Monday, March 31, 2014

Pretty in Pujols

On the way home from our recent half-day sojourn to Villeneuve-sur-Lot, we stopped for a bit in pretty Pujols. You don't have to take my word for it: Pujols officially is one of France's prettiest villages. Its hilltop position means spectacular views. For this post, I'll let my Fuji do the talking.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Stylish storefronts and silly signs

For the final (enfin!) post covering last month's peu de vacances to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, I bring you some vitrines élégantes et signes drôles
Storefront style (Nice)

Who could resist Scuderia pizza? (Nice) 

Father/son souvenirs (Pezenas)

Celebrating Carnaval (Pezenas)

I think I understand (Seillans)

Seems a little young to be chugging a beer (Seillans)

Everything must go, apparently (Saint-Raphaël)

A provacative logo (Saint-Raphaël)

Cute little guy (Saint-Raphaël)

Special space for les chiens (Saint-Raphaël)

This little piggy went to Saint-Tropez.

That's what she says (Saint-Tropez)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Winter break 2014: Our last stop in amazing Montpellier

After nearly two years of residing in France, I feel as if Ken and I have seen only a tiny part of this amazing country. And we haven't even dipped our toe into the rest of Europe: Avoir de la patience! Last month, however, we visited the South of France, taking the opportunity to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law who were taking a break from New England's winter weather.

After a great week with amazing (finally!) weather, we head home, with a stop in what quickly becomes one my favorite French cities: Montpellier. With around 75,000 university students, this city is brimming with youthful energy. We park outside the city in a huge, empty garage (it's Sunday, but I assume it's full on weekdays) and take the tram to Place de la Comédie, a site that is brimming with amateurs de café and amuseurs publics. We take advantage of student-priced kebabs and fries near Gare Saint-Roch. Thankfully, I will be able to walk off some calories on our promenade.

The Neoclassical 19th century Opéra Comédie   
Place de la Comédie is one of the largest pedestrian areas in Europe.

Eating lunch along rue
de Maguelone
The Hôtel Saint-Côme mansion
was built to be an amphithéâtre
for the surgery school.

I am totally enchanted with a building at Place Saint-Roch, adorned with murals including a "reflection" of the church across the plaza and the house's whimsical residents. Look carefully at the next four photographs:

Église Saint-Roch is named for Montpellier's patron saint.
After we admire Montpellier's Arc de Triomphe, we discover Place Royale du Peyrou spread out in front of us. A statue of Louis XIV à cheval sits in the center, and the Château d'Eau, the Corinthian temple which held the city's water supply, overlooks the Aqueduc Saint-Clement (les Arceaux), built in 1754 to bring drinking water to Montpellier from the springs of Saint-Clément. The view from this summit is amazing.
Montpellier's Arc de Triomphe is a copy of that
more famous (and snootier, we hear) monument
in Paris.


This mascaron may have the best view in town from the Château d'Eau.

Since we still have a sizable drive ahead of us, we take just a quick peak at the oldest botanical garden in France, which sports the unimaginative name, Jardin des Plantes. Une telle honte! Still so much to see, but I'm sure we'll be coming back to Montpellier again some day.

Jardin des Plantes

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Riviera ramblings: Our winter break continues in Nice

Carnaval time on the Côte d'Azur and the sun is shining. We couldn't have asked for a better day to visit Nice. Since our day had started with a whirlwind side trip to Monaco, our first order of business is lunch. 
We make our way from the Gare de Ville to the Old Town neighborhood. Soon we are munching our sandwiches and paninis on the edge of mer Méditerranée.

The soft spot in my heart has not hardened: This is the very first place I visited in France. The streets here in Vielle Ville are so narrow, it seems as if one could touch finger tips with a neighbor across la rue. Shops, restaurants and galleries occupy many of the ground-level, pastel buildings.

A waterfall flows from Château Hill, as seen from Vieux Nice.
Nice's shopping district

If there's any disappointment today, it's that the leisurely stroll that we had anticipated along the Promenade des Anglais is impossible because of the bleachers set up for the Carnaval festivities. Instead, we explore downtown and meet up with an old friend of my sister at Place Garibaldi. The bustling plaza is ringed by buildings with facades painted in trompe-l'œil style: One's eye is "deceived" into thinking there are actually three-dimensional accents such as balconies and sills, where there are none.

Too tired to walk to the gare, we decide to take a trolley, but there are detours due to Carnaval, and the trolley cars are packed. We nearly miss our train back to Saint-Raphaël; good thing the trains don't always run on time.

Membres de la bande head to the start of the Carnaval parade.

Place Garibaldi is notable for its buildings with trompe-l'œil facades.

C'est nous encore, bien sûr!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

It's the principality of the thing: One hour in Monaco

Sometimes when you're traveling, you just have to go a specific place, just so you can later say, "Been there, done that." And so it is with Monaco.

Both my sister and I had visited here, but Ken hadn't, so we go the few extra kilometers to get a quick look at this ultra upscale (and vertically upright) principality. 
We exit the train station via the new upper part, causing us Monaco veterans to become dazed and confused. We can see the palace over there, across the bay, but the famous Monte Carlo casino eludes us. After a few wrong turns, I ask directions in my best French and get the answers I need in even better English. 

We plan to catch the next train to Nice, but we have enough time to peek into the lobby (admission to the casino itself would have been 10 euros) and note the décor is much more sedate than the razzle-dazzle of Reno and Vegas casinos. Happily, we can save our gambling allowance for our next stop: Nice.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Head for the hills: Seillans

Known as one of France's plus beaux villages, it is easy to understand why my sister set her sights on buying a little pied-à-terre in the hilltop town of Seillans. Alas, the apartment she wanted was sold before she had the chance to put in an offer, but that doesn't diminish her passion for this artsy area.

The steep streets of Seillans are too narrow for cars, and sweet surprises seem to appear at every turn: whimsical planter boxes, fountain-watering bouquets and even a dragon. Surreal artist Max Ernst spent the last 12 years of his life here, and his widow, Dorothy Tanning, donated dozens of works to Seillans. The village also owns hundreds of works of Franco-Polish artist Stan Appenzeller, who lived here from 1956 to 1980. 

We take une pause café and consider options for lunch. Since it's Friday, my sister suggests we return to St-Raphaël and try the aïoli, a local specialty that is offered as le vendredi midi spécial. With all in agreement about the benefits of being infused with garlic, we catch the bus back to St-Raphaël.