Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Pills and Smokin' Gladiators

Vacation time is fun time.  At least, it should be.  Often, I've noticed vacationers get so focused on hitting all the items on their mental To Do list that they forget the "fun time"part of their trip. Or--and this is a pet peeve of mine--they spend so much time taking photographs of those To Do list items that they don't actually enjoy them.

When I return home from a trip, I'm often teased about my vacation photography.  Not because the pictures are poor, but because I often use them in my Christmas cards, to create notecards, on my blog, etc.  But here's the thing:  I go on vacation to have fun, not simply to take photos.  But if the very act of taking a photo can be fun, or remind you of a fun experience, then I say snap away.

For instance, my dear husband's brother often calls my husband (a more crass term for) a horse's  hindquarters.  On one European vacation, I decided that, instead of taking photos of statues, I'd take photos of the backside of every horse statue I encountered.  The end result (so to speak) was one of the most hysterical visits I've ever made to Notre Dame cathedral.  When I turned my back to the cathedral to snap a photo of King Charles on his horse (which was also facing away from the cathedral), an entire busload of tourists whipped around with their cameras to see what shot they should be taking.

I can't even think of Notre Dame without thinking of those tourists.   It was hilarious.

Every vacation for the rest of that year, my husband and I entertained ourselves by snapping photos of the backside of every horse statue we saw (that's when we realized just how many statues there are of men on horses.)  We laughed ourselves silly every time we saw a horse statue.  Best of all, that Christmas, my husband and I presented his brother with a lovely photo book containing shots of horses from famous sites around the world--Versailles, Florence, Madrid, and yes, Notre Dame.  As you might guess, hilarity ensued when my brother-in-law realized the nature of the gift.

So today, I'm posting some of the fun photos from my last trip.  These were the result of those occasions when the mere act of lifting the camera to my eye to take the shot made me laugh.  Having photos like these are a good reminder that humor can be found anywhere--you simply need to look around.

In Barcelona:  A pharmacy guaranteed to make you perky.

And if the pills don't work, you can always mark your grave this way.

Then, have this guy walk all over you.  Yes, this was taken in a church, in the central courtyard.  He wanted to eat my camera.

From Tunis:  I assume this is where you put your money when you are praying it'll stay safe.

From Corsica:  What is this mannequin doing with her arm?  This was in a display of Corsican costume at Napoleon's birthplace.  I couldn't figure out how anyone would get far carrying vegetables this way.  Looks painful!

In Rome:  Proof that you can get gelati in any flavor imaginable.  I can't imagine eating some of these flavors (chocolate with hot peppers?  and what is "pera cheese?"), but if you wanted to, you could.

A not-so-subtle warning not to honk your horn.

And finally, a tattooed, smokin' gladiator.  (If you want a better look, click on the photo, then hit your back button to return.)  He was outside the Colosseum, taking a breather from having his photo taken with tourists.  But he was still willing to give me a smile.  I think this was the best photo of the entire trip.

 Maybe I'll have it made into a notecard.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Peace in Nice

Last stop on the 2010 Med Tour:  Villefranche, France.

My coffee-at-sunrise habit firmly entrenched, I watched a brilliant sunrise from my balcony, then shot this photo as the ship pulled into Villefranche, a beautiful little town located halfway between Nice, France, and Monaco:

As soon as we were off the ship, we bypassed the cafes (which were beautiful, but quickly becoming crowded with tourists streaming off the ship) and walked up the hill to catch the morning bus to Nice.  It only took twenty minutes or so to get into Nice, and the bus ride along the coast was gorgeous.  From the bus station in Nice, it was a leisurely walk through a park to the morning market, where we perused antiques before settling down to breakfast.  I absolutely loved the places we found along this alleyway, away from the crowds, where the only sounds were the grinding of coffee beans, the soft swoosh of pastry being shuffled from baking sheets onto waiting plates, and quiet French being spoken:

After breakfast, we wandered to the beach, then back through town to pop our heads into a couple of Nice's cathedrals before going back to the bus station for the quick ride to the village of Eze.  Eze le Village is a medieval town perched high over the Mediterranean, offering views from Italy to Nice on a clear day (which is what we were fortunate enough to have!)  From the bus stop, we walked through an outdoor market and peeked at a few vegetable stands, then at this display of spices, before making the long climb uphill to see the views.

Eze is a rabbit warren of alleyways, with quaint shops, inns, and restaurants tucked around every corner.  Doesn't this look like a fantastic place to explore?

It's a hike to the top, but the view is worth it.  Along the way, we guessed the value of the real estate not only due to the view and location, but because of the cars parked on the steep hillsides (if you click on the photo, it'll show a bigger image.  Hit your back button to return to the blog.)

And the water view:

After stopping at a tiny cliffside cafe for a drink, we decided we had enough time to head to Monaco for a late lunch and some sightseeing.  The bus ride from Eze (after we hiked back down, that is!) took less than half an hour.  Rather than take the bus all the way to the casino area, we hopped off just over the border, then walked downhill through a maze of apartment buildings and gardens.  The flowers hanging over the walkways were too pretty to resist.

I know that, as a tourist, one "should" see the casinos and the Grand Prix race course, but I preferred taking this route.  I visited Monaco once before, but it was pouring rain then and we were forced to stay indoors.  This time I wanted to see what Monaco has to offer outdoors, and to see the world in which most Monégasques live (hint: it's not in the casino.)  We stopped for pizza near the castle, and--surprise!--I truly think it was the best pizza I've had in my life.  (My husband ranked it at about #2 or #3...his #1 pizza place is in Sorrento, Italy.)  

We spent most of the afternoon walking, taking in the views of the waterfront and the million-dollar boats docked there before heading to the cathedral for a quick walk-through, and then to Monaco's famous aquarium.  While the aquarium is definitely THE place in Monaco for tourist crowds, the DH and I had just seen the documentary Oceans (VERY highly recommended!) and were in the mood to see some aquatic life.  (Note:  Prince Albert of Monaco was one of the sponsors of the film, and is also a huge supporter of Monaco's aquarium.)  The aquarium is breathtaking.  If you ever happen to be in Monaco (not that anyone "happens" to be in Monaco, but if you ever get there....) definitely visit its aquarium.

Afterward, we walked until we absolutely had to catch the bus back to Villefranche to make our ship's departure time.  But...I did manage to have one picture taken in Monaco.  (Proof that I really did go on this trip!)

We made it back to Villefranche with just enough time to spare to grab a final gelati from a cafe near the dock, which I think is the perfect way to wind up a Mediterranean vacation.

I wouldn't say the last day of the trip was my favorite location--I'd have to go with Corsica or Malta for that--but it was certainly the most relaxing.  No schedule, no Must Do List, no crowds, no rain.

Of course, the end of the vacation means a return to the writing schedule, but I'm fine with that.  Happier, in fact, for having left my desk for awhile to explore.