Join us on our new journey to Monaco and Europe! We are so excited, and want to share with you all of our exciting adventures...and maybe some, not so exciting! Thanks for joining us...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Christmas, Monaco Style

For almost a month, we have been watching the decorations of Monaco be put up on every light post, most door ways, on all the palm trees along the parks, but none have been lit. Chandeliers have been strung across the Boulevard de Moulins, a lovely shopping drive in Monaco. We watched and waiting. In Casino Square, a huge structure was being erected of metal, in the shape of a tree, a Xmas Tree, but it wasn’t what this North Carolina transplant knew as our quaint Frasier fir. Believe it or not, they did bring in the firs, filled the entire structure with MANY trees, and built up this tree to be about 30 feet high, in the center of Casino Square. On the 8th of December, we went down to the square, to see the lighting of the tree and all the local decorations would light as well. Children with their families, tourists, locals, and us, all watching the tree, and the area, for the moment of the lighting. We were told the ceremony was waiting for Prince Albert to show. At 7:15, all the lights were put out on the buildings, and Ouila! Xmas appeared.

There is also, in almost every town in France and of course, in Monaco, a Christmas Festival, where there are vendors selling all the delicacies of the season, along with gift items...and of course, rides for the kiddies. Snow is a premium at the Monaco Festival...and it's just beautiful. The children can snow mobile, cross country ski, and there is even an ice skating rink that is put over the olympic sized swimming pool right in the harbour. Amazing...and truly a delight for all. Do check out the photos of the skating, with the multi million dollar yachts in the port behind it.

New Years Day Walk

After a lovely holiday in Georgia and North Carolina, putting lots of miles on the rental car, making sure to spend lots of time with our kids, and of course, Camden, we made it back to Monaco on New Years Eve.
On New Years Day, Art and I decided to go for a walk to the West of Monaco, from Beaulieu, France, around the point of Cap St. Jean, just to the East of Cap Ferrat. This walk is all along the coast, around a peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean.
As you can see by the photos, it's a most pituresque walk, around all the grand villas of Cap Ferrat and St. Jean. Even David Niven's Villa is still there, occupied by others now, but with a lovely memorial to him on the wall.
The weather was wonderful, blue sky and just great temperature. The walk takes about two hours in total. This was a great way to start our New Years off!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Flea Market in Monaco

On the first Saturday of December, the English churches of Monaco have a KERMASSE, which is an old fashioned rummage sale back in the US. It was held in the tent that was put up for the circus' that come to Monaco. We walked in and there were tables and racks full of used apparel, housewares, childrens toys and tables full of books. I'm sure, if I were to dig deep, there would be a nice selection of designer apparel you could get for a song, but, this kind of show is not up my alley...disorganized merchandising...ha ha! I just can't stand it. But, Art and I were able to buy quite a few English books, as well as some really good food!!!! Paella, Baklava, and every other treat you could imagine. English pudding was a delight as well.

Next year, I have volunteered to help out with this event...which will put a whole new light on this event for me!!!

Markets in Italy

San Remo Market, all by myself!!!

One Tuesday morning, I woke to the thought I needed to begin my Xmas shopping soon. I wanted to look for regional gifts to bring back home to my family. So, at 8 AM, all by myself, and “Flo”, our GPS, I headed East towards Italy and the famous markets of San Remo. I found it with no problem, about 45 minutes after leaving my flat. I found a parking space immediately, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET….that, in itself, was a rare find, I am told!
Entering the market area, hundreds of white tents, some large, some small, with tables full of cashmere sweaters, leather goods, pesto sauce and tapinades of all colors of olives, I meandered up and down the aisles, unsure what was a bargain, and what was not. The colors of the pashminas were stunning, and I was able to find my favorite colors and get the price down with little haggling. Of course, when you don’t try hard, you know you COULD have gotten more, but I was happy with the price I was paying. The leather handbags were both beautiful, many Hermes, YSL and Gucci knock offs, but some just traditional styles…as well as the glitzy and flashy styles that are so popular on the streets of Italy and France today. Too many to choose from, so I passed on these for now. While walking through the maze of tents and vendors, there are men, mostly from Africa, with wares on their arms. They are offering copies of designer goods, such as belts by YSL and Hermes, as well as watches by “Rolex”, and handbags by Louis Vuitton….amazing prices, but I had been warned. It is NOT illegal to SELL these items, but it is illegal to BUY them. The fine is steep, 10,000 E…so I steer clear.
I headed inside to the food market there, which is an amazing display of fruits, vegetables, fresh canned tomatoes, local wines, cheeses, meats and fresh pastas. The aroma is just enchanting, with the scent of fresh baked bread filling the building. I picked up some fresh herbs, a lovely bottle of home made olive oil, some fruits and vegetables, and went looking for some meats. I stopped at what looked like some breaded veal, and inquired. The gentleman behind the counter asked my nationality…like he didn’t know when my NY accent asked “how much for these?” He laughed and said, your people do not eat this…and with that he pointed to a picture of a lovely cheval on the wall… A HORSE…ugh!!! It was my friend FLICKA cut up into cutlets, and I thought they would be great for dinner. We did get a good chuckle out of this, and he giggled with delight. Off I went…not looking back to see them all pointing at the American not knowing what was in this display case….
When I meandered back to my car, the lot was so full with cars that I thought I would be there for days…waiting for others to move theirs. But, a “captain” of the lot, came over, took the paper off my windshield, that I hadn’t even spotted yet, and told me, with sign language, to follow him…with my car. He proceeded to move the cars behind, like a rubix cube…and got me out…2 E for all this work. He was a robust Italian with a hearty smile and I thanked him BON GIORNO….Arrivaderci! And off I went on my way, following “Flo” back to Monte Carlo along the grand cornice, along the sea. I did not get to have a cup of cappuccino OR famous Italian hot cocoa, but I knew I’d be back soon.

Ventimiglia Market on Friday….

Knowing I couldn’t stay away long, I headed back to the Italian, French border town of Ventimiglia on Friday, with an English woman who has lived in Monaco for 38 years. She was a local, and had been here many times before. Again we drove along the coast line, which is breathtaking in itself, with the towns Menton in France and Latte in Italy along the way. We even passed through the old “border crossing” here, which is from the post war era, and very ery feeling. Just the thought of having to stop here each time you crossed the border would be very intimidating to come and go as easily as we do now with the European Union. It’s a blessing.
Arriving in Ventimiglia, we parked on the waters edge, and headed up to the tent lined streets. This market was twice the size of San Remo, but the same vendors, or at least most of them the same. Again, there were leather goods, cashmere, silk & cashmere, pashminas, delicacies of local foods, and scarves of silk. You could buy just about anything here that you would like, at a fraction of the price in the stores….especially Monaco. We bought Zara sweaters for 5 E each, along with cotton jimmies for Xmas gifts, leather handbags, and belts….and again, lots of pashminas. We found a great buy at a table full of pashminas for 3 E a piece, bargain!!! They were nice quality, and of course, one can never have too many….so we stocked up.
This trip we stopped for a cappuccino, and it is true, the Italians make a much better cup of java than the French…FOR SURE….This alone was worth the trip. It was a cold and blustery day on the water, so the timing for this cup of coffee was perfect, and warmed us back up.
After leaving the market, we stopped in Latte at the local grocery store, to purchase some liquors, as well as some local Italian delicacies. What fun that was. There I bought some Italian Hot Chocolate to bring home to the US, along with chocolates, pesto sauces from this wonderful ligurian coast, and of course, pasta. This market is only about 20 minutes from our apartment, so I’m sure, we will be back for more.
I have decided that even though it is another 20 minutes down the road, the San Remo market is a much more manageable size, as well as the town is so much more appealing. I think, this is where I’ll do some of my market shopping in the future. Art needs to come and see, so one Saturday morning, I will bring him along as well.

Weekend in Digne les Bains...

In late November, we took a drive north, in search of a stay in a resort town known for it’s thermal baths….ahhhhhh, we thought, relaxation. We drove along the riverbed from Nice, through a lovely valley. This route is known as Napoleon’s route, because he enjoyed the thermal baths of Digne les Bains. We came upon a medieval town with a lovely hotel/restaurant for lunch. This town was named “ Entrevaux“, and it was surrounded by the river. It possessed all the qualities of a good knight in shining armor novel. There was a draw bridge to the old town area, with quaint cobblestone streets and doors too small for modern man to pass through without ducking his head. The day was sunny and the air cool, so we chose to eat our lunch indoors. After a beer for me and a wine for Art, we dined on a bowl of risotto, and a salad.
A while later we were on our way. North we drove, passing lovely farm towns and a beautiful lake, Lac de Castillion, just south of St. Andes des Alpes. The lake stretched out through the valleys. Very very beautiful.
We then drove through what were lavender fields as far as the eye can see, but the color was gone due to the season. You could only imagine what this would look like in late August, and we will return to see the splendor of these colorful fields.
We arrived at the Hotel du Grand Paris in Dignes, (pronounced DEAN) in the early afternoon, were able to choose our room, which was lovely, and set out on foot to explore this town. It was quite sleepy on this Saturday, very few locals out shopping, and just a few visitors. We walked the main street, lined with large trees, unknown to us, that had been trimmed down to the trunks for the winter. I presume for the snow that will be heavy on the branches in winter. There were many lovely stores, all with soldes signs in the windows, meaning SALE….and actually purchased only a cup of coffee. But a good one at that.
When arriving back at the hotel, we inquired about spa treatments, and were told that this was their off season and all were closed. So, we missed the towns most famous tourist attraction, as well as the locals, the thermal baths and massages at the local spa. Just for kicks we drove out to see where this all takes place, and it was beautiful there, so I’m sure we will return.
We had an excellent four course meal that evening in our hotel, just three tables full, and service was very good. The gourmet meal, bottle of wine, and ambiance was well worth the drive. We also find that the prices for such good meals are less than half the price of any meal in Monaco.
The next day, after a lovely breakfast in the hotel, we took to the road again, heading back to the sea and Monaco. The vistas are lovely, and often going one direction you see one view, and heading the opposite there are so many more to see. We just love our drives in the country…knowing there will be many more.

Lavendar Fields on way to Digne les Bains

Lac des Castillions, South of Saint Andes de Alpes