Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

Finally and at Last…

The evidence of extended travel: a thoroughly marked tour guide and worn out luggage.

First of all: an apology. This post should have been completed weeks ago. It tells of our final stops in France and return home to Nevada. At first I used the excuses of resettling into our house, getting back into a Reno rhythm, and then turning around to prepare for Mexico. Then there were the holidays, setting up our Queretaro flat, and family visits. Truth be told, though I had my photos selected and cleaned up, I just couldn’t get my heart into writing this final installment of our eight-week odyssey. It felt like admitting those magical months were over. I am still a bit nonplussed over the experience as it was so lovely and satisfying and often surprising. Each week was a learning adventure. And, though I remain somewhat at a loss for words, here goes…

Occitania with Carcassone as our base

This small city is built around its citadel, a medieval fortress, that was an easily walkable distance from our rental. From this view you can see the lower and upper walls and, on the upper right, the castle – which is a unique building within ancient city walls, a rare urban palace.
Right at the end of our block was The Aude (straightforwardly speaking: The River) which runs through the center of town. So, not only was the walk fairly short is was beautifully scenic. Each day we would watch cranes scouting the rapids for fish.
The old bridge, which used to be the main entry to the citadel is now a pedestrian walk with ironwork arches atop.
View from the center of the bridge. If you look closely, in the upper center there is a set of stones going across the river. Some folks use that as the “shortcut” into town. I preferred to go the longer route and prolong the enjoyment.
There are only two ways into the citadel, both through large stone archways with drawbridges. This is the Narbonne Gate. The figure on the post is to honor the fabled Lady Carcas who was said to have paid a major role in saving the city during a siege. (Thus the name Carcassonne.) Others claim that the city’s name represents the joyous ringing of bells (“Carcas sona”).
In addition to the citadel there is an active city center on the other side of The Aude, in a neighborhood called Lower Town. Within this zone there is a wall encircling pedestrian-only streets, shops, restaurants, a tree-shaded plaza, and the city’s weekly markets. Again, only a short (though significantly uphill) walk from our flat. While walking about I was hoping to get a tour of the Church of Saint Vincent, but it was closed for renovations. I settled for admiring the gargoyles, which look either dismayed or amazed. Your guess??
Upon returning to our flat we retired to our back patio to read and enjoy a glass or wine. The planted borders were filled with pokeweed – an interesting choice as all parts of this plant are poisonous. Some readers may ask, “But what about poke salad?” Answer: To make the leaves safe for eating they need to be boiled twice and, preferably, then cooked in bacon grease.
Since we had used the Narbonne Gate to enter the citadel we decided to take a day trip to the city is was named after. To get there we enjoyed a panoramic drive through the Black Mountains.
Narbonne is on a vine-growing plain about eight miles from the Mediterranean Ocean. Our intention was to have a seaside repast but the weather wasn’t cooperative, though we enjoyed the ocean view.
We took the weather as a sign to head to our first (and only) fast food outing of this trip. Highlights: touch panel ordering kiosks, new-to-us meal combos, the choice to have ice or no ice in drinks, Diet Sprite (for us sugar-free non-caffeine types), veggie burgers, and – Surprise! Surprise! – a small sundae is included with each meal. This, hands-down, beats our McDonald’s stop during our stay in Vence a couple of years ago.
An aside: On our way back to Carcassonne we stopped for gas. Here’s our route as shown on the GPS. Roundabouts are probably Bob’s least favorite thing about driving in Europe, but France takes it to a whole new level. More than once we had five or more circular navigations to make just to turn toward our destination.
I think our favorite day during this stay was our road trip to Albi, the birthplace of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. Arriving during a pouring rain we took cover in a charming cafe and had their house-made sausage plate which came with two scoops of ice cream for dessert. Timing was perfect and just as the rain ended we were finished with our meal and ready to venture out.
We headed to Berbie Palace, a former fortress, constructed to house the Bishop during wars between the Catholics and the Cathers; a sect that originated in Albi. A major portion of the building is now the Toulouse Lautrec Museum, and it was a full afternoon of amazing. First the Bishop’s portion. The above photo shows the restored painted ceiling with its boat hull framework.
In the above photo Bob was looking out at one of the sculptured gardens alongside the Tarn River.
The interior rooms were lushly furnished and the painted woodwork throughout was exquisite. Fit for a Bishop, clearly.
Now for the best part: the galleries, in their own portion of the palace. We appreciated this side by side comparison of Lautrec’s A Salon at the Moulin Rouge. On the right is the initial work done in pastels. The one on the left is a later iteration done with oils. Interesting note: the Bishop’s palace was the headquarters for the inquisition during the “Catholic Wars” (essentially Crusades) and is now housing works that feature brothels and prostitutes. For some reason this brings to mind Martin Luther King’s, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
All of Lautrec’s thirty-one posters are here as well as most of his original sketches, done on cardboard (the impoverished artist making use of what was free) and loosely colored with pastels.
Another sketch on cardboard. These dancers pieces were some of my favorites.
The only art in the galleries, besides that of Lautrec, was a small room dedicated to works by contemporaneous artists who were significant to and supportive of Lautrec’s style. Motherhood, by Rene Seyssaud, caught my eye. Another fascinating fact we learned: Lautrec died at 36, and his family either held or were able to obtain most of his major works. The intention was to gift them to a museum but, because of the subjects and themes portrayed, no offer was made to obtain them. At a loss as to what to do, Lautrec’s mother gifted the oeuvre to the city of Albi along with a substantial amount of money in order for them to be shown. Thank heaven for Moms. (And a nice matching sentiment to the painting above.)
Adjacent to the palace is the Albi Cathedral. This edifice was built after the palace, when the wars had died down and there was less need for fortifications. The carved exterior is quite remarkable.

Dordogne with Sarlat-la-Caneda as our base

The aquaduct marks the entrance to our final stop on this adventure. Don’t know how we did it, but seems that we once again we saved the best for last. (Or maybe it should be called the best of the best, as all our locales were terrific.)
On our way to our flat we stopped for groceries and saw our first ever drive-in laundromat. Clever.
Our very charming and compact abode was a modern infill between two old stone houses.
The inside was comfortable and uniquely appointed. The best part: out our front door and across the street was a fabulous restaurant and, after just a 5 minute walk, we were in the heart of the old city center.
On our first sunny afternoon (we did get a bit of rain during this week) we took a walk into town. Notice all the pigeons sunning themselves on the thackstone roof. This architectural style is indicative of the Dordogne. The tiles are made from slabs of limestone, and the golden/ochre color dominates throughout the region. The metalwork goose on the right is also a common sight as this is the land of foie gras.
Sign along a street with numerous foie gras shops. We had the option to go to a goose farm and watch the feedings. The brochures went to great lengths to frame the outing in humane terms and brought up the practice of using everything on the goose purposefully. We still passed.
The Mairie (town hall) in the center of the center. Note: throughout the town there were displays honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It made an impressive statement.
The Truffle Museum. Between the truffles, foie gras, pate, nougat shops, and decadent walnut desserts, it felt like we were in the land of indulgence. As our friends Dick and Laurel Mazzotti would say, “What’s not to love?”
Our chosen lunch spot – that little table for two just outside the door of the restaurant.
We had tough choices to make from the formula of the day. Duck featured prominently. Everything was excellent but, if I had it to do over again, I would have ordered three rounds of the walnut torte. Spectacular!
A highlight of this stay was our visit to Grotte de Font-de-Gaume to see the cave paintings. The Dordogne has a number of prehistoric caves but most are not open to the public. (The most significant cave find in the area is Lascaux, but people have not been allowed inside for years due to the deterioration caused by foot traffic. Instead they have created a replica of the site for visitors to enjoy.) We had our hearts set on the real thing so we decided on Font-de-Gaume as it is the last cave that can be toured directly. We got tickets in advance because tour dates and group size are limited. There are strict guidelines on the walk through and absolutely no photos. Our guide, who spoke excellent English, did a masterful job pointing out the drawings and explaining the process of the art and the circumstances of the cave environment.
A close look at the overhang above the cave entrance.
To celebrate our afternoon of admiring cave paintings we walked across the street (to the restaurant I mentioned earlier) for a very delicious meal accompanied by a pink from Provence. Though it looks like dessert, this is our first course: a beet custard topped with walnuts and whipped goat cheese.
When we got breaks in the rain we jumped in the car and went searching for castles and picturesque villages. We made a game of seeing who would be first to spot a building of note. This is La Roque Gageac, known for its limestone cliffs.
Imagine living in Castelnaud-la-Chappelle with its visual reminders of the contrast between medieval and modern.
The yellow-stoned houses of Beynac-et-Cazenac. The only cars that enter this city are owned by locals. The rest of us park at hilltop lots and walk in. Trivia: this is where the movie Chocolat was filmed.
Rocamadour boasts seven mission chapels and is a stop along the pilgrimage route. Many of the pilgrims walk a steep set of stairs from the lower village to the hospital at the very top – some doing it on their knees. Disclosure: we drove the road that circles the village and parked near the hospital. We did walk around through the shops and restaurant area and saw the cemetery. Does that count?
And, just like that, we find ourselves preparing to head back to Reno. After five years of being more gone than home, (Yes, even with the pandemic; thanks to our good old motorhome, Kerouac, and the reality of grands on the East coast. We now claim 15 cross-country round trips since moving to NV.) we are still as enthusiast about travel as ever. We are confirmed hodophiles.
Hodophile (n.): One who loves to travel; a traveler with a special affinity for roads.

Choosing Roads Less Traveled: Hauts-de-France, Burgundy, Provence

The road our GPS routed us over as we made our way to Charmante Maison de Campagne; a charming farm house in the heart of champagne country.

Hauts-de-France with Meurival as our base

Meurival, a petite town of 55 inhabitants, was a quiet and comfortable spot for basing our adventures. We loved the stone walls and the comfortable indoor and outdoors spaces. The mash-up of spindly furniture and Ikea accessories was perfect. It was ideally situated for road trips within the area.
Nearby Reims, which we visited on two different days, is a fascinating city. Almost totally destroyed in WWI it rebuilt at a frantic pace and the building styles varied greatly with Art Deco predominating. The city was mostly spared in WWII so the expansive pedestrian-friendly town center exudes a retro and yet somewhat contemporary feel. Great dining, great people watching, great shopping.
The jewel of the historic area is the Gothic cathedral. It has seen the coronation of 26 French kings and was the place where Joan of Arc brought Charles VII to be crowned and to rally the country in efforts to remove the English from France and end the 100 Years War. Following a mass held between France and Germany in 1962 the church is now recognized as a symbol of reconciliation.
The Halles du Boulingrin is home to the largest city market. The beautiful Art Deco structure was bustling on the Saturday morning we visited.
We came away with these goodies: a fresh brioche loaf, a pates en croute, and a mushroom quiche.
Since it was Saturday (a traditional day for civil wedding ceremonies) we sat for a while in front of the Mairie (town hall) and watched the couples gathering.
We drove to some champagne houses earlier in the week (more info on that is coming, keep reading) but on our second visit to Reims we took advantage of a lovely tasting room. It’s a boutique-style experience that carries wines from regional makers who don’t open their facilities to the public. This is the only way to sample their vintages.
A bottle from our favorite taste of the day, a Blanc de Blanc from Gaston Chiquet, came home with us. (How can you resist a bottle of bubbly made in Dizy??)
The floor of the tasting room was painted with a map of the Route De La Champagne.
As promised: the wine route. Figuring out where to taste was an interesting challenge. Most champagne houses require reservations and you typically have to sign up for a tour in order to get a tasting. That seemed like we would be seeing much of the same thing as the process is the uniform for all makers. By doing a good bit of internet searching (while cursing out poorly functioning websites = Bob) we found some places that were likely to be open to the public. We made a plan and headed out, looking for signs that said “Degustation” along the way. First stop was at Champagne Gaudriller in Louvois where we tasted (and bought) a wonderful Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc. In Boozy (another great wine town name) we loved (and bought) a 2000 Brut Rose from Herbert Beaufort. Our third stop was in Ay and though we tasted at two different places none of the wines from here came back to the farm house with us.
In Hautvillers, considered the birthplace of champagne, the abbey church holds the remains of Dom Perignon, the monk who mythically cried “Come my brothers, I drink of the stars!” Myths aside, Perignon is credited with playing a major role in the advancement of wine making. NOTE: the photo of me in the vines was taken in Hautvillers. In the background is the Marne River and the picturesque village of Cumieres.
In the midst of city visits and champagne tastings Bob and I dedicated a day fulfilling one of my father’s final wishes: to be reunited with his WWII comrades in Bastogne, Belgium. By doing some research I came across The Bois Jacque, a forested area just north of Bastogne that was one of the areas where Battle of the Bulge conflicts were fought. Specifically, to was a site of engagement for my father’s unit, the 10th Armored Division under General George Patton. The area was made famous as it was used for filming Band of Brothers and still contains traces of WWII foxholes. Scattering some of his ashes here was an honor and a powerful moment.

Burgundy with Dijon as our base

We have visited this city before and vowed we would return as it is a wonderful place in it’s own right and is surrounded by so many other intriguing options. It reminds me of Braga, Portugal – beautiful, walkable, friendly, a great mix of history and contemporary, often overlooked by tourists. Last time we were here we saw a number of city sights but missed the Museum of Fine Arts, pictured above. On this visit we made-up for it and enjoyed a nice afternoon browsing.
Housed in the former Ducal Palace, the large rooms were uncrowded and well curated.
I was captivated by Maria Helena Vieira Da Silva’s painting, Lisbonne. It reminded me of the city view we had when we were staying across the Tagis in Seixal, Portugal.
Next to the Museum of Fine Arts is The Grand Theater, home to the Opera da Dijon.
One of the sights we still didn’t get to see. Last time we were here this art museum was closed for renovation. This time it was closed for a covid outbreak amongst the staff. Fortunately the building was only a short walk from our flat. But does this mean we will be scheduling a third visit?
Our first road trip this week was to visit the Hotel Dieu des Hospices de Beaune. The Hundred Years War and the plague (Black Death) were hard on Beaune and left about three-quarters of its population destitute. To aid his people the chancellor of Burgundy built this free care facility and it served as a hospital until 1971.
The paupers’ ward is actually quite an impressive room, even without heat available. Note the tables beside each bed. It was thought that even the poorest deserved dignity and each patient got a pewter jug, mug, bowl, and plate. However, during epidemics they put two patients in each compartment.
The ceiling, constructed like the hull of a ship, is colorfully decorated to give patients, who spent most to their time lying in bed, something beautiful to look at.
The roomier and more plush St Hugue Ward was for wealthy patients who could afford insurance plans. Some things never change…
Even the ceiling views were more lavish. In addition to the wards we saw the chapel, the surgery, pharmacy, kitchen, and a former maternity ward that is now lined with 16th and 17th – century tapestries illustrating Old Testament stories.
While in Beaune we made a stop at the last independent mustard mill in Burgundy, La Moutarderie Fallot. It was a bit of a disappointment (especially for someone who loves mustard) but we did get to walk through the production facility on a guided tour (no photos allowed; some English explanations but mostly in French though we had booked an bilingual tour), and there was a tasting bar at the end of our session. I learned that most mustard seeds come from Canada and that Dijon can be put on the label of any mustard but it can only be called Bourgogne style if the seeds come from this region. Bourgogne mustard is always spicy and has no added flavors like honey or fruit.
On a lovely sunny day we drove to Besancon to check out the Museum of Time. Built on a meander of the Doubs, Besancon was the historic cradle of watchmaking in France. As we drove into town we could see the stone walls of the citadel which is was built on the isthmus north of the city.
This model was useful in getting a good idea of the lay of the land, literally. The citadel sits top center and the brightly central light portion is the historic district.
Before heading to the museum we stopped for lunch. This restaurant was noteworthy in that the only red meat options on the menu were cheval – horse. We went with the special of the day – chicken.
The Museum of Time is housed in Granvelle Palace, a beautiful example of a Renaissance building. Though the narratives were all in French we found many interesting things to look at and admire.
View from the third floor galleries into the courtyard of the palace and to the old city beyond.
From the third floor we climbed a set of four staircases, the last two being circular, to get to the bell tower. It was thrilling!
On our way back to Dijon we made a slight detour to go to Arbois to see the home and laboratory of Louis Pasteur. The house, formerly his father’s tannery, was reconfigured so that Pasteur could combine his home life with his professional pursuits. Though he worked in various cities and traveled extensively, the family was together here for most summers.
Pasteur’s was able to buy an adjacent house to set up an expanded work space. It had a first-of-its-kind isolation room for his experiments.
Of course there were wine outings. In Burgundy, where they only grow 3 main varieties of grapes, it’s all about terroirs. While we typically have thought of this area as producing mostly reds, grape plantings are 51.4% chardonnay, 39.5 % pinot noir, 5.5% aligote (another white), 3.3% other (gamay, sauvignon); and are bottled as single varietals, not blended. A key component for developing taste is the amount of limestone in the soil. At our first stop, Domaine R. Dubois & Fils near Cote de Nuits, we spent a lovely hour with our host and tasted a number of delicious wines.
At Domaine Quivy in Gevrey-Chambertin we had an excellent tasting and were smitten with their Les Journaux. We have no idea how it got it’s name (The Newspapers), but it sure was wonderful.
The Quivy tasting, which Bob made an appointment for, was our deepest experience with Grand Cru wines. Some of the bottles we sampled were pretty pricey. Not sure my palette appreciated the subtleties…but it was fun.

Provence with Molleges as our base

This masonry abode, typical for the region, kept us cool on hot days. Look at the depth of the walls!
I am sure Bob got tired of me talking about all of the design details I was pleased with. Besides the spacious indoors we had a large tiled front patio and a gated yard. It’s a house I could see myself living in. Unfortunately it’s not in Reno.
Arles is about 30 minutes from our small town of Molleges (2000 people) and the drive along roads shaded by plane trees was tranquil and scenic. We found convenient parking right outside the city walls, and we targeted Musee Reattu as our first stop. The museum, which occupies the former Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta, was a double delight with both art and architecture to look at.
For a modest sized museum the galleries impressed us with their diversity.
Atmosphère chromoplastique n° 225 by Luis Tomasello was presented on a floor to ceiling partition and the optical illusion was remarkable.
As I stepped to the side to do a closer investigation I was able to see the formation of cubes that created the eye-catching display. Simple shapes brought to life with light and shadow.
Since we were in the heart of Van Gogh’s southern France experience it seems fitting to highlight Roger Bezombes’ La cour de l’hôpital d’Arles, the place where Van Gogh was twice hospitalized during his year in Arles.
Bob taking a break before we head to our next museum.
Foundation Van Gogh has few of the artist’s paintings on display but contains contemporary exhibits that pay homage to Vincent. They do however promise to always hang one Van Gogh painting that was done during his time in the area. On our visit the museum was featuring Ransave Enneige (Landscape with Snow). I was actually thrilled to see a piece of art that felt atypical to the majority of Van Gogh’s work (all that sunshine and sunflowers and olive trees) and was also very pleasing to the eye.
Illusion of Solidity by Janet Sobel was part of the exhibition Action, Gesture, Paint: Women in Abstraction, A Global History (1940-1970). It brought together 85 artists from 30 countries to showcase their efforts to be included in the abstract art world. Sobel’s worked was admired by Jackson Pollack and he incorporated her drip technique into his approach. He belatedly acknowledged her influence.
A taste of some of the abstracts. Following all this color we were in need of a lunch break so we walked over to Forum Square and ate next to the yellow walled Van Gogh Cafe (formerly Cafe Nuit), the space which inspired Vincent to paint Cafe Terrace at Night.
After lunch it was off to Arlatan, an ethnographic museum celebrating Provencal society. The Grand Staircase lived up to its name.
There were dioramas and cases upon cases of artifacts and the rooms were packed with intriguing objects.
The museum is continually updating and adding contemporary items such as this cocktail dress by haute couture designer Christian Lacroix, who was born in Arles and went to college in nearby Montpelier.
Continuing our immersion into all things Van Gogh we spent a day in St-Remy-de-Provence.
We took the self-guided Van Gogh Walk which included 21 place markers featuring paintings Vincent had done during his time in St. Remy. Alongside the paintings were sections of correspondence between Van Gogh, his brother Theo, and other family and friends.
Our ultimate destination was Hospital Saint-Paul, the psychiatric facility where Van Gogh spent the year leading up to his death. While hospitalized he produced over 150 paintings. In the background are the olive trees that Vincent said were so challenging for him to paint as the light kept making the colors change.
A recreation of Vincent’s room in the hospital based on photos and containing artifacts from the hospital.
The St. Paul Monastery adjacent to the hospital has an open courtyard with stone carvings and a display of contemporary prints.
After a break for a late lunch in the center square of St. Remy we visited Musee Estrine, which is located in a private mansion. This smallish gallery, capitalizing on the interest in Van Gogh, featured an audio tour with photos, graphics and print materials that related to Van Gogh’s life. It was a nice take and offered some new perspectives. They also had an exhibit of contemporary paintings.
One of my favorite parts of this space was the doors.
When I stood by them it was easy to see the unusual placement of the hardware.
From St. Remy we took the scenic way back to our flat and did some sightseeing in the Alpilles.
The chateau ruins above the hill city of Les Baux-de-Provence.
And one last trip into Arles for an architecture tour of LUMA, the 2-year old art campus whose centerpiece, The Tower, was designed by Frank Geary. (Did you guess?) The complex itself is built over the ruins of a Roman cemetery (after it was covered by slabs of concrete). It was a targeted reclamation effort and many of the materials in the buildings incorporate reused and repurposed materials.
The inside was as striking as the outside. Just behind this arrangement of blocks is an auditorium that shows a film of Geary talking about his inspirations for the building. Both Bob and I were struck by the emotional response Geary showed to working in Provence. His eyes became teary as he spoke about being able to reflect some of the feel of Starry Night in both the interiors (which mimic Van Gogh’s horizontal brush strokes) and the outside which radiates changes in light and dark throughout the day.
Photo taken from the bottom of the spiral staircase and looking up into a huge convex mirror. If you look very, very closely you can see my reflection at about 12 0’clock (wearing a white shirt).
One of four restaurants in the complex, the Drum Cafe, emphasizes communal dining, conversation, and collaboration by using a continuous U-shaped dining table.
This photo shows just one portion of a 10-meter long (31 ft.) tapestry on the restaurant wall. Sunflowers, of course. The colors are created from natural pigments and fabric dyes. The adjoining walls were covered in heavy paper made out of pressed grasses and seeds from the Camargue bioregion.
The wall coverings on the elevators banks are blocks of salt that were made at a former salt production factory in the area. The building has 9 floors, half of which are spaces for art creation and not open to the public.
Galleries are on three of the floors. This temporary exhibit is Constellation, the largest collection of Diane Arbus photos every displayed in one place. It would have been easy to spend a lot of time here, but there were other things to see.
Artist Agnus Varda, known for taking the mundane and making it into something interesting, was experimenting with vegetables that were left alongside of fields because they were thought to not be market-worthy. She came across some heart-shaped potatoes and Voila! A photography exhibit called Patatutopia (Potato Utopia) was created.
In addition to the three galleries, a library, and a sound and automation space in The Tower there are four other revamped buildings in the complex: a forge, a mechanic shop, an electric shop and a grand hall that all hold rotating exhibits. The landscape park that surrounds the buildings has half a dozen sculptures. The one in this photo is Krauses Gekrose by Franz West.
But far and away my favorite spot in the building was Isometric Slides by Carsten Holler.
I laughed all the way down.

Chateaux; Half-Timbered Houses; Battlefields; and Wine, Wine, Wine

Greetings from France, where we have had an amazing three weeks. Our plan: stay in eight different regions using one city as our lily pad and jumping about as the spirit moved us. So much to see! Upfront apology: this blog is long on photos so I am keeping the narratives shorter. Pictures > 1000 words. Also note: Rather than trying to document every detail of a place I am primarily sharing sights that struck a cord. If any of the sites are of deeper interest I promise you there are tons of photos on the Internet that would outdo mine… Google it.

“I think there is probably a picture of it somewhere online.” Source: The New Yorker, October 2, 2023 (This was our exact experience when we last visited the Louvre…)

Loire Valley with Amboise as our base

This charming town, in the midst of the valley, was a perfect spot. We were only blocks away from the city center with its excellent restaurants, shops, and proximity to a couple of chateaux. We learned early on that if we wanted to eat at one of the busy restaurants we needed to make reservations. We would finish our evening meal and then walk up the street to put in our names for seating on the following night.
The city market was just as popular as the dining area. The tented booths are four across and go along the river front for about four blocks. The area is packed with people shopping for food, clothing, toys, dishes and flatware, etc.
Our first chateau visit was to Clos Luce, just a short walk from the city center. In 1516 Frances I invited Leonardo da Vinci to stay at this fortified residence. Da Vinci arrived with all of his manuscripts and a number of paintings (Mona Lisa among them). He spent the last three years of his life here – painting, inventing, and designing.
Bedchamber of Leonardo da Vinci.
His drawing workshop.
Parc Leonardo da Vinci, based on his drawings for an environmental area behind the chateau. Various works of art and replicas of his inventions are displayed.
My favorite: Perspective.
I put my camera lens up to the eyehole of the device and was delighted to see the lines, just as intended for showing perspective.
On another day we took a short and very scenic drive to Chenonceau to see the largest and most fully furnished chateau in the area. The Grand Driveway was shaded by our favorite plane trees.
Which opened up to this beautiful view of the chateau.
A helpful graphic showing how the building changed over time.
The Gallery.
The indoor water supply in the butchering area next to the kitchens.
A close view of a portion of a carved mantlepiece.
Bob at the entry gates.
Another road trip (just as scenic and about the same distance but in the opposite direction) took us to Chinon. There are a number of chateaux here but most are in ruins. No problem. We were more interested in what was below the buildings – limestone wine caves. Chinon is renown in the area for its excellent vintages.
We were glad to get into the cool underground. (Our stay in Amboise had record-setting high temperatures and our flat had no ac; we managed just fine as evenings cooled and we could open up windows. During the day we keep shutters closed and the thick brick and masonry walls insulated us a bit from outdoor heat.)
We didn’t buy any barrels but we did enjoy our tastings and left with two bottles of rose and one of pinot noir.
Our third outing was to Blois and our first stop there was The House of Magic, which honors Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (the magician from whom Henry Houdini adopted his name). There is a gallery about Robert-Houdin’s life, another telling the history of magic, one of the clock-making roots of Blois (this was fascinating, even if we couldn’t read all of the French narrations), and finally showrooms where we watched a couple of live performances.
The Chateau Royale is directly across from the museum. It is ornate and huge. This is just one wing of the four building complex. Though mostly unfurnished, it did have a section depicting life at court and King Henri III’s apartments. There were also displays of weaponry, pediments, a small gallery with Renaissance art, and a petite formal garden.
The view from the terrace of the garden. Bob said it made him think of Mary Poppins arriving.

Normandy with Port-en-Bessin-Huppain as our base

This picturesque oceanside port was a friendly and convenient place to base ourselves for our travel adventures. Alongside the harbor is a free parking area from which we could access a variety of good restaurants and an excellent bakery.
Vauban Tower, built in 1694, sits beside the harbor. It was built to protect the coast from privateers.
This plaque (seen in the photo above on the stone wall beneath the flags) recognizes the painter who lived here in the 1880s and who set up his easel alongside the harbor near the Vauban Tower to paint the fish market, sailboats and buildings (most of which disappeared in the bombings of 1944). Seurat, along with Signac who also visited here, were the precursors of new-impressionism, also called pointillism. On a personal note, we named one of our Dalmatians Seurat’s Pixel of Madison as he came from Madison County, VA, and his dots reminded us of Seurat’s painting style. He was just Pixel to us.
Bayeaux, the closest large city to us and our go-to for groceries, is an intriguing town. The Norman-Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame sits at its compact and pedestrian-friendly center.
Following a wonderful lunch (we chose the “formula” – a restaurant’s special offering of the day: entree, main, dessert and wine; for €16 – can’t really go wrong) we went to the Museum of Art and History Baron Gerard. This felt like a perfect bite of a museum. It had varied and delicious exhibits that satisfied but didn’t overwhelm. (Do you see how I was continuing the dining theme here…??)
The main floor covered archeology and the origins of the area.
Next we went to a series galleries that showcased regional arts. These armchairs were created by leading cabinetmaker J.-B. Boulard, who also worked for the furniture maker of Louis XVI.
Le cœur de Marie by Marjolaine Salvador-Morel, done in glass, is an art homage to the lacemaking tradition of the area.
All of the lace pieces were kept in a dark room, enclosed in glass and lit with very low light. My photo is far from great, but it shows the exquisite work done.
Spindles used for lacemaking. The threads are worked in pairs and twisted over each other as they hook over the pins that mark the pattern being weaved. Both Bob and I were dazzled by the intricacy and the skills demanded to do this hand work.
The porcelain room.
After a short visit to the Battle of Normandy Museum (mainly to see the excellent video, honestly) we joined the crowd to view the Bayeaux Tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry (not truly a tapestry but wool thread embroidery on linen cloth) tells the story of William, Duke of Normandy who became King of England in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings. The tapestry, which is 244 feet long and 20 inches wide is done in ten colors. Here’s the most amazing part for me: It uses only four embroidery stitches: stem stitch, chain stitch, split stitch using two threads, and couching stitch, or “Bayeux stitch”, which was used to fill in colored surfaces. It was likely commissioned to be made in England and then sent to Bayeaux to go in the nave of the cathedral.
After all those Bayeaux sights we took an afternoon to drive to see the tidal island of Mont St-Michel. The first building on the island was a church and then came a monastery which was followed by vast fortifications, an abbey, and a pilgrimage center. Many of these areas were converted into a prison. After the prison closed the Mont spent years in ruins; restoration work began in the 1860s after it was declared a historical monument. You can walk around inside but we chose not to do much as it is very touristy and crowded and we have seen some other nicely preserved hill cities in previous travels. But there is no denying it is quite a feat of construction.
Because the island is not accessible during high tide we specifically came at low tide. That meant a 1.6 mile trek each way, out and back. Nice afternoon for an walk.
A bit further from home base but so worth it is Rouen with it’s bustling city center that contains 10 free museums!! We once again fortified with a nice al fresco lunch and made our way to the Museum of Fine Arts. The rooms of impressionist art were topped with a mural showing where artists made their way from Paris along the Seine to do their painting.
Choosing one favorite from the entire museum I went with Alfred Agache’s Énigme.
The Ceramics Museum was located in a tall rambling stone house that found us winding up staircases and peaking into tiny rooms. It made for a fun path of discovery.
Bob’s choice for a stop was the Ironworks Museum that is housed in a former church.
We actually spent quite a bit of time here as the displays were so unique and filled with eye-catching items.
These items, which on first glance appear to be keys…

… are actually chatelaines, worn on a belt or as a necklace. They held tools for sewing.
Caen, one of the most fought over and heavily damaged cities in France, has the quite new and deeply informative Museum of the Battle of Normandy. It begins with a Guggenheim-style spiral that winds through the pre-war years and opens to outstanding displays with many interactives and videos. The French-focused explanations and artifacts made us stop and read and gain new perspectives on this event in our shared history.
At the conclusion of our museum route was an excellent galley that showed ties between WWII, the Cold War, and modern peace efforts. It was a unique way to end a battle-themed visit and much appreciated.
On our way back to our flat from Caen we stopped at Arromanches to view the remains of the artificial harbor, Winston Churchill’s brainchild. Only visible at low tide, this temporary prefab harbor was constructed in a matter of days to facilitate the rapid offloading of cargo onto beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy.
The next day we went to Omaha Beach and spent some time walking about the American Cemetery.
An allegorical statue of Columbia holding an eagle (representing the USA) and an olive branch faces a statue of Marianne holding a rooster (representing France) and an olive branch.
View of the Normandy cliffs.
Utah Beach at low tide. That serene look belies what was ahead for D-Day troops.

Alsace with Katzenthal as our base

This wine town of just over 500 people was centrally located and filled with kind and welcoming folks. The hosts of our Airbnb also have a winery right in the middle of town. We did a tasting before we even went to the flat to unload our bags. Excellent options and incredibly reasonable prices.
We were especially thrilled that our Ben was able to join us for a good part of the week. He sandwiched us in between destinations he had been wanting to visit in Germany. Timing was perfect.
We are standing next to our spacious mid-village rental unit. The little chapel up the street conveniently had extra spaces for Ben’s rental car.
Colmar, less than 20 minutes from our digs, has a large city center with beautiful historic buildings. We enjoyed spotting different roof patterns.
The half-timbered houses were decorated with flowers and displays.
We took a lovely stroll through a section called Petite Venice.
The Church of Saint Martin.
Unterlinden Museum had a cloister, 15th-C stained glass windows, an archeology gallery, and lots of Medieval and Renaissance Art. I know there has to be some interesting significance behind this painting of the Catholic clergyman holding hands with a skeleton.
Ben was intrigued by this one. It’s a glass harmonica. It was invented by Benjamin Franklin after he heard a British musician play a set of wine glasses that are tuned with water. Franklin returned to America and came up with a concept based on a rod of rotating glass bowls inside a wood cabinet. The person playing it pushed the pedal to rotate the bowls and put their finger on the rim of the bowl to elicit a sound. A number of people thought that the high pitches overstimulated the brain and caused people to die. It turns out that the paint on the bowls was lead-based with resulted in poisoning. In any case, the glass harmonica fell into disuse.
The contemporary wing of the museum which held only works by French artists.
It may look like Colmar, but Bob’s here to tell you we were actually in Riquewihr, one of the small villages we spent a day investigating and enjoying.
Next up is Eguisheim where we had lunch beneath a castle. From here we went to Ribeauville for a wine tasting. Our quest for the best Reisling continues. We bought two bottles to compare with a couple of bottles from our village wineries. Interestingly, we each had a favorite but the old vine Reisling from the winery owned by our Airbnb hosts was the concensus overall for both taste and price.
And finally Bennwihr where we admired the statue honoring the French Resistance.
On our last day in the region we drove about 45 minutes to Strasbourg to peruse the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. This is a large space that features its architecture along with its collections.
Kandinsky’s works were plentiful and this space was set up as an activity area for both children and adults.
Bob and I agree that Richard Deacon’s Quick was our favorite piece. Made of wood, steel and resin, the materials are worked hot and then twisted leaving an imprint of the metal straps that are used in the process. We would love to see this artist at work.
Kleiner Protest by Maike Freess illustrates how citizens become mobilized as their beliefs and values are threatened by polarized public opinion. Art for our times.
View of Strasbourg’s historic district from the upper floor of the museum.
After a satisfying outing we head back to Katzenthal for a marvelous dinner just blocks from our flat. The weeks are flying by. Next we are off to chase bubbles in the champagne region. À ta santé!

Rounding up the Canada/USA Portion of Summer: Quebec (x2), Corning, Niagara Falls

Fittingly, our last Canada stays are in French-speaking Quebec. Our thought was to get a chance to hear some of the language we would be surrounded by when we head to France for September and October. Well we heard it…and we are still grappling with understanding. The above sign shows the French love of hyphens. And who doesn’t like to have a laugh at the end of their town name?

Quebec City

This destination was added to our list due to Bob’s recall of a wonderful visit there when he was just out of college. And, as memories go, those first-time experiences we have while young don’t always age well. Additionally, we had a rental that had more than it’s share of kinks: the owner lived there part-time so many areas were locked off to us and we had limited access to living spaces and storage areas for our food; the refrigerator broke down and never got fixed (though the owner did unlock the basement door so we could use his spare), the family ended up coming over for forgotten items and to do yard work, items that were supposed to be on hand weren’t. Just odd… But we did have a few nice outings.

We took a bus tour to get an overview of the area. We saw most of Old Quebec, picked up information at the tourist center, and scouted out potential parking options for future forays. Our favorite sight on the tour – these wonderful street lights on Rue Cartier.

Across from Quebec City, in the midst of the St. Lawrence River, is Ile d’Orleans. We spent an entire day here circumnavigating this lovely island and stopping at every small town along the route. Our first stop was at a winery to enjoy a 4-glass flight of their local wines. The view back toward Quebec was the perfect setting. Note Montmorency Falls in the upper left.
The island is mainly agricultural and we passed apple orchards, lavender farms (not blooming), and fields of cattle and sheep which meant cheese shops, and many ice cream stores. We sampled, of course. We also made a stop at a small brewery where I had the most delicious Belgian-style cherry beer. On the northern tip of the island we took a few minutes to stretch our legs and climb an observation tower to see where the fresh water of the St. Lawrence and salt water of the Atlantic meet. It is hard to tell from the photo, but there is a color difference where the waters converge.
The Musee des Beaux-Arte de Tours was a spectacular afternoon. We took the three-floor open staircase to the top and made our way down.
A large gallery on the top floor highlighted modern design.
The next gallery featured the work of First Nation artists. One section of that gallery was dedicated to “the importance of family and respect for women.” This piece by Manse Akpaliapik, entitled Woman from Alaska, is made of whalebone, white stone, and African wonderstone.
Back on the ground floor and the exhibit the had lured us into the museum in the first place: Alexander McQueen: Art Meets Fashion. Each of the clothing designs in the displays were matched with a piece of art, some of which were the pieces that initially inspired a number of McQueen’s collections. It was a visual delight!
McQueen’s talents really dazzled me. He took an interdisciplinary approach to his creations. Besides works of art he used historical eras, settings in nature, and cultural events to spark his design work. Honestly, it was hard to leave this space.
But leave we did, but not before admiring this glassed-in staircase hanging to the side of the building. Watching people coming down the stairs gave the illusion that they were walking at gravity-defying angles.


Rather than stay in this island city we chose a flat in Longueuil, right across the St. Lawrence River. The location was excellent as we had easy access to what Montreal has to offer and the quieter, more relaxed pace of a charming town. During the summer months Longueuil closes off traffic to the main business area (which was conveniently located a block from our rental). We had plenty of choices for places to eat (one night Italian, one night Portuguese, one night burgers) and shop, and the night life was always hopping.
The only downside of our flat was the 2-stories of very narrow and curved stairways we had to climb. Getting our suitcases up was an accomplishment.
On our first day in town we took an evening mural tour. Our guide was excellent – a mural aficionado who travels all over the world to watch murals being installed and to get to meet and learn about the artists. He had great stories to share.
You may have guessed that this mural was done by American artist Shepard Fairly, the same artist who did the classic Obama/Hope poster.
Native son Leonard Cohen, who was born in Westmount, Quebec.
Bob, native son of Bellevue, Iowa, who just happened to be perfectly attired to blend into this piece of art.
Jackie Robinson, who played for the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s farm league team.
Every June Montreal holds a month-long mural festival. Artists and various collectives apply for a spot on a wall that has been “donated” by a local business or establishment. The public gathers to watch the progress, often bringing chairs and food and staying around far into the night. According to our guide, the city center currently has over 250 murals.
This mural is within the former Jewish section of the city, now mostly inhabited by the Portuguese.
The striking ski jump in Olympic Park built for the 1976 games. Just across from the park is the Montreal Botanical Gardens.
The main pagoda (yes, there was more than one) in the Chinese Garden.
Taking a moment to appreciate the stream filled with blooming water lilies.
The colorful dragon who guards the back entrance to the Chinese garden.
A closer look at the construction of the exterior of the dragon – bottles filled with colored water.
In the next section is the Japanese Garden. It holds a teahouse and a lovely Japanese-style pavilion that is filled with bonsai trees. This specimen, a Trident maple, caught my eye because of its intriguing root system.
The FIrst Nations Forest was a maze of meandering paths that lead past examples of indigenous life highlighting how the forests were used and conserved. This larger interpretive area displayed native arts and crafts; in this case, corn husk dolls.
Within the Innovation Garden were displays of horticultural experiments and significant achievements. Look at the size of those hydrangea and hibiscus!
In the Monastery Garden I watched sparrows dining on the sweet sorghum.
Hidden away alongside a garden path is the theodolite used by Henry Teuscher, the landscape architect who designed the garden. The survey marker for the park is atop that stone.
The pond filled with giant water lilies holds a lovely reflection of our sunny day.
For most of our excursions we drove into the city via the Jacques Cartier Bridge. One day we took the ferry, which boarded just a few blocks from our flat. If you look closely you can see the ski jump to the right of center just under the bridge deck. And there is the presence of Canada in both the flag and the Molson brewery.
The Montreal Fine Arts Museum is a five building complex filled with wonderful things to see. Our timing worked out as the day we planned for our visit was a rainy one so we had the whole day to roam about, enjoy, and stay dry.
Not to Confuse Politeness with Agreement by David Garneau is based on a picture from a 1950s postcard. The conversation bubbles were Garneau’s twist.
Transformation by Cedre Jeune is just one of the many pieces on display in a gallery devoted to his work. Jeune carved it out of yellow cedar. If there was one piece I could have taken home with me this would have been it.
“I’m looking for someone who can listen to me. With a good set of ears.” Betty Goodwin’s inspiration for The Secret Life of Art.
The artist Marc-Aurèle Fortin painted his landscapes over grey ground to achieve what he though was the warm atmosphere of Quebec skies. He considered Sainte-Simeon one of his finest works.
The views outside the museum were just as wonderful as the views inside. This mural covers the street between two of the museum buildings.
Another tip of the hat to Leonard Cohen.

Corning, NY

I am a serious fan of all things glass so on our way back into the states it made sense to spend a couple of days in Corning. We stayed in the Gaffer DIstrict, above a burger place and bar. It was kitschy and convenient. For an older industrial city both Bob and I were impressed with the way the buildings and other infrastructure was maintained.

Just a few blocks from our front door was the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, which was housed in the former city hall. Shasti O’Leary Sordant’s playful Antigravity: Space Invaders was a wonderful welcome to the space.
Wayne Higby’s Midsummer Bay is a raku-fired bowl designed to represent a three-dimensional landscape. As you move around the vessel, you can see different hidden vistas. It’s a stunner.

This compelling gallery was a favorite. Robert Shetterly’s series portrays individuals who dedicated their lives to improving their communities and fighting for justice. It was a noteworthy exhibit to encounter in a Canadian museum.
My favorite portrait was of Dorothea Lange, a photographer who captured the desperation of families and the unemployed working class during the Great Depression. I was taken with the contrast between the content of her photos and her relaxed face and casual smile in the portrait.
And then this little gem: a page from one of Georgia O’Keefe’s field sketch books. A drawing and the possibility “and maybe a kiss”.
The Corning Museum of Glass!! The history galleries were rich with information and visually stunning.
At the beginning of its history the Corning plant was famous for its cut glass work. We watched a video of a glass artist cutting a design. It made my hands shake just to see the skills she employed to create these delicate and precise designs. Interesting story: Once upon a time, before that punch bowl was donated to the museum, the owner noticed that the base was cracked. To keep it from splitting apart he used a stapler to bind the weakened section. Not a solution I would have chosen but it seems to have worked.
The contemporary galleries were pretty amazing as well. The black dress, Nocturne 5, is made of molten glass. It took Karen Lamonte, the artist, 2 years to complete the piece. She began by making a mould using the design and drape of an actual piece of clothing worn by a model. After the mould was hard it was cut off the model and joined back together in segments which were filled with wax so they would hold their shape. The mould segments were then filled with melted glass, replacing the wax, and after the glass had been tempered the segments were joined to create the dress. There was a lot of trial and error before they got this piece done to the artist’s satisfaction.
This is another of Lamonte’s creations, Absence Adorned. Our tour guide pointed out the artist’s handprint beneath the draped wrap on the right arm.
This light fixture is made of glass butterflies with a filament that collects solar energy. The light bulb within stays lit 24 hours a day and has not gone out since the fixture was installed.
These elegant vessels by Toots Zynsky are made from glass threads, blown and formed in the kiln.
A closer look at the threads.

Niagara Falls, NY

Since we were close and because I hadn’t seen them we made a one-night stop at Niagara Falls.
Bob caught me taking photos.
Looking a bit damp and windblown but very glad we made the stop. The falls were great, but the food truck Indian meal we had was maybe the best part of our visit.

Now it’s off to France for 8 weeks with a different region/city each week. At this point I think we can actually pack our bags in our sleep. More to come…bisous~

More from the Marvelous Maritimes

Does anyone get tired of these views? The seafood options? Certainly not us!

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Behind these ornate wrought iron doors is the beautiful Halifax Public Gardens. We entered at the side of the gate as the main entrance is reserved for the royal family. The gardens, which are free, are the only surviving authentic Victorian Garden in North America. Bob’s first question: What makes it a Victorian Garden? Our guide’s answer: Fancy topiary, tropical plants (they had pineapple!), bursts of color, geometric planting beds and symmetry, walking paths throughout. So now we know.
The Victoria Jubilee Fountain
There were hosta beds in abundant bloom.

Bob and I were the only ones on the tour that morning and our guide tailored our walk-through by doing deep dives into things we were interested in; for example, the tree shown above. About a year ago vandals broke into the park and damaged quite a few of the oldest specimens by hacking around their trunks. Efforts to save them include grafting over the damage using small branches from the tree itself. We are still trying to figure out why anyone would want to do such a thing.

Overall, a glorious way to spend an afternoon.
In fact, we enjoyed the gardens so much that we went back the next evening for a concert by a group of Ukrainian musicians and singers who had recently resettled in Canada. The concert was a thank you gift to the community, beautifully performed and very heartwarming.

Not far from the Public Gardens is Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the final resting place of 121 victims of Titanic. When Titanic sank, Halifax was the closest major seaport with rail connections and was the base for ships searching and recovering bodies of Titanic victims. The headstones were paid for by White Star Line and, since the refinement of DNA testing, most have been identified.
Outside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with its iconic John Greer sculpture, Origins.
Our first viewing destination was the Maud Lewis Gallery. Lewis, who lived much of her life in poverty in this cabin (note photo of the cabin in situ to the right), received recognition late in her life for her bright and whimsical folk art painting.
Her distinctive style covered almost every surface of the cabin’s interior.
Roadster and Cow – one of my favorites from the exhibit.
Next we were off to the Inuit Art Wing where Bob immersed himself in Couzyn van Heuvelen’s Avataq. An avataq is a traditional hunting float made from a complete sealskin. Van Heuvelen designed this instillation to unite a practical tool with the idea of Inuit ingenuity. I think Bob just wanted to join the party.
A charming scene, painted by William Kurelek, of Inuit children playing in the snow.
Island in the Ice, painted by Tom Forrestall, depicts a rare occurrence of freezing waters surrounding Devil’s Island at the mouth of the Halifax harbor.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. We never thought we would spend this much time learning about ships. The exhibits were varied and the narratives very rich and informative.
Walking about Acadia was part of the fun.
Seeing another Fresnel lamp from the outside…
… and then taking a peek to see the actual size of the light inside.
Before leaving the Halifax area we took a day trip to Lunenburg, one of only two urban communities in North America designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. We walked about the beautifully preserved town and had a sumptuous lunch of Digby scallops on a patio overlooking the harbor. Wondering: did anyone spot the wedding couple in the lower right corner? They sat at a table near ours while we dined and we ran into them later as they did a photo shoot. Living like locals.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Full disclosure: We had not originally put PEI on our list for a full week visit. We had planned to stay in Stormont, a small village along the northeast coast of Nova Scotia. Always looking for things that might tempt or intrigue us, I was doing some online research and found a website for a theater festival in Charlottetown, PEI. This sounded too good to miss. We did some tag team searches for rentals in PEI and set things in motion. We booked Charlottetown, cancelled Stormont, reserved tickets for 5 performances at the theater festival and were on our way!

Driving over Confederation Bridge, the longest bridge in the world over ice covered waters. It is 8 miles long and, at its highest point, 60 meters (approx. 197 ft.) above sea level, allowing large sea vessels to navigate between its piers. Driving on to PEI is free however it costs $50 to get off. (There are signs announcing the fee posted prior to the bridge…as if that would have stopped us.)
On our first morning in town we met our historic walking tour guide near the wharf, alongside a Charlie Brown-style kite-eating tree.
Here’s Bob hanging out with a couple of delegates to the Charlottetown Conference which set in motion the move to form a united Canada. In the background is St. Dunstan’s Basilica.
The Parish of St. Paul’s is one of the few structures in the town that is build of native materials – red sandstone.
Our two-hour, 3 mile walk brought us to the edge of the harbor at low tide.
We did a lot of walking in Charlottetown. Our Airbnb was only blocks from the waterfront with its 3.2 mile boardwalk and proximity to other sites to visit. Above is the Government House, Fanningbank, which is the official residence of the lieutenant governor of PEI. In Canada, the lieutenant governor of each province represents the King/Queen (Charles, currently). As explained to us, the majority of the duties are ceremonial. Not a bad gig considering the house, staff, and the extensive gardens included.
One late morning we went on a tour of Beaconsfield and had tea on the lawn. The house, built by W.C. Harris in 1877 for James and Edith Peake, was a modern marvel for its time with both indoor plumbing and heating (for front of the house only; back of the house servants still toted buckets and burned wood or coal.) The residency for the Peake family was short-lived however as the family’s ship-building business encountered an economic downturn and the cost of running the home (estimates are $1000/month) was prohibitive.
Our view at tea time.

Back to the Theater Festival… Three of the shows we saw were in downtown Charlottetown: Maggie, in the large theater space at Confederation Center, and two cabaret style shows – I’m Every Woman and Johnny and June at The Mack, a well-done renovated movie theater. Our other two shows, Steel Magnolias and Gas Light, were about a 20 minute drive away at the Watermark Theater in North Rustico. We were mentioning this to our table mates during one of the cabaret shows and they urged us to check out The Dunes located a short drive from Watermark….so we did.

The Dunes was built by Peter Jansons, originally as his home, his pottery studio and a gallery. The complex now also holds a cafe, an Asian art museum, and has extensive gardens.
The flower beds were a riot of colors.

The lawn furniture carved from driftwood was amazing.
As we drove from The Dunes to the theater we were delighted to get this view of the oyster boxes in the harbor. Being naive regarding modern aquaculture, we would not have even known what those rows and rows of boxes were if our history tour guide at the beginning of the week hadn’t told us about the methods for cultivating oysters, clams, and mussels. On one of our theater evenings we had dinner at Blue Mussel Cafe, located in about the middle of the group of buildings in the center of the photo.

Fredericton, New Brunswick

Our travel this summer is set up so that we transition from one Airbnb to another on Sunday. Then on Monday we try to do something where we get our feet on the street so we can get a feel for our new locale. Well, imagine our surprise when we woke up on a Monday in Fredericton and found out the province was celebrating New Brunswick Day. That’s a pretty impressive line-up of inflatable play options. The lines of kiddos to get on/into them were block-the-street long.
Figuring it would be silly to try parking anywhere near the festival area, Bob & I opted to take the walking bridge, a former railroad bridge over the St. John River that joins the two sides of town. The bridge, a 15-minute walk from our rental, is just under a half mile long, and put us right into the action.
In addition to the massive kids’ area there were stages with live music, food trucks, and craft booths. What we noticed is that locals were smart enough to bring along folding chairs.
Instead of sitting, we took advantage of the day of free admission to the Beaverbrook Art Center.
Bob, getting ready to enter the galleries and still smiling in spite of the crowds.
Eli Bornstein’s Multiplane Structurist Relief IV, No. 1, (Arctic Series) caught my eye.
Especially when seen from the side.
Glassy Apples, an oil by Mary Pratt, got my admiration for her technique and the vivid shine she put on the canvas. Just wow!
We got back home before dark but ventured out again to sit by the river to watch the fireworks.
Once again, we found ourselves spending time walking. Fredericton is known for its network of walking trails and I covered portions of a number of them. Our rental (purple heart) was right in the center of them all and we were directly across from the historic business district.
One day we did a walking tour of downtown. This is the view from an observation point, looking toward the pedestrian bridge.
We took a guided tour of the Legislative Assembly Building (photo taken on New Brunswick Day). Again we were the only two in the group and were able to have a spirited conversation with our guide.
Bob, in particular, had lots of questions about the legislative process, elections, and government. (He clearly doesn’t watch enough BBC.) Our guide’s responses were well informed and often quite witty. He had studied political science in the US so he had some sharp commentary. One of the highlights of the tour (though no photo for obvious reasons) was the case with one of the original Audubon Bird’s of America folios. Exquisite.
Less than exquisite was our visit to the Fredericton Regional Museum. Some of the small rooms had the pretty typical but still credible cases of artifacts but the largest section of the museum was devoted to Stanton Friedman, an American nuclear physicist and UFO researcher who lived his later years in Fredericton. He did extensive research into UFO sitings, extraterrestrials, and related government documents but said he had never experienced the phenomenon himself. Bob and I took this to be a NV connection as we do come from the state that boasts Area 51.
We stopped at City Hall to get a parking pass (3 days/free lot) and caught the changing of the guard, done twice daily, every day of the week, in July and August. Please note the glass front of the middle section of the building to the left.
At the end of the day I was able to capture this great reflection.
And so we are off to our next nest. Maritimes…we will miss you…

And now for a change of pace: CT, ME; BC, NS

We have been heading up the northeast coast for the past 4 weeks, making each stop feel like a vacation as we made regular visits to DQ and taking their packaging advice: Taste the Happiness.

Southington, CT

Bob found us an Airbnb not far from Hartford and, more importantly, only an hour from Niantic and my dear niece, Emily, and her lovely family. I got to officially celebrate my bday with loved ones! As for the rental, well…it was an historic home from the 1890s and had its quirks. We typically like unique but this particular residence needed some TLC and a deep clean. This was a rare lodging disappointment for us, so we tidied and made adjustments and it worked.

This is NOT our rental – it’s the Mark Twain House in Hartford. It’s a beautiful home with lots of gorgeous details (no photos allowed) but the exterior can give you a feel for the place. The interior had undergone some changes after Twain sold it but a Foundation was created to bring it back to the original and to retrieve artifacts, furnishings, and personal possessions. It is a treasure trove of of all things Twain.
A life size Lego structure of Twain greets us when we enter the Visitors Center.
Quick reminder: Samuel Clemens was born in Hannibal, MO, but he was reborn as Mark Twain while he was in Nevada. We claim him as one of our own.
But to give the east coast its due, here is Twain enjoying the Atlantic shore.
On another day trip into Hartford we drove by this wonderful block-long mural. This portion was my favorite section.
Our destination was the Wadsworth Antheneum, named after Daniel Wadsworth, one of the first major American art patrons. It is the oldest continuously-operated public art museum in the United States. And for those who are wondering, atheneum is a term to describe a cultural institution with a library, works of art and artifacts and is dedicated to learning history, literature, art, and science. (Just sharing what I learned.)

We started with the gallery “I Am Seen…Therefore, I Am” which is based on Fredrick Douglass’ reflections on image-making, race, and citizenship. It features 19th C daguerreotypes – many rare and/or being seen by the public for the first time. These old images are presented alongside contemporary photos by Isaac Julien. It was quite a profound showing.

This castle-like building held lots of delights and we spent most of one afternoon browsing. Below are a trio of our favorite pieces.

An anamorphic painting of Adam and Eve (Italian, no known artist). Anamorphic, or a form of optical illusion art, was popular during the Renaissance. Artists used mirrors and other optical devices to alter perspective and depth. When viewed from two peep holes on the side of the ornate frame the figures come together and you can see Adam and Eve with an apple, sitting in the Garden of Eden. There is a large human face at the top and a skull at the bottom and a Latin text believed to be a warning about sin, death and eternal life. Honestly, I liked the look without the peep hole best.
Portrait of Castrato Carlo Scalzi attributed to Charles Joseph Flipart. Scalzi was one of the most famous male sopranos of the 18th C. For my nickel, it’s all about that costume, thought to be a European interpretation of a Persian dress.
A portrait of Ruth Sears Bacon (Mrs. Austin Cheney) by John Singer Sargent. Family oral tradition claims that just before the final sitting Ruth changed into black stockings and brown boots to take a walk in the rain. Sargent was charmed by the look and painted out her earlier lighter clothes and substituted “incorrect” attire for the completed portrait. I agree – charming.

Orrington, Maine

Once again, Bob on a porch. The most significant thing about this scene (sorry, dear) is the sign over the steps: The Last Resort. We were longing for a quiet cabin by a lake and that is what we got. Very cozy, well appointed, and with NO connectivity. Not a problem, overall, but since Bob does need to check our VRBO sites daily we knew we needed some way to get online. We did a walk about to find signal. We took a car drive around the lake to find signal. We eventually drove to a T-Mobile store in Bangor (30 minutes away) and the very helpful associate brought out a big map of the area and showed us where to get service – in a clearing at the end of a bridge about 3-4 miles from our cabin. There was even a handy pullout where we could park and do a quick electronic check-in. Solved.
Lots of reading got accomplished during the week but one afternoon we did do a bit of site seeing and ended up in Old Town for lunch alongside a portion of the Penobscot River Reservoir. It was pretty great: lobster rolls, local craft beer, watching the bald eagles soar over the water. Too bad we didn’t bring a book.
Nearer to our cabin we were able to get sandwiches, pizza, and ice cream. (When is the last time you had a scoop of maple walnut?) The pizzas were unique. They came with 4 sauce choices: ranch dressing, a version of McDonald’s secret sauce, a “sedge” sauce (something brown), and classic tomato. We ordered very carefully.
This photo of the East Orrington business park pretty much typifies the rusticness (I think I just made up the word) of our setting.
On the weekend there was a street art festival in Bangor. It was pretty classic hometown; friendly people, lots of crafters, local musicians. The entrance to the festival was through this very nice pocket park.
We headed back to our cabin thinking about what to have for supper when we saw this small eatery. The sign coaxed us in. The food insured we won’t be going back. Fair warning for those of you who are heading to Maine.

St. Martins, New Brunswick

We knew we were on to something good when we came through this covered bridge on our way to our cottage by the ocean. (In truth, the cottage was a fixed-in-place mobile home with a huge sun room addition. The layout was a might odd with a king bed in one end of the living/dining area but it had both convenience and views so we were very pleased.)
Weather forecasts said we were in for some rainy days so we didn’t waste time. On our first day in the area we took a drive along the Fundy Trail Parkway. Though it was a bit overcast the views were spectacular.
Our drive culminated at Hopewell Rocks, where the massive tides of the Bay of Fundy have been sculpting these formations. There are over 25 stacks, known as flower pots, along this area of shoreline.
Almost up to my ankles in the sticky goo of the ocean floor.
Dedicated stairways for going down to the muddy bottom and then back up to the viewing platform. I am sure you can guess which one is which.
Back at the top without losing my balance and getting totally covered in the brown stuff. (There is actually a pedicure under there.)
After waiting an hour in line I got to the foot washing station. I was grateful they had one.
Closer to home, in fact just one block away, were the sea caves. We timed it right and waited for a full-on sunny afternoon to check them out.
One of us went over and explored the caves, while the other kept to the beach side of the inlet.
Not much sealife to be found (maybe because of the tremendous tide shifts, the world’s highest: an average of 38 feet each day). We did come across these tenacious snails.

On one drippy day we drove to St. John to scout out the ferry terminal we would be using to get to our next destination. We took a brief stroll through town and ended up lunching at Cask & Kettle.
The cuisine was a mashup of Irish and Canadian. This bowl of poutine, a Canadian classic traditionally made of french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy, instead had fries covered with shepherd’s pie and then topped with fried cheese curds. I am embarrassed to admit how much I liked this. Good thing, because the serving was so big it went into a takeaway box and was microwaved again for Bob and I to share for a dinner.

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

One of our best stays yet! This small town, older than the United States, is all about fishing and life on the water.
Since we had so much to learn about this area our first stop was the Yarmouth County Museum and Historical Society. This compact museum, formerly a church, was packed tight with interesting exhibits.
One room was dedicated to daily life in early Yarmouth. I was tickled by the washboard – from its wooden rungs for scrubbing to it’s claims of being self-draining and sanitary.
This is a lighthouse lens from the Cape Forchu lighthouse. The Fresnel lens uses both internal reflection as well as refraction to capture and magnify light so that it can be projected for greater distance. It has been called the invention that saved a million ships.
After seeing that lens we knew we needed to head out to Cape Forchu at the mouth to Yarmouth harbor. Not much boat traffic when we were there except for the one small vessel.
Inside what used to be the light keeper’s house is a free museum with related displays. They are currently doing work on the lighthouse itself so we were not able to climb the 77 steps to the top.
Pubnico, an Acadian village just about a half hour drive from Yarmouth, has occupied this 17 acre site for more that 350 years. In 1755 the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia because of their refusal to sign an oath of loyalty to the English crown. The two main reasons for not signing were (1) the belief that England would one day be at war with France, their native country, and they did not want to have to support England and (2) that by signing the document they would have to give up their allegiance to the Catholic Church in favor of the the Church of England. Eventually many Acadians made their way back to their original town site.
Before reaching the wharf (#10 on the above map) we walked through the living history village and chatted with the Acadian wife, who lived in a cottage (#1) with her husband and 9 children along with her brother, his wife and their 12 children. Twenty-five people in a 5 room + attic house. At the blacksmith’s shop (#3) the blacksmith made us a nail with our initials stamped in the head. At the boat shop we talked to a life-long fisherman who was in the midst of hand-making a boat similar to the blue one in the photo above.
The salty bog area was a benefit to the earliest settlers as they could harvest the sea grasses for their cattle. Note the haystack, just right of center.
We had lunch at the Visitors Center: rappie pie. This crustless main dish gets its name from the French word rapees, meaning grated potatoes. It also includes chicken and onions. Bob was glad he got a corner piece.
One of the things that made our week so wonderful is that we were in town for the Seafest Festival. That meant we were able to join two different (and free!) walking tours. Our very knowledgable and genial guide was a fabulous story teller. As we learned, Yarmouth is close-knit and could even be called insular. People know each other well – through generations. There is also a great reverence for those who have served, either in the military or in the sea trade, and have died. People on the walk got emotional at times. Question: has anyone see a monument where the subject was smoking a cigarette? I think this is a first for me.

During one of the tours we went through the historic Victorian section of town, where our rental was located. In all there are over 200 Victorian homes that once belonged to very wealthy ship owners and merchants.
We were taken with the details on the houses and impressed with how well they were being kept – not easy in a seaside climate.
The bay windows and a widow’s walk are notable features.
Now we are off to Halifax where more rocks, sand, water, and north of the border adventures await.

East Coast Antics: NC, VA, NYC

It would seem we have arrived.

Wilmington, NC

Wilmington is a lovely town with a busy waterfront and beautiful beaches. We spent a week here with dear friends, Laurel and Dick Mazziotti, doing all sorts of fun stuff. It is so nice to have locals provide recommendations.

First on the agenda : a horse-drawn trolley ride through the historic section of town followed by lunch on the wharf – fish and chips of course.

The next day we drove over to Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC.

The grounds, formerly a rice plantation, cover over 9000 square acres which include 500+ sculptures, a zoo, a wildlife preserve, art galleries and historical sites. For our afternoon foray we focused on the sculptures set within the botanical gardens.

Closer to our rental digs we took an afternoon walk through the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden.

We had to look closely to find these small plants that grow close to the ground.
The pitcher plants, on the other hand, were blooming everywhere.

Neighborhood walks, a visit to the wonderful and very informative Cape Fear Museum, a tour of Porter’s Neck Village (the residential area that the Mazziottis call home), homemade ice cream at the fruit orchard, and a pre-bday dinner at a lovely French Restaurant completed our visit. It was, as my dad used to say, “Gooder than good.”

Richmond, VA

Richmond is undergoing a bit of a renaissance so it felt like time for a visit.

Bob booked us a converted row house in the Fan District, right next to the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. We were surrounded by Queen Anne-style homes and Tudor Revival mansions. Lots of dining and nightlife options including music clubs and Cuban eateries.
We walked down wide, tree-lined boulevards to The Branch, the largest single family residence in the city. Designed by architect John Russell Pope as a winter home for the family of John and Beulah Gold Branch, the building now stages architecture and design exhibits as well as musical performances.
In the former kitchen we viewed a Designing Drag installation… across from a 16th C Flemish tapestry. Quite a juxtaposition.

We also did some history-related museums:

The Valentine, right downtown and adjacent to the massive VCU hospital complex, was a happy delight. The main building holds displays interpreting Richmond’s 400 year history and does not shy away from either past or current controversies and perspectives. The floor of the museum has been painted according to the plat of the originally incorporated city. In the back left of the photo is the statue of Jefferson Davis that was graffitied and then taken down in 2020. Next to the statue is a wall filled with post-it note responses to the event and the display.

Admission to The Valentine, the first museum in Richmond, includes a tour of the Wickham House. We have toured lots of period homes, but this one was quite unique in its architecture and design features. Our tour guide was terrific – a natural story-teller who gave us behind the doors peeks and even lifted rope barriers allowing closer looks. Maybe that was to make up for the “no photos” rule… but no complaints. She MADE the tour.

Changing gears from the Wickham House to the Edgar Allen Poe House. Though not his actual birthplace, it contains the bulk of Poe’s obtainable memorabilia – from the practical (the staircase and rail – in the photo – from the home he was raised in) to the arcane (clothing he was wearing when he died though it wasn’t his own…Hmmm…?). Something I learned: After Poe was orphaned at age 2 he was taken in though not adopted by the Allen family, thus the name selection. Something that made me smile: The Poe in Van Gogh.
Bob was a good sport and stepped into a facsimile of Poe’s casket. A bit of a snug fit.

One balmy evening found us at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. The main draw for us was Incanto, five sculptures accompanied by poetry created as a collaboration between two female artists who met at Burning Man. We didn’t know it when we bought tickets, but there was a live band preforming that night so we enjoyed local craft beers between dancing to Grateful Dead tunes. Walking down Memory Lane.

New York City

Full disclosure; we are staying in North Bergen and using bus and Uber to get around. Taking the easy route. Toughest part has been navigating the obtuse NJTransit app.

View of the city from my bus window.

Our week included three museums, all different and all wonderful. First was the Guggenheim.

We started at the top floor with the site-specific installation, Timelapse, by Sarah See. A couple of close-ups follow:

The majority of the museum was given to Gego: Measuring Infinity. This artist, Gertrud Goldschmidt, was new to me. She was born in Germany and fled Nazi persecution to find a permanent home in Venezuela. This particular exhibition knocked my socks off! Most of the impact comes from seeing the pieces in 3D so photos don’t really do them justice but here goes…

I convinced Bob to take a photo before we left.
Here is what he captured. (Yes, it was posed, but I couldn’t resist. It felt like it just had to happen.)

Second museum – The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation

Just opened in May 2023, some reviewers have compared the building, designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, to a Flintstones’ House.
Looking up from the main entry.
The architecture throughout the building was equally as impressive as the exhibits it contained, but the fourth floor filled with dinosaurs and dinosaurs and dinosaurs was a stand-out.
The space was designed to hold massively large displays, like this floor to ceiling honeycomb with busy bees.

Third museum – MoMA

This space! Even the view of its visitors moving about the complex is noteworthy.
The entry hall held the mesmerizing Unsupervised, by Refik Anadol who creates digital artworks that unfold in real time. The display is in constant motion. We watched for a long time as the beautiful images kept evolving.

We did pull ourselves away, and for the next two hours were immersed in gorgeous and thought-provoking art. Some favorites:

Jacob Lawrence; part of The Great Migration series. There was an entire room of them!
Georgia O’Keeffe’s An Orchid.
Kay Walkingstick, a native American of Cherokee descent. The artist jokes that she wishes she would actually be smart enough to come up with a name like Walkingstick.
Upon entering one of the galleries I notice this…
Upon close inspection it is this. I Still Use Brushes by Arman.

But it was not all museums. We saw three Broadway shows: The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (absolutely excellent in every way – the set, the tech, the acting/cast, the staging); Shucked (great show and outstanding performances – especially the musical numbers, laugh out loud hilarious, spot-on set); Fat Ham (very good though more my thing than Bob’s, a riff on Shakespeare set in the contemporary South featuring a gay protagonist- and that’s a lot for one show to handle).

And then there was the food: a neighborhood Colombian restaurant; theater district Italian at our favorite, Carmine’s; deli lunches in Midtown, late night slices on our way back to the bus station.

All in all quite perfect.

Now it’s time to arrive somewhere else. Bringing mindful of the wisdom of Confucius, “No matter where you go, there you are”.

The Best of the Rest: A potpourri of photos to round off our Braga adventure

It was a marvelous three months of investigation and adventures. As many of you dear readers know, our recent trip to Portugal was to figure out if this would be a country we could live in long-term. That premise shaped our choice of city, our daily agenda, and the practical matters of just doing life (shopping, dining, entertainment, weather, activities, etc.). The short answer to “Could we live here?” is yes…but…. We came to realize that we missed our Reno nest more than we thought we would, wanted to be able to conveniently reach our grandbabes and extended family, and were honestly not going to become fluent in Portuguese. However, if anyone asks for a recommendation on where to visit in Portugal I would definitely encourage time in Braga.

In no particular order, here are the final shares of our wanderings:

Church of São João do Souto, just at the edge of the historic pedestrian-only center, offered a Happy Hour special: a tour of the sanctuary and a glass of wine for €5. We admired the rooftop gargoyles and decorative carvings.
We were entertained by the adorable children running about the courtyard where we had our repast.
Clearly we had a lovely evening!
Across the walkway from the church was a pocket park that with an installation by the Portuguese artist João Alexandrino. The tile-faced polyptych marks the 25th anniversary of the Literature Grand Prize and (according to the interpretive plaque) “emphasizes the importance and power of contemporary arts and books in the culture”.
Another church roof that caught our eye. We loved the attention to detail and the variety in the carvings.
About 4 blocks from our flat is the Municipal Market; food booths indoors with a central open area filled with vendors who come in daily with fresh fruits and vegetables. This particular photo was taken the weekend of Carnaval. It was early evening and already there were shoulder to shoulders crowds, local musicians playing at full throat, and plenty of costumes, confetti, and ribbons. Fun fact we learned: turns out Braga has the largest population of Brazilian immigrants in Portugal.
We spent most of our Carnaval evening at an open-air cafe on the Praça. You can see Bom Jesus (covered in an earlier post) on the hill in the distance (just left of center). There was a festive and companionable vibe and lots of interesting people watching.
Bob was in such a jovial mood that he consented to having his photo taken at the Jardin de Santa Bárbara gardens.
We took a day trip to visit our dear friend, Lynne, in Moledo, a beach town at the very north end of the country. Our first destination was lunch at Louro Gastronomic, a Michelin-star restaurant that featured a 5-course winter tasting menu. We were the only table in the place but the staff didn’t shave off any amenities and provided us with excellent service. To our delight, the chef surprised us by expanding our meal into seven courses and added an extra dessert! Three hours, many plates of food, and two bottles of wine later we drove over to Ponte de Lima to see the medieval city’s beautiful Roman-built bridge.
Bob vs the Romans.
On our return drive to Braga we were gifted with a double rainbow.
As we got into the city and close to our flat we watched the crowds of people dressed in red making their way to the Braga Municipal Stadium for an evening futbol game.
Estádio Municipal de Braga was designed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. It was carved out of a rock at the site of a former quarry and consists of two sets of stands, connected to each other by steel wires. Notice the absence of handrails in the seating area.
One of our last outings was to the Museum of Archaeology D. Diogo de Sousa. This relatively modern museum (opened in 1980) has galleries beginning with pre-history and continuing through Roman Times and the Middle Ages.
Map showing Bracara Augusta, now Braga; founded in 20 BCE as the capitol of the province.
The city was named after Emperor Augustus, who reigned at the time of its founding. The mosaic behind the bust of Augustus is a hunting scene, dated 4-6C CE.
Broken piece from a Roman sculpture.
Marble relief with theater masks.

Now it’s just totally random stuff:

Museu do Traje Dr. Gonçalo Sampaio houses a small collection of musical instruments, costumes, and clothing indigenous to Northern Portugal.
Just had to get a photo of these tomatoes.
And these HUGE red peppers.
Shelves of boxed wine – even individual portions.
The week we were leaving and fully a month before Easter they were already decorating the streets for Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. It’s a big deal!
Scene in front of Braga Cathedral. Love the comfortable proximity of religious and secular activity.
A collection of brochures showing the range and variety of opportunities available during our stay.

And finally: throughout our time in Braga Bob and I played a bit of a guessing game about what you would call a person who lives in Braga. We toyed with Braganite (as in Renoite) and Bragatonan (as in Minnesotan) but it turns out the correct answer is Bracarense. Thank goodness for Google!

A Cultural Trifecta: a run of three wins

Braga, the third largest city in Portugal, is home to a great number of cultural attractions. First in abundance are religious edifices – churches, cathedrals, monasteries. In fact, Braga has the highest concentration of religious buildings in any Portuguese city. The first cathedral of Portugal was constructed here in 1089 and was the seat of power of Pedro de Braga, the first bishop of Portugal. And though we do enjoy a good cathedral (Bom Jesus from a previous post, for example) we also wanted to investigate the beautiful palaces and homes that are within the city center, so we chose 3 destinations over the course of 3 days.

Destination #1 – Raio Palace

Built in 1754-55 according to the design of André Soares, it was originally the residence of the
family of João Duarte Faria. The main entry door and balcony are cited as excellent examples of a baroque architecture style that is distinctive to Braga.
The central 3-story dual staircase.
As we head up we get a close look at the decoration on the upper portion of the walls which, to our surprise and delight, are not papered but painted. We were a bit taken with the top design on the tile going up the staircase.
To the top I go, as I admire the blue and white azulejo tiles that are a Portuguese classic. These glazed blue ceramic tiles from the 14th century decorate Portuguese cities.
A closer look at one of the panels on a mural wall. Found widely in churches, public buildings, and in the homes of wealthy families, these murals were used to tell stories.
Being handprinted, the joining of the tiles could be a challenge. These two angels were on either side of one of the murals. Oops.
Before leaving we took a quick look around the bottom floor which had a small gallery featuring a collection of works from local artists. This glass panel was a favorite.
Sometimes the functional commentary is as good as the exhibits.
That day’s lunch was at Rāo-Chā-Kao a fabulous spot Bob found for us. Reading the menu I had this thought: Ordering from a Thai menu in Braga is a parallel experience to ordering from a Thai menu in Reno. I still am not quite sure what I am getting until I see it arrive.

Destination #2 – Biscainhos Palace

We started out with lunch at Meze: Portuguese Toast (front; there is a delicious locally-made sausage patty hiding under those eggs), Marinated Chicken Hot Bowl, and green wine. We were really happy to find this place as it meant we could eat in the late afternoon. Traditionally, restaurants in Braga are open from noon – 3p and then reopen around 7:30-8p.
Photo taken from the first floor of the museum. Typical Braga: a mashup of two churches, a traffic triangle, modern sculpture, shops, and a busy bus stop. A couple of blocks away was our lunch spot, and the building I am standing in is a 17th C Baroque palace. The front of the palace was undergoing some renovations so not a great photo opportunity.
There were, however, lots of lovely views in the walled gardens.

Time to go indoors. The palace was in private hands for over 300 years and gives a glimpse of the lifestyle of Portuguese nobility.
The interiors are known for their plasterwork featuring hand-painted motifs.
The tiles, the painted border on the upper wall, the tea service!
To celebrate all that deliciousness (and to honor our grandson, Harper, who was celebrating his 5th birthday that day) we stopped by the gelato stand on our walk back to the flat. Kinder Bueno scoop for Bob and a mint chip cone for me.

Destination #3 – Nogueira da Silva Museum

This museum was founded by a donation given to the University of Minho in 1975 by António Augusto Nogueira da Silva, who made his fortune in commerce and finance. The original buildings that were incorporated into the current museum were built in the 50s and 60s and the architect, Rodrigues Lima, was given the direction to create a space that would serve as a cultural destination. The museum houses various collections including furniture, sculpture, paintings, tapestry, jewelry, and porcelain. There is also a gallery that exhibits works of University of Minho students and instructors, a small performance space, and an outdoor garden and fountains.

One of the first things to catch my eye was this luminous saucière. In the form follows function department it is not very successful as that bowl wouldn’t hold much sauce. But the shape is swoon-worthy. [Pardon me the aside, but if you really want to see some gorgeous silver I invite you to visit Reno and I will take you to see the Mackay silver collection in the Keck Museum at UNR.]
This piece, on the other hand, is a perfect example of function. You don’t even need a spoon. (Am I developing a thing for gravy boats?)
This one’s for my NoVa book group gang and comes with a reading recommendation: The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
A closer look at the intricacy of the carving and those laughing faces. They make me smile in return.
The lower level patio and tiled wall.
The upper gardens and fountain.
And one charming sculpture.
From two different sides.
No meal today…just coffee near the Praça and musical selections by an itinerant musician. Again, this is very typical for Braga. It is the rare day we don’t see entertainment somewhere in this pedestrian-only historic center. Destinations, food, and enjoyment less than 10 minutes from our front door!

Madrid: Olé! Olé!

Looking for a change of pace and space we decided to do a week-away in Madrid. The drive over (not quite 6 hours, toll roads through the snow-covered mountains, lots of tunnels; quite lovely.) brought us to this just-outside-the-urban-core neighborhood. It turned out to be a wonderful locale in most aspects. We had a decent grocery store down the block and a beautiful park a couple of blocks away. The sidewalks were wide and filled with restaurants and outdoor dining options. The downside: parking. Our Airbnb host was a bit disingenuous in telling us we would be able to find a spot for our car. (We were aware beforehand that parking in the city is difficult; we didn’t know that it would be almost impossible.) Our host emphasized that street parking in a “white” zone is free and that there were a number of white zones near the flat. True – there were white zones, but they were full, many cars not moving for days at a time. There were also green zones near the flat, but those were for residents with permits (if you could find one open you could get a 2-hour parking tag). Cars are ticketed and towed 24/7, and we didn’t relish getting up every 2 hours to refill the ticket machine, so we went on a hunt further afield for white zones. Two hours of navigating one-ways and narrow streets = no openings. Next tactic was to go on Google maps and drive to parking lots within a walkable radius to our housing. We found a half dozen that turned out to be private, full, or not allowing cars overnight. As we were beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with the challenge (I mean, you must find parking; you can’t just leave the car and figure it out tomorrow…) we saw a sign that indicated a parking garage that wasn’t identified on Google. Bob was able to both find an attendant and to converse with him in Spanish. We got a space for 7 days, with in-and-out privileges, for €80. A bargain, actually. And we were 4-5 blocks from “home”. You know that feeling that comes when you manage to leap a travel hurdle successfully? We had it.
View from our 4th floor flat. Not exciting, but typical. For our first day in the city we had booked an Airbnb experience titled “Off the Beaten Path: Tapas and beverages in a working class neighborhood”. Low and behold, the tour was within six blocks of our front door.

Our host, Isaac, is an expat from Detroit; gregarious, upbeat, and charming. We started our afternoon at Cerveceria A’Cochina with an aperitif of Spanish vermouth (served on the rocks and garnished with citrus and olive) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a mild red sauce). The vermouth was a happy surprise – somewhat sweet and nicely spiced. Our second beverage was a beer and lemon Fanta concoction that the restaurant is famous for. It was quite good, but the mussels that came with it were the real star.

Following Isaac through the busy streets we made our second stop at a standing only countertop where they doled out sauteed pig ears and Mahou (brewed and bottled in Spain) beer. The recommendation is to eat the ears right when they come to you as they get pretty springy and gelatinous as they cool. They were okay, though the texture was not really a winner for me – even hot.

A short distance from our pig ears course was Joyma Restaurante where we found a table outside in the sun and enjoyed a tall glass of summer red wine (a bit of a sangria-like combination of wine and fruit and spices) that was a nice palate cleanser. It came with a tapas plate of sliders made from Spanish omelet on toast and a side of fried potatoes and onions.

Our final stop of the afternoon (and probably a good thing because by now we had been eating and drinking for about 3 hours) was at El Callejon de Alverez Gato. Here we had both red and white wines accompanied by chorizo croquettes and a heavenly mushroom risotto. It was a filling and fulfilling start to our Madrid days.

An offshoot of the tapas experience: Bob went to our local Aldi store and picked up a bottle of vermouth for us to have at the flat. (Not quite knowing how to choose a worthy bottle for consumption he went all out and bought the most expensive one on the shelf – €4.) He also came back with with a new ice cream treat. Leche Merengada is a classic Spanish dessert that is typically served as a beverage but can also be frozen. It has a milk shake type of consistency and is flavored with lemon and cinnamon. For those of you who haven’t guessed yet – yes, it was time for vermouth floats!
One of the reasons we like having a car is for day trips outside the city. One sunny afternoon we took inspiration from Cervantes and headed out to the La Mancha region, north of Madrid. Our goal was windmills, but there were other sights to see as well, including this former castle as well as the walled city of Toledo.
This line of white windmills, the ones Don Quixote mistook for giants and attacked, are located outside the village of Consuegra (a word that translates to “the mother-in-law of one’s son”; interestingly enough).
To get to the ridge with the windmills we wound through the town, which had an eerily deserted feeling. We longed for these types of open street spaces back in our neck of the woods.
On our way back to Madrid we spotted one of the famous/infamous Osborne Bulls. Originally designed by a British company to advertise brandy, this symbol was embraced by Spain and has now become something of a cultural icon.
Just before we entered the city we passed Linear Park Manzanares and the intriguing Head of Ariadne sculpture. I think the line of admirers is a nice addition to the scene.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía courtyard. This was our favorite viewing afternoon and the photos that follow are all from that museum.
(As many of you blog readers are probably aware, photography of any kind is not allowed in most of the Madrid art museums, therefore I have few things to share visually. Sorry…)
Bronze from a display of indigenous clothing. She’s a beauty, and the floral work just glowed.
I loved everything about the Le Corbusier exhibit. His avant-garde architectural style has been embraced by much of Latin America and Spain. This photo shows one side of a model while the next photo is a close up of the drawings that can be seen through the windows.
Low and behold – miniature architecture renderings of the building and grounds. How perfectly delightful, and a bit cheeky.
The one that got me in trouble. I was so taken with this painting that I acted a bit spontaneously and took a (flashless) photo. Two museum workers rushed to my side, wagging fingers and clucking tongues, to remind me that photos were off limits. This oil, titled Adam and Eve, by Rosario de Velasco took my breath. That elaborate background work, the almost contemporary appearance of the couple, the every day pose of these two archetypes. Lush and evocative. Worth every bit of that scolding.
A photo that I was allowed to take: the schematic for one of the wings in the museum. The entire building, originally a hospital, formed a 4-story high square surrounding an open courtyard. The galleries were maze-like, no straight path from end to end. I found myself going back through rooms, some more than once. The good news is that much of the art was worth seeing again. Through one opening, walking south/downward from the red dot in the photo, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica took up the entire wall of the room. I knew it was going to be there. I have seen lots of prints and copies of it before. I was just not prepared for the overwhelming effect of it. It has stayed with my in a haunting sort of way.
One last stop in the courtyard to admire the fabulous Calder mobile.
Since we know that cooking diverse foods can be about as wonderful as eating them, we had signed up for a paella-making class. One of us (not Bob) loves paella and was looking for some tips and secrets. The class was small – only 4 of us, which made for nice conversations and a relaxed cooking experience. We did get tips: which wines are best for making Spanish dishes, how to identify a good smoked paprika, which ingredients are used for local/regional variations of the dish, the best variety of rice to choose, a reminder NOT to put in much heat as Spanish dishes are NOT spicy, and how to insure we get socarrat – that essential layer of crispy rice at the bottom of the pan that indicates that the paella has been perfectly cooked.
Our pan of goodness turned out really well and I am now ready to take on creating a meal for guests. Let us know when you can join our table group.
One final small town visit, Avila, with it’s intact historic walls and 80-plus crenelated towers. Within the walls are a cathedral, a convent, a monastery and a variety of housing options. The modern portion of the city is all outside the walls.
So it is adiós to our Madrid neighborhood and back to Braga. (Did those of you with sharp eyes notice the bull ring off to the right side in the first photo in this posting? Just checking.)