Thursday, May 29, 2008


We have arrived in Italy after two buses and six trains. I will save our night train experience for another post. Its a good story.

For now, I will tell you we are in a medium sized town called Siena smack dab in the center of Tuscany.

Here are some nice pics of us living up life Italian style.

Joe listening to a Rick Steves pod cast:

Antipasti to start a meal off right and washing it down with Chianti

Speaking of this, we totally messed up the order. I got a liter of Chianti thinking 1 Liter was no more than a few glasses of wine. Joe informed me later that a standard bottle of wine was 750 ml. So we got a mega bottle of wine. My head hurt for the rest of the day. :)

Not the best picture of me considering that I was a mess after the 6 trains:

Mauri goes the grocery store

I wanted to show my appreciation to my hosts by buying a bottle of wine for them. If you recall, it is polite in the states to spend about 20 dollars for a bottle of wine you intend to give. Anything below 10 dollars, may show you look like a cheapo. Am I correct with this assumption?

Imagine, my dilemma when the wine display was shelf after shelf of this:

The store had tons of new items for us to figure out. I cant recommend more to try cooking in another country. You can add two hours to your day just browsing through the supermarket trying to find the equivalent. Here were a few of our surprises:

1. They do not have russet potatoes. Imagine my surprise when I had baked potato on the menu.
2. Cheddar cheese is not very common at all.
3. Cream is not refrigerated and comes in little juice boxes.
4. Eggs are not refrigerated either.
5. You pay for your plastic bags OR you bring your own bags.

Sometimes you are taught something your whole life and then when you realize that someone does it different and the sky does not fall, you start to rethink everything.

Food..Food and more Food

French markets in small villages are a true experience. Uta and Alain took us there and told us that this is the way they see the families from the mountains that come down once a week. Everyone was saying hello to Uta and Alain with two kisses, one on each cheek. The children and the puppies were all playing off to the side and everyone walked around the market with baskets buying anything and everything.

Markets are not all about food, we bought a pocket knife and Uta bought some new clothes for Theo. Markets sell everything, even pets.

One of my favorite memories will be at the market. Joe went off to buy dried sausage and the fellow was speaking french to joe pointing to the different meats and making him try each piece. There was an old lady picking out some produce and a crowd around a stand that was selling every spice you can think of. I could smell the paprika from where I was standing. To the right of me, were two people buying cheese from the Frommage (cheese) stand. They had about 60 different types of cheese. Finally, right beside me was a butcher selling his meat and right underneath the meat slicer was the fattest golden retriever you ever did see hoping that some meat would fall from the slicer and into his mouth.

We did remarkably well maneuvering around the market. Joe finally got a sausage, and we went on to continue to fill our packs with more picnic supplies for the train ride.

The result:

The Head Waiter at the Brasserie

Les Vans with our host Family

We had a fantastic time with Uta, Alain, Theo and Christophe outside of Les Vans in the Languedoc region. To get there, we took two trains and a bus. We really felt like adventurers hopping around.

Our host family had a lovely house and were just wonderful hosts. Uta made us a lovely home cooked french meal and we reciprocated with a nice American meals (hamburgers) the following night.

Here is the back of their house:

Here is a pic of a neighborhood in Les Vans

The family cat helped continue our streak of Joe and a cat in every country:

Avignon: a whole lot of blah

I have a couple items of interest to post on my blog.

I dont feel right completely not addressing Avignon. We did not have a problem with the city. It was nice, but it rained, rained, rained.

We did a few things: we put our hand in the Rhone River, laughed at dumb signs and tried to force two snails to be friends on the side of the road.

Getting to Avignon was really neat. We rode a TGV train at 200 KM an hour. I felt like I was flying.

This post is so boring, that I think a dumb sign picture is in order.

One thing I liked about france is that the french family does not wait until the weekend to have outings together. After work (between 4pm and 5pm), the local families will take their children for a stroll in a park or along the river.

In closing, here is a pic of Avignon from across the Rhone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Beautiful Les Vans

All is well and we have had a few uneventful but relaxing day in the South of France. After two very rainy days in Avignon, we have taken a train to Nimes and then to Ales followed by a bus to a tiny town called Les Vans. While we were in Ireland, we contacted a family from our travelling group we joined called Servas.

I will write more details in a later post when i have access to a better keyboard.

So we are staying with Uta, Alaine, 3 year old Theo (pronounced Teo) and 6 mo old Kristoff in their lovely home.

Once again, the rain is spoiling our fun in this area full of swimming, canoeing and hiking opportunities.

More later::::::

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thoughts on France

Well, we've been in France for about 10 days now and here are some of my thoughts on France. France is probably my favorite foreign country. It is a beautiful country with fantastic food and wine. The French people get a pretty bad rap in America, but they have been very friendly toward us, even in Paris. If you've never been to a country that speaks a language other than English, France is a good country to start in. Not all, but the majority of French people know at least a little English. Enough to where they can get their point across. This is not how it works in all European countries, as we found out in Spain back in December. "Parlez vous Anglias?" is a very useful phrase to know, but, often, we didn't even need to say that. Just say a couple phrases in French and after they pick up your accent, they just start talking English.

Normandy was incredible. Mauri and I did a 2 day tour of the D-Day beaches and it was worth every penny. Every American should see Normandy in their lifetime. Battlebus was the name of the tour we did and I would recommend them to anyone. In Normandy, we have found that the French people have definitely not forgotten the sacrifice the American military (as well as the British and Canadian militaries) have made for them. There were monuments everywhere, mostly paid for by the locals. To see the pictures of our D-Day tour, follow this link (there are about 140 pictures over the 2 days):

Paris is a beautiful city and it is huge! I would recommend taking a walk along the Seine River as the city is lighting up at night. Of course, you have to see all of the big sites (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc), but visit some of the outdoor markets they have there, too. After all, you didn't come to all the way to Paris to be with a bunch of other tourists, you came to see French culture. Also, beware that, as with any tourist area, there will be plenty of parasites hanging around attempting to separate you from your money. You need to be a little cautious. Don't put your money in your pocket, use a money belt. I have not had anything stolen from me yet, but I have noticed people looking at my pockets. If someone randomly tries to give you something or do something for you, don't accept it. They will want money. If they have a friend with them, they will try to distract you while the friend gets into your pockets. This is with any tourist area in Europe, not just France (we saw this in Grenada and Madrid in Spain as well).

If you like biking, visit Tours, France. They are very bike friendly and have plenty of trails in the beautiful Loire Valley. Mauri and I saw a beautiful French Chateux while on a ride. We are now in Avignon in Provence, near the Italian border. We took a bullet train to get here. We went from Paris to Avignon (about the same distance as Pittsburgh to Philadelphia) in 2.5 hours. Their public transportation is pretty good here. They also have 5 weeks of vacation every year, 35 hour maximum work week, full pensions at 40, and universal health care. Their president wants to change the pensions to 41 and they had nationwide strikes and protests last Thursday as a result. We saw one of the protests in Tours. It was massive.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Loire Valley home to wine and a bicycle

The thing to do in the Loire Valley is to bike.

I am sure you can guess what we did:

During our 40 km ride, look what we found:

This is not a castle, it is a Chateau.

Joe vs the baguette

Food - Best of

Anybody who knows me, knows that I love food. After a week of france I have compiled the best of (so far) eats in France:

Vegetables (mainly stewed peppers) with Goat Cheese lying in a cold tomato soup:

Smoked Salmon with Goat Cheese with a mixed salad and vinegarette dressing:

Filet a beef, pan fried over a hash brown like patato ensemble with two types of sauce (green on the outisde which is a light and a red wine sauce)

Creme Brulee: nothing special here, but I have only seen this on the menu once:

I have saved my last entry for the most interesting and to also to kill everyone's appetites after this mouth watering post:

TAR TAR. It is 100% Raw ground beef. Its the meatloaf BEFORE you put it into the oven. Its served everywhere and it is fantastic. AND YES, I ate it and I dont regret it.

Arent we the cutest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Irish Music Video

While I was in Ireland, I had a little fun with my camera.

The picture is dark, and the sound is so so, but I hope it interests some. Irish music is not the junk you hear in the movies. I thought it was very similar to light modern rock.

I only got 30 seconds of the performance.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Experiencing Paris

The Local Food:

The markets:
(Bird Market)

The Seine River
(Joe washing dog poo off his shoe)

The breakfast


The evening:

Paris has been great and now we are off to Tours

Joe and the great dog poo incident

Paris is known for its land mines on the streets and side walks.

Marching through Paris

God Bless the Engineers

Remembering the Dead

American Cemetery (about 8000 buried here)

German Cemetery (21,500 buried with 2000 in the center mound)

Bloody Omaha

This is of the many sites where the Germans hunkered down with massive fire power and pelted the beach below.

Can you imagine landing on that beach?


Joe and I splurged on a 8 van mini bus tour of the D-Day sites. It was worth every cent I payed and 200 more. The guide was a pure historian that talked strategy on how the battle unfolded and of individual stories collected about soldiers who fought.

If you saw the film "The Longest Day", you would appreciate this:

This does not look like a very important site, but you need a guide to tell you that the Germans had stopped a damn and flodded the fields like this with 4 - 8 feet of water. The grass had grown up and you could not see the water. When the paratroopers landed, alot of them liked the look of the field and landed. A vet who spoke with our guide landed on an embakement where we are currently standing. He discussed that he was haunted for 20 years by the screams of hundreds of soldiers as they landed with a hundred pounds of supplies strapped to them slowly drowning.

Joe is putting together a photo album of all the sites with info we learned. He can discuss more later.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Appreciation

Before I left for my trip, I received many negative comments from US citizens about the French.
They included: The French don't like you. The French are snotty. and The French have no respect of the sacrifice that was made to liberate them during the Nazi occupation.

You be the judge:

70% of the land and memorials to commemorate the battle of Normandy are provided by the individual locals and their houses are not mansions.

This was a small church we visited during our D-Day tour.

This shot was taken from the hallway in our manoir.

I hope the posts I will put up over the next week will change someone's preconceived notions of the French and will allow them to pack their bags for a fantastic experience over here.

Bayeux: A Manoir

Check out our B and B in Bayeux. Its a manoir and very castle like. Too cool for words:

As we were trying to find it, a crazy lady came running across the street to us yelling... ruuuummelll, ruuuummeelll, ruuuuuummmelll.

The crazy lady turned out to be our inn keeper and all of us used everything short of the swahili clicking language to make sure that our stay was great.

In the morning we received fresh bread, cheeses, and hams every morning at 7:45 sharp. The plate of cheese also had a slab of butter. Imagine my surprise when I bit into it hoping for sharpness. whoops.

Flashback: Ireland

I think we have a perfect score with Joe posing with a cat in every european country we have visited.

I guess, I have to work on France now.

Were in France, now run like hell

Our ferry was almost an hour late at 15 past 18:00 and the last train out of Cherbourg for the day was 18:44.

There were about 8 backpackers that walked on the ferry by foot and the mess of getting into france was fantastic. First there was the platform to get us off the damn ship. No one seemed in a hurry. Then the freight elevator and followed by a bus to the terminal building. Once again no one seemed in a hurry, but all the backpackers were about to pee their pants. Next: customs. The lady took my passport and proceeded to read it cover and cover. I was about to climb back there to make her cup of hot cocoa and give her a throw blanket for the whole process. We ran to the street and stuffed ourselves into taxis. I sat in the front, and the backpackers kept throwing euro coins at me so that we could get out of the taxi fast enough.

Run, run, run, run and into the train at 18:42.

If anyone would like to get over their fear of a new foreign country, I strongly recommend a frazzled entrance. There is no better way to get over it.

On the boat to france

After Galway, we completed our trip in Dublin and took a train ride down to Rosslare. For my next trip to Ireland, I will need to spend some time in Wicklow. As we travelled down the coast, I felt like I was coming strait out of the book, Little Women with babbling brooks and beautiful forest.

We picked up the Oscar Wilde ferry boat to Cherbourg France. The ferry ride was 18 hours long, but there was plenty of stuff to do on the ship. For one, we sprung for the lowest grade cabin you could get. I was surprised that it wasn't a mess, but quite clean and hospitable. Secondly, they had lots of placards to read about how nuts Oscar Wilde was.

They also had satellite TV. To our surprise, they had an NFL show on in the bar.

I wish I took more pics of the ferry. The whole experience was extremely interesting.

PARIS and once again online!!!

We learned that internet cafes in Bayeux are few and far between. We have a hotel in Paris with unlimited wireless access.

Expect some great stories and more pics soon as we sort through some other items and email.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thank you for all the comments!!!


I am really enjoying reading all the comments. Thanks for posting. You motivate me to post more.

We are leaving Galway today and returning to Dublin. We pick up the train to Rosslare and we will set sail to Cherbourg, France. Therefore, you wont be hearing from me till tomorrow night or even the next day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


In honor of Jim:

Dingle: 3 days in the country

We stayed at a wonderful B&B for 3 days and by the time we left, we felt like we lived there.

Dingle is all the way on the west side on a Peninsula.

Of course I made a big to do about the local livestock. The locals must have had a good laugh watching me try to pet the cows.



And of course, my favorite:

It is said that at one time, Ireland had 300 inhabitants per square km. Now there is as few as 13 in areas. As a result, you see many abandoned houses and other buildings.

We drove around the coast to find some nice views of the local islands:

Reminds me of coastal california: