our two months in Guanajuato it was time to move to another nest – this time to Santiago de Querétaro – the capital of the state of Querétaro. We had visited here briefly last winter (see Hanging out in Querétaro with Maria) and decided that it would be fun to spend more time getting to know this area and all it had to offer. For our first few days my sister and brother-in-law were with us and we spent the majority of our time walking into Centro (which is just eight easy blocks from our flat), shopping, eating, site seeing, and wine tasting.

Turns out Querétaro is the second most important wine growing area of Mexico and the primary wine exporter nationwide. It is also the largest producer of sheep’s milk cheeses. To sample these delights we took off on the Art, Cheese, and Wine Route – which happily includes the “Magical Towns” of Tequisquiapan, Bernal, and Cadereyta.

FYI: There are 121 Magical Towns in Mexico. Towns have to apply for the designation and show that they offer a combination of historical, cultural, and aesthetic qualities that make it wholly unique and worthy of a visit from tourists. The upside is that visitors are pretty much guaranteed a lovely experience; the downside is that lots of people head to these towns for vacations and getaways. Guanajuato has the Magical Town distinction and we can tell you we avoided the city center on weekends due to crowds.

We put Tequisquiapan into our map app and were on our way. Being a Sunday, we knew there would be lots of people, but we could not even find a place to park within walking distance of Centro. We did a bit of driving about to check out whether or not it was worth fighting for space and decided we could come back another day for town attractions, if we were so inclined. There are a number of lovely parks and an artists’ market which features pottery and wicker goods. We’ll see…

So on to wine and cheese! First stop: La Redonda Vineyards. They have a large festival coming up in a week and we were happy to arrive ahead of the party crowd.

Beautiful bougainvillea growing alongs the entrance wall.

One of the fountains scattered around the property.

In advance of the festival they were setting up tents. If the number of covers is any indication they are anticipating quite a large gathering.

Children’s play area near the restaurant.

These fantastical fellows stand guard outside of the restrooms.

We ordered a nice (but honestly not great) rosé and a specialty pizza with a “secret” recipe. The ingredients were not unexpected except for the surprise of grapes on top. Actually quite delicious; some of the cheese was local as well.

The restaurant has a tented roof that reminded us of Shoreline Amphitheater, which Bob opened for BGP (those were the days!?!) in Mountain View, CA.

Next stop on our tour was Los Rosales. The wine tasting area felt like a beach resort. I tried a dry white – not good. Bob tried a red, but it was served cold so he felt he could not really make a decision on how good it was. We both liked the rosé and ended up getting a bottle to take home with us.

In an interesting aside, we noted that the area boasts an abundance of water parks. In fact, there are more water parks near the Magic Towns of Querétaro than there are wineries. Competition seems to be quite stiff as we noted the lengths people would go with their displays of advertising on the hillsides.

Before heading back we went by the town that is home to Peña de Bernal. Known for its picturesque hue, it is said to have a sacred and mystic environment.

A lovely Sunday outing. And the solar street lights gave us unintentional art to enjoy on our way back home.

En el Corazón de la Cuidad

In the heart of the city: a parking garage we use because it puts us right in the middle of many things we enjoy doing and seeing. (Close to the Mercado for fresh tortillas; our favorite bakery for rolls and pastries; three different public squares (Reforma, Plaza de la Paz, and Jardin de Union) along with the restaurants that surround them; shops and cultural attractions.) Interestingly, the mural in the pedestrian lobby is very like a jigsaw puzzle the family worked on over the recent December holiday.

Our sightseeing targets: the Legislative Museum and the Rul de Valenciana Mansion. We have admired these buildings, adjacent to Plaza de la Pax/Peace Plaza, each time we strolled through; but this is the first time we have been in Guanajuato when there were public exhibitions. Lucky timing… Oh – those $25 pesos = $1.25US. Quite the deal.

First stop was the Legislative Palace with its historical displays commemorating the birth of the republic and the role of Ignacio Allende.

A plaque inside the door honors the English architect: C. Louis Long. The building was officially opened by Porfirio Diaz in 1903. Diaz was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution and served seven terms as President.

And while the displays are very interesting it is, indeed, the architectural style (neo-classic and art nouveau) that really captures my attention. Central stairway with its tile mosaics.

Moving up to the second level.

Detail of the column topper I am smitten with.

Metal panels that appear on columns and on walls.

The beauty of the flow: stairway, hall, and balustrade.

Painted tin ceiling panels.

Rows of overhead lighting. (It always pays to look up!)

One of many hand painted, highly-detailed and gilded wall panels.

The Legislative Chamber.

Close up of the rostrum and lecterns. It has overtones of a church interior. And those chandeliers!!

Furniture detail from a bookcase in the Legislative Library.

Looking through an etched glass window and onto the interior gallery. The etching is the Mexican Coat of Arms: the eagle and the snake sitting atop a cactus. There is an interesting history for those who might want more:

Putting myself into the picture in one of the conference rooms.

Next stop was the Rul Mansion. This is the original residence of Don Antonio de Obregon, Count of Valenciana, erected with the wealth obtained after thirty years of uninterrupted excavation of his silver mine. The house sign (above) notes that Alexander von Humboldt, a German geographer, naturalist, and explorer resided in the mansion in 1803 while he was studying and writing about the mining industry. His contributions to the understanding of mining infrastructure and culture are still recognized with conferences held at the University of Guanajuato. Following his time in Mexico Humboldt traveled to America to consult with Thomas Jefferson on the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase – supplying Jefferson with information on the population, agriculture, trade, and military of “New Spain” and helping verify the southwestern border of the new territory. Jefferson would later refer to Humboldt as “the most scientific man of the age”. How’s that for a history lesson?!?

No photos were allowed inside the rooms themselves, but the interior courtyard was camera-friendly.

Had to include a closer image of that beautiful face and the headdress of maize.

Stairway from interior courtyard up to the art galleries. We saw fabulous installations, all done by Cuban artists: Joel Corrales Márquez, Yaumil Hernández Gil, and (my favorite) Manuel Antonio Álvarez Suazo (Lolo).

After the history and art it was time for a short break before lunch. We had our Kindles, so we decided on time at Plaza Reforma. I hope someone notices the capturing of the water fountain – the gusher on top that mimics the church tower and the cascading drops of water. Just a bit of serendipity, but I’ll take it.

Bob takes a reading break to do some people watching.

A brief stop at Jardin de Union to admire the statue of El Pípila, the hero of the city of Guanajuato.

A day of observation, reflection, contemplation. A day well spent.

Friday = Cleaning Crew = Get out of the way

Our lovely casita rental includes a weekly cleaning service – which we much appreciate; and, though we really don’t get our nest too messy (as evidenced in the photo), it is nice to have things freshened. Our gals (they are always gals) arrive promptly at 10am, and we leave the house until they are finished – which means being gone until at least 4pm. It is not as if they are slow (though they do keep a pretty moderate pace), but they are extremely thorough. All sheets and towels get changed; floors get mopped; bathrooms get sanitized; shelves and objects on them get dusted; patio furniture is wiped down and even the outdoor areas get wet-broomed. Like I said – thorough.

This also presents us with the challenge of finding something that will keep us occupied for a day away from home. For now we are taking turns coming up with a plan. Last week it was my turn and I proposed driving to Leon to check out a couple of fabric stores and then coming back to Guanajuato to see a movie ( Mary Poppins Returns is showing in English at our local Cinamex!)

When we came to Mexico this year I brought along my sewing machine and much of what I needed for 2-3 projects. I had already made dear grandson, Harper, a couple of pillow cases: one to commemorate his holiday trip to Guanajuato and another for his first birthday – coming up in a couple of months. Now I was itching to begin a quilt using precut squares I got when friends and I visited Hamilton, Missouri this past spring. The decision was to find some deep gray for the background. I checked fabric stores in Guanajuato – no luck. In fact, no 100% cotton fabric was available anywhere. Definitely had to expand the search.
Leon, still in the state of Guanajuato, is a large city. “How large?”, you may ask. 1.24 million. Large. I figured there had to be cotton (algodón) options in a place that big, and I had done some research on fabric stores to check out. First up was Telas Biba, an actual manufacturer and marketer. The store had lots of great fabrics but anything with a bit of cotton was mostly polyester with the exception of the juvenile prints – which were not right for the project. Next store option was Parisina, a chain that I have shopped at before. Same story – polyester blends aplenty. At this point I was thinking I might have to start looking at cotton sheets – if those are even available in a non-blend. (I am learning a lot along the way, so not all is lost.)
But then, on our way to grab lunch I spotted a store not on my list: Modatelas. There, to my delight, I found four bolts of 100% cotton: dark blue, light blue, white, black. Black was close enough for me. Hallelujah. (That is Bob overseeing the fabric cutting.)
Down the street from Telas Biba was an interesting square and church. The street lamp and the saint caught my eye. In truth, the light pole is behind the arch, but the perspective created an interesting illusion.
The parking garage we used had to be near a police station. We never identified the building itself, but there were blocks of parked Policia Federal cars.
The weekend was the celebration of the Feast of Three Kings. These fellows, and many others just like them, were working the streets.
Their goal was to get people to buy Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread with a plastic figure of the baby Jesus baked inside. These breads also come with packets of white frosting and bags of colored sugar to sprinkle on top. Makes my teeth ache to think of it.
If you didn’t buy your bread from the street venders, you could also pick it up at a grocery store. Or favorite store bakery had racks full.
Back to Guanajuato for our movie. The mall was filled with families and children enjoying the stage shows.
I had my heart set on trying this popcorn flavor, but it was not to be. We had checked on line for movie times for Mary Poppins: 3:40, 6:40 and 10p. We got to the ticket window ahead of the 3:40 showing and got tickets. When we went to enter, however, it seems we were sold tickets for the 6:40 show. We explained the error to the ticket taker who in turn got a manager. Turns out there was not a 3:40 show, nor a 6:40 show – only a 10pm show. When I showed them the times listed on their website (which I had on my phone) the manager told us they had just, within the last 2-3 minutes decided to change the schedule. So – no movie, no popcorn. But we did come away with a couple of passes to be used in the future. Our plan is that next time we go to the theater we take along our Kindles – just in case we have to sit and wait for whatever time the movie is actually screened. Like I said, I’m learning…

The Family that Ails Together Prevails Together or An Odd Post for a New Year

Well, it’s official…we have had our first all-of-the-family holiday stomach flu marathon. It started with our sweet grandson (who we though was just having the normal little guy tummy changes), then on to my daughter-in-law and myself (and we tried blaming it on the frappes), then one son, then the other, and finally my Bob. It was the classic domino transmission, and it made me recall similar circumstances and previous holidays with my family or origin. But in those days it was a family of 11 (2 parents and 9 kiddos) in a one bathroom home. Fortunately, our Guanajuato casitas gave us more options. I am guessing everyone who reads this has a similar holiday/illness memory. True – not a fun recall, but often a funny one.

The take-it-easy time gave me an opportunity to work on my knitting. My first stockings project, and I literally just tuned a major corner. As a distraction I have indulged in a bit of binge watching: Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Cannot say enough about how much I adore this show. I am laughing out loud just writing about it. Lily Tomlin; Jane Fonda – what more can I say?
Our spokesperson, Harper Edward, sending wishes from our family to yours for a happy, and HEALTHY 2019.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We have landed in our winter headquarters, and since this is a new location for us (still Guanajuato – but in Valenciana, not Guanajuato City) I thought an afternoon on foot would be a good way to begin.

Our back door leads to a road taking me downhill, past the University of Guanajuato’s Center for Mathematical Investigations (red building on the left).
The right side of the road is a steep ravine, but from the edge there are great views of the ruins of the Hacienda de Guadalupe (part of the ownership structure related to the Guadalupe Mine). Imagine what this might have looked like in it’s heyday!
As I got to the bottom of the road (but by no means the bottom of the mountain) I came upon a building site and was reminded of my father-in law, Floyd. He and his wife, Ethel, spent many years as snowbirds in Mexico; and he would joke that it was important to hang around for a good period of time so you could figure out if they were putting something up or taking something down. So true.
Less than 10 minutes from the house I found myself at a bit of a commercial space. (I am being optimistic in this description as business areas spring up in the oddest of places.) The mining museum seemed to be quite a popular stop. Guanajuato is a destination site for Mexican holiday travel, and on the day I went walking the area was filled with tourist vans. History tidbit: The mine contained both silver and gold, and during its peak years (early 1800s) this mine produced 60% of the world’s silver. The mineral resources were used to finance Spain’s colonial expansion efforts.
Beautiful stonework wall that surrounds the museum.
Across the street from the museum are a number of shops – the usual stuff: jewelry, religious artifacts, tourist temptations. But the thing that Valenciana seems to have lots of are candy stores.
This carousel has dulces tipico – caramel figures made to look like like mummies. There is a long story that goes with this and you can read about it at this link:
The short version: the bodies, likely buried during a cholera outbreak, underwent natural mummification processes and when they were dug up (due to a newly imposed tax on perpetual internment) they were relocated to a museum. Yes, we visited the museum – years ago, and once was enough. However, the mummies are one of the top tourist attractions.
Oh – The caramel candy does come in other forms and is quite delicious.
Further on down the line of shops was a very relaxed street dog doing his thing.
At the end of the line of shops was a small ceramics studio. Pots had just been set outdoors for drying.
And directly across the road from the drying tables were mama goat and her two young ones. Remember what I said about business areas in odd places? This gives a whole new meaning to mixed-use zoning.
After the visit with the goats I headed in the direction of town. Along the way were a number of lunch counter-type restaurants. We are cautious diners, but have found that most everything we can select here is USA – tummy friendly (water being the exception).
Many of the houses along this street have beautiful metalwork doors. The black wrought iron is very indicative of this part of Mexico.
In the very center of town is La Valenciana Templo. It is an 18th-century Mexican Churrigueresque-style church with an exterior of pink volcanic stone built at the opening of the La Valenciana mine to honor Saint Cayetano for the riches that were found.
The interior is in the shape of a cross with 3 alters – one at the head and two at each end of the crossbar. The gold leaf that covers the alter came from the local mine. Some versions of the building’s history talk about how the church was commissioned by the mine owner and his Spanish colleagues to appease their consciences for taking all of the vast resources out of the earth. Being one of the most dangerous mines, it also claimed its share of indigenous workers. Though an unfortunate commentary, there is no doubt that the overall effect is breathtaking.
Chandeliers made from Valenciana silver adorn the sanctuary.
Across from the Templo is a small square and the place we catch our local bus into town. Just in case we have to wait and are need of a snack there is a CANDY STORE!
Loved that the tickets are First Class. They cost 7 pesos each way – about 35 cents – and we are dropped off just a couple of blocks from the Hidalgo Market in el Centro. Perfecto.
Because I essentially made a big loop, I took another road back to our house and stopped to admire this tiled exterior. Lots of stonework and ceramics everywhere, but this took things to a new level.
Home again.

France: Seconde Parte, Acte II – Luberon Valley and beyond


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this latest blog post figures to come in at over 50,000. So many interesting things to see that I am going to let the places we visited pretty much speak for themselves.  But before all of that, a few comments on our latest rental – which I do not have pictures of. (It was lovely, just not something that cried to be photographed.) We stayed in Châteaurenard, basically a farming community less than 15 minutes from Avignon. It turned out to be the perfect lily pad, allowing us to leap frog from place to place for day trips and adventures. Our VRBO hosts were most gracious; they spoke very little English but wanted to communicate with us so they kept their iPad handy and wrote us messages which were electronically translated. It was so heart warming to see them coming up the steps to our flat with another bit of helpful information.  They also treated us to a very nice bottle of locally produced red wine. In terms of lodging, the rental unit was our least expensive yet most spacious: eat-in kitchen with a complete set of appliances, great room with a dining area for 6 people (including a sideboard filled with china), two nice sized bedrooms, a big bathroom, a shaded patio, and even a laundry room. We were minutes from the town center, though the setting felt rural. To add to our pleasure there was an extroverted cat who liked to push the door open to visit us indoors, a hard-of hearing/not very well seeing dog that had to almost bump into us before he knew we were there (he made up for it by making regular rounds of the patio just to check on our whereabouts) and a bunch of chickens that felt no need to move out of the way when we were driving into the parking area.  Like I said – rural.

Avignon: our specific destination was Palais de Papes (the papal palace). There are actually two palaces. A large Gothic edifice and this smaller one. When we got to the square we found ourselves in a sea of tourists. We took one look at all of those groups swarming behind the hand-held flags of their tour guides and decided we would skip the interior of the palace and people watch instead. We found a convenient coffee spot and snapped a couple of photos. Factoid: When Clement V was elected Pope in 1305, he decided to transfer papal power to Avignon to avoid political unrest in Rome.  Avignon was the site of papal power for seven decades.


Close up of the stone carvings.


The Carmangue: A natural wetlands reserve that has fairly recently been designated a national park.  (France has 10 national parks, the first one designated in 1963.) Sign on truck was too good to pass up.  On our list for things to look for in the park: 1. bulls – raised here and used during agility competitions where the bulls run through city streets as people try to steal flowers or tokens that have been placed between the bull’s horns. Really.  I’m not making this stuff up  (check!)  2. Camarguais  – a horse breed specific to the area; the horses are born grey and become totally white when they are five. These horses are used by cowboys to herd the aforementioned bulls.  (check!) and…


3. FLAMINGOES!!  Thousands of them. (check!)


Open air classroom at the park. Focus on that chalkboard in preparation for the next photo.


A whole new look when the sun was overhead and the roofing cast intriguing shadows within.


Aigue Morte: Tower of Constance. We had hoped to climb up the tower and walk the ramparts (which I had enjoyed doing on a prior visit) but we happened to be in town during the 15-day Votive Festival and the tower was closed. A carnival completely circled the outside of the walled city and within there was lots going on – including a number of beer gardens with live music. We totally understood why they wouldn’t want revelers walking about on stone ledges. As we walked about the city we noted the metal barricades on various street corners. Bet you guessed…they were there to set a course for the bull competitions.


We watched a bocce tournament. There was large court with many sets of players. Lots of loud conversations as well.


We indulged in some nougat – which was delicious and (happy surprise) not too sweet.


We window shopped.


Aix-en-Provence: regulated access to the city center. Walkers only unless you have a special pass for a work vehicle. Note the metal barricades, but this time not for bulls. They are doing major street improvements throughout the historic zone. Figure that means we have to come back in about 2-3 years to see how it looks.


The Aix Cathedral.


Cezanne’s Atelier.  We walked up the hill from town – just as the artist would have done, and we found it to be a healthy climb – even without the painting materials that Cézanne would have likely carried. Apparently Cézanne was know for being quite physically fit, and I can see why.  For you art buffs – can you spot items that Cézanne included in some of his still lifes? Confession – I got a few, but certainly not all, and I had the advantage of getting hints from the docents.


The floor to ceiling windows he had put into his workroom so he could take advantage of his beloved northern light.


The tall door opens onto to a sliding floor platform. Cézanne had it installed so that he could put large canvases on the platform and then push it outdoors so he could see his painting in full natural light.


The door, close up. Or as close as I was allowed to get.


A bit of wine tasting along the way. Very different from the way it is done in the states. For most wineries you need to make appointments. If you are lucky to come upon one that is open you will be asked what you want to taste rather than being offered a menu of selections. You can ask to try whatever they have in stock, and sometimes the choices are fairly limited as their bottling numbers are not large and most bottles are snapped up by area individuals or local eating/drinking establishments.


Since we were in Rosé country we had a bit of fun with some small flights. Bottle on left was really good. Bottle on right was okay. Bottle in middle had just come home with us from a winery stop – but turned out to be our favorite.  A short defense of Rosé: what we enjoyed in France is nothing like the pink drink we have experienced in the USA. We were pleased with the dry, crisp taste and the under tones of minerality. The fruit is there but not in your face and is offset with a bit of citrus. New summer deck favorite – if I can just get my hands on the good stuff.


Luberon Mountain Towns: First up was Oppède. This was the lowest lying and most modern town on our route. No photo as we didn’t see much photo-worthy uniqueness – though we both agreed it was a nice spot. We drove through at what was clearly morning yoga time. Lots of people with mats under their arms. Our next stop was Ménerbes (photo) – made famous by Peter Mayle, who wrote his ‘Year in Provence’ books while living there.  This perched village is small and we walked the entire city center in about 30 minutes.


We stopped for coffee at a small shop that drew us in with the promise of panoramic views.


The city entrance.


A lovely vignette with some pretty steep stairs.


Next stop – Lacoste, which turned out to be our favorite mountain town in France.


We admitted that our decision was likely influenced by the presence of Savannah College of Art and Design. (SCAD) We have been fans of this institution since we learned of all they have done for historic restoration and preservation in Savannah.


A couple of streets have been entirely taken over by the college. (SCAD-ified I am calling it.) Their presence adds a fun and fanciful note.


The sign on the door says this is a professors meeting room/office. Bob agreed to stand alongside to help add persecutive regarding the height of the opening.


Spotted another sundial version. Didn’t appear to be totally accurate. But it says 1715, so maybe something has changed between then and now???  The sun still looks the same to me.


Loved the mishmash of pathways and buildings. 


Some of the turns brought us to breathtaking overlooks.


By following a path up the mountain and through the narrow door…


across expanses of rock outcroppings…


we arrived high up on the top to find a large plateau (sculptures in center area courtesy of SCAD) which was in front of…


the ruins of the summer home of the Marquis de Sade. How’s that for an unexpected twist?


Directly across from Lacoste is our next mountain town – Bonnieux, viewed in center of photo.



We arrived mid-day and surprised a couple of felines taking a mid-street cat nap.


We were hoping the Boulangerie Museum would be open – but it was closed for the season. Next time. We settled for some street wandering and came upon this still-puzzling sign. A lover…for rent???


Just had to get a photo of the climb to the scenic overlook. And this was just one section.


But totally worth each step.


Final town for the day – Roussillon, the city of ochre cliffs. For those of you who have been to Sedona, it was similar, but the landforms were much less grand. Still worth a visit.


Nîmes. The Roman Coliseum. They brag that it is the best preserved one in Europe. Not sure what the folk in Rome would think of that boast.


When we were at Iowa State people would give us funny looks when we referred to the entrance ways to seating sections at Hilton Coliseum as vomitoires. Just sticking with history.


The incredible vaulted ceilings that lead into the galleries.


How many years of dripping does it take to see stalactite formations on stone steps? We know these steps have been around for about two centuries.


Next to the Coliseum is the Museum of Roman History. Looking through a opening highlights the contrast in architecture.


And while we were doing Roman architecture we drove to Pont du Gard, the aqueduct that is even older than the Coliseum.


We marveled at the stone work and the engineering that went into the construction.


And, ahhhh, the views from the walkway across.


Hard to believe this leg of our vagabond journey is almost over. We have our lists for future visits – but for now we are more interested in our list of what we are looking forward to when we return to the states. We both are eager to see family and friends. Bob wants a shower that will accommodate his tall frame and he would also like a really good washer and dryer. (In our experience, washers can take up to 3 hours to do one load and drying is done outdoors.) I want a cup of coffee that is bigger than a thimble and I want real cream. Pretty small wishes, overall. Another reminder that life is good.

France: Seconde Partie; Acte I – Côte d’Azur

Just lodged for 10 days in a converted sheep barn in Vence, France.  Had the joy of some fabulous and disappointment of some not so fabulous meals. We were busy enough, but not so much that we succumbed to full vacation mode, as we balanced outings with restful days and evenings. And then there were the mosquitoes…


Where we stayed:

At the foot of the mountains, below the old city of Vence we had beautiful views all around. This is Bob’s chosen spot for Kindle time. Because of mosquitoes, I had to stay indoors more than I would have liked. The circumstances were actually quite unusual as it seems we were there for a particularly horrible infestation, and the locals warned us about the challenges. Good news is that the stores had large displays of bug prevention options.  We stocked up on sprays, wrist bands, and even found room diffusers – which all seemed to help.



Evidence of the barn walls made our living area uniquely cozy.  In the mirror you can see the “stairs” up to the bedroom and bath.


Getting on to the ladder was a might tricky. After that, the climb up was a piece of cake.


If the ladder was a problem there was an outside entrance to the bedroom. Perfect for getting suitcases indoors.  Not so perfect given the lack of light  in the evening and the bug patrols that gathered about.


Walls were three-feet thick. Kept us nice and cool when the days were warm.


Ceilings were pretty low in some places. Bob made it through the stay without one bonk on the head.


What we ate:

Our first stop after arriving in town, as usual, was to get provisions. When we got to the grocery store we were a bit befuddled with getting a cart/buggy (depending on what part of the USA you live in). The carts/buggies are locked together. Turns out you have to use a coin to push the catch backward. The coin stays in place and when you bring the cart/buggy back and relock, the coin is returned to you. FYI: we did not see strays anywhere in the lots, so it appears to be a good system.


Mussels, mussels, everywhere – even at our house. Bob found a bag, cleaned and ready to cook, so it seemed like a good time to make it happen. We played around with ingredients for the broth and decide that it had to be provençal. When in Rome…or in this case, Provence. They were incroyable!  I am embarrassed to admit we finished that whole pot. But, as Bob kept reminding me, there really isn’t a lot to eat in any one of those critters.  But still… a whole pot… along with green beans, cucumbers and baguette.


On the way back from one of our outings Bob jokingly commented that he could sure go for a McDonald’s burger. I typed it into the GPS and Voila! – there was one just ahead. We parked our car in McDonald’s gated and ticketed lot (first 2 hours free) and went to make our choices. All orders are done at kiosks, and when I saw a Croque McDO I just had to try it. Background: Croque Monsieur, essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, is one of my French restaurant stand-by options.  A perfect Plan B for all occasions.. But, heck – I like a grilled sandwich most anywhere/anytime. (Just ask my kiddos about our make-your-own grilled cheese buffet nights.)  McDO = McDOn’t.


This is the disappointing truth of the McDO: a hamburger bun turned inside out (in France, with all of that great bread – a sacrilege!), white America cheese (again – in a county with some of the best cheeses available; American???), and a processed pork product that strongly resembled bologna.  My myrtille frappe (blueberry shake) was tasty for about one slurp as the sugar quickly overpowered everything else. Bob’s chicken sandwich was dry and bland, made from processed chicken with some sad lettuce and a “soft and icky” roll; fries were soggy; diet soda passed muster – but that is probably because there wasn’t much McDonald’s could do to change the Coke product. Let’s just say, in a rephrase of the chain’s slogan, We were NOT lovin’ it.


Favorite place for a long and leisurely lunch : Vence city center square, under the gorgeous sycamore trees. Made me a bit homesick for the trees that line our yard in Reno.


The pizza with its thin crust, the mound of fresh greens, the chilled rosé. It is a bit of a surprise that we ever eat anywhere else.


But of course, we did. Part of the fun of dining out is reading the menu boards and the featured dishes of the day (plat du jour). Just so you know – I am a sucker for restaurant specials, so this was right up my alley. If a restaurant offers a featured dish, I order it. If a chef puts her/his name on a dish, I order it. If an establish puts their name on a food offering, I order it. That’s just the way I roll, and it has provided me with some of my best meal experiences. So – if you want me to order it – name it.


What we did:

A drive through the Maritime Alps to Castellane – a lovely small town that gateways the Verdon Gorges. Stopped for lunch at a charming restaurant on the town square and had – what else – the plat du jour!


More of those beautiful sycamores.


The sycamore leaves even showed up in the ironwork on their streets.


And after lunch we sat on this bench to enjoy a treat from a local patisserie.


On to The Gorges. The huge rock outcroppings are the first sign we see of the beauty that lies ahead.


Coming into The Gorge we comment on the the striations and coloration in the cliffs. Because of erosion, it almost looks as if it is melting.


Verdon Gorge, itself. Not as grand as our Grand Canyon, but breathtaking in its own right.


Into busy Nice for a museum day. We joke that traveling new roads with signs that are not in English can make finding a parking garage a day’s worth of excitement. Then once at the garage there is the whole ticketing thing to navigate. I am going with the theory that these challenges provide enough mental stimulation to counteract some of the aging brain syndrome.


Musée d’art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain.  Contemporary art, but not much to get excited about. Many times the highly conceptual and, frankly, unfocused art pieces felt like a reach; contrived. (Remember this comment comes from a novice, not a true art critic; but I do know what I like.) The building, on the other hand, made this a worthwhile visit. The structure kept us investigating spaces and views. The downside – it needed some serious interior maintenance. I believe Bob compared it to NYC subways in the 70s. Ouch.


The piece we both liked: Birds, by Armand Ferdinand.


On closer inspection, vice grips!


Same artist, with his take on coffee grinders.


A day at Eze. We left our car down there.


So we could walk to the top to get the views from here – Jardins Exotiques.  It was windy, and for some reason that added an extra thrill to being up so high, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Or maybe I am just getting more like my Grandma Dahlstom (Grandma D) who had to put her head down by her knees and close here eyes whenever we drove to high elevations. I can still see her crouched in the back seat of our car on the way up to Lake Tahoe.  Neither of our boys could figure out what that was all about (cue infectious childhood laughter)… but I get it.


Just 6KM from our rental – one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera: St-Paul-de-Vence, home to Fondation Maeght. Now THIS is what I appreciate in modern art, displayed in a perfectly curated environment. We loved the Miró labyrinth.


We loved the hilltop views.


We loved the indoor galleries where you can walk up close to each piece.


A blissfully wonderful 10 days. Putting this locale (sheep barn and all) on our newly created Return Again list. France, Part 3 awaits.

Answer: To Get to the Other Side

“Alex, I’ll take transportation for €44,40”.  The question: Why would someone take the Mont Blanc tunnel?

This 11.611 km (7.215 mi) passage links Chamonix, France to Courmayeur, Italy and Italy is where we were headed.  Between us stood a section of the Alps. While the scenery was breathtaking, we were pleased that we were able to go through the mountain rather than over it.


Travel through the tunnel is heavily regulated and monitored seeing as how this is a border crossing. When you pay the toll you are given a hangtag for your rearview mirror which explains the rules of the road: speed limits, distance between vehicles.  (Blue lights to indicate the required space between cars.) On the opposite side of the tag are directions for getting to emergency exits along the route. Happy to report we didn’t need to use them. Side note: Mont Blanc is impressive, but not the longest tunnel in the world. That is actually near Bergen, Norway. We had the thrill of that one in June 2017.

The entire travel time that day was eight hours. Much of it on toll roads. Convenient, safe, and a bit pricey. I figure we spent about $150 (US) for the privilege. On nearing Venice we began looking for the Tronchetto Parking Garage recommended by our VRBO hosts. Since cars are not allowed to drive onto the island, we were glad to have input on the best way to navigate this. Safely parked, we made our way to the docks to catch a vaporetto (water bus). Our host was meeting us at one of the stops for a 10-minute walk to our rental. On the way we took 3 turns and crossed 5 bridges and congratulated ourselves on downsizing our luggage for this portion of the journey.

It was very warm (not to mention humid, which I guess I just did) during our stay, but we had our list of things to do. Our first outing was to Collezione Peggy Guggenheim. The museum is in Guggenheim’s former home on the Grand Canal. The view above is what you see as you walk out her front door and on to her private dock. We enjoyed the art, her personal collection, and the sculpture garden; but it was the setting that really wowed us. After the museum we took a slow walk back to the flat with the intention of picking up something to eat along the way. While there is a gelato shop on every corner, we opted for pizza and beer al fresco style in one of the many cafes in one of the many piazzas. Great for people watching.


On day two we hopped into a boat (a regular tour-type, not a vaporetto)  for a lovely ride over to Murano – the island of glass artisans. The history of how the glass factories all ended up on this island intrigued us. As Venice became more and more of a international city there was a concern that people coming into the city from other trade-competing countries would try to steal the glass-making secrets. Thus, all factories and workers were moved out to Murano and the island was closed to visitors. In fact, people who lived on the island were not allowed to leave without getting special permission – and then only for a day. This glass-making was serious stuff.


Though we were not allowed to take photos of any of the beautiful glass pieces in their showrooms I was able to get a shot of one of the amazing chandeliers that hang in their work room.


Back into the boat and on to Burano. It is a quaint and colorful city. The leaning bell tower is actually taller than the tower in Pisa.


Burano is know for its lace work. The women in this traditional fishing community began the craft using fish line. This close up is from lace made, by hand, over 100 years ago. There are seven distinct stitches that are used to create the patterns and each woman specializes in just one stitch. The finished piece reflects their teamwork. Few women engage in lacemaking today, so it is becoming a lost art. Those that do stitch can only work about 3 hours at a time and their careers are short due to the eye strain.


Bob outside our flat, bringing back goodies for cocktail hour. Fortunately he could walk to the grocery store – about 3 blocks away. No boat necessary. Our digs were lovely – old world decor with just the right amount of modernization. And, as in all places where we have resided during our vagabond journey thus far, furnished and accessorized with various purchases from Ikea. Gotta love it. Just two doors down from our rental was an excellent little restaurant. Only open from 7-10p and serving a limited menu, it put out absolutely delicious food. What pasta, what creative antipastos; and all just steps from our door.


And, just because I couldn’t believe it – a street with no people!  We thought the Louvre was crowded, but it can’t hold a candle to the city of Venice. The narrow streets coupled with the necessity of crossing bridges means lot and lots of pedestrians – most of then looking down at the Google map on their phone. Oh, there were a few brave souls who ventured out with a paper map but most everyone used technology. We live in an interesting world. Another thing missing along this street is commerce. Much of Venice feels like a shopping mall: store after store, stuff upon stuff. Makes sense considering approximately 50,000 visitors come into the town every day.


And one final Venice photo of the front door to a lovely home we passed on one of our walks. I know – it just begs the retort, “Watch that first step.”


 Florence. We opted to stay outside the old city to get a break from the hustle and bustle. We were glad for the variety and for the location that offered us some beautiful views – along with, as luck would have it, another great neighborhood restaurant! In addition, we were only two blocks from a tram stop so it made getting into the center easy and convenient.


Our VRBO host suggested that, since we had a car, we might consider a short trip to see the Medici villas. There are three near Florence and we made it to two of them. This is the Great Room of Villa La Petraia, built in the mid-1300s.  For those of you, like me, who do not have a deep working knowledge of Italian history: The Medici family ruled the city of Florence throughout the Renaissance. Through their success in commerce and banking they attained great wealth and political power. They had a major influence on the growth of the Italian Renaissance through their patronage of the arts. The family dynasty includes four popes and many blood ties to royal houses throughout Europe.


A close up of that massive chandelier. I loved the purple tones in the glass. Wonder if it was made in Venice!?!


The Red Room. I couldn’t decide what to take a photo of – the floor to ceiling tapestries, the ceiling, the carved columns. Went for the whole package. As we walked through we got to wondering how many people they employed just to light (and continually replace) all of those candles used in the huge ceiling lights in each room.


A table top made of wood inlay. So detailed it looks like a painting.


Equalled by the craftsmanship of the stone and metal work on this table top.


But even with all of that beauty and opulence, the place still got cobwebs.


The vertical sundial on the front of the villa still has me intrigued.  We checked on it periodically through the afternoon and it was accurate.


Outside of each villa were vast formal gardens. These are at Villa Castello. While I wandered the citrus gardens Bob took a break at the central fountain. Look closely and you will see him becoming one with the setting.


On Tuesday, the Uffizi. Cosimo Medici designated this building as the Florentine administrative offices and dedicated a small portion as a museum. Today the entire building is filled with Renaissance art, much of it amassed by the Medici family. This photo is a view from the top patio, looking through the stonework wall. A side note: we pre-purchased “skip the line” tickets for the museum before leaving Reno. This entitled us to 1. stand in a line to exchange our voucher for actual tickets, 2. stand in another line to enter the building (before the line of people who had not pre-purchased), 3. stand in another line to get security screened, and 4. stand in another line to show our actual tickets. Those of you that know my Bob are probably surprised he lasted long enough to get into the galleries. But he did it.  Another side note: turns out a dear friend of mine (Renee and daughter Cara, from Reno now in Florida) were in Florence on the same week as us, visiting the Uffizi on the same day as us, and with tickets for a tour/entry only an hour apart from us. As I told her, “Clearly the Universe wants us to get together.” We had a lovely lunch and spent the afternoon catching up, solving world problems, and feeling like we had never been apart.


Another view, taken from the top level but from within the museum. Note the string of cars going across the middle bridge. Only people with a special pass can drive into the city center. Well, Bob and I didn’t know that when we drove in on our first day in the city. Oops. No ticket, fortunately.


Another gallery ceiling that I just couldn’t resist capturing.


This painting, originally made to be a door front for library shelves, uses troupe l’oeil to make it appear as if the panel is actually painted on wood.


Amidst all of the religious iconography, this gallery really stood out: Fritz Keonig Retrospective 1924-2107. Being able to walk up close to the pieces and admire the artist’s techniques kept us in this exhibit for quite a while. His preliminary sketches are done mostly in charcoal. Seeing them emerge as sculptures is fascinating. Background info: Keonig created “The Sphere” for the Twin Towers Plaza in NYC. The sculpture survived the collapse of the World Trade Center and is currently in Liberty Park, recovered from the rubble but essentially intact.



Camargue XX/3, 1974   While the animals are obvious, their arrangement and connection make this piece visually compelling.  I kept going back to look at it from different angles. In a happy coincidence, the Camargue is one of our destinations while we are next in France.


After the museum and lunch with friends we navigated our way back to the tram station using stores as landmarks: take a left at Gucci, continue straight until we pass Ferragamo, curve toward Cavalli. And then there it was – our second sighting of Mont Blanc!



Enough big city. Time for some day tripping. We spent one lovely afternoon in Volterra, about a one hour drive up into the Tuscan hills. We opted for a walking tour recommended in a Rick Steve’s travel book and were not disappointed. In a fact-filled hour we learned plenty of things we never knew before. This is the last remaining arch in the city walls build by the Etruscans in the 4th Century BCE. During WWII the Nazis had planned to blow it up as they retreated but the townspeople took the bricks from the town square and filled up the archway (manually) and then convinced the exiting troops that it was a waste of ammunition to destroy it.  Today those bricks are back in the square and we walked over them to get to the arch.



Volterra is known for alabaster – so of course we went to the alabaster museum. Lots of realistic carvings but this is the one that made us both smile.


Located in the same museum was a section of regional art. Think of how many feet have climbed these stairs.


Bob was intrigued with the floor grates, placed perfectly above and below each other on each floor.


Taken from an angle – for those who, like me, admire a bit of asymmetry.


The new day’s road trip took us to Montepulciano, a medieval hill town with lots of up and down paths that tempted us to just head out and explore. This is the town that reminded us most of Guanajuato – curved alleys, steep inclines, shops tucked into quiet cup-de-sacs.


Speaking of shops, we made it a point to get to a wine tasting of the region’s renowned Vino Noblie. “The noblest bottle of them all”, this wine is made from locally grown Sangiovese grapes and is distinctly deep jewel-red and thoroughly delicious. Liking to be in good wine-drinking company, we were happy to find out that it was a favorite wine of Thomas Jefferson. The bottle that captured our taste buds: the third from the right, Dei. So good that we now own a bottle (to be consumed before we head back to the US, of course). The tasting station itself was a first for us. You get an electronic chip card that tracks what you try.  Prices are based on the particular bottle you select and how large a pour you punch into the electronic dispenser. Great fun. Besides the Vino Nobile we also sampled some Brunello which is the wine from the neighboring town of Montalcino. This wine is also made from Sangiovese grapes but has a distinctly different profile – reddish brown in color, with a higher acidity and more forward tannins. (WOW – that sounds like I actually know what I am talking about.) Glad we tried it, but our heart stayed with Dei.


We wandered back to our car alongside the old town walls.


Bob’s “short cut to avoid more climbing” took us on a road less traveled. But it got us to our destination.


On the way back to Florence we made one more stop – Pienza – for a lunch featuring the locally made pecorino cheeses. Bob favored the blue veined variety (top right) . I preferred the aged in walnuts and grape leaves wedges (lower left) with a bit of honey drizzled on top.  While we were they we walked through most of the town (it’s tiny). Unlike other hill towns which are full of twists, curves and alleyways, Pienza’s streets are laid out in a grid pattern. No need for Google maps here. In Palazzo Piccolomini there was a display commemorating Franco Zeffirelli’s filming of some scenes for his movie adaptation of  Romeo and Juliet.



With apologies for a long post, I bid you arrivederci. We are off to France – the southern part. Smaller towns, a bit slower pace. Still plenty to look forward to.


France – Partie Un

And the vagabond year continues…  but before going into details for this portion of the trip it might be helpful if I gave a bit of information on the process we used to make our travel decisions. (Process being a euphemism for seat of our pants). First we considered our kiddos: grandson, his parents (our younger son and his lovely wife) and our older son. It was important to get them in our circuit. Next we put together a “love to” list of places: cities we wanted to experience and those that we have talked about seeing again. That done, we accepted that our ‘love to” list could not even come close to being reasonably doable, so we  chopped it up into geographical sections; stringing together as many things on our list as we could. Then we did something really daring – we asked friends for suggestions (relating to our now roughly determined path), and invited them to add what they thought we should strongly consider. Thanks to all who shared so eloquently. (Patty & Jack, Judi, Chad, Emily & Aaron, Lynne, Bradley, Terry & John, Patty B., Kerry, Christine …sorry if I have missed someone; please know that all advice has paid off.) As the suggestions and comments rolled in it was enlightening to hear the strong and diverse feelings people had: Paris – my favorite/been there done that; Venice – magical/what’s the big deal?; London – I can’t wait to go back/nothing exceptional and then there’s the horrible food.

That said, we put France on our list for a number of reasons: I had been, but Bob had not. I have longed to get back to the southern portion of the country and it was, after all, France. Our British Isles cruise put us in somewhat close proximity. And, while the south was my goal, it seemed right to do the stuff that Paris offers – it was convenient and there.

Paris. Our flat was ideally situated: two blocks from a Metro stop, near 3 grocery stores, amidst the usual abundance of cafes and patisseries. We fell into our routine of breakfast in the flat, grabbing something along our outing mid-day and then opting for a quiet evening in house or at something in the neighborhood. Best find was a Cambodian restaurant a few blocks from our flat. Still have no idea what I ordered, but it was delicious.

The Louvre. Our take: Impressive building. Gallery upon gallery of world class art. Rooms upon rooms of tourists. Photos being taken everywhere. (Bob kept muttering, “Buy an art book.” As for me, I was amused by the tourist taking photos of the signs that directed people to important galleries)  For those of you who have done this, you know what I mean about crowds. On the day we were there the gallery where Mona Lisa is hung was so packed you could not get within 20 feet of the painting itself. Winged Victory, my favorite for that museum, was so crowded we chose to take a different staircase and look from afar. That said, there were plenty of other joys and we delighted in walking through the gorgeous rooms, apartments and grand salons; the gilt and painted ceilings, the moldings, and the tapestries were incredible.


Pompidou Centre. Modern and contemporary art housed in a building that reminded me of the game Mouse Trap. Lots of escalators and glass tubes. The upper level sculpture garden was a very tranquil and lovely space.


Favorite piece – an homage to the importance of the tree. The sculptor took a section of a trunk and carved out what he envisioned as the young tree and its potential growing within.


Adjacent was a room with bales of bay leaves and a set of lungs – reminders of the importance of forestation and breath. I wish this post had smell-ability as the room was intoxicatingly fragrant. I kept going back.


The day following our visits to The Louvre and Pompidou Centre started out rainy. We postponed our activity until skies cleared after lunch and then headed for the Tuileries and l‘Orangerie. On our way, Bob had his pocket picked while riding the Metro and that influenced our overall mood. Bob was, as can be imagined, frustrated but circumspect. I took no photos, staying more quiet and contained. We did enjoy the Monets and even took a side trip to the National Gallery of Jeu de Paume (ironically, a photographic exhibit space). The current showings were related to the protests of the tortures during the French/Algerian War. In a serendipity, this was the day French President Macron issued an apology for the government’s handling of the Algerian situation. In this case art clearly preceded life.

The d’Orsay. This is the museum that drew the strongest recommendations – and with good reason.


From the sculpture on the roof.


To the decor in the cafe. This museum is a day of delights.


After the building itself, my favorite thing about this museum is the the rooms of decorative arts: furniture and furnishings. This corner chair with lily pad-inspired arms still has me swooning.


And so it goes for Paris (refer to earlier comment about buying the book).  We are now changing up our transportation mode to Bob’s choice for moving about: him behind the wheel. From our Paris flat we Ubered to the airport and waited in line for almost 2 hours to get our rental car. Heads up: if you are in Charles De Gaulle and looking for lunch/snack/take on the road options, Marks & Spencer beats everything else pricewise and in regards to lines.

And then it is on to Dijon.  We had a lovely flat, just blocks from the city center. There was a small grocery near and we were only a 5 minute walk from the heart of the old city.


This lovely town is a perfect ying to Paris’s yang: quiet, contained, unassuming. Our flat was 2 blocks from the Jardin Darcy, the entry point for the walk through the historic city center.


We happened to be in town during the 2-day celebration of Dijon as a UNESCO World Heritage site. All historic buildings were open and admission was free. Too good to pas up, so off we went. Not far from our starting point, these gargoyles on the front of Church Notre Dame certainly made a statement. This church is the oldest in Dijon, and there are 51 of these creatures staring down at you as you pass by the front doors. Not difficult to understand why the design style is called Burgundy Gothic.



Dijon has adopted the owl (chouette) as a symbol for the city and The Owl’s Trail is the city walking tour.  Plaques imbedded in the street are a great aid in finding our way about the twists and turns of the medieval pathways.


And if you are fortunate and follow the route faithfully you come upon the original carved in a niche of a church. Rub it with your left hand while making a wish and it is said the wish will come true. Obviously many have observed the superstition.  I joined them and made a wish. We’ll see….


Of course you cannot go to Dijon and not do a mustard tasting. Didn’t find one that I didn’t like.


Along our walk, the beautiful tiled roof, a signature of the Burgundy region.


And whilst in Dijon, a side trip to Beaune and the home to Vueve Ambal. I will admit, I had no idea of what we were getting into when we decided on this day trip. Bob originally found it online and figured I would be on board because it was about wine with bubbles. He was right. We both had a wonderful time: learning about crémant vs champagne. As most know, champagne must be made in the Champagne region of France and using the “champagne method” to be OFFICIALLY champagne. (It’s the appellation distinction thing that I wrote about in my tequila/mescal post when we were in Guanajuato.) Other wineries in regions outside of Champagne can produce sparkling wines (and even use the same or similar methods) but they cannot be called champagne. Thus Crémant de Bourgogne.


The production facility was huge and many of the processes were done with robots. These machines were designed specifically to transfer bottles from the aging room (where they are stacked in alternating style, nested top to bottom, to conserve space) to the riddling room (where they have to be stored with all tops in the same direction to allow sediment fo be flushed out). They can transfer 5,500 bottles every hour. That is important when you are shipping 18 million bottles every year, as they do at Vueve Ambal. And, while that sounds like a lot, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what flows out of Champagne.


The riddling room where bottles are turned (by robots, of course!). Note the cases on an angle rather than lying flat.


Our time in Dijon was over too quickly. We have already begun a new list: places we want to spend more time in during future travels.  After all, we still didn’t make it to the gingerbread factory and there are still so many wines waiting to be tasted.

On to Italy ….Ciao!

Yeghes Da!

Cheers and good health to all! We have completed our British Isles cruise and I thought a Cornish toast would be a good way to head this latest post. What follows is by no means a comprehensive travelogue of our trip, but it does capture some of the sights and insights along the way.

First port of call: Guernsey/St. Peter’s Port. We took a tender (red boat in lower right hand corner) from our ship into town.


The public seating outside the visitor’s center quickly became occupied as there was free wifi. Many people came ashore just for that amenity.


Our choice of outing was Candie Gardens – a lovely green space with a small but impressive museum. We saw displays explaining island traditions and superstitions and a section of Victor Hugo paintings and sketches. (Hugo exiled on Guernsey and while there did little writing but pursued visual arts, often incorporating his name and/or monogram into the work. They say he regularly went down to the seaside and wrote his name on rocks and tossed them into the waves. He said it was an effort to become known by the island.) My favorite exhibit was the blown glass models.


Stunningly beautiful. Science meets art.


Came around the corner to spy this colorful piece.


Upon closer inspection I find out that it is an entirely hand sewn canvas.

And then it’s back to the quay to get a return tender… and to stand in line. I have indicated Bob’s spot as he saved my place so I could take this photo. Already, on day one, Bob is saying he is unhappy with all of the queuing up. (Later in the cruise he also put his foot down regarding outings where people fall asleep in public. Our options for travel are becoming more defined.)


We skipped port #2 – Cork. The ship docked in Cobh and there was quite a bit of travel to negotiate to get into town. The main attraction was Blarney Castle, which I know many enjoyed. Guess we were just not into the mood for blarney – in any form. However, we did make a day of it at port #3 – Dublin. We had a great walk into town and then did a bus tour to get an overview of this busy city.


Sign sighted in a storefront near the center of town.


Lots of murals, but this one was exceptional in that it was 3-D. Made of recycled materials.


And, of course, the ubiquitous shamrock-themed street lights. There were a variety of motifs along the route.


Final stop of our day in Dublin was the tasting at Jameson’s. (All bottling is now down in Cork, but the original distillery is where we had our tour.) We have a loquacious and very witty guide and it felt like a real theater performance. Great fun; learned some new things – which always makes for a successful day.


Our next port was Belfast. We did a morning walking tour in the city center. The theme was the “the troubles” and our guide was exceptional. A former history teacher and now a conflict mediator, he regaled us with facts and stories. The long and deep conflict is mind boggling. In the photo you can see the “peace wall” on the left, a 42 foot barrier constructed to separate Republic/Nationalist Catholics from Loyalist Unionist/Protestants.


In the afternoon we went on a private taxi tour of the street murals. I have a number of photos of them but am sharing the one that represented the range of people involved – men, women, adolescents.


We stopped at a lovely cathedral, site of some of the reconciliation talks. Inside there were incredible mosaics.


One of the buildings that has not been rehabilitated.


Bob’s contribution to the peace message.


And mine.


And, ending our Belfast day on a humorous note; located atop a bin in the park outside Belfast City Hall.


Next port: Greenock, Scotland; a lovely little town where we caught a train into Glasgow. We walked the town from end to end to get to the train station and along the way I noted this storefront. I wanted to stop and take a longer look but was concerned we would miss our train (which it turns out we would have), so vowed to get at least a photo upon our return. And I did. My sons always tease me about my attraction to sparkles. They have even been know to try to distract me when they see shining things coming into our vision. Guess it’s the magpie in me.


We took a bus tour and then stopped at the Gallery of Modern Art (though the building was clearly not modern and the exhibits were not what I would call Modern Art. In a country with such a long history it’s relative, I guess). We happened to arrive when there was an organ concert in the grand hall of the building. What a sound!


This eye-catching display was in one of the long galleries – done by a museum curator to highlight the space. The exhibit celebrating the 150th birthday of Glaswegian Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a highlight but photos were prohibited. Guess you had to be there.


Next up: Kirkwall. The cruise lines bills this as a visit to Orkney Islands, but in order to do that you have to book a special excursion. Instead it was just a visit to town. Bob headed to the library where he found this unique sculpture.


And he was struck by the “handy” labeling of these rails. He is my partner in observation, sighting quirky things.


Our next day was to be at sea, but as we left port I caught my breath when I saw this phenomenon outside our windows. I have done some research and think it may be a circumhorizon arc, but I am happy to be corrected. I do know that it is NOT a rainbow according to the Atmospheric Optics.


On to Edinburgh. Of course there had to be a castle photo. As an aside: I have been reading Ken Follett’s Column of Fire, the third book in the Kingsbridge series. The first was Pillars of the Earth – a tremendous saga and a favorite of my book group chums. (You know who your are Sunrise Valley pals~) The juxtaposition of the actual place with events in the book was a nice serendipity. (Follett’s books are fiction, but heavily tied to historical facts.)


The street artist in the park by the Prince Street Gardens was sending bubbles afloat. In the background is the National Art Gallery.


Favorite piece of the National Gallery visit. The interpretive sign alongside this painting suggests that, based on the position of his hands and the intent gaze, the lad was trying to memorize a lesson. Such a beautiful child.


On to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, housed in a red sandstone neo-gothic palace. Architecturally breath-taking.


Stained glass windows celebrate famous Scottish royalty, clergy, and laypersons.


The Hall of Heroes and Heroines was made up largely of men, but the last photos put special emphasis on the contributions of women, particularly during wartime. Those bare feet ~


Final port: LeHavre. Many passengers chose to take the trip into Paris (2.5 hours each way) but since we are headed to France next we decided to walk the town.  Bob takes off down the street, intrigued by the what looks to be a unique Lego-type structure.


Not Legos but shipping containers. The people walking (lower right) give a sense of the size of this structure.


Excellent visit to MuMa. This time the building was definitely modern.


Intrigued by how they hung their pieces – brackets rather than wire. Wonder who patches the holes.


Sometimes the thing that catches your eye in a museum isn’t the art. This time it’s the interplay of architecture and the public. This was taken looking across a high gallery and into the restaurant.


Name of this building?? If you guessed The Volcano (Le Volcan by Oscar Niemeyer) you would have been correct.


This lovely space is actually a public library. Very popular space on a sunny Sunday.


And on to Paris we go. Looking forward to a bit more sunshine, fewer lines to navigate and as many baguettes and pastries as I can hold.