April 26 – May 7th Venice by way of the French Riviera 

Our container finally arrived – two weeks late and a day before our vacation to Venice by way of the French Riviera (Cote d’Azure).  

The driver showed up an hour early!  The rest of the team arrived soon after.  

Though we had permission from the mayor (Marie) to block the road, we didn’t take into consideration the school bus so needed to do some maneuvering. Fortunately none of the farm tractors came our way so they must have gotten the message.  

The French movers were a delight and they managed to correct my pronunciation as I directed them where the boxes needed to go.  It was great practice!  The gite is now a storage unit while the house has become a healthy repository of boxes we will be madly sorting through when we get back. 

We realized we couldn’t get much of the furniture up the spiral staircase – but voila! The ladder had arrived and Bob, and with the assistance of our courageous peeps, were able to haul some of the pieces through the window of the pigeonnier.

You have to do what you have to do!

All went well, and we were pretty depleted by the end of the day; after taking a break and offering whiskey and pizza to the team our last mission was to find the feet to the sofa – I really wanted to flop on my dear friend in front of the TV.  Luckily, we found the “tool box” the movers had left –  thank god!!!  We both sighed a collective ahh as Bob leaned back in his recliner and I sunk into the sofa.  OMG – is this for real? 

I poured myself a healthy dose of Suntori Toki Whiskey that I found in Perigueux (my favorite, yes!!!), and zoned out – bliss.  

Thankfully the movers got our dresser through the downstairs master bedroom window as it wouldn’t fit through the door – and then they assembled our bed😴.  I love this bedroom set and you don’t find this style much here in France.  It was amazing sleeping in our own bed and the mattress was a slice of heaven; the mattresses here are hard and I think it has caused me more aches and pains than I normally have (aging doesn’t help of course) 

The next morning we managed to get a few things unboxed, and the house tidied and in some semblance of order before we left for vacation.  

In a way I wish I was still there going through our stuff, yet with all our transition challenges and prepping for the arrival of our container I’m glad for the break; we will be away from our chores and distractions and we truly needed a respite from the transition fatigue. We are coming to the tail-end of chaos and heck, it isn’t like our stuff is going anywhere!!

Fortunately we had packed most of our travel luggage for vacation prior to the container arriving so we had to just throw a few items at the last minute and then toodled off to Perpignan near the Mediterranean coast.  And…it was also my birthday!!  My sister-in-law called from the UK and later my brother and sister-in-law in Seattle the following morning – such is our life overseas.  

We didn’t do any real touring in Perpignan as we were too tired but we got a good look at Carcassonne and the “King’s Landing” cathedral ……we will be back as it’s only a few hours away and deserves closer inspection.  

On our way to Nice we meandered along the Med and stopped in La Ciotat just north of Marseilles, and had a fabulous meal on the beach; I wound up having a hamburger and fries as I hadn’t had one forever and it was really good.  It felt like “homey” food. The weather was in the 60’s which was perfect for just relaxing.  

We got to our hotel in Nice with a view of the ocean. 

Palm trees are always a good idea

After getting settled in we went for a stroll along the promenade to the huge shopping center that boasts most of the major designers and smattering of unique and familiar shops.  I made a stop to the Body Shop and got myself some eau de cologne and bubble bath – it was time for some self care! 

The landscape here reminds me a lot of California but the water is definitely bluer – hence the name Cote d’Azure.  I can see why it would be a hotspot.  

We were several miles from the center of Old Nice, so we caught an Uber (yes they operate here!) and headed to the downtown hotspots, the first stop was the flower market that did not disappoint.

Flowers galore….

There is also a smattering of unique shops with a conscious restraint from the kitsch – minimal casinos (there is a Hard Rock Cafe)  and the tacky souvenir stores are kept to a minimum.  The architecture is spectacular with beautiful fronts along the Promenade de Anglais, a mix of Parisian, art nouveau and the historic blue and white striped umbrellas on the beach.  

Nice at its quintessential best – right before the hoards arrive

We hiked up to the gardens and cemetery for a view of the city and listened to the noon bells as they permeated the air.  

The crowds were pretty thick and it was even high season, but we managed to squeeze in a nice lunch and finish promenading along the waterfront.  

We loved Nice but like other popular destinations, it definitely gets crowded.  The area around our hotel, which is more off the beaten track, was much quieter.

We headed out the next day to Verona, we had already dodged Cannes as the film festival was in full swing and was-to-be-avoided and headed towards Monaco – the land of the mega-rich.  The landscape became dramatic, I mean up there with Zion and the Columbia Gorge.  We passed by Menton and its “King’s Landing” cathedral overlooking the Med, stopped to pay our dues at the interminable toll stations and motored through to Italy and yes, another language.  My mind thought it was going to explode as France was now my “new familiar.”  It seemed odd to think of it that way!  

Rest stop in Italy – supersized wine!!

The landscape was no less dramatic but this time there were green houses hanging from precipices and of course vineyards scaling impossible escarpments. We switched the radio to the Italian stations with their lively commentary.  Then we passed a sign for the 45th parallel; we were miles away but on the same line as Oregon wine country. 

We soon found ourselves in an agricultural area much like where we now live, with the  Alps poking out from the North.  There were rolling hills of vast fields with their churches enthroned atop the occasional villages and…then there were castles.  I guess it wouldn’t be Europe without castles!  

We passed by ruins – barns entwined by vegetation, in the middle of a perfectly manicured fields of barley. Besides the few RV’s we passed we suspected we were on a road not normally touristed, and like our adventure in the RV it was lovely to get the backroads perspective of this part of the country. 

We arrived at the Crown Plaza in Verona, and set out the next day to navigate the old streets known for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  We were once again blessed with good parking karma as we found an obscure garage near the center😍

The arena, akin to the coliseum in Rome, with its ruinous facade just as equally captivating, was also a popular venue for famous operas and singers; sadly Peter Gabriel was to perform on the 20th of May!  We vowed to come back to experience either a concert or opera.  

Just a few tourists….

The city, like so many others, is the usual retail mecca of big box stores. We pushed our way through the throngs of foreigners like us and found a quiet corner with a fabulous view of a nearby cathedral.  The coffee in France and Italy is so good it will be difficult to go back to Starbucks – not that there is much in the offing in this area of Europe anyway☕️

Why I can never go back to Starbucks

We passed over the Ponte Pietra that was first constructed in 100 BCE and hiked up to Castel San Pietro.  After taking in the sights and sounds, and also working up an appetite, we decided to grab lunch on the way back down at Re Teodorico with its incredible views of classical ancient terraces and structures that define Italy like no other country, such as the spires of cypresses that offset the homes and villas.  

Poor resolution of a great view gave the image a painterly affect!

On our way back we wondered if was even worth trying to find “Juliette’s Balcony,” made famous by Shakespeare’s play.  It’s not really something that existed except in someone’s imagination and was built specifically to tease up more tourism.  As we approached the site, we were met with wall to wall bodies lined up to get their chance to view the “famous” balcony –  we both decided to pass on the opportunity.  I don’t typically need bragging rites on where I’ve visited anyway; I prefer to journal my experiences and share them with those who are interested. 

The next day, on our way out of Verona we stopped by Soave (yes, you guessed it, the famous wine region)  with its castle and vineyards; we picked up some wine for drinking in France since you mostly get only French wine in the shops 🧐.  We stopped in for a simple lunch and then headed for our next stop – staying at a villa complete with a vineyard and not far from Venice.

Soave, Italy

Bob had been recovering from a sinus infection that I apparently had acquired and I was feeling pretty wicked by the time we reached the villa – Castello de Roncade; I was concerned I would have trouble visiting Venice which has always been on my bucket list.  Luckily, after a good night’s sleep I was feeling better and we set out to navigate one of the most popular venues in Europe. 

I was a baroness for a fleeting moment

Our private garden

A rain front was coming through and we had planned a dinner at the upscale Danieli Terrazza Restaurant and had to figure out how to get dressed for a formal dinner after touring Venice in the rain🫣, but not to be daunted we carried an extra bag of clothes (wrinkle free!).  

The weather certainly didn’t seem to deter of the tourists too much, and we pushed our way through the narrow alleys and crowded bridges, the chaos supplanted by a vast array of umbrellas.  

When we finally arrived at the famous Piazza San Marco, the crowds had appeared to thin out so we took a time out for some tea that turned out to be 15 Euros a cup!!!   I guess because you can sit and enjoy the view while listening to the live band play popular movie themes.  

After I cleaned up in the hotel bathroom (a rather posh one as well) we had a lovely dinner; we were a bit disappointed that it was raining as we had hoped to sit on the terrace and watch the world go by – but no complaints, we enjoyed a fabulous meal that topped off our culinary experiences in Italy.  

We took a “water bus” back to the Pizzale Roma where the parking structure is.  Note that it is pretty simple to drive into Venice, park your car and walk into the city.  Or you can catch one of the many water buses or taxis at the dock.  The water bus takes longer but is much less expensive than taking the cool looking taxis that zoom along the canal – like those in James Bond movies. 

The water bus proved to be a revelation as we were able to see the city at night which is quite something.  You could spend days wandering around, experiencing the many hidden gems that Venice has to offer.  

The next day proved to be clear and we set out to do some shopping and also had booked a tour of the basilica and the doge’s palace.  

As we wanted to do a gondola ride (really, as touristy as it sounds it’s a great way to get a different perspective on Venice) and snagged one just off one of the canals.  They were being scooped up fast so we were glad to get one and opted for a longer ride through the back “alleys” then onto the grand canal. 

The idea of Venice is simply mesmerizing when you think of it being an ancient trading hub, and how the buildings were constructed around the concept of water.  There is a conglomeration of cultures here, a melding of Roman, middle eastern and african cultures, like an exotic spice that can’t be categorized so easily.  Venice’s cultural influences are as intricate as the filigreed facades and walkways that terminate at the water’s edge.  

Our gondolier told us that up until the bridges were built, the only way Venetians could reach their homes were by boat.  Floating by the houses we saw doors to what could only be a “water garage” – many had decayed at the bottom; there was probably no reason to replace them at this point.  

After we departed from our excursion, we headed to our tour of the basilica.  St. Mark’s Basilica is as incredible on the interior as it is on the exterior with gold mosaics reflecting a warming glow in a heavenly manner – as I suspect was intended.  The terracing of different levels is something out of a dream and to imagine the engineers who masterminded all this centuries ago is simply mind boggling.  This could have been just another European cathedral; after a while one looks much the same as the others.  But no, this is in a class all by itself; a fitting reflection of what makes Venice so unique.  

As we wound through the different levels we came to the bronze horses that were no less mystifying when you consider their scale and age.  

We finished the tour at the doge’s palace which proved to be exceptionally ornate, but not as fascinating as the basilica.  

Now that we were done with our tour, we decided to visit La Commedia where authentic Venetian masks are made…and of course picked one up.  You have to be careful as there are plenty of shops who will gladly sell you cheap knockoffs made in China.  The one we purchased is made out of paper mache with a lovely crown of feathers.  I also managed to grab a Murano glass bead necklace and bracelet.  These purchases weren’t overly expensive and came with certificates of authenticity and will be welcome reminders of the beauty and uniqueness of Venice. 

We finished the night at a restaurant recommended by Stanley Tucci’s – Searching for Italy called Osteria AI 4 Feri Stoti tucked away by one of the canals; a lovely setting to round out the day.  We had the ubiquitous Aperol Spritzer which is quite good; mixed with prosecco and sparkling water it makes for a lovely warm weather cocktail.  It is quite popular here and seeing so many folks drinking it we thought we would give it a try. We of course wound up buying a bottle of Aperol.  

The next morning we bid farewell to our stately villa and its lovely grounds, and headed out to Milan – the final stop on our tour.  

You can view our tour of Venice here:

Visual Tour of Venice

On the way to Milan we decided to visit Padua for lunch.  While not a city many would consider visiting, it turned out to have some pretty impressive cathedrals and canals.  The weather was lovely and we stopped for lunch with a fantastic view and then headed for our hotel in Milan.

Padua and really cool looking cathedrals we were able to stare at during lunch

There is a certain level of madness that comes with Italian cities such as Milan; we drove through the maze of cars and too many scooters and motorcycles until we reached the cathedral or Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Nativity of Saint Mary.  Yet another impressive structure but we decided not to enter as we hadn’t thought through booking ahead.  

Stunning cathedral with really long name in Milan

We strolled through the famous Galleria Victtorio Emanuele II, the super elegant shopping center with stores out of my price range; Gucci, Chanel what have you, they are there as installations as well as being stores. 

Coolest shopping center in the universe

Being a fashion capital Milan cannot be outdone along with tour buses galore with many visiting from Korea or Japan, their passengers dressed vogue-style. After wading through the crowds,  we shuffled off to a quiet bistro for lunch – out of the noise and constant stream of cigarettes and vaping which wasn’t doing my sinuses any favors. I was starting to feel pretty ragged and wound up spending the rest of the afternoon napping at the hotel.  

We headed out the next day for the first stage of our trip back to France via Mont Blanc and its famous tunnel that connects Italy to France. The alps and their chalets were post-card perfect, complete with alpine meadows.  The arid, clear air was a welcome relief and the landscape stimulating.  You can view the video here:

Visual tour of Mont Blanc

Arrivederci Italy!! Until next time.