PARIS

We have been recommending the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais as a Great Place to stay in Paris for some time now. We regulary hear back postive comments. .It is a charming hotel in the Marais district of Paris. The area is "alive" day and night and it is well positioned to travel around the city. More details on the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais in the Great Places To Stay web site.

Another location is Paris that has been a hit for everyone we have sent there is the Restaurant Au Gamin. It is in the Marais district of Paris, and located a block from the Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais.

Our friends, Chris and Carmen Grant started their trip in Paris. They visiedt the regular sites that included: the Louvre, Notre Dame, Tour Eiffel, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, Sacre Coeur and discovered the awesome view from the rooftop restaurants at Le Samaritaine and Printemps. These rooftop restaurants offer good food and provide great views of Paris.

In addition to the major sights, there are very calming pleasant locations throughout Paris. Often, within seconds you forget you are in the middle of such a large city.

At the end of their four days in Paris, the Grants traveled by TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) to meet the Marcuses in Nice. From there, the joint vacation commenced.

The timing of the meeting was impeccable. With the Marcuses flying in from from Vancouver via London and the Grants arriving via the TGV from Paris, who would have imagine that as the Grants walked out of the station the Marcses would be driving up in the car! With very careful placement of luggage in the trunk — the lid closed, we were off. Hints for travelers: you may be able to check two bags each on your flight, but if traveling with others the amount of trunk space in the car will be much less.

ST PAUL DE VENCE

Le HameauWe traveled to Le Hameau, a wonderful hotel located just outside the small hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence, about 15-20 minutes from Nice.

This is a great hotel. A grapevine-covered walkway leads to a series of whitewashed buildings. The decor is warm, tasteful and a bit of luxury.

Le Hameau was our base to travel for the next day in the area.

St Paul de Vence is an artistic treat. It is home to the Fondation Maeght, created in the 1950's by Aimé andMarguerite Maeght, who were art collectors and dealers. Great artists worked in Province and these folks knew them all! There are art works on exhibition as part of the grounds and in the summer an annual exhibition.

When staying at Le Hameau, never pass on the breakfast. It is a peaceful experience: petite dejuner in the garden. No better way to start your day.

MONACO

The rescue of the sunglasses in MonacoWe next headed out towards Monaco. The coast road is fine if there is plenty of time, but with just one day to see the sights, we pop down the autoroute. The old part of Monaco was a pleasant surprise. This part of the town has a small walking district, the cathedral and the palace. The descendants of the Grimaldi family, including Princess Grace, are buried in the Cathedral.

Were there any mishaps on the trip? Of course, right off the bat Glenn's new sunglasses fell off while he was taking photos in Monaco. Of course, they fell off over a railing and hung onto a plant.. another 1/2 inch and they would be history. Chris summoned help from a gardener. The rake did not work, but he came back with a little invention of a hook and wire and viola.. the glasses were retrieved. Okay, now we can continue with the vacation!

Nearby in Cap Ferrat is the Villa Ile-de-France, built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. The main floor of the house is included with general admittance. The grounds, however, are perhaps the most pleasant part of a tour of the villa. There are numerous gardening themes from classic Italian to oriental. Very interesting and worth a stroll.

Rothchild Villa Rothchild Villa  
Interior of the Villa Rear view, from the garden, of the Villa  

In the evening, we drive down to Nice for a walk along the much walked Rue Masséna -- this is the people scene. The restaurants all look alike, and no matter how you look at what other people are eating you are not quite sure. We selected Brocaccio's at 7 rue Masséna and had a great meal of Paella Catalan - rice, chicken, sausage, pork calamari, gambria in the rice. Of course the wine was great. Oh it is great to be in France!

ALASSIO

AlassioThe next day we head off towards Italy. Our first stop was Alassio, a small town on the Italian Riviera just about an hour or so from Nice. We stopped here for a morning snack.. some coffee while we watched the scene on the beach.

The town has a good feel about it. Of course, Napoleon spent a night there -- he did a lot of traveling -- and there is the muretto, the little wall, with autographs in clay of many film stars and singers.

The Marcuses have stayed in Alassio many times, it is almost a home away from home. And on this trip, together we enjoyed it so much we marked this as a place to visit again on the way back to Nice.

Ah, Alassio, this is where Chris was introduced to his first gelato... it became a ritual. In each town, the town would be judged on how its gelato compared to that of Alassio! Sometimes it would take more than one to reach a conclusive decision.

SIRMIONE

We left Alassio and headed north to Lake Garda and stayed one night in Sirmione. This is a town that dates back to Medieval times. It is situated on a peninsula at the southern end of the lake. As the following quote from Catullus, one of Rome's lyric poets (84 BC) captures, this town has been a hit with folks for some time.

Sweet Sirmio! thou, the very eye
Of all peninsulas and isles,
That in our lakes of silver lie,
Or sleep enwreathed by Neptune's smiles

Sirmione sits on a peninsula - and at its narrowest point is only 90 meters across, jutting into Lake Garda. The medieval centre is dominated by the Castello Scaligero built by Mastino I della Scala of Vernona back in the 13th Century. It is completely surrounded by water. Little to see inside but the castle is quite the site as your approach in the medieval section.

Sirmione Sirimone  
Boat navigates the waterways around the castle. Rocca Scaligeria - 13th Century Castle  

What an evening. We saw a spectacular fireworks display. Sitting on the deck lounge chairs, we watched the fireworks being shot from boats in the lake... it was a good as it gets and after that evening we pressed on to our next stop -- Venezia.

We stayed at the Hotel Flaminia (Flaminia 8; Tel: 030 916457), a good hotel for the town. Our dinner at the Desieria was a let down. Good food but incredibly slow service.

Some views of Sirmione

VENICE | VENEZIA

Venice Venice
The Palazzo Ducale on the left tooking towards the water. The narrow canals of Venice. Oh the colours!
Karen
Venice
Karen in the Ghetto District of Venice -
she was enjoying a Gingerino at a canal-side cafe
Venice
Looking out towards S. Maria d, Salute across the Grande Canal with Lido in the background.

Finding an affordable hotel in Venice is a challenge. For this trip we stayed just outside of Venice at the Hotel Martello (See Great Places to Stay Site). The hotel is a small family-run hotel, with much to offer. Good price, clean rooms, well run and a great location. It is only a ten minute walk to the Margherita train station. From there, just about every 10-15 minutes, trains leave for Venice. A $4 CDN tickets gets you there and back It is a good alternative to staying in Vence.

After checking in, we walked to the train station and arrived in Venice. The first decision is which of the vaporetti (water-buses) to take to get us to Piazza San Marco. We ended up choosing a roundabout route but it offered an awesome view of the Palazzo Ducale and the Piazza San Marco. Mamma mia... what a beautiful site! Venice is like nowhere else on Earth.The first time you see it - you have no frame of reference for it; the history, the architecture, the water! Planning a trip to Italy? This is one of the places you have to visit. Yes it is packed during the day with tourists but there is no other place like Vencie. It is hard to get a hotel in Venice, with a good traveller planner can arrange that for you!

Part of the success in traveling with friends is to have your own independence. We do and that is why we travel so well together on our trips. We split up for the day. Chris and Carmen had a multitude of sights to see. It was Karen and Glenn's third visit to Venice, so a leisurely walk through the city and scouting for great pen stores seemed more the order of the day.

We meet at 7:30 pm for dinner and to talk about the sights we saw that day. We met at Piazza San Marco and then took a gondola ride. From there it was off to find a restaurant. I think the gondola ride could quite easily be skipped. It costs a great deal of money and other than the opportunity to go down some very small canals I would skip it on a return visit.

Our dinner turned out to be a very expensive event. Good food, but felt we were taken to the cleaners by one of the nicest talking Italians we'll ever meet! The 300,000 Lire bill became the benchmark to judge all subsequent meals. But, as Carmen said to Karen: "Get over it"!

On our second night in Venice we were riding the vaportti along the Grand Canal heading towards our hotel and Karen spotted a small restaurant so we got off and enjoyed pizza and wine. A simple meal with a complex and fascinating view of the Grande Canal and the sights of Venice. Now that is the way to eat in Venice.

VILLA PISANI

Villa Pisani Maze  
Villa Pisani Chris... will he ever get out of the maze?  
Maze    
The tower in the centre of the maze.    

The next morning we blast off from Venice and head south to Tuscany. On route we stop and visit one of the large villas located along the Brenta Canal. The canal, developed by the Venetians, became the location for over 70 villas. This was one of the places to have a house. Many were designed by famous architect Palladio. The grandest of the villas is Villa Pisani. It was modeled after Versailles and completed in 1760. Unfortunately, Pisani went broke and other owners -- some famous such as Napoleon took over the estate.

The maze, in the gardens of the Villa, is not to be missed. It was difficult. In the centre is a tower. In the end, Carmen, Karen and Glenn all made it to the tower. On the top, we would shout directions, in Italian, to Chris, and the others lost in the maze. But not only were we shouting directions, but everyone else on the tower were also joining in the process. Finally, with rounds of applause, Chris made it to the centre.

On a subsequent trip, this may be an ideal location for a bike tour as there is a network of roads that follow the canal. Boat trips from Venice along the canal to tour the villas are also available from Venice.

 

 

Paris

Chris joined the others sailing boats around the pond at Jardin de Tuilleries on a very windy but sunny afternoon stroll. Hey, this is what Paris is all about.

Le Hameau

Le Hameau

Monaco

Steps in the old section of Monaco.