Dublin, Italy and France
We traveled to Europe for 5 weeks and saw the sights that everyone is familiar with.
This blog is not "we saw this and we saw that" but more of a description of some of the interesting people we met and situations we encountered.
Dublin for 6 days
Rome for 4 days
Sorrento, Amalfi coast and Pompeii for 3 days,
Assisi and Umbrian hill towns for 4 days
The Cervenne in southern France for 5 days
Paris for 5 days.
In Dublin we spent five days hanging out with Brenda's family and old friends. With a party every night, at the end of the visit we were tired. Our tradition is to go to the singing pub with Brenda's brother Eamon. its always a pleasure to here folks sing, especially Eamon who plays harmonica and sings. Brenda did a nice rendition of Song for Ireland. The pints of Guiness helped. We stayed at the home of the Dalton gang, Brenda's niece Berrnadette and family, where it is always fun to hang out. Niece Anne put on a BBQ out in the country and everyone showed up including a baby great great nephew. We had a great time at lunch with siblings Lori, Eamon and Phyllis. They talked about the old times growing up in the East Wall neighborhood, sometimes referred to as The Jungle. Another night we spent the evening with Brenda's best friend from childhood, Mary and husband Jerry (also from the East Wall), as well as another old friend. We did get one good walk along the Grand Canal from the outskirts into downtown. A great visit, and brother Paddy took us from and to the airport.
In Rome we did the usual Colosseum, Forum, Sistine Chapel, Appian Way, plus a great walkabout. However, some nice things that happened were not about tourist attractions. We arranged a room through AirBnB and of course you never know what to expect. We got to Rome after dark and were challenged to find our room. Finally, after getting on a light rail and getting some help about where to get off, we walked through a kind of rough looking area, got more directional help from a store clerk, and finally arrived to a hearty "welcome, make yourself at home" from Pietro. "Are you hungry, I'll go get a pizza, have some wine". He's an enthusiastic guy who is trying to build an AirBnB business, and loves it. We had our own room, shared a bathroom, and could walk to the Colosseum in 30 minutes. The Australian couple in the other room were very friendly.
The Appian Way is one of the many roads the Roman Empire built for commerce and military purposes. We did a pleasant walk, checked out the Christian catacombs (Christians had to hide from the Roman pagans) and stopped at the Appian Cafe, the only one around, and found the prices over the top. We passed on that and soon came to a sandwich board announcing a pleasant looking lawn, tables and chairs and a little restaurant. We were delighted that the prices were not tourist prices, and had some wine. We asked the woman and she explained that it was a family business, that her father had run a local restaurant for years and that they had decided to move the business to this location. She also said that they never tried to rip off tourists as so many places have done. Papa walked by and she introduced us. If you ever do a walk on the Appian Way, look for the big lawn, patio and a children's swing set.
In Sorrento we had sort of an up and down experience. The villa we stayed in high above Sorrento in an olive grove, about a 20 minute walk down to town on an old trail, was very nice as were Marta and her son Alex. A definite downer for us was waiting in the hot sun on a street for an hour with over 100 others to catch the Amalfi Coast bus. People tried to line jump to much yelling. We finally made it on a bus and found the coast to be spectacular, but the bus stopped cold in a traffic jam on the very narrow main road, so we walk the last few miles to Amalfi. However, the day trip to Pompeii was wonderful, and a loop walk around the Sorrento coast and hills made for a special day.
We had dinners at the family restaurant just a short walk away. The servers were friendly, prices were good and the local wine was great. The owner dropped by for a chat, telling us about his business, and gave us several shots of his authentic homemade lemoncello. We bought a bottle.
On the train to Assisi the conductor from hell "fined" us (its actually legal extortion) because we didn't "validate" the tickets we got from the ticket machine. Although most conductors let it pass, this particular a**hole stood over us and insisted we pay the 50 euro ($68) fine. We heard they get a cut. We were pissed. But on to Assisi, the medieval hilltop walled town made famous by St. Francis. The very highlight of this visit was the cathedral (1288) where St. Francis is entombed. I can only say that it is a special place, with a palpable sense of reverence for this special man. One of the frescos shows the virgin and child with St Francis on one side, St. John on the other. She is giving Francis the thumbs up signal, which at the time, some nuts considered a dissing of John.
But the Pope said no, she is giving them both the high sign.
We enjoyed the walk through the Umbrian countryside. The Mt. Sebasio walk was memorable for the wildflowers, and for the cave retreat St. Francis used. Every town was sweet. In Montefalco, at family owned Oro Rosso hotel, they treated us like family with free wine and snacks when we arrived. At Compello, the place was a little isolated, so the pretty daughter gave us a lift to the store. At Spoleto we walked across a 1700's aqueduct high above a valley, walked trail on the mountainside and explored a derelict convent.
The host in La Bastide, the RL Stevenson Trail, the drenching, the helpful tourist office lady, the smelly dog, and the curse of the train strike.
Two days of travel brought us to Ales France where we wanted to catch a bus to La Bastide and start our 4 day walk on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail through the Cervenne region of southern France. The French Train Strike has just begun so we missed a connection and thus arrived at La Bastide a day late. We spent the night at L'etoile (the star), a fine old 2 story guesthouse by the creek. A wonderful and lively host, and a four course meal family style with the other 10 French speaking guests, and free flowing local french wine made for a wonderful overnight. 5 stars!
The walk was very nice, the well signed trail following a variety of tracks from rough trails to farm roads, forest roads, through villages and ruins, and for about 3 miles followed a Roman road marked with granite monoliths. For three nights we stayed in nice places with full family style homemade meals. Along the way we walked with several people, all French speakers with no English, but we muddled through and had a good time with them.
The second day as we approached our place in Monvert, dark clouds moved in and soon thunder, lightening and drenching rain and hail caught out of doors without any protection. Everything got soaked, but the nice owner took pity and loaned us a small electric tent like clothes drier.
When we arrived in the town of Florac we went to the tourist office to inquire about getting the bus back to Ales. We said we had one more hiking day, it being Friday and we had to be in Paris on Monday. Oh no, she said, its Saturday (groan, we lost a day somehow), and the one bus doesn't run today. She helped us decide what to do. So, to make this short, she gave cardboard and felt tip for a sign, directed us to a cheap room and in the morning we hitched to 75 km to Ales. A sweet young woman with a very smelly dog got us 15 km and a young guy got us to Ales. Easy. So we wanted to get the train to Paris. Train strike, no train. Now we are stuck in a not very interesting town, 400 miles from Paris, where we have a room rented the next 5 days. Only choice was to rent a car for a day, which cost a small fortune. $400 later we arrived in Paris. On that drive we stopped into a fruit stand, and found a wonderful family run operation. Bought fruit and 3 bottles of their own wine, which was delicious.
A note about French and Italian table wine.
The regular everyday house wine that you buy in a carafe in a cafe or by the bottle is very inexpensive, around $5. Maybe we were affected by the romance of being there, but we thought the wine was superior to California table wine. Usually smooth and fruity without being sweet. Not at all harsh.
Some takes on Paris
Amazing place. All of the main attractions live up to the billing. It is a monumental city.
The underground metro is a wonder with lines everywhere and a clear directional signs in the labyrinth like pedestrian tunnels. The trains arrive every 2 minutes, and still people are rushing to catch it, some even running. We didn't get it, considering another train was about to arrive.
Our room in the Bellville area (where Edith Piaf was born) was small and the host was gracious and helpful. He cooked meals for us in the evening for just the cost of the food. This was good because we were burned out on finding places to eat. The neighborhood is outside the core tourist area so the cafes and small bakeries, fruit/veggie shops and butcher shops are for locals with local prices. We enjoyed sitting on a street corner cafe and having good cheap wine, about a third of the price in downtown. This is a good way to observe the locals. People meet at the cafes, have wine or coffee, chat, and just take their time. One small observation was the number of people carrying a baguette.
Lotta ups and some downs
Rome and Paris, the walks, the Umbrian hill towns, the people, the scenery in France, Pompeii, everything met our expectations. Various glitches, mistakes, situations like the train strike, created some anxiety, but we troopered through it all and felt that is was an excellent trip. The travel lesson we learned: don't try to do so much.
|A conversation with Bredan Behan, Irish writer.|
|The forum, Rome|
|Pampeii fast food joint|
Pompeii mural in the whore house
|1st century Roman temple, Assisi|
|Mount Subasio above Assisi|
|Roman road in the Cervenne, South France|
|aqueduct Spoleto Italy|
|Dinner in La Bastide|
|Along the RL Stevenson Trail|
|Village along the RLS Trail|
|getting ready to hitch|
|The French barmaid|