Friday, October 31, 2008


It was a gorgeous day, nice and hot. Biot is very small, just a few short streets, it's an artist community, painters, sculptors, glasswork and things like that.

We're still in Provence

It's scenes like this that is so evocative, so quintessentially European, that's what we go to Europe for.

We arrived at 9.30am in Nice but our room wasn't ready yet, so we waited. The second we could check in, we did and headed for the bus station. I love Nice because the public transportation is so handy, you can go places on the train or on the bus. It takes you everywhere, even out of the country to Zurich, Barcelona, Rome and I am everywhere in Europe or just the next village or villages in all directions. So the possibilities of day trips from Nice are endless. I've been there so many times that I've seen most of the nearby villages. So that day I decided we'll go to Biot, high in the hills. It's a small village, an artist community. There wasn't anything direct, we have to take the Antibes bus but stop half way at Biot station, from there take the Biot bus to Biot. We were dropped off at Biot station and weren't sure what we were supposed to do next. There was an English couple at Biot bus stop, they said there wasn't another bus for Biot for hours. (They were wrong).
Upon hearing that we decided we'll walk to Antibes and see if we can find some transportation from there. It was hot and after a few feet, I decided to ask our wisdom of walking, to where and to what, I ask? I had no clue, neither did Sophie. We stopped at another bus stop and were stymied as to what to do next. Just then we saw a bus coming with the sign, 'par Biot'. I waved it down and asked the driver if he was going to Biot. He said, 'oui' and off we went with him. Turns out, it was a free bus, we tried to pay, he said, 'gratuit'. So we arrived at Biot. It's pretty. We had some lunch, some spaghetti, it was cheap. We don't always eat the fancy local food, we see cheap spaghetti and we go for it. Sophie doesn't eat pizza, so we never eat pizza.
On the way back, we should have stopped at Biot station and waited for the Nice bus there. Instead we took the Biot bus to Antibes and couldn't find the station for the Nice bus. I know there is a train connection between Antibes and Nice, so we walked to the train station, asking people all the way, 'where is the train station'. We found it finally, got on the next train and came back to Nice.
While I know mostly where to go and what to do, sometimes I do change plans during the trip, that's when I let serendipity take over and I get lost and eventually things turn out anyway. It's disconcerting and uncomfortable. You just have to ask a lot of questions, in English, they reply in Italian or French, we understand, 'over there, right, left, straight ahead'. Most of the time, they just shrug. So we ask other people and more people.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nice (again)

I've been to Nice so many times, I can't remember how many. We left Ventimiglia after breakfast and was here in Nice at 9.30am. It's just a short hop on the train from Ventimiglia. Our hotel is a crummy old hostel in an old building, a few steps across the street from the train station. I like it that way, so when take the trains we don't have far to walk especially with our luggage. It was cheap at 60 euros a night for the 2 of us and we have a bathroom with toilet and shower. For France, this is a luxury. It included breakfast too which was just a roll and a coffee. Heck, we are cheap travelers. The usual thing happens, at every town, after we dropped off our luggage we're out the door, going somewhere. We walked to the bus station to look for a bus to take us to Biot. I love both the train and bus stations in Nice, they both take you to numerous pretty and interesting places. I remember my first time in Nice, over 7 years ago. I used both the train and bus stations a lot. I wanted to live in Nice then, maybe I still do. So onward to Biot....
I have a smaller suitcase than Sophie but I still have less things. Her suitcase is bigger and it's always bulging at the seams, she's got so much stuff. Pack lightly especially if you're taking trains, buses and subways.

Every evening I write about the day's events so I won't forget anything.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Leaving Saorge

A last look behind us as we leave the little village perched high in the mountains near the French Italian border, near the Maginot line. Good bye, maybe forever, I don't know if I'll be back this way again.
We get further and, further away....

Now we can't see it anymore but we're looking at the ravine below us.

The back end of Saorge as we come down from the monastery.

The grape arbor in the garden of the monastery. It's a good time to visit in September, the grapes are still on the vine. Come October, which was when we visited last year, they'll all be picked and the vines would be bare.

The ancient irrigation system of the garden. I think it's in disuse, now they use a hose with water from the city supply.

It's been an incredible day spent in the mountains. There were a lot of hikers from all over Europe, usually elderly retirees. What a wonderful place to retire to, Europe, I mean, you can have access to the hiking trails around quaint perched villages. I'd die happy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saorge 3- vignettes of life in a small village

They are no different than us, I have a water hose in my front yard, but my front door is not so meticulously adorned. This scene and so many others makes me so wistful. I long for the day when I can slow down but with the way the economy is going, that day seems so far away. Anyway I have this trip and many others to console myself with.

A view of Saorge from the back end and from higher up. High up in the hills behind Saorge sits a Franciscan church and monastery. We heard rustling inside the church compound. There was another group visiting inside and I guess they lock the doors when they are busy. Then they opened the door to let those visitors out and asked if we would like to visit. We paid the entry fee and was brought to see the church. She said when we finished to go get her so she can unlock the door to the cloister and also the garden. It is a very beautiful church, the cloisters were beautiful too. No sun has ever entered the room, so the frescoes were still brilliantly colorful as in the day it was first painted. These days they rent out rooms to visiting writers, people who need a quiet place to write. The garden is still being gardened as in its original days when the monks grew their own food and was self sufficient. They set up this elaborate irrigation system and grew enough food for themselves and for the villagers. These days they hired a professional gardener to keep the garden going as a show piece.

The market street of Saorge, there is a kind of general store run by this nice French guy.

A slice of life in a small village in France. It's scenes like this that is so evocative. That is the reason I visit Europe. Even as I write this, I'm investigating on other remote places to go to. I'm doing research on Romania and the more I read about it, the more interested I am....

A plum tart.....

Sophie went inside the store and took some cute photos of it. I don't have her pictures yet. This is a cute place, sometimes I'm tired of going to the supermarkets here. It's the same old same old stuff.

There's nothing like an afternoon, roaming in the narrow streets of remote French villages. How about a vacation like this? I can do this forever.

This trip would include a lot more little villages in various corners of France. We started our trip in Rome, took the train up the coast into the French/Italian border, hug the coast, go to the French/Spanish border and then headed into Barcelona, flew from Barcelona to London before heading home. I like to scramble my itinerary and try to include as many cute and quaint places as I can before I'm truly satisfied and ready to come home.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bad news

This is how the pictures should look like, now that I found out how to use my new camera. A huge bowl of fall fruits, 6 kinds of apples, persimmons and 'autumn royal' grapes. This country is so productive, the earth yield its fruits, the people work hard to provide for themselves and their families. So what went wrong, the news has been so bad, how much bad news can you stand before it'll drive you to jump off a tall building? I don't know how much I can take. I haven't opened my 401K statements lately. Charles Schwab says, my e statement for September is ready but it took me 2 weeks before I even downloaded it. The governor says, California is running out of cash. What does that mean?
I can only continue to go to work, pay my bills, save and conserve as much as I can. How can I still manage to travel? By being ultra frugal, there's no shame to it, some of my ways are even too embarrassing to publish. We went to a flea market last Saturday, the vendors were crying, even their cheap stuff goes unsold but they still drive SUV's. My brother said, they bought them when times were good, I guess.
I have always been ultra frugal, so it's not difficult for me even during these times. Even when we travel, we stay in motels, take public transportation, walk and look for cheap food. We don't usually shop, we usually buy art books, we love those. We take lots of pictures and these pictures sustain us when we're at home and especially during these times when the news is all bad. Everything we own has gone down, the great news is the mortgage has gone down too, considerably, because I make a huge effort to pay it down. I can't wait to have a mortgage burning party soon.
Most days I entertain myself by writing in this blog, by looking at my pictures again and researching other cute places in the world for future trips. I usually write what I want to read and I try to live the life I want to live regardless of all the bad news.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saorge 2

When I saw the village, I was in awe. I motioned to Sophie, 'hurry, it's up ahead'. I walked faster and faster, I couldn't wait to get to it. It is so pretty. Indeed this is France but we came up on Trenitalia. Later when we waited to catch Trenitalia to get back to Ventimiglia, there were other visitors who went on SNCF. There were a few groups of hikers from Europe. This part of the Piedmont area is very popular among hikers. Many of them were elderly women, I'd like to live there when I retire and go hiking all over that area. They took SNCF back to Nice and we got on Trenitalia back to Ventimiglia. It was a lot of fun. I wouldn't trade these kinds of experiences for a cruise or a beach in Hawaii.

A first glimpse of Saorge.... wow! How did they even think of living up here? I know there is a monastery up on top, they tend to be sited away from civilization.

It is so pretty.

What can say as I write this after a hard day at work. These trips keep me sane and keep me going to work. I just received my credit card bill, it is not that bad, I paid most of the expenses with cash already, so it's just a few bills here and there and some shopping. I've been back 2 weeks and I've already done 3 weeks worth of work. For this trip I wanted to search out small and unknown places, quaint and sweet places. It looked like I succeeded. This and many more filled our trip.