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. 


Rome

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 created 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 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!

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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! 

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