Happy birthday to me in the air!

LOCATION: Ibis Hotel, Central Amsterdam, The Netherlands

WEATHER: Overcast. High 64

We got an early start for our trip to Amsterdam.  We caught the 6:42 AM train to Nice, then walked to the airport terminal.  ($3 as compared to a $60 cab ride). 

We have really enjoyed our week’s stay in Beaulieu sur Mer.  Thanks to housesitting friends, we found this lovely place and very comfortable apartment.  Here is the town on the map….

And here are some photos of the 4th floor apartment, quite chic….

We had a layover in Copenhagen.  We flew on Norwegian Airline, using a refund from a flight we made and had to cancel two years ago, due to Covid.  When in Rome…..Since we were in Denmark, we had smorgesboard sandwiches for lunch.  The display was beautiful artwork.  George had a liver pate, with beets on rye, and I had smoked salmon and cucumber on firm, wheat bread.

We continue to travel with joy!  Spotted this restaurant in the airport. 

George is happy that we are back in the land of beer…

On to Amsterdam.  We managed to figure out the train from the airport to downtown.  It is really a different vibe here.  First of all, a lot of drunks and potheads in front of the train station….

And bikes absolutely everywhere!  This is a 2500 bike parking lot in front of our hotel.

People have been so nice to me for my birthday.  The hotel gave us vouchers for drinks in their bar.  Then, we strolled around the very busy streets looking for dinner options.

We happened upon the Red Light District.  Sex workers sit in their windows, surrounded by red lights, to beckon in customers.  No one bats an eye!

We found a cozy restaurant with really friendly staff.  I had fish and chips, and George ordered beef carpaccio.  It was all very good.  The staff surprised me with a birthday song and complimentary ice cream…

BOOK:  “The Lost Art of Gratitude” by Alexander McCall Smith.  As always, he does not disappoint.  This is one of the series about a philosopher and her lovely family.  4 stars out of 5

Last day on the French Riviera

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer on the French Riviera
WEATHER: Perfect.  Sunny.  High 73

Today was our day to chill. I did some laundry and hung the clothes out to dry on the terrace.

At mid-day, we walked about 2 blocks to the town center and bought a pan bagne at a popular boulangier/pattiserie.  There was a long line outside the establishment, indicating that it is a great place.  The pan bagne had been recommended by my brother who lived in France several years.  It is like a Salade Nicoise  in a sandwich – tuna in oil, anchovies, tomatoes, celery, sweet peppers, and hard-boiled egg – all on a crusty roll.

I was proud to be able to request one in the shop, in French, and I even understood when the clerk asked me whether or not I wanted anchovies on it!

We relaxed all afternoon, reading and doing wifi stuff.  I bought tickets for a cruise in Argentina for February (an early birthday gift for myself).  It was a sale – 92% off! 

We walked back to the town square and had our final happy hour drink watching families and  several “grand dames” enjoying the evening.

Then – ooo-la-lah – a splurge to celebrate our last night here.  We walked to the harbor, about 2 blocks from our apartment, and ate in one of the restaurants that line the port.  Yachts all around us

I had the octopus salad – just superb – warm octopus with boiled potatoes, tomatoes, arugula, olives, and sweet peppers in a light vinegar and oil dressing. 

George had the scallops – coquilles Saint Jacques.  Magnifique!

His side was mashed potatoes with trufflles.  How can you beat that? 

We sipped on a bottle of rose’ wine from Provence and enjoyed wathcing the activities on the yachts.

Tomorrow we head out to Amsterdam.  This has been a lovely week!

Nice is nice!

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer, on the French Riviera
WEATHER:  Sunny.  High 73

We started the day with one of our favorite breakfasts – leftover pizza with a “sunny side up” egg on top.  And a few fig slices.  Yum!

Then, we were off to Villefranche sur Mer, where we caught the Hop On/Hop Off bus around the coast and through Nice.  It is a good way to familiarize oneself with a new city. 

The bus took us down the famous Promanade with its elegant hotels and restaurants.

We learned that the builder of this famous hotel made the cupola to look like his lover’s breast! 

Famous people have stayed there like Princes Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson.

We hopped off the bus and wandered through some back streets, ending up again on the Promenade.  The waterfront restaurants were setting up for lunch.

People had recommended the flower market in the Old Town.  We finally found it  – full of lovely flowers, plus fruit and veg.

Alongside the market were many cafes.  We found one that serves Salade Nicoise.  Afterall, when one is in Rome, or in this case, when one is in Nice, one must have a Salade Nicoise.  It was huge!  Different kinds of lettuce, sweet red pepper slices, red onion, tuna, black olives, tomatoes, anchovies, and hard-boiled egg wedges. 

To be adventurous, George had some grilled frog legs….

This place touts its seafood.  Some of the items were very pricey!

We hopped back on the bus with such lovely views…

I looked up some info on some of the mega-yachts in the harbor.  One is owned by a London business tycoon and two belong to wealthy Russian oligarchs.  They cost about $150 million.

After the Hop On bus, we caught a regular bus back home. Being rush hour, it was crowded. Nice people steered me to the “old-people’s seat” – notice the stick person with a cane!

Back in Beaulieu sur Mer, we returned to the cafe that offers happy hour.  It sure brings the people in.  Then, we shopped in the supermarket under our apartment.  The fishmonger remembered us from yesterday when we bought the shrimp.  Today I was buying mussels to steam.  I asked him if they are fresh, as I saw a few broken ones.  He assured me that they were, then threw in an extra handful “just in case”.

DINNER:  Steamed mussels.  One of my favorite foods.  I did them the traditional method – sauteed some onion and garlic in butter, then added the mussels and white wine.  Steam for about 5 minutes. The trick is to not cook them too long.  Then, enjoy, sopping up the broth with some good baguette chunks. 

Following Rick Steves on the French Riviera

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer, France.  Near Nice
WEATHER:  Very pleasant and mostly sunny.  High 75

We started the day with a quick trip to our little outdoor market and an boulangerie, both just about a block from us.  We bought a baguette, some fruit for breakfast, and some vegetables for dinner tonight.  Then, we enjoyed baguette slices, cheese, and fresh figs out on our terrace for breakfast.  Nice!

Today’s plan was to follow in Rick Steves’ footsteps when he visits this part of Europe.  He likes to stay in and visit Villefranche sur Mer while checking out the French Riviera.  It is quite close to our town, so we walked there, about 1 mile.  The only problem……It was straight up!

From high above, we enjoyed lovely views of the sea below.  We could see people snorkeling in the clear Mediterranean below.

We walked past beautiful villas that overlook the sea.  Unfortunately, they have big gates to keep their privacy.  I did peek through one gate and saw a manicured lawn, beautiful gardens, swimming pool,  and luxury villa.

Once we were in Villefranche sur Mer, we meandered through the old part of town.  Unfortunately, there is a cruise ship docked in the town’s harbor, so there were a lot of tourists shopping.

We found a restaurant that Rick had recommended, and had a really good lunch.  I had a salad and George had one of their specials – grilled sea bass.  The French really know how to dress a salad – just the right amount of a very light dressing.  I wonder how we came up with “French dressing” in the USA?  It is nothing like they eat here.

We explored the Citadel from the 14th century, high up on a hill.

Then, down to the harbor searching for the bus stop.  Looking up,, you can see where we started the descent…

We were lucky to find the right bus, and took the short ride home.  (Our legs couldn’t take another hike back after 14,000 steps).  We stopped at the supermarket to buy shrimp for dinner. 

We relaxed with pate’, baguettes, wine, and beer on our terrace. 

DINNER:  I sauteed shrimp, green onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a wine and butter sauce.  Side was a lettuce and tomato salad, fresh from this morning’s market, with a light oil and vinegar dressing. And it was a very economical meal – $5 for the shrimp, $3 for a bottle of wine, $4 for the vegetables.

Shaken, not stirred: A day in Monaco

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer – on the French Riviera
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  High 78

We buy a baguette about every other day ($.49).  The second half gets hard pretty quickly, so this morning George made some French toast with part of it.  Yum!

Then, we were off to Monaco.  It is about a 15-minute train ride that follows the Mediterranean.  Monaco is built on a steep hill.  The train track was about 5 stories below ground.  This is the view when we emerged from the top of the train station…

Our first destination was the Prince’s Palace.  In order to get there, we had to walk down, down, down.  The entire city is high-rise apartments/condos.  I saw one for rent for $55,000/month!

At the bottom, we stumbled upon a market. 

We ventured inside, and found a wonderful indoor market.  It is a combination of food stalls and restaurants.  I think it is where the locals go to eat, as it is less expensive than regular restaurants.

Since we are only about 15 minutes away from Italy, we selected an Italian place.  We shared their specialty of the day – gnocchi with asparagus and clams in a garlicky butter sauce.  Even in expensive Monaco, a glass of good wine was only $3.  Our total for the wonderful meal was $24.  Amazing!

Then, up, up, up to the Palace.  There were even defibrillators on the way!

Once up, we watched the changing of the guard…

Then, we walked around the streets, now full of shops and restaurants, that were once the homes of the people who cared for the royalty,

Down, down, down again to the harbor where they are getting ready for the annual yacht show.  Beautiful people everywhere. 

Sorry to say, but up, up, up again to our second destination – the casino in Monte-Carlo.  It is fabulous…

Bentleys, Jacquars, Rolls Royces all parked in front. 

The inside is very opulent.  We had a James Bond martini (shaken, not stirred) in the bar.  George tried this on the waitress, but she didn’t get it:  ” Reid……George Reid”.

George pretended that he lost a bunch of money, like this statue shows…

We were lucky to catch a bus not far from the casino so we didn’t have to walk miles again. 

Back “home” in Beaulieu sur Mer, we walked up to the little town square where locals were strolling around, and children were kicking a soccer ball in the square.  We found a cafe advertising “happy hour” – not really a French thing, but it was a good price for drinks.  I had an Aperol Spritz.  Tasty.  The cafe was very “hip”

DINNER:  Keeping with the Italian theme, we went a restaurant for a wood-fired pizza. Pizza is popular here, and they put a French “twist” – very thin crust with different toppings.   Ours had olives and goat cheese on it.  Not exactly Pizza Hut!

Gardens of the French Riviera

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer, France – about 15 minutes east of Nice
WEATHER:  Spectacular.  Sunny.  High 73

We started our day with a 2-block walk to the town center where there were two fruit and vegetable stalls.  It is interesting to see how they deliver to yachts and villas….in English!  Indeed the customer in front of us bought more than $100 worth of goodies to take back to his yacht.

We stopped at the tourist office and got a lot of good info about how to spend our next few days and how to get to the Nice airport when we get ready to leave.  The staff person lived a few years in Australia so can speak excellent English.

One of today’s destinations was Eze, a historic village way, way, up the mountain.  Our bus took us careening up the mountain, around many switchbacks.  We really had to hold on!  The views of the Mediterranean below kept getting better and better.

Once we got to Eze, we could see the ruins of the old city, even higher up.  So, up we went!

At the top of the ruins is an “exotic garden” – one full of succulents  and statues.  On our way up, we walked by lots of shops and restaurants that used to be people’s homes

The gardens are interesting, and the views outstanding.  We could see over to Italy and to the sea below.

Lots of different cacti imported from all over the world.

We meandered back to the “new” town below looking for a lunch stop.  Everything is very touristy aka expensive.  Nothing appealed – hamburgers, pizzas, large meals….so we kept on walking and stumbled across a great humble Chinese restaurant.  The menu was in French and Chinese.  The Chinese waiter could only speak French and Chinese, too.  Interesting!

We visited 2 perfumeries located in Eze.  They grow a lot of flowers here, hence the perfume.  This is how they used to make the perfume.  The shops were bursting with customers…

One option for the tourists is to ride in a race car around the mountain top.  I would have felt like Grace Kelly had I rented this beauty…

George captured this photo of one of the race cars returning, along with the flag girl.

This is about as close as we got to renting one!  Hah!

Back down the mountain, crushed in the bus for a 30-minute ride.  Once down, we walked along the waterfront to the the villa and gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild.  This was the home of Beatrice Rothschild who married wealthy Ephrussi from Russia.  We toured the beautiful villa with helpful audiophones…

And then walked through the series of gardens – Spanish Garden, French,, Japanese, stone, cactus, etc.

By this time, our feet could not walk more than the 14,000 steps we had walked today, so we caught a bus back to our apartment.  Being rush hour, we were packed in!

We decided to eat in.  We started with this lovely assortment of cheese, helpfully labeled…

It is a bit of a challenge to buy only enough food we will need for a week.  I bought some diced chicken breast to go with the veg I had bought this morning at the market.

DINNER:  In a skillet, I cooked (in butter) the chicken, sliced zucchini, green onions, garlic, and chanterelle mushrooms.  I served this over boiled finger potatoes with guess what….more butter sauce!  When in Rome…..

Walking along the French Riviera

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer, France – on the French Riviera just east of Nice
WEATHER:  Sunny and very nice.  High 74

Our plan today was to explore our immediate area.  Beaulieu is a nice seaside town, much quieter than Nice and other bigger cities along the coast.

First we walked down to our town’s beach, about 3 blocks from our apartment.  This is one of our neighbor’s houses.  They are all “villas” perched on hills.

The harbor is lined with yachts.  It is interesting to see where they are from – a lot from France, of course, but also Monaco, London, Hamburg, and Bristol.

There are very elegant beach-side restaurants in the harbor, very unlike beach shacks in the USA

The beach was hopping, mostly with pale British tourists, getting a sunburn.

We followed the footpath west toward Cap de Ferrat, another lovely seaside town. The yachts seemed to get bigger as we walked along.

The path took us past beautiful villas, including this one perched on the cliff…

When we walked by its backside, we realized it was the home of actor David Niven.

Cap de Ferrat has a lot of hidden beaches, and views of the yachts out in the sea.

We found a really cute, informal place for lunch.  We shared a delicious sandwich….It was a Nicoise salad inside a rustic bun – fresh tuna in oil, bell peppers, black olives, tomatoes, and anchovies.  Of course, with a white wine and a beer (Italian)

George was fascinated by all the high-end cars – Ferrari, Jacquars, Bentleys, etc with license plates from all over Europe – France, Italy, Belgium, Monaco,  Bulgaria, Portugal, UK, and even Ukraine and Russia.

The chaffeur in this car from Russia was waiting for his client to finish his day on his mega-yacht. 

The footpath took us up into the hills. 

In the little town on Cap Ferrat, there were a lot of tourists eating Sunday lunch, and attending the “prestige” antique luxury car show.

I spotted this yacht called “Joy Me”…..Perhaps I need to buy it to continue my “Traveling with Joy” plan??

We tuckered out after 15,000 steps so caught a bus back to Beaulieu sur Mer.  After a rest, we had happy hour in our apartment – rose’ wine, baguette slices, and country-style pate’.

DINNER:  Sushi!  We figured that there would be good sushi here – discerning clientele and fresh fish.  Indeed it was.  We shared a combo plate of sushi and sashimi.  We joked with the waiter, teaching him a few Japanese words.  We taught him “Oishikata” which means “It was delicious”.  He went back and told the chef “Oishikata”.  The Japanese chef came out to talk with us a bit.  So cool!

Ooo-la-lah! We have arrived on the French Riviera!

LOCATION:  Beaulieu Sur Mer – on the French Riviera! 15 minutes east of Nice
WEATHER:  Cool in the AM;  Sunny on the Riviera – 78

The breakfast at the hotel in Aix-en-Provence was fantastic.  I had a croissant with some potent goat cheese.  I just love it – the stinkier the better! 

We took a walk around the historic part of Aix-en-Provence.  It is very picturesque.  This section of town must hop at night, as there are many cafes, bars, and music venues.

The concierge at the hotel recommended that we take the direct bus, rather than the train, to Marseille.  He called a taxi for us that took us to the bus station.  We lucked out with a bus just getting ready to leave.  The ride was short as the traffic was light (Saturday).  The bus took us to the Marseilles train station which was a zoo.  We tried to buy our tickets using a machine, but it would not accept our credit card for $76.  So, while George was working on the machine, I stood in the LONG line to the ticket office.

Once I inched myself into the main area, the guard gave me a ticket so I would know when it was my turn.  For those of you who saw the movie “Beetlejuice”, I was reminded of the scene where he waits in line until he dies.  I went over to a worker and asked him if he could help me buy the tickets.  He was very helpful.  He looked it up, then told me that he could only sell me the tickets for $76, but if I continued to wait in line, that I could get them for $5 each, due to some promotion for today’s travel within southeast France.  So I did, and saved $66!

The line for the bathroom was as long as the ticket line, so George went to McDonalds to use their facilities.    They were offering chocolate burgers!

Our train was late leaving and everyone was standing under the monitor waiting for it to announce our track.  When it finally appeared, we joined the horde toward the train.  Luckily, it was a long train and we got seats. 

The ride from Marseilles to Nice was about 3 hours, mostly following the Mediterranean.  Beautiful seaside towns nestled in among the vineyards.  Jaw-dropping views of mega yachts in Cannes and Antibes. 

We arrived in Beaulieu sur Mer around 3:30  where we will spend a week.  We met up with our AirB&B host.  She introduced us to the apartment and left us with a bottle of rose’ wine from Provence.  Nice!

We are on the 4th floor of an apartment building.  This is the view from our apartment’s balcony…

We are above a supermarket where we shopped for some necessities.  We will return to buy some seafood for one night’s dinner.  I am craving mussels!

The apartment has a tiny washing machine, so I washed the dirty clothes we had accumulated on the canal trip.  We decided that this is the dryer….

Off to dinner.  There are a lot of gourmet restaurants here.  The customers look like they have just stepped off their yachts.  We found a nice place.

To save dollars (and calories), we ate off the appetizer menu.  We started with complimentary olive tapanade and baguette slices.  George had some snails…

And we shared a platter of ceviche.  It wasn’t like Mexican ceviche.  It was very thinly sliced sea bass in a a light citrus sauce, with bits of grapefruit.  Very tasty…

BOOK:  “Deal Breaker” by Harlan Coben.  I finished this up on the train ride today.  One of the many books in his series featuring Myron Bolitar.  Not as good as some of his.  3 out of 5.

Day #14 on the Canal du Midi. Jumping ship!

LOCATION:  Aix-en-Provence, France
WEATHER:  Sunny.  High 80

We had a nice quiet night last night on the Canal du Midi.   This is a photo of the sunrise – with our bikes (mostly unused) on the foreward deck.

We cruised to the boat harbor where the boat needs to be returned to tomorrow.  The other 3 couples will stay on the boat the rest of today and tonight, then leave tomorrow.  George and I have a long trip (about 7 hours) to our AirB&B outside of Nice, so we thought we would leave today instead of tomorrow to split up the train trip.

On our way to the harbor, we passed a luxury barge boat.  You can rent a room, including food and wine) for a week for a mere $5000 per person.  I took this photo as we were passing by a huge amusement park.

We said “Au revoir” to our friends, and caught a taxi into Beziers.

The taxi driver was super nice.  She said that the summer has been unusually hot here, getting to 45C (120F) for a few weeks.  She said she drove some of the canal boat travellers who cut their trips short due to the heat.

Originally, we thought we would stay overnight in Marseilles, but there is not much to do there, and the area around the train station is a bit dicey, we learned.  It was dicey when I was last here, about 50 years ago, too!.  Here is my Marseille story…

I spent my junior year in college in Spain.  My good friend and I hitchhiked all around Europe whenever we had a school break.  Our cardinal rule was never to hitch in the dark.  However, we were in the country in  southern France; it got dark; and we needed to find the youth hostel in Marseille.  Two guys picked us up.  We soon realized that they were drunk losers.  As we neared Marseille, they started talking about how we would party and do who-knows-what in Marseilles, with an evil grin.  We smilled and agreed.  Then, the guy pulled out an axe and said something like….”And if you don’t party with us, this is what wiill happen”.  Yiikes!  We whispered to each other that at the 3rd stop light, we would both just jump out of the backseat of the car and run.  We did….and survived.

With that in mind,  we looked at the map and decided to go to Aix-en-Provence. 

We caught the 2:15 train, transferred in Marseilles, and arrived in Aix-en-Provence at 5:20.  Train tickets were $38 each, for about a 3-hour trip.

People give the French a bad rep.  All we have encountered on this trip is super friendliness.  When we walk on the canal tow paths, we say and hear “Bon jour” countless times, all with a smile.  Today, our train ticket would not let us through the turnstile.  A helpful young lady gave me her pass to get us through.  Then, on the train, we were double-checking that we were on the right one when another girl offered to look at our tickets to make sure we were ok.  So kind!

We walked to our hotel.  Aix-en-Provence is a university town and there were a lot of young people out.  Hopefully tomorrow we can see more of the old town before leaving.

George did some research and found a brewpub.  Of course!  It was only a 15-minute walk from our hotel.  Super nice atmosphere.

DINNER:  I had wine and George tried one of their black sours and an IPA.  We shared a pate’ en croutte (pate’ in a puff pastry crust), and called that dinner. 

Day #13 on the Canal du Midi. Happy Pre-Birthday!

LOCATION:  Outside of Beziers’ on the Canal du Midi, France
WEATHER:  Sunny,  High 88

I took a nice brisk hike along the footpath near where we had moored for the night.  It was good to get some exercise.  A couple of the guys are real birders, and enjoyed spotting some new species in the wetlands nearby.

Today was an easy day – not too far, and no locks.  Tomorrow, we will be docking at the LeBoat company canal boat rental basin to return the boat.  George and I will be “jumping ship” a day early because we have a long train ride to our next location. 

We stopped at another place along the canal for the night,  tying up with stakes along the canal bank.   Here is George helping to tie us up.

We realized that we are close to the Mediterranean, so took a 1-mile hike to the sea.  George went by bicycle.  We waded in the cool water.  The beach was almost empty, with only a few topless ladies, and a fisherman.  One of the ladies was so happy to get her toes in the water!

We had a lazy afternoon, reading and resting. 

DINNER:  Since we were not near a town, it was time to cook in again.  We are trying to use up all our food, so I made scrambled eggs.  George grilled some bacon and I made the eggs.  I added some onions, mushrooms, leftover cordon bleu, and cheese.  They turned out well.  Sides were a salad and leftover couscous. 

After dinner, one of the ladies surprised one of the other guys and me with a birthday surprise.  He and I share September birthdays.  We had balloons, candles, birthday cards, and ice cream.  What a thoughtful surprise!