Monday, July 14, 2008

Halfway Home (really long post)

I'm still plugging away on my Tour de Fleece spinning, but I have so much to catch up on that fibery things will have to wait for another post. We arrived back from France last night around 6PM, and I was really really happy at the prospect of spending more than two days in one place. It feels like I just crammed an entire European tour into nine days! Here's what our itinerary looked like:

Day 1 (Saturday): Leave Stuttgart around 6AM, drive to Genoa, Italy.
Day 2: Leave Genoa, eat lunch in Camogli, and drive to Nîmes, France.
Days 3, 4, and 5: Explore Nîmes and the surrounding area: Collioure, Carcassonne, Aigues-Mortes, and spend one day at the beach.
Day 6: Drive from Nîmes to Lyon, stopping at Pont du Gard along the way.
Day 7: Drive from Lyon to Dijon, stopping at Pérouges along the way.
Day 8: Explore Dijon.
Day 9: Drive from Dijon to Stuttgart, stopping in Strasbourg for lunch.

The driving was exciting on the first day, and I watched the countryside go by while knitting away on my honeybee stole. We had some interesting adventures involving the toll roads in Italy and France. The 30-euro highway pass we had to buy in Switzerland seemed a steep price at first, but I think it was much less stressful than trying to remember where one left the last ticket, trying to navigate to the correct booth where one can pay with cash or cards, or attempting to explain in the worst Italian ever that you have lost the ticket. Sheesh.

On out first night, in Genoa, we had THE BEST PESTO EVER. I swear. It was amazing. One of our traveling companions picked out a really fabulous restaurant. We had helpful waiters and waitresses who spoke very good English, explained the different pasta shapes, and recommended a very interesting and good bottle of local wine. Very delicious. We wandered around Genoa the following morning.

Genoa, Italy

Genoa, Italy

Italian Cat

We stopped in an amazingly charming town called Camogli for lunch. I use lunch in the loosest sense of the word, because although this was our second meal of the day, it included beer and dessert (Il Pinguino!) and ended around 5PM.

Camogli, Italy

Camogli, Italy

Il Pinguino!

We stayed with a pair of wonderful people in Nîmes, who kindly opened up their home and internets to us for four days and three nights. We wandered around Nîmes one day, swam in the Mediterranean (and got sunburned as described) the next day, and were treated to delicious French sausages with very spicy mustard and the herbes de provence (ubiquitous in grocery stores and gift shops of the region) for dinner that evening. On our last day we saw one of the highlights of the trip so far for me: Carcassonne. The old part of the town, called La Cité, is a huge (and I really mean HUGE) old French castle. People live inside the walls (!!!!) and you can walk around inside the castle walls, buying some slightly tacky touristy souvenirs, taking in the view of the surrounding countryside, or wandering the perimeter of the castle. I read that they filmed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves here, and although we saw more tour groups here than just about anywhere else, I loved it all the same.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

We actually saw Carcassonne in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds, and saw a little town called Collioure in the morning which was unbelievably amazing, and right on the ocean. The sea was the most incredible color, and at certain scenic viewpoints the town has a little frame-on-a-stand to help you get that postcard-perfect view.

Collioure

On our last day in Nîmes, we slept in a bit before hitting the road for Lyon, and stopped at the Pont du Gard, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman aqueducts.

Pont du Gard

It was a ridiculously hot day, so we didn't linger too long there, but instead went back to the air-conditioned refuge of the car. We arrived in Lyon in the early evening, and ventured out in search of dinner, armed with a few recommendations from out hosts in Nîmes. We ended up at Café des Fédérations, which is the sort of restaurant where they have a set menu, and allow you to pick your main course and beverages. Our waitress (again, so helpful) brought out our soup, and I knew I had to make a detailed record of our meal. I whipped out the camera and my notebook, asked the waitress to write down the name of our soup, and took notes for the rest of the evening. It was a fabulous meal, partly because I didn't have to make a decision any more complicated than whether I wanted poulet or beouf, and red wine or white. After dinner, we strolled along the river (La Saône).

Lyon by night

We did another morning in Lyon, taking in the city by way of art museums, coffee, and croissants. I made a special visit to the Maison des Canuts, a weaver's museum, where we had a very interesting tour and demonstration on an old Jaquard loom.

Jaquard Loom

Weaving Brocade

We spent another afternoon in the car driving to Dijon, the place where the mustard comes from. My allergies went CRAZY while we were here, and I didn't figure out it was probably from the mustard until Sunday afternoon. Dijon itself was adorable. There were owls all over the city, which I just loved. Dijon uses an owl (la chouette) as a symbol of the town because the cathedral in the center of town has a little owl carved into the side. You're supposed to touch it with your left hand for good luck.

La Chouette, Dijon

I splurged on food while in Dijon. I got some regional-specialty spice bread (pain d'épices), some crème de cassis so we can try to recreate the delicious aperitifs we had with dinner, some herbes de provence, and some little cookies. We pretty much spent all day Sunday driving, because there was some pretty nasty traffic between Strasbourg (right on the French-German border) and Stuttgart. I don't know if traveling by car was my favorite method, and I could have used another day or two in Lyon to explore more of the old city, but it was just about the best use of our week we could have managed, considering how little we planned in advance (as evidence of our lack of planning: our trip around France ended yesterday, and today is Bastille Day). The apartment in Stuttgart feels more like home than it ever did before, but we're both starting to miss San Francisco quite a bit. I never really considered it to be home, and I find myself missing the city, our neighborhood, and our little apartment more specifically than I expected.

4 comments:

Kim U said...

We stayed overnight once in Carcassone - it's such a great place if you can avoid the tourist crowds. Beautiful pictures!

Lakin Khan said...

welcome "home" ! you certainly had a fabulous time; I'm sure you're all ready for a few days in stasis. Now that is some Sundae (or...er...whatever) no wonder Ims is smiling! great photos. I love the framing device! I think that explains a lot about French film and literature...

Lakin

Corrina said...

Aw, that kitty in that one photo looks like Ricey! I miss you guys and am tres jalouse de votre vacance en France! Looks like you had a blast, and I agree: that sundae, chocolatey thing looks de-lish!

Knitsonya said...

Looks like it was an amazing trip and that ice cream creation! Wowsa!