Sunday, February 23, 2014

Joyeux Noel from the South of France - Part 3, Avignon

After my thoroughly enjoyable day in Grasse, I headed toward the dark. Probably not the best plan in my rental car not having a clue where or what I was driving to but it all turned out just fine.  

Arriving in Avignon

Avignon is a little tricky with it's extremely narrow one lane roads and once I arrived in my hotel I found there wasn't any parking.... anywhere...crap.  So I did what any good Mass-hole (that's a technical term by the way) would do...I parked illegally for a few minutes and hopped into the hotel to find out where to go to park.
Hotel de l'Horloge in Avignon...I would definitely stay here again.  It was quiet, lovely and perfectly situated

My hotel was just around the corner from Palais des Papes in the old part of Avignon (although I am not convinced there is anything in Avignon that is not ancient) and within the wall that surrounds the oldest part of the city.  Sometimes it's a crap shoot picking hotels online site unseen but I definitely go lucky on this trip...the hotel was perfect.  Couldn't have asked for a better location, clean well furnished room and lovely staff.  

My first day in Avignon it rained, and when I say it rained it wasn't a lite drizzle it was RAIN. So I did what any good woman would do..I pulled the umbrella out of my suitcase and shopped.  

Snapped this quick Tablescape shot at a fabulous shop in Avignon...Au Jardin De Provence

Avignon has many of the same shops we have in the states but many, many more we don't have.  It was so much fun to check out the trends in the windows as well as what all of the other French women were wearing.  Can you say studded/bedazzled/jeweled boots?  Love!

A little break from the americano & berry cobbler...oh my

With that out of my system the next day I put my tourist hat on and ventured over to Palais des Papes.  

Palais des Papes in Avignon France

In the middle 14th century amongst political unrest on Italy the newly instated French Pope moved the papacy to Avignon and started construction on this palace.

Exterior courtyard at Palais des Papes

It was fully constructed in roughly 20's impossible to believe as your walking through that it was constructed over such a short period.  

The Dining room at Palais des Papes...can you seriously imagine
setting a table in here?
Inner Courtyard at Palais des Papes

Also hard to believe the history your walking through as you think about all that. Must have occurred in the world during the lives of the 9 popes who lived an ruled here.  

Just outside of the Palais des Papes

To describe this palace as magnificent is a terrible understatement but it's the only word I have.  I spent the better part of my day meandering through the palace and grounds

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Joyeux Noel from the South of France - Part 2, Grasse

Next stop, a train to Nice where I was going to pick up a rental car to drive to Avignon.  

But before we leave Monaco I do want to share one story that pretty much typifies my experience in Monaco.  I was on the bus heading to the train station not really entirely sure how far the stop was.  The hotel concierge was kind enough to write down the stop so I knew what words I was looking for but I froze when trying to find the words to ask the bus driver so I figured I'd just bluff my way through it.  Well, a really lovely older lady dressed just impeccably came on the bus...not a hair out of place.  She must have noticed me looking at every stop so when the bus stopped at the Gare (train) stop she pointed for me to get off.  I'm sure such a small gesture of kindness to a stranger for her but such a big one for me....

Hoping a train from Monaco to Nice

Ok, so driving in France was a little daunting but I don't really think it occurred to me how daunting until I was actually sitting in the drivers seat of my mid sized Peugeot (the only one available with GPS)in the Hertz parking lot.  

Driving in a different city in the US is one thing but driving in Nice?  Well, after a short tiny panic attack I took a very deep breath, put the car in drive and prayed for the best as I backed out of the smallest of parking spots and turned my wheel as far to the right as it would go and held it there to avoid the walls of the very narrow steep spiral parking garage exit and headed out to the streets.

There were a few towns on the way to Avignon that I had planned to stop in if I had time/opportunity.  I didn't really plan it out with much detail,  just figured I would take it as I went but did have a rough plan.

My first stop was Grasse.  From what I could tell Grasse is really centered around the 3 perfumeries that are located there.  

Fragonard is the largest and was definitely on my to do list.  They offer tours and have large shops as well as a couple of museum exhibits in town.  

Making soap on the Fragonard Tour 

I ended up spending the rest of my day here enjoying the beauty of Grasse and meandering through the free museum exhibits.  

Shopping in Grasse

Grasse France

Such a charming town and I do love that they really do celebrate their perfume heritage. I definitely could have stayed a bit longer but I still had quite a bit to go to get to Avignon and dusk was approaching.  

To be up Avignon.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Joyeux Noel from the South of France - Part 1, Monaco

I don't know about you but while fully enjoyable I find the holidays a bit stressful each year.  I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist by nature so the pressure each year to have that Norman Rockwell Christmas just creeps in even with my best vows to rein it I each year.  So, after another perfectly imperfect holiday last year I vowed to change it up in 2013 to force a more relaxed holiday upon myself.

It all really started last Christmas as I was blog surfing and I stumbled upon some posts from Katy Elliott about a trip she & her husband had made to Provence.  It looked like just the perfect place to escape to.  The seeds were planted....I was going to France.  Nevermind that I didn't (and still don't) speak French and really new very little about the country...except of course that Paris is absolutely fabulous.

And....Audrey Hepburn famously said "Paris is always a good idea"...well, not for this trip.  I was hoping for a little warmer climate plus Paris at Christmas without a special someone by my side...not so much thank you. The warmer temps made Monaco, Nice & Avignon much more appealing.

So, flights booked I headed off to Nice on Christmas Day and after a fairly uneventful 10 hrs hopped a bus to Monaco for my first night.  

Waiting for a bust to take me to Monaco.  Couldn't have been any
easier...just step outside of the airport & wait.
Ok, so not knowing much about Monaco except its only about 1 square mile in its entirety I only planned to stay one day before heading to Avignon so I tried to make the most of my limited time and first thing in the morning headed out for a walk to see the beach/boardwalk.

The boats were just breathtaking...and beyond anything I had ever expected existed in swank

Then headed off to see just where Prince Rainier & Princess Grace lived out their days.

Approaching the Princes's quite a hike (yes those
buildings down by the water were the same from the photo
above) if you're going to walk it...but oh so worth it.
It was just beautiful and I found the people extremely warm to an American who could barely utter bonjour without feeling like I was somehow butchering it. 

The Prince's Palace..fairly unassuming for a palace I thought

Only planning on one day was really a mistake, oh my gosh I love Monaco!  I really didn't get to see all I wanted to but trust me I will be back!