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.
Loire Valley with Amboise as our base
Normandy with Port-en-Bessin-Huppain as our base
Alsace with Katzenthal as our base
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.
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.
Niagara Falls, NY
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~
Halifax, Nova Scotia
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!
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.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
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.
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.
St. Martins, New Brunswick
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
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.
Closer to our rental digs we took an afternoon walk through the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden.
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 is undergoing a bit of a renaissance so it felt like time for a visit.
We also did some history-related museums:
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.
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.
Our week included three museums, all different and all wonderful. First was the Guggenheim.
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…
Second museum – The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation
Third museum – MoMA
We did pull ourselves away, and for the next two hours were immersed in gorgeous and thought-provoking art. Some favorites:
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.
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:
Now it’s just totally random stuff:
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!
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
Destination #2 – Biscainhos Palace
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.
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.