Around SE France (2015)

Here we are having our twice-daily cappucino at Dolcidea, the local bar. The Vespa odometer said 13,370 kilometers at the start of the summer, 17,627 at the end. (That's 4,257 kilometers or 2645 miles - enough to get from Boston to Phoenix.)

Wheeler gave me some great advice today: be less ambitious (and just do the quickest kind of summary of your trip possible). So this is the first try.

We left the villa at a comfortable 10:30am (having done no packing the day before; we’ve really got this down!). Were comfortably in Livorno for our 2:15p ferry to Corsica and were delighted to see the quality of the ferry. Here’s the dining room where we spent the afternoon:

In Bastia, Corsica, we had to get off the boat and get in line to get back on the same boat for the overnight trip to Toulon. When we bought our tickets, we were very sorry to learn that there were no cabins left. Well, that’s why I travel with Deb: she got us one from the ferry receptionist (nice job; nice cabin):

We were up at 5:00a and off the ferry at 6:30a giving us a real jump on the day! We wandered slowly towards Aix and stopped for lunch at a promising roadside place with many cars in the lot at 12:15p (always a good sign). Lovely outdoor dining:

Deb wanted the salmon tartare with “pommes Granny” and salad with shavings of foie gras (I had the pied de cochon and veal chop; not really: we each eat half of everything ordered):

We’re now at a hotel on the outskirts of Aix having had our feet up all afternoon. Now it’s time to take a ride through Aix and stop to buy some grapefruit juice for breakfast!

B and Deb

We had a really slow day. I spent the morning reading the Supreme Court opinions in the same-sex marriage case and we managed to push off at noon. We toodled north on a typically good national road (two lanes but wide ones with good shoulders and smooth pavement — really counts on the Vespa!).

We realized that we were in shouting distance of a small town, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, that we very much admired while riding through two years ago so, although it would be a short day (too bad!), we decided that’s where we would stay. A visit to the tourist office was wildly successful (the best service we’ve ever had): after five calls the office had found us a chambre d’hôte which was not booked and then made two reservations for us at the two best restaurants in town (the one-star Michelin place for Sunday lunch tomorrow).

Here’s Deb with her kir before dinner:

And the smoked duck breast on onion jam (absolutely marvelous):

The pea soup with creme fraiche topping:

The guinea hen breast:

And the view out our window at home:

We’re in Le Thor, a lovely little town 5km from Isle, old farmhouse run by a trumpeter and his charming wife, with a pool (probably mostly for their three children).

Here’s a view of the olive seller in Isle:

A demain!

B and Deb

[Deb here:] We went to the Sunday morning market, where we purchased ripe strawberries, a melon, cheese, sausage, and radishes for a late night supper, since we had a reservation for Sunday lunch at Le Vivier, a well-regarded restaurant in the this very touristic town, which is actually an island in the middle of the river.

The table overlooking the river with natural waterfalls could not have been better!

A bloc of foie gras with a slice of smoked eel in the center with various accompaniments including an apple cinnamon compote and gelees.

As the lamb was being served, the small pitcher of sauce was set down in front of B by the waiter, who promptly knocked it over; we sat in shock as the sauce poured over his slacks! Horreur!

We enjoyed the strawberries and the cheeses this evening with our bottle of Bandol rose.

The denouement for the slacks was that they were washed by hand when we got home and they took about 20 seconds to dry in the sun! We’re looking forward to a more rigorous day tomorrow but we’re still committed to the principle of “slow travel.”

B and Deb

Indeed, a more rigorous day but not exactly for the reasons we expected. Although we travelled about 140km, a long day for us, it was divided by morning coffee at a cafe overlooking the amphitheater in Orange and a two-and-a-half hour lunch in a tiny town, Pierrelatte, just off the N7. We took a tour of the town and discussed (OK, argued, as usual) about whether to ask someone about the best restaurant in town. Not having reached agreement, we went down a small side street and came upon a small restaurant with a 13 euro menu. The proprietor came out immediately to discuss where we were from, etc., and urged us to a table. We were told to choose anything on the menu for entree, plat and dessert. So we had our first escargots:

and a lovely camembert au four:

Deb was thrilled to have her first mousse au chocolat:

We paid the price in two ways. First we discovered (quite logically, given the quantities of food) that we were ordering off the 25 euro menu. Second, we promised one another that this would be the last of the much-too-much meals.

With heavy stomaches, even after a long rest following the meal, we went on to Valence where the tourist office fixed us up with a chambre d’hôte which to our great surprise must have been decorated by a 12-year-old daughter:

Tomorrow, we had hoped to lunch at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant south of Vienne, a place we’d driven by repeatedly over the years (because we’d opted to eat at the much older La Pyramide). Our research, however, suggests that we’re too late. Will report tomorrow.

B and Deb

Well, we were so relaxed today that we forgot to take a picture of our lunch, a highlight in a small, well-equipped kebab shop in a small town on the Rhone. We got off about 11:40a from our Arabian Nights room and decided to leave N7 for the smaller departmental roads which parallel the Rhone. Wonderful scenery and not much traffic. Our bane is the new prevalence of speed bumps: every small hamlet seems to declare its importance by placing large speed bumps in the road as it passes through. When they’re marked they’re just a damn nuisance but they’re not always marked! We’re having a serious heat-wave: temperatures in the high 90s and predicted at 102 for the coming days! When we got just short of Lyon, we were spent and pulled into a large Campanile hotel (similar to a Holiday Inn Express) which to our chagrin was booked. While we stood in the glorious air conditioned reception area, they directed us to a sister hotel to the west of Lyon which had a room which they could reserve for us. (One can get used to air conditioning very easily when it’s 97 outside.) Our room was identical to every other Campanile room we’ve ever been in: well-designed, modern and clean.

We did push the envelope by asking them to put a LOT of stuff in their refrigerator (and the beer, please, in the freezer!). Just as we got our picnic stuff unpacked (we had been in a large Carrefour and I had found my favorite medallions of fois gras) two busloads of Chinese descended. Happily, Deb remembered how to say “Hello” in Chinese so we had fun greeting them. Here we are set up for dinner.

B and Deb

Well, sometimes in order not to be carrying too much food, one has to have fois gras for breakfast. We decided to leave our luggage at the hotel while taking a quick trip into Lyon to go to what used to be the main covered market of Lyon, our favorite place in town. As it happens, the powers that be have turned it into a high-end food mall which is pleasant but not what we remember. Our favorite cheesemonger, Madame Richard, who is famous throughout France for her Saint Marcellin, is still there and of course we purchased two for dinner:

Then, because Lyon (and this Les Halles) is the oyster capital of France (as unlikely as that may seem), we had to stop for some oysters (even though very out-of-season). We were delighted with them nonetheless:

We drive slowly on the departmental road towards Macon and about 4pm stopped for coffee in a very small village which was clearly quite prosperous. Sitting across from a wonderful church, we said to ourselves: “Let’s stop here!” So we got out the iPad and in 5 minutes had booked a chambre d’hôte to end all chambre d'hotes. All 9 reviews on were the highest 10 rating so although the tariff was 100 euros, we decided to give it a shot. The result was unbelievable! A large country house completely refurbished with modern amenities but in a traditional style by a Belgian couple (she owns an clothing shop)::

Deb resists when I insist that she pack her bathing suit but perhaps the swim in the pool will be lesson enough:

Dinner of Saint Marcellin and the salamis we bought in Isle:

Given the splendor of the place, breakfast was not a disappointment: fresh orange juice, four kinds of fresh fruit, pastries galore:

Although we wanted to stay, they were fully booked for the next few days. We still felt that Lady Luck had delivered. Our morning was spent writing (and dealing with the good news that new tenants had been found for the first floor on Centre St.

B and Deb

We had a super-short day today, in part because we wanted to have lunch at Auberge du Cep in Fleurie, just a few kilometers from last night’s country house. So we made a reservation at a Campanile which was offering rooms for 55 euros (half of the cost of the previous Campanile which was 3 star government rating). We checked in at noon, dumped our bags, got into our “fancy dining” clothes (Deb into a new white linen dress we found in Isle) and high-tailed it back to Fleurie. We found the restaurant in its usual place (we’d eaten there twice before) but the door was locked and chained. No notice to explain the situation. So we had to punt, which meant stopping at the “Buffalo Bill Grill” next to our hotel for a look at a French imitation of high-end American fast food. Actually quite good and very popular among the French. We split a cheeseburger (of course, they had to go out of their way to get cheddar cheese!) and fries washed down by a carafe of local rose wine.

Since it was getting pretty hot (here’s the weather forecast for Macon):

we decided that it was a perfect time to visit the (air-conditioned) Carrefour hypermarket 800 meters from the hotel. For the first time, Deb had no complaints about my wanting to look at everything! We bought some goose rillettes and lots of cheese, including a new packaging of Epoisses in a half-round. Dinner in our air-conditioned room:

For Wheeler!

If I were a young entrepreneur, I’d start a chain of small highway hotels with exactly the design of ours; just outstanding and, at 55 euros, barely believable:

We are off tomorrow to Cluny to see the abbey; we’re booked into a 14th century chateau with rather uninhibited decor. More tomorrow!

B and Deb

What a day! We often say to ourselves “Never a dull moment” but today we had the least dull moment so far. We left the Campanile after washing my T shirt and headed towards Cluny. After a while we stopped for coffee and discovered that tonight’s Chateau could be reached more directly by turning immediately west into the countryside. About eight kilometers later we realized that we had meant to get gas on the main road since we were very low. We kept going hoping that we would run into a very remote gas station but of course we just went through a lovely forest and through even prettier fields with not a building in sight. Finally, we reached the chateau but no one was home. We went on to the small village just beyond and inquired about gas. We were told to take two lefts and go about 5 km. When we reached the larger village with a small gas pump the sign on it said “Hors de service”! Happily the repairman was also there and said that perhaps in an hour it would be working again. So we lounged around and after one hour indeed the pump was back in order. Filled with gas we left with enormous relief. We saw our first tourist sight of the trip, the Abbaye of Cluny, which we thought we’d seen before (but had not). It was the most important church in France in the 13th century, had many hard times thereafter and, after the revolution, was sold as national property and dismantled until by 1825 only 8% remained. They’ve done a nice job fixing up the remains and we enjoyed it.

Returning to the chateau, we encountered some cows on the way home to be milked:

The chateau was the real deal! Now lived in by an international couple, we were met by Christine who teaches Chinese at a secondary school in Macon. The sole accommodation was a collection of her Chinese furniture.

Christine hosted us for an aperitif before suggesting that we go to the local restaurant, reopened four months ago by an ambitious chef. The escargots were pretty but extremely bland.

Better was the roulade of rabbit:

The piece de resistance was a lime souffle for dessert; it was so good that we determined on the spot to make it one of our specialities:

We had breakfast on this cosy terrace next to the moat:

We have a lunch reservation at one of our favorite restaurants in Beaune so we shouldn’t dally!

B and Deb

After our breakfast next to the moat, we packed up and left much later (10:40a) than planned; we had a 1p reservation at Le Jardin des Remparts, one of Beaune’s best restaurants and one we’d enjoyed twice before. We hightailed the 90 km to Beaune in just over two hours (with coffee break, of course) and arrived in time to change into our dinner clothes (in the street outside the restaurant!). The jardin is in the front yard of the old manor house embedded in the ramparts and although the temperature was in the high-90s, we were in the shade. (We did consume, in addition to our bottle of Bourgogne Chardonnay, three whole liters of San Pellegrino.)

One fond memory was the extremely flavorful popcorn we were served six years ago as an amuse bouche. The waitress has no idea what we were talking about! Perhaps the same chef is responsible for the asparagus mousse on gelee of consomme *with potato chips*.

The cheese course was particularly fine and memorable:

Rather tired after lunch, we rode to Meursault, a picture-perfect wine town, to look for accommodations — we’d decided we needed some rest days so booked into this somewhat eclectic hotel down the road in Chagny. I took this picture so you could see the three rows of grapevines in the front yard:

Room just average but large enough for three days:

We needed no dinner but managed to get our Carrefour-purchased beer and wine into the hotel’s freezer long enough to be really refreshing.

B and Deb

Our first rest day in a while, so we slept late, went to the very large outdoor market which took over all the streets of the town, bought some strawberries for lunch, and ate them without remembering to take a picture until almost too late:

Of course it was very hot and we looked forward to swimming in the municipal pool. When we found it, bought our tickets, changed clothes, and emerged into the pool area, a lifeguard rushed toward me exclaiming “non, non, c’est interdit!” pointing to my swimming trunks. Apparently, as I was told, trunks which do not bind around the legs are prohibited in every pool in France; I needed a “slip de bain” and could not use “shorts de bain.” Let’s just say that Deb had a nice swim in what I’m sure was very refreshing cool water. We were looking forward to our dinner at Pierre & Jean, the spinoff from the three Michelin-starred restaurant in the local hotel. (This is not a large town but it has a fishmonger with a tank containing live Brittany lobsters, and seems very prosperous.) Although we could have eaten outside in their very nice garden, we opted for the air conditioned dining room.

We were delighted with the gougeres and the small glasses of watermelon aqua fresca.

The fish was particularly well-prepared. Our only real disappointment was the cheese plate which contained a badly-stored epoisse which had not even begun to ripen. When I complained, I got a lot of BS about different people liking their cheese at different stages of ripeness. Oy!

B and Deb

Things got pretty lazy today. We had hoped to visit the nearby Chateau de la Rochepot but it’s closed on Monday and Tuesday so we drove out to stare from a distance. Very impressive!

We stopped for lunch at a local bar which offered escargots just the way I like them. (In a fancier restaurant, it seems obligatory to mess them up in some modern way.)

Happily, we discovered a mid-level local restaurant which specializes in Fondue Bourguignon, not just beef but also duck! Frances: yours is still the winner!

Off tomorrow to the east where we’re intent on dining again at a very obscure country place whose entire menu is duck. Then we’re considering going to Geneva where we can get a plane to Copenhagen for quick visit. We’ll see how that goes!

B and Deb

Well, sometimes it doesn’t quite work out as you expected. We came to this rather empty neck of the woods (actually, kilometers of wheat fields) in order to dine again at a very eclectic restaurant we discovered six years ago (recommended by our chambre d’hôte host) whose entire menu is nothing but duck. This might seem odd to some but since we eat much more duck than chicken, it’s a serious draw for us. We had seen the website of the restaurant and called several times to make a reservation, but it was only when we arrived at our “chateau” (really a purpose-built function room next to a country manor house) and checked in that we discovered that the restaurant’s proprietor had died and the place was closed. Can’t win ‘em all!

One saving grace was the very nice pool which was our private pool for the afternoon. (And, yes, there were no lifeguards to disapprove of my bathing suit!) Here I am, after my swim, reading Nietzsche for the study group I’m taking in the fall.

There were not many local restaurants to choose from; the nearest, at 8km, would have to do. They started out very strong with this foie gras/creme brûlée entree (that’s some fig jam in the middle with flavored salt to the SE).

Unfortunately, the magret main dish was just awful so we’ll pass on to the amusing discovery that if your tan is the result of riding on a Vespa for several hours a day, your lower knuckles don’t get any sun at all!

We spent a little time this afternoon considering whether to try for Belgium but when we ran the numbers it became clear that having that goal would risk the very pleasant lack of pressure to be anywhere in particular that we’ve been enjoying. So, we’re headed towards Geneva to check on the flights to Copenhagen.

B and Deb

We made it to the largest city in the Jura today just in time for lunch in the main square. The tourist office provided the list of chambres d’hôte and we selected this one run by a very personable couple with 10-year-old son:

After dropping our things, we went out for the usual grapefruit juice shopping trip to the nearby suburban town. As these things tend to happen, we bumped into a traveling circus, my absolute favorite thing in France. This was a serious one, the latest shiny trucks and an enormous menagerie, especially lions and tigers. To our great good fortune the first show of run in this town would occur in a half-hour! So we bought our tickets!

And said hello to the animals:

We had front-row seats (what else?) for the animal trainer who started off the show:

We had asked to be included in the table d’hôte meal with two other guests and were served a very local meal. This wild asparagus (never heard or seen such a thing) was right out of the nearby garden.

And the pork on the left came from a pig who’d spent his years on the adjacent farm — we missed the provenance of the rabbit on the right. The great surprise was to be served beans, certainly freshly-picked, which had been boiled to death just as in the American midwest.

Tomorrow, to the town adjacent to the Geneva airport.

B and Deb

Be careful what you wish for! (Spoiler: two circuses in two days!). We left our country B&B early (about 9:30a; no reason to dally) and headed towards Geneva. We came into the Jura mountains yesterday with really gorgeous scenery and today we spent all our road time on mountain roads with just a few dairy farms along the way. The buildings started turning rather Swiss/German and everything was as prosperous and tidy as could be. We stopped to admire a very unusual church; note that it was not possible to turn the old altar around (per Vatican II) so a free standing cube was installed:

Our goal was Saint-Claude but we were there about 1:30p and looked for a place to eat lunch. The place with the largest crowd had a single unoccupied table but when we’d seated ourselves we were told that it was reserved. (Then we discovered that it was an Italian restaurant and were almost happy not to have been served.) We next saw a kebab place with a large crowd, again a single table this time with a reserved sign on it; but we persuaded the hostess that we’d be terrific customers. A very satisfying meal for little money and splitting it we don’t overeat.

While at lunch we decided we could go a little farther towards Geneva so onto the internet. We saw a place with very high ratings which was only 18km farther on so we booked it. Turned out to be 48km but the drive was spectacular (so Deb tells me; I was watching the road which had no straight parts at all). We finally emerged on the eastern side and had the most overwhelming view of Lake Lemain and Geneva. We soaked it in little realizing that we’d have the same view from our balcony. Here’s our rather large room:

And the view:

The white mountain on the left is, of course, Mt. Blanc.

We went out on our shopping trip (big Carrefour) and that’s when we saw the signs for the circus. It was only an hour and a half ’til showtime, so we took our purchases home and headed for the nearest bar for cold beer. All they had was some local garlic sausage and beaufort cheese but that was fine.

Photography was prohibited at the circus (how dumb can they be) but I got off this one shot of the lion tamer who had 4 lions and 6 lionesses in his act. The very best lion tamer I’ve ever seen! (B is very fond of circuses and I must admit that this one was exceptionally good; today, we’re finally going to try the highly recommended local fromager and wine bar instead of the circus! — Deb)

We should probably explain a bit more about our coming plans. We’ve wanted to return to Copenhagen for several years now but flights from Pisa and Florence are few, include long layovers, and are more expensive. Deb got the bright idea of checking out flying from Geneva and sure enough there’s serious competition on the route (UN folks probably) and prices are half. So we’ll be staying in our current unbelievable digs until Sunday when we fly on Swiss International Airlines to Copenhagen, returning to Geneva on Friday to continue meandering south to Toulon. So a couple of days of relaxation in the offing.

B and Deb

Lazy, lazy, lazy! After a long breakfast (the second place where the hostess has permitted me to cook my own fried egg!) we spent the late morning on a trial run to the Geneva airport to discover the very extensive dedicated parking for motorcycles and scooters: at least a hundred were parked, which I assume belong to employees. So we now know how to navigate the airport roads, parking and how to easily carry our backpacks to the check-in point. At an earlier stop at the Gex tourist office we were told of a place which served 250 kinds of cheese with wine: a "bar a fromages.” We thought it unlikely here in Comte country but sure enough, it was a more spacious version of Formaggio Kitchen.

We ordered the seven-cheese plate.

Which looked like this:

Then we ate the cheese along with two glasses of wine, one of which we thought particularly good with cheese, so we bought a bottle and went home to drink it with the cheese we’d bought earlier in the day at a Carrefour. Note the brick of brebis, the cured magret, and Carr’s Water Crackers (Europeans have no other kind of cracker; we miss our Stoned Wheat Thins!); the jar to the left is black cherry compote made to be eaten with sheep cheeses. The JamBox on the right next to the Trader Joe peanuts plays Randy Travis thanks to Apple’s new music streaming service (3-month free trial).

After the pick-up dinner, we had to use the egg-shaped bathtub in our fancy digs, so Deb had a bubble-bath, which I’m permitted to describe but not show in a photo. Not a strenuous day! Tomorrow, more of the same!

B and Deb

We thought we’d spend most of our last day of relaxation going into Geneva (15km) to see the best sights. We hadn’t realized that, aside from the Jet d’Eau in the basin (which we can see clearly from our balcony), Geneva has no sights worth driving 30km! So we decided to have lunch in a small town on Lac Leman called Nyon. We were drawn to a classy bar-restaurant which advertised fried perch from the lake.

We hadn’t had steak tartare yet so that was our other dish (I do long for that wonderful cafe in Lyon whose tartare came in a about a pound and all the embellishments were served on the side so one could satisfy his peculiar tastes).

Now we will demonstrate why one steps into Switzerland only with a very full wallet ($100 for a simple lunch is utterly typical; $10 for a bottle of water, however, sets a new record, albeit not by much):

We had a nice drive back along the lakefront and gassed up for our trip to the airport (filling up costs us $8; a typical car would cost $80; we feel lucky). Our dinner plans were settled yesterday when we had such a good time at the bar a fromages. Here’s the salesroom without the fat woman:

Our selection of seven cheeses:

The big surprise was to learn what real munster looks and tastes like:

To bed early with alarm set for 6:30a!

B and Deb

With an early morning flight to Copenhagen, we woke up at 6:30a and were not so rushed that we couldn’t have our last breakfast with Ruml-cooked fried eggs (pepper mill is the one we carry with us).

It was an easy ride to the airport (it was after all 8am on Sunday morning) but it was a great surprise to find, among the three large motorcycle/scooter parking lots, exactly one empty space (all we needed, of course). Uneventful flights, changing in our least favorite airport, Zurich, although we have a non-stop return to Geneva on Friday. B discovered that we should each buy a “Copenhagen Card” for free transport on all modes and free entrance to all sights for five days. Quick train into Central Station. “Look, Ma! No Vespa!"

Our hotel, Urban House, is an odd duck even among the dozen inexpensive hotels nestled below the Central Station. Completely run by electronic systems, there is no reception; when you make your reservation, they send you an email with your room number and a code which you use to open all the necessary doors. The laundry room works similarly: you can even get the machine to stay locked after it’s finished so you don’t have to be present. Here’s the bar/eating area; the beer rehydrated us after the trip.

The personnel told us when we inquired that they purposely don’t put anything but beds in the rooms so that people will not stay in them but be social in the public areas. We found it difficult not to have in single surface for anything.

After some online research, we decided on Copenhagen’s best Vietnamese restaurant (because they were said to do fish well) but, after walking a while to it we discovered that it had just gone on summer vacation. So, we went to the nearby meatpacking district to a well-regarded fish restaurant. Here’s the mackerel crudo with almost invisible strips of (Danish) lardo laid on each stripe of fish. Of course, it had none of the effect that Lardo di Colonnata would have had.

We also tried the fish and chips because the cod was this time smoked first.

Back in our room early we tried to get into the Ridley Scott movie Prometheus on the large TV. No dice; we’re just too old for contemporary science fiction.

B and Deb

A rather spare breakfast at our hotel (even at $10 per) but the place was hopping (220 rooms after all).

We cleverly timed our session at the in-house laundromat to overlap breakfast. [Deb here: Kate, Wheeler, Julia, Geneva — notice my gray (Toulouse market) scarf has become a staple in my travels on the scooter and is now indispensable in Copenhagen. I’ve carried it in my backpack for two years, to cover up in Tunisia and to cover my neck on the Vespa on cool mornings in Europe.]

After a stop for Danish SIMs, we took the bus to our favorite destination: the big department stores: Magasin du Nord (huh?) and Illum. As last time, Magasin had a splendid housewares display and we found some Danish schnapps glasses which will be perfect for limoncello. We had a quick lunch at Magasin where the smorrebrod choices were limited but classic:

Illum was a disappointment because last visit they had a really splendid display of contemporary Danish furniture and accessories and they had dropped them entirely. Deb did find some fine dark green wool long-sleeved “T-shirts" that tempted her greatly; but she’s the most disciplined shopper by a mile I’ve ever seen. [Deb here: it is easy to be disciplined when one realizes that there is no more space in our backpacks.]

For dinner, we reserved at a trendy restaurant, Almanak, on the main canal. The servers were very unknowlegable about the menu but the food itself was satisfactory. This was called duck rillettes on the menu but a Frenchman would not recognize it as such; nonetheless, the first time I’ve had mustard with duck.

The scallops were very well presented and tasty.

Coming home on the bus, we overshot the hotel by two kilometers by guessing that the next stop beyond the one we knew would be closer to the hotel. But the bus to take us back came in the next minute. Early to bed but late to sleep.

B and Deb

When we were last here, we stayed at the Absalon Hotel in the next block and were blown away by the breakfast. We inquired and we could eat breakfast there for a flat 125kr ($20). Given the importance of breakfast to at least one of us, that was good news. Here’s the spread, including eggs, liverwurst, many cheeses, pickled herring with onion, etc.

They remodeled recently and probably made a serious mistake with the giant chairs.

Our ambition for the day was to go to Louisiana, the modern art museum about 30 minutes to the north on the shore (Sweden is just a half mile across the channel). The train ride was delightful with onboard WiFi but the walk from the station to the museum (advertised as just “10 minutes”) was a stretch for this Vespa dependent guy. Nonetheless, a gorgeous day.

More smorrebrod, of course, for lunch.

We debated the many possibilities for dinner but when we checked out the Thai and Szechuan places, we were underwhelmed. Happily, the Rio Bravo was nearby with a very credible version of an American high-end cheeseburger (250gm!).

I couldn’t pass up the chance for pickled herring with onions, capers and cute little dill sprigs.

A surprisingly strenuous day!

B and Deb

We had semi-ambitious plans plans for today but they got sidelined. We started (at noon!) with a canalboat tour; very worthwhile for the varied large architectural projects which face the harbor: new opera house, library, Arne Jacobsen bank, performing arts center, etc. We particularly enjoyed floating by the very chi-chi apartments in Christianshavn where one has his boat moored outside. Some very impressive houseboats as well, particularly one made from an old 10-car ferry.

After our large breakfast, all we needed for lunch was a polser; sorry, Deb wanted to eat it so quickly that the photo was overlooked.

With very good luck we discovered that two days ago we were given the wrong information about Illum’s separate furniture store. It’s called Illums Bolighus and is a current version of the old Design Research in Cambridge (you have to be of a certain age for that reference). All the Danish greats were represented.

We supplemented our lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant next to the hotel. Just as a yardstick: we had this summer roll and two 16oz beers for $30, the rolls being $10 instead of the $4.50 at Le’s in the Garage. It’s astonishing to me that such a beer-centered culture can charge $10 for a draft beer. But then I’m being parochial.

We went to Tivoli so that Deb could ride the rollercoaster but I’ll let her explain. [The roller coaster turned out to be the kind that has added shoulder straps and the cars roll over to turn the riders upside-down, which meant that my open-top bag with all of its contents (iPad, wallet, etc.) did not meet the requirements of no loose items on the ride. I was expecting a normal roller coaster. The alternative would have been to ask B to hold my bag while I waited in the extremely long line to ride it alone.] Among other sights from the past, the bumper cars:

I don’t associate Tivoli with fine dining but we looked for a smorrebrod restaurant and wound up with our best meal yet in Copenhagen. Along with the pickled herring, one has to have some aquavit. The waiter explained that the 3cl serving came halfway up the glass while the 6cl one came to the top. I hadn’t counted on surface tension to be holding in the final drops.

Some lovely herring.

We also had some smoked eel with fried capers, an important springtime specialty.

And finally, some veal tartare with butter-fried rye bread.

Then home and a very long sleep (11 hours)!

B and Deb

Last day in Copenhagen so we went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a major museum with an outstanding impressionist collection (just a notch below the MFA), and saw a superb exhibit on Man Ray, an artist I’d underestimated. We enjoyed the 19th century sculpture, the original focus of the collection. This statue of Perseus Slaying Medusa left us with a renewed appreciation of the genius of Bernini.

Another called “The First Funeral” was the first treatment of this event I’d ever seen; the Adam was amusingly Nordic.

The museum was very visitor unfriendly, however, which left us ready to see the famous Copenhagen Zoo with its new Elephant House by Norman Foster. What a bust! First, the normal admission is $28 (although included on our Copenhagen Cards). Second, one might expect to see some animals. Well, the lion was on vacation, the polar bear missing, the seals unavailable, etc. We did see some Asian elephants doing nothing in particular. It was a great disappointment given the overhead to get there (including taking the wrong bus initially). [Deb here: we did see a bright pinkish-orange flock of flamingos, the first live versions I’d ever seen.] We did get to see how courtship proceeds in the summertime:

Our final dinner was at Le-Le, called the finest Vietnamese restaurant in Copenhagen. We were delighted to have Asian food, including this seared tuna with endives.

And this ceviche of kingfish.

But we got the most pleasure out of this duck salad with sticky rice cakes. The very first time I’ve had fresh cilantro in Europe!

Ready to fly back to Geneva tomorrow (this time non-stop)! Footnote: The Danes have an obesity problem almost as serious as the US.

B and Deb

Not much to report. After a leisurely breakfast at the Absalon, we got the report off and packed up for our 12:50p flight to Geneva. We were pleased to see the Vespa just where we left it and we each remarked to the other that it felt good to be back in France (even though we weren’t quite); I think it has something to do with cheese.

We were surprised to be on the road by 3:30p. Due to what we’ll euphemistically call a navigation error we saw some lovely vineyards to the west of Geneva but finally found the highway south (which we’d started on!) and made our way through extremely heavy weekend rush hour traffic to France and Anncey (including a 3km tunnel, common in these mountains). We stayed at a hotel in the middle of the small town center and needed to go only a block to retrieve our daily juice and other essentials. Happily, the Monoprix had my favorite foie gras medallions which we ate with the Carr’s we’ve been carrying and washed down with a bottle of Provencal rose.

Here’s Deb making fun of me making fun of her somewhat inebriated state. [Deb here: we had just polished off an entire bottle of Cote de Provence rose before dinner.]

We went to a small recommended bistro around the corner. Snails, of course, but not the traditional way (darn!).

We were also pleased to see fondue on the menu and ordered it with cep mushrooms. Not very photogenic and not nearly as good as our own fondue. Early to bed.

B and Deb

We woke up this morning to a very dark sky with rain falling steadily. Would we be stuck in (very pleasant) Annecy for another day? Deb braved the rain to find an excellent baker for croissants and pain au chocolat and we dallied a bit. But by 10:30a it was clearly going to be a sunny afternoon. We were not up for a long day so thought that perhaps Aix-les-Bains would be far enough but when we got there (in 45 minutes) we decided that Grenoble would be our next stop. This mean going through a large regional park on the only north-south road (other than the autoroute). Happily very little traffic and beautiful scenery. We stopped mid-way at this cute mountain cafe where we split a salad nicoise with copious beer.

During our lunch stop we looked for a place to stay in Grenoble, a rather gritty place with a large university. Deb had wanted a kitchenette for a long time (so that we would have a refrigerator for the water, beer, wine, and so that B could make breakfast) so when we saw that Citadines was giving away apartments (75 euros a night) we were easy prey. Although spare and without charm, it’s a serviceable place with lots of room and a tiny balcony overlooking the street.

And Deb got her kitchenette! I was very happy to look forward to fried eggs and bacon for breakfast.

Some quick research disclosed a very highly recommended modern French place 50 meters down the street. It was all just fine: the eggs poached in red wine

the very lightly cured salmon with red peppers of a sort I didn’t know, [Deb here: they seemed to be pickled red caperberries. [B: that would be quite a trick!]]

And fresh seared tuna with caperberries.

We’re here for two nights so a lazy Sunday coming up.

B and Deb

The first morning with the kitchenette!

We were well equipped for a substantial American breakfast!

I forgot to mention that one of the reasons our “apartment” was 69 euros during this very hot part of the summer is that there is no air conditioning. Even with all the french doors wide open, it was unpleasant. So, off we went to the Grenoble Art Museum, an impressive (air conditioned!) building of 1994 and an even more impressive collection, especially the modern and contemporary collections. He’s one I particularly admired.

I thought this bust was especially admirable for its time (1888): lots of Bernini influence and none of the prevailing saccharine idealism.

Deb and I had been tempted for weeks by the extensive advertising campaign by Apérol for spritz drinks and we finally broke down and had one. (Fond memories of Fede’s wedding reception!)

Given last night’s meal we knew we wanted something not-French for dinner and Deb did the necessary research to turn up this Vietnamese place, the Phnom Penh.

We knew we wanted duck but couldn’t decipher all of the various preparations; we threw a dart at this one (“canard saté”) because Deb likes satés; oh, well!

Another early bedtime as we looked forward to getting out of Grenoble.

B and Deb

We had a long discussion (euphemism alert) last night about whether to seek a place to stay in Gap before we arrived. I insisted that we had strayed lately from our usual process of being able to see what we were getting before committing. Deb was certain that in this high tourist season there would be not a single room unbooked in a small town like Gap in the middle of nowhere (and then what would we do?). Each of us was influenced by not finding anything online which was clearly exceptional. [Deb here: the real problem was the fact that three of the Tour de France stages were about to end/originate in Gap and environs [B here: this is a retrojection (see tomorrow); not mentioned at the time. [Deb here: he didn’t hear me! [B here: and so it goes!] ] ] and that I couldn’t find an empty room within 50km of Gap online for our planned stay. I was planning a backup strategy to locate space at a campground and buy a tent.] We got off at 10:30a on our trip through the magnificent mountains. 50km along we were getting low on gas and went for quite a while through nothing and very small towns with no gas station in sight. Then we saw a sign for a McDonald’s ahead; we knew that there could never be a McDonald’s without a gas station and we were correct. It was a typical “automatic” station open 24/7, no attendant, just a machine which takes your credit card. This has been a problem at times. When we were passing through Chambéry, we needed gas badly, pulled into the only station we’d been able to find in 15 minutes of searching (and asking) and discovered that none of our cards would work (all “invalid"). We went searching again with no luck and returned to the same station ready to use the ultimate fall-back plan: some nice customer who would use *his* card and allow us to (over)pay him in cash. When we explained the proposal to a young man just finishing filling his tank, he asked to look at our card, and laughed saying of course it would work. Deb tried it and it did work! We were now at a different pump from the one we originally tried! So we learned a lesson: try all your cards at all the pumps. So, now our card didn’t work again. Deb went through all our cards and all were declined. Until she pulled out the new card from the Credit Union which we’d never used. Success. As we rode along, newly confident that we’d get to Gap without running out of gas, we came upon a typical French campground. These are very elaborate with lawns on which you may pitch your tent, swimming pool, game rooms, restaurant, etc. This campground said on the sign “chambres d’hôte” (probably for the grandparents who want to join the family on the camping trip) so we pulled in and signed up. We had a second floor room with large balcony overlooking the pool and the view:

Here’s a typical set of sites:

All settled in at 12:30p, we rode back to La Mure and had a big lunch, including this goat cheese log baked into slushy deliciousness.

At the SuperU hypermarket, we found this delightful pear tart; we’ll have to add that to our list of things to make at home.

Restful afternoon. Early to bed.

B and Deb

[Deb:] After waking up in the mountains at our “campground/chambres d’hôte/RV park” we left early in the morning for what turned out to be a spectacular ride through the Alps, from St. Laurent-en-Beaumont toward Gap. We only have the photographs in our memory (not digitally), as B was focused on the winding road and we were both catching glimpses of the wall of mountains surrounding us. It turned out to be one of the most spectacular rides on the Vespa we’ve had (northern Greece comes close). The road we were on was to be the Tour de France stage the next day (headed north instead of south) and we caught glimpses of several bicyclists passing us, perhaps testing the route. We arrived in Gap after winding down the last mountain and planned to stop only for lunch and move on south. B, who has a talent for picking the best lunch spots, sat us down in the center of town. Two salades composées: a Salad Niçoise and a Salad aux Saumon Fumé:

After lunch, we decided to ride toward Sisteron (as opposed to Digne, where another Tour de France stage was scheduled) in hope of finding a chambre d’hôte. At the Sisteron Tourist Office, we made several calls and came up empty in locating a room in the region (more overflow from the Tour de France). B suggested that we drive on and find something on the way that was not listed with the tourist office. As we left Sisteron, one could see storm clouds approaching over the mountains, so we made haste, however, the rain started to fall and we drove to the next hotel on the road and stopped. It turned out to be a rather nice place with rooms for only 88 euros; perfect for us, however, they also were booked, as they said, because of the Tour de France! So, without a place to stay and the rain falling, I used the app to locate a room. The closest option was 42km away in Manosque. With a spotty server that kept dropping my connection, the room that was available now disappeared. I had to search to find the phone number of the hotel and called them directly, assuming that they still had rooms that were not on Booking’s site. I called the hotel and the woman who answered had trouble hearing me so I had to step out into the pouring rain and make the booking. Unfortunately, the hotel was a Best Western, not the type of place that we’d ever stay in Europe. The alternative would be stopping along the road at every little hotel that appeared until we were successful, so we, grudgingly, made our way to the Best Western, where the only other guests were all the professionals following the Tour de France with no where else to stay. A rather dreary place, but the woman at the front desk was able to guide us to a very good pizzeria au feu de bois. B ordered a pizza with jambon cru, chèvre, mozzarella, and mental:

I was thrilled to order one of their pizzas made with crème fraîche (instead of tomato sauce) along with three cheeses because I had wanted to have only cheese for dinner. A small carafe of red wine was perfect:

We made a reservation to stay tomorrow night in the same small hotel outside Aix-en-Provence where we had stayed in late June. [B:] A rather memorable day: the best half-day I can remember followed by one of the worst half days. The ride from the campground to Gap was truly outstanding. Lunch in Gap was terrific — we are constitutionally unable to resist the salade composée served for lunch in most good French cafés/bars. The afternoon was a disaster. After Gap the scenery changes substantially — no longer Hautes-Alpes but not yet Provençale. And uneventful ride to Sisteron, famous for lamb, where we tried to book a chambre d’hôte at the tourist office; all six south of town were booked or not answering the phone (probably the same meaning). Although there were some small rain clouds overhead, much of the sky was bright blue, so we went on. In three minutes, the rain started to fall and we pulled into the nice hotel Deb mentioned. When they told her “the tour de france has taken everything” we, sadly, lost our cool and booked at the closest place with a room. When the rain let up, we had 42km to go to the hotel. On the way we passed at least four small hotels which would have been much better choices. An important lesson: stick to your strategy! The pizza Deb exclaims about was not really pizza; to call the crust mediocre would be to praise it. The best that can be said is that Deb’s choice really was a cheese course.

B and Deb

We had an uneventful, and short, ride into Aix which started later than usual so that when we came to the last significant town north of Aix it was lunchtime. We saw this scene and we’ve come to appreciate that it’s exactly what one wants to see when looking for a place for lunch! I’m sitting behind the planter on the right but when I asked Deb to cross the street and take a picture she evidently didn’t think my presence would improve it! I

We had two really superior composed salads, a cheese medley,

and a beef carpaccio, remarkable for being as good as the ones we make.

We spent a chunk of the afternoon getting our ferry tickets (of course, no cabins available at this late date in high season). Then the question faced us: what would we have for our last real meal in France. This decision was skewed by our having discovered on a previous visit the local “Sushi Shop”, part of a French chain with stunning marketing. They’ve been a big hit, especially with their take-out service — at least four people on scooters making deliveries. I have to give them credit for having attractive meals made with just two kinds of fish.

Earlier in the afternoon while on the swankiest street in Aix, I’d found this gelateria and considered the product right at the top of the all-time list. So, of course we had to return for dessert. Pistachio and chocolate on the left; red berries and chocolate on the right.

Short haul to Toulon in the morning so not so early to bed. Footnote: I’d planned to make a big deal on the day the Vespa’s odometer clicked over to 16,000 km (10,000 miles) but that was many days ago (actually, almost 500 miles ago).

B and Deb

The morning gave us our final ride in France and happily we could take a backdoor route to Toulon which passed through the mountains. Not much there except a major middle-class camping ground (actually, many semi-permanent huts made out of scavenged materials) which motivated someone to open a burger restaurant (smart move). This gives me an excuse to mention that all three of the burgers we ate in France were outstanding examples.

Looking over the drink menu, we couldn’t help memorializing the “TGV” which is the name of the French bullet-train service (it means “very fast speed”).

Once in Toulon, a dead town for sights and even worse for passing the time, we had an interminable wait to get on the ferry for our 9pm departure. We’ve already mentioned how remarkably modern and comfortable the ferries are but look at this cafeteria meal of carpaccio, ravioli in basil sauce, and a cheese course! Deb’s rosé wine was from Saint Florent on Corsica where we had one of our most memorable meals at a fish restaurant which owns its own fishing fleet (or is it the other way around?).

We thought you might like to see the scene in the ferry with the mostly-German motorcyclists: just one red Vespa hidden deep on the left.

Just a short ride home to go!

B and Deb

[Deb here: In our last post we forgot to mention that as soon as we boarded the overnight ferry for Corsica without a cabin reservation, I headed straight for the registration desk on the boat and asked to purchase an overnight cabin. Naturally, they said that they were sold out; however, we’ve learned that there are always cancellations and that the reception desk keeps a waiting list. I was #2 on the list and, sure enough, after we were out of the port I was paged to come to reception, where I was given an exterior cabin with a double bed (instead of two twins). In addition to the standard head and shower, this cabin actually had a TV mounted on the wall (which we didn’t use). That way, we were relatively rested (although there was a 5:35am wake-up announcement prior to our 7am arrival) for the final drive home.] We arrived in Bastia (Corsica) at 7:00a with an hour and a half layover before our ferry to Livorno at 8:30a. The boat was jammed with cars and it took almost an hour before we drove off, so we were concerned to make the connection. Not to have worried: the motos were kept off until everything else was loaded so we embarked at 8:27a. I now have to report the most embarrassing moment of our trip. When we exited the Livorno-Firenze highway to head north to a town called Casina, we got on the correct route but with no sign to Casina and lots of signs to Cescina we got going in the wrong direction. There were lots of tell-tale signs (in retrospect) such as the number of kilometers to Grossetto (halfway to Rome) but we were so delighted to be headed home we didn’t pay attention. Until we got to Cescina! So it took us an extra hour to get home. But we made it, smiling all the way, thinking about clean laundry and the meals we were going to make!

B and Deb