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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
And on this slightly more humid side, enormous rosemary shrubs, blooming herbs, a waterfall, and a magnolia!
We head down, down, down, find the cat’s still napping, and hasn’t moved in the two hours we wandered.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gotta workout, and pack it up.
From Laura: #randomkatness (it’s a thing). Today we have two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.