Bologna, Verona, Venice, Rome…..


I only spent 24 hours in Bologna which is comprised of  universities, industries, and food!   Just when I thought it was impossible to have bigger or more ornate or more something buildings/churches, another city comes along, and outshines the previous one — Bologna was no exception.

I had lunch at a locals’ restaurant on a side street.  The all in one mâitre’d-waiter-bartender-cashier greeted me like his long-lost friend, took my order after many “prego’s, prego’s”(please, please)never said only once, and “si, si’s(yes, yes) same applies — all one word acknowledgements must be said at least twice, but preferably three times. The regular lunch crowd arrived around 12:30ish and re-emphasized the importance of community in daily Italian life.   Everyone knew one another and was greeted warmly by the all-in-one only employee(!), some received their usual drink, others heard the daily special and ordered as they walked to their table. Everyone spoke at the same time, gesticulated with their hands and forks constantly, nodded and never stopped eating.  Noise level reached new heights as 1:15pm approached and started to taper off around 1:45pm — I learned weeks ago lunch is a 2 hour affair – enjoy the food, appreciate the ambiance, savor the flavors, and absorb the sights/aromas that make up one of the main components of Italian life – FOOD. Continue reading

Sta. Margherita/Cinque Terre, Italy…and next stop, Turin..


Sta. Margherita/Portofino — the Italian Riviera — very cool.   Cobblestone streets, centuries old villas,  — wonder if it was like a “villa competition” in the 17th & 18th C. – who could design the most ornate villa w/the sumptuous gardens? — a centuries’ old version of:  Jackson Hole, Wyoming & dueling architects I.M. Pei /Frank Gehry /A. Predock — but in 1687, it would have been Sr. ???  No idea!   These “small little summer getaways” for the family and 20 staff members are gorgeous.  Currently, they are in all stages of renovation.  Little trattorias tucked in here and there ..  the main road along the coast introduces one to the ever-present Hermés Store signifying that the town is “hip”, Yachting Days = here-come-the-$200-blue-and-white-striped-cotton-t-shirts, and Il Bambino shops selling mommy-daddy-look-a-likes for 200 euros. Walk 1 block off the main street and there is the local town with the hardware store, outlet shop, shoe repair shop.. the locals are welcoming and there is an air of “whatever” here – where your Levi’s into the white  linen tablecloth restaurant, it’s ok – wonder what it is like during the summer?  Probably a zoo.. the train station is close to town, easy access..buses run from Sta. Margherita to other coastal towns… the touristica boats operate from April thru October taking tourists to the coastal towns … seasonal living on the Mediterranean. Not crowded here now, and what a treat for me!  Walked from Sta. Margherita to Portofino(5 KM) along the Mediterranean Coast and thru the hills on a designated pedestrian path…had a cappuccino, thinly sliced dried beef with chunks of parmesan cheese and watercress, and bread in Portofino before I headed back.  The waiter rolled his eyes and nodded when I said “April – lots of tourists?”   But now,  life doesn’t get much better than this —   I feel so lucky to spend 2 or 3 days in these places – and see not only the tourist sites, but watch local life.

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Genoa to Pisa..on south, and oops, back again..


Misty rainy day accompanied me while I rode TRENITALIA, the regional train, to Pisa.   The words “trundle” or “plugs along” seem to fit these trains as they lurch along.  The conductor hole punched my ticket, all the while leaning on a chair seat for balance.  The seats are smaller than the French trains as are the steps to board.  God help you if you have a large piece of luggage, because from the station platform to the first step on the train makes you want to discard any unnecessary items and start doing lunges at the gym to build up those thigh muscles for that initial “umph”.

There is so much more to this town that just the Tower.  One can see the town in a day, but there are museums, churches, a pretty park, great river walk,  good restaurants,  a 30 minute train ride to Lucca, a one and half hour ride to Florence.  So, Pisa can be a less expensive base to see the surrounding area. I was surprised, because all I have ever heard  was “don’t bother”  & “not much there”.  They had a Miró exhibit in a gallery, also, that I missed!  So, it isn’t just the Tower!

Remember reading about and seeing pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 5th grade?  I do, and when I saw it, it was a “I  truly cannot believe that I am here” moment.  Next to the Tower, was a gorgeous cathedral that received little publicity and was spectacular – have to say, it is becoming sort of the norm now – gold leaf, huge paintings, carved statues, marble alters, fresco painted ceilings, mosaic floors and of course, HUGE.

Art students sat on the grass in groups sketching, vendors of every Italian kitschy item ever produced in Asia selling their wares, and tourists from all over the world with local guides giving the spiel, all gave the area a theme park feeling.  Several people told me “pass on Pisa”.. well, I am glad I did not take their advice– it was worth that one moment of “wow”.  It is an old old town, well, aren’t they all, but.. this one really felt old in parts.  55% of Pisa was bombed during WWII and maybe it was the stark contrast between new and 11 & 12th century buildings with 12th century religious icons preserved in small provincial museums and little churches trying to raise funds to help w/restoration – a feeling of “don’t forget the rest of the town – we are worthwhile, also.”

The museums and churches filled with relics and religious icons were beautiful, but, the thing that really made Pisa worthwhile was lunch at a 10 table indoor restaurant.  My pasta with olive oil and fresh herbs NEVER turned out like that, and the thinly sliced beef with just a smidgen of balsamic vinegar reduction sauce required minimal mastication because it was so tender that it essentially dissolved in my mouth.  And, then the desert — semi-orgasmic experience!  It was chocolate cake, and of course NO FLOUR, with thinly sliced cooked pears baked on top, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce –just a little to compliment it and not overwhelm it.  Fork in hand, cutting off a bit, one feels guilty if this cake is bitten because you might hurt it.  But, that decision was already made because as soon as the piece of cake descended upon my tongue — it automatically started to melt, the chocolate and fruit flavor slowly seeped into the roof of the mouth, the flavors started percolating in the most wonderful sense my body had at that moment – taste.  All the cathedrals just took a back seat – that was my religious experience.  That cake with the cappuccino gave me incentive to always be good for the rest of my life, so I too, could join all those good people in heaven!!!  Lordy, Lordy!

ok.. back to reality — before I left Pisa, stopped at MacDonalds’s at the train station and had a big MAC — what can I say.

And off to a very small village 2 hours south of Pisa … to do a volunteer/work exchange – modern-day indentured servant clad in “culture exchange” – work for food & accommodation – at a German woman’s house.  She moved to Italy many years ago and worked at a high-end hotel.    German TV on, German friends, German paper — just seem to transfer life from the home country to another place.  Would I do the same?  And, if so, to what degree?   I don’t know.  But, another glimpse into ex-pat life abroad.  The Exchange didn’t work out for us — it was one of those instances when it was an instantaneous “Nope, this isn’t going to work..” and it didn’t– we live and learn — and life goes on — so — and back to the train station, once again …on the train and push the re-play button back to Pisa!

Oh, BTW, the regional trains cost zippo –  2.50 € to 6.50€ seems to be the average — of course, the train ride isn’t exactly high-speed air lifting Asian technology, and one has to wonder when you hear the conductors saying frantically to the train engineers “move, move, the next train is coming” and everyone backs up a bit – not that it would do you any good if two trains collide,  but.. details…

It is all good…how can it not be when the scene is this at 4:00pm…

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Heading to Cinque Terre, Turin, Milan…

cya, me

Settling in…Rognonas, Provence


Avignon Centre Ville – Palace des Papes

I approached Avignon, Provence with a historical eye.  I took photos, but, was unable to capture the overpowering grandeur of it.  I sat on a bench, and transported myself back to an imaginary scene filled with kings and queens, knights in armour, ladies in waiting gossiping, priests and cardinals scurrying down halls, secrets being whispered in corners, illicit affairs… horses hoofs tramping on cobblestone streets, boats on the River Rhone, lace made in backrooms, oven fires burning to make bread, cook meat, boil vegetables, barrels of wine rolling down the streets.. and I could imagine everyone and everything was protected  by the Avignon walls with its castle tops and soldiers with their crossbows.

And now, museums, tourist attractions, some great art galleries, very trendy shops and very trendy prices, restaurants with 10 tables, bohemian areas selling art supplies, books, LP’s, and on, and on….

Cafe au lait in hand, and the other hand held my 2,456th “croissant avec chocolait” since arriving in this country, and again, I vowed it would be my last one.   I  watched the people go by.  All nationalities trying to stay out of the way of the skateboarders who were using the ramparts as jumping points, and realized — life really hasn’t changed much — kids playing and irritating adults, poverty and wealth, religion giving a cause to some, political aspirations for the sake of power……

So, on that happy note, I walked out of the centre ville, and met my landlady at the Avignon gate to take me to my new home. We drove to the small village of Rognonas, 15 minutes south of Avignon, where I have rented a one bedroom gite for three months. A lovely couple from New Zealand bought the property 4 years ago, continued its renovation, and now operate 4 holiday rentals situated between neighboring vegetable farms and fruit orchards.

Since I have no car, I am dependent upon my legs, a bicycle and the bus.   It is a 10 minute walk to town consisting of 2 bakeries, 2 butcher shops, 1 supermarket – uh – think monopoly game squares – small itty bitty places, 1 post office, 1 church and 1 school.

Since I have been riding the bus more(no train here) I have noticed a difference between the train and bus stations, and, the population who ride them.  Graffiti is considered “art” at the train station, and it is always on the outside of the train station, NEVER on the inside; however, graffiti is all over the bus station and not pretty – harsh and angry.  Waiting rooms at the bus stations have dispenser snack machines and a snack bar outside on the street usually with the word KEBAB in the title.  Train stations have coffee bars, places to sit/eat, and always, a magazine store.   Single men tend to ride the bus more often than women, and very few women aged 40+ ride the bus.   Definitely, buses are on the lower edge of the socio-economic scale. That’s my demographic take on the two main segments of transportation in France.  Not that it interests anyone, but these were observations while waiting for the bus.

99% of the drivers on the road are very respectful of bicyclists, so, I have no fear joining all the other bicyclists, all five of them(!),  on the road in the village.  I have learned just the proper amount, both quantity and weight, to buy at the little stores so it will fit in my shopping bag and be able to carry it home comfortably.  There is another side of this country living, which is the accommodation I have to make by not having my own transportation = dependent upon otherss-c-a-r-e-y……

side note:  One reduces one’s food consumption when one realizes one has to CARRY the food back to one’s house.

Village life is, well, this…..locals see you and some say “Bonjour, Madame” while others don’t, the post office lady helps me count the change because I left my glasses at home, the grocery store checker FINALLY acknowledges me, I see covert looks projecting “who is that?”, I greet a lady who opens her shutters in the morning as I pass by her house on a walk, I go to the post office which is supposed to open at 1:00pm but doesn’t open until 1:30 that day and letting that flitting bit of irritation GO,and am grateful for no tourist shops..

Life goes on… just a little slower here



Note from Provence that I am learning, feeling, and waking up to:

The Mistral

The Mistral may blow continuously for several days at a time, attain velocities of about 100 km (62 miles) and reach a height of 2 to 3 km (1 to 4m) towards the French Riviera and the Gulfe de Lion. These winds can affect weather in North Africa, Sicily and throughout the Mediterranean. It is strongest and most frequent in winter, and sometimes causes considerable damage to crops. Trees in Provence are forever bent in the direction of this fierce wind.  But as inhospitable an element as it may be, this beneficial wind does clear and dry the atmosphere in the region, leaving the sun to shine some 2800 hours per year!

“Behind the Mistral is the beauty of Provence. Its fierceness blows away clouds and grime and doubt, leaving colors the depth of dreams and a freshness that can come only after the Mistral’s scouring. Provence needs the Mistral or it ceases to be the Provence of my dreams. I need the Mistral to cut through those dreams to truth – beauty comes after the wind.” Kamiah A. Walker

It’ll probably be a few weeks before I write again — settling in — living life in my own place for a while.. Enjoy Thanksgiving — be thankful for all you have ….

cya.. me


Languedoc Region


Languedoc Region

Late fall in the Languedoc Region, Southern France presented me with some of the most beautful scenes and vistas of a countryside getting ready for winter – leaves turning, crops harvested, acres of grape vines sleeping,  canals dotted with empty houseboats, Pyrenees Mountains with snow capped peaks – absolutely gorgeous.

I arrived in Narbonne via the train and walked to “Will’s Hotel” – like the name, no frills. Explored Narbonne which is close to the Mediterranean and has a relaxed atmosphere about it — maybe because it is close to the sea, or so many stately mansions, or canal running through the town with houseboats on it, cobblestone streets or the innumerable cafes.. but something is in the air here that just makes you want to sit and watch the world go by. 

Traveled on to Chateau Ventenac, a 20 minute drive from Narbonne, where I attended a 5 day writing workshop given by a British writer, Patrick Gale.  The Chateau belonged to a Jewish family who escaped France just prior to German occupation and gave the Chateau to the village.  It was subsequently divided into 3 “homes” and another major portion of it became a winery.  A British woman, bought the middle section of the Chateau in 2007, which had been uninhabited for 50 years, renovated it, and it is currently used as venue for various workshops and holiday rental.

The workshop participants were 5 Brits, a couple from New Zealand and me!  We read, wrote, visited a nearby castle, walked the canal path, and ate & ate & ate.  The view from my window was the Pyrenees Mountains far far away, fields harvested and dormant, villagers taking their daily walks, ducks and a resident black swan swimming below, and misty mornings.

Ducks….
View from window…

……………………………………………………………….Resident black swan

Gorgeous country… pictures definitely wrap this week up… I’m outta here and on my way to the Avignon area …. take good care, me

Normandy………


I left Marseilles on October 17th, took the high-speed train to Paris, then a bus to the Montparnasse Train Station, and boarded the train for Flers, Normandy.  From 7:30am until 3:30pm on that day, the following happened: I met a Venezuelan lady who showed me the way to the proper bus stop in Paris; I left my computer bag containing my passport, all ID, credit cards and some cash on the bus; I sat at the bus stop waiting for bus to come around again, and explained my plight in FRENCH(!!) to a Muslim woman who took me to the ONLY BUS KIOSK that was open(strike was on) and she pounded on the door until someone answered and there was my bag was with everything in tact(angels were watching over me on THAT one);  the bus driver saw me and stopped the bus to make sure I got my bag; I got my roller bag stuck in the turnstile at the train station bathroom(one has to pay to use the restroom there) and held up many angry women for 5 minutes while the restroom employee had to disassemble the turnstile to get the handle thing off (don’t even ask how that happened because I have NO friggin’ clue); I boarded the train, and entered the wrong car but same seat number but nobody checked tickets since everyone was on strike and I hoped to hell there was at least a driver on the train;  and I arrived in Flers, Normandy scared to even move for fear what might happen next.

A smile lit my face when I spotted the small woman with a yellow rain jacket and her little collie on a leash standing on the train platform waiting for me. Jenny, my workawayer.com host and her dog, Tasha, greeted me and we set off to her home in a little hamlet outside of Flers.    We passed stone houses built from the stones cleared from the fields, little villages, small country roads, cattle and sheep  — all very picture postcard-sque on our 30 minute drive to her house.

Jenny had a knee replacement a few months ago and had difficulty doing all the daily chores involved with home maintenance and attached GITE (pronounced G(soft g) -EETE).  (A gite is a holiday rental unit.)  Workawayer.com provides an avenue for people traveling to connect with in-country locals and work for them in exchange for room and board.   We connected via this website and there I was in a house with 3 Shetland ponies, 8 cats, 1 dog, English garden, and an amazing little English woman!

She lived in Bosnia during the war in the ’90’s working to provide educational programs to children unable to get to school because of sniper fire.  Additionally, she CEO’d for the organization that instituted the DNA matching program for mass grave victims and their families, worked at the foreign correspondent desk for a newspaper in England,  taught at university in Bosnia, and now has retired in France. Her house is a veritable library touching on all aspects of history regarding people, politics and countries throughout the world.

During the last 2 weeks, I picked acorns off the ground so the three Shetland ponies wouldn’t colic, picked up “pony poo” from the pastures, stocked the fireplace with wood, pulled grass from the gravel to keep things neat & tidy, cleaned the house, washed dishes,

learned to deal with cats(no choice on that since there are eight), moved hay from trailer to hay barn,  and helped in whatever seemed necessary at the time.

This cat is on MY bed!

Tasha and I went for daily walks in the forests on trails that were shared with equestrians, bikers, hikers and the occasional hunter.  I had to walk every day because the food that came out of this little kitchen with two feet of counter space was AMAZING.

Whom ever said English food was bland did not visit this house.

Jenny’s neighbor stopped by one day, and her pig, Dexter, started to follow her as she left their dairy farm.  We are talking a pet pig(!). She was able to get the pig to turn around and follow her back to the pen by slapping her thigh to get the pig’s attention and continued walk to the pen w/pig following, close the gate, and give the appropriate reward of food to an animal that must weigh at least 500 pounds.

Some of Jenny’s friends I met had renovated old stone barns and houses, spoke various levels of French, had French residency cards to qualify for French health care and gite rentals to bring in extra income, and all had their own stories.  I went to a French dog school with Tasha, visited local markets with fan-tab-u-lous homemade sausage and cheese that was over the friggin’ top(!!), and went to an “agricultural store” that sold everything from espresso machines and specialty wine to tractor discs and hay.  I feel like I lived on a reality TV show comprised of three components:   “All Creatures Great and Small” / “Days of Our Lives” / and a modern version of ex-pat Masterpiece Theatre!!

To sum up my experience w/living w/the Brits, I can only do it by the following imagined conversation:

Henry:  Hm-m, seems to be a bit of a blaze there. Robert:  Yes, there does, doesn’t there.  Wonder what’s that about?

Henry:  Not sure, hm-m, but it does seem to be growing, don’t you think? Robert:  Yes, quite.  Seems a shame, though, doesn’t it, to see those lovely vines, just turning the most brilliant shade of red, lose their color like that.  Do you suppose we should call the fire department?

(meanwhile fire has engulfed the entire town…..)

Henry:  Well yes, I suppose so, but do you have your phone?  Not sure where my mo-bile is. (“Probably damn burning, Henry.” … says Lisa…”Will you PLEASE get on with it!) Robert:  I have mine.  “Hmm yes, there seems to be a bit of a problem here at Cornish Lane.  The houses are burning.  No, not sure.  Quite a mess really, terribly difficult to breathe. Yes I suppose something should be done.  Hm-m-m,  oh that would be brilliant. Hm-m.  Well right then, cheerio, b-ye.”

Omaha Beach was hugely emotional for me when coming face to face to thousands of white crosses commemorating American soldiers. The American Visitor Center is very well done, but sadly enough, the visitor is greeted at the entrance by the standard security apparatus to thwart the ever-present anti-American feelings exprssed by some people.  The French DDAY Center, with no security gates,  gave thanks to all the other countries involved with the DDay invasion, England, Canada, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, etc. and opened my eyes to the amazing feat of DDAY.

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I have come away with these thoughts…

…live my life to the fullest

…….wherever my friends & family are – that is home

………….be open to all, leave my own culture at the doorstep

…………………..and don’t own a pet pig, he’ll never leave you.

On that note, I am off to Paris for a night, then on to Narbonne for a week in the Languedoc region before I occupy a gite and spend 3 months living in Provence.

View from the cliff where I walked Tasha.

cya….me