Weekend in Provence

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Franck & Paco, (Les Garçons), friends from Mexico and Paris, have a home in Fontveille, Provence and each year in June they hold a party that extends over three days. We drove down from Nice on Friday and stayed close by with friends at their lovely farm house on the outskirts of the village.

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Friday night was a served dinner for 16, Saturday night was a themed (Black & White) party of about 50, and Sunday afternoon was back down to 16, before we headed back to Nice. Most who attended held in common that they spend time in Mexico, actually that’s where most of us met. As June is quite hot in Puerto Vallarta, Provence was a much better choice of venue for the event!

Les Garçons purchased their property a few years ago and completely renovated it. The home is perfectly situated for them on the outskirts of the village, close enough to walk to the village but far enough away to not bother any neighbors with their parties. And the land in front of them is protected, meaning their views of the olive groves and ruins of a castle on a hilltop, will not be ruined.

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On Saturday we were told we should take in a stone quarry (Carrieres de Lumieres) that is nearby in the commune of Les Baux. I was not given any further information, so I had no idea what to expect, although Florence and another friend I was with, did. We paid for our tickets and then walked through a door into a very large dark room that had colored lights flashing off and on and music from the 60s playing – I thought at first it was a nightclub. Slowly my eyes and my mind started figuring out what was going on around me.

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The quarry before the show starts

The room is part of a quarry that is no longer in use. And the way they removed the white/blond limestone in huge blocks, left certain sections as columns to support the high roof, as they continued to cut out the rock. The space it encompasses is massive, and you can walk from one room to the next, taking in a the audio/visual experience portrayed on every wall (including the floor and ceiling) of the quarry. Rather than trying to explain it further, check out the photos below (or the link above), many taken from the same location, to get an idea of what it is all about. I highly recommend it. We took in the “Flower Power” and the “Picasso” shows.

We also visited Arles, with its massive Roman stadium right in the might of the small town. The stadium is so large that in the medieval ages the villages was inside the stadium, and they used the walls of the stadium to protect themselves from outsiders. Unfortunately our stay involved too much entertaining. Next year we’ll stay longer and bring the bikes, as Provence is fantastic for biking.

 

 

 

Puerto Vallarta Aerial Video

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These images were taken last winter while in Puerto Vallarta, and I recently brought them all together to create a short video, accompanied by a wonderful song (Samba de Puerto Vallarta) about Puerto Vallarta by Alberto Perez of La Palapa Restaurant. Puerto Vallarta is situated inside the Bay of Banderas in Mexico and this video takes you from its southern shores to its most northerly point, covering all the most popular places in between.

Drone-Filmed Bike Ride to Forte Revere

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This past winter I bought a drone (Mavic Pro) so I could update the aerial images we have on our MLS real estate website back in Mexico. On our return to Europe I brought the drone with me as I really wanted to film one of my favorite bike rides and take advantage of the “tracking” the drone can do. By that I mean you can launch the drone, select a target on the screen, (in this case, me on a bike), and it will follow you.

It can get complicated as I ended up being the producer, director, camera man and actor in this short film. After many takes, many false attempts, many days where filming was called off because of bad weather, I finally managed to shoot all the shots I wanted and then spent some time putting it all together in iMovie. Not the greatest program for working with film, but then I’m not the greatest film producer either. It does enough to get the job done and not get me in trouble.

There are so many great bike rides around Nice. Some I enjoy on my road bike, but this particular trip involves both on and off-road, so my Moustache Dimanche electric-assist was definitely the best call.

 

UPDATE:

I few people have asked how I used the drone to make this video.

Except for the first and last shots, (someone else did those for me. The drone could’ve done it but I refrain from flying it in the city), otherwise every other shot was done by the drone. For some shots, I put the drone in the air, set it at an angle of view that I like, start filming, then put the remote down and get on my bike and drive through the scene. I then return, stop filming, bring the drone back and move on to the next shoot.

When the drone follows me, this is called “active tracking”. To set this up I “show” the drone where I am on my iPhone by circling myself so it identifies me as the “target” to track. And then it does just that. There are different modes to tracking:

  1. It follows behind me
  2. It follows beside me
  3. It follows me but makes circles around me as I move
  4. The drone stays still but follows me wherever I go

It can get complicated and time consuming as I have to launch the drone, target myself, ride the bike, etc. Sometimes it loses me, for instance if a tree of object comes between us. As I ride I’ve learned to listen for the whirl of the blades to know if it is following me or not.

The results, the programming DJI have done for the drone for tracking, is very fluid and smooth. It would be hard for a person to follow me that well, without jerking.

I made multiple trips up the mountain to film this. It takes over an hour to get there and the first two times I arrived just as clouds rolled in and I couldn’t film. When I could film I’d make 6-8 shots, but usually only one or two would be usable. Also, with each day of filming I got better. So at the end I was having more success getting good shots and the ones I wanted.

My next video will be paddle boarding in the Algarve of Portugal. Little more difficult as I’m on water and have to land and take off from my paddle board. Have to launch and catch from my hand. Tricky…

 

Visit to Lake Garda, Italy

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View of Garda Island on Lake Garda

Our 20th anniversary was coming up so I decided to surprise my wife with a getaway trip to Lake Garda in Italy. I didn’t tell her about my plans, just let her know a couple of hours before we had to catch our plane. This would be our second trip to Italy’s northern lake district, as we visited Lake Como last fall. Everything went quite smoothly… until we arrived at the car rental agency in Venice.

If you are mostly interested in the places we visited (Verona, Lake Garda and Sirmione), you may want to skip down the page and not read about our travails trying to get to Lake Garda. Continue reading

Aging and the Brain…

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This post is a little different than those previously posted, but it’s relevant for all of us, no matter what age you may be at.

A couple years ago a friend recommended a book called “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and researcher at the faculty of Columbia University. Dru had stumbled upon the book when investigating how one could recuperate from brain damage caused by a stroke, as her father had recently suffered one. Although that was her principle area of interest, she found the book to contain much more. In fact, each chapter is a journey undertaken by Doidge who travels to discuss with medical experts and neuroscientists what they have learned about the brain’s ability to change itself.

The outcome, in short, is that the brain is not fixed, nor compartmentalized as previously thought where specific actions of the mind and body are allocated to specific areas of the brain. That, in fact, the brain evokes elements of plasticity – it is flexible and non-compartmentalized – if one part of the brain is damaged another area can take up the slack for what the initial part was responsible for. Doidge also found that the brain is competitive, that aspects of the brain actually compete with one another to take over areas of the brain that are no longer being utilized (ex: losing one’s sight – the area of the brain that handled this function could now be used for other cognitive activities).

What I found most interesting concerns aging – how it affects the brain and what we can do as we age to keep it healthy and active – to improve cognition, awareness, memory and concentration. After finishing the book I gathered all the text blocks I’d underlined so that in the future, rather than rereading the book I could just read my notes as I worked on my personal plan to keep my brain functioning the best that it can (especially after all I’ve put it through!).

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Bike Ride to Mt. Chauve

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View from the village park at Falicon

Spring has definitely arrived in the Cote d’Azur and I’m making the most of it by getting out and biking before the weather gets too hot. I’ve been revisiting my favorite rides and discovering some new ones. This past week I made my way to Mont Chauve, a mountaintop behind Nice and near the small hilltop village of Falicon.

Getting there means heading north straight up from Nice, through the upscale neighborhood of Cimiez, (which is the hill right behind downtown Nice), then passing through the even-a-little-more upscale Rimiez, and eventually to Falicon. Easiest route is to take Blvd. de Cimiez and then Ave. de Rimiez, which takes you to the top of Rimiez and eventually to the right-side turn-off to Falicon, on the Route de l’Aire Saint Michel (the hotel Auberge de St. Michel is situated on the corner).

Route de l’Aire Saint Michel winds its way to Falicon, perched on a small hill that looks out towards Nice and the backside of Rimiez. There’s a viewpoint on the top with a bench that circles a tree and offers plenty of shade – a great place for lunch if you’ve brought one. The views look back to Mont Boron, the port, and old town Nice.

To get to Mont Chauve you have to return back along Route de l’Aire Saint Michel for a bit, and then take a left turn on Route de Mont Chauve.

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It’s a climb. There are 13 switch backs as the road narrows to a single lane and makes it way up the mountain. At every turn there’s a viewpoint, which continue to get better the higher you climb. You’ll have to pass by a closed gate to get all the way to the top, as it is closed to cars – just hikers and bikers. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best day as it was partially overcast, but that kept the weather cool.

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View from the top of Mont Chauve

From the top you can see nearly all of Nice, westward to Antibes and the Esterel mountain range south of Cannes.

Dealing with Portuguese Bureaucracy…

Well, I’m not out of the water yet. (continued from here).

 I had thought once I’d gathered all the necessary paperwork and submitted them, that I would then be shortly be receiving my Portuguese driver’s license. That was back at the beginning of December of last year (2017). It is now nearing mid’ April and I have still not received the license. So upon returning to Lisbon I went and and checked in with the DMV (IMI in Portugal) to discover what may be holding it up. In my broken and very limited Portuguese, and after a few unsuccessful attempts at trying to find the right line I needed to be in, I finally found someone who told me that my original receipt letter that I received was my provisional license. I had a copy of it but she informed me that wasn’t good enough, I needed the original. For 30 euros I could get a new one. So I began to get my wallet out when she informed me that I’d need to go to another line to pay and get the letter.

Each time you get in a line-up, you begin by getting a ticket that is only available downstairs at the entrance. So I went back down, obtained another ticket (now for line “A”), and waited for my turn in the waiting room. Finally my number was called and ended up right beside the woman I had previously dealt with, and fortunately, knowing my situation, she explained it to the gentleman. He then took my money and printed out a new provisional license and then explained to me in good English that it was good for four months. I asked what was taking so long to get the real license. He said they have to check back with the country of origin in order to do the exchange (in this case, Canada), and that can take some time. Plus, he said, there’s so many ex-pat Portuguese who’ve been living in Brazil and who are moving back, that it has caused a 6-8 month backlog. Well, at least I had my provisional – although it was just for four months. Hopefully my original would arrive by then, or back to IMI and out another 30 euros.

We are finding that this is how the bureaucracy is in Portugal – slow. It is also difficult to get clear answers as to how things should be done correctly and in what order. We’ve spent a lot of time in government offices, only to find out that a new form is needed, or we needed something from another office before they could proceed in the one we were currently at.

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Club Naval near (sort of) Ericeira, Portugal

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Portugal’s Atlantic coastal highways are lined with numerous restaurants that specialize in serving fresh seafood. And they are very popular. Like all restaurants, there are good ones and not so good ones. Inexpensive and over the top. There’s so many that it’s hard to find the good ones from the bad.

IMG_3112On a recommendation we discovered a place that is both reasonably priced and exceptionally good. It is called Club Naval and it is situated at the bottom of a steep cliff just outside the small town of Assenta, about 20 minutes north of Ericeira taking highway #247. When you arrive at Assenta, turn right and drive right through it to towards the coast. At the coast you’ll come to a fork in the road, one to a lighthouse (left) and a sign for Club Naval directing you to the right. You’ll have to drive down the cliff on a very narrow road that zigzags back and forth until you reach the restaurant.

There’s nothing much there, other than a small port for local fishing boats, a few fish shacks built into the hillside (with some looking like they are about to slide into the sea), and of course, Club Naval. The restaurant is quite unassuming, with a small entrance with a few tables, but then two adjoining rooms filled with long tables.

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The fish caught by the fisherman of this small port is what Club Naval serves each day. Matter of fact that’s all they serve. The menu lists all types of fish, but only that caught fresh will actually be available, sold by the kilo. Upon entering you find out what is fresh and then select what it is you’d like, and how much of it, from the display case.

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The fish is exceptional, cooked perfectly every time we’ve been there, in garlic and olive oil, served with potatoes and salad if you so choose. There’s also shrimp and prawns when available, (and they usually are), and a decent wine list – in quality and price.

So if you happen to be exploring around Ericeira, be sure to save this as a place to stop for lunch. And if it happens to be a Sunday, get there early as it fills up fast.

Ericeira, Portugal

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IMG_3487We are back in Europe and recently made a visit to Portugal, a place we keep coming back to and hope to move to in a few months on a more permanent level. We start in Lisbon, but enjoying exploring the areas around the capital.

Less than an hour north and west of Lisbon, along the Atlantic coastline, is the small seaside town of Ericeira. It is extremely popular for surfers with at least seven breaks within the town itself and even more up and down the coast. Steep cliffs meet the ocean, creating ideal viewpoints for watching the surfers below, interspersed with small coves with lovely sand beaches and small seaside restaurants. The surf is great, and so is the fish cuisine, fresh from the sea.

 

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Sheltered fishing port and town beach of Ericeira

IMG_3472Ericeira reminds me of another town; Sayulita back in Mexico, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. They both are full of surfers, attract similar visitors, and are rich with great restaurants, bars and nightlife. Both have so far managed to avoid large hotels and and high-rises from being built in the town area, although that may be changing. As it is now, available accommodation is mostly small apartments, hostels and boutique hotels. But, where Sayulita’s streets are mostly dirt, unpaved, and the architecture is rather eclectic, in Ericeira all the streets are paved with white and black stones that can be frequently found throughout Portugal, with inlaid designs. It makes for a very clean town, and most of the buildings are similar in style, with white with blue (usually) trim. And there’s only a few buildings with more than two stories.

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The typical buildings and streets of Ericeira

We’ve been to Ericeira a few times now and our favorite restaurant has become Tik-Tak – great food and people. Shrimp and prawns are very popular on the menu and the grilled giant prawns are our favorite.

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Drone Photography of Puerto Vallarta

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In years past I would hire an airplane so I could take aerial images of the Puerto Vallarta region for our print and online publications. When the market was hot I’d have to go up each year as so much would’ve changed because of real estate development. That said, I hadn’t been up since 2010 as the market in Vallarta really leveled off. But it is in full swing again, so it was time to update our aerial image bank. Even though I no longer have the print business, we did keep our MLS service and we make good use of the aerial images there.

In the past I’d usually go up in a small Cessna where the door had been taken off in order to get better quality images. I’d strap myself in well and then hang out, in order not to get the wing in the images. The pilots I flew with got good at helping me out by flying sideways and lifting the wing, giving me a better angle.

But this year I decided to invest the money I’d spend on plane time into a drone instead, and keep myself safe on the ground. It has given me a lot more flexibility to the type of images I can take, and when I can take them. And it is a lot less expensive.

I prefer panoramic images as they look great on full screen websites, and better reflect what a region looks like. To get these images there is a built-in Pano builder that comes with the software of the Mavic Pro, but I’m not happy with the quality it provides for the finished end product. So I build my own by taking 4-8 vertical images that I overlap by about 25%, and then stitch together using Adobe Photoshop Elements. I’ve tried a few programs that stitch images together but found that Elements definitely does the best job. And the price is right at just $75.00. It is easy to use and rarely do I have to make any further adjustments, except to the lighting, contrast, sharpening and color.

Unfortunately the format I use for this blog doesn’t do these images justice. If you want to see them in a larger format, with information about each development, visit mlsvallarta.com.

Downtown Puerto Vallarta

With the “Malecon” promenade in the foreground and the church and plaza behind.

Centro-North

Southside Vallarta

With the new pier and the popular Los Muertos beach in the foreground, and the hillsides of Amapas behind.

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Conchas Chinas

This coastline reminds me of the Cote d’Azur, although with a few more high-rises…

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Hotel Zone

A little to the northwest of Vallarta, and before the airport, is the Hotel Zone, which saw a number of residential high-rises go up between 2003-2010.

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Marina Vallarta

One of Mexico’s first mega-developments with a golf course, marina and plenty of real estate and stay options.

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Nuevo Vallarta

Vallarta’s second mega development with four golf courses, two marinas, and lots of real estate options available.

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Punta Mita

A very high-end real estate development on the most northerly point of Banderas Bay.

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Sayulita

A very popular and funky surf town to the north of Vallarta.

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Quimixto

A favorite getaway of ours, with a nice left-break surf spot, situated on the south shore of Banderas Bay.

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