Friday, February 24, 2012

First day in Italy!

And, a very long day was had by all!  We arose at some crazy, dark, quiet hour to walk through the hushed streets to catch the bus to the airport...then plane, bus, train, train, train and finally bus and another walk...arriving at our hotel about 13 hours after we left!

here we are at the wonderful little "buffet" (which is not a buffet in the american sense of the word at's a little cafe/restaurant) at the Bergamo train station.  Our first experience with the Italian language, Italian coffee, Italian waiters and delicious Italian food (yes, at the cafe at the train station).  I love Italy.

Our travels all went well in spite of three minor hiccups.  1) I forgot to bring with me the credit card that I used to purchase the train tickets which was required to actually get our tickets from the self service machine.  2) I gave both Josie and I heart attacks because I thought we had gotten on the wrong high-speed train just after it started moving at high speed...fortunately we were on the right train, but I think even Josie has more grey hair after that one.  3) Our train from Mestre (near Venice) to Trieste was delayed for about 2 hours because a freight train broke down on the tracks ahead of us...the problem was that Umberto's family was meeting us at the train station in Trieste, but we had no way to call them because our phones didn't work and we didn't have their phone number anyway (all of our contact with them had been through email and facebook).  

I'll continue with the story of the train delay because it's kind of's a pic of the station where we sat for two hours...pretty exciting, huh?  yeah, that's what we thought too.  So, we were feeling like we'd been sitting at this one station just a little too long and everyone is beginning to look around wondering what's going on when the conductor comes over the loudspeaker and makes a long announcement in Italian that we totally don't understand.  After he's done, I hear a man with a strong Indian accent speaking on a cell phone in English explaining that we've been delayed, but I don't catch the whole conversation (is unabashed eavesdropping acceptable in this situation?).  Josie and I decide that it's perfectly reasonable for me to wander through the train car looking for an Indian I did.  

In the end, we made friends with this wonderful man who was on his way to visit his Italian wife's  family and was happy to interpret what was going on for us.  He works for the Boy Scouts International in Geneva.  We shared some food, stories and laughs about train travel and before we knew it the broken-down freight train was slowly chugging past us and we were on our way.

Of course, when we arrived in Trieste, we couldn't find Umberto and his family, even though we must have walked right by strange!  After several laps around the train station and a great deal of agonizing over taking a taxi vs. a bus, I finally mustered the nerve to head into the Tabac shop to buy bus tickets and ask after where our bus would be.  Once again...people are so nice!  We got our tickets, found the bus, and the hotel and were greeted by the most amazing Serbian host!  A couple of shots of Serbian whiskey later, we were checked into our huge pink room...
A very nice Serbian couple with two adorable little kids owns/runs Affitacamera Loukas in the heart of Trieste.  We could see the sea from our window which also looked straight into the windows of the modern art museum (I am in heaven).  Our host doesn't really speak english, but he's so very nice and very eager to share his serbian "scotch" (as he calls it) with me.  He and his wife (who arrived later and does speak a little more english) renovated this amazing apartment themselves. The wood floor is from the 1700s and they did a wonderful job preserving the character of the building, but making it a very comfortable modern space with huge rooms and bathrooms!  

Umberto's family found us and we all went out for a wonderful pizza dinner.  Our first dinner in Italy!  did I mention...I love Italy.  

While we were in Bergamo...after sorting out our train tickets (waiting in a very long slow line and trying to explain in my non-Italian that I forgot my credit card, but have the email receipt for my reservation...the train-ticket attendant grumbled voraciously, but printed out our tickets without even asking for ID!!  seriously.), and having our fantastic first Italian lunch we walked around a little bit in Bergamo...
the yellow building is the McDonalds!  

Lots of bicycles...and a little bike shop booth

this was a pretty wild sculpture...check out the creature in the middle climbing the walls

the happy harlequin...he's happy we're in Italy too!

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 19, 2012

wild thyme and pablo picasso...

snow...hadn't all melted yet.
mud...what had melted turned to ground mud
hike to the Citadelle ~700 m
wild thyme...don't bring it home with you because "the goats pee-pee on it"...but oh, does the thyme make the hike fragrant!  I love the smell of thyme!
house of pablo picasso...under he really buried here?  Vauvernagne?
laughed at me because i ordered a glass of wine...???...apparently, one doesn't drink wine before dinner...just with.  (???)

The hike up...

View from the first stop..just above the Col de Porte

Ruins of something (I didn't understand) just above the col de porte

View from the top of the Citadel

View from the top of the Citadel...the flank of Mt. St. Victoire is on the left.

View looking away from Mt. St. Victoire...I think to the can see the observatoire in the distance where we walked to.

View more to the east...Mt. St. Victoire would be behind me...-ish

The observatory that you could see in an earlier photo.  We stopped for a tea, navettes (licorice-flavored, hard cookies from Marseille that the one resident of marsielle explained that no one in Marseille eats), and many other tasty treats.

Great map on the sign...we were....HERE!  Okay..if you enlarge the map, find Vauvernague and go east a bit and I think you can find Col de Port and the Citadel and that's where we hiked.

The road through Vauvernauge is the main Mt. St. Victoire highway and the addresses for the houses are associated with that highway...I liked this one.  Who needs a street name, when you can just put a picture of the mountain?

This is for Josie...

Pablo Picasso's home under renovation.  I think I understood that he's buried here.  Mt. St. Victoire is in the background.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Basilic et citronnelle

Lunch today...the most amazing little restaurant...Basilic et citronnelle.  I had the vegetarian plat du jour, which consisted of coucous, amazing green salade, carrot soup, avocado, delicious cheese, a piece of toasted bread with a 'caviar d'artichaud' (artichoke spread w/ lots of garlic) and a little savory cake.  Josie had tagliatelle with butter...but it was fresh, homemade tagliatelle!  The restaurant is only open for lunch and usually requires reservations...we got lucky today in our ignorance and just walked in and got a table!  Even the wine and the coffee were superb.

I forgot to take pics of the meal, but here is the dessert.  Mine was a chestnut cake (flan à la crème de marrons) and Josie had a pear cake (clafoutix aux poires) just doesn't sound the same in english!

It was a tough decision...but we could have eaten here... 
in the ham cave...I can't understand why Josie wouldn't pose in this picture for me???

Friday, February 17, 2012

De l'autre côté...the other side

Today was a full day and the highlight was a guided tour of a photography exhibit taken in 1965 of the Berlin wall taken from the east side...De l'autre côté...the other side (« De l’autre côté. Le Mur de Berlin vu de l’Est dans les années 60 »).  I'm sure everyone remembers the story about the wall, but I'll refresh for you just in case.  One day in August 1961, a temporary 42-km barrier, made of barbed wire and whatever bricks or other material was at hand, was constructed overnight.  Over the next 20 years the wall was fortified and eventually reached the 2 to 2.5 meter high wall we all saw being deconstructed in 1989.

In 1965, the east german military tasked a photographer with taking photographs of the entire 42-km length of the wall.  The films were placed in a box and never developed...labelled top secret and securely stored somewhere.  The films were discovered and all of the photos were stitched together, assembled into panoramas and georeferenced to their correct coordinates.  The photos provide interesting views into the west side contrasted with the starkness of the east side.

Our guide was a young woman who grew up in Berlin and recounted many stories that really helped bring the photos to life.

At the start of my long day, I tried to accomplish too many things at home in the morning (as usual!) and so missed the direct bus to CEREGE (the university earth science research lab where I have access to an office, library and GIS lab).  But, I wasn't worried because I had taken the other bus once with someone who showed me the way and said "this is the last stop on this line" as we got off of the bus.  So, I rode the bus to the last stop, got off and realized I had no idea where I was.  Fortunately, since it was the last stop, the bus driver was still sitting there in the bus, so I could ask him for directions.  It turns out that I should have gotten off two stops sooner, and I had the choice of waiting for him to go back in about 15 minutes, or making the 10-minute walk back.  The walk was really not a problem, but I confess in the middle of this I was terrified that I would be lost for hours wandering around suburban industrial provence, where everyone is driving, with my terrible, limited french...ack.  But, all was well, and I had a nice (though nervous!) walk.

On the way back to Aix in the afternoon, from the bus window, I got a nice view of Mount St. Victoire, Cezanne's famous mountain...

I ended the evening by attending the AVF's Chandeleur, or crepe, celebration.  The french tradition is to drink sparkling cider with your crepes.  Now, I thought chandeleur was a couple of weeks ago, but maybe this is one of those flexible holidays that you can claim whenever you need an excuse to have a crepe party?  Aaach...who needs an excuse to have a crepe party?!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How do you say "eutrophication" in french??

In french class today we had a discussion about "hyperconsommation", pollution and depletion of natural resources.  Somehow I ended up trying to explain to the class in french how fertilizer used on farms in the midwest has resulted in eutrophication and a Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico!  I really need to expand my vocabulary...algae, nitrogen, phosphorus, fertilizers, shellfish and fishing economy are not words one normally encounters in a french class!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St. Valentine's day and pink toilet paper!

Or, en français..."le quatorze février" (a.k.a. "la journée de la Saint-Valentin"* and "la fête des amoureux"*) ...thanks to my favorite french blog...

Josie got an extra special valentine's present from me this year!  We have both noticed (and others have pointed it out as well) the abundance of pink toilet paper here.  We all know how much Josie loves pink...sooo...happy valentine's day Josie...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Patacrepe patacrepe...baker's man...roll me a crepe......

Sorry.. that's a terrible title for this post, but we did go to Patacrepe (  Yes, it's a crepe chain!  Josie loves crepes.  Like she really loves crepes...she has loved them ever since she first learned the word crepe when she was about 7 years old.  Back then she called them "crups", but she knew they were french, and she knew they were excellent.

Check out the website and have a look at the menu (notre carte) to see just how many different crepes they offer...150-ish!

I doubt we'll go back's expensive and very much a chain restaurant, but it was fun (and they have free WiFi!).

More frozen fountains...

I know this might be getting old, but it's really been cold here!  The fountain at La Rotonde has been shut off for several days now and some of the other fountains are ice flows...
One of the fountains on the Cours Mirabeau

Ice flowing out of the fountain in La Rotonde

The fountain at La Rotonde not flowing...I need to find out if it's ever been shut down before??

This is a view up the Cours Mirabeau from La Rotonde.  I love that almost no matter where we're going, we end up walking down the Cours.  I'm excited to watch it change with the seasons.

House sitting with the world's sweetest kitty (part 2)

First...the kitty...Bis-Bis (or something like that...think of the sound you make when you're trying to call a kitty...something like Piss-Piss or Puss-Puss or Pss-Pss) is her name.  She's missing an eye and is not a young thing anymore, but is the snuggliest, purring-est, sweetest kitty....

We thoroughly enjoyed our warm weekend in Caroline and her family's apartment...their snuggly kitty, big TV and huge movie selection were the perfect entertainment for a frigid weekend!

Just after lunch today we noticed the sound of running was water pouring off of the balcony upstairs onto our balcony!  That didn't seem right.  I was so nervous about trying to tell someone about it in FRENCH!  But, I bravely rang neighbors' doorbells and investigated on the roof and finally found a neighbor who was already on the phone trying to find the building manager to deal with the problem.

The icy frigid weather will undoubtedly result in many broken pipes throughout the region.  Later in the day, the kitchen sink drain blocked!  Poor Caroline and Denis came home from their fun weekend away to these problems and a frozen swimming pool at their house near the coast!

When we arrived back at our apartment, then living room was a cool 48 F and the bathroom was 45.    Have I mentioned that it's been cold?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Choosing a cafe?

I equate french food with good food, but alas, there are also not-so-great restaurants in France also.  We really haven't been eating out very much mostly because we get such amazing veggies at the market and eating out is not cheap, oh and France is the biggest meat-eating country in Europe!  But, today we ventured out for lunch.  I think the problem is that we wait until we're both really hungry, then say, "let's find a place to eat" and by the time we're selecting...we're ravenous and so will just grab a table at the first open restaurant.  Do you see the problem?  Usually the restaurants with lots of tables open are not the best restaurants, right?

So today we went to little dark place (it's cold out, so dark, warm and cozy sounded good...but it wasn't very warm) on rue d'Italie that has pizza on the menu (which makes Josie happy).  I explained to the waiter that I was a vegetarian and he offered that they had a veggie quiche (tart) with a salad.  Sounds great...but the tart was burned on top and raw in the middle and the salad was not great.

Lesson learned...figure out where to eat before you get hungry!

More market news...

Fava bean have been sighted at the market!  Will seek them out and get some for a new culinary adventure...I've never cooked fresh fava beans.

They sell cooked beet roots at the markets ...interesting..actually it looks really bizarre!  Bloody giant beets skinned and bleeding.  You pick out the one you want and they stab it with a giant fork and stuff it into a plastic bag for you.  Haven't tried one of those yet either.

Friday, February 10, 2012

House sitting with the world's sweetest kitty

We get to house sit this weekend for my friend Caroline who is out of town with her family on a surprise weekend away for her birthday.  We are very excited because their apartment is WARM and they have the world's sweetest kitty.  Alas...I forgot to get the WiFi code from her so we will be without internet for the weekend.

Today's serendipity...a colleague from grad school at CSU is in France for a sabbatical also!  He gave a seminar at CEREGE today, so I spent the day out there...until it started snowing!  Panic ran rampant through the offices and everyone vacated.  Snow on the roads in provence can be disastrous, so everyone decided to leave early...just in case.  Josie said they sent kids home early from school in anticipation.  And, of course, it fluttered for a bit...then stopped.  but it's still cold!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


It's bloody cold here!!!!!  Aaaaa!!!!!  I'm FREEZING!  I think our heater has given up on us because it realizes that it will never be enough.  haha!

Tonight we're going to an AVF reception avec appertifs.  I'm making a gouda/cumin bread/cake-thingy with an endive salad...recipe from my provencal veggie day planner.  Having fun translating the recipes...needed caraway (carvi) seeds, but decided to make it cumin because I love cumin gouda so much.   I'm not very good at following recipes...I always veer off course and sometimes it's fantastic and sometimes not so.

Learning a bit about the French universities...the projector doesn't work, in the toilettes we have a choice of toilet seats in one, but no paper, and paper, but no toilet seat in the other, the photocopier is always either broken our out of paper, the language lab is losing "cabines" daily and now there are not enough functional ones for our whole class and the rooms are either freezing or roasting.  Hmm..actually, this sounds a lot like where I teach!!!  hahahah!  Except we do always have toilet paper at Mesa.

Back to work...or cooking.  Yay!  I get to use the oven!  Yay!!!  it will warm things up for a bit...but oh boy our electric bill this month is going to be horrifying!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A bit of sadness..

A bit of sadness touched our lives in the last week.  A friend of Josie's from Summit County passed away last week.  Tristan was 17-years old and had a heart attack at wrestling practice.  He was flight-for-life'd to Denver and spent a couple of days in ICU before passing away.   Josie is feeling this loss very deeply...they had known each other since they were little tykes, and Tristan had been a close friend of Josie's best buddy Ruby.  Josie has a funny story about Tristan asking her to marry him when they were about 8-years old because the "Magic Eight Ball" told him to.  Our hearts are sending out lots of love to his family and friends back home. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Frosty market update...

I really can't believe that Grand Junction is having the warmest winter in years and that I left that for the coldest winter in almost 50 years here!!!  Brrr!  

The veggies at the market are showing signs of being frost-bitten and those poor vendors standing out in the cold.  I was frozen after my shopping expedition on Saturday, and today wasn't any warmer...numb toes resulting in a flare up of chill-blains...I can't imagine how cold the vendors must've been!  I'm so surprised that they don't wear hats!  When your feet are cold, put on a hat, right?

There's an heirloom vendor at the market who has the most beautiful produce!  Aah...the colors.  We had the deepest purple carrots last night.  We've grown those before in GJ , but the color wasn't this rich, nor did it go as deep into the carrot.  The ones last night left behind a stain like beets when I cut them up.  Something that color has to be good for you, no?  

there are spice and herb vendors at the market also.  The first three rows of baskets in the photo above are all peppercorns!!

One of the recipes from my Provencal veggie day planner/cookbook calls for baies roses.  See the red peppercorns in the picture above...that's them.  The recipe is a citrus salad with baies roses...I will let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bach, gorillas and serendipity

Sunday morning service at the Eglise Reforme (from what I gathered, it's the french version of a Presbyterian church) because they had a special performance of a musical group that performs Bach authentically ( l’Académie Bach d’Aix en Provence).  They performed « Ich bin
vergnügt mit meinem Glücke » (« Mon bonheur me suffit »).  Fantastic performance!  Unfortunately where I was sitting we couldn't see the musicians at all because they were in the loft.  I wanted to see their instruments!

The service was in french, but the pastor spoke wonderfully slowly and enunciated so clearly that I actually understood a bit of the service.  It was fantastic practice!  Oh, and of course the hymns were in french...I can't sing, but it was interesting to attempt to read the hymns and follow along while my friend Ruth tried to sing...hee...struggling with french words and pronunciation and follow the music.

the serendipity...a gentleman sitting in front of us heard us speaking English and turned to ask where we were from.   We discovered that he and I had corresponded via email through the Anglo-American group here last fall!  And, he lived in New Orleans for 25 years where he met his french wife, which is why they are in France now.  Then, two guys from my french class showed up (the ones who know my cousin Angie and her husband Nathan and their kids because they go to the college where Nathan is the soccer coach!).  "it's a small worlds after all...."

Ruth and her family and I then went to the Natural History Museum which is just a wee short hop  (like less than a block) from our apartment.  I will have to go back to spend more time reading the exhibits sometime (it's free the first Sunday of the month), but I was especially impressed with the gorilla and of course the dinosaurs!  The museum is quite small, and is in a beautiful old building that is undergoing restoration.  Josie and I have been watching the progress since we arrived and we walk past it nearly everyday.  They recently removed the scaffolding from one wall and the difference is stunning!


It has been really cold...very very cold...

The fountain at la Rotonde is freezing!

I have been missing Tabasco sauce very much!  My classmates told me that I could buy it a Monoprix (the big supermarket in city center), but I got frustrated with spending 3 euros on a tiny bottle that was shipped all the way from Louisiana.  So, I decided to go local...Tunisia!  It was really cheap (I think about 70 cents) and I had no idea how hot it would be...

I was worried it would be blazing hot, but it's not.  

Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 3, 2012

A haircut by the scissor ninja...

Josie and I have both needed hair cuts, but have been feeling very intimidated by the idea of venturing into a french salon.   Over the last few days I've been reading websites, picking up flyers at salons and scoping out possible salons.  Today I was overcome by a wave of braveness and walked into a salon to just ask how much a cut would be.  I had a cheat sheet of appropriate words in my pocket and was prepared with questions because I had read that prices can change depending on the length of your hair and that you should really get a quote to avoid a sticker shock after the cut.

The salon was not busy (very surprising for a Friday afternoon).  One of the stylists immediately started speaking english to me and explained that I didn't need an appointment and that it would cost 38 euros.  I said thank you and said I might come back.  I went outside and called Josie for moral support...she said "duh mom!  he speaks english, go for it!".  so, I turned around and went back in for my french salon experience with Alexandre.

He...was...amazing!  Josie showed up just after my shampooing and was an eye-witness to what she has now dubbed the 'scissor-ninja' in action...the hair and scissors were flying.  He is an artiste!  Josie made plans to go back tomorrow morning, and I walked out feeling like a sexy new woman.

Since he spoke some english, so there were no mix-ups, like my friend Ruth who said "short" (court) instead of "cut" (coup) and ended up with a much shorter doo than she expected.  oops!

For anyone looking for an english-speaking hair stylist in Aix-en-Provence...go see Alexandre (aka the "scissor-ninja") at Biguine on rue Gaston de Saporta just north of the Hotel de Ville