Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lido Beach

After sightseeing in Venice, we spent a terrific afternoon on Lido Beach. We went there thanks to hometown friend, Dawn and her suggestion. We rented a beach chair for Mom and the kids made a mad dash for the surf. Ever my critter-loving girl, Cameron caught two small hermit crabs (that ended up visiting five additional countries with us) and Caroline played in the sand and water. It was such a relaxing afternoon and a welcome break from the mad dash of sightseeing.

I had just settled down with my glass of white wine when a group of obviously American girls grabbed a spot next to us. Who would have guessed we would be next to Missourians on an Adriatic beach? Yep, that's right - the girls from Villa Duchesne in St. Louis were our sandside neighbors for the day. Fearless as they were, they enthusiastically joined a group of Italian guys in a game of beach soccer. I encouraged them to get in there and show them what Missouri girls were made of - and they did! Like all good moms, stand-in or otherwise, I enjoyed watching from the sidelines while guarding their stuff.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the "Iron Curtain." As much as I've tried to explain what it was like to Cameron and Caroline, I'm finding it difficult to describe the political climate of my childhood - where it was the "commies" instead of the terrorists trying to take away our freedom; where the Cold War dominated the TV news and yellow and black fallout shelter signs still decorated the halls of most public buildings.

As much as I love eastern Europe (more on that love in later posts) the physical remains of communism still dominate parts of the landscape and certain sections of most cities. The stark and ugly concrete apartment buildings, like monolithic, proletariat ghosts appear in every population center as well as in unexpected places. We were driving through a small, rural town in Poland and suddenly they appeared. Cameron shot this image while we were driving. Many windows were gone and they looked deserted. Being well away from any large city, I wondered if they had been built for farm workers.
We made our way into Bratislava, partly by accident and partly by "oh well, might as well." No doubt due to the lack of planning we drove around in a section of the city that was less than attractive. "Urban blight" came to mind and being a child of the 60's, I must admit the memory of "KGB" did as well. For a second or two I was sucked back in time to one of those Communist places Walter Cronkite had warned us of - where people went, never to be seen again.
When we finally found our hotel, unpacked, showered and sat down to have dinner, Cameron glanced out the window and said, "Hey, isn't that our seal?" I thought she was referring to a zoo animal and gave her a "are you nuts?" kind of look. When we later walked out onto the square I broke into a huge smile and thought of T.J. Greaney's June 5th article in the Columbia Tribune
that I had read online from Italy only the week before. The stars and stripes were indeed flying over the square. It was the American Embassy and thus began the evenings civic lesson. I explained that if there were some horrible disaster, either natural or man-made, the Embassy would be the first place we would go. Caroline smiled and seemed very proud to know that as an American citizen, the Marines at the embassy would protect her - even whisk her away in a helicopter if necessary. I'm sure it sounded very adventuresome and romantic to an eleven year old. To tell the truth, there was something very comforting to an old Mom about having them there even with the KGB 20 years gone. ;)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Misc Images from Florence

The layout is giving me fits and the connection is ultra-slow but we couldn't go without posting the pic of the Florence slug; my favorite painting; the old empty building I want to buy to turn into a glorious hotel and Florence at night.

Medici Unplugged

Florence is a great city to walk; even at night the girls and I felt perfectly safe. Of course we did not venture too far beyond tourist areas but what an opportunity to fall in love with the jewels of the Renaissance. My only complaint (well perhaps there were a few) was the museums were so small, they require reservations (yes, you read that correctly) on busy days. Perhaps that was something I overlooked in the guidebooks. You simply will not get in without a reservation if there are crowds. Period.
The Galleria dell'Accademia is one of the best known museums in Florence, because it houses famous sculptures by Michelangelo, including the "David", "The Foil Porcospino ur Prisoners" and the "Pieta of Palestina". This Museum is way too small. If someone begins a fund to improve it, I will happily contribute.

The restoration and construction work (which I know is so neccessary to preserve the grand architecture) really detracted from the Florence experience in some locations. It's hard to imagine and get the "feel" of some of the buildings when they're draped and covered with scaffolding.

I took the photo on the left at The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross). Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and was one of our favorite places. It is also known as the Temple of Italian Glories because Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini, and Marconi are entombed there. I particularily like how the Franciscan monks hid Galileos remains in the wall - defying the Pope and his orders that the evil Galileo, with his scientific ideas, could not be interred in a holy place.

The hilarious and entertaining Franco welcomed us to il Porcospino; once for lunch and again the following night for dinner. Franco is obviously legendary and everyone seems to know and love him. If you don't get him started on Italian politics (he's not keen on the idea of a diverse Italy) he'll sing American pop songs for you. Be sure to visit there for good food at reasonable prices in Florence.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

MIsc Ramblings on Traveling, Internet and Blogs

I read an article and a discussion before I left on how advanced Europe had become over the US with wireless and being connected. Sadly, at least for travelers, its simply not true. I had depended on this and have found myself unable to upload photos, share info from the road or email.
In larger cities and better hotels, they have WiFi but it is extremely undependable. I have found throughout Italy, the slighest rainstorm seems to take it out for days. There are internet points and cafes, but who wants to spend hours sitting in one when you are suppose to be on vacation? When using their computers, you have no way to upload photos, especially with restrictions on attaching outside devices. So while I imagined relaxing after a long day of sightseeing, glass of vino beside my laptop as I recorded the days events - well it just did not turn out that way.
In addition, when it comes to getting on line nobody rides for free - at least not in Europe. In the US, mid-priced hotels often have WiFi or a business center for their customers at no charge. Here, even four and five star hotels charge for internet access. In London at the Kensington Holiday Inn you can expect to pay about twelve to thirteen US dollars per hour for access. In Italy and France, it is averaging around seven US dollars per hour. Granted the exchange rate does not help, but it remains cyber-highway robbery.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More Pics for Wineauxs to Love

These hands are about 20 ft tall and not far from Gigondas. They were showcased in a roundabout. There were several places in the Cote du Rhone that had grapevines in the roundabout. So cool - I'm wondering if they'd do that on Chapel Hill Road??? :)
The other photos above are Gigondas and Saint Cosme.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photos of Saint Cosme & the village of Gigondas

AS y6oiu can see the Barroul family dog was so happy we visited, it escourted us to town!


North of Avignon by way of Carpentras, sheltered by the hauntingly beautiful Dentelles range is the famous wine producing town of Gigondas. I had heard of this part of the Cote du Rhone but it really picked up on my radar when Paul of Top Ten Wines turned me on to a glorious red wine from Saint Cosme. Imagine my surprise when we are driving down the road and voila - there in front of us was the place - the actual Chateau de Saint Cosme. Named for the patron saint of Gigondas, this working winery and vineyard dispenses quickly with any pretense. A friendly dog greets all who enter the small drive and provided a welcome diversion for Cameron and Caroline who have little interest in wine. The 14th generation winemaker, Louis Barroul and his family live on site. One would think it has nothing to do with viticulture or enology, but there was something reassuring and expected with seeing a bicycle and the of small children about. This was a terrior well connected to the human as the family to the land. The wines of Saint Cosme demonstrate this respectful symbiosis. One wine that stood out among all I tasted the was the 2007 Gigondas. I bought two bottles - with a silent prayer to the Customs God. One to watch is their table wine, Little James Basket Press Vin de Table. With Chateau direct prices at just over a mere 4 euros, word from the Chateau is US wine merchants are very interested in both the Little James and the Saint Joseph. The Little James is a whole lot of wow for the price - fat and round with berry and spice and those wonderful earthy notes I so love about good Cote du Rhone wine. The 2006 St. Joseph is selling for an average of around $45 in the US. It can be purchased from the estate for 14.20 euro.
There are 15 hectares (about 37 acres) of old vines around the estate with an average vine age of 60 years. Yields are kept very low at around 27 hectoliters per hectare (about 2 tons per acre). The soil is limestone and red clay but somewhat geologically complex. Grenache is king here, but often blended with Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise or Mourvèdre.

The village of Gigondas (pop. 650) is a place fairy tales are made of. Check out our photos for more.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Maybe I've just been lucky or perhaps I have one of those faces that automatically evokes sympathy, but I have yet to discover where they hide those American hating French. "It was a fluke!" I was told in 2006, the first time I brought Cameron and Caroline to France. I was assured it was not typical and it must have been beginners luck, because if you are not perfectly fluent (i.e. undetectable as a non-French person) they do not like you and if they find out you are American, you are really screwed - so I was told.

Connerie. Bull shit. Cow dung. It was not my experience then - and it has not been my experience now.

I don't know what those other travelers did to invoke their own troubles, but I am here to tell you the French people are some of the most wonderful people on the planet. Thus far, I've had simple things and one or two major (or what I may consider major frustrations) and have had many benevolent people to come my aid. My French was so awful one person thought I was Dutch. Although I readily admitted I was American, their offer of assistance never wavered. They helped me anyway - with smiles on their faces and kindness in their hearts.

In my wine education, one of the more kind and beautiful women I have met thus far was Helene Maynard of Domaine du Galet des Papes in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. She and her husband, Jean-Luc, represent 5th generation wine growers. The Maynard family owned property in Chateauneuf-du-Pape during the time of Napolean III. There had been a festival we missed the previous Saturday, so Monday must have been a lazy sort of day in the village. Many of the wineries and wine caves looked somewhat deserted, so I felt I was imposing a bit on Madam Maynard when I rang the bell. If there were any imposition, her welcoming demeanor and hospitality hid it well. The most pleasant surprise was the taste of her wine. Coming in at half the cost of many Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, the Domaine du Galet des Papes held its own, especially in the famous 2005 vintage.

I am having a glass as I type. Merci, Madam Maynard.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Arrival in Nice did not get off to a good start. We flew EasyJet from London. Many American airlines could take lessons from these folks; newer planes, good basic service and as Cameron said, better pilots. ;) She's sure that this pilot should offer the British Airways chap lessons on how to land (I still shudder at the memory). We picked up our car without a problem but soon discovered our GPS did not know how to speak French. Although my Garmin is supposed to be loaded with complete European maps, we're beginning to doubt its accuracy. In addition, she (the voice is female) butchers the French language much worse than I ever could (& that's saying a lot) so we're never quite sure what street or where she is referring to. After taking 45 minutes to get to our hotel (in what should have been less than 10) Cameron and I were ready to strangle her - or at least perform a sex change and turn her into a man.

Nice is a place into itself - just worn enough to give it character and make it a bit more alluring. We loved walking the Promenade and the Old Town. We had a great dinner in a sidewalk cafe and gelato for dessert. We decided to take a long stroll back to the hotel and in doing so, it appears we were out a bit late. We started to notice these beautiful, and I do mean gorgeous girls standing on every street corner. When we passed the first one I assumed it was a woman waiting for her date to bring the car around. She was beautifully dressed, maybe a little sexy but not distasteful and knock-down-dead gorgeous. By the time we passed the second, the "light" (or would that be red light?) went on and I was like - OMG. Truthfully, I felt very sorry for them, wondering what had happened in their lives to make such beauty resort to something so dangerous and demeaning. While most well dressed French women wouldn't hesitate to meet your gaze, I noticed these women looked away from a mother walking with her two children. The further west we walked, the less pretty and well dressed they became until they began to be readily identifiable for their trade. And as for overly sheltered, poorly socialized homeschoolers? Let it suffice to say Caroline now knows what prostitution is. I think we'll stick completely to the east end from now on.

London officials are probably looking for me for the 1st pic (above). I took it before I saw that no photos were allowed. It is a photo of King Henry VII's love letter to Anne Boleyn, on loan from the Vatican. Hmm, how did the Vatican come by it anyway? The second pic is at Trafalgar Square and the third is self explanatory except that the police had the park square to the left surrounded due to a protest.

Several glitches with our laptop and WiFi have really cut into our time in London - perhaps the cost of being too dependent on the Internet for information. A train strike was scheduled for the day we were headed to Gatwick, so I was a little panicked at not being able to check the site. Thankfully, we were able to board the Gatwick Express with no problem.

We visited the Tate, which we missed last time. I love the art museums, but always feel a slight disappointment knowing it would take days to begin truly appreciating most of these works. The Victoria and Albert Museum was nice, though Caroline seemed disappointed it was about their Majesties. She had watched the movie on the way over on the plane and has now added Victoria to her interest in royalty.

Speaking of her interest, we had to walk by St. James Palace just in case we might be able to catch a glimpse of the heartthrob Prince (That's William, not Charles ;) ). It gave me the change to take a photo of the girls in the exact spot I took it three years ago (see above)

Cameron opted out, but Caroline and I had dinner at Gordon Ramsey's Maze. It's a bit out of the way, but the food is fantastic, some of the best I've ever had in London.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

London, May 18th

I learned a new version of the meaning of rock and roll when our 777 landed at Heathrow. The pilot had mentioned it was "blustery" in London, but I had no idea that those wind gusts would rock a mammoth plane like that. I'm not a fan of flying as it is and usually feel safer in the jumbo jets - but oh my.

Although the flight itself was rather smooth, neither Cameron, Caroline or I were able to get much sleep. There was a particularly difficult two year old across the aisle and our nearest neighbors were very restless.

After we checked into our hotel, we roamed Knightsbridge and picked up some goodies at the food hall in Harrod's. We picnicked in Hyde Park, walked to Buckingham Palace and rode the Tube. As we were going down Brompton Road, Cameron announced, "I feel like I've come home!" I'll second that feeling. I heart London.

We have had major frustrations with the cell phone and the wireless on the computer, but we're working on it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

We're Off

We're flying out of St. Louis today to Chicago to catch British Airways to London to begin another "extreme field trip." Although last time we stayed long enough to really soak up the sites in London, on this trip we're using as our starting point. We'll be staying a few days to re-visit old favorites and then we're catching a flight out of Gatwick to the south of France. There we will be taking some time out to further Mom's education in French viticulture and enology (or oenology as I will be spelling it there ;) ) as well as doing a bit of sightseeing. It's that time of year, so if we're feeling particularly brave, we might have to visit the Cannes Film Festival just to say we did.

I don't feel as well prepared for this trip as I have for others. In the past, I often did a lot of pre-trip research. Between a change in dates, an overloaded schedule and a recent trip to Chicago, I haven't been able to do as much research as I would have liked. I'm not going to sweat it too much though - and I'm going to try and reassure myself by focusing on the value of spontaneity. Some of the most wonderful experiences we've ever had on trips in the past were completely unplanned.

See you on Monday in London!