Minding The Gap

Why were we here instead of on the highway?

While heading north towards Geneva, we got off the road and got to see the beauty of the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France.    It’s a good thing it was so beautiful, because our 3-4 hour drive home ended up taking over 8.

You can see why the Tour de France often rides through here.   In fact, they’re headed through there this week.  It’s near Gap and the infamous Mont Ventoux.  The views of the dams and lakes, and mountain scenery are spectacular.

Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time, Vaison-la-Romaine  (which you might remember from the post about Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers) was the capital for the Voconce people.   It is famous for its ancient Gallo-Roman ruins including a Roman bridge.

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vauclus...

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Le Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bridge is one of five remaining Roman bridges in Provence. It survived a German bomb during the World War II and the Ouvèze River’s devastating floods in 1992.   Vaison has two excavated Roman districts, and an Archaeological Museum.

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse de...

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Maisons de pierre á Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We weren’t the only ones who got off the highway and started taking side roads.  Since it was the edge of the alps, there weren’t many alternatives and the road was packed.  Ironically, it was still less crowded and moved faster than in the south of France.    We entertained ourselves by counting the number of people we saw pulled off on the side of the road answering the call of nature (over 10).

If you’re interested in a French vacation without the seemingly ever-present crowds, this is a part of France for you.  If you’re a Tour de France fan, this is also a part of France for you.  If you like simple bucolic beauty, it’s for you too.

I think the photo below is a viaduct on the Grenoble train line  (Chemin de Fer de La Mure/the Mure railway).  We saw it on the route from Orpierre (with its nice swimming hole in Les Gorges de la Méouge) to Grenoble.   It can be reached easily by road from Grenoble, or by trains on the SNCF line towards Gap.

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Our Date On The Island of Långholmen in Stockholm, Sweden

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We visited Stockholm March of last year (when I made the Queen of Sweden smile and met Camilla Parker-Bowles at the Vasa Museum).  Some places March means spring, it doesn’t in Sweden.  We decided we had to go back to enjoy the city and the nearby archipelago in summer. We chose wisely.  It was a fantastic trip.  We stayed in the Södermalm neighborhood in a boat on the Riddarfjärden, a bay of Lake Mälaren in central Stockholm.  We spent a pleasant afternoon and evening picnicking and walking around the island of  Långholmen.

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Långholmen, the long island, was rocky and barren until 18th century prison inmates covered the island with mud dredged from the surrounding waterways.  It undoubtably made the waterways deeper and more easily navigable for larger vessels.  It also had the effect of providing fertile soil.  When things start growing, leaves drop, providing more organic matter for plants.  Before long, the island was lush retreat.  Trade and merchant ships introduced of exotic seeds, making its vegetation unique.  As a result, it is a popular place for walks, picnics and a cold dip in the lake.

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We trekked around the island passing a few people walking their dogs, people singing with guitars, a group of teenagers escaping their families apartments, boatbuilders, several rabbits and even a handful of kayakers.  We enjoyed this view of Kungsholmen (complete with a beach bar) on our picnic.  It was so peaceful.

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At the Stockholm Water Festival in 1993, a JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft crashed on Långholmen. It caught fire but the pilot ejected successfully.  Thankfully, no one was killed and only one injury in the large crowd of spectators.  We happened upon Thomas Qvarsebo‘s stainless steel sculpture commemorating the incident.  It is paper plane with its nose drilled into the ground.  It was so striking that I took a picture and looked up what it was later.

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Boats are everywhere.  Although the Swede’s love worshipping the sun, the climate requires a cabin.  The classic wooden boats looked like a great way to experience the country.  If someone’s rented one for a day, I’d love to hear about it.

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The walk from Södermalm along the Riddarfjärden was fascinating.  Many of the larger boats were homes or hotels!  By the way, the former Långholmen Prison is now a hotel and hostel, complete with a restaurant and pub.  If we hadn’t found unique boat accommodations, we probably would have stayed there.

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We had great views of the city towards Stadhuset and Gamla Stan.  This is the
giant Västerbron bridge that links Södermalm to Kungsholmen.

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2011 By The Numbers

999      A conservative estimate on the number of times we have been lost (or at least taken wrong turns).

998      Pots of yummy, Swiss yogurt eaten.  I know that this number is a bit low.  We found the world’s best cottage cheese a couple of months in.  It definitely hurt our yogurt consumption.  We will try to do better next year.

45        The number of dollars paid in speeding tickets.  Astoundingly, we have gotten fewer tickets than anyone we know.  We were “lucky” enough to get ours in France so we paid it in Euros, much cheaper than tickets in CHF‘s.

40        Number (more or less) of cute pairs of heels in my closet here that have gone unworn due to large amounts of walking and heel eating cobblestones.   What has happened to me?

30        Roughly, the number of times I have been honked at while driving.  This works out to more or less one honk per drive.  Not too shabby.

17        Number of languages we can watch tv  in.  They are: French, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Turkish, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Mandarin and Thai.  Unfortunately, we can only understand 1 or  2 of these.

15       The approximate number of emails he receives when I post pictures of him in      “fashionable” attire.  I get calls saying “what did you post about me because my email is blowing up”.

13       British TV Shows viewed (don’t judge): Top GearGrand DesignsWallace and GromitSnog Marry AvoidTake Me OutHow Clean Is Your House (it is extremely motivational to put on while cleaning), Horrible HistoriesGok’s Fashion Fix/Gok’s Clothes RoadshowSherlock (fantastic, a must see), Doctor WhoJamie’s Great BritianTime TeamHistory of Ancient Britain (History of Britain is better).  We did not watch the royal wedding even though there is still excessive coverage of it on British TV.

12        Countries Visited: DenmarkSwedenSpainFranceEngland, Scotland  (him), Germany (him), Belgium (me), Switzerland, South Africa, Egypt, and the United States.

11        The number of hours our jet lagged, germ filled bodies slept upon returning to Switzerland (this was followed by several lengthy naps and another long night’s sleep).

10        Tours (KarlsburgBurgundyCheese FactoryCailler Chocolate Factory,  Underground LakeTour of LondonToledo, Cullian Diamond Mine, Nelson Mandela’s Home, Soweto, unsure if safari’s count as an official tour.

9         “Exotic” foods we have eaten: bugs (South Africa), pigeon (England), crocodile (South Africa), horse (at home purchased from the local grocery store), gelatinized foie gras (France – definitely worse than the bugs), ostrich (South Africa), snails (France, bien sur), wild boar (Switzerland), quail (Spain) and duck (France).

8          The number of times he has taken the wrong train, tram or bus to and/or home from work.

7          The approximate number of times I grocery shop in a week (this includes visits to the Patisserie to buy bread).  Before our move, I prided myself on being able to get by for almost two weeks on one shopping trip.  Now that I carry everything home (and therefore buy less at a time), look for sales all over and try to buy the freshest, I have septupled my trips. Craziness.

6(ish)   Fantastic, Unforgettable, Once in A Lifetime Hikes in Switzerland: Gruyeres Cheesemaker’s Path, La Salevethe MatterhornJungfrauLavaux, many around Geneva.

5         Meals eaten out at Geneva restaurants since we moved (due to their high cost and our unwillingness to bankrupt ourselves).

4          The number of snow tires that are currently on our car (also the number of regular tires currently in storage).  Anyone ever heard of all season tires?

3          Family members who have visited; also the number of times the washing machine repairman has visited our miniscule washer.

2          Dogs given away (and are very happy with their new families)

1          Bridge jumpaerobed destroyed, and container shipped to Switzerland.




 

Big Changes To Geneva’s Public Transport

Geneva is surrounded by mountains, sits on a lake and two rivers run through it with only a handful of bridges. We heard a rumor that to encourage people not to drive in the city, the lights over the bridges and at key intersections are very short and timed awkwardly (they are, but who knows the reason).

Note the rivers, the bridges, the lake, the old city…  You can see why we love not having to drive every day.

You can see some of the choke points on the night view above.  Note the black areas that are rivers and lakes.   One of the first things we did when we arrived in Geneva was purchase public transport (TPG) passes. We have used them every day since. TPG transport has been safe, clean, on time and convenient. Excluding free things and perhaps the occasional great deal on wine, I think it is the best value in Geneva.

Bad iPhone pic of a sticker (I’d never seen a sticker on one before) I saw on todays train saying it was so much better before (in French).  Today, many lovers of TPG were not feeling the love. Today was the first big day of TPG’s new, drastically different schedule and routes.     Common complaints included:

  • Busses and trams were not on time (something that never happens in Switzerland) so riders had to wait for long periods.  A friend missed her doctor’s appointment because her bus was so late and had to wait a half an hour in the freezing rain for the next bus.

Delays caused by too many vehicles arriving at the same time

Dinner in Malmö

 
Our last night in Copenhagen, we went to dinner in Malmö, Sweden.   To get there, we took Øresund Bridge. It is not just any bridge. At 7,845 meters (25,738 feet), it is Europe’s longest road and rail bridge (the rail is on a second level below the road) and a pretty impressive engineering feat. To keep shipping lanes unobstructed and avoid interference with planes from the nearby airport, the first portion of the bridge is a tunnel!
 
The tunnel

You emerge from the tunnel on an artificial island (created from the earth dug out for the tunnel).  From there, the suspension bridge starts.

Artificial island created from the earth excavated for the tunnel
The bridge from the island
View of the Øresund Strait from the backseat

The bridge made getting from Malmö to Copenhagen quick and easy (you can still take a ferry). It created a renaissance in Malmö and some people who live there commute to Copenhagen. Prior to that evening, my knowledge of Malmö was almost entirely derived from The Millennium Trilogy, sorry Sweden.


Beautiful landscape on the way to Malmö, it is traditionally an agricultural area. 
We had dinner in the Old Town. It was great to walk around the old streets and window shop. There were lots of very trendy looking people grabbing dinner and drinks outside.
We drove from Denmark to Sweden, ordered in English, ate Spanish Tapas and followed it with Italian espresso. Next time, we will try to be more international, but it’s definitely not a bridge to nowhere.

Padlocks of Love – “Luccheti d’Amore”

When we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, we walked across the Brygge Broen, a bicycle and pedestrain only bridge.  When I saw these locks, I had to stop and look. I’d read a story about padlocks from the Pont de l’Archevêché on the Seine in Paris. They disappeared in the middle of the night after the city of Paris said they were concerned about their effects on their architectural heritage. People were upset over their disappearance and the locks “magically” reappeared.
Although this custom has allegedly been around since before WWI, it has become much more widespread. An Italian book that was made into a movie Ho Voglia di Te (“I Want You”) was released in 2006 featured the “Luccheti d’Amore”. In Italy, the movie became like Twilight in the U.S. increasing the padlock’s popularity. As the locations for and numbers of padlocks have risen, their notariety has grown. They are now widespread and getting media attention. Some are even listed in travel guides.

Other places where this occurrs include:

Some people decorate or write on theirs.  50 years!  Everyone should be so lucky.I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

Go Jump Off A Bridge

Do you remember when your mom said “if your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it to”?  Here, the answer is yes. Okay, so I guess technically this is not allowed. From the looks of it, that wasn’t stopping anyone.
There is a decent current so you can float way down the river in a boat. If you tread water, you’ll be carried along.  Very refreshing.  Very good time.
P.S. If you come visit, please bring us an inflatable boat