Provence, France Day 8

A good workout with some ant companions, a few of which insisted on joining me for yoga. We mostly managed to coexist.

We all walked, following one of Jason’s and Kat’s walking routes to the golf club for lunch. Lots and lots of lavender and herbs, flowering trees, unusual art along the way. A very fine lunch with views of the golf course and the hills beyond. And a solid walk back–mostly uphill, with a stop at an herb garden, scented especially with rosemary.

Reflection. Photo by j a-b
BW in buggy. Photo by j a-b
Art is everywhere at this resort. Photo by kat
Wall knife and BW. Photo by kat
Safely out of reach. Photo by j a-b
Today’s flora. Photo by kat

There’s a big, shiny, reflective silver ball. It has some depressions that makes me wonder if it’s representing a moon.* Now a little hang out time before our big adventure.

Still life. Photo by NR
Mirror of interesting luck with orchid. Photo by NR

As I lost my FitBit trail riding at the spa–hooked to the waistband of my jeans–I put this one in my pocket before we head out to drive to the horse farm. Windy, roundabout, then a very skinny road with curves. But it’s a short drive to a private dirt road that leads to an absolutely lovely spot with horses in paddocks, the forest everywhere, and still views of the hills.

Our guide greets us–her English is better than our French, and we’re shown our horses. Dark Spanish beauties. She say they’re cool–and I realize after a bit this is calm. I’m very fine with a calm horse. She sizes us up, assigns horses. We get our helmets, and lead our mounts into the exercise paddock. BW is mounted first–he’ll be behind the guide. Me next, then Jason, then Kat.

Riders up! Photo by j a-b’s phone.

We’re each to circle the ring a few times, at a walk, at a trot. I decide to pass my FitBit to BW, for his little saddlebag. Better safe than sorry. And off we go.

Down the little road, beside another paddock where a buckskin runs to the fence, runs down it as if to say: Take Me, Too!

The land’s beautiful, as are the views. My horse is sweet and responsive–and I like he’s not an ass-sniffer as so many trail horses will insist on tailgating the one in front. Jason’s likes to eat, so he’s dealing with that sneakiness. Kat’s is a very calm slow-poke.

A car comes along occasionally on this first leg, and over to the side we go. We pass other farms, pretty little houses, more horses, wind around–another car, and our guide tells us this is her uncle. A dirt stretch, and how about a trot. My mount–and her name never got through–has a very springy trot. I’m going to feel this tomorrow, I think. (I can now confirm this as true!)

Back to a road, and a steep ride down–no trotting. Around and around, all so pretty, Another dirt road, another trot. My glasses keep sliding down, so I have to rein with one hand and shove them up as I try to post–a good fast trot, too! Through olive groves with the hills spread out glowing in the early evening light.

Water on the trail. Photo by kat

And now we turn into the forest. After the VERY steep, very narrow track down where I put my faith in my horse. This is my favorite part of a really lovely ride. Thick woods, green light, dappled sun, and all quiet and timeless. Wild berry bushes like the ones above my own garden wall–and I believe our guide says something about wild boar and deer. I won’t think about the boar. Ducking under branches, soft dirt track–and here’s a branch you have to hold up as you ride.

I think of people who rode through forests like these hundreds of years ago.

We ride down toward the river–a dry bed in the drought. Jason’s horse not only likes to eat, but she wants to pass mine. Is determined. The first time she does it, mine kind of gets into it. A race! But then obviously decides live and let. I watch Jason’s horse give mine the side eye as it passes. Equine smirk.

Jason’s horse contemplating his moves. Photo by j a-b

But our guide says to be careful here as Jason’s mount likes to nip at BW’s mount’s butt. Mine isn’t a nipper or a sniffer, and just happily walks along.

We see the lake–that teal water soft in the quieter light. We cross what would be the river, a wide area where Jason’s horse stops to eat so my resumes his position. Kat’s is well back. Not only in no hurry she tells us later, but she all but hears her equine sighs. I’m tired! I need a nap! Not a clip clop, this one, but according to Kat, a clip–pause, pause–reluctant clop.

Tired horse with view. Photo by kat

BW’s having a great time up ahead, holding spates of conversation with our guide as she points out villages and hills. My horse is content to walk, falls back a few times, then on his own breaks into a bright little trot to catch up. Jason’s horse eats and passes mine. Eats, passes mine, and Kat’s clips . . . . . . . clops.

We circle back–road, houses, horses, the very beginning of a sunset, just that bright gold haloing the eastern hills.

And we’re back–a full 2 1/2 hours. I accept this is likely my limit on a horse. No way I could comfortably do a full day, even with a picnic lunch to break it up. But what an experience, and what a fine, beautiful horse.

Kat and BW take pictures, and I chat with our guide and her husband. I love Kat’s photo of her horse the best. Exhaustion! LOL.

Tired horse. Done. Photo by kat

There are riders in the ring, doing jumps, and one on a gorgeous mount is our guide’s sister, who competes. She’s a joy to watch.

Beauty in the ring. Photo by BW

A friend or relative sits at a picnic table with her recently adopted American Pit Bull–or I think that’s the breed. He is HAPPY. And instantly, as dogs are, in love with Jason. I explain we have three dogs at home, so his joy and enthusiasm aren’t a problem. The husband brings out their dog–so handsome! And beautifully trained.

Dog pals. Photo by kat

Then we have yet another treat. Our guide has adopted a twenty-year-old former bullfighting horse from Spain. A stallion. He rushes the fence when we approach–apparently he’d like to kill the horse the sister’s riding in the ring! You can see where he’s chewed on the paddock gate.

He breaks everything, our guide tells us. Then she goes in, and there’s such love. This horse loves her completely. He nuzzles, rubs, his whole body changes when she’s beside him. And that love is clearly mutual. She uses a whisk of straw to have him prance. And he stands so proudly.

The Spanish stallion. Photo by BW

I suppose he’s bilingual as she tells us she doesn’t speak Spanish.

We linger quite awhile. This is a happy, lovely and obviously loving place.

Back to the hotel, and we need a little food as we didn’t graze like the horses on the trail. Kat wants soup, and has figured out how to make little grilled cheese sandwiches with our supplies and the hot dish we held back from another meal. Clever, as always.

Kat making dinner. Photo by j a-b

We eat, and well, talk about our adventure, comparing horses and impressions.

Off to bed.

Yes, my butt feels it this morning! But we’ll see what a workout will do.

I had a different visitor today. A big gray cat who wandered it, slithered under the pool gate to drink. Meowed at me, but wouldn’t approach before she wandered off again.

New workout companion. Photo by NR

We’re driving to Fayence today to see what we can see.

I’ve ridden through the forests of Provence on a Spanish horse. That’s one for the memory book.

Nora

* Note from Laura. That’s probably the #randomkatness from Day 5 that I thought was the home of the Guardians of the Fountain.

Today’s #randomkatness

Nails of art. Photo by kat

Provence, France Day 7

Ants are fewer during workout time. Maybe they’re getting the message. I run the battery down on BW’s laptop, so consider that a good session.

A quiet morning with sun on the hills, twittering birds, singing cicadas. So I work on the shady terrace until I run the battery down on my Surface. (Kat’s tracking the new one, still scheduled to arrive today! We’ll see.)*  

While I worked, Kat and Jason took themselves off for a walk. BW’s working on his photos. It’s a good time to settle in with a book. This is, obviously, vacate day. Hang close to home, relax. I’ll take it.

Rock dress of many colors. Photo by BW
The view from the main pool. Photo by BW
Diving into infinity (pool). Photo by BW
BW found a good book. (For those who will ask, that’s Dark in Death — coming in January.) Photo by NR

But why not take a swim? And the water is just perfect. Top it off with a dip in our newly fixed hot tub. And yes! L’eau est TRES chaud! Fabulous.

(Merci, Alain!)

Later in the afternoon, I make a fruit and cheese platter. This time I used BW’s unfortunately dull Swiss Army knife. But it worked. Kat–they’re back and working on some Foundation business–comes out to join me. And I hear about their walking adventure. It sounds like down paths, over fields, through a gate–and yet another gate–and to a market she tells me is sort of like a Wal-Mart. Some of everything. Not the cable BW’s looking for to hook his iPod up to the villa’s music system, but an interesting accidental destination.

The path of the trek. Photo by kat
Les poissons! Photo by kat

Back the same way with some team work to get back through the gates.

BW wanders out.

We polish off hunks of bread, cheese, slices of white peaches, little purple grapes.

Quiet day, easy early evening. I try out the terrace cocoon, find it swivels. I swivel it to block the sun, and have a book and a pretty little window in the wall to see the hills. Very nice. 

Tablescape. Photo by j a-b
Suite art. Photo by kat
Evening, down the hall. Photo by kat

We think about ordering dinner, finally get to that. So we have an early-ish meal on our terrace, then an evening under the stars.

I decide to challenge my kids to a work week contest on FitBit–retroactively starting Monday morning. Hah! Jason points out I’m well in the lead with this retroactive business. Hey, rules is rules.

I’m going to add to that lead–after all I’m old enough to be their mama, so must exploit the advantage–with a workout. Kat may venture out to a yarn store she found through her phone skills. We have the day open until five, when we’re booked for the horses and the forest. So we figure a substantial lunch this afternoon as we won’t be back to the villa until about eight.

Two and a half hours on horseback. This may mean a group session in the hot tub tonight.

My doves are cooing, but the visitor hasn’t yet come for her drink. Time to fire up BW’s laptop and expand my lead.

Nora

*Note from Laura: the original one was wrestled from the grasp of the spirits at Greenbrier — or found under a desk in one of the rooms there (your choice) and will be waiting at home for Nora’s return.

Today in #randomkatness.  Name this flower.

Photo by kat (Laura’s guess is a wild plum.)

Provence, France Day 6

Start my workout with no ants in sight. About ten minutes in one scouts the area. His friends, only a handful today, join him. But this time they don’t bother to follow me down the terrace.

Our day really starts when we gather together and walk up to the hotel for our car. We have a plan. Our navigator has a map. BW pilots our big ass SUV along the winding, sun-splashed roads toward the village of Seillans. I may be spelling that wrong, but our trusty navigator (Kat) has the map, and she’s still asleep. [Note from Laura: I’m awake, I checked the Google, this is correct.]  Lots of hills to admire on our serpentine way. And the curvy road narrows. Seriously narrows. I think skinnier than county roads in Ireland, but it’s pointed out we don’t have hedgerows crowding in, so there’s that. Round the roundabouts, the main reason I won’t drive in Europe as I want to save lives, including my own.

Entrance. Photo by j a-b
Narrow street made charming by age. Phto by j a-b

We find our village, and parking. It’s old and just lovely. Hilly and steep with cobbled streets, narrow and lined with buildings of stone, many with flowers spilling from window boxes. Most of the shops are closed today, but we came to explore, to see and eventually have lunch. From high perches, we look down on villas and gardens, and out to the hills. The breeze is frisky enough I have to carry my hat or lose it. We walk to a plaza where the panorama makes me sigh with its view of green hills and valleys.

Seillans in pano. Photo by j a-b

We see little cat silhouettes painted low on doors here and there, and a few of the models napping among potted plants. 

Cat by kat.

I can’t remember the name of the clever countess who started a perfumerie on her estate, to brings jobs and revenue to the village, and planted scores of Jasmine, roses, violets, etc. During the war, she converted it into a hospital. A smart, generous woman, I think.  [Note from Laura — saving everyone the Google time: it was the Viscountess de Savigny de Moncorps.]

The church here is again old and lovely. When we walk in you feel the age in the air. A high curved ceiling, a reverent hush, the flicker of candles in the quiet light.

Church door. Photo by kat
Photo by kat

Up and up some more to pass a hotel. Les Deux Roc. Named for the two enormous rocks it faces across the little street. There’s a stone arch and a stone fountain, and a serious view. The arch rises where a castle stood, and the plaque tells us people lived there in the Dark Ages. The stone hums a little under my hand.

I look around and see, as is often the case, a dog has found Jason. The old girl lies belly up and in ecstasy as Jason gives her a good rub.

Jason, dog charmer. Photo by BW

We wander in and out and back to the big, open-air restaurant. A large center fountain spills water into pails of flowers, so charming. Most of the many tables are occupied, but we’re in luck. And after the climb, wine. Lovely wine, pretty air, the clatter of voices, lots of families on holiday, a busy waitstaff in floral shirts. Fresh salad and bread, as the restaurant claims to be pain depot. An easy meal under the shade of just enormous, many-branched trees with bark that look like camo. They’re absolutely gorgeous.

Lunch time! Photo by j a-b
Shady spot. Photo by j a-b
Tree growth stands for no rail. Photo by j a-b
All the freshness at lunch. Photo by kat

On the way back to the car, we stop into an open art shop. The artist is working in clay on her table, and the shop is full of her sculptures, paintings, drawings. We converse in her careful English and my pitiful French. And I buy some postcards of her work to remember. I love particularly one of her sculptures, a slender, dreamy figure in blue, but have no place for it.

Intrepid travelers on a non-driveable street. Lane? Alley? photo by BW

Revived, we decide to continue our adventuring with a trip to Mons. Much winding and climbing, skinny roads and switchbacks. Kat has become our Ensign Checkov. And so BW becomes Kirk. As Jason is logic, and is checking comms, he’s designated as a combo of Spock and Uhura. If the car had weapons, I might be Sulu, but as it is, it’s decided I’ll be Bones.

Damn it, Jim!

Mons is famed for its view, so we wind up the narrow streets and find a big dirt field where dozens of people play various games of Bocci. Dozens. Old, young, men, women, kids. And it appears to be fairly serious. Beside the field is a big trailer, a hair salon. I’m fascinated. Will the Bocci players take breaks for a fresh coiffure? There are venders for food and drink, public toilets that the men make use of. Kat and I pass as the accommodations are essentially holes in the ground.

Petanque! Photo by BW
Action shot – perfect form. Photo by BW

The view is breathtaking. Miles and miles of hills. Green, green forests below, and some farms that have carved through with earthen spaces and red tile roofs. Hills rolling into mountains that fold their way to the sea hazed by distance, the toy-like huddles of villages scattered, and all under perfect blue skies. The sun’s white and brilliant. It’s a painting with no frame to interrupt the glory of the art.

A view. Photo by j a-b
Adventurers with view. Photo by kat

Back down we go to wind our way back, roundabouts, curvy roads, vistas, forests. And now a stop at the market. A supermarket. Fun!

Cheese! So many to choose from. A baguette, and won’t that combo be yum. Wines, so many wines. Chips. I’m going to work, and my working brain requires the occasional munch. Peach juice for belinis! Ice cream, because why not. We haul our supplies back to the car, make our way back to the hotel after a fine adventure.

In our villa, we stock our kitchen, and I polish off the day with a belini. Not as glorious as those in the restaurant here, but not bad at all.

A little down time, before we clean ourselves up for dinner at the hotel.

A lovely terrace, a display of desserts that tempt as we walk through. Wine, bien sur. BW and Kat get rockfish soup as a starter. It’s a rich looking purée that comes with little dishes of shredded cheese, a pot of sauce and slices of baguette. Add those to the soup, they’re told. And both do just that.

I’ve chosen the Black Angus steak and it comes with tiny new potatoes. Both are heaven. I share as even though these are reasonable French portions, I can’t finish. But I can look forward to ordering this again.

And those desserts.

Kat has the name of the one she and BW split. Big dessert that our waitress in Eze explained as: pie, cream, pie. Kat looked it up and the authentic French method of creating it takes two days and a gelatin sheet. I choose a little pot of lemon cake with cream, oh my! I think Jason got something chocolate, but I was a little busy.

A long, lovely meal that ends under the stars. I’m grateful for the walk back.

I’ll workout hard today to make up for that meal, a good trade in my book.

The mourning dove brought a companion to the pool this morning, and the cicadas are singing in the forest. I might see if I can book a massage for late afternoon as, if my battery holds out, I’ll work. Otherwise it’s terrace sitting, maybe a walk, and more wine. 

Nora

Today’s #randomkatness.

Wishing for smellovision just about now. Photo by kat

Provence, France Day 5

After another eight straight of solid sleep–wowzer!–it’s workout time on a balmy morning. I figure to start with some cardio with my man Shaun T. We’re kicking it when I notice ants on the patio where I’ve set up. Don’t want to stop, so keep going, trying to avoid stomping ants.

Finally pause, move down the patio. Start it up, pumping up that heart rate. See the ants have followed me. Finish the Shaun T, go for more cardio and some upper body work, and move down the patio again.

Into it! And apparently so are the ants. It’s not a swarm by any means but about a dozen who systematically move where I move. I think they must be attracted by the music. BW says it’s my feet hitting the patio so they think: Fresh meat.

Eeuuww.

Conclude with a short yoga session–ahhh–and just ignore my tiny companions.

During my stint, Kat and BW head over to breakfast, and Jason’s up. Housekeeping comes in. I finish just as the tech guy comes to look at the hot tub, which stopped working–and a couple of the AC areas. We want the AC off and the doors and windows open. Temps climb into the mid-80s, but there’s always a breeze.*  My French doesn’t include words like hot tub jets and AC, and our guy has less English than I have French, but the housekeeper translates.

I decide I’ll work at the pretty table surrounded by woods while techs and housekeeping do what they do. It’s lovely, really lovely to have an hour or two in the shade, in the fresh air, in the woodsy quiet to work.

Keeping the distance while someone works in her outdoor space. Photo by j a-b

Jason and Kat go for a walk, BW heads for his massage. It’s quiet, quiet. I work on and finish the scene I’d hoped to finish. And that’s enough.

Jason with an oven? A hive? Alien pod? Need answers! Photo by kat **
A view and reflection. Photo by kat
Sun in a break from the shadows. Photo by kat.
The grounds. Photo by kat
Fleur. Photo by kat.
A little taste of home. Photo by kat

Tech says au revoir, housekeeping’s done. Time for a hot shower and real clothes. It’s then I discover my charger cord isn’t in my case. It’s always in my case. I’m practically OCD about my writing tools. But it’s just not in the case where I carry my Surface for work. Huh. I worked on it at The Greenbrier, but can SEE myself unplugging to pack up. Maybe I got distracted and forgot to put it in the case. Maybe the ghosts slipped it out hoping I’d come back for it.

In any case, oops.

Kat checks on her phone on the walk to lunch, discovers she can order one and it should be here Wednesday. But first Jason will check my model, as I have no clue.

Lunch of gorgeous freshness. Photo by kat

Lunch is perfect, and so is the belini. A trio of little French kids are running around, chanting something at each other that includes the word poopy (spoken with great glee). Obviously poopy is, like math, an international language.

Person of letters. Photo by j a-b
Guardians of the fountain. Photo by BW

I need to add that I’ve challenged my traveling companions to a day-long Fit Bit contest. Jason notes that I’m leading by considerable. And he takes himself off for a walk after lunch. But not before checking my Surface. Kat orders me the new charger. We’ll see if it gets here.

Before the second walk, we stop by the front desk to make some bookings. We’ll eat at the main restaurant tonight, as it was booked until 9:30 last night. Too late for our American stomachs. We get advice on what villages to visit, and have one earmarked for today, as well as a market trip. And we booked a two and a half hour horseback ride through the forest for Wednesday. They actually offer a full day ride that goes to the lake (where you can SWIM the horses) and includes a picnic. But we’ll start slower and see how our butts handle it.

Back for patio sitting, hanging out, reading. It’s a good day to veg with warm air, blue skies, and that quiet.

Patio cocoon. Photo by NR

Jason has now passed me on the challenge! I come back, punt him, but he rallies. We’re neck-in-neck through the evening.

Dinner at our villa, and I have velvety tomato soup along with a salad. Then there’s creme brulee. I can’t finish it, but there’s always breakfast!

Tumble into bed shortly after. I think I might try out the hot tub, but ZZZZZ.

Discover this morning Jason’s nipped me by about a hundred steps! I’ll get him next time.

Writing this on the patio by the pool. A mourning dove swoops in to the edge of the water-she comes several times a day–takes a drink, flies off.

Time to work out, with or without ants. Then we’ll venture out and see what there is to see.

Nora

Notes from Laura:

*These “oh let’s open the windows, it’s 80 and there’s a breeze!” people consistently confound me.

**When there are few cues in the copy to help caption a photo, I kind of let myself go.

An answer from Kat about the necklace she wore in a photo on Day 2: It’s an anniversary gift Jason bought for her in Eze — and here’s an explanation of it (It’s so kat, imo): 

In today’s #randomkatness:

Orb. Probably the home of the guardians of the fountain. Photo by kat

Eze to Provence, France Day 4

Packing up, even though we didn’t actually unpack for our short stay, still takes time. Where did I put this, what happened to that? Then making room for goodies bought. Jason and Kat head down for a last pain au chocolate before check out.

A last look at the sea, a last walk down, down, down through our little village. We couldn’t have had a lovelier time in Eze. 

One last look at the blue sea. Photo by j a-b

Now it’s time for Kat and the bellmen to pack our many bags into the car. And for BW to maneuver us out. It takes awhile to circumvent the sharp, narrow angles, especially with oncoming vehicles trying to do the same, but we get there. 

Where to go next? Photo by kat

We’re taking the fast route–not really scenic though those hills are impressive as we whizz along the road. The drive’s under two hours, with several tolls–escalating as we go. We have enough coins to make it, but wonder why they don’t post the cost of the tolls before you creep your way through the jammed traffic–jammed we suspect because any who don’t already know the cost are now digging for the correct amount.

And we exit and turn onto a lovely country road lined with forests, drive over little bridges. We come to an enormous and gorgeous lake with water of pale teal. I’ve never seen water that color, and it looks faerie-like to me. There’s a sandy beach, a little water park, paddle boats–some with slides! Sail boats gliding, and venders selling ices.

The road winds and curves, and here is our place! BW and I were here 12 years ago, and when we turn in, I remember the look and feel. Flowers, flowers, flowers!

Inside the big, airy lobby to check in. Friendly, efficient staff, and before we know it, our luggage is unloaded, we’re loaded into a golf cart and rolling our way to our villa.

It’s wonderful! And really big. I pass right through the living area with its plentiful seating to the big outdoor space. I could live there. Padded sofas and chairs, lounging areas in sun or shade, a dining table–and we’re all about eating right there tonight. Our own pretty pool and hot tub, and all of it surrounded by trees before the view opens to the hills with their gently rounded tops, the houses and towns stacked down the slopes. 

Le spa. Photo by NR
La spa. Photo by BW
La vue. Photo by NR

BW and I take a room, little terrace off the bedroom, big dressing area, huge bath. Kat and Jason take one with a pretty sitting room, little terrace. There’s a small library, yet another sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen. Glass doors everywhere opening to that wonderful outdoor living space.

We leave unpacking for later, walk back to the hotel–lavender thick on slopes–and eventually find the restaurant near the pool. I see a belini on the drink menu, and that’s for me. A scan shows a make-your-own-salad option. So that’s what we all do. Fresh, fresh, fresh. Field greens, romaine, Roma, cherry, big bright red, fascinating black tomatoes, peppers, tuna, anchovies, cheeses, herbs, olives, etc, etc. They offer huge bowls for a reason.

We very happily settle down to lunch–with fresh bread as well. And my belini all but brings a tear to my eye.

There’s a separate area–for kids, the waitress explains, for kid type food. No wonder we see several very happy kids while we eat our enormous salads.

A happy walk back, and it’s unpacking time. I’m so ready to put things away because suitcase living brought back the rigors of book tour. Now all our things are hung up or tucked in. Jason and Kat want a walk–and decide they’ll walk to the market. It’s like two miles, maybe three, but they’ve got it mapped out. Off they go–with an ETA back of three hours.

I sit, have a glass of champagne, then decide I want to try the pool. So does BW.

It’s just right. Not chilly–I’m not a fan of cold swimming pools. Just cool enough to be refreshing. A nice swim, a dip in the hot tub. The day’s travel, then unpacking all melt away.

I think I’ll read for a bit on the terrace sofa. I do, then drift off. Sleep right there in the shade, in the quiet, for more than an hour.

I hear Jason’s voice, and BW’s.

The adventures of Kat and Jason took more than three hours. The walk to the market timed well, but they discovered much of it meant walking ON the road as there was no real shoulder. It’s windy, curvy, and they both decided it just wasn’t a good, safe idea. So Kat mapped out an alternate route on her phone for their return. This through the forest, initially on an actual track. But then the track dies off, and with the drought the river is a dry river bed. They’re two Americans with backpacks filled with soda, milk, snacks–and of course Kat’s survivalist tools–in the middle of a forest in Provence. 

The forest path. Photo by kat.

Jason says he hears a bird call out, obvious distress, as they work their way through the woods with Kat’s phone map, then come across a pile of feathers. And Jason wonders just what kind of wildlife may live that wild life in the forest here. It’s still light, but there is some concern. I sleep through their adventure so Mom doesn’t have any worry time when they’re late getting back. BW had woken from his nap before me, so had a bit of concern before they came in.

But they made it through–and as Kat said, they could have spent the night in the forest with chips and sodas and milk–and limes–and her handy supply kit. LOL.

But now they’re back after a very, very long walk, so it’s time for dinner. They have sea bass, and I’m a fan. Pomme frites! Kat takes a well-deserved interlude in the hot tub after we order.

The waiter sets us up on the outdoor table. I bring out a travel candle so we have our first dinner here with the music of the cicadas and candlelight on the terrace. 

Vue de la soiree. Photo by NR

And the sea bass is amazing.

A little lounging time in the living room, and I’m in bed by 10:30.

Another eight-straight night for me, and I write this while the rest sleep in our wonderfully quiet spot. I’m going to work out here on the terrace, ease into the day, and I think maybe I’ll write a little out here where the trees are like home.

BW, driver extraordinaire, is getting a massage today. I expect Kat and Jason will take a more civilized walk on the many lovely paths of the resort. Then we’ll see what else the day brings.

Nora

Today’s #randomkatness:

Knock THIS way. Photo by kat.

Eze, France Day 3

Ready for Monaco. Photo by BW

Driving in our little village is . . . interesting. We walk down, down, down to where they keep the car. We have a pretty big SUV as there are four of us, and we’ll have a load of luggage when we travel to Provence, then back again to Nice. These roads are happier with scooters and minis.

There are round-abouts and strange angles and intersections with cars pointed nose-to-nose. BW gets us through it, and we have the Navigation–with her classy Brit accent–set for Monaco.

It’s a windy route, the cliffs on one side, the sea on the other, and cars and scooters zooming. Until they don’t. Traffic jam as two lanes go into one. It’s only about ten kilometers, but it takes awhile with the switchbacking and the traffic. Then there’s Monaco, hilly and charming with its softly colored buildings–creams and ecrus, pale roses and yellows. An odd and somewhat elegant mix of old and new with the lovely lines and curves of older buildings and the high-rise (gotta go up as it’s a tiny country) flats. So many balconies, and most with the lacy iron rails that remind me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The fabulous marina with its city of white boats.

Monaco and beyond. Photo by BW

We make a wrong turn, end up at the docks where the biggest private yacht I’ve ever seen is prepping to leave. It’s nearly cruise ship size. I’d want to be on it in the event of a zombie apocalypse as I suspect you could live comfortably at sea for a couple years until things sorted out.

We look for parking–all of which is underground, and plentiful. But it’s finding the right lot for our walk to the palace. And traffic is amazing. Our Nav is directing us to a lot, but how could she know that lot was FERME? You can’t blame her. We wind and loop and find another.

Then the adventure truly begins. These multi-level underground lots are designed for toy cars. I’m talking Matchbox. Narrow, skinny, sharp turns, down, down–and the tires makes this hideous noise. Like fingers rubbed hard on an inflated balloon. Cars are jammed into tiny spaces angled so sharply it’s a wonder anything can maneuver into them. And we’re in a big boy. We try for one–soon realize it’s just not possible. Physics and geometry are real.

Down, and down those skinny turns. All the way to minus four. Jason gets out, does a scouting mission on foot. Finds one. But no. While BW–who is steering and slithering through this labyrinth–manages to get into the space–with Jason helping him navigate–our ass-end is poking way out.

Try again. Wind, wind, and finally manage to get our big guy into a space. But it’s so tight I have to get out first, then after easing it in, BW has to climb over the seat to get out the passenger door.

But it’s parked. One hour after heading into the lot. Kudos to BW.

We find our way up–after taking a picture of our parking space number, just in case.

Ah, fresh air. Lovely, lovely, breezy air. Palm trees and flowers and blue, blue water.

Monaco colors against a blue sky. Photo by BW
Monaco spread before you. Photo by j a-b

A pedestrian area, also lovely. Pretty little shops and restaurants, and no cars! We stretch our legs, do a little shopping, stroll. BW finds a liquor store–and the man deserves a vodka tonic tonight after this driving feat. He and Kat go in–to what turns out to be the oldest wine store in Monaco. They bring photos of the gorgeous interior, the friendly shop keeper. Jason and I have wandered down, found a restaurant for lunch. Italian, busy, lots of outdoor tables. There’s a small park directly across, with a sign letting us know Princess Grace cut the ceremonial ribbon to open it.

Kat and the wine shopkeeper. Photo by BW
BW in the wine store. Photo by kat
The wine store treasure trove. Photo by kat.

Pretty flowers and shrubs, a bandstand. A large statue of a mermaid with a long, serpentine tail who appears to be singing to a mannish lion who wears armor.

Maybe a local legend. Or a mashup of Beauty and The Beast and The Little Mermaid.

We’re hungry! Settle at a table by a fountain. Our waiter’s charming and funny and the pasta’s terrific. Refreshed and fed, we’re ready for the climb to the palace high above the city.

Jason volunteers to take our bags back to the car first, and because we didn’t know what we assumed was the walkway across was FERME to pedestrians, we lose him. Texts back and forth working out a new meeting spot. Technology is great when it works. There he is! Here we are, and now we’re all together for the steep, long climb.

Steps, steps and more steps. Gardens and trees, views of the marina. And steps. I should have the legs of a teenager after all this. If only.

The climb’s worth it. The palace and its plaza are beautiful. Soft, creamy colors, elegant lines against sections of gray stone. Not fussy, just lovely. But lines of cannons let you know it can serve as a fortress on its high perch over city and sea. Throngs of tourists. We opt out of the tour of the interior. The views are magnificent enough.

BW lining up the shot over the cannons. Photo by kat
Yachts at the ready. Photo by j a-b

I like watching the palace guard, splendid in white, march back and forth or stand soberly in front of his guard house.

We buy a few souvenirs, wander and stroll, wander more and find narrow streets lined with shops, the buildings high and tight and beautiful. And ah, gelato. I believe we will.

Wander and poke. Lots of people leading dogs. Lots of languages bouncing in the air. I don’t need another scarf, but I spot one that’s irresistible, and now I have a momenta of Monaco.

We find the cathedral–more magnificence–and go inside. I realize I’m walking down the same aisle Grace Kelly walked on her wedding day. She and her prince are buried here, behind the great altar where they exchanged their vows.

The cathedral. Photo by BW
Final resting place. Photo by kat

Now we go down, down, down, steps and ramps–shady benches tucked in corners–and work our way back to the garage.

It’s easier getting out then getting in, but still no easy feat. And since none of us want to face another parking garage, we eliminate visiting the casino. We still have that drive back–and the trick of getting the car dropped off. Again easier then the outward bound, but no snap.

Now it’s more climbing. Up and up to the hotel. We left Eze about eleven. We get back to our room about six. That’s a good day’s adventure.

Time for a well-earned drink.

Sunset near the hotel. Photo by j a-b.
Jason and Kat. Photo by BW.
Final evening in Eze. Photo by j a-b

Dinner at eight, and we go for Italian again–it’s easy, close and we know the food’s good. We have an outdoor table, I have a glass of red. There’s a handsome dog under the table across the brick path, and people passing by on their way up or down.

Then some rain drops. Unexpected. The waitress directs us inside.

It’s like a cave, but in a really good way. Stone walls, curved stone ceiling, little niches with lights or odd art. Glorious scents. Tables crowded in together, and the kitchen in view down at the end of the cave. Fresh salads, fresh pasta, fun companions and conversation, friendly service. That’s a good end to a good day. Especially when you add one more gelato. I get a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of vanilla. Two gelatos in one day! I need to keep climbing steps.

Definitely ready for bed!

Today we leave Eze for Provence. It’s been a wonderful stay, and I’ll miss the view off our terrace and the cheerful staff of the hotel, the equally cheerful shopkeepers and waitstaffs. I’ve loved this slice of France.

Quirky pano #1. Photo by j a-b’s phone.

Gotta workout, and pack it up.

Nora

From Laura: #randomkatness (it’s a thing).  Today we have two.

Heh heh. Photo by kat. #randomkatness
A puzzle. Photo by kat #randomkatness

Eze, France Day 2

A fIrst full day in France packed with climbs, views, flora, scents and gelato.  Vacation indeed.

It’s fascinating to climb and wind through the steep narrow streets here with the old stone of the buildings hugging the brick and cobblestone walkways. Ramps and steps heading steeply up and down, flowers and shop displays adding color.

We head out under sunny skies, poking and climbing our way toward Jardin Exotique. We’re not alone and join the queue for tickets. A big black cat curls up for a nap inside the cashier’s window. The exotic begins with a wide and pretty fabulous array of cacti climbing up the steep hills–and adding an arid touch to the views of sea and red-tile roofs. Shapes I’ve never seen, and some with buds and blossoms that seem other-worldly to this East Coast gardener. You climb the hills, too. Steep, hamstring challenging steps up and up in gorgeous air to the ruins of a fortress Louis XIV ordered demolished. Sprinkled throughout are charming, sleekly styled sculptures of goddesses, each with its own little poem. The ruins are high above our hotel, which I thought was really high to begin with. From here we can see the town proper, the perfumeries, the roads, and out and above, higher hills.

Cacti with a view. Photo by kat.
A variety of cacti and succulents. Photo by j a-b.
Looking down. Photo by BW.

And here, as I scan up, as looking down whacks my system, I see on the crest of those high hills an odd tree formation. I study a moment, but it’s very, very clear to me–and when I point it out to my lovely companions, they must agree. It’s a large humping mouse violating a small tree. BW provides photographic evidence. I honestly wonder if some sly gardener hiked up there and created it.

As requested by Nora. Do you see the mouse? Photo by BW.

We leave this high–and nicely flat perch for more exploration. Up and up, down and down, to see tall, armed cactus, squat, thorny balls, wonderfully weirdly twisted ones, sweet, spectacular waxy blooms, huge, lethal blades. We come upon a small lily pond fed with misters and another perch with lounge chairs and yet another gorgeous vista.

Group selfie from on high. Photo by kat’s phone.
BW and Nora. Phot by j a-b.

And on this slightly more humid side, enormous rosemary shrubs, blooming herbs, a waterfall, and a magnolia!

Flowers on the ascent. Photo by kat.
Rosemary cascade. photo by j a-b.
Fierce succulent. Photo by kat.
Peaceful succulent. Photo by kat.
Waterfall. Photo by BW.

We head down, down, down, find the cat’s still napping, and hasn’t moved in the two hours we wandered.

Cat. Photo by kat.

More climbing as we start back for the pizza and gelato we happily agreed on. A quick stop for me for a new hat. The one I brought wasn’t as smashable as I assumed and now looks like it belongs to a drunken farmer. I find my new chapeau, and a couple of Christmas gifts while we wait for an outdoor table at the busy restaurant. The proprietor, and she’s hustling, tells us: Five minutes, ten, fifteen. In other words, who knows. Hey, there’s more time so Kat and I poke into more shops. I find a sweet summer dress, take a chance on the size as I’m too lazy to try it on.

We find the pizza–or pasta in Kat’s case–more than worth the wait. A nice glass of local red, a well-earned meal, followed by, mmmm, gelato. I can’t think of anything better than pizza and gelato any time, but after hiking the gardens, it’s amazing.

Gelato! Photo by j a-b.

A quick stop at the hotel, then Kat guides me down to the perfumerie. We stop on the way at a wood shop. Spoons! I can never have enough wooden spoons. And there’s a wonderful trio of grinders–salt, pepper, herbs–well, we both need that! This proprietor, a charming older gentlemen, demonstrates how the grinders work, talks to us in a combo of English and French about his wares. An excellent stop.

Down the steep street to the busy roads, and into the heady scents of a perfumerie. We weren’t able to schedule a workshop, but take a tour of the little museum and see someone making a personalized scent among all the little bottles behind the glass. A worker patiently cuts a long, long trail of soap into exact slices, then hand-stamps each one. We see huge copper vats and tools, fascinating droppers filled with essence. Jasmine, rose, citrus, white musk and on and on.

Perfumerie’s copper alembic distiller. Photo by kat.
Scenes from a perfumerie. Photo by kat
Soap stamper. Photo by kat.

Back up and up and up. Whew! Time for some champagne.

In a bit, Kat comes in–she and Jason headed out once again. And they’ve found a rock shop. Do I want to come see? Do I! I love rock shops, and this one is manned by a young guy who not only knows his rocks, but is passionate. My kind of guy.

He’s used his stones well in jewelry, and has plenty of rough stones, tumbled stones, spears, wands, globes. Like in a garden, I always feel happy in a rock shop. The colors, the shapes and textures. Just the feel.

With Kat and Jason’s input, I score pretty much all my girl Christmas gifts. And more, have lots of conversation with the rock guy. I even love the name of the shop. Good Karma. I buy myself a ghost quartz. I say to Eliot (we get to first names) that it has my horse inside. He’s delighted that I see the horse, too. His mother runs a shop just across the way–and since I’m using a credit card, I go to her to be rung up. And he tells us his father runs a jewelry store just down the path.

Quite the enterprising family.

Back up–and more champagne as I note down gifts and recipients in my book–as I might not remember when it’s wrapping time who gets what.

A nap for Jason and Kat–who’ve logged respectively some 70-odd and 90-odd flights of steps in this climbing day. I have a measly 37 in comparison.

We opt for room service and an easy meal after our very adventurous day.

Bed time.

Cooler and breezy this morning. I think I’ll want a light jacket for our trip to Monaco. But first I need to choose my morning workout. And I need some caffeine!

Nora

Today’s Random Katness:

All place mats should converse with diners. Photo by kat.

Eze, France Day 1

The full view. Photo by ja-b.

What happened to July? I’ll tell you what happened to mine–with regrets for not posting to the blog for the bulk of the month.

A book ate my summer. I pulled what we’ll call an Eve Dallas for about three weeks to get a book finished before the crazy travel started. 12-15 hour days, eating pizza at my desk. But it worked! Any time I had for writing went into finishing next summer’s hardcover.

Then it was a week at the spa with friends and family–always so much fun to spend that week with happy kids. Then a week with girls at the amazing Greenbrier where we shared our gorgeous space with several playful ghosts. We did a Facebook Live from there, you can check it out from my FB page. Fun stuff.

Unpack, pack, write, unpack, pack, write gobbled up a lot of the summer.

And yesterday, after a pretty smooth flight, we arrived in Nice. Gorgeous Weather greeted us. Summer blue skies, puffy clouds, balmy breezes. The drive from there to our hotel for our three-day stay in the area was highway mostly, but oh, those hills and all the red-roofed houses climbing them. The splashes of color from flowers and gardens. Palm trees and cacti.

And we’re greeted by the concierge who whisks us to a balcony to sit while our rooms are readied. He offers champagne. I accept. We catch our breath looking out at the Med, the clumps of land jutting into it, the gliding white boats, the muscular mega yachts.

The view by day. Photo by ja-b.

Up to Kat’s and Jason’s room–so pretty! Such views, and their own little balcony. Then down to ours, and more pretty with a lovely terrace. I don’t look down from the rail as that rolls my stomach. But I can look out, see Nice in the distance, watch the white boats with their white wakes skim over the blue.

We need a nap! I’m down for two hours, know that’s all I should take if I want to adjust to the time change. Drag myself up. Need to walk some, so I prod BW to do the same. Down the brick path,  down the stone steps, into little shops just to browse for now as the brain’s still pretty soft. Feel less logy, and the air’s just delicious.

We go into a pretty little church, and the bells strike four.

Shop directory. Photo by j a-b.
The source of the bells. Photo by kat.

Start our walk back, run into Kat and Jason who’ve finished their nap. Off they go for a walk, and it’s definitely time for more champagne on the terrace. It’s starting to feel like holiday.

We have a lazy late afternoon followed by a fancy dinner, again on a terrace with those views, and as the evening slides into night, all the lights sparkle on those clumps and juts of land. The moon’s full but for a bite.

Dinner with a view. Photo by ja-b.

In bed by elevenish, and I’m stunned when I don’t wake till seven. Late for me, and lovely to wake late with that view greeting me. Kat’s up on her balcony, and comes down to hang. Being Kat, she’s found a market on her phone app. She and Jason will take the three mile walk and see what they see. I gear up and do a workout on my terrace. BW’s just back from getting the rental car we’ll use to drive to Monaco tomorrow. Woo! Monte Carlo. I’ve always wanted to see Monaco, and now it’s a easy drive from where we are.

We’ll walk about today and explore what’s billed as Jardin Exotique. We’ll all about pizza and gelato today, too.

In a few days, we’ll pack up and drive to Provence, settle in for two weeks. But this little interlude has, so far, been perfect. Gotta get myself cleaned up for today’s adventure.

A bientot!

The view by night. Photo by bw.

Nora

A PS from Laura:  I get all the photos and am able to choose what illustrates Nora’s posts the best.  Usually I can intuit my way into the caption, but sometimes I’m stumped.  More often than not, it’s a clever, quirky photo from Kat.  So when I can, I’ll add a photo that falls into Random Katness.  Today, I bring to you the puzzle of the door locks — and I’m absolutely certain Kat’s had  a wonderful time figuring them out.

The puzzle of the locks. Photo by kat.

Postcards from the summer

Good morning all!

The blog laid dormant  for a few weeks as summer (and deadline) caught up with Nora and I took the time to start considering how else to use this space.  The quiet is about to change as  we’re less than a week from Nora’s 2017 travelogue, this time from Cote d’Azur and Provence.

Here’s a quick catch up:

After New York with Logan, Nora planned to finish writing the 2018 hardcover romantic suspense before leaving for the family trip to the spa.   She ended up working 12-14 hours a day for nearly two weeks in order to meet the goal, and she did.  Shelter in Place went off to her editor on a Sunday morning and she left for the spa less than 24 hours later.

(Did you catch the title?)

The entire group did a paint session and BW sent me the results:

Then it was home for a few days and a dip in the In Death waters for the second 2018 book before the TTP 22nd anniversary signing, the Fall into the Story brunch and our trip to The Greenbrier.

( NO TITLE on that In Death yet — it’s barely started.)

The signing was a lot of fun and the authors had a wonderful time.

Brunch, as always, was a delight.  It’s so much fun to have a little more time to chat and share stories than we do at the signings.

I took the annual panorama of the entire group at the end of the brunch.

The next day, we were off to The Greenbrier for a week of work and relaxation.  Oh, and games.*  Nora, Ruth and I arrived first and took a quick, silly selfie to send BW.

We settled in, welcomed Kat and our Sarah, unpacked, got to know our engaging ghosts (the suite was full of excited energy that wasn’t just ours), and then planted ourselves on the private patio. We only left for walks or workouts or food.

Laura, Ruth, Sarah, Nora and Kat
Our staircase
The mirror along the staircase

Ruth and me.

Thursday, Nora and I did a Facebook Live — 40 minutes of conversation, some laughter and a lot of great information.

The week was wonderful. We’ve already booked next year.

Laura

*Yes, you read that right, games.  BUT no scoreboard.  Ruth Langan taught us Euchre and then Nora taught Ruth and me Hearts.  I have no ability to strategize, but I did ok. So, cards are acceptable.  They won’t be part of the Girls Spa trip so there will still be a Stupid Scoreboard.

 

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