Saturday, June 4, 2011

Les Alps!

L'isle Sur Le Sorgue is a wonderful town. about 2 hours after my last post we were awoken by a massive thunderstorm, the likes of which I haven't experienced since south carolina. But the town the next morning, the air was fresh and so were the pastries!

while we can get pastries and croissants equally as good in the bay area, there's something more natural about them here. Like one gets to experience them in their natural habitat or something. it was also great seeing a line of locals filing in. there was more often than not just a brief and friendly first name greeting and a swap of 2€ for a baguette. I loved this town, famous for the waterwheels that have been spinning for literally hundreds if years.

sort of sad to leave, we stopped by a little supermarket for some vin rouge and road trip supplies for a meandering trip through the Alps.

Speaking if road trips, I love going through rest areas here because Europeans generally don't eat in their car. they stop at these large truck stops and stand around in mostly silent circles, drinking espresso from tiny little plastic cups, or stretching their legs outside, collecting in crowds of smokers 15 people deep. I always get a kick our of the different foods, and will load up on ketchup flavored chips, quiche, and local cookies and hit the road per usual.

Anyway, we soon passed through the Luberon region, and because of the mountains where I'm from, and watching Le Tour footage on Vs., I felt immediately at home. Cereste was beautiful, with it's hills and river, but I could happily live in Apt or Manosque too, both of which possess vieux villages, or historic hilltop centers.

well into the alps at this point, we soon were at le gorge du verdon, which gives any high elevation road in colorado or maui a run for its money in terms of vertigo inducing corners. I love experiencing these types if mountain roads, so I think I was smiling continuously for ~75 minutes.

We were running low on gas and so I found s little mountain town to fuel up. a couple of observations. we're getting about 35 mpg, it was €72 to fill up (~$105 for 9 gallons) and I filled the tank in about 30 seconds. yeah, the flow rate is so much higher, and there's no fume control on the levers. weird. I wonder why all European cars are manual and mostly all diesel...?

Finally we arrived at Les mas Candilles in Mougins, just outside if Cannes. thanks to Expedia, we booked a room here last minute from a suggestion from Danielle's friend Mireille. This was an especially nice treat for Danielle because it was not only her birthday, but she spent the past 7 hours stuck in the car like a trooper while i blazed our car all over the Alps. But really, I don't have the words to describe this place. it's a 5 star resort hotel with an amazingly attentive staff, and the views, atmosphere, food, facilities, woah-hey-topless-woman-in-the-pool-I-must-be-in-France, were all top shelf.

While I said that the food in barcelona was winning, we didn't eat at a 5 star restaurant there, but I will say that the dinner that we has at Les Mas Candilles was one of the best I've ever had. I had literally the best fois gras terrine ever made, and we both had a Mediterranean sea bass.

so yeah, it's damn expensive for Americans here. it would be expensive even if there wasnt a euro symbol after all the numbers. in other words, a teenie tiny cafe au lait (of which it takes like three to pri my eyes open) is 2 or 3, a sandwich is ~7, an entree is ~20-25 for something basic... a glass of wine seems to be the only typical thing that is comparably priced. anyway, those prices are expensive enough, right? then I remind myself that those are euros, so multiply by 1.45. uugh.

another thing is that we're mostly mistaken for French here, which Danielle just loves. when my face soon displays incomprehension however, it's all I can do to stumble out a "j'habit au California". really though, people here are super nice, and as horrible as we're butchering their beautiful language, we're mostly spoken to en français and greeted with smiles while being helped right along with the language -- even though they all speak excellent English.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011


We work up in carcassonne to rain, which sucked for exploring a medieval city, but we tried to make the best if it. After a cassoulet (think hearty casserole with white beans and meats baked in a clay bowl) we were off to Point du Garde, site of a famous roman aqueduct. having been to the one in Segovia Spain, I was impressed yet again. this one is different in that a city hasn't been built up around it.

very cool, but I'll always fondly remember seeing the one at Segovia, lit up at night.

we then took back roads through countryside that was straight out of my imagination of what the Provence region should look like. what's more, the weather cleared up! So take the best of the Napa region, minus the chain stores, highway ads, winery ads, traffic and congestion...okay, never mind, Napa is nothing like it. the small walled villages are so beautiful, and it must be a simple life. Uzés was particularly attractive, as were the dozen or so other towns, with their Chateau perched atop the highest hill.

then we hit Avignon, and it was a rude awakening. dirtier streets, honking horns, traffic, it was stressful for me getting to the heart if this walled city, once home to the pope outside of Rome. I'm glad we saw it however, but Danielle summed it up best by saying "eh it's just like any other big european city." The wine for dinner was good, but I won't go into details as to how uninspiring the food in general has been in France. So far Spain as a whole, but especially Barcelona, is kicking France's ass in terms of cuisine.

by the way, I use Photosynth for these stitched Picts. love them microsoft labs tools.

and now we're in a small village outside L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and we arrived at 10pm -- couldn't see much other than the pitch black, but were well into the country. can't wait to see the area in the morning.

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Location:Chemin des Espélugues,L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue,France

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bonjour France!

Zoot alors. as I type this on a stupid touch screen, my Bluetooth keyboard sits somewhere at the W in Barcelona. Yep, I left it. still though I will deal with this because I want to remember as much as I can.

The agenda for the morning was to grab a quick breakfast in Gracia via Metro transportation, then pick up the Avis rental car. Super easy renting a car, and we licked out by the fact that they had a French car for us, else we would have had to pay a very expensive one-way destination fee. We got a zippy little 5 door Renault turbo diesel 6 speed manual with a TomTom GPS system. I had a blast driving through the tight streets back to the hotel to get our luggage -- next thing we knew we were on the highway heading to The Dali Museum in Figures, Spain. I love driving in Europe, and I find people here to be very assertive and good drivers. you done see the dude camped out in the left lane going 10 mph below the speed limit, people don't excessively break or have otherwise unpredictable behavior ... they're just efficient. Having driven in Spain, Sweden and Holland/Belgium before, I was really looking forward to this part of the trip, and so far I haven't been disappointed.

Anyway, the Dali museum is incredible. I never realized what a prolific artist he was, and in so many different mediums, and for so many decades! One always thinks if melting clocks, but he's done so much more, including sculpture and jewelry design. I was especially take with his water color series of Dante's inferno, and pen and ink depictions of Don Quixote (examples below)

this was also a stand out piece for me. it was just a self portrait he did at a writing table.

Another hour or so on the road, and we were walking to find the Best Western in Carcassonne, a town with a medieval fortress.

well, our hotel sits smack in the middle of this place, and it sort of brought out the 10 year old in me, as all I wanted to do is run along the ramparts, raining down arrows on bad guys. the weather has kept many away, so it has felt pretty secluded here.

Sadly, I hardly remember any French, but people have all been very friendly.

There was fresh bread and cheap red wine (which was kinda bad!) during dinner, so it was hard not to soak in the atmosphere.

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Two Days in Barcelona

Neither of us had flown Lufthansa before, and I thought the international flight from Boston was great. I was kept entertained by the personal media center in the seat-backs, and the attendants were generous with the wine. And look, I can buy an old seat!

Also, I have no doubt that once Americans figure out the muslei w/ a light (and I mean non-thick) yogurt beverage vs. traditional milk, breakfast will forever change. Dannon "Fit" comes close, but there's no substitute for this amazing european dairy product.

Anyway, we touched down in Barcelona at 10:00 AM local time, and after customs and public transportation, both relatively painless, we arrived at the W shortly before noon. The W hotel here is a bit out of the heart of the city, which is slightly inconvenient, but the luxury of an international business hotel is especially welcome after hour and hours of travel. In retrospect we probably would have stayed closer to the city center.

After unloading our baggage and a powernap, we walked down the nearby beach to pick up a two-day pass for those double decker tourist busses -- you know, those ones that do loops of the city, and you can get off and on at your leisure? They're quite plentiful here, but it's not the only form of public transportation -- There are busses and a subway system as well. Two wheeled transportation (motor and pedal power alike) make up half the vehicle traffic, I'd say. But the bus was fun...the info was so-so, but we got a primo spot on the roof.

We got off at Gracia district, and walked in the direction of Basilica Sagrada Familia, which is one of Antonio Gaudi masterpieces. I didn't know what to expect after seeing a large collection of gothic cathedrals in my day, this was entirely different. Aside from it's organic and unique structure, it's a living building. Constriction only began a little over 100 years ago, and is expected to take another 100 years from now to complete. They are incorporating modern techniques as they are discovered, yet parts of the grounds are actually declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. After walking around the perimeter, even with the hordes of tourists, we decided to go in and take the audio tour. I was simply blown away. Wish I could have gotten internal picts, but my battery died before we took the tour. Well worth it.

Dinner was Basque style tapes y vino in the Born district.

Day two started out embarrassingly MUCH later than expected, but clearly we needed the sleep. After a cafe con leche or two, we bussed it with the intention to visit another Gaudi site, but the rain changed our plans. We has equipped ourselves earlier with umbrellas just in case, so we did manage to get in some walking. For dinner Danielle had arranged meeting up with an old friend of her's who lives in Barcelona, so David met us in the Born district and waited as we stood in line at a famous tapas place that my friend Sassan told me about. When we finally set at the bar, the service was aloof but efficient. They know they've got amazing food that people wait in line for, and they've got no interest in wooing you with service. That said, the food was amazing. We had a delicious baked fish, squid, razor clams, tuna tartare, and pimientos de padron and delicious rioja wine. It was very very good. hectic, because people are standing 6" behind you waiting for you to hurry up and eat, but a very neat experience.

One thing about Barcelona, the food has been Very good. Even thought I've only been here for 2 days, I honestly can't think of anything I've eaten that hasn't been delicious. Internet access is very scarce (the W actually charges 20 euros / day for Wifi, but at least they have a business center with 4 computers), and I think I only spotted one Wi-fi coffee shop. I'm saving this draft straight to my phone, so who knows when it'll actually get published.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

En route to Spain

Sitting here in Logan Int'l Airport in Boston waiting for our over-night flight to Barcelona via Frankfurt. This is mainly just a field test to make sure my little Apple bluetooth keyboard means I don't have to write a travel blog on a 3.5" touch screen. So far so good!

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

The dirt roads past "nowhere"

Here's my two cents on Hana after spending a week in Maui. So as Danielle said, the road to Hana is also called the road to nowhere, and the attraction is the journey, not the destination. That wasnt exactly true for us because we had a reservation at a luxury hotel waiting for us, but there is more than that. Hana is most definitely a destination. Hana is the old Hawaii. There are no Aloha shirts, and chain stores selling souvenirs made in china. there are no tour stands and time share operations trying to lure you with a $15 luau. Hana is 50 miles from any other town, and people there are locals. The road to Hana used to be a worthy accomplishment with the poor quality of the road, but now ~2000 day trippers do an out-and-back, and don't give a second's thought to taking in the local flavor. don't get me wrong, I did love the drive, but after 3 hours of waterfalls, I was tired of following the road most taken.

but like I said, most people go out to Hana from paia, then head back down. However, I wanted to do the Full Loop. voiding the rental car contract - check. 25% grade single lane dirt roads? check! Sheer 400ft drops right to crashing waves below with no guard rail? CHECK!! there was pleading and there was begging and negotiation, and while I'm not proud of it, there was also pouting. in the end, I finally convinced Danielle it was something I really wanted to do -- drive the infamous back side out of Hana.

It was awesome. Vast volcanic landscape, wild goats, and a farm fruit stand with no electricity...I had to pedal a bike hooked to a blender to mix our fresh fruit smoothies!

But before all that, first was boogie boarding at the best beach in the world (Hamoa), navigating a rather perilous path to a secluded red sands lagoon, and the most breath taking 4 mile hike ever, complete with a bamboo forest and 300 ft Wimoku falls.

It's interesting, but the towns we've visited in Maui are pretty different. our main HQ has been Wailea, which is really little more than a master planned resort community (with million dollar condos and houses sprinkled in). Kehei, which was really going into "town" from Wailea, is a rather run down crowded 1 mile strip, Makawao, which is also a little run down, but in that cool Berkeley sort of way. And Lahinia, here's where all the Aloha shirts conglomerate and hit up Bubba Gump's restaurant. didn't love Lahina, but people clearly do, and if the Aloha shirts make them feel removed from the daily grind, well then so be it. they won't be on my 4 mile hiking trail anyway.

So don't miss the drive to Hana, but stay in Hana and experience all there is to see past the road. And absolutely drive the loop. the scenery changes from lush and green to arid and volcanic, with expansive views that I just cannot describe. I love taking a left when the crowd goes right, and Hana and it's surroundings did the trick.

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Location:Makena Rd,Kihei,United States