FRANCE AND ITALY, JUNE 2002
We went to France to attend the wedding of Angela Dutter and Kyle Baker in Monaco. It was a no-brainer to put together a vacation afterward on the French/Italian Riviera with a foray into the Italian Alps.
We arrived on Tuesday, June 4 and stayed the first four nights in La Turbie, the Dutter's home town. La Turbie is in the mountains overlooking Monaco and is very picturesque. The big attraction is the Trophée des Alpes, a Roman ruin that can be seen from anywhere for miles around. We enjoyed walking all over the narrow streets and appreciated the beauty everywhere.
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Wednesday, June 5
A foggy morning. From La Turbie, we drove to the nearby town of Eze where there is an extraordinary cactus garden set high on a hill around a Roman ruin. After lunch the fog lifted and we drove down to Monaco to visit the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (where Jean Cousteau was director from 1957 to 1988). We took the city tour and noted the beautiful little Church the guide pointed out with the statue of a Bugatti race car on the street in front, little knowing that that was the Church we would be in in two days for a family wedding.
Back in La Turbie, we had a very warm, get-acquainted dinner with André, Diane and Anthea Dutter. We could have talked all night.
Thursday, June 6
We headed for Nice intending to spend time on the beach. But thunder and lightening sent us into a créperie on the beach in Villefranche. When the storm subsided we found the Railroad station in Nice and got information on museums. We visited the Marc Chagall Museum then drove down to promenade by the beach. I learned I can not only parallel park -- I can do it on a sidewalk curb.
Friday, June 7
This is the big day we've come for -- the wedding of Angela and Kyle. Angela is the daughter of Diane Jones Dutter, and granddaughter of my first cousin, Raymond Jones. That makes her my first cousin twice removed according to the report from Family Treemaker, but she calls me Aunt Mary. Click here to find Angela and her parents in the Gerrity Family Tree.
From beginning to end, the wedding was like a fairy tale.
Not surprisingly, a French wedding is a little different from what I've known in the USA. When we arrived at the Church, we went inside and seated ourselves, since we had been told there would be no ushers. But no one else joined us. The other guests gathered outside until the priest came out. He greeted us and then went outside, and presently came back leading a procession of guests headed by the groom and his parents and the bride's mother, They all seated themselves, and then the bride entered on the arm of her father as we do in this country.
We had missed it, but the bride and her father had ridden down the curvy mountain road from La Turbie to Monaco in a flower bedecked convertible, followed by family and guests caravanning behind. After the ceremony, the bride and groom repeated the parade in the reverse direction, ending at the reception site high on the mountain above La Turbie. SPECTACULAR!
I didn't take many pictures. There was a professional photographer on the job, and I wanted to enjoy everything I could of this exceptional event. We were hindered by our inadequacy with the French language, but the host family are bilingual and had considerately seated us with other bilingual folk. And you don't need language to know when to join a conga line.
We met some folk who had lived through World War II, as we had, but they had lived it on the other side of the ocean. That was a different experience. One father didn't see his first born until after the War, when she was five years old. Another was in the Resistance. His wife would find a note under the front door saying only "Alright" when he was away. And these couples are still together. They survived.
Saturday, June 8
We stopped by the Dutter home before leaving La Turbie. All the family were there and Diane gave us a tour of the house and grounds. We were awestruck to hear the work they've done to renovate this treasure of a home.
Then we headed for Digne, in the foothills of the French Alps.
Sunday, June 9
Digne had a most unusual museum as part of the Réserve Géologique de Haute-Provence. It was perched atop what looked like an old fort. The walk to it was "a walk through time and space". Artists had designed three walks to feature waterfalls, the wall, and cairns. We chose the waterfall walk going up, and parts of the other two on the way down.
We took a loop drive of about forty miles within the Reserve, stopping at each of the ten marked stops where there were points of special interest. Some stops involved a short hike. It was a delightful afternoon.
Monday, June 10
Today we found out that the green line on the road map means "scenic" -- and how! We took a detour up the Col de Bonnet which is the highest auto pass in Europe. I think the motivation was to be "King of the Hill" -- with EVERY car in all Europe at a lower elevation than us. At the top we parked the car and walked up a snowy path to a platform where there was a map showing the direction of major cities in Europe. We had a pleasant conversation there with an English couple and a French couple.
We planned to get to Torino that night, but only made it as far as Vinadio just over the Italian border. Vinadio has a HUGE fortress wall built around the town. What is special though, is that they are using this wall for today's life style. There are soccer fields, a camping area, game rooms, a cafe, children's play area, and a museum. All these amenities for the town folk without spoiling or harming the old ruins.
Tuesday, June 11 - Thursday, June 14
We drove on to Torino and got information about the Olympic venues for 2006. The Italians don't seem as strict as the French about shutting down from noon to two, and we even got our laundry done. We drove on to the Aosta valley and a hotel in the mountains in Cogne. The hotel has a fitness center and we enjoyed a swim in the indoor pool.
When the woman at the desk in Cogne realized we were from the USA she wanted to talk about Sept 11. She told us how she was at work at the desk as she was now, and her mother called to tell her to turn on the TV. How universal this story. The horror so great that people around the world called family members and couldn't describe it. They just said "Turn on your TV"
We started the next morning with a drive to Gimillan, the town on the cliff above Cogne for a view of the whole valley.
Then we went to the next village of Valmontey where there are Botanic Gardens and trailheads for several hikes. Valmontey was so close to Cogne that there was a foot path between them, which allowed me to walk back to the hotel while Charlie drove the car there.
Friday, June 14
We visited the Chateau de San Petro, then got on the road to Bardoneccia, the venue for snowboard and downhill in 2006 Olympics. We stayed at Hotel Nigritella out of town where the owner's sons are a world class snowboarder and downhiller. Their photos are on the hotel brochure.
We walked into town. Noted there were no taxis, so ate at the Mexicain pizzeria and walked back to the hotel before dark.
Saturday, June 15 - Sunday, June 16
We drove into Genoa, up and down every hairpin turn until we found a hotel with parking, which turned out to be a spot on the sidewalk at the turn in the road with a resident's permit on the dashboard. We didn't move the car again until we were ready to leave town.
We walked to the Ducal Palace where there was a special collection from the Hermitage. Then on to the harbor. Enjoyed a drink by the big tent where there was a show going on. We could watch it from our table. Sat there until 10:30 PM and then couldn't get dinner. Europeans really hold to their lunch and dinner hours. We walked toward the hotel and found an English Pub open. The sandwiches and beer were adequate.
In the morning, we took a boat ride in the harbor. Walking back through old town a woman cautioned me about the way I was carrying my purse -- apparently a target for stealth. We walked down the via Garibaldi, known for its elegant houses, and happened on a wedding party. When we got to our car we headed out of town on the coast road. We stopped in Colegeto and got a hotel, then spent the afternoon on the beach under an umbrella. Swimming in the Mediterranean is nice, with currents of cool.
Monday, June 17
Drove along the coast road with a detour up the panoramic drive looking for Thor Heyerdahl's retirement town. I have read his book "Kon Tiki" and visited the raft he crossed the Pacific in in an Oslo museum. I was interested to see what a man like that would consider an appropriate retirement spot. It certainly was beautiful.
At Andora we got on the Autostrade and headed for Cannes. Felt a heart tug as we passed the exit to La Turbie and saw the Trophée des Alpes.
Charlie noted that there's a Picasso Museum in Antibes, so we got off A10 there and checked into the Hotel Royal on the water.
Tuesday, June 18
|Had breakfast and a swim. The water was wonderful. Visited the Picasso Museum and drove to Nice. Got a hotel near the airport and turned the car in (close to 2000 kilometers on it and not a scratch). We took a taxi to the beach and had dinner on a side street in Nice.|
Wednesday, June 19
Many flights were cancelled today because of a strike by French flight controllers. We felt lucky that ours was not one of them. Although we enjoyed every minute of the vacation, it was good, as always, to get home again.