Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Final travel tips for France

It has been an interesting trip, full of history, new sights and good food.  We both agree that the Dordogne area has been our favorite because of the deep history, amazing caves, scenic beauty and gorgeous towns. Our recommendation for other travelers would be to day trip or overnight to Mt. St. Michel from Paris by train or bus. Spend a few days in the Loire Valley and 5 in the Dordogne (rent a car for a few days in Sarlat) then take a train to Chamonix and hike the alps. The south of France is far to get to and unless you enjoy the coastal areas, may not be worth the time.  It is probably better combined with a trip to Italy.

Take time to visit the caves in the Dordogne area. They are worth seeing and truly amazing.  One might think that cave art is simply what is seen in books but being there is an awe inspiring experience.  Not to mention, that the caves are spectacular places and beautiful>

Do spend time reading restaurant reviews as there is a big difference in quality; you can pay the same and get a totally different experience.  We found dining to be better in northern and central France; it may just be a function of the area and towns we were in, but we enjoyed more exquisite cuisine in those areas. Mot places had reasonable fixed price menus for around $20 euro and up.

If renting a car, go for small. Rental cars tend to be stick shift and use diesel, making them very gas efficient. Gas stations are easy to find but we were told that unless you have a credit card with chip and PIN, you will not be able to pay at the auto credit card stations and will need to find one with an attendant. Leave nothing in your car as theft is common, even in the rural areas. We were told that because there are video surveillance cameras in the towns, thieves are now targeting cars in more remote areas where they know tourists are. Avoid driving in big cities and try to stay out of old city alleys. Park outside of town when possible and go for lodging with access to parking. Be sure to have gps or nav system in the car; it can be a lifesaver! Train travel though, is a wonderful alternative to driving.  You can get to most cities by rail and it is much faster than driving.  The trains are on time, very comfortable and have large windows for viewing the scenery.  Rail stations in France are large with all the amenities of an airport, and in some cases, nicer than their airports!

We have always found bed and breakfasts to be preferable to hotels. It gives you an opportunity to meet other travelers, and the hosts are usually eager to offer recommendations.  Staying in a b&b gives you a totally different experience, one that is more personal and cultural.  Trip Advisor has been our best resource for finding lodging.  We found this time, that traveling in May, you don't necessarily need to reserve ahead of time, which gives you more flexibility.  Some come with breakfast, others have an add on option.  In most cases, breakfasts are much more expensive than going to the nearby patisserie and buying your own, unless a cooked breakfast is offered; however you do lose the
special experience of chatting with other travelers if you eat breakfast on your own.  

Confirm access to wifi as it is handy for finding sights and restaurants. We found all lodging to have wifi but if not, McDonalds is always a trusty place, offering 24/7 access, and always, a decent sized good cup of coffee.

Weather is totally unpredictable throughout France; the southern part of the country warmer than the north, but sudden rain showers are normal.

We found that English is not the language of choice in any part of France, except maybe Paris.  Expect that no one will speak English and try to learn at least a few words, which works wonders in trying to communicate.  Menus are generally in French, unless you are in a tourist cafe, so go with a offline based translator.  I had downloaded the Laroussse English French dictionary after the translate off line version didn't work; offline because restaurants don't have wifi.

Dress is pretty casual these days and there was no expectation to dress up for dining.  Tourists were there in gym shoes and hiking clothes.  We brought "dressy clothes" and never used them so unless you are planning to go to a 5 star place, leave dressy clothes at home.  Walking shoes are a necessity, as walking on cobblestones is hard on the feet.

Travel light - having multiple sets of luggage is difficult.  Many times, rail stations, hotels etc do not have elevators or escalators and maneuvering up and down narrow stairs is much easier with a backpack and small suitcase.  Besides, the French rooms are much smaller and having all that luggage will become a burden. Bring enough power convertors for charging all your electronic gear.

Most of all, enjoy. The French are delightfully friendly and relaxed people. They seem to enjoy life and the people that have come to visit.  We found them to be patient in trying to communicate and eager to help.  It is quite modern and you will find all the conveniences of home everywhere you go.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Au revoir

A field of red poppies and a fitting way to end our sty in Provence. We have seen bright red poppies lining the roads but a field of red has escaped us until now. This is the last photo op for now as we head for our afternoon train from Avignon to Geneva. 

Armed with our last crunchy baguette and with the last few fresh cherries, we drive through a thoroughly modern town of Apt. Rick Steve calls it a market town. It is actually a town of big box discount retailers. Seeing this town answers my question from yesterday. It makes me realize that local rural life in this area of Provence is changing with people moving to towns like Apt and adopting a very different lifestyle. The infusion of big box stores, malls and fast food joints is changing habits and diet. Slowly, the culture in these small villages is there for tourists' sake and resides in gift shops and cafes that serve food with no  resemblance to what we as tourists hope to find. Fortunately, the history has been preserved as have many of the old buildings, though many are not museums but have commercial signs on them.  Gradually, town life resembles life in any western town.  We see this in China and other countries where neon signs and high rises define the landscape. Lessons here, visit while you can, to those countries that are open.  Time passes quickly and seems to be changing our world at an increasingly more rapid pace.  The France we visited 20 years ago is far different from the France of today.  Every visit to China amazes us with the level of modernity, even in the most remote rural villages. Global mobility results in diversity and homogeneity, and often diminishing cultural traditions.  Apt could very well be Champaign Illinois with only language being the distinguishing factor.  

What has struck me is that few young adults throughout our travels in France, speak English.  These are people working in some facet of the tourism industry, be it food service, gift shops, hotels, information booths etc.  It is astonishing to me that their educational system has not mandated English language learning for growth opportunities in our increasingly global world. 

We return our Europcar in Avignon, and Ray is relieved that he has not been photographed and given any tickets- there were a few questionable flashes at stop lights when he ended up too far forward. Our tgv high speed train from Avignon is smooth and comfortable.  A family was tilting in our seats, so we took empty ones in first class. I managed to communicate this to the ticket agent who let us stay. the scenery becomes more and more rugged and mountainous as we approach Geneva. A young man gets on in Lyon with a bike.  He has been biking from Spain to Lyon in 5 days. 

Our little adventure begins when the train stops at the city center.  The ticket says our final stop is the airport.  A friendly Swiss guy tells us we have to catch the airport train.  He shows us how to find the correct track.  Arriving at the station, we walk to the airport and wait for the Ibis Hotel shuttle bus.  About 20 minutes later we are on our way, only to arrive and be told that we are t the wrong Ibis! 
The budget Ibis I had booked is further own the street, a 20 minute walk away!  The room has a bunk bed over a double bed and a little toilet room separate from the shower room, which we have seen more than once here.  It is not for the claustrophobic!


Monday, June 02, 2014

Hill Towns

As we drive out on the country roads leading to hill towns of this area, I spot several fields of lavender.  This is what I am hoping to see but thinking perhaps we are too far west and that the lavender won't be in bloom until July.  The undulating rows form such wonderful geometric shapes, and the young flower buds are purplish gray and seemingly soft like velvet in the distance.  I think we have created a tourist stop as after I am there for a few minutes, we soon have a crowd of 6 cars, Australian, Japanese and Chinese tourists standing in the field taking pictures! The iphone doesn't do it justice so you will have to wait for real photos to be posted to get the real effect. Ray patiently waits while I shoot from all angles. 

It is cherry season here,and we stop at a roadside stand. The cherries are firm and sweet. They last us the rest of the day.

Onward to Gordes, which is so packed with tourists that there is nowhere to park and we move on. The hill towns are similar to those in Italy, but sit higher on cliffs and have high walls at the top surrounding forts, churches or castles. They dot the countryside and at night from the top of the town walls, you can see small clusters of lights  in all directions. In Italy though, there is more of a sense of small town residents having been there for generations, small local eateries, simple and real life.  Here the towns are tourist meccas, flowing in during the day and leaving by afternoon. The restaurants are there to serve tourists. We are not sure where the local families are, or if they even live there as we don't see children.  Perhaps everyone hides out inside shuttered windows?  Or maybe they live in towns we don't see because there is no reason for tourists to go there?  

Fontaine, our next stop, is the source of a clear spring and the one street town of small gift shacks and cafes is built on the edge of the small river. There do not seem to be residents living here. We hike up to a deep pool hidden below the vast limestone gorge and look up to see a few karsts much like in China. The water is crystal clear and  the shallow river bottom has bright green seaweed and rocks, so clear and bright, it almost looks like the bottom of a Disneyland pool!  

Our way back takes us through Isle de la Sorgue, surprising to us, it is a commercial center with big supermarkets and discount stores. Perhaps this is where locals live? II notice that cars are bigger, people live in subdivisions and people coming out of the big grocery stores are not the slender French we have been seeing in places like Sarlat and Amboise.  No local patisseries here, or small charcuteries, or local fresh food market days. Could there be some correlation between a diet of local food vs processed food, and of local people who walk everywhere vs modern cities where people travel in cars?  hmmmm

At night we find a tripadvisor recommended restaurant Le Piquebaure and enter an empty restaurant. I think lunch time is the busy time for restaurants.  I have whitefish; Ray's duck breast is divine; no Provencal dishes on any of the restaurant menus  in town unfortunately, perhaps we need to be in Avignon or Aix en Provence, or maybe at a local place in a modern city like Isle de la Sorgue? We walk up to the top of the city and do a last walk before our departure tomorrow. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Pont du Gard

In the morning, we locate our car, grateful it has not been broken into yet, and head out to Provence. Our first stop is the Pont du Gard, an incredible feat of engineering and construction.  In ancient times, aqueducts heralded the greatness of Rome and carried water to cities for luxurious baths, fountains and sanitation. This Roman aqueduct was built around 19bc as the link of a 30 mile canal, carrying 9 million gallons of water each day for 150 years to Nimes, one of ancient Europe's largest cities. It is a massive bridge spanning a canyon, now one of the most impressive surviving Roman ruins. We walk from the left bank up to the top, then down and across the bridge to the right bank. Families are below, on the small sandy beaches, sunbathing, swimming and kayaking. At the other end, teenagers jump of the cliff into a deep pool below. The bridge is 160 ft high with 3 tiers of arches and columns,  originally 1,100 ft long, with stones weighing 6 tons each forming the arches which were constructed without mortar. There is an excellent museum that provides us with a lot of information about its construction and leaves us in awe of the magnitude of the project. We spend about 3 hours there.

We wind our way through small towns and decide to have a quick meal at McDonalds as we are not sure restaurants will be open for dinner; it is sunday again. Our destination is a tiny town about a half an hour east of Avignon, called Roussillon, which sits atop ocre cliffs. Our hotel, Hotel Sable D'ocres is set on lovely grounds surrounding a pool. The town has a few meandering streets, lined with buildings of ocre and other pastel  colors.  I spend the evening photographing the sunset and the evening light; the colors are magical.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Gusty winds today of up to 25 miles an hour, and along the river, strong enough to make you cautious about not walking too close to the edge. How strange that the winds are only in this area and that the regions we left are now enjoying warm temperatures and clear skies. Such is the way of traveling. . Arles was a key stop on the Roman road from Italy to Spain, an important port city. Vincent Van Gogh settled here in the 1800's. Arles sits alongside the very wide and flat Rhone River with concrete walls on both sides as it flows through the edge of town. Our hotel is just a block away. Parking is tight, the lot is a block away but spaces are along the river wall and up a curb; if you go up the curb too forcefully, you will hit the wall. It's a little difficult to say the least. The Hotel Musee has 28 rooms and the room is spartan but downstairs is a charming courtyard with many garden sitting areas. We are taking note of all these small space gardens in order to create our own French paradise. Breakfast is in this sitting area, baskets of croissants, baguettes and large cups for coffee, a welcome change from the tablespoons of coffee we have had elsewhere.

The Reattu Museum across the alley is housed in the former Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta with  tall ceilings and gargoyles, housing contemporary art. Reattu was a painter from Arles from 16C-18C. He did an extensive study of human anatomy and his detailed drawings of muscle fibers are exhibited with an upper body sculpture, half with muscle fibers exposed. His paintings are exquisitely detailed and I am enthralled by his portraits of women, satin fabrics with lace and embroidery that make you want to reach out and touch. There are two rooms of Picasso drawings and one full color face that holds my attention.  One of the guards eyes me like a hawk, watching me as I take pictures of what must appear to be highly unusual, like the banister, the sunlight on the stairs and the cracking wall. Or maybe she has never seen a Chinese person before? When I am in the courtyard, I see her at the wall looking down at me; I go inside and she is eyeing me through the door. I am on the stairs, and she is at the bottom.  Do I look like an art thief?

The Ancient History Museum has several models of the Roman buildings built in Arles to copy those in Rome. It is informative to see them before venturing outside since many of these buildings have not been left as ruins, but are part of the living city and not easily identifiable. I am astounded by the mosaics that have been reconstructed on the floor display. Tiny mosaic have bee pieced together to form the original pictures, quite a labor intensive task. Outside, the coliseum is in the process of being renovated and stands majestically in the square. It is a difficult building to photograph as the bright sun shines strongly on the cream colored walls. I walk the city photographing alleys and more cracking walls with faded shutters that sit tightly closed, giving the impression of being uninhabited.  I will have a ton of images to review when I return and are becoming more selective in my shots. Usng my tripod forces me to look hard and compose more thoughtfully. 

Dinner is sandwiches from a street vendor. I mistakenly think it is sunday and that restaurants are closing, and quickly purchase chicken baguette sandwiches before returnimg to the hotel, only to discover that it is saturday and the cafes were closing but not the restaurants.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Moving South

Wendy and David of our b&b Le Jardin give us a warm French send off with kisses.  On our way out, we stop in Gourdon at the Grotte de Cougnac, a natural cave with art that is 20,000 years old. The group just entering is a group with the American Natural History Museum, and mostly from the Bay Area! I ask if we can join their group for the tour since it is in English.  We enter into an immense chamber with stalactites like we have never seen before. Millions of delicate threads cover and hang from the ceiling. Stalagmites rise from the ground and upper surfaces, some joining with threads like cobwebs.  The next chamber has bare walls and the guide points out the red and charcoal drawings of mammoths, horses and prehistoric extinct megalocerous reindeer.  The original red and black animal drawings are believed to have been made 23,000-25,000years ago when the cave was inhabited by Cro Magnon men.  Neanderthal man bones from 50,000 years ago were also discovered in the cave. There are 2 very rare "wounded man" motifs that have lines drawn pointing outward, 
 interpreted as spears sticking out from the body.    There are only 3 known examples of cave drawings of humans and 2 are in this cave. The next set are finger markings in black charcoal, carbon dated at 14,000 years ago.  They found one "lamb fat" lamp in the cave. This cave was naturally sealed by a mudslide. Local residents found the empty entrance in 1900 and used it as a storage cellar but the actual karst and cave art sections were not discovered until 1952.  Limited numbers of visitors are taken through each day and we feel very fortunate to have seen such a piece of ancient history. The group we were with, is on a prehistory cave tour, visiting caves from Madrid to Les Eszies and had a noted professor with them. The thought that we are tracing the movements of man from so long ago is remarkable. 

The rest of our day is spent driving south toward Arles.  We were surprised at the cost of tolls here. Our trip down cost $75US in tolls alone! The countryside changes from farm fields to a drier climate much like California, low mountains with valleys dotted by vineyards. Along the very windy route we stopped once for a view of a 13th century medieval fortress at Carcassone, which is comprised of 2adjoining cities, one old and one new.  The old is encircled by high castle walls and the rooftops are of red clay. 

Huge wind turbines sit in lines above old castle walls in the countryside, making for a very curious contrast between old and new.  I am amused that throughout France, herds of cows lay in the grass and are not standing as in the US; they are as laid back as the people. Arrival in Arles leads to narrow alleys barely wide enough for cars to pass.  The city seems rougher than the charming villages we were in.  We eat a simple meal in the town center with a waiter who tries to say "arigato" and "ni hao" to us. Just as we finish, it starts to drizzle.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Sun Shines

Town hopping, photography and so happy to see the sun! The clouds in France remind me of Montana, big, puffy, full of personality and unpredictability. We linger over coffee in the old town of Sarlat while watching locals carrying baguettes and tourists buying foie gras. We meander through the old cobbled alleys taking pictures of the overlapping angles of slate roofs and muted pastel colors of the ancient walls. Today is the annual farm day and there are animals of all sizes in hay covered small fenced areas-black pygmy Vietnamese pigs, geese that are the only things fatter here than in the US, and a special display of the most unusual looking chickens we have ever seen. Pekin chickens from China that look like small spotted fluff balls and others with tiny heads and vivid plumage which Ray says would make great fly tying material. Intermixed among the cages are rabbits with enormously long ears!

Sarlat is immaculate, safe and well kept with not a spot of graffiti or trash. Buenos Aires, take heed! There is such charm in the chipped concrete and peeling paint, which at home would look like dilapidated homes.  Why is that we wonder?  There is such beauty in the moss covered cement walls that line the narrow streets, moss that grows so fast, you can see a layer of new mold each rainy day. We see men in front of houses, performing the endless job of scraping and scrubbing.  

We head back to Beynac today to see it in full sunshine and not surprisingly, it is bustling with tourists. We climb up to the castle high up on the hill and follow the red poppied path around for a spectacular view of the town, Castelnaud castle across the river, and the neatly carved but oddly shaped farm fields below in varied shades of green.  Spring is here and we can see faint uniform parallel lines in the soil as plants emerge. The Dordogne winds so placidly today, a far cry from the whitecaps of yesterday! 

We then make our way back to La Roque but the main road through own so dense with people and cars, even now off season, that we move on.  How different it is from the tranquillity of last night.  Next is the hill town of Domme.  It has It's own fortress but unlike Beynac, this main walkway heading up is full of souvenir shops, food trucks and a carnival ball toss booth.  It is market day and we recognize the olive vendor from yesterday's market in Sarlat.  There is no question that foie  gras is big business in this area with brochures that indicate ducks and  geese are raised very humanely and much more naturally than industrial farms in America.

We end the day back at our now favorite restaurant, L'Adresse for a final duck meal. Simone is remarkable, singly waiting on 32 guests at 14 tables, pouring drinks, serving food, cutting bread, setting and clearing tables, filling and emptying the glassware dishwasher, and taking payment, in addition to bringing food and taking dishes to the kitchen which is downstairs via a narrow circular staircase; she is wearing boots with heels!  Her ability to multitask is incredible and I can visualize her as an efficient executive assistant in Silicon Valley. I ask her if he is alone every day and she responds yes, and that at night she sleeps well.  We will remember Simone as we move on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Canoeing the Dordogne

We are worried about the speed of the currents with the recent rains but fellow guests at the b&b assure us that it is an easy float.  We follow their recommendation for a canoe operator out of Carsac, a few miles from Sarlat. It appears that we are the only customers this afternoon, and we only see one other canoe on the river during our 3 hour paddle. The plastic canoes are very stable even through some wave action due to the wind. We are well equipped with a plastic bucket with screw lid. The current carries you down the Dordogne and it is a beautiful and relaxing ride. The river is lined with lush greenness and along the way you pass under 2 old arched bridges, high limestone cliffs and end with a most breathtaking and spectacular view of La Roque Gageac, a one street town along the river built on the side of a cliff. Though Ray was worried about not finding the correct beach to be picked up, all was easy as the boat operator was at the shore waiting for us to take us back up to Carsac. 

We then drive back to La Roque to see the cliff dwellings of 10-12th century cave dwellers. Apparently during floods, the main street and first floors of buildings are underwater.  The beautiful castle its high up on top of the cliff. Beynac is a feudal village that tumbles down from its majestic castle to the river below. During the Hundred Years War,  the castle housed the French while the British set up camp acoss the river at Castelnaud.  The views are spectacular.  We spend time taking photos, and eating our baguette and sausage  that we had purchased from the Wednesday morning market in Sarlat. We've discovered that there are many variations to a baguette and some are much better than others. We prefer ones with a light and crusty outside with a less dense bread. We've also shifted from the American practice of buying for tomorrow and the next day. Bread and pastries definitely taste better when eaten immediately, and purchased fresh that morning.  Many places sell out by noon and are closed by afternoon.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cave Art

Breakfast at the b&b is an assortment of fruit, croissants and ham, plus Welsh Rabbit, which to Ray's surprise has nothing to do with rabbits, but is bread with cheese and small dollops of beaten egg whites, toasted. Not quite the breakfast we were expecting-you can't beat China for breakfast buffets or Germany for their assorted meats. It is unfortunately another rainy day and we decide it is the kind of day to spend in a cave.  There is a wide assortment of caves in the area, many with prehistoric cave art, and we choose to see Lascaux. The visit starts in Montignac where tickets are sold nd where there is a small nterpretive museum. Lascaux was discovered in 1940 by a bunch of kids and their dog. The original cave is no longer open to the public due to deterioration of the artwork, but an exact replica of 80% of the cave and art has been made, and it is stunning. Cro Magnon man 17,000 years created these drawings of animals using their hands and handmade brushes. Black, brown and ochre were created using  ground up minerals mixed with water or saliva. The artist's ability to depict 3dimensionality, movement and depth is astonishing. The guide says such use of perspective is not seen again until the Renaissance. They used reindeer fat lamps in the dark caves. Little is known how long  the artwork took to create or how they were able to paint on the ceilings. Seeing the actual art is breathtaking and the impressiveness of the work is not adequately conveyed by pictures in a book. We are unable to visit the Prhistoric Museum Les Eyzies de Tayac as parts of it are closed due to rain.

Further down the road is Le Roc St. Christophe, 5 large limestone terraces carved by the Vezere River, that sit high above the current roadway, which has passages and openings worn into it. It housed prehistoric people for 50,000 years, 

We consider canoeing tomorrow when the weather clears but the flow looks like the flow may be too fast.  We don't see any boats out today. The river is rather muddy, and looks like milk chocolate!

Dinner tonight is at a not so good place, La Petite Borie, a bit greasy and with not so good service

Monday, May 26, 2014

Rain, rain, go away

IPouring rain all day, luckily today is a driving day from Amboise in the Loire Valley down to Sarlat in the Dordogne.  The Dordogne River Valley was called the Perigord during the Hundred Years War, the river separated Btirain nd France.The roads have been easy to drive, the highways and terrain much like Wisconsin.  Driving through small villages, the roads are narrow but free of heavy traffic.  Matter of fact, some of the towns look like they are uninhabited, as there is no sign of people! We often wonder where everyone is hiding, behind their closed shutters we are told. The small towns are full of round abouts.  We find the navigation system in the car to be very useful and probably wouldn't be able to find some of these b&b's without it. 

We arrive in Sarlat around 6 and are greeted by a very friendly British couple, Wendy and David at the b&b Le Jardin. They are originally from York, came here on vacation, liked it so much they stayed. We are only 5min away from the old towne and enjoy local Bergerac white wine with foie gras and duck filet wrapped in a flaky wrapper at L'Adresse.
I am enchanted by the young server hostess, who has a beautiful smile and black curly hair. I am calling her Simone in this blog as she feels like a Simone. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Today is a kick back day in Amboise. Tim from the b&b tells me to be sure to go to the big Sunday market, and that most businesses including restaurants are closed on sunday afternoons.  We start the morning with our usual visit to the local patisserie for coffee and pastries. Many people are buying cakes and we later learn it is Mothers Day in France. Pastries are unbelievably light and flaky and not very sweet. Coffee comes in demitasses amounting to a couple of tablespoons.  Some places give you a small decanter of hot water to dilute it, others do not. They would be horrified to see a large cup of coffee from Starbucks!  We walk the square and wander through some interesting shops then make our way to the market.  There is a large assortment of produce, cheeses, sausages, breads, fish and meats, in addition to clothing, shoes, and flowers. We buy Sunday dinner, sausages, fresh white asparagus, small potatoes, baguettes and paella being cooked in an enormous wok. We feel very French with our goodies. My bit of French has come in handy however when I utter a carefully constructed phrase, I often do a double take because the person turns out to be n English speaker.  It's when I am struggling to find the words that it turns out the person speaks no English at all! We take our time walking the old town in the rain. Amboise straddles the Loire River, with an old stone bridge that crosses over to the small "Golden Island"  with houses and buildings; another bridge provides access to the other side. The river is quite shallow and muddy brown.

The most elegant and visited castle is Chemonceaux, from the 16 th century.  We play tourist and drive out to see it. Since we arrive late, the busloads of tourists are beginning to leave. It is indeed very well appointed with tapestries lining the walls and gorgeous flower arrangements in every room. The 200 ft. long grand gallery or ballroom sits across the Cher River and one can begin to imagine life as a king's lady. Chenonceu was called the chateau of the ladies and housed many famous women over the centuries. The gardens are equally splendid and manicured and by the time we get to them, it is after 6 and we have the place to ourselves. Ray spends his time looking for trout in the moat. 

Our last stop is at McDonalds for free and fast wifi; turns out the apartment has no access. How dependent we have become that being totally disconnected feels like we are separated from the world!
We now know where families and teens spend their sunday evenings- enjoying hamburgers and fries. 

Back at the apartment, I pretend to be Julia Child and cook up our fresh food. All that is missing is a bottle of wine, which we neglected to buy!

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Le Logis de Jerzual, our b&b has a tiered English garden with flowing water and moss covered rock walls. Every morning, fresh croissants and bread  are delivered fresh, and we enjoyed these while visiting with a couple from Perth.  We laugh at their Alice in Wonderland story of her finding the b&b by locating and attempting to enter what appeared to be a tiny gated entrance, that actually was the cat door.  He tells us about credit cards in France and their anxiety in tring to find a gas station on a sunday.  Apparently without a chip on your credit card, you cannot use auto pay machines. This can be a problem if stores are not open on sunday. Before leaving Diman, we drive up to the tall bridge overlooking the river valley and admire the view, the fortress walls high above, the steep forested cliff walls, the old town and meandering river below.

The rest of the day is spent driving the very lush flat countryside to the Loire Valley, and consuming Breton pastries we had purchased in town.  The Loire Valley is an important agricultural area and home to more than a thousand castles. The area is vast and getting from west to east takes a long time, therefore it is wise to visit chateaus on one side then cross over to the other..

By late afternoon, we arrive at the castle Villandry, finished in 1536 was the last great Rennaissance chateau built on the Loire.  It has 10 acres of the most beautiful gardens in the area including 85,000 plants. There is no way to describe them, so vast and so manicured! The vegetable gardens are comprised of boxed hedges filled with color, the sculptured hedges in heart, diamond and other shapes.  See the photos to see for yourself how magnificent they are. 

We find our studio apt, across the street from a large castle's walls. The proprietor is a bit stuffy,not  too pleased we were there after 7 pm. The main b&b is next door but we are not permitted into the gated complex. No wifi in the apt. and we are forced to go to McDonalds for internet.  We select,a restaurant, Le Bistro at the mention of the owner of the apt, who said we wouldn't be able to get in, but secure an outside table and dine on escargots and duck breast (magret de canard)cooked in a cognac cream sauce; it is delicious.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

It's All About History

The rolling green farm fields characterize Normandy today, but the history of the area is filled with war.  The beaches contain stories of the largest military operation in history. On these serene beaches on D Day, June 6, 1944, almost exactly 70 years ago, the Allies gained foothold in France ending WWII. We start the driving tour in Arromanches at Port Winston, where the British had built a makeshift harbor consisting of 4 miles of concrete pontoons strung together, and 7 floating piers, a remarkable undertaking. Further down the road is Omaha Beach, the site of the most intense battle where thousands of Americans lost their lives. Walking along the clean sandy beach, one can almost see the masses of troops pouring out of the Higgins boats, making their way up the long beach and up toward the cliffs. Entry was made during low tide so they could see the mines in the sand.  Having raised a son, it is hard to imagine sending a 19 or 20 year old off, and even harder to realize thee young men were there dodging bullets and throwing grenades. Looking at the beautiful backdrop of the town, it is hard to believe this is the same place that is in the videos with all the destruction that took place.  One has to see it to truly visualize the immensity of what occurred here. The American cemetery has rows and rows of white crosses with a dog tag number inscribed on the back of each. The French have adopted the crosses and on Memorial Day, each is adorned with flowers. It is a powerful place to visit.

On our way back we stroll through a small town and check out the local charcuterie, butcher shop, with a large display of pates made from organ meat, which Normandy is known for.

The area is 2 hrs from Dinan and we return late, dining at a marvelous find, L'Atelier Gourmand at the corner of the pedestrian bridge. Seated next to us are 2 couples from British Columbia and London. They give us recommendations, seeing as my iphone dictionary is not successful in translating the complex menu.   Our cod dish, smoked duck salad and raspberry puff pastry dessert is excellent and highly recommended.  Tomorrow we leave Brittany and head to the Loire Valley.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Le Mont St Michel

It's the land of baguettes and flaky pastries which is how we start our morning. Even a plain patisserie at the railroad station bakes on site fresh each morning. The baker is in the tiny back kitchen with balks and balls of freshly risen dough, and girls roll tall carts with trays of neat little croissants ready to be baked. Piles of breads and rolls are constantly being replenished and we are amazed at the volume of sales the must make each day.

Our rental car is a compact Opel with nav system, a British woman with a beautiful voice and the most specific directions I have ever heard. She even says, "please turn...". We head to Dinan in Brittany. Dinan is a charming Rance river valley town with stone houses and a tall bridge that rises high above the harbor. It is a great town for walking as there is the harbor level and the upper bridge level. The fort sits high on the hill surrounded by a city wall. Inside the fort, the alleys are windy and narrow. The b&b Le Logis de Jerzual is located on a cobbled pedestrian hill, not for the faint of heart. We drive around and around the fortress 3 times trying to find a way into the neighborhood, before finally giving up and drive up the steep alley that is marked no cars, going through a very slim arched doorway, only to find the path chained off.  We drop off our luggage and give kudos to Ray driving stick shift on narrow alleys and having to back all the way back down! Another guest later tells us the wife got out looking for the gate and tried to get herself im through a tiny gate that she later learned was a cat door! The street designated as free parking is a slanted narrow road virtually imposdible to park on with stick shift! Our room is at the top of skinny stairs, very french and decorated in blue.

We head to Le Mont St Michel. It is now alternating between periods of sun and pouring rain. We arrive at 4 and true to the guidebook, the masses of tourists are leaving, hurrah! We walk the ramparts and ooh and ah at the mudflats below which reflect the sun and create luscious shadows and texture. Stay tuned for real photos. This has been a pilgrimage center since 708, one of 4 in Christendom in the world. Since the 16th century, hermit monks in search of solitude lived here.The abbey used to be surrounded by water but with the old dam, has silted up such that water no longer flows fully during high tide which can move in at 18 mph. The area is being redone with new dam and causeway, returning it to its former splendor by 2015. We get to the abbey too late to go in. Apparently there is a special early closing. However I take many photos of the lines and shadows and we take a short walk onto the mudflats whic spread out or miles. We see some groups way out on in the distance. Friars made the pilgrimage from the abbey to land during low tide. 

Travel advice: to visit Mt. St. Michel, stay in the town itself so you can walk in early in the am or late at night when the place is empty. With a car, park in the lots; shuttles start running at 7:45am but you can walk in before then. Go to the new dam and viewing platform for the best view.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Planes and Trains

We leave on a beautiful day, sunny and blue skies in SF to land 12 hours later under gray skies and drizzle  in Paris. It must be the explorer adventurer wanderer in us that leads us to want to venture new places.  It's certainly not for the weather! the flight was fortunately uneventful and time quickly passes with a wide variety of movies, of which I watch 4 romantic chick flicks.  Our fast train to Rennes takes us on a 3 hr ride through farm fields. The speed and efficiency of the European mass transit system puts us to shame, as do the beauty and comfort of the train stations. Rennes is a charming small town with the typical old world charm of a large square and 4 roads leading from it , each with a unique view of arches, churches, and narrow cobblestone alleys. This is not an American tourist destination and we have to do our own interpretation of the menu at the tiny La Gavot Creperie with the waitress' un peu d'anglais and my equally peu de francais. Not knowing the difference between a crepe and a galette, shame on us for not reading Rick Steves before dinner, we are very confused by the choices. Nevertheless, our sausage, potato and onion galette was delicious, and our banana, chocolate, ice cream crepe was equally satisfying. For your education, a galette is made from buckwheat flour and is usually savory. A crepe (which confused me when she said it was salty) usually has a sweet filling. Brittany is famous for its crepes and restaurants offer an impresive array of fillings and toppings, with paper thin skins.

Tonight we are at the budget Ibis hotel right next to the train station.  Finding it made me grateful for having done my 3 week crash review of french on my way to work each day. I was brave enough to talk to 5 people who I understand as saying, "I don't live here." Thank you Pimsleur for your practical phrases!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Heidi the Princess

I’m not sure when she became MY dog but the breeder had said that dogs know who is mom in the house, and when the kids left to go to college, Heidi and I were left here alone. I like to think that she thought of me as mom. A vet once said, “She looks at you with such trust”. You never think that a little animal can weave its way into your heart and family, and that when they are gone, a hole remains. It feels silly to mourn so strongly for a dog and I realize I never until today really felt empathy for those who told me their dog had passed. To live it is to understand what it feels like.
            Jen had begged for a dog since she was 6.  My little animal lover cared for nature’s living creatures with all her heart and soul.  She was the one who buried a dead bluejay in the yard and convinced us to deliver a dying squirrel to the animal shelter. I was a reluctant dog owner mainly because my childhood dogs were unruly and problematic.  My mom had many talents but training dogs was not one of them. Besides, my husband was not a dog lover.  His requirement for owning a dog was one that would not bark, shed, yap, jump or destroy the house. By the time Jen was 12, we had gone through the “pet” ownership of goldfish, lizard, and parakeets, starting with the least needy and working our way up.  The last and final test was caring for a friend’s Springer Spaniel for an entire month. Molly was gentle, kind and obedient, content to lay on the front lawn and watch the world go by. “This isn’t too bad”, we thought, “We can do this!” Thus began my search for the perfect dog.
            One had to know me to understand the amount of research that goes into making a purchase, and this acquisition that would remain with us for years and years required careful study. Remember now, no yapping, no barking, no jumping, no shedding, and even more importantly, no aggravating existing allergies. However no amount of research prepares you for spontaneity and the undeniably irresistibleness of a puppy. Word of warning – don’t go look unless you plan to buy. A neighbor told me about a friend whose brown lab had just had a litter of puppies.  I grew up with a lab; they are smart, lovable, and great family pets. I went to visit, and came home having left a deposit and taken pictures.  The kids were overjoyed and we named the puppy I had bought – we were going to call her Sienna.  Then buyers remorse set in.   This was not a nonshedding lap dog – this was a dog that would bark, dig holes, jump, shed and bring dust and pollen into the house.  It would grow to be my weight, capable of dragging me down the street.  It would eat enormous amounts of food and would poop all over the yard. My instincts told me it would not work but my mommy heart couldn’t bear to tell my kids that the puppy they had named was not coming home with us.  I felt terrible but promised that the search would continue and it would be for the best….terrible mommy.
            I narrowed my list to small dogs – there was a litter of Boston Terriers up near the Russian River-too far for me to drive alone.  I met King Charles Spaniels and I visited several bichons. One Chinese family had a litter born by “mistake” when the dogs of their two daughters ended up at home together and had a little too much togetherness. The parent dogs were hyper and yappy. I drove to Sacramento and saw puppy mill-like homes, homes that smelled of dog and parent dogs that were nutty. I saw bichons that didn’t look like bichons.  Then we met Penney. 
            Penney was a mom in Cupertino who had several bichons of her own. She bred her dogs very selectively and not often. The females, she sold to homes with contracts allowing her to show them; the males went to homes and were sometimes used as studs.  Penney’s house was a normal home and was immaculate; her dogs were calm and well behaved, and they were beautiful. Jen and I visited and the puppies crawled all over us but one settled in Jen’s arms and lay there sleeping and unmoving for over a half an hour.  This was our dog. But – the dog, a female, came with a contract. I signed my rights away - she had the right to show the dog on any weekend  and take it for the entire weekend(that could be ok, we could go away and not need to find a dog sitter and when we wanted to go away, she would sit for the dog), we had to keep her groomed at all times (that could be ok, Penny would show me how to groom and the dog would be beautiful), we had to have a litter of puppies of which she would keep all except one (that could be ok, it would be a great experience for the kids), we could not have the dog spayed (I was naïve and thought that could be ok too).  After all, this was the perfect dog- calm, loving, nonshedding, hypoallergenic and non yappy.  We were in heaven.  We named her Heidi.
            Heidi came to us at 6 weeks, stayed in a metal pen in our kitchen, the floor covered with newspaper. We read many books. I was determined to have the perfectly trained dog; I was not going to have an unruly, ill mannered one.  Since I was home during the day, I tethered her to my waist with a leash and she trotted alongside me obediently. We had a crate which she loved.  At night she slept with Jen. It was blissful or maybe I have only memories for the good times.  Heidi loved plastic soda jugs and would run around the front yard chasing jugs that we would kick around for her.  At times during the day, she would get this charge of energy and would dash in a circle, around and around and around until she flopped down in exhaustion. The neighbors loved her, loved her so much that two neighbors bought bichons of their own.  At one point, an elderly neighbor asked me how many daughters I had because he would see the bichon being walked by 3 different girls during the day-one blonde, one brunette and one with black hair.  “No”, I replied, “There are three in our neighborhood”.
            We took her to Saratoga School for dogs and she was a star.  We taught her tricks and she learned readily – beg, jump, dance, crawl, high 5.  She even learned to wag her tail on command, something the instructor’s dog would demonstrate and a trick I was determined she would learn.  It was a big hit with guests.  She went with us to places that dogs were allowed and when not, she stayed happily at the kennel.
Heidi visited the snowy Sierras, rode in our tandem kayak sitting happily up front and getting smiles and waves from boaters. Heidi camped, burrowing herself deep in our sleeping bags to stay warm. She layed on a blanket while I read and Ray fished, spending many a weekend up at Baum Lake and Hat Creek. She jogged with me every morning for more than a decade, 3 miles up and down Los Altos Avenue.  We became such an icon that if I was running alone, people would roll down their windows and ask where she was. One shopkeeper came out of her store one day, the Fish and Chip place, to ask why Heidi wasn’t running with me. Some mornings, I could almost hear her groan when I told her it was time to go run, and she lay stubbornly on her pillow, wanting to stay and sleep.  One day, a few years ago, she stopped in the middle of the road and I knew it was time for her to retire from running.
            Heidi, to Penney’s disappointment, never became a show dog. It was partly my fault for refusing to put braces on her teeth.  Braces on my kids teeth was ok, but on a dog, no way. Heidi also was slightly bow legged and her paws angled outward. When she went into heat, she would throw up, and so Penney reluctantly agreed that Heidi should be spayed and so she never achieved stardom as a “best in class”.
            Though we like to think of her as such, Heidi was not always angelic. In her early months, after an evening with dinner guests, I found her in her crate chewing on what I believed to be her bone and come to realize in horror that it was the cell phone of one of our guests.  The antenna was beyond repair!  I was convinced that manufacturers of toilet paper and tissues must use some ingredient that lures dogs.  Otherwise, why would she go to such lengths to get a mouthful of toilet paper to chew on.  Wastebaskets were constantly overturned.  Even in the last days of her life, I found strips of Kleenex shredded on the floor.  Often, we would hear the noise of the toilet paper holder being spun round and round as Heidi went after her delicacy.  One time, she did a take and ran, leaving a long ribbon of paper that wound out the bathroom door, and down the hall, leaving us laughing uncontrollably.  I even made a baffle out of a plastic container to keep her from getting to the toilet paper. Heidi would often be caught, head in purses, digging for that wad of Kleenex that she was sure was in there, albeit at the very bottom.  She would jump onto the kitchen chairs to reach for dinner napkins.  At one point, when I met bichon owners on the street, I would inquire about their dogs’ habits and came to learn that this fetish was not unique to our dog.  She was also attracted to bird seed and the bag I kept for cleaning the birdcage.   Having eaten mouthfuls of birdseed presented for some unusual looking poop the next day.
            Then there was the chocolate.  Jen was scolded many a time for harboring this poison in her room.  Upon returning home and finding chewed up wrappers on the floor, I would proceed to call the vet with the amount I thought Heidi had ingested.  After several $75 stomach pumpings, they told me I should just do it myself with hydrogen peroxide in a bulb baster, squeeze it down her throat.  She never learned that cause and effect, but had many stomach pumpings in her life.

           Penny told me her dogs like to use their paws for functional purposes.  Heidi’s was being able to maneuver her pillow or a towel to a place that she wanted it to be.  Every day, she would use 2 paws and scoot herself backward until the pillow was strategically placed right in front of the door, or down the hall near one of us.  We would often laugh as she pawed and pawed at a towel so it was a perfectly comfortable lump that she could rest her head on.
Tom, our neighborhood dog walker, called Heidi a princess.  She lived the good life, laying on her throne – an armchair in the family room that had a direct view of the hallway.  From this spot, she could see 180 degrees and keep an eye on everyone’s comings and goings.  She would follow you from room to room but when you returned to the family room, she would take her place on her throne once more.
She knew when it was time to “go to work” and would spend her days at Abilities United, laying on a chair by my desk, waiting patiently for me, getting hugs and kisses from colleagues and our clients, many of whom were disabled. People often said that the mood in the office was calmer when Heidi was there and they called her a de-stresser. 
Heidi helped the kids, especially Jen, through their teen years. Many a tear were shed into her fluffy back and licked by her warm tongue; she was there for all of us when we had a bad day or needed a shoulder to cry on.  She seemed to understand her role – it was to comfort, to love, and to share in our joys and sorrows. 
            Bichons can be picky and Heidi was no exception.  A lab that eats everything, she was not. If the fixins were not to her liking, she preferred not to eat it. Good and tasty food was a simple requirement and in her last days, we tried a myriad of foods including fresh turkey, roast pork, baked chicken, all to no avail. She would be interested one day, reject it the next.  The refusal to eat was part of the kidney ailment but was also her demise.  Feeding my family was something I took seriously and did well, and her not eating was distressing but there was nothing I could do about it.
            As she aged, I began to realize that the process very much resembled how my father was aging.  There were good days and bad, and as time went on, more bad and good. Gradually I watched her decline and lose interest in those things that used to excite and please her.  Suddenly, she stopped coming to us when we called her.  She stopped barking when the doorbell rang and I realized she was losing her hearing. Her eyes still looked at me with trust and love but I could see them clouding; she could no longer see in the dark.  Heidi began to sleep very deeply and would startle when I touched her.  One day, she had an accident and was sleeping on a soaked towel.  That was when the vet diagnosed her with kidney failure.  Drinking copious amounts of water, peeing a lot and refusing to eat were the primary symptoms.  We did an iv fluid treatment to filter the toxins from her body.   It made her cold and she trembled that night, but it kept her going through the holidays, and she was able to enjoy the company of her family.  A month later, her symptoms returned and I knew I had two options – prolong her for a few more weeks only to have her be miserable once again, or set her free and say good bye.  It is an agonizing decision, one that you are never sure is the right time.  My decision made, I came home to find her perky and following me from room to room. It just about broke me, but the vet reassured me it was the right time. She had lost so much weight, she was all bones.  Not being able to eat, she threw up sometimes several times a day.  She walked slowly and with great effort. It was time and it was the kindest way to give back to her all that she had given to us.
            The years pass way too quickly and though she lived an extraordinarily long life, it was not long enough. How did a decade and a half go by so fast? How could this young feisty puppy become a senior in what seemed like a flash of time? Heidi lived for us, did what we asked and gave so much in return.  She made a place in each of our hearts and even the dad who couldn’t understand how dog owners could be so crazy about their pets, couldn’t bear to let her go. Dog owners have a special bond and I am grateful for the many people in my neighborhood that Heidi has led me to meet. She brought a smile to everyone she ran into and even on her final day, a postman who was rushed and bustling, saw her and a smile lit up his face.  Heidi, you will be missed but you will remain a part of us forever.  Your throne will remain and you will be there in spirit, and I will always hear your little claws pattering down the hall, and see your face in the front window when I drive away.  Your spot next to my bed is empty but the memories of you laying next to me will never go away.  I will see you on Jen’s bed, snuggled up next to her in the morning.  This is your home you will live on in spirit, under a tree in this yard that you once roamed. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

BA and home

We spent the morning walking the streets of Palermo, winding our way through the botanic garden and then back to the hotel.  Our flight isn't until 9pm so we lounge in the hotel lobby and I walk the streets nearby one last time.  Thames Ave. is quite nice, with boutiques and cafes.  They are making an attempt to clean up the area and I see several newly painted buildings in bright colors.  Amazing how the color gives character to the neighborhood.  I hope they continue to repaint the rest of the buildings.

We leave for the airport and prepare for our journey home.  It has been an interesting adventure, learning about the culture and economy of Argentina.  We were not victims of scam nor theft and wonder if the stories have been overplayed.  When asked, the locals seemed to agree it has not gotten better, so perhaps we were lucky.  In any case, we  found the Argentinians we met - cab drivers, waiters, hotel personnel, shopkeepers etc. to be friendly and kind people.  It is amazing how well we got by on just a few words of Spanish.  Gestures work well, and the language is not too difficult to figure out.  The country is so sparsely populated and the landscape changes quickly and is very beautiful.  What we saw in scenery was spectacular.  We were told that the weather is normally not so good, so we assume we were fortunate in that respect.  I think life for Argentinians right now is difficult.  Inflation is at 34% and the cost of living is high.  We found clothing and food to be comparable in price to the US but Argentinian wages are much lower than ours.  It seems to be a land of animal lovers as dogs roam all over, and seem to be happily coexisting with people, whether owned or stray.  Infrastructure needs are great as sidewalks and roads are in need of repair.  We've enjoyed our 2 weeks and have many stories to tell, photos to share, and advice to give!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Return to Argentina

Today marks the end of our journey.  We wake up to an email from United saying our flight has been delayed.  Thanks to Ray's status on United, we learn that we have been taken care of and rebooked on a better connection that goes through Houston.

After getting cash and gas, we return the tin box car to Hertz and are back at the airport for our trip to Buenos Aires.  A young man in line tells us he has had clothing and sunglasses stolen out of his luggage on a prior trip.  He advised not checking in too early so as not to give baggage handlers time to rifle through your stuff.  He tells us about his adventure, he had just finished scaling mt. Fitzgerald Roy over a period of 4 days, impressive!

Our flight is uneventful and our ride through BA goes through some charming streets.  We return to the Esplendor Palermo Soho, where they have also upgraded us to a nicer room.  We walk a few blocks to a neighborhood restaurant serving Spanish food, and have their seafood paella.  On our way back, we stop at the Chinese owned small grocery store and learn that they are Mandarin speaking.  We've been there several times now, buying apples for Ray.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Glacier View

It´s another beautiful day, blue skies, a slight chill in the morning air turning warm by mid morning.  We wake a bit stiff but surprisingly not sore.  On the agenda today is a boat ride to Glacier Viedma.  The girl at the Poincenot Hotel is again quite helpful in providing information.  Reservations are necessary for the tours, run through Patagonia Adventures.  They have only one space left but after checking, are able to accommodate us both.  It appears that several tour operators use one boat operator.  Bus transfer to the dock is 80 pesos per person round trip for the 20 min. ride to Bahia Tunel.  Bus leaves at 11:15, boat leaves at 11:45.  There is an afternoon trip at 2:30.  We will do Viedma Light, which is a boat trip only, no glacier trekking.  The boat holds 30 people, bringing a group to the glacier, and picking up an earlier trekking for their return trip.

I choose to sit on the upper deck, the fresh breeze blowing in my face  as the boat rapidly approaches small then large icebergs.  So beautiful they are,. floating in the aquamarine lake.  Close up, they are translucent blue and emerald, like crystalline formations.  Viedma is 378 square miles, the biggest glacier in south america.  The face is 131 ft. tall and 2.5 miles wide, stretching19 miles in depth. We spend 30 riding out, 1 hr. cruising the icebergs and the face of the glacier itself.  The tall face is whiter than I had imagined and unlike Perito Moreno, we don´t hear much calving. They tell us that this glacier has been quite stable and has not retreated in several hundred years.  Glacier Upsala which can be visited on a 6 hr. boat ride is retreating at more than 600 ft a year!

Most of the guests are young and almost all leave to go on the trekking adventure.  I take more pictures than I will have time to do anything with but can´t resist the beautiful lines in the rock formations and ice structures. I imagine floating through bright blue icebergs in a boat and how magical it must be.

After returning back to El Chalten, we lunch on waffles at Wafleteria and then Ray goes in search of rivers.

We see the trail head to Laguna Torre, another 7 hr. round trip hike that takes you up to Cerro Torre. The trailhead is off the main road and down across the steel bridge.  Finally at 5, it is time to head back to El Calafate. The jagged peaks are blue along the highway, what they call the loniest highway, and at sunset, the rolling hills turn golden yellow. We arrive at Hosteria Roble Sur where they have upgraded us to a suite, then have a fabulous meal at La Tablita, a parilla serving grilled meats.  According to Fodors, it is the best in town. It is way too much beef but quite tasty - tenderloin, buttery soft and Argentinian chorizo, which is not as spicy as Mexican chorizo in sf.  Matter of fact, the food here is not highly seasoned or spiced, and there is a distinct lack of fresh vegetables everywhere.

There are many couples there, young and old and I realize that we have seen so many young couple, in love, gazing into each others eyes, reaching across the table for each others hand.  Reminds me of being 20 something, how quickly we become 50 somethings, but fortunately still with a glow in our hearts!