The Basque Country of the western Pyrenees spans the border between France and Spain along the Atlantic coast. The French side of this multicultural region is known as Northern Basque Country whereas the Spanish side is known simply as Basque Country. The Basque region has developed its own language called 'Euskara', however French and Spainish are more commonly spoken in their respective countries these days. So there's a quick geography / history lesson for you.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
Today I'm going to start with Nice, our first stop and home base for a fantastic week on the beautiful Cote D'Azur!
After an epic day on the tarmac and rails (11hrs in total) we finally arrived in beautiful Nice! Both Stu and I were desperate to go for a swim after the miles and miles of tempting azur water that passed us by, however that would have to wait as we had to check into our apartment and meet the oldies and Danny!
It was so lovely to see my grandparents again (and you too Dan!) - I could see their beaming smiles from across the carpark! Once we were all settled into our shoe box (read: studio apartment) it was time to hit the town and few glasses of red wine and dinner (moules frite).
A short stroll from the apartment was the Promenade D'Anglaise which stretches down the entire beach front from the airport to the old port! There is always something to do and see on the Promenade so it was a daily fixture (as you will see in our photos). The beach in Nice is pebbly but the sea is a calm, azur blue - so a swim (or dip of the toes) is a must!
Our first day together we decided to explore Nice further on an open top bus. These tours are always a great way to explore a city if you only have a short time as they point out the main sights (it's also good for the oldies who don't walk far). Starting from the Promenade we cruised past the old port (best place for food) and up into the hills for a spectacular view over the city. From here we cruised back down into town, past the Matiz museum, Massina Square and the Russian church. Once we were off the bus we sought shelter from the blistering heat in a local cafe for some milkshakes and to watch England get smashed by the Germans in the World Cup (very sad).
Day 2 we headed to Monaco and Monte Carlo on the train (only 20 mins south) and again decided on an open top bus tour. We walked around the marina (past row after row of luxury super yachts) to the closest stop. 30 minutes later we were still waiting as every bus that drove past was full - something had to be going on! Ah a cruise ship had jus docked in town that's why! So we headed off to try our luck at another stop (pre cruise terminal) - success! After a lap of Monaco and Monte Carlo along the famous race track - we hopped off the bus to check out the Royal Family's Car Museum! This was a real treat for the boys as there were over 100 cars ranging from the Ford Model T, to the Ferrari Daytona and even the latest Mercedes concept car! From here we headed to the famous Monte Carlo Casino for a flit on the pokies (no winnings I'm afraid)! The casino really lived up to it's reputation with super cars lining it's forcourt - they were even filming a new film called "Monte Carlo" at the adjacent Hotel De Paris! Very flash! With two hours to spare before the train we headed up to the Exotic Gardens to check out the view over Monaco! By the time we got up there we decided to pass on the gardens - settling on a photo of Danny next to a cardboard cutout of the gardens (we named it Jewish Exotic Garden) and a tasty beverage in the terrace cafe! Perfect end to the day!
Day 3 we picked up a hire car and headed east towards St Tropez and Cannes. St Tropez is 130km and a million traffic jams away from Nice. Who'd have though such a popular place would only have one road in and out. When we finally arrived in St Tropez we opted for a drink at a local beach bar to check out the scenery. The beach here is completely different to Nice - while it has golden sand the sea is darker in colour - strange considering were not that far away. Anyway we continued our journey to the port and were again greeted by huge super yachts - they seem like quite the staple in the Med. The port is very quaint and very Italian looking (and rammed full of tourists - explains the traffic jam). We wandered around the port past the local artists and ice cream stands and climbed the sea wall for a better view. From here we headed back towards Nice via Cannes. I must admit we were a little disappointed with Cannes - while the beach is sandy like St Tropez the city is dirty and has a tacky 60s vibe about it. Not as glitzy and glamourous as you'd imagine. Either way it was still nice to see and obviously still as popular as ever.
Day 4 we were back in the car for a trip into the hinterland. My grandparents came to the Cote D'Azur 51 years ago on their honeymoon and had fond memories of a quaint artsy medieval town called St Paul de Vence. While it wasn't located on out map - Vence and St Paul were (2 seperate medieval towns). We first headed to Vence which turned out not to be the town we were looking for but was so pretty that we explored it's walled town anyway. From here we headed to St Paul via Col de Vence a craggy peak 950m above sea level with breath-taking views to the ocean. We finally reached St Paul, a hilltop walled town that hurrah is also known as St Paul de Vence. According to my grandparents the town hadn't changed much in 50 years (only the style of art) - the same restaurant they dined in was even still there over looking the local vineyard! Amazing! This town is definately a must see!
Day 5 and we were down to 4 after Danny headed back to work in London. Now car and driverless we decided to take the train to Grasse - a town famous for it's perfumeries. On our arrival we headed to Fragonard, the most famous of all perfumeries in the area and took their free tour. It was fascinating to learn how scents are extracted and perfumes created. Apparently becoming "a nose" (scent creator) is quite difficult and there are only a few "noses" in the world today (most in Grasse). We of course couldn't leave empty handed and each purchased a memento before further exploring the city. After checking out the small streets, local church and view point it was soon time to head back to Nice and to get the grandparents off to Rome.
Day 6 - the day of rest, sun, sea and sand. With everone gone and a jam packed week behind us, Stu and I settled for some English magazines and a day lazing on the sun loungers of the Opera Plague beach club. We finally got to swim in the azur waters of the French Rivera!
Location:Nice, Cote D'Azur
Sunday, July 4, 2010
After hours.....and hours on trains, on foot and even on a hydrofoil, we had left the hustle bustle, beggars and gypsies of Venice behind us and we had arrived in the lakeside village of Bellagio, located on the shores of Lake Como. The lake is shapes like a giant Y, and Bellagio sits on the peninsular that separates the two different “arms” of the lake, so the views from there in all directions are amazing!
After arriving pretty late in the afternoon on our first day, we checked into our hotel, checked out the amazing view from our window over the lake and up to the mountains, and then went for a bit of an explore around town, and sat down our hotels restaurant for what would be one of the best meals so far on our travels. It was funny because we were sitting at The Suisse Hotel, in Italy, eating French food, so I guess the EU is working!
There was something not quite right about this town, and we could not quite put our fingers on it! The following morning i had a revelation as to what it was about Bellagio that was a bit odd..... rangas..... everywhere.... daywalkers, nightwalkers, and even one unfortunate looking nightwalker that we saw down at the port who from the smell of him had wet himself..... not a pretty smell, and we never again saw him out in the daylight.
On the second day, we realised that if we were to get to Nice the following day we had to leave Bellagio on the 6am bus, catch a train from Como to Milan, and then another from Ventamiglia to Monaco, and then another into Nice, which was a full day of travelling, meaning we only had one day left to explore this amazing little villiage!
Team captain Natasha discovered a couple of walking tours, which guided us through the old streets of the town, and then over the peninsular through a few of the other communities which make up the area of Bellagio! The area is full of gigantic villas that for hundreds of years have been the holiday escapes for the rich and famous of Italy, at present, George Clooney, the guy that owns Guinness beer, and Richard Branson (among others) both have a villa located on the shores!
“Bellagio is a small community of about 26 communities, with 3000 residents, and one Australian – my wife” quoted our boat skipper as we took off from the shore to go and check out a few of the villages on the other side of the lake. He was a local who married an Australian woman and he was not short of jokes, some of them were nearly as funny as some of my jokes! When asked where he got the boat from, he convinced an American tourist that he got the boats from IKEA, much to our entertainment, however the Americans just didn’t get the joke, and must have now returned to America searching for IKEA the great boat builder! After a tour around the lake, we arrived at Villa Balbianello, which has been the set of many movies in its day, the most recent of which was the 007 movie, Casino Royale, in which this place plays host to Bond towards the end of the movie. This amazing Villa plays host to millions and millions of dollars worth of ancient art and was left to the Italian Heritage Trust by a wealthy explorer called Guido Monzano, who lived there until he died in the late 80’s. There is a room in the house which is set up as a memorial to his travels with gear he used to get to the summit of Everest, and the North Pole. He was also a bit of a freak, leaving many crazy demands to do with the maintenance of the property, including only cutting the entire garden using hand tools (to stop the noise of powertools), and also that twice a year the crushed white rock, which makes up all of the pathways and roads on the property, is to be raked up and washed so it remains white. These are probably a few of the reasons he died alone with millions of dollars and no wife or kids to leave the estate to!
On our return to the shores of Bellagio, we grabbed a quick French dinner...... at the Suisse Hotel.... in Italy, and called it a day, knowing we had to get up at 5 the next morning to make the 6am bus, and knowing the lack of organisation in the Italian public transport system, hoping that all of the busses and trains would line up and we would make it to Nice the following day!
Check out our Bellagio photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=445667&id=664955104&l=59ada72d9e or CLICK HERE
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Hello and welcome to the next instalment of ChickenStew’s Travel Recipes from Around the World. As some of you may know we’ve spent the past few days exploring Italy’s floating (or sinking) city; Venice. Regardless of the floating/sinking argument, Venice is and will always be beautiful as you imagine it to be. Stepping out of the train station we were greeted with a bustling waterfront. There were ferries, gondolas, water taxis, delivery barges and even canoes vying for a spot on the Grand Canal. It was very weird not to see streams of scooters, cars and bicycles roaring through as we had seen throughout so many of our Italian stops. Map in hand, we boarded a ferry bound for the famous Rialto Bridge and our hotel. Quickly glancing at the map in between my tourist gawks of the beautiful Grand Canal I decided that we had to climb over the Rialto Bridge to reach out hotel. Turns out I was wrong and after wandering aimlessly for a few minutes, we worked out that I had been reading the map back to front - durr. I would make a rubbish Scout. So we (well Stu) heaved our heavy suitcases back over the Rialto Bridge and in the right direction of our hotel. Turning down a tiny street we started hearing cheers and groans coming from a tiny pub. Turns out we have just stumbled right into the middle of the Italia-New Zealand game. Deciding then and there that we had to return to this pub to catch the end of the game (it’s always fun watching the Italian supporters) we hurriedly checked into the hotel and were back at the pub within minutes of the second half. Stu decided that this would be the one and only time he would support New Zealand in a sporting match (Stu: unless they ever play England!). Once the game was over we headed towards St Marks Square (San Marco) along the tiny back streets and over the canals. Arriving at the square we found it to be completely flooded – now where do we go? Oh well only one thing to do – take off our shoes, roll up our jeans and get wet. We splashed out way though the square towards the Doges Palace and towards higher ground. What fun – was just like being a child again! Anyway when we reaching the waterfront and strolling down towards the parks, we were amazed to see how many gondolas and cruise ships were in the lagoon. They were everywhere. We found a small restaurant for dinner and were surprised to be serenaded by not only the restaurant owner but one of the waitresses as well. How very Venice.
Day 2 we awoke to grey skies and occasional showers (not again!) so we decided that the day would be best spent exploring the streets and checking out the local museums. All in all we had another Lord of the Rings day (see Stu’s blog “How far did you walk today from 0 to Lord of the Rings”). We headed over the Academia Bridge towards the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (highly recommended by Jen as a must do in Venice). The museum was amazing and definitely worth the visit. I got an audio guide (a must do) which explained how the museum used to be Peggy’s home and how she came about to collect so many famous pieces. It also went on to describe many of the pieces within the museum – fascinating stories. One funny story which I have to share was that of the statue sitting proudly on Grand Canal terrace. The statue is of a naked figure sitting upright (in more ways than one) on top of a horse, worshipping the skies. According the audio guide, the sculptor made the figures “member” removable for when discretion was required. Peggy soon had the member welded on when people started stealing it. As such the “member” now stands proud, welded in place for all to see. From the Guggenheim museum we headed around the point (and the statue of the boy with his frog) towards to cruise terminal to check out the boats in port. From here we again got lost in the tiny streets until we found our way back to St Marks Square (flooded again) and the looming Queen Victoria parked alongside the boardwalk. Unfortunately we didn’t get to splash our way through the square this time as the fun police (Stu) didn’t want to get his feet wet. Finding another way around the flooded square we headed for a closer look of the Queen Victoria before grabbing dinner and heading back to the hotel and calling it a night.
Day 3 we awoke to bright blue sunny skies – hurrah! Deciding that today would be best spent cruising the waterways and lagoons of Venice, we purchased a 12 hour ferry pass and boarded Ferry (Line 1) for a cruise down the Grand Canal towards the island of Lido (and the beach). Arriving at Lido we strolled down the main street towards the beach. Lido is very much like Noosa in many ways, the pavements are wide and lined with trees, alfresco cafes and gelatarias. The way of life seems a lot slower here – it’s nice. Reaching the beach we kicked off our havianas and headed past the little beach huts and umbrellas to dip our toes in the ocean. From Lido we boarded another ferry back to the main island so that we could take another to the island of Murano – famous the world over for its glass. Whilst we managed to score amazing seats at the front of the boat, poor Stu was unlucky enough to sit down wind from an Eastern European gentleman who had the worst case of BO we had ever encountered. Poor Stu didn’t get to enjoy the scenery at all, having to look back at Lido Island the entire trip to the main island. Luckily we were spared the company of our new friends on the second ferry and were able to kick back and enjoy the passing scenery as we circumnavigated the main island enroute to Murano. Stu would like me to add here that we passed the cemetery island where rumour has it the Venetians are just dying to get to. Ha ha ha... hmmm. While we were in Murano we strolled the main street checking out all of the amazing glass wares and were even lucky enough to watch a glass blowing demonstration – very cool. From Murano we headed back to St Marks Square to enjoy the live music streaming from the restaurants within the square. I even managed to con a local pigeon to fly onto my arm for a photo op. Stu thinks that this pigeon will come back to get me when I least expect it. I hope not, then again I heard that being pooed on is considered a sign of good luck? Still gross.
Day 4, another bright sunny day in the floating city. Having seen most of Venice over the past two day, we decided to once again get lost in the small maze of streets that is the city and see what we could find. Heading over the Rialto Bridge we wandered through the local markets; stand after stand of colourful, fresh fruit and veg. There was also a fish market where we saw two huge whole tunas as well as numerous different kinds of shellfish. Stu recognised a langoustine (shrimp like crustacean with claws) whose shell he had battled during one dinner in Prague. From here we kept walking (more Lord of the Rings) until it was time to settle down to watch England vs. Slovenia with a huge cocktail at Hard Rock Cafe. One yummy pina colada down, we soon realised that they were only showing the USA vs. Algeria and hurried to our local to watch the game. While at the pub we met a lovely Australian couple from Melbourne who had been in Italy for the past 7 weeks. Getting onto the topic of Italian shoes and then somehow on to Oliver Footwear, we soon discovered that this couple owned Aquila and knew Stu’s old boss. Small world huh? They also introduced us to an Australian drink called “Black and Tan” (must be a Melbournian thing because we had never heard of it) – ½ lager, ½ Guinness. Sounds disgusting but it was actually quite nice. Anyway a few hours later, England and the US had both gotten through to the next stage and after a quick dinner, we were back in the pub to watch Australia thrash Serbia. Turned out to be quite the football afternoon.
Well that was how we spent our time in Venice. As I write this blog we are now sitting on a Eurostar City train bound for Milan where we have to catch our next train to Lake Como and the beautiful lakeside town of Bellagio. Only two more days in Italy before we hit France. Ok time for me to sign off and enjoy the passing scenery. Ciao for now.
To view photos of Venice CLICK HERE or visit http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=445619&id=664955104&l=7fb8f00d9a