Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mer, Soleil, Paris, Aznavour, la Famille

Place de l'Opera
Champs Elysees

How to park your Smart car

The Seine by Notre Dame

Rue de la Montagne Ste Genevieve

Stained Glass in Eglise St Etienne du Mont

"France makes me happy!" :)

Eglise St Etienne du Mont

A new coat in front of the Pantheon

After the concert

In front of the Olympia concert hall

Charles Aznavour rocks!

Another nice day by the sea...
We spent our time from Sept. 11-18 between Nice, Strasbourg, and Paris. The heat wave was still hitting Europe and we enjoyed days at the beach as if we would be still in July... Quite a treat coming from Denmark where the summer had long long long disappeared...

Our main motivation for going "North" to Paris via Strasbourg was our tickets to a concert by Charles Aznavour at the famous French music hall called l'Olympia. At 87 years old he had booked the concert hall for an entire month with plans to then tour the rest of France until Christmas.

In a shape that most of us near 40 could envy, he sang 27 songs over 2 and half hours, with no break! The warm energy in the room was quite palpable, even to C who was missing out on half of the French lyrics. This evening really illustrated how Charles Aznavour is sort of a grand father to pretty much any family in France. People just love him, and he clearly loves to be on stage. It looked like he was at home, at least more than on the TV sets where he has been spending a lot of time these days, advertising for his concerts, his new album, and his latest book.

This evening was not only great, it felt like a so unique and perfect way to spend an evening in Paris! Especially with a fine early dinner before at the old Parisian restaurant Chartier and an aperitive on the boulevard, at sunset, right before the concert... Chrysa also chose this opportunity to get herself a brand new and cheerful coat from Desigual that has since attracted much envious looks from other women ;-)

We also spent a fair amount of time exploring Paris' past and history, by visiting some of its oldest sites and paying homage to Sainte Genevieve, one of Paris' first patron saints who rests in the church of Saint Etienne du Mont in the Latin Quarter. During our visit we met a French fan of 17th century painting who joined us on a tour and shared his knowledge of what we were seeing. We ended this quite inspiring day with a dinner at L'epigramme, a modern Paris bistro. We ate there with Q's sister Sigo, who will be studying in Paris this year, and her boyfriend, Manu. Then Sigo took us all to the Grand Palais (built at the end of the Champs Elysees avenue at the same time as the Eiffel tower) for a special exhibition and "meditation in action" for the victims of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

On our way to Paris we made a stop-over in Strasbourg to return Q's parents car that we had been borrowing for too many months now... That was a quick but always enjoyable opportunity to cross Q's beloved Switzerland, and also to remain in awe at the wonderful vistas on the Aosta valley in Northern Italy. After this scenic but a bit long trip (10 hours in the car...), we were welcome by Q's parents and grand father. We enjoyed a fine dinner, with C now able to participate and even launch complete conversations in French with Q's family! They were all quite impressed (they should be!).
Dynamo Fukushima - Grand Palais

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Meet the parents

South of France is an enjoyable place to be...
At home when surrounded by art!

C'est pas mal ici, non ?
Arriving in Saint Paul
A narrow street in Vence
Mosaic by Chagall in Vence's cathedral

Une jolie fontaine a Saint Paul
La chapelle Matisse a Vence
View over Vence

My favorite place in the Nice area

My favorite place in the Nice area and my favorite person (not just in the Nice area)
My favorite...–oh, you probably get the picture by now :-)
From Q: It's sunny here in Aarhus today so the climate invites some friendly memories from my sorely missed four weeks in Nice last month. It's also Sunday, a day on which the family typically gets together for a copious and joyful meal. For these two reasons, it's perfect timing to pay a tribute to my parents who visited us in Nice while I was there.

My parents, Mireille and Jacques, were very helpful in helping us get an apartment in Nice. They also served as our references for the lease, as we could not come to visit the apartment ahead of time nor meet the owner. They were both psyched when we announced we'd be settling down in Nice, since they plan to spend most of their soon-to-come retirement in the cute village of Vinça where we have an old family house. This area is about 5 hours away by car, but still in super-scenic and magical South of France, as you can see on this post from last summer. It's just Spain instead of Italy on the other side of the border...

My sister is already in Montpellier, raising her daughter Mila with her S.O. Mathieu. My other sister Sigo almost made it down there as well but she is still in the midst of her studies, so life fluctuates a lot for her. It looks like she will definitely make it further South than Brussels, Belgium though!

My parents stopped by for two days on their way from Strasbourg to Vinça, right before Bastille day. So Chrysa was at work in the day time, and joining us for dinners in the evening. I spent the days with my parents, walking around historical towns, visiting museums, and going to the beach.

There were mainly two themes during my parents' visit. My dad grew up in Nice from ca. 1947 until 1960, so we went back in time... We found where he was living, we even went inside the building and it was fun to hear my dad comment on what had changed, what had not... Isn't there's just something always fascinating about hearing some insights about one own's parents lives "before you were born, son". Always makes me feel like we're getting to mysterious land.

We also went to swim in Beaulieu-sur-mer, where my dad did his first swim in the late 1940s. For sure the town had grown since, and he was not so sure about which beach has had been to any longer... But already back then apparently the most quiet time to go to the beach was 6am! That's when my grand father would take my dad for a swim. We also visited the beaches in Villefranche and Saint Jean, that Chrysa and I both like a lot (and prefer over Nice's beaches).

The second theme of this visit was contemporary art. My dad's first hobby has always been art. Painting and making collages (see here for one of his recent exhibits). The Côte d'Azur is famous for having attracted the most talented artists over the years, such as Matisse, Picasso, Cocteau, Renoir, etc. The vibrancy of the art community down there reminds me of that in Taos/Santa Fe in New Mexico.

We walked around the very cute village of Vence, which has a mosaic by Marc Chagall in its cathedral, and of course a few art galleries. We visited a chapel designed by Matisse on the outskirts of Vence. Matisse considered this chapel to be his most accomplished piece of work, and it is truly a wonder.

Most of the art galleries were in super scenic and now (mid-July) super touristy Saint-Paul de Vence, where Chrysa had already been in June. We spent quite a fair amount of time talking with various artists and gallery owners, which got me to suspect my dad's trying to get that kind of business started... stay tuned...

Fine dining in Beaulieu
My parents' visit ended up with a dinner on the harbor in Beaulieu with our friend Christiane, who was the best friend of my now-deceased grand mother. After dinner we enjoyed great Bastille day fireworks that were shot from the jetty. My parents left early the next day for Vinça, which they will leave again at the end of August.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wine tasting in the heart of Provence

C caressing grapes
B and B backyard
The first time that Chrysa visited France,
Q&C visited a winery in Alsace. About halfway through the wine tasting, C declared "We have to live in France" and this was the beginning of a long relationship with French wines.

Now that we have an address in France, we thought it was high time to visit our local vineyards and plans for a romantic weekend getaway were made. C had heard of the famous Chateauneuf-du-pape (which translates to new castle of the pope) wine region and was quite happy to realize that Nice is just a 3 hour drive from there. C did a bit of research online to find some "vignerons independent" or independent winemakers that had won awards for their wines to visit, and Q found a very scenic bed and breakfast place to stay for the weekend. We left after work on Friday and three hours later we were in the heart of Provence, enjoying some wine.

apricot cake + lavender
When we arrived at our very scenic bed and breakfast we enjoyed a lovely French dinner accompanied by some red wine from the owner's vineyards. We eagerly accepted their invitation to a wine tasting at their cave the next day, together with John, an American who was treating himself to a trip to France. At the Chateau du Mourre du Tendre they only age their wine in stainless steel tanks and not in wood so that the taste of the grapes really comes through (although this is uncommon in Chateauneuf).

After our morning (!) wine-tasting, we visited a quaint French town nearby, Gigondas, where we had a lovely lunch under the cool shade of the trees. After walking around the town and exploring their herb garden with a fantastic view of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region, we came back closer to town for our second tasting of the day.

C + wine
At Vignobles Mousset-Barrot we really enjoyed the fruity reds that they made and picked up even more wines for our cellar! We ended the day with a driving tour around the little mountain with breathtaking views of the countryside. When we came back to our B&B, we were invited over for a glass of champagne by our hosts and their family which turned into a lively discussion with more bottles of liquors, one made by some nearby monks in an abbey. A plan was hatched.

Q in the sunshine
On Sunday we had to leave our newly found slice of paradise and return to our other slice of paradise on the French Riviera. We decided that on the way back we would stop at the Frigolet abbey to buy some liquor and then stop at another vigneron for a wine tasting in the Coteaux d'Aix en Provence appellation. So we arrived at the abbey just before the end of mass and waited for the shop to open afterwards. The abbey is really very peaceful especially with the monks singing and C felt just a little bit guilty for driving all the way up the mountain to buy alcohol on a Sunday. But hey, we're still supporting the monks, right? [note from Q: Q did not feel guilty]

View with lavender
We then moved on further into the mountains and came across a perfect picnic spot next to a windmill [note from Q: missing the Danish winds, perhaps...]. After lunch, we visited our last vigneron independant, the Chateau Petit Sonnailler, which is located well into the hills and mountains of countryside, very far from the hustle and bustle of life. It also happens to be a B&B (next time! :-). Here, we enjoyed all of their wines, but we have to say that their Rosé was the best of the trip.
the happy couple
vines + mountains
vines in lines

a first glimpse of the Abbey
windblown trees
lookout! here comes Don Quixote!
With the car now riding low in the back (!), we returned to the Cote d'Azur, very pleased with our weekend getaway to the French countryside in Provence.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Arthurian Legends in Nice?

Last Sunday we set out to put on our hiking boots and start exploring the much revered arriere pays or backcountry, meaning: the hills and mountains North of Nice. A mere half hour by car from our doorstep, we found ourselves at the Col de Chateauneuf, a modest pass at 700 meters altitude. On top of the peak (or bump) right next to it lie the ruins of an old castle that was abandoned in the 18th century.

The site is left relatively unmaintained, and was quite stunning, especially with the backdrop of nearby hills half covered with a mysterious fog... This decor of half-standing walls, bridges and towers covered with ivy and other local wild plants totally evoked the imagery associated with the stories of King Arthur.

We did not find Merlin, unicorns or the killer bunny, but we did find plenty of blackberry bushes that we'll need to get back to once the berries will be ripe (probably in another 2 weeks)!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

24 hours in Tuscany

From Q:
Two weeks ago I went to Tuscany for a concert at the Lucca Summer Festival, featuring legendary Burt Bacharach and Italian star Mario Biondi (part of a song during their rehearsal can be heard here). Lucca's about 3 and a half hours from Nice by car, which is a lot by French but not US standards. Anyway, it's basically next door!
Lucca's a very cute fortified city with many churches and old houses, narrow streets and restaurants. The wall surrounding it is about 2.5 miles long and you can walk, run, or even bike on it! I thought the best thing about Lucca was that it was still mostly Italian, meaning the tourists were a minority, in spite of the popularity of the place. So I'd hear Italian spoken (or yelled) in the streets, at the restaurant, and around me at the concert venue (a stage set up on one of the main town squares).

On the day after the concert, I drove a very scenic high road through the mountains North of the Lucca, the Garfagnana region. A most winding road (C knows too well that these are my favorite) took me from one perched village and its Roman church to another. If you've seen recently the movie entitled The American, it is a very similar kind of scenery. Breathtaking views of old town among very dark green hills, sometimes a lake, or a medieval bridge, and always a very typical food and wine store that I brought treasures from...

So if you get the chance, don't hesitate to come on down here! C and I will be happy to show you around. Any excuse is a good one :-)