I made a brief side trip to Provence in France this weekend. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see a small bit of southern France.
Visiting two friends who I know from my days in San Francisco, Ken Kobre and Betsy Brill. They have a second home in the small village, of Carcès, France, somewhere between Nice and Marseilles.
The day I arrived on Thursday was the National Fête de la Musique, a nationwide music festival where in every town, village and city there was music in the street. It is a national day of music and it started out to be something where everyone played music at home. Now it is a national street festival. We went to hear music in Entrecasteaux. I had never experienced music in this kind of setting. The Bar Central set up a long, long table on the walkway across from the restaurant. Then there were plenty of smaller tables out on the street. Lots of rose -- the new vin du jour, du mais, du annee. I think I am hooked. You sip it in small glasses, some are pinkish, some are whitish. All are good.
On my last night here we went back to Entrecasteaux for another concert in a repurposed olive mill. We heard from the San Francisco-based Vinifera Trio. It's hard to describe the ambiance, because it was so different from anything else I have experienced. The room was small, perhaps with enough space for no more than 100 people We had front row seats, but when I say front row, I really mean Front row, we were three feet away from the violinist and clarinetist. They played an eccletic selection but ended with thier own rendition of Gershwin's An American in Paris. And of course, when the performance ended, glasses of rose were passed around for all.
Other highlights -- to market, to market. every day there is a different market where wares of all kinds -- foods, herbs, clothes of course, but also mattresses and even grandfather clocks. We went to the markets in Carces on Saturday and Salerne on Sunday before our concert. Another feature of the market is to grab a table outside afterward for some people watching, and, of course, a glass of rose.
On Friday we went to Aix-en-Provence, a city for sure. What were supposed to be majestic tree-lined boulevards weren't -- some kind of tree disease has meant a lot of trees had to be cut down. So it didn't look as nice as we all expected. But it will get better. However when we got to the older part of Aix, another story. Endless crowds of people sitting at endless tables out on the restaurant watching endless others walking by. And drinking endless verre du rouge.
Even my approach into Provence at the airport in Nice, France was noteworthy. You could see the coastline and hte long stretch of beach. It was exciting to get my first view of Provence from my window seat on the plane. I got the same glimpse when I said goodbye, adieu to Provence Monday.
June 16 – Another walk around Prague today. I actually feel as if I am starting to know my way around a bit. Not by street names of course, but by reference points or puntas de referencia. So I can get from the dorm to Café Slavia and I know how to walk up there now to Wencelas Square (check speling).
The plan was to meet Heidi from Germany there today. And we met up perfectly. Using old school meet-up techniques. Pre-arranged Be there at a certain time. End of story. It worked.
We had lunch at a place her tour guide recommended across from the Metro stop after you walk up the street where the #18 tram and #22 bus go up.
I did’t think the restaurant was that good, although Heidi seemed to enjoy it. But they did give us an after dinner drink which seems to be the standard that I had never heard of before, which I reailly liked, and which I think might make interesting little gifts for a few people. It is called Becherovka. Lemon and herb based. Liquor. They served us the lemon,
I also found a travel agency o the street with no name to which I may go on Monday to set up my trips. It may not be useful. I actually just realized sitting here that if they do have tours they will probably be organized for people from here and the tours will be offered in Czech, so think I will stay on my own.
I also found, thanks to Heidi, the Tesco supermarket and department store where one can find everything. Jim hadn’t mentioned it and because I am not familiar with Europe I had never heard of it. I never would have found my way into it, without her.
After we parted, I came to the Marina Restaurant to begin writing because I do want to try remember as much as I can about my trip. I came to dinner here with Dannelle last night and it is a wonderful Italia restaurant right on the water with a view of the Charles Bridge. I am sitting and writing here right now with just such a view. She got a wonderful dessert last night – strawberry lavender cheese cake and it was so soft and creamy with a wonderful light graham crust. I tasted hers, and thought it was delicious. So with two hours to kill after leaving Heidi, while I wait to meet up with my Charles University writer’s group with a Jim-led tour across the Charles Bridge and into Lesser Town, I thought why not just come and sit here. So here I am, with the cheesecake now gone as well as the cup of coffee that accompanied it.
General Prague Thoughts.
I thought Prague would be less costly. It is wonderful, but NOT inexpensive. Coffee and pastry ends up being about $10. Dinner averages out at $20. But on the other hand, it is all good, so who can complain.
Lots of walking. Up hills. Down hills. You don’t notice because there is so much to look at that is just so beautiful, but at the end of the day, boy do my feet hurt.
I thought there would be more English spoken here. Before I left, I was told,
Everyone speaks some English, especially in the tourist areas. Not true. English is NOT widely spoken here. I have learned to conduct more complicated communications with Google translate tool. Other simpler things get done with pointing.
Yesterday on my free walking tour across the Charles Bridge and into Lesser Town I learned:
There are more dogs per capita in Prague than anywhere else in the world.
Prague ahs the third highest number of aethists and agnostics after China and Japan. This is attributed to the old days of Communism. Interesting, because there are so many churches here, old elaborate buildings from different styles and eras that I can’t quite explain. Our guide says that is why so many concerts and musical presentations are offered in churches. And that is true. At first I was struck and wnted to go to a classical musical concert in a particular church because I thought it was unique and special. Then as I kept walking about every 500 feet another concert was being hawked from a church front. Our guide said one church even doubles as a discotheque and dance club. He said that is because the churches are hardly used; if anything generally just one morning service. He says they need to be used for something.
Here at the dorm where I am being housed. So now I have am actually started the class on screenwriting and poetry writing which is being offered by a man who is much more renowned than I had realized.
Internationally recognized poet and screenwriter and former dean at University of Southern California. His name is James Regan who if you wish to google him. He is of Czech descent and quite
well versed in all things Czech and has been coming to Prague to do these classes for 25 years. So I may have gotten much more than I realized when I signed up for this adventure. I have learned
a lot about Prague in just these two days here — and even a thing or two about screenwriting should I wish to venture off in that direction (which I don’t).
I have been in Germany for five days now and it has been a whirlwind of activity and getting to know this area of central Germany in what is known as the Rhineland. To list things here briefly, Monday we visited the stone quarry (see previous post). Tuesday we roamed around Darmsdadt, Wednesday to Frankfurt and Thursday to the reconstructed, and with somee relics and finds, Roman fort at Saalsburg.
When we fisrt set out for Saalsburg, I did not realize it was going to be such a complete reconstruction. But you definitely left with an idea of what life was like at what would have been an outpost of the Roman Empire in the early 200s A.D. The limes was set up, you could get an idea of the stone structures that would have kept the fort safe and well-guarded, the village/s that would ahve sprung up outside the fort. Inside were various rooms set up as mini-museums with many of the actual archeological finds at the site -- tools, weapons, coins, household items, dishware, and more. I also liked the virtual display where lifesized drawings were set up around the room depicting different scenes of life, incuding the public toilets.
Wednesday was a visit to Frankfurt. We went to the top of the Main Tower for a 55-story high view of the city and could look out to see the main railroad terminal, the arts district, the river and more. We walked and walked and walked. Walked through the old plaza or Rumer where City Hall is located, walked to a wonderful Italian restaurant named Armonia where spaghetti was served from inside a scraped out wheel of Parmesan cheese. We walked some more and visited the memorial to Frankfurt's Jewish residents; the cemetery that was destroyed by the Nazis but exists now to honor those who died. Some of the old tombstones are still there and a wall has been reconstructed around the old cemetery with 12.000 small plaques to remember individually those who died with their birthdates, and when and where they died. They are flat on top so people can place small stones in remembrance as is the Jewish custom.
We also visited the museum next door about life in the Jewish ghetto that existed in the 1600-1800s. Foundations of five of the original buildings are there and again you walk away with a sense of how real people lived.
This trip was done in tandem with Heidi and Juan. Heidi is another former colleague from the San Juan Star. She and Juan have stayed in touch all these years. We picked her up at the train station in Darmstadt Tuesday. We spent a bit of time in Daarmstadt beforehand in teh arts district near the Russian Orthodox chufrch and around the grounds of a museum that has a whimscal sculpture of a man walking across the ledge of the roof at its highest point. I do have photos.
Then pick up Heidi and back home for a cookout and a wonderful dinner and lots of good conversation and wine.
My time in Switzerland is fast becoming a delightful blur, that I don't want to forget. So here are some quick impressions of a country that I hope to revisit. I arrived on a Wednesday and met my friend and her mom at the train station in Zurich, successfully making my way there on a train from the Zurich Airport. I waited for them at Cafe Oscar where I had cafe creme and a chocolate croissant near the treffpunkt or meeting point. It seems that there are treffpunks at every train station in Switzerland and Germany. The visual reminder is a sign with four arrows pointing in, which makes it obvious that is the place where one should be.
We met and all was well. Took the train from Zurich to Zug As per Wikipedia, Zug i.s an affluent municipality and that showed. The weather was perefect and it was a delight The name Zug originates from fishing vocabulary; in the to go for a meal or a dirnk or a coffee in any one of the numerous open air restaurants. The name Zug, I learned comes from a Middle Ages term that refers to the right to pull up fishing nets and hence to the right to fish. And there is plenty of fishing from this lake, which is also in the early summer when I was there, a place where people gathered to talk, to think, to picnic and watch their children play in the park.
The day after I arrived Deitland and I rode the train throughout Switzerland crossing into a number of different towns and changing trains at different locations. Our aims was to get to the Alps and perhaps take a hike. Our aim was to take a hike at bottom of the moutains and we did get there, But it was wet and damp and not conducive to walking and tramping around, although it was certainly conducive to walking around.
My take on Switzerland based on my all too brief visit is that it a country with spectacular views and scenery. As I write this from the vantage point of having spent three weeks in Europe, I would say it is the best train system which I have experienced. The trains were clean, sparkling and very easy to manuever in terms of the on and off since there are no steps, but rather a slide out user friendly alternative that easily accomodates the disable, more so than the German and Czech trains I have ridden thus far.
And everywhere I looked were spectacular views and this time of year, verdant and green like I have never seen elsewhere. Switzerland actually looked like a fairy tale, expect that it isn't make believe; it is real.
I didn't really pay attention to where we were going that Thursday. On one train, get off at one station, get on at another. Until Dietland said it was time to go home, as it began to grow dark and in theory we were to meet her mother for dinner that night. Fortunately, for me, the GPS on the iPhone lets me know where I was, even when I didn't remember to write it down.
It rained when we got back -- at least on the train. But by the time we got to the plaza in Zuk, the rain had stopped. We went to eat fishes, as Dietland called them, a Swiss equivalent of fish and chips with fish caught right in the lake there. A glass of wine and then a walk of a few blocks to get back to the rental we had.
Then to sleep, and the next day another adventure.
I am just hours away from embarking on my "grand tour" of Europe. First Switzerland, the home of my good friend Dietland; arrive in Zurich and then on to Zug. I had a hard time with the spelling. Then Germany to Darmstadt to visit my "old" friend from Puerto Rico, Juan Melendez, and his wife, Petra. Then by train to Prague for a three week writer workshop. Who knows what I will see and learn here. But my first challenge and still ongoing as I am still at home in Gainesville, FL is packing light. I keep taking things out and taking things out and I sitll have two suitcases -- small ones, but still two. And then of course, my electronics. I am going to write this trip, so what is a girl to do? Back to the drawing board to lighten up. My suitcase broke when I got to the Atlanta airport and I had to buy a new one. Luckily my friend was there to take me to lunch; instead he took me shopping. So new suitcase, but not as good as the one I had. Still, that should be the worst of my problems.