Archive for the 'Travel' category

Short Trip to Sardinia

May 23, 2010 4:59 pm

Near DorgaliLast week Kevin and I took advantage of a cheap fare from Marseille to Sardinia, and spent 5 days touring the island. In preparation for the trip, I looked up Sardinia on-line and came across this little bit of folklore: Sardinian Legend has it that after completing Her creation of the World [a little editing par moi], God dropped some leftover rocks into the Mediterranean. Then She looked over what She had already created, removed a little of the best from each place, and sprinkled it liberally over one of those dropped rocks which, of course, became the island of Sardinia. It is really really rocky there – a lot like the south of France – and the rock is beautiful, especially set against lots of pines and ink blue or turquoise water. See some of our photos here.P1040724

One of the highlights for us was a hike up to a huge cave – Tiscali – a place high up in a limestone mountain range where one of the mountaintops caved in forming a huge hole protected from the elements. Ancient peoples – the Nuragic – settled in the cave to hide from foreign invaders around 1500 B.C., and the remains of their stone structures are still visible. I had found a website for a hiking cooperative – – located in Dorgali (near the east coast) who arranged the hike. They lead lots of different tours to incredible beaches, caves accessible only by boat, and remote mountain hikes,  and going with them turned out to be a great thing to do. Our guide, Geon Paulo, explained lots about the trees and flowers, as well as the anthropology of the area, and fed us a great picnic of Sardinia cheeses, sausages, breads, and red wine. (BTW, the photo at right shows a little “window” that was created by a falling rock, not the top of the mountaintop that fell in. You can see remnants of the house people made in the rock in the photo.)

Lloc d'Or, B&B in AlgheroThen we moved on to the walled-city of Alghero where we stayed in a lovely B & B, its plain exterior concealing a little urban paradise. It’s run by an extremely genial couple, Gemma and Giovanni, who appear just to want to sit down with you and chat – all the while pouring local wine, setting out little gourmet treats, and telling us about their favorite restaurants and sights. (They can be found at At 50€ a night, the Lloc D’Or was definitely a Bonne Adresse.) One place they told us to visit was Neptune’s Grotto, a beautiful cave along the coast where you have to walk down 600 steps just to get to its mouth.Neptune's Grotto

Sardinian food was fabulous and very reasonable, especially compared to mainland Europe prices; the scenery was rugged but beautiful and filled with wildflowers this time of year; and where we were was authentic and unspoiled by tourism. Plus, you get to hear people chattering away in Italian! Dr. Ruth highly recommends.


Weekend in Paris

November 2, 2009 7:56 pm

P1030682Kevin set his computer to send him a reminder to buy TGV tickets exactly 3 months before the weekend we chose to visit Paris (a little planning can save a lot on train fare) and off we went at the appointed time. We did the usual touristy things like visit the Louvre, meander the magnificent boulevards and neighborhoods, and dine in classic old bistros. New for me was a visit to the cemetery, Père Lachaise. As a gentle breeze wafted falling autumn leaves through golden sunlight, we had a lovely quiet stroll past thousands of tombs, some belonging to people well-remembered but most others to people apparently long-forgotten. I was amazed to find Chopin’s grave absolutely brimming with fresh bouquets of beautiful flowers. I thought it must have been his birthday, but not quite yet. The 200th anniversary of his birth is 1 March 2010. However, as chance would have it, we found ourselves standing before his grave exactly 160 years to the day of his death. Quelle coincidence …

Albert Kahn MuseumThe next day we were very excited to be going to the Albert Kahn Museum. We discovered this fascinating Frenchman in a BBC production called The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn. Permettez-moi to quote from Wikipedia: “In 1909 Kahn travelled to Japan on business and returned with many photographs of the journey. This prompted him to begin a project collecting a photographic record of the entire Earth. He appointed Jean Brunhes as the project director, and sent photographers to every continent to record images of the planet using the first colour photography, autochrome plates, and early cinematography. Between 1909 and 1931 they collected 72,000 colour photographs and 183,000 meters of film. These form a unique historical record of 50 countries, known as ‘The Archives of the Planet’.” (To check out some of these photographs, click here.)

Unfortunately, our advance planning did not include checking the museum’s website and, to our horror, the photography section of the museum was closed until two days later to prepare for the next exhibit. Ugh! But we were able to walk through the stunning gardens at the museum. Kahn had several Japanese houses dismantled and reassembled in the gardens he constructed in Paris. In addition to a lovely Japanese garden, he built a glass conservatory, an English garden, a conifer wood, and a rose garden. The site was well worth the visit but, I’m sure, would have been even better with the photography exhibit. Check out our photos of our weekend in Paris.


Leonard Cohen in Concert in Nimes

August 21, 2009 3:17 pm

P1030217When a friend told me that Leonard Cohen was giving a concert in the Roman coliseum in Nimes, I balked at paying the hefty 96€ for a ticket. Then, the day before the concert, I thought “Am I crazy? Who cares what it costs? It’s Leonard Cohen!” Plus, I realized, he will be 75 years old next month and he might not be planning another world tour any time soon.

So, off to Nimes last night to see a performer I’ve been in love with for 40 years. Can that be possible? He recorded Suzanne, the first song I heard by him, in 1967. Mon dieu …

P1030200I knew the concert would be wonderful but I didn’t expect that I would say afterwards – without exaggeration –  “That was the best concert I have ever seen in my life.” After literally every song, he received a standing ovation. The audience was all over him. I was stunned that he left the stage for good after only 4 encores. It was all over so fast!

P1030172The concert was in the two-thousand-year-old Roman coliseum, Les Arènes – a superb venue for a concert (and, I suppose, for the gladiatorial shenanigans of yore). The air was soft and warm, the sky was clear and dark, and the music was pure magic.

I have been steeped in Leonard’s music all day today and I am watching and listening to Leonard Cohen, Live in Concert as I write this post. Friends Doris and Hu gave Kevin and me the DVD when they visited recently from California. I highly recommend it. Last night’s show is pretty much the same as this London concert of July 18, 2008.

On the DVD, he told his audience that it had been a long time since he had stood on a London stage: “It was about 14 or 15 years ago – I was just a 60 year old kid with a crazy dream.”  Leonard, you’re timeless.


A visit to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (Midi-Pyrénées Observatory).

August 19, 2009 9:41 pm
It looks like a Medieval Fortress (with modern bits)

A Modern Fortress!

A place with a view

A place with a view

As part of our trip to the Pyrénées our host very kindly took us to see the Pic du Midi observatory.  Since he worked there we were in the privileged position of having a much better tour of the place than members of the general public.

We drove up into the mountains and parked in a small town of Bagnères de Bigorre where we were greeted by several Llamas wandering around the car park.  Being a ski resort there were many ski lifts and cable cars around. We went to a cable car building and caught the first of two cable cars to the top.

Getting close to the Pic du Midi was quite a sight, buildings nestled right on the peak of the tallest mountain in the area.  The very first building there, now part of the cafe, took eight years to build! Everything was bought up manually and they only had three months of the year to work as it was too cold at other times. The view from the top was pretty spectacular too.


The Coronagraph

At the top we had a good look around the outside of the site and then went into the deep recesses of the buildings to see all the equipment that was hidden from view. The first thing we went to see was the Chronagraph, a special telescope for studying the Sun’s corona.  A Coronagraph simulates an eclipse of the Sun with a disk over the centre of the Sun of just the right size to allow the corona to be seen.

Coronagraph Control Screen

Coronagraph Controls

We were allowed to sit at the control console and using the mouse we were able to point the Coronagraph precisely at the Sun and to take some photos of the corona. It was a little tricky to keep the Coronagraph pointed properly as the Sun was moving all the time (relative to us!) so we had to keep adjusting our aim. Once we had it precisely centred, we switched from pointing mode to observation mode and took several pictures using different instruments mounted on the gimbles.

Ruth and Kevin look at their picture of the sun

Look! It's the Sun!

Here we are looking at the picture we had taken.

Next we went to see the large telescope, a 2m telescope known as the Bernard Lyot Telescope, named after the inventor of the Coronagraph. It was housed in a large dome at one side of the site. We had to descend a few levels to get into the building and then took the lift up to the telescope level and found ourselves in a large, dark dome which was freezing cold. The temperature has to be maintained at a few degrees below the air outside. This is to stop perturbations of the air rising when the telescope is in use and distorting the picture. There was not a lot to see inside the dome, partly because it was so dark and partly because it was controlled from elsewhere; no one actually looks through it, it has cameras for doing that.

The telescope dome was followed by a look at the control room and then back to the visitors’ area and a visit to the museum there. We had a thoroughly enjoyable visit and and have put more of our photos of the trip in our Pic du Midi gallery.

Here are some useful links:


Le Quatorze Juillet

July 15, 2009 11:37 am
Moules Frites en Centre-ville

Moules Frites en Centre-ville

One of my favorite things about living in Provence is the social life that takes place outdoors. Whether it’s celebrating holidays, dining, or picnicking, it’s so pleasurable to sit in warm air with friends, often under the canopy of giant plane trees or in pine forests, and to eat fabulous food. For this year’s Bastille Day, our village offered Moules Frites with a cabaret. Our French friends told us the moules (mussels) had a “Sailor Sauce” (haha!) – that is, “Mariner,” which consisted of mustard, cream, and Provencal herbs. We sat at long tables set up in centre-ville and servers brought large trays filled with the steaming hot mussels. As we finished eat tray, the server set down another one. The moules were delicious, especially with the frites (how and why did Americans ever start calling them French Fries?), and so was soaking up the sauce with bits of baquette, and washing it all down with vin rouge or chilled rosé. The meal concluded with a cheese course, then ice cream. Parfait.

Show me more… »

Checking Out the Graffiti in Valencia, Spain

April 27, 2009 9:50 pm
Valencia GraffitiI love when Kevin has a conference in a city where I’ve never been. While he attends the conference during the day, I am on my own to do as I please, and at night we rejoin and make Grand Gastronomical Tours. You don’t have to travel far in Europe before you cross a border into an entirely new culture, with its own language, architecture, and cuisine. Even the people look different. From where we live in the south of France, it is a mere three hours’ drive east to Italy or a three hours’ drive west to Spain.

Last week, we drove seven hours to Valencia. The weather was gorgeous and so was this city. One of the first things I did on my own was walk to the Museo de Bellas Artes, whose collection of mostly 15th to 17th century paintings is regarded in Spain as second in importance only to the Prado. I was there about 15 seconds before I re-experienced the feeling I had during a 2 month solo trip  through Spain in 1996. After visiting a series of museums on that trip, I felt I’d die of boredom if I had to look at another painting of the Madonna and Child. This time, it was painting after painting of the crucifixion. All I could think of was George Carlin saying that he wouldn’t want to belong to a religion whose symbol was of a skinny white guy nailed to a cross. Definitely not my notion of “spirituality,” either! 95% of the paintings there were of a religious theme (mostly some form of torture and lots of blood), about 3% were battle scenes (more blood), 1.95% were portraits of the nobility (all of whom looked like really fun and groovy people), and .05% were still lifes. Enough already …

Wandering around and around Valencia for the next 6 days, I noticed lots of interesting graffiti, or were they murals? Hmmm … there’s a bit of a fine line there. Most of the art was placed on derelict buildings, around construction sites, or painted on businesses’ roll-up metal security doors, rather than defacing anything beautiful, and captivated me much more than the Old Masters at the Bellas Artes did … Click on the senorita with the castanets to see the graffiti album.


Quick Trip to Scotland

November 5, 2008 7:59 pm

Cows watching KevinKevin’s expert computer eye spotted a cheap RyanAir flight to Edinburgh recently, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to visit our dear friends, Mike and Christina. We last saw Mike, Kevin’s godfather, and his Danish-born wife, Christina, in June at Henley, where they had urged us to come spend some time with them at their home in Scotland. We could only spare a long weekend but – hey – why not?

It was Kevin’s second and my first visit to Scotland, a[nother] country I have always wanted to see. We arrived in Edinburgh Friday night and took the two hour train ride to Stonehaven, just below Aberdeen on the east coast. Unfortunately, it was too dark to really see anything, but Mike picked us up at the station and drove us back to their beautiful cozy cottage and converted barn, and he and Christina fed us a hearty meal. When we woke Saturday morning, the view from our bedroom window was just what I imagined Scotland would look like. We were nestled in low rolling lime-green hills filled with heather and grazing cows and in the near distance we could see the North Sea. It was all sort of wild and wind-swept looking. Beautiful.

After a brisk walk through the surrounding countryside, we drove to Stonehaven where we visited our first pub and dined on fish and chips. From there, we visited a local castle, and then another pub. And thus the theme was set: we seemed to spend most of our time eating great food, drinking pints, checking out gorgeous scenery, and having a wonderful time just hanging our with our hosts. On Sunday, Christina, an expert horsewoman, even gave us riding lessons on her horse, Fred. Their menagerie also includes the hard-of-hearing but still frisky old pup, Sascha, and their black kitty, Nelson.

Monday, we took a very scenic day-time train back to Edinburgh where we had several hours to kill before catching our flight back to Marseilles. Edinburgh seems spectacular, but it will take another visit to really explore it well. Meanwhile, check out a few of our photos.

Thank you Mike and Christina for a wonderful visit. Much love,


Visit to Trento, Italy, and the Dolomites

August 11, 2008 6:11 pm

Lake GardaItaly … sigh. Last week, Kevin and I drove to Trento for a short stay. Trento is about 70 miles northwest of Venice, situated in a glacial valley surrounded by the extremely tall sheer foothills of the Alps known as the Dolomites. The town is beautiful, with well-preserved Renaissance buildings, piazzas, and loads of cafes, restaurants, and bars with al fresco seating. And, I am happy to report, it was not mobbed with tourists, even at the height of the European holiday season – August.

It is only a short drive from Trento to the surrounding Dolomites, but the architecture completely changes from Italian to Alpine. All the signs are in Italian and German. We learned that after WW1, the border in this region shifted from Austria to Italy. I have the impression that boundaries all around here have shifted enormously over time. But whichever country claims the region, it is very alpine in nature, with rough jagged peaks reached by a network of ski gondolas, and there are hiking trails galore. Thanks to our lack of reading prior to the trip, however, we were not well-prepared for what the mountains had to offer. Without our hiking boots, backpacks, and water bottles, we could not just wander off onto the trails. What a pity. We had to content ourselves with strolling along the shores of some of the numerous beautiful turquoise lakes. At one lake in the alpine village of Molveno, we watched a demonstration of rescue dogs saving “drowners”. The dogs were having the time of their lives.

Speaking of lakes, we drove home by way of Lake Garda. When we came around a bend overlooking the lake, the view was so beautiful it felt surreal. I realized from scrutinizing the map that legendary Lake Como is between us here in Provence and Trento. I have promised myself to return next month for a visit to Lake Como, as well as for lots of hiking in the Dolomites. I had no idea of the treasures lying in wait in northern Italy – so accessible from where we live in the south of France!

Oh, and one more thing. While eating breakfast at our hotel, I saw a man whom I thought looked remarkably like Michael Palin. When I realized it was him, I must’ve made quite a face. He looked right at me, reflecting my wide-eyed shock of recognition. It cracked me up! I went over to tell him how great I think he is and he was really wonderful. He told me that each of the many travel shows he does is followed by a book of photographs, and that all the printing has been done in Trento. He and his photographer were there this time to work on their next project – a “best of” book of photos from all the shows. He started doing travelogues in 1980. 28 years ago? Impossible …

I’ve put up just a few shots myself in Photos.


Outside Magazine Publishes Mike McRae’s Article on our Omo River Expedition & Photo of PV Naked!

April 12, 2008 7:55 pm

PV & MikeTravel writer Mike McRae’s long-awaited article on our month-long river-rafting adventure down Ethiopia’s Omo River in the autumn of 2006 has just been published in this month’s issue of Outside Magazine. The article is really a feature story on Pasquale Scaturro, aka “PV,” our intrepid adventure-travel friend who led us on this exhibition, as well as several others in Africa. Mike was one of our crew of 19, and all his note-taking and writing on the trip was certainly worth it: he has captured PV’s larger-than-life personality to a T.

But before I introduce you to the article, which also appears on-line, here’s an aside I’m dying to share. (We all want our 15 nano-seconds of fame, right?) By email today Mike said, “Outside held the piece over to run in its annual adventure travel issue, after a difficult birthing that required amputating several thousand words. But it’s a better read at a svelte 5,200 words than in its earlier, bloated incarnations.” Much of that “bloat” included descriptions of all our crew’s members. For Kevin’s and my enjoyment, though, Mike sent along the following bit of fat that ended up on the cutting room floor:

“The rest of us looked like boomers on an adventure holiday, as if we’d walked out of an Ex-Officio catalog. But Scaturro had chosen deliberately. Ruth, a defense lawyer with strawberry blonde hair and porcelain skin, looked as prim and delicate as Katherine Hepburn’s character in “The African Queen,” but Scaturro told me that she was as tough as Lady Florence Baker and a tireless worker in camp. Ruth’s English husband, Kevin, a brainy computer scientist, didn’t look the part of an intrepid explorer either, but he had been a communications and satellite-uplink specialist on expeditions around the world, including a difficult first descent of Ethiopia’s Tekeze River with Scaturro in 1996. The couple, who live in Provence, had summited Kilimanjaro with Scaturro as well. ‘When he phoned us at home to ask if we’d like to come on the Omo, we said yes immediately,’ said Ruth. ‘Every trip with Pasquale is an adventure of a lifetime.'” Wow! Ok, I admit “porcelain skin” is stretching it, but I accept the rest as supreme compliments. Thank you, Mike, and pah! to you, Outside Magazine.

Show me more… »

A Walk Around the Grounds of Hampton Court Palace

March 9, 2008 6:20 pm

Hampton Court Palace GroundsKevin and I just returned from a week in Merry Olde and Very Olde England. Kevin’s parents, Geoff and Jenni, are fortunate to live just a stone’s throw from Bushy Park, the second largest of the Royal Parks of London, and Hampton Court Palace, appropriated by Henry VIII from Cardinal Wolsey in around 1525.

I was very lucky to have several sunny, if not warm, days to stroll with Geoff and Jenni through Bushy Park, as well as the palace grounds. We arrived at the absolute peak of the daffodil bloom. We also walked across Molesey Bridge and watched a couple beautiful boats go through Molesey Lock. The scenery is so completely different from Provence, but so gorgeous in its own way. So veddy English! Check out the photos in Gallery.