Train (and bike) Ride to Tende, France

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We’ve been wanting to venture farther from the coast with our bikes, but not having a car to take them has made that difficult. So we looked into taking a train and found one that goes leaves to Tende, a small town that sits alongside the Italian border in the national Mercantour park, and allows bikes on board. The train follows what was the old “Route de Sel” or salt route.

Salt production and trading has been carried on in the Nice-Piedmonte region for over two thousand years. It was transported by boat along the Mediterranean coast to Nice and then brought inland through the mountains by mule. Salt was an essential part of the lives of those living in the Piedmonte/Savoy region, known as “white gold,” used to preserve foods during the summer in order to last through the winter, and for nourishment.

During the Bronze Age these were simple paths that followed the Roya River into upper Italy. Later, the Romans built roads, but by the 9th century they had disappeared, mostly destroyed by locals to protect themselves against invading barbarians using them. In the 14th century trade began once again as the Count of Savoy took control of the salt trade and improved the route. By the end of the 16th century the route was a road once again, linking Nice and Turin, and upwards of 30,000 mules loaded with salt made the trip each year.  The train route followed during the 19th century.

IMG_4092What a surprise was in store for us, for not only was it a comfortable train and ride, with plenty of space for our bikes and us, but there was also a guide on board who provided a running commentary, in French and English, about the history of the places the train passed through on its journey north.

The train departs the Nice station daily at 9:17, from June until the end of September, (on weekends only in May and October), arriving in Tende at around 11:30. One can go the whole distance or get off at any of the 14 stops along the way. And the tickets prices are reasonable, our one-way tickets cost us together just 13 euros.

We were in for another surprise for as soon as we got off the train it began to rain. We rode into Brei-sur-Roya, but it only started raining harder so we stopped at a cafe for strong cappuccinos. After a half-hour the rain eased up so we decided to try our luck. Continue reading

Our time in Nice has come to an end

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Nice Pano 1After six years of living in Nice for close to six months of each year, our time is coming to an end. We’ve very much enjoyed the Cote d’Azur, and are not ruling out that we could be back sometime down the line as Nice just has so much to offer. The weather may be the best in Europe. The location, just next to Italy, with the Med in front and the foothills of the French Alps behind, is exceptional. There’s Old Town, the port, and amazing markets such as Saleya. Restaurants are wonderful and plentiful. The transportation system with the buses and trams works very well. The airport has more connections to the outside world, (136 direct-by-air destinations, at usually great rates, to places throughout Europe and elsewhere), except for perhaps Paris. The promenade is superb, as is the Pavillon park that runs through the middle of the city.

Most of our outdoor activities have involved walks, hikes, and biking. We’ve walked most of the coastal “sentier” trails along the Cote d’Azure, which I covered here and here and here. Once we had done those we started hiking up into the hills, which I covered here and here and here. When we were done with that we started biking, first along the coast and then up into the hills, which I covered here and here and here and here . And there are just so many great hilltop villages to visit, such as St. Paul de Vence, Gourdon, Eze, St. Agnes and so many more. In the winter (when we were in Europe) we went skiing in Auron or Valberg.  Although we’ve done a lot, we’ve really just barely touched upon all that there is to do in and around Nice.

As our time was coming to an end, we had just started traveling outside of the Cote d’Azur by car, into Italy and Provence, short trips that that only took a few hours, and which I covered here and here and here and here.

We’ll miss our daily swims in the Med from late spring until early fall. Will definitely miss the fresh food markets and the many wonderful events held annually, such as the Nice Jazz Festival, Monaco Boat Show or Grand Prix.

But there’s a lot going on in Lisbon and we look forward to discovering all there is to do there. More of that to come…

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L’Ile de Noirmoutier

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For more than 20 years we have returned each summer to the island of Noirmoutier, (just off the French coast, a little south of Nantes), spending the month of August visiting family and enjoying a very laid-back style of life, a welcome change for many years from our otherwise busy business lifestyle. For the kids it was a time to reconnect with their cousins and polish up on their French.

This past August I brought my drone along and did a little filming of the island. Shooting with a drone on Noirmoutier can be difficult as it is often quite windy and the weather can change quickly. I had hoped to film the Gois Passage, which at low tide links Noirmouter to the mainland. But the combination of having good weather and no wind when the tide was down, did not work out.

British Columbia Summer Visit

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Downtown Vancouver and False Creek basin

For the past few years I’ve been spending the month of July in Canada visiting family and old friends, staying primarily in Vancouver, but also visiting the central region of British Columbia known as the Okanagan, as well as Vancouver Island. I love returning to cosmopolitan Vancouver for so many reasons – many shared also by Condé Nast Traveler readers who continually rate it as one ten best cities in the world. Surrounded by mountains and ocean, its rugged beauty attracts people from around the world, to both live and visit. Vancouver is a city of ethnic diversity. A short walk down any street will have you hearing languages and seeing people from around the globe. And those that have come have brought their culture, especially their cuisine, making it a great food city as well.

In the Okanagan my father has a home that overlooks Kalamalka Lake just north of Kelowna. It’s a beautiful lake that sees very little wind, few boats, making it perfect for paddle boarding. An old school friend has a paddle board rental shop close by (Kalavida Surf Shop) and lives across the street where he keeps 2-3 boards in his garage that he lets me take out whenever I want. It’s also a great area for golfing, with numerous courses scattered around neighboring Okanagan Lake.

Okanagan Lake is called a fjord lake, (long and narrow), as it has been carved out by repeated glaciations that have left it with a steep shoreline and very deep waters; maxing out at 232 meters. It is 135 km long and it is not uncommon for the lake to be 100 meters deep only 10 meters offshore.

IMG_0429Over the past year my father has been working on building a small 15′ wooden (and fiberglass) gaff sailboat in his garage, so I was excited to get the opportunity to try it out and sail with him. But with little wind on the lake, we decided to trailer it down to Vancouver. Once in there we launched the boat at a ramp under the Burrard Street bridge and enjoyed a few days of 14-16 knot winds allowing us to really give the boat a good run. Once out of the mouth of False Creek we sailed into English Bay, following the shores of Stanley Park and Spanish Banks, with the gorgeous skyline of downtown Vancouver behind us.

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After about a week of sailing we headed over to Vancouver Island, visiting friends in Nanaimo before making our way to Tofino on the western coastline of the island. Tofino is Mecca for surfing in Canada, with people coming from all over to put on wetsuits and surf its cold waters. The area is simply spectacular for hiking, fishing and of course, surfing.

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Cox Bay, one of Tofino’s most popular surf spots

 

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Rosie and Chesterman (far background) Beaches

In Tofino we stayed at the Pacific Sands resort which is made up mostly of apartments and townhouses situated along the beach for rent, but there is also a home at the far end of Cox Bay that sits up high on a point that provides spectacular panoramic views of the beaches of Cox, Rosie and Chesterman. We stayed for four nights visiting family and friends, then leaving to make room for the next guest who happened to be Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and family, who would be staying for two weeks at this lovely home. Justin enjoys surfing and the privacy Tofino provides his family. This would be his second time in two years he’s returned to Tofino for a summer vacation.

Tofino is an oasis of old-growth rainforests, wildlife, recreation and exploration. Locals include whales, eagles, bears, salmon, otters, cougars, wolves, herons, ospreys, and steelhead; and visitors are migrating whales and birds. It is also eclectic and bohemian in nature. For those familiar with Sayulita, the surf town just north of Puerto Vallarta, there are a lot of parallels between the two. I’m sure many of the people I saw this summer in Tofino are the same ones I’ll see again this winter in Sayulita – at least in character.

From Tofino I returned to Vancouver for more family/friend visiting, plus a little more sailing, before departing back to Nice.

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!).

Continue reading

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.