Brittany or Bretagne (Part I)

Port Launay

We took this trip at the beginning of  June of 2012. We attended the wedding in St. Gildas (Bay of Morbihan) of Flo’s brother Tony to Christine, and then rented a car and headed north. We had a week to make a quick tour around peninsula of Finistere, to see what we liked and what we may want to come back to in the future. Flo’s sister has a newly built summer home in St. Gildas so we knew we’d be visiting this area regularly in the future.

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Some Vacation Photo Taking Tips

  1. Pack as light as possible. Do you really need to be packing the latest Nikon SLR with five lenses around with you? How good are your photos really going to be, or, how much better than a $300 camera that if you lose it or its stolen, its not a problem?
  2. Back up, Back up, Back up. Don’t delete the photos on your camera; that a back-up. Back-up every night to your computer, that’s a back-up. Be on iCloud so you can sync and have your photos also on your computer back home, and in the cloud.
  3. If you have an iPhone, try out the Aps HDR Pro and DMD. With regards to HDR Pro, it works best with about a 50/50 distribution of light, meaning 50% is overexposed and 50% is under exposed. Works best with clouds in the sky, not blue skies. And the bigger, darker the clouds the better. Works well when you have water in front of you to bounce reflections off of, the effect you get in places like Venice. Or on lakes in the later part of the day. They are amazing. Here’s some samples of what they can do.[slideshow]
  4. Avoid shooting photos during mid-day. The best light is in the morning and at sun-down (the golden hour). Don’t shoot into the sun, unless you really know what you are doing. 
  5. Use the flash to fill in light, especially to get rid of shadows on people’s faces. When shooting people in scenes, I’ll just leave the flash on.

Tuscany One-Week Tour

Piazza (Plaza) della Signora, Florence, Tuscany

In October of 2011 we visited Tuscany, first flying into Vienna for a few days and then taking the train over to Florence. We stayed in Florence for a couple of nights, then rented a car and drove down to Sienna on Highway SR222. This a beautiful drive with a number of places worth visiting along the way. From Siena we did side trip visits to Monteriggioni, Colle di Val d’Elsa, San Gimignano and Volterra. After a couple of days in Siena we drove down to Montepulciano, staying at a chateau just outside of the town, called Dionora. From here we visited Montepulciano, Pienza, San Quirico and Montalcino. A week was just about right, with three days in Florence, two days in Siena and two days near Montepulciano, to become quite familiar with Tuscany and discover which places we like best to come back for a longer visit. Here’s some of the things we recommend.


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Venice, Italy

We started our 2011 Tuscany trip with first a visit to Venice and ended it by driving down to Rome.

Venice is Venice. Nothing quite like it anywhere else and it should be on everyone’s bucket list. The problem with it being on everyone’s list is that it can be terribly crowded, and there isn’t a lot of room on some of those streets. Or I guess they aren’t streets but actually sidewalks and promenades.

If you go there, try to go when it is off-season, or as much off-season as Venice gets. Summer months, vacations times, school breaks and long weekends, check the calendar well before you make those reservations. We were there in early October and it was still crowded, but doable. We kept away from the main fairways as much as possible but even then, all we could think was, wow, if this is October, what is August like?

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Biking in Paris

Flo on route

There’s not a better way to get around Paris and really see the town. But its not for the faint of heart!

The transportation systems in Paris are first class, with a proven metro grid, functioning bus system with on-time routes, and fast-running trains that provide easy access in and out of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. But within Paris, getting around is quick, easy and more enjoyable by bike, especially using the Velib system implemented a few years ago. For just a couple of dollars a day, one can use one of the thousands of bikes available at hundreds of locations throughout Paris. Just charge your credit card and the bike is yours for 30 minutes, which is usually quick enough to get to your next destination. Want to ride longer? The cost is just one euro every 30 minutes. But the best way to use Velib is in 30 minute increments and then there’s no extra charge. Ride, park and walk. When ready, ride again for 30 minutes and then park and walk. That way your ride is never more than $2 dollars a day. Continue reading “Biking in Paris”

The French and their bread…

For the French, bread is a major part of their lives. And if you are going to be involved in their lives, you better pick up on the rules of bread etiquette for the results could be unpleasant . You don’t mess with their food!

Mornings start usually with brioche–a light, white bread, slightly puffy, enriched with eggs and butter (not low-cal) with a dark golden and flaky crust. Its the stuff Antoinette offered to the French when she was told they were rioting over not having enough bread. And we know how well that turned out (for those not too up on European history, think French Revolution). Or, they’ll settle for leftover bread from the night before that they cut up and heat in the toaster making it eatable again. This is about the only time they’ll make due with leftover bread. Continue reading “The French and their bread…”

Nice, France

Nice’s famous shoreline and promenade

One of our favorite places in Frances, although we have many. This place has been on the top of our list when we consider where we’d like to have a home in France later in life. Weather is quite pleasant most of the time, its a nice size, right on the Mediterranean and very close to Italy. Excellent transportation and easy to get around, even on foot. All bus rides cost 1 euro, so you can ride from Nice to Menton or Monaco, for just one euro. Same for the tram, just a euro. Trains run along the coast and into Italy and also are very reasonable. You really don’t need (or want) a car long the coast, take the bus or train. Save the car for exploring some of the villages behind Nice, such as St. Paul de Vence or St. Agnes.

Things To Do in Nice

  • Promenade Anglais WalkA no brainer and a great casual walk on the promenade that runs the length of Nice from the airport to Vieux Nice. You can catch a bus back or make the long walk back. It’s nearly a 5 km walk.
  • Swim at the beach. There are public areas but you may want to make a day of it and try out one of the private clubs. They provide the lounge chairs, umbrella, drink service and lunch is available.
  • Walk up the hill to the Parc du Chateau – great views! There are stairs at the end of the Promenade as the highway makes its way around the cliffside and to the port, by the Hotel Suisse. Number of viewpoints on the way up, looking back at Nice and the Promenade, and also to the east towards the port. Good place for a picnic as well.
  • Visit the Fort du Mont Alban. There’s a town bus that will take you there. Can’t remember the number but its marked on the map, or ask a driver. Good views from up here as well. When you head back down the road, on your left will be a municipal park that has a path that zig-zags down the hillside (you can see it on Google Maps). Fun trail to take that leads you to the other side of the hill and into Villefranche-sur-Mer. Bring your bathing suit with you and enjoy the beach here. To get back you just have to walk up a bit to the train station and take it back to Nice.
  • Mont Boron Trail: This takes you to the top of Mont Boron, walk through the treed park, and then back down, with some nice view points and nice home/apartment buildings to view. Walk along the port towards where the ferries load. On the left you’ll see the small Nice Yacht Club with stairs beside it. Take these up to Bd. Stalingrad, cross the street and continue on the small path that leads up to Bd. Winston Churchill. Follow it until you see where it meets Montée Saint Aignon, there’s a path to take on the left. Follow it up, pass across Bd. Carnot, continue on the path to your left. Continue following it straight up the hill, all the way to you reach the Mont Boron bus  stop on top. Here you’ll also see a path leading down. To return, follow it to a viewpoint looking back at Nice. Across the road is another viewpoint and a trail to follow. Follow it until you find a trail branching off to the right. Take this until it meets up with rue Forestiere. Follow it down, cross Bd. Carnot (again) and the path continues on the other side of the road. Follow it right down to Bd. Frank Pillate and follow it back to where you began. Takes about an hour and just over two miles long.
  • Nice Old Town Market at Cours Selaya. Wonderful market open in the mornings, which becomes restaurant space in the evenings
  • Old Town. Plenty of shops and restaurants and wonderfully restored buildings reached by narrow streets.
  • Nice to Villefranche Shoreline Walk: This walk begins in the port of Nice at the southerly end, where the ferries dock and leave from. You’ll see a sign for the Nice Yacht Club with a walkway next to it, take this up to Blvd. Franck Pillate. Walk south and you’ll pass the Chateau des Anglais (built back in 1856 by Englishman Robert Smith, this fairtale castle is now used for private apartments. You’ll come to a pathway on your right that leads down along the shore. Take this and enjoy a wonderful seaside promenade. Be on the lookout for a sign that directs you back up to the highway (a lot of steps, more than 250 I’m told). The trail does go a little further, but not much as it reaches the cliffs. When you reach the highway, continue south along it until you again see a sign for a path taking you back along the water. You can follow this now right into Villefranche. You can walk the highway back, take the bus (#81 or #100) or even the train.
  • Cap Ferrat Walk – Promenade des Fossettes and or Chemin de la Carriere: Take the #81 bus to Cap Ferrat and get off at the small town/port of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Follow Av. Jean Mermoz to where it intersects with Av. Claude Vignon. Across the street you’ll see a pathway the Promenade des Fossettes. Short but nice oceanside walk, that makes a circle around the point. On the way back you’ll find Paloma Beach, bring your bathing suit to cool off.

Few Favorite Restaurants

  • La Petite Syrah Small, quaint, limited menu but what they have it great, along with a wonderful wine selection (it is also a wine store). Good prices as well. 13, rue Cassini.
  • Villa d’Este Situated on rue Massena pedestrian street, doesn’t look big from the outside but is huge inside, upstairs seating as well. Excellent Italian cuisine; pizzas, pastas and seafood. Huge servings and decent prices. 6, rue Massena.

Whale watching in Magdalena Bay, Baja California

A few years back I flew from Puerto Vallarta to Magdalenay Bay in a small private plane with a group of friends to see the gray whales at “Mag Bay”, as it is sometimes referred to as.  It was not a long flight, a couple of hours, landing close to where we could rent a panga and driver and within a few minutes we were out in the bay with mother whales and their babies.

The calves behaved like puppies. They would come up along side the boat, roll over and look at you, then it would roll over on its back so you could rub its belly, just like a dog would do. As you rubbed harder the whale would start to pant, opening its mouth, and it also enjoyed having the inside of its mouth massaged as well. It’s not as easy to pat a whale as it is a dog, and both get a little tiring after awhile. But when you neglected to rub as hard as the calf would like, or stopped, it would roll back over on its stomach and swim over to another boat looking for someone else to rub its belly.

All during this time the mother whale circled our boat, keeping an eye on all the activity. Quite something! We enjoyed the whales for an hour or so, and a few hours later we were back in Vallarta.

Sailing the Italian Coast


Island of Ponza

In June, 2008 we left port in Dubrovnik, Croatia on a friend’s 54′ Jeaunneau sailboat for the Italian coast on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, down into the Ionian Sea and around the “Boot” of Italy. Our final destination would be Corsica while the boat would continue on to Barcelona. We sailed overnight, stopping briefly in a small port along the way at the bottom of the boot, but then continued on to our real first port of stay, in Messina on the island of Sicily. We spent a few days here, with a one-day car rental trip down the coast to Taormina, a beautiful hillside town about 50 km. down the coast from Messina. Quite a road getting up to Taormina, with its very windy road zig-zagging back and forth up the hill amongst lemon groves, battling with taxis and buses all the way as to who was going to get to go around the corner first.

After Messina we sailed out of the Straits of Messina northwards to the town of Tropea. A very picturesque town, nestled right next to the shore on its craggy cliffs, cliffs that actually turn into the walls of homes as the rise upwards. There was a nice port at the base of Tropea and we very much enjoyed walking up the winding stairs into the town to walk its narrow streets. The specialty here is there purple onions, which are fantastic. We ate well in Tropea.

After a few days there we were once again on the water heading north, this time to the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi is another cliffside town, as are nearly all the towns on this coastline. This is the type of coastline you see in Italian movies, with the highway winding along a coast which hardly leaves room for a highway, let alone towns. We docked in Amalfi and spent a few days exploring the town and area. We drove up to Ravello, a beautiful town built up high in the hills above the Amalfi Coast, lined with luxurious hotels and sporting panoramic views of the coastline. We do want to return to this area, and include Positano in our tour. Would love to do this one by motorcycle or a small convertible, as there just so much to see while driving the coast.

When leaving Amalfi we made a stop in Capri. Although it looks impressive from the sea upon arrival, we found it just way to built up for tourism. Many cruise ships dock here so the streets are loaded with people and its turned into more of an outdoor shopping center with so many name-brand shops and tourist-type restaurants (meaning poor food and service). We had a lousy lunch and we are ready to get out of there.

Next stop was the island of Ponza. We stayed a few days here, enjoying the escape from the crowds of Capri and Amalfi and relatively slow pace of island life. We very much enjoyed renting scooters and touring the island. Our next stop was another island, Elba, which offered much of the same as Ponza, and was another place we very much enjoyed touring on scooters, with much more to see on Elba because of its size.

After Elba we headed over to Corsica, landing in Bastia. Beautiful port in Bastia and excellent food and wine. This is where we parted with our friends, they leaving for Barcelona and us taking the train over Corsica to Ajaccio. This train ride is quite something, climbing up into the mountains with still snow-capped peaks before back down to the shore to Ajaccio. From here we caught a plane over to Nice for a few days. Quite a trip; we covered a lot of sea miles over about a three-week period. Great trip with lots of great memories.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Old Dubrovnik’s small port

We were in Dubrovnik in the early 2000s, as the departure point for a sailing trip through the Dalmatian islands near Dubrovnik. We spent a few days here, inside the walled city, before heading out to sea. Dubrovnik is a coastal walled fortress/town, with the ramparts still in place and you can walk them and get great views of the town and surrounding sea. The main promenade/street is the Stradum, lined with shops and restaurants.

Dubrovnik was seriously bombed during the Serbian/Bosnian war and it was just being restored when we were then. When you walked the Stradum, it all looked fine, but on the side streets you could look up and that a lot of work still had to be done and that the shelling had been heavy and serious. I understand that today nearly the whole town has now been restored.