Henri Matisse and the Olive Forest

We’ve had tastes of Nice urban life, and the seaside.  Today, we had some blissful time to marinate in Provence which means olives, oranges, lavender and country life.  We went to the Matisse museum which is a renovated country French chateau that is now very much in the heart of suburbia.  So many of his sketches and paintings focus on simple subjects:  the form of a common woman, a still life of fruit.  I love the colors he pulls in to his paintings as they are the colors I find naturally work their way into the beige background of my life on the Mediterranean.

The spire you see in some of the photos is a Franciscan chapel on the property.

I forget how inspiring and energizing it can be to walk through beautifully designed and manicured urban parks.  This 19th century structure is surrounded on one side by an olive forest and the other side by rustically designed French kitchen gardens.  That means that most of what is growing on this property is edible.  I want to remember to mix pansies and calendulas with chard and kale.

This enclosed herb garden is a perfect place to come and sit in the sun on a Saturday morning with preschoolers.
Next time I come to Provence, I hope to go straight to the country to soak in the sun, earth, Mediterranean plant life and the colors.

Menton, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Here’s what’s different about the Mediterranean from the French side.  First of all, the coastline is long and uninterrupted.  When you’re out all day, you don’t just catch glimpses of it, the shoreline is protected from development and you can view it with the expanse of a wide-angle lens most of the time.  Second, it looks like the ocean right after God made it.  It is baby blue, and effervescent, and perfectly clean.  I was trying to capture that essence and I think the heading photo got some of it.

            We figured out the local train line today, which always makes us feel like self-sufficient travelers.
We went to the last town on the line that is still in France: Menton.
Here, we had a picnic at the beach and watched retirees taking morning swims, riding bicycles, playing tennis, running and then meeting each other at seaside cafes for an express.
Clay courts
It’s November and this is Europe.  The water is not actually warm.
            This would be a fabulous place to spend retirement days, living a healthy life between sea and ski.  I could certainly embrace it as long as my own dear friends came along to share it with me.   I’m saving those days for them and my family.
           Almost exactly two years ago, our friend Bryan had a James Bond themed 50th birthday party in Kathmandu.  Allan and I weren’t the most cleverly dressed, but we did win the “Most Likely to Actually go to Monte-Carlo” award.   These friends already knew that we were moving to the Mediterranean so it was a hedged bet.  Now,  two years later, we have fulfilled the prediction.  It was a little hard to get the whole sense of Monaco/Monte-Carlo.  These twin cities in the Monaco principality are practically chiseled into the steep, rocky hillside.  You have to go up one hillside and around a small mountain to get to the other one and you can’t really see it all at once.  You end up taking elevators and escalators through the inside of a mountain and then you emerge … somewhere, look around and try to determine where you would try to go next if you reentered the mountain transit system.  Here are little peeks into hillside lives.
It was clear, however, where the marina was.  It was down.  This picture does not do any justice to the yachts we saw.
          Allan estimated that we were looking at probably 50 yachts in the Monte-Carlo marina of 150 feet or more in length.  It was actually a little weird.  I don’t mean that to sound particularly judgmental, but to just see that much wealth in one place is like seeing a Martian landing.  It’s unfamiliar and otherworldly.  We for sure saw the 1% of the world today.

Thanksgiving on the French Riviera

Can you imagine writing those five words?  I never could either.  I did not grow up thinking I would travel anywhere in my life, didn’t really even think about it.  Funny reality now is that the French Riviera is a whole lot closer than going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, though not necessarily sweeter.

            Thursday morning, we caught a 9:00 AM flight and were in Nice for lunch.
I really did not have any preconceived expectation of what Nice would be.  As I trolled the Internet for an affordable boutique hotel, I became more and more concerned that Nice was a typical beachfront resort town, completely overused by northern Europeans.  The hotel rooms looked a little sweaty, faded, and expensive.
            What I’ve encountered in Nice so far is a crisp, clean, underpopulated city.  The city clearly values its natural beauty, preserving miles and miles of beachfront promenade, framed by the snow-capped French Alps in the background.  The air is chilly enough to wear leather coats and boots, but when you sit in the sun at a café for lunch, you can shed your coat and sit comfortably in your sleeveless dress.  And there are many, many fit, suntanned retirees (almost all walking French Bulldogs) who generally keep the prices down in a town.  I really like it here; I can feel myself already falling in love.  By the way, after hours and hours of Internet searching, it turns out I chose a wonderful boutique hotel:  It is La Villa Nice Promenade (11 Rue Saint Philippe).   Perfectly located near the Promenade, but quietly tucked away off the busy street, it is clean and simple, but has a decorative flair.  Best yet, it is under $100. 00 US per night.
            This is the only turkey we saw today.
            The best gelato in Nice, according to Kaye Syrah.  I’ll have to go back when it’s not siesta time.
            An old carousel in the central park.
            A couple having lunch under a laden, rectangular orange tree.  I know it’s anal, but I love French gardening.