I don’t want to start every blog with the words, ‘I apologise for taking so long to get this blog published’! But it seems it is the way things are heading.
I have found a way to get around this. Anna, my manager from the City store has suggested I start a separate instagram account for the blog, with daily photos of our adventures. Search for the grasseisalwaysgreener and you will be rewarded and sometimes inundated with places to visit and eat on our travels.
Life is busy. It still amazes me how you can move country and be even busier than you were at home. I am having less time to myself. The upside is everyday is an adventure. Some days they are ‘real’ adventures, travelling to another country. This can also mean driving just one hour east to Italy. Or trying to translate and communicate on what is considered a simple task back home. Like grocery shopping, or getting alterations. This one is even more amusing, conversing with Luc’s Headmistress who doesn’t speak English, yet is the Head of a Bilingual International school! Yes, life is constantly amusing and also a huge adventure.
Since the last time I wrote, there have been some rather large milestones in the ‘picture’ of our new life. Firstly we had visitors form Australia! And not just any visitors, but Luc’s Dad came to stay for a month. I also had two of my best friends arrive to go travelling with and also Anna who manages my Degraves St. store to see what I was up to!
I had the idea that having Tony and Anna at the same time was a genius plan so I could show them both the same things at once. And it worked a treat. Luc was still at school for another week, so we could move at our own leisure. Tony arrived first, and Luc and I were so excited leading up to it, we were almost going to burst! It was the first time I had taken time off from French school too, so I felt I could enjoy the summer I had always imagined.
I often describe our life here as our ‘bubble’. It’s our safe place, our happy place. Whatever we have left behind doesn’t reside there. It is almost our ‘living in the moment’ place. So you can imagine it was also quite nerve wracking that our little ‘bubble’ would be temporarily burst. Or do we expand it to fit everyone in? Do we even let them in? I have to admit, it played on my mind a lot. So I ran more, and made it to yoga more regularly. Old routines started to return. Buying foods that I knew we always ate as a family, looking after extra people. Thinking, ‘Tony would like that’, or ‘I must show Anna that’. So our little bubble grew to take them all in.
To my surprise it all worked out beautifully. To know that my little boy was with his Dad made my heart sing. I obviously carry a lot of guilt having him so far away from him, but having him here took all that away. I also really loved showing off my new ‘home’. Wow, I started to look at my existence here as more of a permanent one, that we belonged. That took me by surprise too. Everyone loved where we went. The markets at Ventimiglia, just over the Italian border on a Friday, Valbonne market, also on a Friday morning in the sweetest little town you have ever seen. Mougins, which is perched high on the hill, home to an amazing Museum of Classical Art, and many art galleries. The glitz of Cannes on the Croisette. The idyllic drive to Monaco along the coast through sensational towns full of Cliffside mansions. Stopping at the spectacular, lush and tranquil gardens of Villa Ephrussi Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat that I have written about in the last blog for the Rose expo en route. We all had lunch at my favourite seaside restaurant ‘Anjuna’ in Eze sur mer.
The wonderful Cannes Marché Forville on a Sunday morning, with it’s fresh pressed organic juices, the most amazing array of flowers, cheeses, olives, and the best part, local specialties! Socca, which is like a thin pizza base of ground chickpeas, salt and water. Zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes stuffed with rice and herbs or veal. Silver beet tarts, fried zucchini flowers. Rotisserie chickens with fresh ratatouille and those delicious small potatoes roasted in local olive oil and provençal herbs. I was in ‘being a local’ heaven. I realised how much of the Cotê D’Azur I had covered in the past four months before their arrival. I really had become a local!
None of them had ever visited the South of France before, so we travelled by ferry to the local islands of Lerin, and to the beach at St. Tropez. The market at St. Tropez is by far the best in the whole Provence region in my opinion for ‘quality’ market stalls. It is also the busiest in the peak season. Each night we arrived home late and exhausted. The routine was that everyone cools down in the pool whilst I set up for dinner. This we had on the balcony watching beautiful sunsets with bottles of Rosé. There were local terrines and rillettes and veggies from the garden. Angelique would make the ratatouille and we would BBQ ‘aussie’ style to accompany it. Lots of fresh salads filled with our bounty collected on our travels. This continued for two weeks, and then I went off travelling… sans enfant! Woohoo! I thought I wouldn’t know myself.
My travelling companion had a mighty ‘tight’ schedule to cover that involved a lot of driving. This I had been assured was more than ‘doable’.
First stop the Alsace. I love Alsacian whites and they didn’t disappoint. We stayed at the beautiful Chateau D’Isenbourg not far from the gorgeous medieval town of Colmar. A note about the town of Colmar. It will not disappoint, but it is like a lot of ‘old towns’ in Europe. Those surrounded by rather large new sections are difficult to find. We knew it was there somewhere. You can get only one block away, park the car and still wonder where they hid it. It’s like going down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. All of a sudden you turn a corner and BANG! Right before you is not only a magnificent town but also a rather large one with a Venetian style canal with Gondolas! From here we travelled to see Corbusier’s famous Ronchamp Chapel. You cannot imagine what it was like to have this built back in 1954 and by the Catholic Church. It is an outstanding piece of architecture. It is often noted that religions were so successful as their churches inspired and left people in awe. The Cathedrals play a huge part in winning the non converted through lands and time. Ronchamp is a clear example of this. The detail is exquisite both inside and out. It was in incredible condition too considering it attracts over 80,000 punters per year.
Next was a visit to the Vitra design museum. What an amazing place. So many different architects have designed the different buildings over time. But one of my favourite architects, Frank Gehry, also designed the Art gallery. Coupled with beautiful furniture, this was a fantastic day to be had. They had all their furniture; iconic chairs all lying around the summer wildflowers with a ‘cool’ Airstream caravan serving refreshments. Tony, Luc’s dad is in the modern furniture business, so it was great to visit where all the ‘magic’ happens.
We then spent the night in Basel. Basel is a very beautiful town and has the wonderful laneways and cafes, but lacks that ‘grit’ or energy that other cities have. The best part was an amazing vegan and organic restaurant that I discovered called Tibits (www.tibits.ch). Although we had eaten in a few Michelin star restaurants at night, I have to admit, that well cooked organic food makes my heart sing. I feel incredibly nourished, I know I sound like a complete hippy, but I love discovering places like this even more than the grandeur of a fine dining restaurant. Simple foods, where the ingredients are ‘king’ are always my favourites. If you are in Basel, do your tastebuds a favour! We then had a quick night back in Grasse to repack for Round 2 of our journey.
Italia! I am a huge fan of the American band ‘the National’, so this became the centre point of this leg, coupled with a trip to the Cinque Terre. It was also an excuse to drop into Pisa to see the Leaning tower after 20 years. It still amazed. And still people were taking photos pretending they were holding it up. It actually looked like a yoga pose they were all performing in unison! Pisa as a town doesn’t do it for me, but luckily Florence is just down the road, and I love it. What a beauty. Once again I was lucky to find a great organic restaurant for lunch. Once we found the one I wanted to go to it was unfortunately closed for the month. I was disappointed and hungry. Luckily walking along we discovered another organic restaurant just nearby. It was perfect! The ingredients so fresh! Plus for my friend it had beer, beer is good so I hear… The restaurant is called Simbiosi and makes incredible pizzas. (www.simbiosi.bio).
Next we travel to the gorgeous town of Pistoia to see The National play in the Piazza at the Blues Festival. To see your favourite band in such an intimate town square in Italy, is a dream come true. Drinking Campari, Italian beer and eating pizza with the sun setting…even better. We were on a high all night. The hotel that I booked was another highlight too. It was an old convent about 2km out of town. It is interesting with accommodation in Europe. What you pay is not necessarily good value of what you get. Then there is location, and my most important part, cleanliness. It needs to be clean. This convent was set on beautiful grounds with a huge pool overlooking the Tuscan hills. It was immaculate with a large acreage of garden filled with olive trees and pencil pines. And it wasn’t expensive. To be honest it was one of the last places left when I bought the tickets to the gig, so was more than pleasantly surprised and would definitely recommend it as a base to explore Tuscany in the hot weather. It is called Antico Convent if you are ever travelling through this region. (www.hotelconvento.it)
So, now to Cinque Terre! This is a lifelong dream. I have travelled the Amalfi Coast, but never quite made it here. It is everything and more. I had worried about travelling in the heat of summer, but it was perfect. It suits the area, as there are so many beautiful places to swim and relax. Plus warm nights are made for wandering laneways and taking Apero. Air Bnb has always been hit and miss. But this time it didn’t fail to disappoint. It wasn’t the most stylish accommodation, but the location was unbeatable! And it was super clean. Every review mentioned the same thing, the location is perfect, so do not hesitate to book. And they were right. We were in the town of Riomaggiore, the first of the five towns. Originally you could walk between all towns. But there are regular landslides and one rather large one in 2011 that took out the most popular track. But, you can still take the ‘high’ road. This took three and half hours in 35 degree heat, but I can well and truly recommend it. One of the highlights of Cinque Terre is not just the beautifully coloured buildings in each town, or the fact you can walk between them. It is the incredible vineyards plastered to the side of very steep hills. The path meanders throughout these vineyards, where they have a miniature rail like system to pick the fruit. You literally walk through the owner’s backyards and veggie gardens. Flowers abound at every turn. It is truly a fascinating experience. Mesmerising is probably a better way to describe it. The view captured our breath at every turn. It is as much a part of the experience of looking at the towns, and I would insist if you hadn’t been to Cinque Terre to make sure you set aside the time to do the hike. The area is also famous for it’s lemons; we bought everything ‘lemon’ home, soap, grappa wine, amaretti, chocolates and jellies. Each town had it’s own personality and character and also I am sure it’s attraction to different types of travellers. I loved Riomaggiore as a base, but would have been happy in any of them.Love, love, love Cinque terre, absolutely bellissimo!
This ended the second leg of my travels. I have to say I was starting to miss Luc at this time. You need to understand that I spend everyday with him, and we have only ever been a part once for two weeks. We then awoke to the news of the dreadful news of the truck killing so many innocent people on the Esplanade in Nice. It could have been us. The screen on my phone when I awoke was filled with messages, I instantly knew something terrible had happened. It was France’s National day and fireworks are used to celebrate in every town. Amongst the 84 people dead, ten were children. It was horrible. I had already spoken to the boys earlier to ask if they were going to the celebrations, but apparently Luc had hit the sack at 6pm after his travels with Tony, so I knew they were safe and sound. 10,000 more people turned out to the tribute a few days later than were there on that night, and there were thousands of bunches of flowers laid along the beach. How sad and senseless. Did it make me want to return back home? No, it didn’t. I believe we need to not take risks, but we also have to not live in fear. Luc was not affected by it. He had experienced the media effect of the attacks in Paris before we left Australia, and then when in Paris, realised life goes on. By the same token I cannot imagine the fear that went through each and every person there that night. I have friends who live in Nice now and I like everyone else contacted them straight away to make sure they were safe.
So ‘truck’ stop back in Grasse before the final leg in Provence and Spain.
Provence has many towns to it, and is part of the Var department. It is also rather large. We were very eager to photograph the Lavender, as a keen photographer it was on my wish list, a not negotiable part of this leg. All the best photos you see are in front of the Abbaye de Senanque. And you can see why when you get there. It is postcard perfect. Although we were about a week off the lavender being at it’s most ‘vibrant’, great photos could still be captured. I had wanted to buy a floral essential oil for a friend back home and had yet to choose one. This seemed the perfect place. They sold organic Lavender oil made from the lavender grown at the Abbey, perfect! I know she will love it even more! I also bought a lavender sachet for my Mum as she always talks about the lavender fields, and it was made more special from where we had been. We walked around the nearby town of Gordes after. What a stunning town! L’Occitane and other well-known international brands, started in this region in France. How beautiful to see their region of origin. It’s a wonderful piece of real estate. I did find a local organic restaurant, but they had finished lunch service. You have to be early to get a lunch booking as most restaurants stop serving at 2pm. The chef did give me his card so I can return in autumn. I will update you on it then!
Next on the map was Carcassonne, the world’s best medieval town. And yes, I have been to a lot of medieval towns. It is completely walled as they are. But what makes Carcassonne so special is that it has two ramparts. Imagine you infiltrate a wall of one metre thick stone, only to discover, another one! It is wonderful to visit, and being school holidays made it more exciting as they ran real live jousting sessions in the afternoon. The building is particularly impressive as are the various laneways. As a photographer the night provided many an opportunity for some great shots to be captured with wonderful lighting placed strategically to show off it’s beauty. The other highlight for us was staying on a barge. I have friends who regularly holiday the canals of Europe by barge. By chance we found an amazing one just out of Carcassonne. Now getting there was a bit of an adventure too. I sensed that the road the GPS gave getting off the main road was too narrow. I should have stopped and taken another route, but my companion who can be a bit of a cowboy, said ‘no, the road wouldn’t be on the GPS if we shouldn’t take it. We are by now crawling alongside a very rough track sandwiched between a vineyard and the canal. It is getting worse and I am worried about two things, the first is the undercarriage of my car is getting destroyed, and the barge is on the other side of the canal, if there is no bridge, which seemed highly unlikely, how would I turn around and get back out. Anyway, somehow after 2 km of this, there was a clearing onto an almost normal ‘track’ that thankfully had a bridge over the canal, we then turned out onto the road and to our right was a gorgeous restaurant, and there right before us was our barge. Boy, was she a beauty! I adored it, and will definitely look at staying here again. It is owned by a wonderful couple of which the husband was a fighter pilot with the French Air Force, he went from flying at mach 2 to 2 knots on a barge! There was memorabilia all through the barge, he was one hell of a pilot! The added bonus is you can have him take you out for joy flights too. No time this trip, but I do plan to return and include that with my stay. The restaurant we ate at on the banks of the canal had the most perfect simple menu, everything local, cold beer for my friend and organic wine for me. The sunset amongst the vines was magical and all was well with the world. My car had certainly done an amazing job getting us around. I could actually write a whole blog on the drivers of Italy, France and Spain. They can be so bad that you cannot believe there is not more road rage other than the fact you are travelling at 135kmh!
Anyway, if you visit one medieval town, make it Carcassonne!
Okay, so we finally venture over the border to Espagna! And two major highlights I had been looking forward to. I have mentioned before I am a huge Frank Gehry fan. The Guggenheim in Bilbao has been on my wish list for a long time. I had travelled to LA the year before to see The Walt Disney Concert Hall and Sydney to see the new business wing of UTS.What I didn’t realise in my research until last year is that he had also built a hotel in the Rioja region, just an hour away from Bilbao! Oh my, was I excited, I had looked forward to this since I arrived in France. Not only would I feast my eyes on the product of the pure genius of the man, I would actually sleep in one of his buildings! It did not fail to impress. No one is in his class, I am in awe of his work. If you can imagine, it had a huge ‘skin’ like a sheath over the main building, almost like the man himself was giving the hotel a hug, a ‘snug’ feeling. I have no idea what his actual intention was, but I felt well and truly ‘loved’ during my stay. The colours of the light reflecting of the titanium were all purples, pinks, gold and silver. This was to represent the colours of the vines, the gold wire and the silver cap they used on the wine bottles. I didn’t have time to indulge, but they have a spa there with all things wine. They recycle the stems, seeds, skins etc. for differing treatments. The French company Caudalie even make special products containing these ingredients. There is such as a thing as the ‘Gehry’ effect. It is claimed it put Bilbao on the map. This area of Rioja has had the same treatment. Unbeknown many other architectural gems were to be discovered. Some due to time restrictions will have to be seen on subsequent trips. One thing walking through the very small and sleepy town the next morning is seeing these old apartments, who now look straight at this magnificent masterpiece. I can’t help but think they can’t believe their luck. Do they say ‘wow, thanks Frank!’ or ‘Cheers mate, that’s not too shabby’! Who would have thought in the middle of Basque wine country in a tiny town, you would have a Gehry building 200 metres from your house!
And then there was the Guggenheim in Bilbao! Oh my lord! I have wanted to see this for years. The building is sensational. How does he do it? It consists of over 33,000 titanium panels, for it’s colour and shine this is apparently associated with the scales of the carp fish that Gehry played with when he was young. What most people don’t know is that the carp he played with was in his grandmother’s bath! She would buy one fresh every Thursday and keep it fresh in the bath for a day to make ‘gelfilte’ for Shabbat on Friday; he watched it swim around for hours. Apparently the Basque Administrations wanted something similar to our very own Sydney Opera House by Jorn Utzon. You can truly understand the ‘Gehry’ effect, not only in Bilbao, but also throughout the whole Basque region of Spain. I look forward to seeing the ‘Fish’ in Barcelona in a few months time.
I had shown Luc photos of the Floral ‘puppy by Jeff Koons standing at the entrance for years, what kid doesn’t love a Jeff Koons sculpture. It was in full bloom, and pardon the pun, but blooming’ beautiful! To appreciate it in all it’s splendour you really must make the journey. There is also ‘Tulips’ by Jeff Koons adorning the river entrance and an amazing sculpture of a spider called ‘Maman’, by Louise Bourgeois, this spider just happens to be almost ten metres high and ten metres wide.
Then there is the magic of the interior. Everywhere your eye is drawn to the magic that is ‘Gehry’, you are enclosed in his world. It is almost like you are the carp under water in your underwater world. About a third of the ground floor is dedicated to the ‘Grand Hall’, which contains an installation called ‘Snake’ by Richard Serra. It comprises of seven large sculptures of weathering steel 4 metres high and 31 metres long. It is love at first sight. It literally takes your breath away. But it doesn’t stop there, as you walk through it, the dimensions change and it is like being in some kind of sculptural time warp. You approach and appreciate it with child like wonder. You literally ‘snake around it, and although it is hard steel in a concrete floored room, you feel like a snake, slithering through tall grass.
So how to top off a day like that? There is nothing more sobering than driving 12 hours straight to get back to Grasse. Tony is flying out the next day and although it was offered for Luc to be looked after, I could not have not been there for both of them. I always knew it would be hard when Tony left, and our wonderful friends too. Luc and I had to close that little bubble tight around us. It was heavy hearts that we drove Tony to the airport. We would all miss having our little family together until Christmas.
There were still another 5 weeks of school holidays left, so thankfully it is summer here. A summer like no other. It goes on forever. The temperatures rarely change. It is around 30 degrees during the day and 20 degrees each evening. It is a 25 minutes to the beach for us, and we are lucky to have a beautiful pool that overlooks the Mediterranean and Cannes. It did take about a week of readjusting by keeping ourselves busy and refocusing on all the wonderful opportunities around us.
So stay tuned to hear of the rest of our plans for the summer break. We will write soon on the amazing trip we made to Hyères and the Port Cros National Park. We are off to Copenhagen, Sweden and Germany in the coming weeks. Just a note to other parents. Never hesitate in travelling with your children. It is the best experience in the world. Yes, it may not be perfect some of the time, but they add so much value, that it more than makes up for it. I love this kid beside me every step of the way, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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