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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wild West Days - Cave Creek Az Nov. 2016

We spent the afternoon in frontier town. This place is buzzing every weekend, never more so than today.  People really get into it, wearing all the western gear. Almost all are wearing cowboy hats, lots for spurs on "real" cowboy boots. Guns are in evidence as well.
We start off at the Grotto Cafe where we park and walk to frontier town where we stop to watch a western show with seven cowboys....well done! We continue on to the end and on the return decide to stop in at the American Legion. Now this was an establishment that we have never visited, but always planned to check out. Today it was packed.  There were a lot bikers, and a very good band.  Everyone seemed to be wearing cowboy gear and a lot had Harley labels on their shirts. We were enjoying the atmosphere and people watching, listening to music from the Eagles and others.
Then a woman got up to the mike on the band stage and quiet was called for. She had a story to tell. It was about today's veteran hero, her daughter. The person standing beside her on the stage actually looked like a young man wearing a ball cap. The mum started her talk saying her daughter was born and had challenging health issues that continued on through her life to the time she joined the army. She spoke of her military life, service to her country and her bravery. Now her girl has cancer again, and it is terminal, she won't survive it this time. The mothers voice broke but she continued on.  A hat was passed around the bar for donations, not for her girl, but for the homeless vets association in Cave Creek.
It was an emotional moment. The band started up again and Tina and her mum danced together, Tina removed her ball cap to bare her bald head, and her large black glasses made her look so young and vulnerable but she smiled big. I noticed a friend taking a video of their dance....what a memory that will be.   We had to choke back our emotions. We left thinking about the sacrifice so many Americans have made for their country and we're grateful for their service.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Home again, home again 🎶🎶🎶 jiggity jig.

We left Paris early this morning, not knowing what to expect with traffic, strike activity etc. All went smoothly, we were super early, and our flight was delayed slightly. I had lots of time to get my vat refund.
We had to change terminals in London with a tight connection.......which turned into a long one as we were again delayed. The airport was incredibly busy, we had to wait in line for a seat in a restaurant.....beer and English fish and chips, which we shared, made up for it.
We then went to the British Airways counter to see if we could buy an upgrade. The upgrade price would have doubled the original ticket price.......a bit too rich for my Scottish blood! Really, our seats were not bad....already an upgrade to euro traveler.  We were surprised and delighted to receive a complimentary upgrade to business class at the gate., which meant a pod bed! Yahoo!
We are now home and tomorrow the laundry begins, back to reality.
I always love arriving in Vancouver to the smell of the cool fresh air......home😄
Thanks to all family and friends for reading my blog, I enjoy writing it.......and reading it later myself.

Muriel

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last day in Paris

This morning we decide to forgo the hotel breakfast and walk to the nearest Starbucks. Not that we are addicted, but it has been 3plus weeks since we have seen a Starbucks. Of course I always have to check out the merchandise and I was happy to find two espresso sized mugs, one with Paris on it and the other with France. I'm getting quite a small collection!
Next on our agenda was a walk to the Pere Lachaise cementary where many famous people are buried...including Mozart, Jim Morrison and many many others. I have had this  on my list of to do things for at least the last three visits to Paris.......!  We decided to walk as the distance according to google would take us 41 minutes.  Along the way we stopped at a small restaurant for lunch......quite a delicious salad passed by our little table on its way to someone else....I said to the waiter, I'll have what he is having. The restaurant seemed to be from another era, an old fashioned photo took up the entire back wall, the kitchen was hidden from the seating area but there was a very busy little window where the cook,rang an old fashioned bell when he had placed a meal on the shelf. The staff seemed quite amused that I was taking photos.
We weren't far now from the cementary and I was so sure I was finally getting to see it! Not so! At the gate there was a couple of officials who told us it as closed, just for the day because of heavy rain, and that all the parks and gardens were also closed, but would open again tomorrow. This did not make sense and we thought it was probably that the workers were on strike in sympathy with the transit strikers.  A disappointment, but I will try again next time.
We walked back towards our hotel and at the Place de Vosges park there was an interesting display. First we saw large bags of wool(sheep) in its raw form, next it was spun into spools of thread, then into bolts of cloth on a large loom. The fabric was beautiful and fine. Finally there was a section of finished products, clothing, pillows, blankets. Jackie, if you are reading this....I took photos for you!
We sauntered on towards home with a stop at Cafe Hugo....famous as it is on the spot of Victor Hugo's maison. Monsuir Hugo is most famous for Les Miserables.  Jeff had a beer and I had a hot mulled wine. While we were there we saw a group of soldiers pass by wearing camouflage and carrying heavy artillery.  We had also seen a noticeable presence of the same at the airport and several other times about the city.
A rest was in order before we would venture out for a fresh air walk. We walked to the river Seine, which is just a few blocks from our hotel......we were quite shocked to see the extent of the flooding. Normally you can walk along the waters edge on a probably 20ft wide sidewalk, and there is also a road beyond the sidewalk where two lanes of cars can pass under the bridges. All of this was completely under water! We crossed over to Ile St Louie on one of the bridges , everyone, Parisiennes, tourists alike were taking photos with cameras and iPhones, it was quite a sight to see.
Back in the Marais district in the St Paul area we wandered through a few shops, I purchased a black beret, I had left mine in the hotel the last time I was in Paris.   A shop selling Mexican Ices.....their version of ice cream, with less calories they say. Jeff tried the peanut butter while I had a coconut. The shop was not busy, it being a cool and rainy day, and we chatted with them.....telling the we were going to have falafels for dinner.....they recommended l'As on Rue Rosier., but warned us there would be a line up!
Again we returned to our hotel.....seniors need rest after all the walking! We had a beer at the American Bar across the street from our hotel and then walked to the Jewish district which was not more than a few blocks and joined the line up at L'As.  Jeff declared it the best meal he has enjoyed on the entire trip.
And so ended our last day in Paris and the last of our vacation. Tomorrow, strikes willing....we fly!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

From Italy to France

Our  plan this morning went off surprisingly well, thank goodness. After breakfast in the hotel we were off to Livorno to drop of our rental "hunk of junk" . We left at 9:20 am and arrived, thanks to GPS a few minutes before 10. Livorno is close to Tirrenia, like Richmond is to Vancouver. Jeff was going to tell the guys at the rental shop (politely, of course) what he/we thought of the car but he didn't say anything in the end, because the fellows were so nice he didn't want to spoil their day.  They called us a taxi to take us back to Terrenia. An 8 passenger Mercedes Benz arrived! The drive back was interesting until we got stopped for a bridge to raise, meter running the whole time. Ahh the joys!
Back at our lovely Hotel Bristol we checked out at 11am and had to wait until 2pm for our next taxi to take us to the Pisa airport. We planned to spend the time laying around at the pool but then Enrico ((hotel owner) asked if we would like to use the bicycles to tour around. Yes! And we were off! The Hotel is not far from the beach and we rode along the bike path for about 6 km, sat for awhile and watched some surfers in the waves, and ended up at a cafe for pizza and salad.  When we got back with the bikes, Enrico and Jeff were talking tennis as Enrico had offered to put on the big tv in the bar for us. Enrico told us that Milos Ranoic had stayed at his hotel for a week and he had a photo with him........soon Jeff was pulling up his photo of him and Federer......boys!  It seems there is a tennis facility near by that the professionals use occasionally.
Our taxi arrived to take us to the Pisa airport, which is about 12 km away. On the drive we were passing  km's of serious barbed wire fencing....razor wire on top. I asked the driver  if it was a prison....no, it is a USA military base which was built during World War Two.  He said it was 6km in length and though not many Americans were there now it employs many Italians. (Not sure doing what)
Pisa airport is quite small and our flight was delayed.
We finally arrived in Paris to rain and cold, and hailed a taxi for our trip into the Marais district. We
had landed at Orly airport, flat rate to Paris is $35, (CDG Flat rate is $55) we were in rush hour traffic
so it took a long time to reach our hotel Turenne Le Marais. The hotel for two nights was quite expensive so we were anticipating a lovely room. Not! It is one of the smallest rooms we have ever seen and truth be told it is a bit shabby! I know it's Paris....but really!
We did ask if there were any bigger rooms and were told there were not.
Tomorrow is strike day for the transportation systems in Paris.
We asked at the desk for some dinner suggestions and thankfully there were lots of choices in the square half a block away.  Smoking in Paris is not allowed indoors so most people sit outside in plastic style tents. We are quite astounded at the number of smokers all over Europe, it was the same in Spain and Italy.  Soup of the day was creme lentil, piping hot and very tasty.
We purchased some water at a little corner store and decamped to our teeny room.
What will we do in Paris tomorrow ? I have always wanted to visit Auvers sur Oise which is 41 minutes by train from Paris. It is where Van Gogh spent his last days, also Corot, Pissarro, so much art history in an old French village....but the trains are on strike.


Just may have to shop instead😀😀☔️.
I still love Paris, wet, expensive, rude at times, but full of history, art, architecture, and style!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Last day in San Gimignano

We had a lovely breakfast in the breakfast room of the Cisterna Hotel with views that description does not do justice. Our friendly server from last nights dinner and yesterday's outdoor patio service was once again our server for breakfast. We asked her if she very gets to go home, we are not sure if she understands as she laughs and smiles. Jeff invited a girl who we had seen dining alone last night, to sit with us. It turned out she was/is a tour guide as we had guessed. She was pleased to be our guest I think.
After breakfast our plan was a leisurely exit from the hotel, I had a purchase to make and we would then walk down the hill to our car to bring it back up for our suitcases. All going according to plan till I suddenly remembered I had left my coat in Siena!   What to do! In the end we decided we had time to return and pick it up. Our hotel reception kindly called Siena to make sure the hotel had it. Now we are in a rush. It took us 1 1/2 hours we had not allowed for. Consequently we arrived in Lucca quite late in the day. We quickly realized the walled city was not suitable to drive in, so after a bite of pizza and a beer we had a quick run up to the outer wall to have a look. Sadly we had no time for a bike ride around the old wall......many bikes and joggers were to be seen and it looked like fun.
We drove to Tirrenia, which is between Pisa and Livorno. As we drove through Pisa we got a glimpse of the leaning tower, sadly no photo! I had wanted to take one of those pictures where it looks like I'm propping the tower up. We were both tired after our very long day dealing with traffic and tailgating Italian race car drivers and thought a relaxing hour by the pool would be the best thing to do.
At about 8:30 we walked to the beach area to a restaurant recommended by our hotel.....real Sicilian food! The walk to the beach was long but we finally found the location. The Bagno Lomi is owned and operated by a Sicilian family, they live in Sicily in the off season and return to Tirreno for the summer. They did not have much English nor us much Italian but we managed .......sort of!  I ordered grilled prawns, Jeff ordered Vongole.  When my plate came I was pretty sure I was not looking at prawns and the 8 or so little fishys looked too big to be sardines. Hmmm. Well I have to say they were delicious, after I cut off their little heads and tails. Jeffs pasta was full of mussels and clams. The evening was losing light but we could still see the waves crashing in and the spray it was causing, quite wild.
It was a long way back to our Hotel Bristol where we still had a hotel to book in Paris and a flight to check in. Travel is fun and work!
Ciao......tomorrow it's back to Bonjour!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Departing Siena for San Gimignano

We awoke to rain this morning.......and on the positive side were glad we were parked in the underground garage! Small mercies!
Our plan to walk out and find a coffee/bar where we could sip our coffees outdoors changed to a full breakfast (for me) and coffee for Jeff in the hotel breakfast room.  Soon we were packed up and driving towards San Gimignano which was only about an hour away, so we had lots of time to explore along the way. We stopped in to Casole de Elsa the old walled city we had seen on our trip to Siena, a very charming village, all the signs leading into the walls inexplicably led us nowhere! We tried to find the entrance twice and gave up.....it being Sunday there was nobody we could ask. Italy is as closed up as Spain on Sundays. The bonus in that is, the roads are less busy as they are either at church or "Sunday lunch"
We were hoping the rain would keep the motorcycles off the roads and I think it did some.
The scenery is really picture postcard. We came upon a beautiful old brick building with a gorgeous garden and restaurant and shop😄 A perfect combination and we pulled into the gravel driveway. Well, you guessed it.....we couldn't even get a coffee, they were very sorry, they were preparing for either Sunday lunch or a wedding! The room was perfection! The shop was closed and we hit the road. Another walled city, Monteriggioni was admired from the road as we drove on by.
We arrived in San Gimignano with very detailed instructions on how to find our hotel, thank goodness. We could drive into the centre of the old town directly to our hotel and park to unload for 20 minutes max.  This took awhile as the narrow streets were filled with tourists.
Our Hotel Cisterna is truly lovely and I would recommend it for the location and charm. It is also very spacious for a European hotel.  The hotel takes its name from the large stone cistern (well) in the centre of the square. It's walls of brick have ivy climbing up and around the windows.  By now the sun is shining and it is quite hot. After about 20 minutes we are driving back outside the old town walls to park our car.....6 euros for 24 hours. The walk back uphill is about 600 meters......and we managed to spend about 200 euros on the way! The painting girls who I traveled here with in January 2015 will be amused to learn that ALL the shops that were then closed were now open......and filled with tourists. It was quite busy but we were told nothing like it would be in another months time.
We spent the day wandering the top of the town, drinking wine on the patios, eating pizza (Jeff) gelato (me). The painting girls will remember the best gelato in the world shop where we all had gelato in January. My choice was coconut flavour...yum!  Very fond memories!
We decided to dine in our hotel restaurant and the view was staggeringly beautiful, we were seated at a window to enjoy it and enjoy it we did!
We will be leaving tomorrow to visit Lucca and Pisa and staying in a little town between Pisa and Livorno.
It was a wonderful day! ❤️


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Crazy crazy day!

This morning we woke a bit late.  First order of the day was to pick up our rental car. The rental location was about 5 km from our hotel so we hopped in a taxi and tried to remember the route as we had to come back to our hotel.  Ha! Anyway we talked to the clerk at the agency about changing our drop off and at the end decided we would bring the car back to Livorno.  That settled we got in our Fiat, which Jeff has since declared a "hunk of junk"!!!! Graeme, the gears are ridiculous! As is the suspension, and this was an upgrade! Nuff said about the car.
We are using Graeme and Joanie's GPS which they have kindly lent to us and we could not get the gps to switch off of Sardinia, so in frustration we set off to find our way to the hotel. We later rememberd that the gps satellite takes time to register. We found ourselves down a narrow street and drove smack into a market......normally this would be a good thing. We pulled over to the curb while we thought about how we could negotiate through as there was no way we could reverse. Jeff is wrestling with the gps, I'm connecting my phone to google maps and there is a knock at my window. Yes it is the carbinerios! Fortunately he was very helpful and told us two right turns ...then go straight . He knew where the Hotel Gran Duca was.  Whew! Could have been a lot worse. He then proceed to hold back traffic and lead us to our first right turn. Amen!
Back at the hotel we had missed breakfast but there was a lovely coffee shop on the corner, not busy and the girl serving was very sweet....so a nice experience ! Now that we have decided to return the car to Livorno we have booked ourselves on a flight from Pisa (24km from Livorno) back to Paris on May 31st.
We packed up, checked out and were on the road, gps now operating in the correct part of Italy, by 12:30.
Our destination today was Siena and we were taking the coastal route. Livorno is quite large and it was taking some time to exit the city, the beaches were numerous and looked quite rocky. There were people laying on the rocks in every nook and cranny sunning themselves.  It being Saturday every square inch of space along the side of the road had a parked car or motorbike on it. People getting out of their vehicles loaded down with towels, food and libation.
As we passed the port we saw the fishermen with the morning catch, cleaning it in sheds by the road, seagulls everywhere waiting for the spoils. Fishermen carrying crates of fish weaving through the traffic to waiting customers on the opposite side. Traffic is going every which way...why do they bother with lines?
We pass through many small villages, Castglioncello, Casole de Elsa, an old walled city on a hilltop just 22 km from Siena......looks worth a visit.  The drive was through beautiful countryside, rolling hills, wine country, walled hilltop villages, unfortunately made less enjoyable by the insane motorcycles, who passed without caution or care for themselves or others on the road. It was quite unnerving especially for Jeff. Being Saturday they were out in full force.  We stopped at a roadside bar for a drink  and a rest on the covered patio with a magnificent view.  Another village Monteriggioni, ringd by a stone wall and we were close to Siena.  Entering Siena we had our eyes peeled for our hotel, we saw a sign with an arrow and followed it till the arrows were no more, round and round we went.....tired and thirsty. After way to much time we found ourselves at the same spot again......it was the entrance to the walled part of the city......yes our hotel was mere meters inside the walls!!!!!!!
We checked in and flopped for a few minutes then ventured out to walk up to the duomo It was an uphill walk and we were soon enticed into a bar whose chalkboard outside beckoned us for the view.
A wander around the narrow streets and many photos later we came to the duomo, which was closed to visitors.
Back in our hotel we made a reservation on our hotel patio for dinner .....it has a fabulous view of the surrounding valley laid out below.
The patio was quite full of diners, a young couple was seated at the table next to us.....the beautiful young lady was dressed fashionably in a very short skirt but what really caught my attention was her shoes! Black patent high heels with a gold strip on the heel and at the top of each heel there was a
small gold  padlock!!!!! Exquisite.  
Our meal finished we left the patio to walk down to an area below the hotel where a local Festival was in full swing.....many hundreds of people eating at long tables being served by young people who were delivering food from a large fired bbq. There will be a band and dancing afterwards. Tourists are  invited to join in but it seemed too much to deal with after our day.
We wandered  back to our hotel hoping the rain would be stopped at Roland Garosso so we could cach some tennis.
Bonne Serra! And Goodnigh!