Back to surfing again
12.17.2010 32 °F
Le French Riviera
Excited to make it to France we stepped off our train into a well developed city: mass transit, shopping malls, and crepes on every corner. We were mainly excited to enjoy the French cuisine that they boast about, especially the salad Nicoise. Nice is an interesting city, alive with the influence of money but confused about its heritage. It had a mix of Italian and French among the streets, from a history of constantly changing sides. We really enjoyed seeing the beach front, even if it was quite cold and covered in rocks.
The water was an amazing sky blue color and broke lightly on the rocks. After leaving Italy and never having a chance to surf with any Italians we were excited to be staying with a local, Quentin, who was an active Couchsurfing host. He had just finished a weekend hiking excursion in the mountains and hosted us for a few nights. While in Nice we enjoyed the fresh daily market, panorama of the city, and of course the cuisine. While in Nice we spent a half day in Monaco, mainly to people watch and check out the millionaires.
Ballin', shock callin'...
It was quite expensive but neat to see the casinos and cars. We walked up to the palace and saw the changing of the guards and bought our customary patch for the country.
Tony Stewart ain't got nothin' on Jen.
We got to try the Nicoise salad the last day we were in Nice for lunch and a Beaujolais Nouveau wine that had just been released the week before. Mom you would be impressed on how much we have learned about wine. We learned that the Beaujolais Nouveau was a very young grape, the first of the season and each year as soon as it is released all the vineyards try to be the first to get their wine to Paris. It was nice wine and for a steal at only $10 a bottle at a restaurant. We also enjoyed the Rose’s from this region even though it wasn’t the correct season to drink them supposedly. Some say you can only drink Rose when looking at the coast; we had that part down, now we just needed some warmer weather.
Having some fun on the jungle gym for adults.
There's the coast.
We grabbed some bottles of wine for the train which caused us to be little rushed but made it safely to the train. We were leaving Nice and heading to Gonfaron, a tiny town somewhere in Provence. This would be the start of our first HelpX and we were really excited. For those of you who don’t know HelpX is another online organization like Couchsurfing where you work for 4-5 hours per day for 5 days while the hosts provide you with food and a place to stay.
Even the French don’t know where it is…
We were excited to have found an American couple because it was only 2 days until Thanksgiving and they were having a traditional dinner with turkey and all the fixings. Our hosts were Jill and John, a retired navy helicopter pilot working freelance for the rich and famous in the Riviera, living in a small farm house with their 2 year old twin daughters Camille and Celeste. We spent a lovely 8 days there helping them with various projects in and around the house. We really enjoyed our time with our lovely hosts. It was nice to be in such a small town, not worrying about future travel plans and saving some money. We spent the first few days just doing some general yard maintenance, getting ready for Thanksgiving. They gave us some free range on the dinner, allowing us to prepare some of the dishes and even entrusting us with brining the turkey. The wine was always flowing strong while we were there, at $2 a liter you couldn’t pass that up. After Thanksgiving we readied for the olive harvest.
Pick pick pick, all day long, pick pick pick while I sing this song...
They had about 20 olive trees of varying shapes and sizes and had invited friends over to try and knock it all out in one day. As we started on the third tree it began to snail on us a little, it was a cross between snow and snail and reminded me of dippin’ dots falling from the sky. After about thirty minutes it started to dump quarter size snowflakes which meant…coffee break time.
Our first glance of snow.
We headed inside with the few bags of olives we had harvested, a little disappointed at the outcome of the day. After waiting a while we determined it wasn’t going to be picked today and took the rest of the day off. With the weather not improving we sat inside and enjoyed some good ole turkey and rice soup, the creation of a few leftover pieces from Thanksgiving.
The next few days were spent inside working on plastering the walls of the living room. With a little on the job training we were mastering it by the end of the process. Motivated to give Jill her living room back we worked hard into the afternoon, only stopping while the girls took their naps. One night we got cook dinner where we prepared the ever so famous lemon-caper chicken with parmesan broccoli and risotto. They were extremely impressed and we made a few other dishes while there. We could tell John and Jill had their hands full with the girls and we wanted to make it as easy as we could for them. It was amazing to see twin girls that were so different. Easily noticeable which girl was who, we began to notice things that each would do differently. Finally when the weather cleared we harvested the rest of the olives. It really is a simple process to remove the olives. First you lay day tarps under the tree and just rake your fingers through the limbs, climbing ladders or the tree to reach the higher branches. The most tedious part was sorting through to remove any leaves or twigs before taking them to the coop for processing. We ended up harvesting about 250 kilos of olives, which equals to around 25 liters of olive oil.
Our harvest for the season.
With our time winding down there we were excited to be getting back to travelling but would definitely miss our relaxed time in Provence.
Celeste with her new sweater, sorry about your sweater Jerry.
Our lovely hosts.
John drove us to Toulon to catch the train and we headed to Avignon, the closest big town to the Roman aqueducts at Pont du Gard. I had wanted to see them ever since learning about them in school and we were excited to be staying with Marie, a local university student and avid couchsurfer.
We were greeted by one of Marie’s roommates, David, when we arrived and treated to a lovely risotto dish that night with a few of her friends. That night we headed to a local bar for a “blind test” which involved yelling out the artist name and title of song as fast as you could. Man did we feel a little ignorant, most of the songs being American singers, we didn’t know half of them. Though to our defense, Jen and I have never been good at that game. We had a great time though and headed to another bar for some great beer and a little pool.
Fun beer time!
The temperature was really dropping and we were a little out of normal comfort for cold. Just a couple hours north of Avignon we had heard that snow was falling heavily. The next day was spent exploring the city. It’s a nice town with an interesting history, bought by the pope in the 14th century for him to live when he was tired of the “dirtiness” of Rome. While living there, there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon, which caused a major riff in the Catholic Church until resolved in the 15th century, returning the only pope back to the Vatican. It was interesting throughout our travels to see the amount of religious history in all the cities we visited. While contemplating these thoughts we were approached by Elder and Elder, Jehovah’s witnesses from California…it was quite an awkward moment of mixed languages and introductions. They asked us if we had ever heard of them, and any college student recollects the random knocks at the door to meet another Elder at home…man Elder must travel a lot. At the end of the brief chat they asked of our opinions and Jen so nonchalantly replies, “More power to you”. It was quite hysterical and left them speechless which made escaping their grasp much easier. At lunch we tried our first pate of the trip, which was surprisingly amazing. We didn’t know what to expect, and hearing horror stories of animal parts processed into this “delicacy”, we were a little squeamish. This wouldn’t be our only time on the trip to try it again. That night we met Marie our host at a school potluck with her classmates. The party was for some celebration I can’t actually remember, but the food was amazing. It was nice to try so many family made dishes in one place. It was like traveling around France in that one room; crepes, soufflé, quiches, and all the other typical French dishes. We can’t explain enough how much staying with locals has made our trip so much more enjoyable. CouchSurfing with random strangers may seem strange but all the experiences have been absolutely amazing.
The next day we arose early to go see the piece de resistance, had to use that phase while in this blog obviously, the Pont du Gard aqueducts. When limited to public transportation you learn to take what you can get and in the winter isn’t that much. With only one bus there and one back later our options were pretty thin. The benefit though of travelling during this time is less crowds. We arrived at Pont du Gard with hardly anyone there and by the time we left that afternoon, everyone was completely gone, other than the Australian couple that had ridden both busses to and from the site.
So many arches...those Romanies got it goin' on.
With a few hours to spare we hung out with our host and made some plans.
With our host Marie.
On a whim the day before, we had decided to travel to Switzerland next instead of Paris. We felt that this would be our only opportunity to see it and we had to take a chance. Booking a room in Geneva, mainly because it was the cheapest city, we were planning on riding one of the panoramic trains through the mountains to Lucerne.