Lysebotn and Kjeragbolten

by Colleen Morrow in

Well. That was something.

We headed out early on Sunday, picking up our rental car and making our way to Lysebotn, a tiny village at the base of Lysefjord. It was a long, but beautiful drive and we stopped a few times along the way to take photos of something that was particularly enthralling, usually waterfalls.  The roads are narrow and winding, particularly as you head into the mountains so our last few kilometres seemed to take forever.  Or maybe it was because we hit Norwegian rush hour, in the form of a flock of sheep on the road? But soon we found our B&B, just outside of Lysebotn, in a very old, beautiful farmhouse where we hunkered down for a home-cooked Norwegian meal and to get ourselves ready for our first of three hikes, Kjeragbolten.

We were expecting this 10km round-trip hike to take around 5-6 hours, not fully appreciating how rugged the terrain was. We quickly started scaling the first of three mountains, with the help of chains bolted into the side of the mountain, or if we were lucky, stone steps or switchbacks. Even then, there was some three-points-of-contact-at-all-times scrambling up the rock face. The trail was also an active grazing location for sheep so we had several sheep cheering us on (actually, some sounded like they were booing us) and it wasn’t long before we were up the first, albeit shortest, mountain. After getting down the other side, and up and over the second mountain, we stopped to refill our water at one of the little waterfalls before heading up the final and largest rock face. Then the terrain flattened out and we headed across the top of the mountain before tucking into a bit of a crevice and finding kjeragbolten.  Kjeragbolten is a giant boulder, shmushed between two cliff faces, at 1084m above the fjord. It’s been there a while and not going anywhere but still terrifying. After some well-deserved snacks and rest, including putting a few more layers on since it was quite chilly at the top, we headed to the boulder for photos. My Ativan was still working so I actually made it out onto the boulder but was too afraid to stand up so I just gave it a big hug. EDP was far more daring, not only standing up but pretending to be about to fall over the edge. He didn’t but I was glad the insurance was paid up, just in case. Also, it isn’t quite as death-defying as the photos make it look. While it looks like you have to climb down onto the boulder, in reality, the rock on the left has a fairly wide ledge behind it so you only need to step out onto the boulder. Or in my case, sit with your back pressed firmly against the rock and slowly inch yourself over to the boulder before maneuvering yourself onto your stomach with the intention of getting onto the boulder in a crouch before very, very slowly & carefully raising to a standing position but end up hugging the boulder instead.

Then, because we had to climb up and over three mountains to get there, we had to climb down and over three mountains to get back. I had been hoping for a secret escalator to bring us back down to the parking lot but no such luck. And those rock faces we had to scramble up now had to be scrambled down. That was. Ummm. Fun? EDP was smart enough to use his hiking poles almost the entire time but I didn’t pull mine out until far too far into the trip. And my knee is proving it. I definitely also went over on an ankle but we upgraded to ankle boots instead of just hiking shoes so it was well-protected and isn’t causing nearly as much grief as my knee. I must be getting too old for this stuff. 

In all, the round-trip hike took us about 5 1/2 hours and between heading to the boulder and back, we climbed (and subsequently descended) a total of 570m.

Once we were safely back at the car, we invested in some well-deserved hot chocolate and headed back onto the road to drive into Jørpeland, a small town near Preikestolen, our second of our three hikes - and expected to be the easiest. It can’t be harder than Kjeragbolten so here’s hoping for an easier day. 


by Colleen Morrow in

It’s very gratifying to see where your ancestors are from, walk the streets they may have walked, eat the traditional foods they may have eaten - and maybe that’s why I’m already enjoying Norway so much, I’m seeing where my ancestors are from. 

“But aren’t you Scottish?” You say.  “And Belgian?” 

Yes. Yes, I am. But I’m also 3% Norwegian. According to my 23 and Me results, I’m 3% Norwegian. I have a three-, four-, five- or six-great-grandparent who was 100% Norwegian, born between 1740 and 1830. So yes, I’m in the home of my people. And I must look like I belong, I’ve already been asked for directions. 

Anyway. Not really the point. Point is - Oslo is lovely. 

EDP and I met at the Oslo airport on Thursday. We both flew through Frankfurt but both of us had tight connections. Mine was two hours, landed on time and everything but with security and customs, I still only got to my gate a few minutes before boarding. EDP had to run to catch his connection.  But, we both made it to Oslo and after a quick train trip into the city centre, we got checked in to the hotel, grabbed a couple of showers to wash the planes off us and headed out to take a look around.   

We quickly found the main pedestrian street and wandered up it, eventually reaching the royal palace, where we got some great views of the city and checked out the gardens. The palace isn’t open to the public, as it’s still the official residence of the Norwegian monarch but we were able to wander the grounds. There were a couple of ponds, each with a little island on them that had a couple of fairy houses (we think) and one of them had a handful of bee hives. It was nice to see people sprawled out on the lawns, enjoying the late afternoon sun, as we were certainly pleased with how warm it still was. Then, we headed back towards our hotel, stopping for some dinner, for early bedtimes. 

Friday was a lazy start. Once we were up and fed, we grabbed our books and headed off towards where we were meeting our guide for our food tour, enjoying some hot chocolate while we waited & read.  Food tours have become our absolutely favourite way to introduce ourselves to a city. You get a great walking tour, lots of restaurant recommendations, and some incredibly tasty foods to try. This tour started us off with some microbrewery beer, which I quite enjoyed, and a selection of cheeses and meats, including the traditional Norwegian brown cheese. Then it was on to a chocolate tasting, a sampler board of traditional Norwegian meats (including whale, reindeer hearts, and a variety of smoked fish, among other things...) before ending with a few more beers. Honestly, it’s not our favourite food tour that we’ve done - this was only a few stops with larger tastings at each but we much prefer lots of smaller tastings, to see more places and try more things. But it was still a great way to see the city.  There were three other people on the tour with us and they were from Oslo, so it felt like we had four personal guides for the city, not just one. 

Once we were done the food tour, we headed off to the Munch Museum. I’m not overly familiar with Munch, beyond the Scream, so it was nice to see some more by him. I really liked his Starry Night, which was similar to Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night but I can’t find anything about them being of the same place or that one was influenced by the other. It has been one of my favourite lesser known works that I’ve seen, by far. Then, it was back to the hotel, with a stop at the wine shop, for a bit of time with our feet up and letting the food tour fully digest before popping back out for a few minutes to get waffles - blueberry for EDP and raspberry & Nutella for me. They were DELICIOUS. They were a thin, soft waffle that you fold over once your fillings are on it and frankly, I could eat nothing but those for the rest of the trip. In fact, I suggested them for both lunch and dinner today, but that idea was shot down. 

Today was an earlier start, catching the first ferry over to Bygdøy for a morning of heritage museums. We started at the Viking Ship Museum, where we saw three Viking ships, all of which had been used as grave ships, each in a different state of preservation. Some of the artifacts that had been on the ships were also on display but all of the ships had been subject to grave robbers. Then, it was over to the Folkemuseum, an open-air museum showcasing Norwegian life from the 1500s to almost present day. We saw one of the stave churches while we were there, which are wooden churches of a certain type of construction. They are so stunning, it was lovely to see one in person. Finally, we ended our morning at the Kon-Tiki museum and whoa, that guy was...  well, as EDP put it to me “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to build a boat, I’m gong to sail it to Polynesia. And I’m going to take five people and I’ve never learned how to sail. Or build a boat.” Which is pretty much what this guy did. He was trying to prove you could cross from South America to Polynesia in pre-Columbian time. Crazy! Google it if you’ve never heard of Kon-Tiki before. 

The afternoon was spent at the National Gallery, where we saw the Scream, along with some other lovely works of art.  It was a nice few hours wandering through the gallery and quite a rich collection, given that most of the more commonly known artists on display aren’t Norwegian. From there, we got some iced chocolates, stopped at some sort of cultural festival to grab some lunch and then it was over to Akershus Fortress. Unfortunately, the castle is closed but we were still able to wander the grounds, seeing all of the various medieval buildings that were part of the fortress. There was also some kind of weird children’s festival going on, so we also got go hear hundreds of children trying their hands at musical instruments, various sports, and building stuff. It was a lot of children. And there was cotton candy. It was........ something else. 

Tonight’s dinner was not waffles. But it was delicious. We went a bit outside the city centre, taking the tram to an Italian restaurant that was quite lovely. And now, we’re settled back in for one last sleep in Oslo before picking up the car tomorrow and shifting from city gear to nature gear for our three big hikes! Tomorrow will be a long day in the car, driving into the fjords so I’d better head off to bed.  Well, better finish the rest of this glass of wine, actually...

Norway? No Way!

by Colleen Morrow in

Oh, how I amuse myself with my word play...

But we are going to Norway. In just a few short weeks. Our main reason for going is to hike Trolltunga, a challenging hike that will see us climb over 1,000m and travel 23km round-trip, culminating at the troll's tongue, a rock that juts out over a lake for the most stunning of views. But that's not all that we're doing. This trip is going to be a nice mix of time in Norway's beautiful cities of Oslo & Bergen along with a couple of days of hiking up in the mountains & fjords. As always, I've packed our itinerary to the brim:

  • EDP and I will meet in Norway, with me flying in from Toronto and him flying in from San Francisco. I haven't flown this far on my own in a long time so I'm packing even more books than usual.
  • We spend our first couple of days in Oslo, taking a food tour, visiting numerous museums (the Munch Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Koi-Tiki Museum, the National Gallery), and checking out the Akershus Fortress
  • Then it's time to rent a car and head out into Southwestern Fjords, driving towards Lysebotn where we'll hike 10km round-trip to Kerjagbolten - a boulder wedged between two cliffs. I suspect EDP will venture onto the rock, and I strongly suspect I'll simply photograph EDP on the rock.
  • The following day, we're heading to Preikestolen (or Pulpit Rock) for a relatively short 6km round-trip hike that will lead us to a rock formation with cliffs on three sides, overlooking the fjord. It's also where they just screened the new Mission Impossible movie because Tom Cruise scales the cliffs in the movie.
  • Then, we hike Trolltunga - the aforementioned 23km round-trip hike that is one of more challenging hikes in Norway and perhaps the hardest one EDP and I have done. We'll be ascending over 800m in just over a km and nearly 1200m total in the first 4km. We're opting not to use a guide, which may be a dumb decision, but we want to be able to set our own pace and not feel like we're held back or pushed too hard to stay with a group. 
  • Then we're back to the city life. We'll head up to Bergen, stopping just outside to see Gamlehaugen (one of the King's residences) and Fantoft Stave Church before having a couple of days in the city to take a walking tour, see the Bryggens and Hanseatic museums, explore the Bergenhus fortress and head up the funicular to Mt Floyen.
  • Then, we're taking a variety of trains and ferries back to Oslo, heading through the mountains and fjords, passing orchards & glaciers and generally just stunning us with the beauty of the scenery.
  • Finally, it's time for one last day in Oslo to tour the Opera House and check out the sculpture park before EDP and I part ways.

We've been busy getting new gear for Trolltunga - the weather is unpredictable and we're told to expect snow and rain so it was time to upgrade our hiking shoes for hiking boots, get some waterproof pants, replace the old tattered pink backpack that's been with me since Thailand with something lighter & waterproof, and invest in some hiking poles. We're also taste-testing numerous proteins bars to keep our energy up while hiking and I've been trying to get to the gym three times a week to prepare for the initial ascent with some quality time on a Stairmaster (I made it 800m in about 1.5 hours yesterday and have lived to tell the tale so I'm getting there...)

The itinerary is all planned out, almost everything is booked and the suitcase is open for me with my passport and Ativan already inside. Bring on the travel adventure!

East of Eden. I mean Nice. East of Nice.

by Colleen Morrow in

With our exploring west of Nice done, it was time to tackle east of Nice with day trips to Èze and Monaco.

Èze was up first. We took the train into Èze-sur-Mer, which is along the coast, but the village we wanted to see was way up at the top of one of the hills. I think they are hills, I don't think they are big enough to be considered mountains. Maybe foothills? Anyway. Neitzsche spent some time in Èze and travelled a goat path between the two parts of the village, which has now been named the Neitzsche Path and is open for hiking. It started as a gently sloping asphalt path before quickly turning into concrete steps, which made way for crumbling concrete steps by the halfway point, which then transitioned into rocks. The total elevation was about 400m and we finished in about 50 minutes. We stopped fairly frequently as the views were really beautiful, both of the sea and of the ravine between the foothills. Once we reached the village, we continued climbing up to the Jardin Exotique where we were rewarded with even more gorgeous views and lots of cacti. Èze was founded by the Romans so it had even more of an Italian feel than the rest of the places we visited.  We explored the old village's streets, which were really narrow alleyways, that all twisted and turned back onto each other so it was hard to tell what you had seen and what you hadn't. At one point, I think the alley we were in was a hotel with the rooms opening directly onto the alley. EDP picked up a small painting from a French artist of the steeple of the church in the village. The colours are really vibrant and it's lovely to have something from a place we visited. 

We were back in Nice earlier than expected so we threw on our swimsuits for a few more hours on the beach with our books. Neither of us ventured into the water this time around but one of us did take the time for some tarte tatin and a wee nap.  Yeah, it was me.  Once the wind picked up and the sun started to hide away, we packed up and headed back to the hotel before heading to a lovely little Italian restaurant that had a really lovely tarte au citron.

Our last day, which was also Thanksgiving, was spent in Monaco.  We got an early start on the day since we had a lot to pack in. We started at the Jardin Exotique, which was much larger than Èze's and had amazing views out over Le Rocher and the ports.  Once we had our fill of cacti and lovely vistas, we headed onto Le Rocher to take in the old city.  First up was the Palais Princier de Monaco, where the royal family still resides, so the portion open to the public was limited but included the throne room where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III got married and the rooms where large state gatherings are held. From there, we headed over to Cathédrale Notre-Dame-Immaculée, which was beautiful in a way that we weren't used to seeing cathedrals. It had the same vaulted ceilings and archways we've seen many times but wasn't covered in marble, the stone was simply polished. It was less opulent but had a really striking effect that I didn't expect. We also made it to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, where I really enjoyed the aquarium, particularly the turtles. The building is absolutely stunning, both inside & out plus the views from the roof were pretty incredible. We got to see lots of whale skeletons, along with old-timey diving equipment and lots of stuffed birds.  After some lunch, we picked up a path that wound through Jardins St-Martin to head down to the main port to check out the ridiculously huge yachts. More than one had a helicopter pad and one even had a helicopter on its helicopter pad. I don't even have a helicopter, let along a yacht to land it on. We walked along the water over to the Japanese gardens where I unintentionally fooled a large number of koi into thinking I was going to feed them (I only wanted their photograph) before heading to what was EDP's highlight for the day - the Monte Carlo casino. The casino's atrium is typically open to the public but they were setting up for some sort of event so there wasn't a lot to see when you went in but the casino itself, which we did take in, was really beautiful. It was early in the day - around 3 - so there weren't very many people inside and we headed into the main gaming room where we started with a Thanksgiving round of champagne/kir royals. One of us spilled his drink when he was coming close to finishing it and had it replaced by the bartender. The other one of us then regretted not being a Spilly McSpillyPants and having no free refill.  Then it was time for a bit of light gambling.  The gaming room only had roulette and blackjack, the latter of which required a minimum €25 bet. Buy in? Ante? I'm not really familiar with the lingo.  EDP wanted to play something but that was a little rich for his blood so we settled at a roulette table where he quickly hit on one of his numbers, multiplying the stack of chips in front of him. He traded some in for another colour so that I could play a bit, too, which I did by alternating the minimum between red and black. This winning strategy soon had me up €40 but by the time EDP had finished playing, I was only up €20. Since he was the source of my capital, I returned all my winnings to him.  Finally, it was time to head back to Nice for one last dinner (which was the largest Greek salad I've ever had in my life...) and getting a good night's sleep before our flights home.  

The trip home was uneventful, we were able to get seats together for both our flights. When we got to the airport and through security, I had a small panic attack because there were TONNES of cancelled flights.  Ours was not but there were a lot of flights within Europe that were cancelled. A quick check on Twitter revealed nothing terrible had happened to ground flights so we grabbed some breakfast before heading to our gate where we figured out there was a national strike against French labour reforms. Which included one of the air traffic controller unions. We're not sure if we were prioritized to get out since we were an international flight or if it was just dumb luck that we weren't cancelled but we weren't complaining.  Anyway, now we're home so it's time to start the process of going through through the photos.  I think I only took about 750, let's see how long it takes me to get through them all :)


Three More Beautiful Days

by Colleen Morrow in

Thursday was a quiet day for us. After a lazy start, we stopped at a little shop not far from our hotel to get pastries and a boisson chaud for our walk down to Vieille Ville - the old town. We took the promenade along the beach down to almost the very end before cutting back in to the tiny streets, entering almost exactly at Cours Saleya, the market. We did a quick wander through before heading into the depths of the old town, twisting and turning around the various streets to find the cathedral and Palais Lascarais. After a few missteps, we found our way to Cathédrale Sainte Reparate, which had a small square in front of it but was otherwise tucked right into other buildings. It wasn't like the large, open squares with cathedral taking a large place of prominence that we've seen before. We understand now that it likely would have been that way when first built but as space became sparse, buildings would have been built in the open spaces. The cathedral was quite lovely and quite ornate for its size. Then it was on to find Palais Lascarais, currently a musical instrument/modern art museum but was built in the 17th century for the Vintimille-Lascarais family. After several more installations that I didn't understand, we headed back into the city streets to make our way back to the market to pick up some tasty treats for lunch.  We acquired some salami, cheese, olives, strawberries, grapes, and bread, which we took onto the promenade to enjoy overlooking the water. It was a really excellent lunch. Then, it was time to hit the beach. We had reserved sun beds at the beach across from our hotel and sprawled out with our books and some beverages. We did venture into the water, where the waves literally knocked me over onto my butt (which helped me aclimatize to the water pretty quickly!) and let the waves carry us around for a bit before heading back up to soak up more sun before the wind picked up and we got too chilly to stay out any longer. 

Friday was one of our earliest starts, getting up and at it around 7. We were on a train to Cannes shortly after 8 and in Cannes around 9, making our way down to the water and the port to find the ferries to Îles de Lérins. We started with the larger of the two islands, Île Sainte-Marguerite, where we took in the old fort, with its Musée de la Mer, which is where the Man in the Iron Mask was held and is buried. We did not solve the mystery of his identity while we were there. Back in Cannes, we had lunch at a beachside restaurant before catching another ferry, this time to Île Saint-Honorat, which houses a monastery, along with a vineyard. The church was beautifully simple, which is a nice change from the typically ornate churches we see but what we enjoyed most was the ruins of the fortified monastery, build right on the water, giving us amazing views of the sea. We also discovered a pizza boat - anchored between the two islands, you can go to the boat and eat your pizza there or it'll deliver pizza to your boat! Then it was back to the mainland to walk past the Palais Des Fesitivals, currently hosting the slightly less glamourous duty free and retail travel products convention (no red carpets rolled out for them) before enjoying a champagne cocktail in advance of the train trip back to Nice. 

Today was another light day with only three things planned - finding the antique book market, climbing up Colline du Château for amazing views of the city and our food tour. Well, when we got up and going this morning, I forgot about the book market and we were up early enough that we decided to do the hill before our food tour. The hill is the highest point in Nice and is where the old castle used to be. There are several ways up but we took the stairs - all 300 or so of them. It was a nice climb, we stopped several times to look out over the city and the baie des Anges. There wasn't much at the top but they are working on excavating the castle so we'll have to check out their progress on our next trip (next trip? Yes, we're going to buy a pizza boat of our own and fund our retirement plan of sailing the Mediterranean with it.) 

From there, it was time to meet our guide for our food tour.  Delightfully, EVERYONE was on time and we got started with a little breakfast square that had pine nuts, raisins and Swiss chard in it. It was the best Swiss chard I've ever had. From there, we started winding our way through the old city, tasting candied orange peel and chocolate covered almonds from the oldest store in Nice, where Queen Victoria used to go for tea, socca - a kind of pancake made from chickpea flour, truffle salt, olive oil, fresh goat cheese, pastise (an anise flavoured liquor), stuffed vegetables, espresso, a small platter with ham and cheese, gelato and LOTS of rosé.  I think there was more but I can't remember now. It was all really delicious (except the pastise, but I had extra rosé instead.) Our guide, Ally, was such a delight, she knew so much about the city and its history, despite only being here for a few months.  Food tours have quickly become our favourite way to see a city and learn about its history - and this one was no exception. Happily, the book market I had forgotten about was in one of the squares we stopped at so I got to sneak in a peak at it, too, which was great. Also, maybe my favourite part of the tour was learning that you can walk into a wine shop AND GET WINE IN BULK. One of the first stops on our tour was to get a litre bottle of water that our group quickly emptied. Then, we took the empty bottle into a wine shop and they filled it up with red table wine for us - for €2.45. An entire litre of it. Which we then enjoyed as we wound through the old city streets before heading to the non-touristy market to see where the real Niçoise shop. Such a great way to see the city, enjoy some food and learn some history. 



Nice is Nice. Like... Really Nice

by Colleen Morrow in

It's Day 3 of our Côte d'Azur adventures and we're already trying to figure out when we can move here. 

Day 0 was the start of our travels, with EDP leaving hours before me in San Francisco before we met up at Pearson for our flight to Nice via Zurich. Because we had different itineraries, we weren't on the same ticket so weren't able to sit together on our flights. That's okay, we've got lots of together time now that we're here.  

Day 1 was the last bit of travelling with our arrival in Nice around 10am. We headed straight to our hotel on Promenade des Anglais (Hotel Negresco, which we've now had two people tell us is the nicest in the city - but don't get too excited, we're in a separate wing with a garden view) where we dropped bags off before walking up to the Matisse museum. Our walk was beautiful, with the sun shining and signs pointing our way, making it relatively easy to find, though primarily uphill. The museum held a tonne of work by Matisse - including sculptures, paintings and the paper cutouts Matisse gravitated to later in life, including one of his famous blue nudes. From there, we headed back to hotel, where we had a bit of a wait for our room still, so we went across the street and sat watching the beach and the sea. Then we got checked in, showered and headed out to dinner not far from the hotel before crashing early on in the evening (e.g. 8pm for one of us) and sleeping until almost 9 on Tuesday morning. Hey, we needed it - neither of us slept much on the plane.  

Tuesday was our day trip to Antibes, which started with a short train ride over to the town and walk along the port, gawking at the fancy boats before turning into the old town to head up to the the Picasso museum. It wasn't quite what I expected - mostly sketches - but there was a photography exhibit of dozens of photos taken of him through his life. From there, we made our way to the market to pick up some snacks for the afternoon and then grabbed some lunch before taking the bus to Cap d'Antibes for our afternoon plans. Originally, we had planned on walking the painters' trail, basically, a walking tour of where a bunch of painters used to hang out. But then I learned about Le Sentier du Littoral, a 5km hike along the sea, which was stunning. We were on varied terrain, ranging from a paved stone walkway to rocky landscapes. The views were amazing, we saw several really, really big yachts (at what point do they become ships?) and enjoyed the crashing waves along the shore. Then it was back to Nice for the day, grabbing a bottle of champagne on the way back to hotel to enjoy before dinner. 

Today was another vigorous day. We took the train out to Cagnes-Sur-Mer where we walked over to the Renoir museum, which is in a home he owned and painted in. I didn't realize he had been so struck by arthritis in his hands, which were often bandaged. The house was beautiful - and they've recently renovated it to make it more in line with how it would have been when Renoir lived there. After that, we headed to the historic city, which might as well have been on a mountain, given how high the climb was to it. I didn't appreciate how hilly Cagnes-Sur-Mer was so we weren't adequately prepared for how thirsty we were at the top, where Château Grimaldi sits. This was an odd little duck, being a 16th century castle that houses both medieval artifacts and modern art. It was... interesting. But the views were spectacular - on one side was the sea and the other was the mountains. I even managed a view Ativan-free photos on my own! Then, we wandered back down through the historic city - much easier going down - and caught a bus to Vence to look at its historic city (not quite as hilly) and visit the Matisse chapel. 

The Matisse chapel is actually the Chapelle du Rosaire but everyone knows it at the Matisse chapel.  Matisse desiged every single detail over the span of about 3 years, when Matisse was well into his 70s. It was beautiful in its simplicity, using his paper cutout style in the stained glass and simple (yet amazing) drawings for the murals. We also saw a number of the vestments he designed for all the different times and celebrations of the liturgical year. Then it was back to Nice where I spent some time reading by the sea before an amazing dinner, at which I ordered two desserts. I'm on vacation, I'm allowed!

Tomorrow, we stay in Nice, checking out the old town here and spending some time on the beach. It's supposed to be another beautiful sunny day, so it should be a good one! 


A Long, Long Weekend in Nice

by Colleen Morrow in

In four weeks, we're off to the Côte d'Azur. And this trip is a big change of pace for us. Our last two trips were road trips, where we rented a car and covered a lot of ground - the Ring Road in Iceland and prior to that, parts of the Romantic Road & German Alpine Road in Bavaria. Before that, we were in Peru, which had us travelling around a lot and was definitely more adventure-y. Even thinking back to all of our other big trips, this one is different. This trip is going to more resemble one of our weekend city adventures but we'll be gone for 10 days instead of just 3 or 4.

Why such a different kind of trip? Generally, since I do most of our planning and I try to cram in as much as humanly possible, we're going non-stop while we're away. EDP usually has to specifically request some downtime, otherwise, I'll schedule every single minute of every single day. But with EDP's recent job change, we've had major lifestyle changes and are only seeing each other about once a month. Which calls for a slower paced trip, with more time to sit with good wine, good food, and good company.

Enter: The French Riviera. Or Côte d'Azur, as everyone but the Americans call it (our guidebook is American, even if we are not.) We're basing ourselves in Nice for just over a week and while forecasts probably aren't overly accurate this far out, we're expecting low-to-mid-20s temperatures and skies ranging from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny. From our base there, we're going to explore Nice and only do short trips out of the city, going no further than an hour away to check out:

  • The Matisse museum, the market, the antique book market, a food tour, and the beaches - all right in Nice
  • Vieux Nice with its Cathédrale Ste-Réparate, Cours Saleya, and Palais Lascaris
  • St-Paul-de-Vence & Vence, two hill towns, to see the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence (built and decorated by Matisse) and possibly the Fondation Maeght (I keep going back and forth on this one - I'm not really a modern art fan and reviews are mixed)
  • The Îles de Lérins & Cannes for Marché Forville, the fortress where the man in the iron mask was held captive, a monestary/winery, and the famous Hotel Carlton & La Croisette
  • Antibes for the Picasso museum, a walk along the Painters' Trail, and the Cours Masséna to see old Antibes.
  • Monaco where I hear there's a casino or something like that
  • Èze, a "perched village" nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean, to follow the Nietzsche path and see the Jardin Exotique 

I've got our rough itinerary together, now it's time to go back over it to iron out all the details and make sure everything fits together. Then it'll just be the wait for departure day. 


by Colleen Morrow in

What a whirlwind couple of days in Rome! We only had two days to pack in as much as we could and man, did we ever succeed.

After landing close to midnight, we climbed into a cab and were promptly greeted with Andrea Bocelli on the radio. It was pretty much the perfect way to be welcomed to the city. We headed straight to our beds once we were checked in as we had an early start with our Vatican tour on Saturday morning. Because we ended up landing late, we weren't able to get Roma passes at the airport so we tried to find the tourist information at the train station to pick them up but had no luck. We knew we'd have other chances in the day but it would have been nice to have the subway pass for the full day but in the scheme of things, it was a much smaller problem than we had faced with the flat tire. We got to the meeting place of our Vatican tour just at the right time.

The tour company we went with is a really popular one as they get access to the museums 1 hour before the general public. So the 8am tour is also a VERY popular tour to take. They were allocating people to groups as soon as they had them checked in and once a group was full, it left for its tour.  It was a good way of handling it because the groups ended up slightly staggered for the tour. Our guide was Irina and she took us through the highlights of the museum, giving us great depth & detail on the things we saw. When I was in Rome with EDP in 2009, we did a Vatican tour that saw much more of the museums but in far less detail so this was a great balance to it. We learned all about the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and the Belvedere Courtyard. The Gallery of Maps was a particular highlight for me as during my last tour, the gallery was so packed, you could hardly see the maps. On this tour, because we were in an hour early, we were able to see everything. After getting a good amount of time to drink in the Sistine Chapel, we headed into St. Peter's, which I did not get to see on my first visit to Rome due to an insanely long line to enter. And whoa, what a place! I think the most fascinating thing we learned was that there are no paintings in the basilica, everything that looks like a painting is a mosaic. Also, according to Irina, the gold band that runs high up on the walls is 10 feet tall and can fit two cars side-by-side on it. It didn't look like that could possibly be the case from where we were standing but it is an awfully large place. 

Once our tour wrapped up, we had to hustle our way over to the Borghese Gallery, another new thing for me to see in Rome. We did manage to stop for some gelato on our way, which made this the second time I had gelato as my first meal in Rome so I think that's now going to be what I do every time I visit. We were also able to get our Roma passes, which made jumping onto the subway much faster & easier. The gallery was organized differently than any other I've seen, with timed entry at one of four times and a required time to be out (two hours after your entry.) It meant that there were a lot of people in the same spot all at once. There was a room just of Caravaggio paintings, which was both wonderful and terrifying all at once. Once we were done in gallery, we wandered through the garden grounds a bit, stumbling upon some sort of horse show, before we made our way back to the hotel to have a bit of a rest before heading out to explore the aqueducts, the thing I was looking forward to the most.

There are two aqueducts in the park that we visited - the Aqua Felice and the Aqua Claudia.  Aqua Claudia is the more impressive of the two, which was commissioned by Caligula, taking 11 years and 30,000 men to build. And it's just sitting in a park for anyone to walk by. It's really quite wonderful, the park is massive and when we arrived late Saturday afternoon, it was full of picnicking families, relaxing couples, and kids playing games. All with the aqueducts as the backdrop. It's such an odd feeling to be so close to these ancient structures - Aqua Claudia is almost 2000 years old! And we were able to walk alongside of it from one end of the park to the other. So amazing.

Then it was back to near our hotel to grab dinner before collapsing into bed to rest up for another packed day on Sunday. The agenda? The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla. Did we do it all? You bet we did!!

We were at the Colosseum right for opening, even arriving a few minutes early to be able to wander around. Again, I was struck by how close it is to the metro stop and how it's just THERE when you get to the top of the steps coming out of the metro. I was expecting it this time, though, so I was prepared with my camera right away. With our handy Roma passes, we were in a very short line and were inside very quickly. We were some of the very few that wandered through the museum portion of the Colosseum, which has so much interesting information, it's unfortunate more people don't take the time to go through. Then we just wandered around the upper level and then the lower level, taking it all in. Once we had our fill, it was off to Palatine Hill, wandering in and around as much as we could - including the Domus Severiana, giving us views of the Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus - something I don't remember EDP & I taking in when we were there. With the day really warming up, we were happy to have water with us and took full advantage of being able to refill our bottles before heading into the Forum. And oh, the Forum... Man, I love that place. We really took our time going through it, getting into all of the nooks & crannies to see as much as we could. I love how there are so many different monuments, all in different stages of ruins. It must have been amazing to see when everything was standing. I get such a surreal feeling standing amongst all of these monuments and temples and buildings that have been around for such an incredibly long time. We don't get that in Canada, it's so wonderful being able to experience it in Rome. 

From there, we started making our way to the Trevi Fountain. I was armed with the map and amazingly, I got us there without getting us lost. I even managed to get us past Trajan's Column and the Altare della Patria (which we did not climb.) We soon made it to the fountain and braved pushing through the crowd gathered at the top to get right down to the bottom to throw our Euros in. And to refill our water bottles again. Then it was on to lunch (pizza and Prosecco, the lunch of those who have already walked 10,000+ steps) before making our way over to the Pantheon, once again not getting lost! I love how there's that circle of sunlight on the floor coming down from the dome. Then, it was on to Piazza Navona to get some well-reputed gelato, which was delicious. With that under our belt, we headed towards the Metro, passing the Spanish Steps on the way - which I still think are incredibly overrated and happily, my sister agreed and said she did not feel the need to climb them. Which was excellent, though, she'd have been on her own if she did want to, I'd have stayed at the bottom to document her climb for her :P

Our last stop of the day was the Baths of Caracalla, another new thing for me to see. This time we did get lost. Well, not so much as lost as so turned around that we went in three different directions before I managed to get us on the right track. To my credit, I did promise that I'd manage to get us lost at some point during the day so really, I was just keeping my word. This is what happens when you let me navigate! The Baths were really cool to see. They haven't done much in the way of restoring them but have preserved what's there beautifully, showing the mosaic floors and displaying pieces of the mosaics that would have been on the walls throughout the various rooms. It was so much bigger than I expected, but it a wonderfully small site that you can cover in a very short time and has very few people so you don't have to deal with crowds. It was one of the highlights of the two days for me, for sure.

Then it was back to the area of our hotel to settle in for some dinner, which we did on a lovely patio not far from our hotel. We started off with a quart litre of wine each - it was cheaper than water, so we were just making an economical choice. Of course, those quarter litres disappeared rather quickly so we replaced them with fresh ones before dessert (tiramisu for my sister, tartufo for me and if you didn't see that coming, I don't think you've actually met either of us...) and finished things off with some limoncello. It was a really good way to end our two days in Rome.

Our flight home was entirely uneventful - a nice treat after our previous travelling days on this trip. And now, we're home with our memories and hundreds of photos. I always seem to take way more photos than I expected. Here's hoping it doesn't take me a month to get through them all!

The Open Book

by Colleen Morrow in ,

Yes, Monday did end up drier and it was a busier day, with lots of people through and some excellent sales but the real interesting part of the day came when Renita came in and asked us if we knew Princess Anne was going to be in town later.

We did not.

She encouraged us to come down to the church to be part of the welcoming committee and shortly before 2, we put a sign on the door that we were hanging out with the princess and locked up the shop. She was, of course, late but the local school children had all been brought out of school to meet her so they kept us entertained with their antics and we chatted with an older couple from New Zealand who were also visiting Wigtown. Renita, who does storytelling herself, did a wonderful rendition of the Three Little Pigs that was worth the delay. Soon, Anne did arrive with much security but was whisked fairly quickly inside the church. We weren't sure if we had gotten a good photo or not. But we were told she would be saying hello on her way out and we were encouraged to wait so we did. And after some time inside and a tour of the cemetery, she said hello to quite a few people. She was very focused on the person she was speaking to at any time and spent a fair amount of time making her way back to her car. I had really hoped for a good royal wave from her but if she did one, I missed it. Then we were back to the shop and closed up for the day. Dinner was at a new place this time, Cobwebs, where mac & cheese and a steak & ale pie filled us up before heading back to the flat. Our internet connection hasn't been the most stable, we've had to only connect iPads and keep to the lightest of browsing - any kind of video will cut it right off and the router is down in the shop so it's a pain to reset in the evenings. Good thing we have our books. While hunkered down with said books, there was a knock on our door and the infamous Nanette was there with shortbread she had made us. She normally comes in the shop on Tuesdays but she was going to be away so she dropped it off Monday night to us instead. And it was amazing. Very similar to my family's shortbread recipe and we enjoyed it thoroughly!!

Tuesday came soon enough and I wasn't feeling great in the morning so I got some extra sleep while my sister manned the shop on her own. When I got down a bit later, we had a steady stream of customers and a steady stream of reading before closing up and talking a walk that led us out of Wigtown to a lovely treed path before wandering around the main road into town and then onto a side road. All the cows and sheep we saw turned to look at us but none were overly interested in chatting so we just kept going, eventually getting to the martyr's stone where two women were drowned for sympathizing with Covenanters.  The path took us along the old Wigtown harbor, which now is mostly just marshland. Then, it was back up to the flat, where I promptly went to bed since I was feeling poorly again. I can only presume that my sister hit up all the late night hot spots in the town and generally caused a ruckus.

Wednesday, I was back on my feet (butt? I did a lot of sitting) and with the sun shining, we opened the shop and kept the door open all day to enjoy the warmth of the sun.  We met Joyce, one of the local book sellers, who is also active in the festival organizing committee. She was excited about our Canada jigsaw puzzle that we had out as her daughter is a bit puzzle fan. We've also had some lovely chats with customers over our few days in the shop - some knew that the book shop was an Airbnb (one had been trying to book for some time) and others didn't but were delighted to discover how we came to be at the shop. Of course, all our customers through out the week wanted to know where in Canada we were from since it was pretty clear we had a connection to the country somehow. After closing, we hit up the bookshops we hadn't seen yet, including The Book Shop, which is the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland. It also felt like it continued for miles. It's so big, they've built a little loft bed in one of the rooms, in case you need a nap. We also checked out Curly Tale Books, the children's bookshop and a couple of non-bookshop shops - they do exist!

Thursday was our last day in the shop. It was hard to believe it had flown by so quickly and we were nearing the end. We met Rosemary, who owns the building, and Jessica, who was the one who thought up the idea of turning the shop into the Airbnb. Rosemary was by in the morning for the flower boxes and told us a bit about the Bride of Lammermoor.She was from the late 1600s and had to marry someone she didn't want to. Shortly after the wedding night, her groom was stabbed in the groin in their room while she cowered in the unlit fireplace. He recovered but never said who stabbed him. She refused to eat and died a short time later. Rosemary researched the story and wrote a book about it so was excited to tell us all about it. Jessica is from the States but has adopted Rosemary as her Scotland mother. While we were chatting with Jessica, Rosemary returned and kidnapped us. Don't worry, all is well now. But the castle from the story she told us is not far from Wigtown so we jumped in her car (there's an exception for the rule about not getting in a stranger's car if they are Scottish, right?) and she took us off to see what's left of the castle from the story. It sits on a private farm but Rosemary has some connections so we were able to see the old gate and the back wall of the castle, which is all that is left now. Luckily for us, Andrew, the farmer was also there and he took us on the other side of the wall, where his lambs are penned so we got to see some lambs up close and personal. Some got quite close but none would actually come up to me. I think it's because they recognized my sweater as cashmere. 

After our adventure, we headed back to the shop to do our final tally and tidy. It was sad to close up shop but it was a great week. I feel like we were just getting into the swing of things when it was all over, though. We boxed up the jigsaw to take to Joyce's daughter and then locked the door one last time. Then, it was off to one last fish & chips dinner before turning in for the night.  

Friday ended up coming with an unwelcome surprise. We had a fairly lazy morning as our flight to Rome wasn't until 4 so we got up and packed and tidied and then headed off. About 1/3 of the way to Edinburgh, we got a flat. We had no spare. So we settled in to wait for roadside assistance, because of course, we were in the middle of nowhere. Despite our best efforts, we just missed our Rome flight so had to reschedule and ended up in Rome about an hour later than expected. We were certainly happy to see our hotel and get some sleep before our big Saturday plans - the Vatican and Borghese Gallery!   

In all, our week at The Open Book was a delight. We met some great people and had a lovely time minding "our" shop. I know they are booked up until 2020 but it's really worth it, if you can hold out that long!


From the Big City to the Book Town

by Colleen Morrow in ,

We spent one last morning in Edinburgh on Saturday, visiting Craigmillar Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots went when she was depressed and where the plot to kill her husband was hatched. So you know, a very cheery place.   

The castle was left to fall into ruins in the 1700s but the ruins have now been restored and it's a lovely site to tour around. Much of the tower house is open to the elements so there were a lot of nesting birds and roofless rooms as we explored. It was also quite maze-like, it was hard to tell sometimes if we had seen a section or not, with the multiple staircases running through it. It drizzled for most of our touring time, turning to rain near the end and navigating with an umbrella was tricky at points. On more than one occasion, my umbrella was too wide for a passageway and I had to turn it to the side to get through. 

After heading back into the city centre, we picked up our bags and headed back to the airport to pick up our car and make the drive to Wigtown. The drive was on the rainy side, as expected in Scotland, and we were mostly on highways, instead of the motorway.  It was easy enough to adapt to driving on the left - though it took a while to adapt to the rear view mirror on the left. Aside from that, driving was smooth sailing, until I tried parking and ran into the curb. But that happens enough when I drive in Canada that I'm still calling the whole thing a win. 

When we arrived in Wigtown and found our bookshop (The Open Book), we met George, who showed us around the flat and the bookshp. It was late enough in the day that we didn't open but rather wandered around the little village. After an early dinner at the infamous Craft (fish & chips, obviously) we picked up a few necessities at the local co-op and settled in for an early night. 

Sunday morning rolled around soon enough and we got the bookshop open around 9, adding our Canada paraphernalia around the shop. It was a slow day, with only five customers and two sales - though we exceeded last Sunday's sales. We also met Renita and her lab, Bonnie. Renita is part of the organizing team for the annual book festival and runs the event in The Open Book during festival time. She and Bonnie were an excellent welcoming committee, with stories about The Open Book and some of the other bookshops and people in the village. Bonnie spent most of the visit looking for crumbs or leaning against us, demanding pets, which reminded me of someone else I know back in Canada (Penelope, I mean you...)

We closed up shop around 3 so that we could check out some of our competition (Byre Books, Reading Lasses, The Old Bank Bookshop, and Beltie Books.) Reading Lasses and Beltie Books had lovely little cafes as part of their shops and Reading Lasses had a room dedicated to female authors, which was lovely. The Old Bank went on for ages, I was beginning to think it was the never-ending bookshop!! They also made really good use of their high ceiling with bookshelves towering over us. And Byre Books was hidden in a back garden, making it such a delight to find.  

Then it was back home for some snacks before heading back to Craft for their Sunday Roast dinner, featuring turkey roast, so it felt like Thanksgiving. I left feeling like I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, too.  

Today, we're back in the shop and it seems like the rain may have let up for the day already. We'll see if it stays dry - I think we'll have more customers if it isn't raining!