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Friday, August 31, 2007

Videos from Gasthof Fraundorfer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

During our lengthy dinner/dancing/drinking in this fine Bavarian establishment in the German Alps, I managed to get a few videos. And here we go...

Walking into the bier hall:

A short clip of the slap dancing. These young guys worked for beer. You could tell how many places they had visited when they came back later in the night!

A John Denver classic in a German bier hall:

Finally, the German Oompa Band plays one of our favorite tunes from Dirty Dancing:

Bier Hall in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a town in the German Alps, just north of the border with Austria. Of all the places we had booked for accommodation, Gasthof Fraundorfer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was the only one that I talked about and really looked forward to. (For most of the trip, I decided it would be best to arrive without expectations.) Why was Gasthof Fraundorfer so special? Check out their site and you'll see! My digifriend ColoradoBobs put me onto this place and the thought of staying in a German bier hall/guesthouse was irresistible, so I booked in for two nights... what a shame it was when I realized, just a week before our planned arrival, that I booked for the 5th and 6th of June while we were actually staying on the 5th and 6th of July*! Thankfully, they managed to squeeze us in for one night. Ordinarily they would have been able to find room for two nights, but 30,000 bikers were due to arrive in town the following day. Many of these bikers were already there, and we enjoyed their company that night of dinner, drinks, singing and laughing.

Seating is in the Bavarian tradition: small groups are combined to fill a bigger table. Dana and I were seated with two other American couples - we think they planned that - with whom we became friends for the night. As the music continued and the excellent beer flowed (mostly fresh Paulaner), the slap dancing began along with yodeling and meeting some folks at other tables. Dana and I were among the last to leave, along with our newly acquired Russian and German buddies.

If you are ever in the area, plan a trip to . Try a bierlikore (warm beer mixed with a spot of liquor, topped with whipped cream and served in a shot glass on a ski) eat as much as you can fit in your stomach, sing along and stay in one of the cozy rooms just upstairs.

*This turned out to be the only mistake made in my planning of the 44 night trip... could have been worse! OK, there was the near mistake in Florence, when I thought we were staying one less night in our hotel, and dropped train ticket the next day, but it all worked out in the end!

Get your fix of slap-dancing photos here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I'm Going to Beat You With a Pig Bladder!

In accordance with my new method to counteract my backblogged status, I'm going to have to give a rather quick summary of two amazing days in Switzerland, then direct you to a lump of 111 photos. I hope you're OK with this.

  • We drove through the heart of the Swiss Alps to get from Montreux to Interlaken. Halfway into the drive through the snow-capped mountains filled with waterfalls, we stopped for a sandwich in a town that didn't appear to have a name. This was the first town we entered that spoke German rather than French. We pointed at the meat, cheese & bread we wanted while making pathetic attempts to pronounce the German words for them. Whatever we ate, it was good!

  • Our hotel, Hotel Alpenblick, was in Wilderswil, just outside of Interlaken. The town was exactly the sort of quiet, sleepy village we wanted... much better than the heart of Interlaken. We had a terrace that we sat on to watch the storm clouds roll in and out. Mostly in.

  • The family-owned hotel gave every guest a morning paper. I mean a piece paper, like a print-out, that included the forecast and welcomed incoming guests while bidding farewell to those departing. The day we arrived it said, "Wir freuen uns, folgende Gäste begrüssen zu dürfen:
    Herr und Frau Hurley aus Australien"
  • The drive around Lake Thun (or the Thunersee) was lined with waterfalls just off the road. Even though it was not raining, we had to keep our windshield wipers on to clear off the dumps of water that spilled from the overflowing falls.

  • We made a stop at the 12th century building called the Oberhofen Castle. The gardens were gorgeous and the waters around the castle filled with entertaining ducks. Not quite as entertaining as a speaking duck, like Daffy or Donald, but still pretty amusing. If they tried to use the old latrines inside the castle, then they would have been funnier than any angry duck personified in a cartoon.
  • Thun offered a lot of beautiful streets on which to stroll and a massive castle overlooking the town and onwards to the lake. The castle had much better dungeon and torture facilities than the Château de Chillon. These dudes were up in towers, overlooking Thun. They would be much more effective now since captives would have to look upon the new housing developments.

  • In the museum of the Castle of Thun there is a traditional mask on display that is still used in the annual Thun fair! A man dons the mask and runs around the street, shouting and hitting women and children with pig bladders. Really? Yes. I did not make this up.

  • After two nights at the Hotel Alpenblick, we continued on our way. The food and service was excellent, and we would stay there for even longer in the future if we have the opportunity. On our first night they were offering their fondue dinner: over 120 sauces to accompany the chicken, beef, potatoes, etc that we cooked at our table. Highly recommended.

  • After leaving Switzerland we briefly drove through Liechtenstein. The country shares an open border with Switzerland, and we wanted to stop for a cup of coffee to meet an Liechtenstite Liechtenstinian Liechtensteiner, but we had no such luck. The country is tiny (62 square miles), is very similar in landscape to Switzerland and has only about 35,000 citizens. Before we even knew it, we were in Austria!

  • Enter Austria. OK, we knew it. Customs from Liechtenstein was about as rough as you'd expect, but what was much rougher was finding a cup of coffee! Liechtenstein seemed caffeine-free, so the 'cafe' sign in Austria was promising. It was actually a Chinese restaurant affiliated with the Asian food market next door. The coffee was pretty good. We didn't eat anything, and I think that's what the people working there were shouting about... but I'm not sure.

  • Driving from Switzerland to Liechtenstein to Austria felt a bit like popping in and out of different shopping centers after hours, looking for a Starbucks that might still be open.

  • We drove through the fantastic Austrian Alps for a couple of hours and were blown away by the spectacularly painted trucks they have. The waterfalls and mountains are great, of course, but entire scenes realized on a milk truck! I can die now.

Love all 111 photos of Switzerland & Austria (and maybe Liechtenstein, I'm not sure) here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Backblogged 2.0 (lots of family photos)

I've been backblogged before, but never quite like this. It's been tough to write myself out it... on top of having thousands of photos and dozens of stories from the Big Trip, I've been gathering up more just from being home, plus I have been doing lots of other writing. Now I'm going to pick up the pace and bring it all up to where I am in reality. It'll be a bit like what the television station Nine did in Australia: the country was five years behind in the soap opera Days of Our Lives, so they ran a special that summarized four years of the show in one hour. I won't be that brief.

OK, here we go:

1. We got in a game of HORSE before the surprise party that even Mike & CJ knew about but managed to keep from me!
2. The weather wasn't ideal, but we had a good day at the beach in Jersey. That night the adults kept themselves entertained with games like Stacker. Loads of laughs.
3. Eight of us - Chris, Jan, Pete, Jane, Pat, Jen, Dana & me - went out for a night in Red Bank. The next day the entire clan - add on Mom, Dad, Mike, CJ, Katie, Julianna, Valerie, Danny & Ciara - went to Long Branch for fun in the sun and surf.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Infant Held Captive in New York City

Here's an infant being held captive in NYC:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Montreux & Château de Chillon

Enter Switzerland into our little Big Trip. We had to pay a driving tax, so for a few moments we thought about dumping the Peugot, setting it on fire and hoofing it the rest of the way through Germany and up to Belgium. We kept the Peugot. Besides that, entry into this non-EU country was easy. It was like driving into Canada from the US, but in Europe... and with multiple languages.

Switzerland has three official languages: French, German and Italian. We arrived in the French-speaking side of the nation and finished our stay in the German-speaking side. As we drove from the eastern half to the western half, the Swiss we encountered slowly shifted from speaking one language to the other. In the middle of the country, the language swapped every other word, like weaving two threads together. At least, that's how it sounded to us. In reality, the dialects are very different from the French and German spoken elsewhere in the world.

We drove along the northern edge of Lake Geneva, past Lausanne and stayed for one night in Montreux. The weather did not call for water sports. It called for Bill, and Bill wasn't home. Lake Geneva is gorgeous, and it's lined with statues of Freddy Mercury, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Vladimir Nabokov. I guess all four of them used to hang out here together. Poker buddies, maybe. Actually, Nabokov & Mercury both lived in Montreux. The statues of King & Charles show how the city has become a destination for jazz enthusiasts. They were preparing for the 40th Annual Montreux Jazz Festival when we were there. The line-up was incredible.

Montreux is known to classic rock fans as well. In 1971, Deep Purple were staying in town to record, and at the same time, Frank Zappa was there to perform. A fan set fire to the venue for the Zappa concert, the Montreux Casino, with a flare gun (or a bottle rocket or something). From their hotel across the lake, the members of Deep Purple watched the "fire in the sky" and the "smoke on the water." A legendary inspiration to metal.

Just outside of Montreux is the Château de Chillon, a castle that dates from the 11th century. It has a natural moat, having been built on a small island just in from the lake's edge. Lord Byron, inspired by the tale of a Genevois monk who was imprisoned in the basement for 6 years, wrote The Prisoner of Chillion after visiting the castle. He also add a bit of graffiti to the dungeon, carving his name into the stone. You can still clearly make out his name.

Images of Montreux, Freddy Mercury, Vladimir Nabokov and Château de Chillon

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lunch in Annecy

Our lunch spot during the drive from Lyon, France, to Montreux, Switzerland, was dictated by our stomachs. Thank you, stomachs! We stopped in Annecy, in the north-eastern edge of Rhône-Alpes region. The architecture and cuisine of the city reveals the influences that Geneva had on it over the centuries. Our visit consisted of a hearty lunch and solid hour of wandering. For lunch, I enjoyed raclette while Dana chose a healthier option. I'm not sure how you can get much healthier than raclette, though: a block of cheese is stuck above a heater, then you scrape the melting cheese onto potatoes, bread, onions and gherkins.

Annecy is located on the second largest lake in France, Lake Annecy. The lake, known for being possibly the cleanest lake in Europe, is full of swans and paddle boats. The Thiou canal runs through the city, making it a wonderful spot for photographers. The Palais de l'Isle, built in 1132, is the most striking building in the city. We stumbled upon this beautiful location, and our visit was cut short by rain, but if I were planning the Big Trip now, I would certainly include a night or two in Annecy.

Beautiful Annecy

The Mary Murray & The Shah of Iran's Yacht

Chris left an interesting comment on my Raritan River post. He asked about the abandoned boats on the river's edge, pictured to the right. I'll tackle those boats one at a time:

- The Mary Murray was a Staten Island ferry boat, commissioned in 1937 and named after Mary Lindley Murray, who helped the American troops during the Revolutionary War by distracting the British officers and her Crown-loyal husband. The boat was sold at auction in 1982 to a man who owned a marina in East Brunswick. He planned to turn it into a floating restaurant, but it sank before he managed to get to its final destination. I found some great old photos from when the boat could carry people and stay afloat.

Here's a site with some photos of the inside.

- The yacht next to the Mary Murray did used to belong to the Shah of Iran. As we all know, the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, came to the US for "medical treatment" in 1979. The Iranians weren't too happy about to, and we wound up with a hostage crisis. What most people don't know is that the shah never left American soil. After sending a body double to Egypt to fake his "death", he lived on a yacht in the Raritan River, New Jersey. His boat parties are legendary, and his fondness for Huey Lewis music and Ralph Macchio movies are still the talk of Jersey, but one day, while playing a game of chicken, he accidentally ran his boat aground. Ashamed, he avoided human contact for over a decade, living inside the Mary Murray and living off of egrets. He finally decided to return to life among the civil, and, at 87, he is the oldest bartender at the boat club. He's also become a vegan, which is why the egrets have finally begun to inhabit New Jersey waters once more.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the Roaring Raritan River with Jim & Gail

Saturday was very cool for mid-August, but perfect for an all-fishing, non-swimming day on the boat! We drove on down to Edison to meet Jim and Gail at the Raritan River Boat Club and set off. I have had very limited exposure to the waterways of the New York area, so this was a real treat. My Uncle Arthur used to have a boat off of Massapequa and my dad swam in the East River as a child, but that's about it.

The boat club was a location for The Sopranos twice: once when the detective jumps off the Route 1 Bridge, and once when one of Junior's crew as rubbed out. Along the Raritan River we passed some fantastic non-HBO-televised sights... from the wrecked yacht of the shah of Iran and the sinking ferry boat from Staten Island to impressive power plants and the expanding Garden State Parkway bridges, it's a place of true urban river beauty.

Much of the land just off the river used to be landfill, and some of it still is, but most have been reclaimed by the wildlife that used to own this land: fox, deer, osprey & egret. We were not too successful with the fishing, pulling in only a sea robin and tiny fluke. Honestly, I felt better about leaving all of the wildlife in place. More for next time!

We had a great time just relaxing on the boat, enjoying the weather, company and beverages. Late afternoon we drove into a marina for some food and steady land. The place had the biggest shrimp I've ever seen! The steamers and French onion soup were also top notch.

We had a great day, and there are plenty of great photos of the day and the awesomely cool sunglasses that I was wearing. Take a look here.

No really, there are heaps of great photos, so please take a look.

Lyon at Night

Dana and I allowed ourselves one fancy-pants meal in each country we visited, and in France, we chose Lyon. On recommendation, we went to Le Sud, Paul Bocuse's restaurant that focuses on the cuisine of the south of France. The establishment was definitely upscale, and the food was very nice, but we did not feel that the service matched the rest of the place, especially the curtains. The curtains were classic eggshell-white, while the service was classic broken egg shells.

For starters, both of our menus were missing a page. This wasn't just the page for starters, but we did notice that other (mostly French) people had thicker menus and that people were eating things we didn't see on our menu. When we asked about it, in strained French, a waiter brought over the missing menu options as if we had asked for a glass of tap water and hurried off. We ordered, and the food was very good, but I have to mention one other thing: everyone else got bread as they were seated, and we didn't. I understand that in some places you have to request bread, but that was not the case here - or at least it was not offered and everyone around us had bread magically appear before them. I wanted to throw a tantrum for bread, but Dana didn't let me.

Throughout our trip, and even prior to it, while living in Australia and the US, we had been told by Americans that the French hate us. Until we reached Belgium, and even considering Le Sud, no other country offered better service than France. The French were courteous, and a guy at a breakfast place in Nice even asked about September 11! But yeah, the service at Le Sud sucked. Our acknowledgment showed in the tip, and recognition of our acknowledgment showed in the faces of the Frenchmen who blew us off for 2 hours.

Our other big Lyon experience was on our last night. Dana and I were in the historic part of town when heavy rain began pouring down. We found a great place to eat, the greatest toilet in the world and then found it quite difficult to find any sort of pub or bar that was still open. Finally we were drawn by the music of an establishment glowing warmly in the rainy night. We quickly realized that it was an American bar! They had Westmalle Tripel on tap, we stayed and soon made a new friend. Raphael joined us until we decided to brave the rain again and head back to the hotel. The McDonald's nearby was closed, but the take-out window was open. People lined up in the rainy street to order food at the Walk-Thru. Service must have been pretty good.

See Lyon at night.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lyon, Lyons, Lions

Lyons, France, is the third largest city in the country and the capitol of the Rhône-Alpes region. As became the norm on this trip, we drove into town with the address of the hotel but no map or other clue as to how to get there. This was also where I began to perfect my homing technique. We drove in along the Rhône, and I used my power to get us within a few blocks of where we would be staying the night. I can't explain exactly how I use this power (lest I lose it), but it safely landed us near a train station. Dana stayed with the car while I ran wound the surrounding area until I found our street, backtracked to the car, and returned triumphant with vehicle, luggage and fiance. Often I was applauded in the streets.

The day of our arrival was the first rainy day of the trip, which was perfect, because we desperately needed to do some laundry. As the clothing tumbled, we spoke to family back home and said such foolish things as, "This is the first day of rain we've had!" The rain was very heavy, and marked the beginning of what we have come to call The Soaking Section of the Big Trip. We had a bit of rain nearly every day for the remainder of our travels. This usually drove us indoors, cutting short our photo-taking of statues and increasing the number of stranger-meeting in pubs.

Our stay in Lyon was three nights, so we had plenty of opportunities to see the sights. Our hotel was in the new part of the city, but the historic center was a short walk away. Specifically, we stayed in the 2ème arrondissement, between the Rhône and Saône rivers, near the Perrache Station. It turned out that the station itself may not be too safe at night, but we didn't wander in at any time. The walk towards the old town and Fourvière hill was through Rue Victor Hugo, a wide pedestrian street lines with shops. The shops were closed most of the time we were there, so that was perfect. (Yhe street pictured in the old town, not Rue Victor Hugo)

The funky bridges over the Saône River brought us to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens and the old, narrow streets that surround it. At the main doors the cathedral, we witnessed an interesting altercation when a group of Boy Scouts opened the wrong doors from within the church, waking up a few slumbering homeless people. One bearded homeless man shouted particularly loudly at the Scouts, who appeared much too old to be even Eagle Scouts, put their kerchiefs and walking sticks gave them away. Tourists were unsure how to diffuse the situation, but the homeless man's dog didn't hesitate to join the argument. Perhaps because he, too, was kerchiefed and felt an especially strong responsibility to make it clear to his kerchiefed brethren that future disturbances will not be tolerated.

We hiked up Fourvière for a good view of the city. The top is dominated by the bizarre Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, built in the late 19th century with a combination of a number of styles, such as Byzantine, Gothic & Greek. Near the basilica is the the Tour métallique de Fourvière, a giant mettalic tower built to rival the Eiffel Tower. It doesn't quite cut it. Also up on this hill are the remains of two Roman theaters and Roman baths, built in the 1st century BC. The theaters are used for concerts all summer long. The Roman baths are no longer used.

Lyons? Lyon? I'm not sure which is the correct way to spell it, but it's pronounced like the latter.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Villa in Cortona

Dana's mum rented a villa just outside Cortona so that some loved ones could join her to celebrate her 19th birthday. I was one of those loved ones, and this is my story.

When I found out how many people had been invited to stay at the old farmhouse, I was sure that Dana and I would get a cot, at best. At worst, some patches of hay under a couple of dairy cows. How pleasantly surprised were we when we had our own bedroom, complete with a private bath! And a bidet! Neither Dana nor I had the pleasure of using the plumbing wonder, but Tom did when he neglected to check for an adequate supply of toilet paper while using our station late one night.

The villa was perfect for a large group: adequate parking, plenty of rooms, a pool, laundry and easy access to the historic cities of Tuscany and Umbria. While the food in those historic cities was great, one of the best meals we had was served in-house. Arlene and Ann hired a chef to come to the house to cook dinner for the actual birthday celebration. The night was great, and the only person who had to drive home was the chef!

Check it out.

(Yes, there was one scorpion on a wall one night.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Stop in Orange

Orange is an old Roman town in Vaucluse. We stopped there on the way from Avignon to Lyons. The town was built in the 1st century BC and retains much of its original Roman architecture. Two structures are especially magnificent: the Théâtre Antique d'Orange and the Arc de Triomphe d'Orange. We drove by the triumphal arch, but spent a good deal of time in the old Roman theater. This is the best-preserved Roman theater in Europe and the only one in Europe that still has its massive wall. The entrance fee included an audio guide in the language of our choice. I chose English and found the tour informative; Dana chose Olde English and found the tour challenging.

It was amazing to hear what sort of entertainment used to available to the public on this stage so many centuries ago. It started out with sophisticated comedy, tragedy & drama, but soon soon turned to base humor and cheap shock value before ultimately turning into a deplorable low-brow shlock-fest. Sounds like here's where they laid the groundwork for the modern day sitcom!

Multicolor photos of Orange.

Take it ALL Off

I've always struggled with the heat, so I decided to cut my hair extremely short to help keep my head cool. Plus, I figured, I'd save hundred on shampoo, hair paste and barber shop visits!

I was considered shaving my head a few months ago, back in Sydney, but it was right around the time I was planning to propose to Dana. Dana wasn't too keen on the idea at the time, and I decided to keep my hair in order to increase the chances of an affirmative response. I got one.

The Sydney shave fest was at my place of employment at the time... it was a fund-raiser for leukemia research called The World's Greatest Shave. It's a good cause, so instead of shaving, I had an entire can of hair coloring dumped on my head, which made breathing fun. Many of my coworkers had their heads shaved, and it changed the entire look of the office. People seemed to glide around much faster, and the southerly wind was much stronger until hairs grew back on heads.

I was a bit worried about what my head would look like after the covering had been removed. A friend of mine found out that he had a conehead. Once bald, he was an excellent diver - no splash at all! - and he did a wicked headspin. They called him The Drill. Sadly, the shape of my head does not have such a unique shape.

Tom shaving my head.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bridges & Cheese

This was what our day trip from Avignon was all about: Bridges and cheese. The cheese was in between the bridges.

Bridge: Pont du Gard*
An aqueduct built in the 1st century AD by the Romans, the Pont du Gard carried water from Uzès to Nîmes, 31 miles away. How much water? About 5 million gallons a day. The river, Gardon, is serene, as is the parkland on either side of it. At least the slaves building the aqueduct had fresh air and beautiful surroundings.
*OK, this isn't really a bridge, but a pedestrian bridge was built alongside it in 1743 and that still stands too.

Cheese: Roquefort
This was what the day was all about. It was a good 4 hour drive from Avignon, but it sure was scenic! Roquefort-sur-Soulzon is a town on a mountain in Aveyron. We stopped at the even smaller town of Nant for lunch as soon as we realized that lunchtime was coming to an end and we had a long way to go before we reached Cheeseland. Nant was the kind of place you would want to stay if you were looking for an off-the-beaten-path town in the south of France, but you wouldn't know to stay there because no one has ever heard of it. Lunch was very tasty.

Once we made it to our cheese heaven, we did a tour of the famous caves. Famous caves? Oh yes. Here is the legend of Roquefort cheese:
A shepherd (not the same one who built the bridge in Avignon) was enjoying some sheep curd on rye bread when we stopped for a rest in a cave, as you do. He forgot his sandwich on a ledge, but came across it the following year. I guess he was really friggin hungry because he ate it... and it tasted great! Make what you will of the legend, the bottom line is that the cheese is wonderful.

"How do they make said cheese, pray tell?"

I'm glad you asked! They bake loaves of rye bread at high temperatures so that the outside burns and the inside is uncooked. Then they places these loaves in the caves beneath the town. The caves are a constant temperature all year long. Something about the humidity and temperature is magical, and the mold that forms on the bread is really great. They sprinkle the mold into the ewe's curd, pack them into wheels and let time do its thing. Once the cheese is ready, they cut the wheel in half to prevent it from maturing/fermenting any further. The tour we did was completely in French, so I learned all that by lip-reading. There are only seven producers of Roquefort cheese. In order for a cheese to be "Roquefort", it has to be made in the caves below the town and the sheep have to graze within a set region. Picky stinky cheese, I love it!

Bridge: Millau Viaduct
Now THIS is a bridge! The highest bridge in the world... taller than the Eiffel Tower and only 125 feet shorter than the Empire State Building, it opened in 2004. The bridge crosses the valley of the River Tarn. It's a real beauty. Dana and I love crossing bridges, so it was a treat to drive over... if only we had been able to walk over it! We didn't plan on driving over it, but Dana got us dreadfully lost and we had to cross it to save time. Thanks Dana!

Bridges and cheese.

A Sink in New York

Here's a sink in New York.

Avignon - Dance!

In the old city of Avignon, the home of the Palace of the Popes, we were told one thing repeatedly, and so I feel I should begin this blog entry with it: ready? are you sure? OK, here we go... in the classic folk song "Sur le pont d'Avignon", they sing about dancing on the bridge, when, in fact, they danced beneath the bridge!

Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond
Les beaux messieurs font comm' ça
Et puis encore comm' ça
So it should have been sous le pont. Haha! Good times.

The Pont d'Avignon (Pont Saint-Bénezet) was a 22-arch bridge crossing the mighty Rhône River. Built in the 12th centure, it was the only fixed Rhône River crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. Thanks to this bridge, Avignon became a very important town. The bridge was destroyed by a flood in the 17th century, and only four arches remain. The chapel built into the bridge is still there too.

What's even more interesting is how it was built: a shepherd boy came into town one day and said, "Ye, Avignonians, listen to whast I bespeak! Angels hath bespokenth to me and I've gotta build a friggin bridge!" Of course the townspeople though he was crazy, so the priest (it was a Mass he interrupted with his announcement), leaned down and said, "What sayeth you, shepherd boy? Arst though mad? If what ye say be trueth, picketh upeth that massiveth boulder and layeth the firsteth stone!" With that, the shepherd, Bénezet was his name, picked up the boulder, which was on the floor of the church for some reason, and carried it down to the shores of the river. Then they built a bridge. Maybe some details have been lost over time, but it is an incredible story!

Avignon was also home to the popes for a while. Rome was in political turmoil in the beginning of the 14th century, so they set up shop in Avignon and lived in the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) for about a hundred years. This was also the home of two renegade popes (antipopes) during the Papal Schism at the turn of the coming century. The building is beautiful and the audio tour is very informative. A must stop if you're in Provence.

Photos we took.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monaco & Monte Carlo

Monaco & Monte Carlo! You've seen them in films! You've read about them! Grace Kelly died there!

So let's leave it at that. Don't bother going, just rent Casino Royale and drink $800 worth of champagne. I was liberated by leasing a car, and Dana was liberated by burning her bra, so we decided to head "20 minutes up the coast" to one of the most famous tax-free locations outside of Wesley Snipe's estate: Monaco. Snipped from Wikipedia, Monaco is "the world's most densely populated country and second-smallest independent nation; with a population of just 32,410 and an area of 1.96 square kilometers." And I think every human there owns two boats. Don't get my wrong... the place is beautiful, but it just doesn't live up to the hype. Perhaps if they installed a ride where You too can drive off a cliff and into the sea! then it would be worth a visit. We found the traffic appalling and everything very expensive. We didn't even buy a panini there.

Just a few more points here... this might be a great stop for someone who has tons of money and doesn't know were to offload it. If you asked me, my first suggestion might be a soup kitchen, but this tax-free constitutional monarchy is a good second choice. I have also never seen so many tourists sitting around. It seemed to me that they were expected to do nothing, once pushed out of their buses, besides look around in awe. Few were talking, so I guess they were pretending that this was more fun than Euro-Disney, but I think this place is in dire need of some good old fashioned streakers. I'm looking into organizing a tour bus full of them now... email me if you are interested. In the meantime, there are some good photos.