Get Away From The Grind On Grinda

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Grinda is a smaller, traffic-free island in Stockholm’s archipelago (a little over an hour from Stockholm).  We got there by taking a ferry from Vauxholm.  At just over a mile long, it’s not huge but that’s part of the attraction.  It’s small enough to be car free.  I love cities, but some of the most relaxing trips we’ve had have been to car-free destinations (ZermattSaas-Fee, MegeveLes Baux de ProvenceAix-en-ProvenceVenceSt. Paul-de-VenceEze, Les Baux de ProvenceCourmayeurAvignonGimmelwaldGruyeres).  I don’t know whether it is the lack of noise so you can hear the birds or just being able to walk in peace, but somehow without cars stress seems to melt away. It’s idyllic.

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The tomography reminded me of Maine‘s coast.  Like Maine, there’s plenty of wilderness.  Grinda has nature reserve.

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Although there are several gorgeous swimming beaches, we rented a sauna.  When we started to melt, we jumped off the dock out front into the Baltic Sea (Östersjön in Swedish).  I was expecting it to be salty like the Atlantic Ocean; it wasn’t.  The Baltic is brackish and not very salty.  It’s not warm either, but that’s no surprise.  We listened to the waves lap against the coastline.  It made for a wonderfully relaxing and peaceful afternoon.

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The trip there takes just over an hour from Stockholm on the Cinderella boats.  If you happen to go, the welcome center/commerce cabin (near the ferry dock) rents rooms at the hostel, cabins, campsites, saunas, kayaks and fun thinks like lawn games and kites.  Since Sweden would probably cease functioning without coffee, they also have it there.

DSC_0115DSC_0156Grinda has a general store that sells the necessities, candy and fancy homemade baked goods.  Come to think of it, those are actually necessities on vacation.  There’s a harbor side restaurant with a deck near the marina.

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It’s hard to tell from the picture below, but the tables were crowded.  The food and drink there was surprisingly cosmopolitan.

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Walking around the island, we saw sheep and cows.   They went to town on the grass and didn’t seem to care that you could get fancy cocktails and smoked salmon just up the road.

DSC_0151Serene, rustic and uber-chill, this is a place where you can’t help but relax.  My only regret is that we didn’t stay the night.  I’m sure the stars there are amazing.

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Find Out About Stops on the 2013 Tour De France

Route of the 2013 Tour De France from Wikipedia

It’s that time again!  Regular readers of this blog know that I love cycling and I’ve posted about it:

The 2013 Tour de France starts today!!!!  The route and schedule is different each year.  Lately, the tour has ventured into neighboring countries including: Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxenbourg, the United Kingdom and Spain.   This year, it’s all in France.   It is the 100th anniversary of the tour and the route is epic!

For those of you Tour enthusiasts out there who want to see some posts about places along the route, I thought I’d post the route links to posts about places on it.  Stages 1-3 are in Corsica, the only departments (kind of like states the tour hasn’t yet visited.  We haven’t been, but hear its beautiful.  Napoleon, Leticia Casta and Garance Dore all hail from this Mediterranean island.

Stage 1:  June 29, Porto-Vecchio – Bastia (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 213 km (132 mi), Flat stage

Stage 2:  June 30, Bastia – Ajaccio (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica),  156 km (97 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 3:  July 1, Ajaccio – Calvi (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 145.5 km (90 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 4:  July 2, Nice – Nice (Alpes-Maritimes part  of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 25 km (16 mi), Team time trial

We visited Nice and wrote a couple of posts on it (NiceBreakdancers in Nice).  It’s in the Cote d’Azur, also known as the French Rivera.  It’s sunny and has beautiful water.  Villefranche, the town next door to Nice, is adorable, hilly and calmer.

Stage 5:  July 3, Cagnes-sur-Mer – Marseille (Alpes-Maritimes and Bouches-du-Rhône parts of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 228.5 km (142 mi), Flat stage

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Our favorite part of the south of France was the hill towns just inland from the sea Eze (via the infamous Grande Corniche road that is popular with cyclists), VenceSt. Paul-de-Vence).  The tour goes right by Vence as it cuts through the hills behind the coast on the way to Marseille.  On the way, it passes through Brignoles.  Although I haven’t posted about it, we’ve been.  Here are some pics of the town and the route (the church is Abbaye de La Celle, a 12th-century Benedictine abbey that served as a convent until the 17th century).

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We visited Aix (Our AixperienceKnife Fight in Aix) Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers,.  Not that the riders will have time to enjoy it, but it is a lovely and tres French old town that dates back to Roman times.

Stage 6:  July 4, Aix-en-Provence – Montpellier (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon departments), 176.5 km (110 mi), Flat stage

The tour will pass by the delightfully scruffy town of Arles (Arles Better Than NewWhat’s Latin For Roman? Finding Out All About Ancient Rome In Arles).  It’s known for its amazing Roman ruins, for Van Gogh and Gauguin.  They were roomies there.  In fact, it was in Arles that old Vinnie sliced off his ear.    The famous aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, is also nearby. It’s impressive.

They will also go by one of the most beautiful towns in the south of France, Les Baux de Provence (We Didn’t Know The Valley Of Hell Was So Beautiful, Les Baux).  The helicopters will be out in force there.

Stage 7:  July 5, Montpellier – Albi (Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées departments), 205.5 km (128 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 8:  July 6, Castres – Ax 3 Domaines (Midi-Pyrénées department), 195 km (121 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 9:  July 7, Saint-Girons – Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Hautes-Pyrénées department), 168.5 km (105 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 10:  July 9, Saint-Gildas-des-Bois – Saint-Malo (Brittany region, Ille-et-Vilaine department), 197 km (122 mi), Flat stage

Stage 11:  July 10, Avranches – Mont Saint-Michel (Lower Normandy in the Manche  department), 33 km (21 mi), Flat stage, Individual time trial

Stage 12:  July 11, Fougères – Tours (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire department), 218 km (135 mi), Flat stage

Stage 13:  July 12, Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire and Cher departments), 173 km (107 mi), Flat stage

Stage 14:  July 13, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule – Lyon (Auvergne region in the Allier department and the Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 191 km (119 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 15:  July 14, Givors – Mont Ventoux (Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 242.5 km (151 mi), Mountain stage

Although I don’t have any great shots of the infamous Mont Ventoux, the stage will be epic. Undoubtedly, they will have at least passing coverage of the nearby town of Orange (Visiting Ancient Rome in Orange, France).  Chateau Neuf-du-Pape is nearby as are the Cotes du Rhone (Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rocked Us…LiterallyWine Museum In Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

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Stage 16:  July 16, Vaison-la-Romaine – Gap, (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Vaucluse department), 168 km (104 mi), Medium-mountain stage

DSC_0930I haven’t posted about this area, but will soon.  I promise.

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Stage 17:  July 17, Embrun – Chorges (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 32 km (20 mi), Individual time trial

Stage 18:  July 18, Gap – Alpe d’Huez (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 172.5 km (107 mi), Mountain stage

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Stage 19:  July 19, Le Bourg-d’Oisans – Le Grand-Bornand (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 204.5 km (127 mi), Mountain stage

The roads in this area are narrow and windy.  The area is steep.  It could be an interesting stage.

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Stage 20:  July 20, Annecy – Mont Semnoz Annecy – Mont Semnoz  (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 125 km (78 mi), Mountain stage

As is close to Geneva, visits are a favorite of visitors.  It is a beautiful town in a stunning setting ( AnnecyVenetian CarnivalMurder Mystery In Idyllic Annecy).  It was in the news last year for a brutal quadruple murder in the mountains just outside the town.  Just days ago, an arrest was made.

Stage 20:  July 21, Versailles – Paris (Île-de-France region) 133.5 km (83 mi), Flat stage

The last stage is usually ceremonial for everyone but the sprinters, so it leaves plenty of time for coverage of  Paris’ many sights (Break Dancers In Paris Have Mad SkillsNavigating Paris Museums in a Wheelchair, The Paris Subway Iconic Signs, Tourists Mob Paris, Here’s How To Manage, Notre Dame, Street Performers in Paris, I.M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid, Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!Flying Buttresses).

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If you’re actually enough of a Tour geek to read down this far, you might know Bob Roll.  Tell Bobbke that I’m a huge fan.  I’m a pretty good time, but only wish I could be as fun as he is.

Our Aixperience

We visited Aix-en-Provence and saw a knife fight.   That wasn’t the only thing we saw.

After leaving the restaurant at dusk, we strolled the streets.  Some towns roll up the sidewalks after dark; Aix does not.  It is practically mandatory to walk the streets in the evening and have a drink on cafe terraces.  Yep.  Streetwalking is mandatory.  It’s especially nice because the old town (vielle ville) is car free, easy to navigate and a manageable size.

Boulevard Mirabeau (Cours Mirabeau), is a grand avenue built on the site of the former ramparts in the 17th century.   Our favorite trees in Geneva, the plane tree, line and shade  the stately boulevard.  The overhanging trees provide much-needed shade on hot summer days.  Moss covered fountains are in the center of the avenue with stately old town houses behind the wide sidewalks.

We strolled it that evening, but went back the next morning to have coffee (and a croissant)  in the legendary café, Les Deux Garcons.  Dating from 1792, many famous people have dined here including: Picasso, Churchill, Edith Piaf, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Raimu, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean CocteauSophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Hugh Grant and George Clooney.  It was a regular haunt of Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola.  I can see why.  The cappuccino was tasty and the croissant was wonderfully light.  It was a treat to sit and watch the world pass.

Being American, we like a fast pace and giant to do lists.  It is impossible to live like that in Aix.  It is a place to stop, enjoy the view and make the mundane wonderful.

Aix is known for its many and varied markets.  They have normal markets, local producers markets, flower markets, antiques markets and old book markets.  We visited the morning market at Place Richelme (there are also markets at Place de Verdun, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and Place des Prêcheurs).  We picked up some fresh fruit and perused the many artisanal varieties of cheese, meats and breads.

 Aix-en-Provence is a university town (University of Provence Aix-Marseille) and filled with academics and students.  It also gets its fair share of aristocrats, people who are wealthy enough not to have to work and professionals.   It has a reputation for being a bit elitist.  If you are interested in Aix, it was immortalized by Peter Maille’s book “One Year in Provence.”

Like many other towns in the south of France (Arles, Orange, Vence), Aix was inhabited by the Romans.  They built thermal baths at Aix, Aquae Sextiae, around 2000 years ago.  Today you can visit the newer (18th-century hot-water baths) and modern spa built atop the old baths (you can see them from the lobby).

Car-Free Towns

Many “old towns” are (almost completely) car free.  Many towns, use a system of passes and barriers to ensure that the streets remain traffic free while allowing residents parking, taxis access and permitting deliveries.

Many streets in city centers are reserved for local business people, residents, city buses, or pedestrians. To enforce this the entry to the street is always marked as such, in the local language and with standard signs, and is often blocked by a couple of 8″ diameter steel posts rising up from the road. Those with permits have a swipe card which lowers the posts momentarily so they can drive through. If you try to sneak through right after someone goes in you might hear a sort of crunching sound as the posts come up under your car. This will be embarrassing and expensive.

Some of the car-free towns we have visited include:

To encourage walking, biking and the use of public transport, many European cities make it hard (and/or costly) to park.

  • limit the amount of parking spaces
  • implement or increase parking fees
  • Fees paid for parking are sometimes used to encourage non-car transportation.

Eliminating parking spaces in Copenhagen has made room for high-quality pedestrian districts and bike paths, while street space once used by cars has likewise been repurposed in Paris for bike sharing and tramways.

Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers

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Provence is windy.  During our trips to Provence, we saw a large number of wrought-iron bell towers.  Produced in Provence since the 16th century, they are unique to the region.   Once I saw my first one with The Luger on our trip to Avignon, I noticed them everywhere.

Near Les Baux

Their light and open framework allows the area’s strong winds, Le Mistral, to blow through them instead of blowing them over.  Their sound carries for miles.  They usually top the town hall or church, but can even top  a rampart gate.  Many of the towers have a strong Italian influence (which isn’t too surprising given Provence’s proximity to France and considering parts of the Côte d’Azur belonged to France at one time).

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from the highway

Near Pont du Gard

The bellowers date from different eras, but most were built in the 17th and 19th centuries.  They were typically produced by local craftsmen.  Each designed and crafted the tower in their own particular style.  As a result, they vary dramatically in style.  Cool huh?

City Hall in Aix-en-Provence

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On the way to Gap

Breaking Wind – Le Mistral

Provence was windy.  I’m not talking about a slight breeze.  I’m talking about a fierce, howling, incessant wind with giant gusts.  Provence is known for its ferocious, cold wind known locally as “Le Mistral” (or mistrau in Provençal).  It blows for days at a time, reaching speeds of 100 km/hr (62 miles/hr).  Some have described it as a hurricane with sunny weather.

WARNING! Please be careful during your visit, particularly if it is windy, especially near the edges of the cliffs, the Sarassine, the Paravelle towers and the Dunjon. Please keep an eye on your children! Culture Espaces accepts no responsibility. – Sign in Les Baux that translates into “if you get blown off the cliff it is your own fault.”

The result of an atmospheric phenomenon, it usually develops as a cold front moving down across France. Winter’s cold air piles up in the Alps before spilling over the mountaintops, down into the Rhône valley to the Mediterranean (towards Marseille).   It works to blows away clouds and moisture, providing towns like Aix-en-Provence with an average 300 sunny days a year. In our two trips to Provence, we experienced two rainy days.  Go figure.

Le Mistral is the single most important factor in shaping the Provence’s trees are  Provençal landscape.  Trees are permanently bent in the wind’s direction.  Vincent Van Gogh’s  swirling landscapes depict the the effects of the Mistral on the countryside.

Le Mistral flattens the grasses in the field, bends the top of the cypress trees and even in knocks over flower pots, tosses patio furniture around, tears the washing off the line, tosses garbage cans blocks away and pretty much sweeps away anything that isn’t tied down.    The howling wind even blows doors wide open and people off their feet!

When the Mistral blows, no one goes out unless they really have to.  People huddle indoors with their shutters battened; the streets are empty.  The wind becomes the topic of every conversation.   Legend has it that the Mistral will blow for one day, three, six, nine or even as many as twelve days.

Like the Föhn, people claim that Le Mistral can cause headaches, restlessness in children and even affect pets.  It makes everyone bad tempered and exasperated.  Some even claim that it causes mental instability, making people mad.  That was probably great for Van Gogh.

Le Mistral’s has positive effects on Provence and not just if you want to fly a kite, windsurf, or sail.  It blows stagnant waters dry and stopping disease from spreading.   Locals call it “mange fange” which translates into swamp eater. The Mistral’s winds drying effect on the area keeps the Rhône vines, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape, free of mildew (great for wine lovers).  The humidity in the air is blown away, leaving things dry and the view crystal clear (great for artists).

A Knife Fight In Aix

The south of France.  Aix-en-Provence.  Sounds pretty tony, right?   We thought so to, but were willing to give it a go anyway.  It is conveniently located near the intersection of two major highways and a central point for many of the things we wanted to see on our France trip.

Driving in, we were impressed by its majestic squares, shaded avenues, mossy fountains, and elegant mansions.  We checked into our hotel and went to dinner.  We went to Place des Cardeurs because it is a big piazza with lots of restaurants to choose from and outdoor seating.  It wasn’t anything fancy (he had a pizza and I had a big salad).

Right after our food arrived, we saw a scuffle on the sidewalk between the terrace where we were eating and the restaurant.  It was a Saturday night and a bit early for a bar fight, but hey, the local culture is different everywhere.  All of a sudden, one of the combatants pulled a knife out of his pants.

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II - Copyrigh...

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II – Copyright 1988, Paramount Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the scene in Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan says “that’s not a knife, THAT’s a knife.”  This guys knife made Paul Hogan’s look like a butter knife.  He had a machete.  What’s more, he was swinging it around.  The two guys (for the ease of explaining things, we’ll call them the Surly Drunks) jumping Mr. Machete both got slashed.  Waitstaff on the terrace borrowed cell phones and to cal the police.  By that point, we’d I’d stopped eating…for the rest of the night.

Our ringside seats. This all happened behind the vinaigre bottle. I didn’t want to attract the attention of the Surly Drunks and figured there were enough witnesses so I didn’t take any pictures.

Since it was two on one, Mr. Machete took refuge inside the restaurant.  We found out later that he was a local business owner; the area businesses clearly knew him.  The manager, servers and kitchen staff barred the door to separate (and protect) everyone until the police arrived.  The Surly Drunks outside were bleeding, possibly high, probably in shock and definitely not rational.  The Surly Drunks kept screaming for the him to come out and were talking a lot trash.  When he didn’t exit the restaurant, they tried, unsuccessfully, to force their way in.   The posse of servers, managers and cooks stopped them.  Angered by their failure, the Surly Drunks began breaking bottles and brandishing them.  They cut a cook before dropping the bottle in favor of hurling giant planters.   They threw some punches too.  He said they threw the punches like NBA players, not like hockey players.  Realizing they sucked at hand to hand combat, the Surly Drunks stopped throwing punches and started throwing chairs.

I’m not saying that police in the US always respond promptly (especially in certain neighborhoods), but we were astounded by how long it took the police to arrive in the center of town.  It took them at least 20 minutes to arrive.  Thank goodness the cooks had come out of nearby restaurants and followed the Surly Drunks so that the police could track them down.

The police arrived and went inside to interview Mr. Machete.  Paramedics came, tended to to the cook and took him away.  We’re pretty sure he had to go to the hospital for stitches because the slash on his neck was pretty ugly.

Cover of "Léon: The Professional (Theatri...

Cover via Amazon

Jean Reno plays and excellent French police officer in movies (Leon: The ProfessionalRoninThe Da Vinci Code,  French Kiss).  The police we saw didn’t appear to be as professional.   They seemed to be more like Louis de Funès in the Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez.  I saw them put evidence (multiple bloody shirts) in an old, balled up H&M  bag.  Obviously they do not watch CSI.

Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez

Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep! That’s the evidence in the H&M bag. Très CSI.

Go figure.  I saw more violence in the south of France than during the years I lived in Detroit.  Have a great weekend and stay safe!