Anywhere but Here.

France and Italy, Part I, Paris to Lucca

My journal of  a 49 day, nearly 5000 kilometer, driving tour through France and Northern Italy during September and October of 2006. I was accompanied by my mother (aka Nonna) and joined by Michael Logan (twice) and other friends along the way. A long trip, and a long story…

Versaillies

14 September 2006                    LAX

So through security (some special alert today…who knows why; fortunately we had a town car and that could bypass the roadside checkpoint…apparently terrorists aren’t smart enough to hire town cars?) and waiting in the WorldClub lounge to board the plane to Paris. Everyone thinks I left 2 days ago, when I really just went to Tustin to pack and to work until today. Air France check in very nice; security the usual annoyance. Not excessive, considering. Have decided Airport Check-in should be one event in the Modern Triathlon. One is exhausted by the time one gets to the lounge. Not to even mention boarding the plane. And it is prohibited to take water on board. Silly. Oh, and I packed too much stuff. Too many t-shirts. Next entry from Paris.

 

15 September 2006                    Paris, France

Arrived Paris. Flight uneventful, almost pleasant, despite coach seats. Very good dinner. Slept a bit. Watched To Catch a Thief and Transamerica on video. Slow, trafficy taxi ride into Paris. Hotel Malher (across the street from the Sevigne) would be nice, except for the scaffolding and constant parade of workmen in front of our street-facing windows. It’s seven o’clock. You’d think they’d go home now? Only had time to have a coffee and quick walk around the neighborhood. Nonna broke her purse strap on the plane! So I found one very similar, just by luck, at the pricey Manderina Duck store just down the street, and bought it for her. Saw a new restaurant on the Place de Vosges that had a nice menu—but it is on the touristy Place de Vosges, so you never know. Cloudy and occasionally drizzly here but not cold, and no real rain. Hope it stays like this, more or less.

 

17 September 2006                    Paris

A lazy Sunday. Nonna and Logan both very tired, and rested all day (following an early lunch of croques at the Palais Royale and a short walk). I’m feeling a bit melancholy, for no particular reason. Perhaps the inactivity, though I’m a bit tired myself. The weather’s good—the threatened rain has never materialized, and though the sky is gray, the temperature is mild. Except for the gray sky, it still looks like summer—the trees green and full of leaves, the tourists in shorts. This weekend was some kind of open monument days. Buildings not usually open could be toured (the Hotel de Ville, for example, though I didn’t stand in the line to walk through it) and the courtyards of some private hotels particuliers. We got into the Orangerie for free yesterday, and into the Orsay at a reduced price. I thought about popping into the Louvre today, since we were at the Palais Royale, but I didn’t. Took a long walk, this part of town very busy today, as it’s Sunday; mobs of people shopping in the Marais, a long line to get into Notre Dame, crowds on the illes. A typical Sunday. Dinner at Willi’s last night; I had crab, and then duck. Tonight we are trying the restaurant on the Place de Vosges, instead of our usual Sunday night at Balzar. I went out last night, but the nightlife at my usual haunts was rather dull.

I forgot to change the pick up date of the car! (We have a Peugeot lease/buyback through Auto Europe; much cheaper than renting a car, but slightly less flexible.) I called today, but they can’t try to fix it until tomorrow. The guy I talked to seemed to think I would be able to pick it up a day early but he wouldn’t promise until he talks to the France office tomorrow. I’m hoping it will be taken care of; I don’t quite know what I’ll do if it isn’t. Trying to remain optimistic, and calm. Was careless of me; I had simply thought I had changed the date, when in fact I never did. I’m not going to write anything else now. I’m going to get dressed for dinner.

 

18 September 2006                    Paris

This morning we took the Metro out to St. Denis, to see the Cathedral, and the tombs of the French kings. I was really happy to have my new Leica digital camera…what a pleasure it is to have manual exposure control again! Great for shooting in cathedral interiors. After that, we took the metro back to the Galleries Lafayette. We had a mediocre lunch nearby (in hindsight, I think we should have eaten in one of the department store’s multitude of restaurants.) The store was wild—it’s huge and beautiful (enormous atrium with belle epoch glass dome, women dancing in cages, make-up artists doing make-overs, Kenyan acrobats!) Nonna was tired though, although she did make friends with one of the acrobats while Logan and I explored the food hall.

Some disappointments. Last night’s restaurant, Cocona’s, I wasn’t too impressed with. And it seems it is not new, but has been there fifty years. How could I have never noticed it? I am still trying to figure that one out. Possibly it has been closed for remodeling for a time (everything looks new inside) but I don’t really know. Nonna and Logan both really liked their dinners, while I found mine sort of mediocre. Maybe I just ordered the wrong things. I had a starter of mushrooms fricasseed with ham. It was large and salty. Then I had a wild duck served on choucroute; both seemed fine (though the duck didn’t taste that wild) but together I didn’t find them so happily paired. The atmosphere was a bit too sedate. It’s owned by the famous Tour d’ Argent. Tonight we went to Benoit, which though pricey, I have always enjoyed. It too is now owned by a conglomerate (celebrity chef Alain Ducasse) and I think it suffers for it. The food was excellent, but it just wasn’t as festive. The waiters more restrained…it seems to have lost its unique personality. There was always a sense of fun there, that balanced its seriousness. I missed that tonight. Nonna had foie gras (always reliable) and Logan had a marinated salmon that was quite good. I had a pate that was good, but perhaps the tiniest bit bland. They always had such interesting entrees there…I remember the mad ballotine they used to serve. My veal main course was excellent though, and Logan liked his veal cheeks. My mother was not that impressed by her fish (a st pierre) but that was because the fish was too intensely flavored—not the fault of the fish at all, but rather Nonna’s own aversion to fish. For dessert we shared a perhaps definitive version of the classic profiteroles—delicious little cream puffs, served with a scoop of excellent vanilla ice cream, and a separate pot of warm, bitter chocolate sauce. It was a deconstructed profiterole, and it worked beautifully—each item was delicious on it’s own, and they combined perfectly. Still, I think I miss the old, more quirky, Benoit. Benoit was one of my favorite places to take people…it was pretty, the food was good, but mostly it was fun, and the staff always made a big fuss over you…they’d show you the food, they’d discuss it, they’d bring you extra desserts. None of that happened this time, and it all seemed rather soulless. I don’t think I will go back anymore. It’s rather sad to see its character lost to another corporate entity.

Nonna cannot walk at all at night. We had to take a taxi one metro stop from Benoit to the hotel! I don’t know what she will do at Versailles tomorrow. The palace is huge with long staircases (forget it!) and the grounds are enormous. Hopefully she will be up to walking from the entrance to the tourist train that takes you around…but even that is something of a hike as I recall.

 

19 September 2006                    Versailles

I needn’t have worried about Nonna and Versailles! After a bit of a trek (for her) from the Hotel to the chateau, I discovered that at the entrance to the gardens you could rent golf carts! I rented a golf cart for an hour (28 euros an hour and well worth it) and drove her around the chateau gardens! She loved it, and what a relief for me. We didn’t go in the house…she would have never made it up the all the stairs; besides, the palace is really pretty ugly inside, and the whole place (including the famous hall of mirrors and the front court) is under renovation. Well, you see how big it is from the outside, and its bigness is its outstanding feature. Logan didn’t come with us, he stayed at our pleasant little inn (the Hotel du Barry) to work. He’s working far too much on this trip; it’s hard to get him to delegate and to schedule, but it does no good for me to tell him so. I guess I can’t complain about the compulsiveness of others.

We ate across the street from the hotel at the Café des Arts, a cute little modestly priced restaurant. I had a tomato and feta salad, and veal liver. It was actually quite good. Nice breakfast room at the hotel.

We had no trouble picking up our Peugeot. They didn’t even ask for my driver’s license(!) and it was ready before two. The cab ride across Paris took forever. As did the driving around Versailles looking for the hotel. The actual drive from La Defense to Versailles only took about 20 minutes though.

 

20 September 2006                    Amboise

Logan’s TomTom navigation device, was cranky and wouldn’t work yesterday. It magically started working on our drive to Orleans, and seems happy now. The car is nice; it’s a huge four door sedan, very comfortable—a little too big for easy parking or navigating tiny streets, but just big enough to hold all the luggage in the trunk! It has an easy to use five speed stick, and plenty of power. It does, however, take 70 euros to fill the gas tank! I like the way it drives better than driving a diesel, but it is more expensive.

We got up and on the road by 10. We had no trouble finding our way to Orleans—and as I said, the navigation device started working on our journey there. We met Sebastien, from the Loire tourist press office, for lunch in Orleans. He took us to the Brasserie Place Mertroi in the center of town, where we all had plates of raw beef (either tartare or  carpaccio). Got the latest press kits from him and some suggestions for dinner and activities. It was nice of him to meet me again.

After lunch we walked to the Cathedral. Lots of teens skating in the place in front. No one in the Cathedral. Leisurely, scenic drive to Amboise. The Clos d’Amboise is nice…really comfortable beds, and a swimming pool, but it doesn’t come close to the luxury of the Manoir des Minimes. Fortunately, Logan and nonna don’t know what they are missing. Still the rooms here are large, and the beds comfortable. Unfortunately they put nonna on the second floor, and she can barely make it up the two flights of steps. I should have requested a ground floor room. I think all of our other hotels have elevators!

 

21 September 2006                    Amboise

Clear blue sky and very warm in Amboise. All the trees are green and it really feels like summer here. Still light until well after 7pm as well. I guess Autumn will be upon us in a couple weeks, though we are racing away from it by heading south. Catching up…the last day we were in Paris they removed the scaffolding from the Hotel Malher. It greatly improved the ambience of our room. The owner is very nice. However, it is nearly double the cost of the Sevigne across the street, and the amenities are comparable.

Dinner last night at a place suggested by Sebastian, L’ Epicerie, right opposite the Chateau d’Amboise. It was a cute, family run sort of place, but with a rather extensive menu and wine list. It was fairly inexpensive, and the food was quite good, as were the wines. It was also very busy—we had to sit in the back room with the other English speakers, but the staff were so nice it made up for it. It was the sort of place with big set menus, so you got a cheese course included! Good cheese. I had a country duck pate and rillettes (together at last) and then this big lamb shank. Logan had smoked salmon and then a steak with foie gras on top, and my mother had the salmon and (the best dish I think) a sort of terrine made with scallops and rougets. Apple tarts and chocolate domes for dessert (after the cheese of course.) Vouvray and Chinon to drink.

Today a very nice breakfast at the hotel. A walk around town and then a short drive to Chaumont sur Loire to see the chateau. Nice chateau, totally deserted. Then across the grounds to the Festival des Jardins—an annual garden design competition, with several dozen custom created gardens. This year the theme was “playing in gardens.”  An interesting idea, with some (of course) more successful than others. It was full of children and teens, school groups I suppose. You could see which designers were successful in meeting the theme simply by observing which gardens were full of children and which were empty! Some fun ideas—searching for a four leaf clover in a clover garden, a game in which you spun a wheel and searched to identify plants, an ugly but popular garden with spinning toys. Some themes were too abstract: some interestingly so and some not. There was an additional garden consisting of a sequence of mysterious rusted iron constructions, which seemed part of something else, but was quite fun.

Came back to Amboise, had a snack, a dip in the pool, and now just resting before dinner. Tonight we go to the Pavillion des Lys for dinner—the entire reason we have detoured through Amboise on our way from Paris to Italy!

Later…

Pavillion des Lys for dinner. The cute boys in the dining room had no record of my reservation…despite the endless emailing required to make it. Note: reserve by phone. They were very gracious though and seated us without a fuss. Still…

Anyway dinner was, one year since our last visit, still pretty amazing. And why Sebastian doesn’t double his prices (he well could) is still a pleasant mystery. We ate inside tonight; the dining room very pretty, but a little bit warm. It would have been a fine idea to eat outside, but it’s September, and I guess it’s just not done. (They do have actual outdoor furniture now, wicker chairs and  marble tables.)

For dinner we had

A sort of green pea mouse

A  pastry with mousaka and goat cheese

Artichoke puree with foie gras (surprisingly good, considering the odd combination)

Lobster and scallop risotto (Logan had tomato and mushroom risotto)

Filo with lamb and coco beans

Apple and almond tart with ice cream

Figs in orange sauce

Cactus sorbet

Then tiny strawberry smoothies and cookie

We retired to the lounge for tea and coffee and tiny pot de chocolats

Nonna said she ate too much and had too much wine. She has horrible indigestion every night now, so I may try to switch to having lunch instead of a big dinner…though I will probably be more successful with this after Logan leaves. If we have lunch, maybe she can digest better. I worry about her stamina. I hope this whole trip is not too much for her.

 

22 September 2006                    Moulins

An old French town, really in the middle of nowhere. Quite interesting as it is totally tourist-free. We’re staying at the Hotel de Paris,  a sort of faded grand hotel…a business hotel, but it’s Friday night so there is no one here. The rooms are large and have been curiously remodeled in some style I can’t place to any particular era. View of the cathedral. The cathedral is quite interesting, being built in two distinct parts, two styles of gothic, in the 15th and 16th century. Very gloomy inside. Has a rather amazing renaissance triptych, by a local, unknown painter. Very beautiful and in perfect condition with no restoration. Must have been kept out of sight for hundreds of years. Center panel is the Madonna of the Apocalypse, from a story in Revelations. Interesting bell tower (not by the church) with mechanical bell ringers; rebuilt after a 1947 fire. Big ruined chateau. Lots of interesting little buildings. A big grand tree-lined L-shaped avenue, which is unfortunately all torn up for reconstruction.

Dinner at Restaurant des Cours. Slightly fancy, but very pretty. Very good food, nicely presented. Logan and I had a special fig menu. First a crumble of figs with seared foie gras. Then a duck breast with figs; then a soft blue goat cheese with a fig compote, and finally three little fig desserts. Nonna had the regular menu, a starter of lentils and salmon and an egg, and piece of pork cooked five hours in whiskey! The food was inventive and quite good. The staff was very nice, and our waiter enjoyed practicing his English. Everyone else was French. They don’t get many American rufuses in Moulins!

When we were out walking today we passed a pharmacy with a display of walking sticks and canes. I made nonna buy a cane with a silver dog’s head.

We drove here from Amboise, via Bourges, where we stopped briefly for lunch. The navigation system was strangely useless in Bourges (sending us round in circles) but it was flawless in getting us straight to the hotel in Moulins. (Logan was desperate to go into Bourges, to eat lunch at this café where he had horse tartare on our previous trip—he says it was the best tartare he ever had, but I think he likes telling the story ten times as much as he liked the tartare—but we couldn’t find it, so we ate at a normal, quite decent brasserie.) So Moulins is halfway, more or less, between Amboise and Lyon, but not really on the route to anywhere else in France. It’s not near the autoroutes or the main train lines, so it really is rather isolated. You could buy a house here, or a farm, really cheap. As I went on yesterday about how summery it was, I have to say it started to rain in the middle of last night, and all day today was cloudy with intermittent showers. Still not cold though, and it stopped raining by the time we arrived in Moulins.

 

24 September 2006                    Lyon

Weekend in Lyon. Warm, but intermittently showery. Hotel Globe et Cecil is elegant, but oddly deserted on the weekend. I feel a bit like we are the only ones here. A nice lady on the desk all day, but she is the only staff at the hotel. Lyon was very busy when we arrived yesterday, a Saturday. Everyone in town shopping, or demonstrating in the Place Bellecour, or handing out balloons encouraging ecological transportation. All the cafes, and streets, full of people. Today is very quiet, everything is closed, except in the tourist area of Vieux Lyon. And there was a demi-marathon this morning, it went by our hotel, but had nearly ended by the time we finished breakfast.

This afternoon we took the official tourist office walking tour of renaissance Lyon (my third time) which was still enjoyable, and a good way to pass a Sunday afternoon. That is the only lively quarter of Lyon on Sunday. Visited the gothic church with the astronomical clock, and some of the traboules and renaissance courtyards, and got the 2000 year history of Lyon. Nonna held up well, keeping up with the tour to the end. And then even managed to walk back to the hotel. I had wanted to be here on Friday/Saturday rather than the weekend, but it didn’t work out that way.

We did a bit of window shopping yesterday, after arriving at three, then went to an early dinner at Raphael Berringer, a stylish restaurant (new I think) south of the Place Bellecour. This district seems newly fashionable, with art galleries and antique shops. The restaurant was very pretty, in a contemporary way. Big windows and striped walls in two shades of green, which was much more beautiful than it sounds. Just two, not very large, rooms. And the youngest staff I have ever seen in French restaurant. No one seemed to be over 25; and our waiter, I think it was his first week on the job. He was flummoxed and nervous and sweating, but very sweet. Everyone else, though young, seemed polished and relaxed. Food was interesting and good. A plate  of amuse bouches (that one had to pay 5 euros for) that had a shrimp, an eggplant puree, a potato/bacon thing, and a broccoli cream. I had a starter of stuffed rabbit back and artichoke hearts, followed by lamb sweetbreads. Logan had pumpkin soup with chestnuts and autumn mushrooms and a veal kidney. Nonna had the soup also and a steak. As usual in trendy restaurants, my mother had the least successful main course—her steak was overcooked (Logan’s fault in ordering, I think though) and her potato thing was burnt (no excuse). The innards were very good. Logan and I had cheese. And we ordered three of the four desserts: a pear and puff pastry concoction (light and good) and chocolate layered thing (very rich) and a cinnamon mousse with chestnut ice cream. We drank a bottle of white and a bottle of red St. Joseph, Logan’s wine of choice for this trip.

Wanted to note a nice looking hotel for future reference, the Hotel du College, in Vieux Lyon. Looks stylish, good location, and cheaper than the Globe et Cecil. I’d give it a try on a return visit I think. It was on Louise’s (of the French tourist office in New York) suggestion list, but I somehow had my heart set on staying at the Globe et Cecil, as I always admired it’s Agatha Christie era name and appearance. It’s nice but not that great, and a bit spooky in its emptiness. Although the woman working today could not have been nicer. And it has super bathtubs, windows that open, air-conditioning, and we are on the top floor.

One big minus—they contract the wifi internet service with a company that charges 30 euros a day; absolutely outrageous, and the highest price I have ever seen in a hotel—more than the George V, more than in London. My pet peeve—I think hotels should provide free wifi, as it costs them virtually nothing. In Paris we tapped into someone’s open network for free (pretty easy to do in Paris). In Versailles Logan paid for it. In Amboise it was a nominal 5 euros a day (which we may not even have been charged); in Moulins, it was simply non-existent. I don’t mind access only every few days…but I will miss it at the Gatto Rosso; I’m hoping I can connect occasionally somewhere in Lucca.

On our drive from Moulins to Lyon, we cut across southern Burgundy. Saw those cutouts of dead people all along the side of the road again. Creepy. Logan insisted we stop at Paray le Monial to revisit the pilgrimage church, once a Romanesque Cluniac monastery. He had said we had visited it on our trip to Burgundy some years ago, but I did not remember it until we got to Lyon and I reread my notes from that trip. The interior has been completely restored and redone. The walls are painted a light ochre with fake white mortar joints and the whole interior is very light and bright. Also some rather nice modern light fixtures (all swirling leaves) and candle holders have been designed and installed, along with some truly beautiful abstract stained glass in the upper windows. It’s no wonder I didn’t recognize it. The façade is typical Bourgundian Romanesque, and it does face a pretty canal. When last we visited, we approached from a different direction (through the town and a market) and the interior (I think) was dark and under restoration. From my notes I recall a garden and diorama of a young nun’s vision of Jesus telling her to worship his sacred heart. Sadly, I didn’t recall this while we were there—it would have been a hoot to see that again.

Tomorrow I want to shop a bit in the morning, and have a proper bouchon lunch before we set off on the two hour drive to Avignon. It seems vital to have a Bouchon meal while in Lyon.

 

25 September 2006                    Avignon

Spent the morning in Lyon, wandering around, shopping (a few places open on Monday morning) and had a nice lunch in a tiny Bouchon. The owner, Mme. Danielle, at her self named Bouchon Chez Marie Danielle, did all the serving in the little room—dashing about with amazing efficiency. Food was excellent; and even rather light and delicate for a bouchon. Logan started with a plate of sliced sausage and lentils, nonna with foie gras on top of an artichoke heart, and I with a terrine of chicken livers. Nonna and I followed it with quenelles (a kind of fish dumpling), a specialty of the house, very light (though large) and deliciously sauced. Lemon tart and chocolate mouse were both superb, the first very lemony, the second chocolaty but very airy.

Picked up our car and our many bags at the Globe et Cecil and had no trouble driving out of town to the payage. Boring two hour drive on the expensive A-7 highway to Avignon. The navigation device took us into the old city through the wrong gate, then promptly lost its signal. The hotel is just on the main, straight road from the gate opposite the railway station! If I had only known.

Six o’clock when we got settled in our awful hotel. A short walk, and a half decent, simple supper at a tourist brasserie on the Place de Horloge. Logan unwell.

 

26 September 2006                     Avignon

The Palais des Papes is pretty amazing, some incredible, large, starkly beautiful 14th century rooms; the view from the rooftop is amazing. The morning tour groups make visiting impossible, but it’s open late, and at 6pm we had the place to ourselves, basically. Go late.

Sunset from the Dom de Notre Dame next to the Palais was brilliant. We were too late to go into the church though.

Le Cid, on the touristy Place de Horloge is a hoot of a gay café/bar. By day, you’d never know it was gay, as like all the cafés there, it is chock-a-block with tourists; your only clue is a tiny rainbow flag inside and the staff–everyone young, pierced, tattooed and gay as can be. After dinner, when the tour groups are long gone, it has a much gayer ambience. Loads of cute boys sitting at the tables, posing. Very fun.

The Hotel Danielli is shabby and cheerless. Must remember to tell Louise to remove it from her list of suggested hotels. Eager to see what it looks like on its website again, for if there was any resemblance to the reality of the place, I would not have booked here. But internet access is just one of a number of promised amenities that doesn’t exist. The staff, what there is of her, is cheerfully indifferent. Out room is on a noisy alley; quiet enough at night, but a cacophony from 7:30 am—first a delivery truck endlessly unloading noisy metal racks, and now a circular saw, of all things. It’s in the center of town. The navigation system could not find it, though now that I know where it is, I could have found it easily. As it was, lots of driving around inside the old walled city. And the car is parked some distance away…only a problem when I have to come back tomorrow to pick up the luggage and nonna. The two star Hotel Palais du Papes with view of the Palais is cheaper! Hotel d’Angleterre, a logis with parking and an elevator, is cheaper. Hotel Le Cloitre St. Louis is  more expensive, but beautiful beyond belief, built around an old monetary cloister. Well, we know for next time.

Choosing a hotel by its website bears a certain similarity to internet dating…the ever present risk of false representation is much the same: out-of-date pictures, photos of something else; false promises. And conversely a bad website can put you off a good hotel!

The Mistral, the famous cold wind, is blowing.

 

27 September 2006                    Marseilles

Got Logan off on the TGV to CDG this morning, and then we drove to Marseilles. A big, big, traffic-filled city—far too big for an overnight stop. People seem friendly, lots of bustling around. Waiters don’t speak a lot of English, but they are very friendly. I guess not so many tourists come here, even though the old port area looks very touristy. At the café where we had lunch, it was all locals. But even in the old port it seemed mostly French. The Irish pub was hopping with French speaking patrons!

We had a good dinner down there, at a place recommended by the hotel, which is a pleasant enough Best Western. The restaurant Rudon Bleu specializes in fish and especially bouillabaisse—they are a member of an association for the preservation of proper Marseilles bouillabaisse. It has to be made and presented a certain way. It was good, but it sure was a lot of fish! I loved the roué.

A long drive tomorrow anyway, but a simple inn in a small town.

 

28 September 2006                    Liagueglia, Italy

I love this hotel (The Splendid Mare) and especially this little resort town, right on the Mediterranean coast. It’s so cute, and it’s very unpopulated now in late September, even though the weather is perfect. Only Italians, and a few Brits, here. Not busy at all, very off season. But perfect. I wish we were staying two days. I thought there would be nothing to do, but it’s a block from the sea and they have a private bathing beach with chairs and umbrellas and changing rooms. There are lots of outdoor café/bars, really cheap, and it’s just great. I’d love to lay all day tomorrow under an umbrella, and take occasional dips in the Med. I walked along the beach at sunset, the weather was great, the water was mild, the beach was deserted, a few people promenading or sitting in a café near our hotel. We went there after dinner for coffee and grappa, an old man was playing the piano—hit songs from the 1940’s. The hotel is equally lost in time, a grand old resort. The town is a beach resort trapped well in the last century. Mostly Italians here. It’s too great.

Beautiful drive today. We took small roads from Marseilles to Bandol, where we stopped for  sandwiches. Really cute town with a big yacht harbor. We should have stopped there instead of Marseilles. For the one night, it would have been much easier. Then drove the Payage to Monaco. It looked really cool (so clean and shiny) but we couldn’t really stop to admire the views because there is nowhere at all to park! Stopped on the other side, in Menton, the last French town, and had coffee and ice cream at a café on the beach. Crossed the border to Italy past the two abandoned border control stations. It gives me hope to see such things. Drove the crazy Italian Payage—now called the Autoroute of course (the highway is all high bridges and long tunnels, it must have cost a fortune to build) to Diano Marina, then along the coast to our cool hotel. Great suggestion of Jim’s friend Arthur. This town is cool. Dinner was decent in the hotel, actually pretty good, if a bit rushed. Other restaurants in town look really good. Sitting outside the bar nearby, listening to the piano player and drinking coffee and grappa on the square was great. I’d cancel Genoa and stay here if I could without paying a penalty. It’s just so relaxing…finally! I want to come back. Maybe Lake Como, so late in the season, will be this cool.

 

28 September 2006                    Liagueglia

Morning. Waiting for nonna. My room has those great wooden shutters on the window that block out heat and light, but still allow air. The floor is tiled, the ceiling is tiled, the bed comfortable, it is all very pretty. Rates are low in the off season, and the weather is perfect. Why would anyone want to come here when it was crowded? Wish I could stay on the beach all day under an umbrella, but perhaps Genoa will be interesting.

 

29 September 2006                    Genova

Hotel Savoia is pretty cool. Pleasant modern rooms in a very old building. Antique Otis cage elevator from the 19th century with manual opening doors.

Walked to the aquarium today for a visit. I love aquariums. It’s pretty nice. Amazingly big fish; giant sea turtles. Pretty cool. Dinner tonight at Da Dominica, across town by taxi on Piazza S. Lorenzo, a suggestion of the hotel clerk. Nice tratoria, a maze of rooms, but we sat on the back terrace, which was quite busy. No menus. The waiter recited the things on offer and attempted to translate into English, though I understood his Italian better. An aperitif of slightly sparkling wine, a bottle of local Genovese white (and a half bottle when we finished that…actually they just opened another bottle and said drink what you want and we will charge accordingly. Antipasto plate of little marinated fishy things: an anchovy, salmon, eggplant, pulpo, more. Primi piatti of branzino-filled ravioli in a tomato cream sauce with clams, mussels and shrimp. Whole, grilled branzino, filleted at the table for a secondi. Skipped dessert, had a coffee. The bill for the whole thing was 90 euros. Seems like a bargain, especially for the big city. Everyone else was Italian. Waiter was nice and cute and his younger brother (son?) assistant was really sweet, if a little earnest. “Mama” running things. Very pleasant.

The hotel is great, although I think it’s not quite the center, so there’s not much open at night—shopping and café/bars by day though—it’s just at the Principe railway station. Some grand old churches and palazzos; would be a nice place to explore someday. Not many tourists here it seems (though I did stop the car while driving in to let two American teens cross the street!). Internet here is theoretical, but they said they haven’t got it working yet. Chatty English-speaking taxi driver on the way to dinner, he seemed quite proud of Genova and thought we should see all the sights. Well, off to the Gatto Rosso tomorrow. Now I’ll get back to reading Cloud Atlas, a pretty great book.


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