And then I went to Italy… Sardegna, to be exact.

The alternate name for this post could also be: A heckuva lot of beach photos … 😁

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Helloooo, Italy.

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The opportunity came up for me to volunteer at another workaway in an Italian town I had never heard of: Cala Gonone.

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I received the request in mid-August to come stay in Sardegna for the end of September; the two weeks after I was to fly back home.

Sometimes you feel the need to jump at an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime, so I jumped.

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I’m lucky to have a good friend who is a travel agent so she organized it all for me. 😊

Buongiorno, Olbia!

I arrived at the Olbia airport to meet my lovely only-Italian-speaking airbnb host Monica, and another guest arriving that same day from Berlin: Lou, a German online photo-editor who was in Sardegna for a two-week vacation, and one week of that would be rock climbing in Cala Gonone!

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The next morning, after a brief exploration of the old part of Olbia with Lou and a proper Italian cappuccino, of course, I made my way back to the airport (with a free bus ride 😁 because I think the bus driver was mad I wanted to pay with cash instead of a ticket and refused my money- whoops! 😳).

I purchased a ticket for the Deplano bus from the airport to Cala Gonone. It’s a €16 trip from the Olbia airport and took about 2 hours.

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And the entire trip I was in absolute awe of my surroundings.
The drive was an adventure all its own, worth every penny, and I’m not surprised that people can take a bus around the entire island like a tour. The scenery is gorgeous!!

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Not sure if you can see them, but there is a pile o’ sheep on that hill.

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I arrived in Cala Gonone and my host Claudio introduced me to his  parents who had come over for a visit. His mother only speaks Italian but his dad speaks Italian and French so he and I could communicate well! 🙂

The garden and apartment are beautiful, and there are fruit trees and fresh herbs and olive trees surrounding us.

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Possibly one of the most delightfully surprising discoveries of my trip was the lemon tree in the next door neighbors’ yard. We were grateful to pick one or two almost every day, and by far, they were the most flavourful, delicious lemons I have tasted in my entire life.

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I also met the adorable pets of household: Flora, Claudio’s dog, and Leo, his cat.

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I didn’t have much time to relax or even unpack, as almost immediately after my arrival, Claudio took me to the final evening of a festival in the local town of Dorgali.

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Sardinians are very proud of their culture and traditions and it was amazing to see everyone celebrate it together.

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Right away we came across a group of guys playing live local music. And they just didn’t stop!

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The launeddas (triple pipe) was the most impressive, and it reminded me of a bagpipe with one pipe playing constant sound like a drone.
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Live traditional Sardegnian music within 24 hours of arriving in Italy? Incredible!



Claudio knew all the locations of various traditional food and historical displays, and we spent the evening walking all over the town from one place to the next!

There was free wine all over the place- all private collections by owners of the shops/homes along the street. And just try saying no to Italians. I dare you. 😜

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Many people opened the main floor of their homes and set up food or art or historical artifacts from the region and invited everyone in!

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We watched women make cheese tarts with fresh mint (even the  pastry was made by hand) and cook them in a traditional wood burning oven.

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Claudio showed me where they were roasting traditional pork (porchetta) outside around an open fire and we watched a man throw pottery, handing off completed pieces to the young boy standing next to him…

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We watched some women dancing and more launeddas (a group performance this time), saw original (ancient) and traditional handmade clothing of the area, tried many versions of local cheese (picorino) and I had my first taste of pane carasau (a light crisp flat bread that is served at every meal; farmers used to bring it out to the fields because it was light and lasted a long time), we perused  local artwork, and drank lots of wine…

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There were some festival contests in the street, too, like “guess how much the cow weighs and if you guess right, you win the cow”, and “guess how high this cheese is hanging off the ground and you can win it”.

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Yep. 🙂
I have been told that there is not much produce-style agriculture in the area, other than wine. Lots of sheep, though. 🙂 (approximately 3 million sheep, actually)
I also had a seada, which is a baked cheese pastry served with honey. The cheese is local new/young locally made pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, and it’s actually a dessert! It was absolutely delicious.

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I felt like the only non-Italiano speaking person in the whole village, but apparently this festival brings in all sorts of tourists.
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My fellow workawayer and roommate for my two weeks here was Ravit, from Israel. She is a photographer and anthropologist and has fallen in love with the island here and is taking some tour groups around in October.

 


The food here is very good and quite inexpensive. Ravit and I often made meals together, and we only shared two meals with Claudio in his house upstairs.

 

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Ravit made amazing tuna cakes and tahini dressing!

One afternoon Claudio made us risotto with onions and zucchini, and another day his mom and dad came over for a visit and his mom made us all culugiones (which are Sardinian ravioli) and breaded aubergines. The culugiones reminded me of the love child of manicotti and perogies, served with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Sooo good!

 

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Just a typical street sign with a painting underneath it. 😉

The town of Cala Gonone is a tourist hotspot on the island and is very busy in the summer months and then closes up at the end of September, so shops and restaurants are becoming quieter and quieter and one by one closing up for the ‘winter’ season.

 

 

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Cork and leather purses. Beautiful.

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Masks like the ones worn in Carnivale in the new year.

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Our apartment was a 5 minute walk to the beach as well as the restaurants and shops, and it’s also easy to walk down to the port and take a boat to get to the beaches further south on the island that are not accessible by the road.

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Alternatively, to get to these beaches, you can rent a kayak.

 

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So of course I did.
Twice.

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Cala Luna
is the first popular beach south of Cala Gonone, and it took me only an hour and ten minutes to get there, and it was over some of the most incredible blue water I have ever seen!

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There are also caves here if you want some shade. Enormous, wonderful caves.

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The second time I was headed to Cala Luna but decided to stop at the little beach just before. You can only access it by boat or hiking, so it was pretty quiet with only a few people there, and the swimming is perfection.

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These beaches are excellent spots to bring a picnic, but to kayak there and back was the best excuse to warrant going for gelato back in town, or better yet, go for pizza. The pizza here is just the way I like it: fire burning oven-cooked, thin crust style. And inexpensive! A marguerita pizza is only €5 or €6! (And they are not small!)

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The town of Cala Gonone may get busy in the summer and cater to tourists, but it doesn’t feel commercial like other beach-towns I have been to before.

There were still many (mostly German) tourists, and I met up again with my new friend Lou partway through her climbing week.

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Now I have a friend to visit in Berlin!

One day Claudio picked us some cactus fruit on his way back from work and prepared them for us.

img_5876Ravit has has them often because they are all over in Israel, but I had never tried a “prickly pear”!

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You have to wear gloves to handle them because they have tiny needles you can barely see and are painful and irritating if you get them stuck in your fingertips. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and soft and full of giant seeds you swallow whole (I can assure you from personal experience don’t even attempt to bite!).

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Another fruit I discovered was the corbezzolo ‘berries’ that happened to grow in Claudio’s garden. They look almost like a lycee and are ripe when they turn red. They are squishy and the pokey-looking exterior is actually soft. They are like nothing I have ever had. Not too sweet, with a slight citrus-crossed-with-fig flavour, and the texture of a strawberry. (How’s that for a description?)
The workaway jobs at the apartment have been mostly painting. Some simple things like refreshing the white paint on exterior garden walls, while others are tougher like sanding off years of old paint from metal benches and lots of detail-work like adding Greece-inspired blue trim around the garden, and faux-finishing furniture to look antiqued.

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It seems I was destined to paint blue this summer, be it called “Picasso”, “Sky” or “Sea Breeze”.

 

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This was the beauty of mixing an exterior wall paint to match the bright blue furniture inside.

What’s amazing is that every day our schedule was entirely affected by  how much it looks like ‘beach weather’. For example, on particularly nice days we would  work for a couple hours in the morning, and then go to the beach at the heat of the day, go swimming, sunbathe, and then come back home and finish the day’s work. This is possibly the dream kind of job, really.

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One afternoon we went out to the countryside property of Claudio’s family and helped organize wood for the winter. The work was removing giant nails and screws and fencing wire from old boards and fence posts and chopping various lengths of wood that were piled all around the garage there, all while taking turns playing soccer with Flora.

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But the view here? Woooo!

Every day there were beautiful skies, gorgeous sunsets, and stunning sunrises. Great photo ops for this beach-lover.

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Buongiorno, Olbia!

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On the last full day in Sardegna Ravit and I joined Claudio and his parents to harvest all the grapes from their vineyard!

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Thank goodness it’s a tiny vineyard. 😁😳

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Afterwards we went to his parent’s home in Nuoro where they have an entire room and basement to make wine.

We had a delicious pasta lunch, including some of their home made wine.
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First they washed all the equipment with a high pressure hose, and we set up the grinder on top of the juice barrel and stainless steel ramp/trough from the front garden into the basement window. Then Claudio and Ravit dumped the 18 cassettes of grapes onto the trough and Claudio’s dad and I used pieces of wood to push the grapes through the grinder (grapes and stems, but no leaves).

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Once they are all through the grinder, Claudio raked them out evenly, and put weight on them to create the juice.

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Claudio says that he has been helping his parents make this wine every year as long as he can remember.

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One thing I have never heard of before is using the same grapes to make both white and red wine!
Claudio’s family immediately drains 20% of the juice from the large barrel of grapes within the hour of macerating them. They make the vino bianco from this.
Then they wait 5 or 6 days for the grapes to sit in the barrel and then drain all the juice then, and then they will use a press to squeeze the remaining juice and flavour from the pulp and wood left in the barrel, and add that to the dark juice and make the vino rosso.
I then learned that the rest of the grape fibre/wood/skins is what is  used to make grappa.

We got to try some of the grape juice after the ‘vino bianco’ was drawn. It tasted unlike any grape juice I have ever had.

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It doesn’t quite look like white wine to me yet…
I stayed overnight in Nuoro before taking the Deplano bus back to Olbia for my flight to Paris. (Being October 2, we were now in the ‘winter season’ and the bus didn’t run to Cala Gonone any more.)
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It was only an €8 ticket from Nuoro, and just less than 2 hours drive. Before checking in for my flight I even had time to get a pizza at the outdoor restaurant next to the airport. 🙂

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An easy flight back to Paris for one night, and the inspiration to leave my luggage at the airport for the night so I wouldn’t have to lug it around the metro with less than 24 hours on the city. For €18, I could leave it at the security baggage check at Terminal 2, and I felt like a genius. 😎

I then made my way to the Eiffel Tower where I caught a gorgeous sunset and snapped a couple photos before heading to my friend Hugo’s apartment where I got to enjoy a visit with him before we both crashed for the night.

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The next morning we headed off at the same time- Hugo to work, and me back to the airport.

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I savoured one last croissant and café crème before boarding my flight home!

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And thus ends my unforgettable summer travel of 2016! ❤️

…Okay, a few more beach photos because I can’t help it. 😁

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 Okay, and a video.


 😘

A trio’s busy weekend in Nova Scotia

So a few months ago, I was chatting with a friend from university. She asked if I wanted to join her for a road trip across the Maritimes in June. I hadn’t fully thought out my summer, and it seemed like a brilliant idea. Within a few hours Tara-Lee and I began the plans to spend three weeks visiting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Cape Breton and Newfoundland!

“Week” one of the East Coast trip, begins with three jam packed days of travel.

and we're off!

The start: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
We arrived by the oh so wonderful Porter Air in the afternoon, and went to Avis where our silver Chevy Malibu was waiting for us. We made quick friends with our Airbnb host, Chris, originally from Poland, in his charming eclectic art-filled home.

A last minute addition to our weekend was a childhood friend of Tara-Lee, Tara. That’s right, folks: this weekend road trip trio (and likely inspires some sort of folk band name, likely), was Sara, Tara, and Tara-Lee. Tara flew in Friday evening, only a few hours after us.

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Once we were all together, we grabbed a bite to eat at The Old Triangle pub (fish and chips), and did some evening driving around the city, including up the hill to the top of Confederation Park with a night-time city-lights view of downtown Halifax.

The next morning we were invited for homemade lattes at Tara’s Airbnb spot and her lovely host Paul gave us insider tips for the start of our journey down to the south shore of Nova Scotia. We then headed right out of town (with a stop at Tim Hortons for our first Maritimes road trip breakfast).

Side note, I think there are more Tim Hortons here than anywhere I have ever been.

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We started by making a slight detour to Prospect, a small hamlet, of quiet homes and docks and some beautiful first glimpses of the coast along Nova Scotia shores.
The shoreline had a delightful surprise of multicolored snail shells discarded and swept together, in a pebble rainbow of detailed colours.

Our next stop was of course Peggy’s Cove, and it did not disappoint. 


A windy, blustery, we were warned to avoid the ‘black rocks’ which were where the ocean waves frequented and therefore were slippery and possibly deadly if you lost your footing or a rogue wave came out of nowhere. The lighthouse itself is locked tight but people wander all over the massive shoreline of huge boulders that we could have easily spent hours sitting in or climbing around. 

But of course, we headed to our third stop of day 1: Lunenburg.


Lunenburg is a gem of a town, with the most charming, colourful houses we had seen so far. We stopped into the Distillery to check out their offerings, and from gin to rum to vodka, we all agreed the favourite spirit of the three of us was the rhubarb liqueur! 


All along the main road, and from our lunch spot “The Salt Shaker” (where we shared scallop linguini , a lobster roll, and salt cod fish cakes), we had an excellent view of the Harbour. Apparently every Wednesday night there are sailboat races! The best view of the city is across the water at the golf course, but photos don’t do it justice.

After that it was on to our campsite to set up before we headed to Shelburne for the lobster festival we had found out about online. With four jam-packed days of events this weekend, we decided to prioritize and only attempt to make it to the “Kitchen Party” concert that night.

Our campground was at Thomas Raddall Provincial Park. I only briefly checked out the beach nearby in the morning before we took off for our busy day two, and looking back on the weekend, it was the sandiest shore we came across and with the most beautiful weather. A solid reminder of the importance of taking a pause when you come across something you assume you will find again.

We arrived in Barrington later that evening; a small town just past Shelburne, where the ‘community centre’ kitchen party was to take place. We arrived at a hockey arena-sized building, and about twelve cars….. Not the best outlook. We went inside where the total of bar staff, security guards, and band members almost outweighed the attendees, and the band was like a basic wedding cover band, blaring almost deafening music we couldn’t dance to, and with no acoustic instruments in sight. We were expecting a pub type setting with guitar, maybe fiddle, even accordion or banjo, but alas, were disappointed. We will have to continue our search for a good kitchen party.


On sunday we did get to a community hall lobster roll and chowder lunch and homemade dessert with a local silent auction and games of washer toss outside. We enjoyed the view by the little Sandy Point lighthouse and went on our way.

We have had slightly rainy and mostly cloudy weather as we drive along the south and west shores of Nova Scotia, and even though the ocean is never more than a couple kilometres away from the highway we drive, there is a feeling of home as we drive through a mix of poplar and birch and fir trees, on winding roads that make us feel like any moment the fog will clear and we will see the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in front of us.

Smuggler’s Cove was a cool discovery along our route. Tough to walk this shoreline in flip flops!

We stayed near Digby to make sure we tried ‘world famous scallops’ straight from the source, and ended up at Ed’s Takeout, for fried scallops and clams that were absolutely mouth-watering delicious! It’s a funny little spot that is definitely a simple ‘dive’; definitely a busy place for good reason.

So far we have found that the people in the Maritimes seem to prefer their seafood deep fried or covered in cream of some sort… Not that we are complaining. 🙂 


We stopped into a couple of grand churches along the Acadian Trail, and spent a few moments inside. So massive. And peaceful.

Camping here has been great! My amazing cousin Toban lent us a tent and sleeping bags that completely saved me from my usual night-freeze I am so used to while camping. (And we have had some rainy nights already!)

We have found that all campgrounds so far have had showers, and often: laundry facilities, and even wifi. It’s amazing. I think we will be happy to camp more than we even anticipated!

One final day before heading back toward Halifax to drop off Tara at the airport, we were torn on where to stop, as Cape Split, Wolfville, and Truro were all on our list of places to go.


After seeing the Cape Forchu lighthouse the day before (and the comically large Adirondack chair upon which we climbed and snapped a photo), we went driving down the peninsula of Digby Neck with hopes of seeing a lighthouse, but discovered that it, along with hikes and whale watching adventures required a ferry ride to the islands across from it, and more time than we had.

Annapolis Royal offered their Historic Garden that we all agreed was worth every penny of the entrance fee, and offered a lovely walk through arbours and mazes and winding pathways through various styles and varieties of flowers, trees, and gardens.

Azalea bushes everywhere.


We could have easily spent another couple of hours here, whether taking another walk around the Acadian Dyke lands, or sitting in their cafe, or just enjoying the smell of the lilac bushes and rose shrubs. We were definitely there in the ‘spring’ of their season, as many beds were freshly planted and the rose gardens were only just starting to bloom.

This place will be absolutely breathtaking in July or August…

We decided to spend our last 90 minutes before the airport drive at Luckett’s Vineyard for wine and lunch, and it was dreamy.

There’s a phone booth in the middle of the vineyard that makes phone calls worldwide for free but we didn’t call anyone. We were content with the view of rolling hills, farms, vineyards, and the ocean as the clouds rolled by.


If we could pause time, this would have been one of those moments we would have.


After the most hilarious sight of Tara climbing on top of her suitcase to get in her new yoga mat, sleeping bag, and souvenirs, we bade farewell to her and headed towards New Brunswick for the next leg of our road trip. More to come!!

Taking a boat down the river to Avignon…

At Christmas last year, my mom surprised my sister and I with tickets for a Viking River Cruise in France as part of our summer adventure! It was a week-long journey down the Rhône river from Chalon-sur-Saône to Avignon. My sister and I had been on an ocean cruise with our grandparents when we were younger, but our mom had never been on one. We arrived in Chalon-sur-Saône on Saturday afternoon and we were greeted by a cruise ship representative to bring us to the bus that would take us to our new start point in Lyon. The river levels were so high this year that the boat could not get back up the river because it could not fit under the bridges. We collapsed onto our white-on-white deluxe beds in our cabins and delighted in the modern, clean, and stylish design of the ship that we discovered was brand new this year. Mum had her own room next to us, and we could peek around the balcony at each other when we were enjoying the sunshine along the way (which we barely had time to do because our schedule was packed).

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The majority of the guests on the ship were Americans, and there were a handful of Canadians and Brits for a total of 180 passengers. If you are familiar with Viking Cruises, you may already know this, but we counted on the first night that there were seven passengers on the ship under the age of 50.
Since we were hours down the river from where we started, we stayed in Lyon for the first couple of days and took bus trips out from there for the excursions. It was quite rainy at the start of the trip and we discovered after our first day that the giant red umbrellas with “Viking Cruises” were much better than the packable umbrellas we brought, and we already looked like über-tourists traveling in a large group of seniors and wearing little radio packs around our necks listening to our tour guide. To the girls who had worked so hard to blend in as Parisians, this was a little less than ideal for us, but worth it for the places we visited. It was also strange to have an entirely English-speaking crew and guests that made it completely unnecessary to speak French (though we would practice in all the small towns we went to as much as we could).

The daily schedule was a huge difference for us as we’d been living on the late-night/late-morning routine, and on the ship breakfast started at 6:30am and went until 9:30am, and most morning excursions started between 8:00am and 9:00am. I’m actually surprised we made it to all of them every day!

On the first day we did a walking tour of Lyon in the morning and it was raining the entire time.

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We went up to the highest point, where there is both a church and a small Eiffel Tower. It had a wonderful view of the city of Lyon, which reminded us of Florence, Italy.

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The church is called Le Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére. We didn’t plan to go inside the church as a tour group because they were in the middle of mass, but mum peeked in just before we got back on the bus and waved us over to join her. I stepped inside and discovered the most beautiful interior of a church that I had ever seen in my entire life. I stood there completely speechless for about ten minutes, mesmerized by the sculptures, mosaics, and gold details. Not only that, but as we stepped inside a soloist started singing and if you have any idea about the acoustics of a large domed ceiling, it was the epitome of breathtaking. (Of course, no photos were allowed so I only have a couple exterior shots.)

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After lunch we took a bus out to the ancient city of Pérouge, built in the 15th century. We wandered along some of the most complicated/designed cobblestone streets and by beautiful ivy-covered homes and restaurants.

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No, that isn’t just interesting woodwork on the door, it has charred completely from some fire. Crazy.

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As part of the tour, we also got to try the local ‘gallettes’, a crepe-like baking made of butter, flour, and sugar.

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The meals on the ship were excellent, and we quickly found ourselves taking photos of them because the plating was so beautiful.

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Lobster and scallop cerviche in a vanilla sauce. We all agreed this was one of the best tasting dishes we have ever had.

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The “amuse-bouche” on our first night on the ship.

We discovered early on that the staff of the ship was exceptional, and the Program Director Susann (from Germany) and Hotel Manager Kornelia (from Austria) were fantastically friendly and personable hosts who we often chatted with on the boat and off.

Susann dressed up for the "Taste of Provence" dinner.

Susann dressed up for the “Taste of Provence” dinner.

On the second full day my sister and I got up early to go for a run before the boat made it’s departure to our next stop. It had stopped raining for the first time so far and we captured some photos along our run to remind us of Lyon before having breakfast on the deck. We would have liked to stay longer here.

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A pedestrian bridge to “Old Lyon”

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The mini Eiffel Tower was built taller than the church after the French Revolution to show that religion and the Catholic Church no longer was the most powerful force in Lyon.

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Breakfast! (Including some to bring back to surprise mum in her cabin)

The sun stayed out for the start of our trip down the river, and we enjoyed some sunshine on our balcony as the top deck was closed to fit under all the bridges.

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This is was our ‘view’ going through a lock:

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Our afternoon excursion was to Vienne, and this massive church called the Cathedral of St Maurice, in the ‘Flamboyant Gothic’ style.

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In the afternoon we went to Baune, and explored the “Hotel Dieu” which was once a free hospital for the poor and is now a museum.

The inner courtyard of the hospital. The roof tiles were redone in the original style, and are enamel-painted metal shingles

The old medicine bottles

The old medicine bottles

After some free time we were invited to the basement of a wine store to their 14th century cellar for a wine tasting, and we tried 4 kinds of wine (2 white, 2 red- can you tell I’m not a big wine drinker?! 😉 ) and a cassis liqueur used to make an aperatif wine that was created in Beaune called Kir.

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We met so many lovely people this week, and we almost wanted a longer cruise so we could spend more time in such excellent new-found company. When we got back on the ship in Vienne we started chatting with Michael and Eileen, a delightful couple from New Jersey. We sat with them for dinner, and quickly realized (without wanting to sound cliché) what marvellously kindred spirits they are. We enjoyed chatting with them on other excursions during the week and we hope to not only keep in touch but that our paths cross back on ‘the other side of the pond’.

It was partway through dinner leaving Vienne that we realized we had started travelling backwards. It turns out a crane on the top of the ship broke, and we couldn’t continue on without it working so we had to go back to Vienne to get it repaired. There was great apology for the delay by the crew, and they opened up the bar for the rest of the night. And let me tell you, the seniors on that ship were crazy partiers that evening into the wee hours! When the after dinner dance party began, and Dancing Queen started up (followed by the Macarena), we retreated back to our cabin and watched Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan in “French Kiss”. 🙂
The next day we went to Tournon, a city built in medieval times, and the chocolate capital of France. (Oh yes.)

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We started with a wine tasting at a beautiful vineyard where we tried several kinds of Shiraz, and afterwards we went into town for a chocolate tasting. Our tour guide said we could sample as much chocolate as we wanted at the chocolate shop we were heading to. We thought “Yeah, right. He means they will bring around a tray to the group and we will be able to take a piece of 3 or 4 kinds. He’s exaggerating”. Nope. I have never seen so many samples. They had over a dozen kinds of chocolate, with different names and descriptions (similar to wine), varying in cocoa percentage, and they had four main types: dark, milk, white, and blonde. Blonde was created here when a chocolatier over cooked the white chocolate and the sugar in it caramelized, and it turned caramel coloured. Long story short, we all sampled as much as we wanted just as our tour guide had said we could.

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Samples of every kind

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Everywhere you looked: samples

That night we arrived in Viviers and went on an evening walking tour at 9:00pm. It was a very small town with the narrowest cobblestone streets, and dark alleyways that make it easy to imagine a Jack-The-Ripper type story to have happened here over a century ago.

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A pretty door. 🙂

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We arrived in Arles early the next morning, and were given a couple options for the day. Our ship was sailing to Avignon after lunch so we could take the bus into town for the morning tour and either bus back for lunch and stay on the ship while it travels, or stay in Arles until the late afternoon and bus to Avignon for dinner. At this point in the week we were pretty tired of buses so we decided to stay in Arles for the day. On our tour we saw the amphitheatre, the town hall, and the hospital that Van Gough stayed in that has been turned into a museum. Our tour guide was so slow that we had time to do a little souvenir shopping in between stops on the tour. (Well, my sister bought things mostly. I’m great at encouraging others to buy things. I’m a souvenir enabler. 🙂 )

The amphitheatre:

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We came upon the Réattu Museum where we had heard there was some Picasso and other pieces. The museum was brilliantly set up, and apart from the numerous incredible pieces by Réattu, there were many great juxtapositions of old and new pieces, and we were thrilled we had the time to check it out.

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This was one of Réattu’s many gorgeous sketches

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This is a letter Van Gough wrote to Gaugin

This was a letter from Van Gough to Gaugin.

We waited for the bus at a park where a couple groups of elderly men were playing pétanque, and then headed by bus to meet our boat in Avignon. We arrived just as our ship was pulling up to the dock.

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That night was the Captains Dinner, where they introduced the entire staff one by one. It was cool to see each crew member recognized individually and we also heard what country they are all from (most: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Germany).

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The huge Ferris wheel outside the walled city of Avignon.

The next day we explored Avignon, which many crew members on the ship told us it was their favourite stop, and now we can see why. A walled city, Avignon has beautiful old architecture, and curving spiral streets. We started at the Papal Palace.

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The art installation inside the palace

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Some spices at the market

Some spices at the market

imageWe went to the Les Halles Market and got to walk through the most postered streets I have ever seen, as their gigantic annual theatre festival was going on. (It is about half the size of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but is made up of mostly French pieces, and over 1000 shows run for 4 weeks- each production has its show every day at the same time so you can easily organize your schedule.) As we walked down the street dozens of artists handed us their pamphlets advertising their production and they often went into enthusiastic explanation (in French, of course), about their show.

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Our placemats at lunch even advertised the festival… So many options

We picked up the phone-book-sized festival program and looked over the options at lunch. We decided we had time for three shows before dinner, and tried to pick shows that might be a bit more Anglophone-friendly, choosing to go see a magician, a one-woman show about Billy Holiday (a musical?), and a clown. We also caught a sneak peek at a commedia del arté version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that we would go to after dinner, but on our way to one of the afternoon shows we crossed paths with two men dressed formally and walking down the street carrying a coffin between them. I asked one which show they were doing and he handed me a pamphlet, and replied with a deadpan look “In the coffin is a man who saw our show last night. He died. From laughter.”

We decided to change our plans and at 10:00pm watched a two-man show with almost no words make us laugh until our faces hurt and I had tears streaming down my cheeks. It was brilliant. On the way home we took a ride on the Ferris wheel by the water, because, why not. 🙂

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We got back to the ship and finished packing, in order to be ready to leave the next morning after breakfast and pick up our rental car to head out of Avignon to our final week of family vacation in the heart of Provence. What a week!