David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Venice/South of France 1987

We arrived in Milan and took the train to Venice. We hadn't realized - we were arriving May 1 which is May Day (the European Labor Day) and everything was filled. There was a long line at the train station office for finding a room. As we waited, the posted lowest room price kept climbing. When we finally got to the front of the line, the cheapest room was $180/night. We took it and were grateful. The hotel was nice but not fabulous. We set out to walk around the city and found another place for $60 a night for the next 2 nights.

Venice is a fairytale! We walked for miles, rode in a gondola, took the vaporetto back and forth along the Grand Canal, dined al fresco along the Canal. We enjoyed the many churches and all the art work and visited Harry's Bar.

Aftr 3 days, we got our rental car and headed toward France, stopping in Verona for a picnic lunch. We saw the Roman arena and the "Capulet" palace, supposedly where "Romeo and Juliet" is based. Romantic, even if a fraud!

We stopped that night at Albenga, still in Italy. The old town is charming with its 5th century Baptistry. The next day we crossed the border in Menton in France. We had quite a struggle trying to change money - went to 3 different places, waiting on lines, before we finally found the right place. We passed through Monaco and drove to Nice, fabulous views all along the way. Our destination was St. Paul de Vence, a restored medieval walled city turned into an artists' colony where Chagall is buried. The narrow, pedestrian only streets are stone-paved with lovely flower patterns. They are lined with expensive shops of artists and souvenirs and restaurants.

Next we went to Vence, another beautiful medieval town, which has a wonderful walking tour. There are wall signs in French and English describing what you are viewing. The tiny cathedrale has a Chagall mosaic. In the square behind the cathedral is a stone pillar given to the town of Vence by the city of Marseilles in the year 203! Nearby are the remains of the Roman road leading to Vence from Nice.

We stayed overnight near Cagnes and had a wonderful meal in town at a restaurant named Renoir for the artist who was born here. We visited the old town and drove down to the sea, our first chance to put our toes in the Mediterranean.

Next we headed west to Aix-en-Provence, a most beautiful city. The main street, Cours Mirabeau, has four rows of plane trees down the length with fountains at every corner. We stayed right on the Cours at the Costa Negra Hotel; a great room looking out to the plane trees. Right behind the hotel was the Old Town. Along the Cours are many restaurants with tables out front; it's a college town and the students all hang out there. We ate at the Deux Garcons and watched a gentleman eating his asparagus by picking it up by the end of the stem and dipping it in the sauce, an approach I'd never seen before but liked.

From Aix (pronounced X) we took day trips to Arles and Marseilles. Arles is where Van Gogh died and there are many reminders of his stay here as well as many Roman ruins. In Marseilles we enjoyed bouillebasse, which was invented here. We also went to Nimes, again for the Roman ruins, and the Pont du Gard, the 2000 year old Roman aquaduct, which is amazing.

Next we moved up to Avignon for 2 days. We visited the Papal Palace and the beautiful gardens. While we were taking a rest and viewing the famous bridge, a group of kids came out, joined hands and started dancing and singing "Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse ....". We couldn't believe it!

We moved on to Vaison la Romaine which has a lovely medieval section of town and extensive Roman ruins. Then we headed east over the Alps, a beautiful drive, stopping in Susa where we found a hotel. We woke in the morning with gorgeous views of the snow-covered Alps.

Back in Milan we visited the Duomo, saw La Scala, and viewed The Last Supper, which was being cleaned. From there we headed home.

Almost every day we had a wonderful picnic of bread, cheese, fruit, and wine - sometimes pate or prosciutto. Several afternoons we spent on the square with campari and orange juice, watching the passing scene. Some dinners were very casual, some very fancy, but almost all terrific. It's almost impossible to get a bad meal in Italy!


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