happiness is anticipation of experiences

We realised this long ago, and the idea is widely shared by others, that experiences, particularly travel, is more important than money. There’s scientific studies that show that anticipation of an experience lead to a higher level of happiness than anticipation of a material good. Cornell researchers Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth and PhD candidate Amit Kumar:

You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation, and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive.

Dr Gilovich talks about the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. People who are happy about their purchase of, say, a new iPhone, find that their degree of happiness decreases over time. Their happiness with an experience, say a concert or a holiday, does not diminish at the same rate.

This is true even in the negative. If the iPhone stops working, happiness drops. However if something negative happened during an experience, like if a beach holiday was rained out, people tend to say “we went to the museum instead and still had a good time.”

The researchers found that one of the reasons experiences rate higher than material is because comparison with others is less significant. There is no constant need to buy a bigger car, or earn a higher salary.

The last point is interesting. I have friends and acquaintances who are travelling right now–one couple is on a round-the-world trip and have reached Tanzania where one half did safari and the other half climbed Kilimanjaro; one couple is on extended honeymoon to Italy; an acquaintance is in South East Asia–and while it’s fascinating to see their trip posts, it feels weird because I’m usually the one travelling to lots of places.

So to make me happier, let’s increase the anticipation. With mm’s mum still ill, it’s not feasible in the immediate future, but worth keeping in mind as an option somewhere down the line. I was watching a program where James Martin travelled to Annecy and it looked gorgeous. Research time.

Annecy is located in the Haute-Savoie region of SE France halfway between Geneva and Chambéry. It’s called the Venice of the Alps–it has a river and two canals running through the picturesque city. A blogger called it a real life fairytale town; another said it will steal your heart.

It has everything–a beautiful lake, a well-preseved old town, a river and a couple of canals, a great market. Cycling, hiking, skiing in the winter, boating in the summer. And of course wineries, a local woman-run brewery, boulangeries, restaurants, and cheese, cheese, cheese. Seems to be less well-known and crowded than Chambéry and obviously Geneva, both less than 1hrs’ drive away. I randomly plugged in one week’s stay next April on airbnb and found great looking places for around $70-80.

No wonder it’s a must visit. Just look at these pics. It being in this part of France, the architecture feels very Swiss.

Along the Thiou canal:
Buildings along Thiou canal
courtesy flickr user kosalabandara under cc

The 12th century Palais de l’Isle:
Annecy
courtesy flickr user pug_girl under cc

The lake:
Annecy & alentours
courtesy flickr user lyanna_wolf under cc

What is so attractive is the location. Halfway between Geneva and Chambéry, 45mins to Switzerland and 1.5hrs from Italy. It’s easy to fly to Geneva, pick up a car from the French side of the airport. A trip that can combine Geneva, Annecy and Chambéry, that’s the ultimate in anticipatory happiness.

paris marathon prep

Am I still going to Paris marathon next April? France has extended its state of emergency for 3 months, and Belgium is on lockdown. Germany, Holland, the UK, Spain and all European cities are on high alert.

If I’m still going, training starts next week. 18 weeks isn’t a long time for the state of alert to die down. Then again, if we give in to our fears, then the terrorists have won. I’m going to go on the basis that I will be there, unless the organisers and/or the French government say otherwise. Last year’s race went ahead 2 months after Charlie Hebdo, so I think they will try to keep business as usual as much as possible.

Flights are still expensive, they’re mainly booking for Christmas now so I’ll look later. There are plenty of options on where to fly into. Aside from Paris itself, London, Barcelona, Geneva, Brussels, Amstersdam are all reachable by train. The problem is, it’s the week after Easter so I have to be careful of blackout periods.

parismarathonmaphotel

What’s more pressing is finding somewhere to stay for the weekend, starting from expo to at least the day after the race. I started looking in the area close to the start and end of the course. The race starts on Champs, just down from Arc de Triomphe (blue circle centre right of map) and ends on Avenue Foch, near Port Dauphine (red checkered circle left of map). All the red blobs are hotels that are fully booked, and of the blue ones left many are expensive.

The good thing about making hotel reservations is I can hold it till nearer the time and keep searching. I made 2 reservations, on the basis that mum will be travelling with me. One is within walking distance of both start and end (white label)—perfect location but €240 per night, yikes. I’m only holding onto this one in case there is nothing else. The other is €150 per night, one stop NW of the map on line 1. I’ll keep looking, and at first glance on airbnb there may be something more affordable.

la cuisine française

crepeblackpudding crepeicecream

This week mm is on a business trip to Paris. We were messaging after she arrived and checked into the hotel; I asked her what were her dinner plans. She said she asked the concierge where the nearest Léon mussels place is and apparently it’s a 10min walk. Normally it’s fine but she’s tired and jetlagged. So I said give me the hotel address and I’ll google. Ha! She’s right around the corner from Chartier, where i’ve wanted to take her for ages. Yes, it’s noisy and touristy; the waiters are short-tempered and you have to share tables, but that’s authenticiy, non? I don’t know if she finally made it, I also told her about aux lyonnais which is a bit more upmarket and ratatouille, both are nice. Anyway according to google maps there are a number of brasseries near her hotel, she’s at Montmartre after all.

Speaking of authenticity, sis and I went to la crêperie the other day. I had a black pudding crêpe which was really nice, if somewhere in between sweet and savoury. We shared an ice cream crêpe and polished off a whole bottle of house white. Of course black pudding crêpe isn’t french, it’s a good use of mixed ingredients though. This is a nice place, it’s run by french people and serves pretty decent food.

provence paris

prov181gordes paris057clermkt

I’m still unhappy that I lost my camera in Paris because I lost all my Provence and most of my Paris pictures. Luckily we have mm’s pics, so it’s a blessing. I’ve had a mental block against dealing with them so they’ve sat in a folder on my desktop for 10 months. Can’t delay any more, so I hunkered down, sorted the pics and wrote up the trip.

Posts start at Provence and continue to Paris.

Pics: provence, paris

med cruise day 7 – marseille

med573marboat med590marboats

After 3 days in Italy, we come to France. And I knew there’s a reason I like France, and especially this part of the country, in Provence. It’s like coming home. We didn’t venture this far south last summer, but next time we’re in Provence I think we’ll stay in Aix and then I’ll get to take mm to Marseille. Sigh.

Shuttle from the ship to town was €15 return. The bus stop was just around the corner from le vieux port, and even though it was sunday, there was an interesting fish market underway. Fresh fish from boats that were sold a meter from where the boats docked, how fresh is that?

med612marcoast med640marnotredame
I would have liked to walk, but after so many days, the rest of the group was tired. Opted for the open top bus. I got on, asked for tickets for 1 adult and 4 seniors, and the driver charged us for 5 seniors. Hahaha!! In this occasion, I don’t mind being a senior, if it meant saving a few euros. The bus took us along the scenic, if very windy, coast and up the hill to the Notre Dame de la Garde. Beautiful cathedral and beautiful views of the city. Glad we took the bus, would have been more difficult to wait for the regular bus.

We went to the other side of the port to hunt for lunch. Even though the restaurants looked quite touristy, they were busy and we found a decent one. The set menus at L’Ecailler were only €12-15, and for that we got 3 courses, can’t complain. I had mussels, bouillabaisse and lemon tart. The fish in the bouillabaise had a lot of bones, so may be I should have had something else. Tasty enough though. Ordered a 50ml bottle of rosé for the table which also went down well. The best thing was I understood almost 90% of the menu and was able to translate and order for the group.

Got instructions for a small supermarket, more food shopping. Tried to find lavender but wasn’t very successful. More excuse to return to Provence. Got the 4pm shuttle back to the ship. Finished packing and went on the balcony watching other people come onboard. The last shuttle was 5pm and there was only 1 passenger, everyone was safe and punctual. I like watching the ship leave every port; the pilot would come up in the fast small boat and then we were off.

Last dinner at MDR — moules, salad, bean & pasta soup, veal, bread pudding and a carafe of house red.

paris trip day 3

paris039mongemkt paris033mongemkt

paris041cheese paris055clerpatiss

Breakfast at Mcdonalds, which is of better quality here than in the US or UK. Then it was off to find markets. We have great memories of going to markets in Paris, but weren’t able to remember where. Went back to the one we tried going to yesterday, at Place Monge. Lots of fresh fruits and veg, but not many stalls. When we asked the stallholders, it turned out that it was a holiday so not as big a turnout. Ah well, still some good stuff. There’s a cheese shop nearby that is open, so we bought some cheeses as well.

The market at Rue Cler was also mostly closed, but we did find a patisserie and some stalls selling fruit. Ended up going to Carrefour to pick up pâté and stuff. Then back to hotel to drop off our shopping.

paris087notredame 

paris076therese paris066notredame

Lunch back at Dame Tartine, where they recognised us. Lovely steak and (I think) swordfish tartare. Walked over to Notre Dame, queued up to get inside. Crowded and we had to hush a lot of noisy tourists. There was an exhibit of St Theresa, which pleased mm a great deal. More walking all the way to louvre, tea at Mcdonalds, then it was back to the hotel to pick up our luggage.

Metro to Gare du Nord was pretty tough. First, we had a total of 7 bottles of wine between us. Then there were so many stairs and not enough escalators. Finally it was a very kind, and strong, soul who helped us with the final steps to the platform. Once to Gare du Nord it was fine. We even had time for a rosé at the station before boarding. It was late when we got back to St Pancras so we took a taxi home.

flickr set, again mm’s pics. Not as annoyed as losing the Provence pics, we’ve been to Paris many times and she took over photography the last couple of days.

paris trip day 2

paris015tour

Tried going to the market at Place Monge but it wasn’t open (tomorrow apparently). Headed to Sacre Coueur and Montmatre area, bought some magnets at a souvenir shop while sheltering from the rain. At the bottom of the hill, bought pastries at a Carrefour supermarket to enjoy at a small park.

Metro to Opera. Lunch of moules frites at Leon. Yes, it’s a chain but it’s still pretty good. Shopping at Lafayette where mm indulged her love of brand name handbags — Longchamp, BV, Maison. Big crowds, especially of rude Chinese tourists, I wasn’t happy.

Off to rue cler to look for another market. Even more unhappiness. This was the point where I lost my camera. My beloved s90. With all our provence pics in the memory card not downloaded because I didn’t bring the mba. Next trip, bring the damn mba. We traced our steps back to Leon but no luck.

Pretty dejected. Went back to hotel, ate some melon. Went out to Pompidou area and found a restaurant called Dame Tartine that served wonderful steak and salmon tartare. Cheered me up a little.

paris trip day 1

paris002seine

Easy metro trip from Gare de Lyon to Châtelet, although there weren’t any escalators and we had to haul our bags up the stairs to street level. We were staying at hotel louvre rivoli at Châtelet, within walking distance to the river and pompidou.

Late lunch at the bistrot near the hotel, salad and wine again. Took the metro to champs to visit LV, and then to the office where mm met with some of her colleagues. Shopping at Le Printemps near Opera.

Dinner at another bistrot near Le Printemps. Moules and steak. Although a touristy place, the standard was still high. Back to hotel area, walked around Pont Neuf, Notre Dame and back to the hotel.

provence trip day 4

prov184gordes

Very early start, checked out at 7.30am. On the way, we stopped at Gordes for another view of the gorgeous village and valleys of Provence. Stopped at Auchen at Avignon for petrol and supplies. Returned the car and onto the TGV to Paris.

Au revoir, Provence. Lovely region. We’ll miss it and will want to come back. Base at Avignon next time. Or Aix.

flickr set, all mm’s pictures. I lost my camera in Paris. Don’t care about the camera as much as the memory card that had all our trip pictures.

provence trip day 3

prov092sorgue prov011aptmkt

Sunday market at L’Isle sur la Sorgue. It seemed to be the norm to park on the pavement, so that’s what we did. If possible, the market is even larger than the one in Apt yesterday. More crowded and touristy, stalls selling souvenirs, herbs, soap and honey. We stopped at a café to have tea and a rest, then set about exploring the vast market. Bought dried sausages, lavender, jam, bread, melon and pizza.

Returned to Avignon for a late lunch (salad and a cold meat platter). Bought lavender oil and wine at that shop near the Papal Palace we spotted on Friday. Time was getting short and we were somewhat in a rush.

prov114abbaye prov123rousillon

The next destination was Abbaye de Sénanque, which is where that notable picture of a church and rows upon rows of lavender comes from. It’s too late in the season, we’d missed the lavender. It was still nice to walk in the grounds and visit the souvenir shop. Too late in the day to go inside the abbaye.

From the abbaye, we headed back towards central Provence, to Gordes and Rousillon. Great scenery on the way. We got to Rousillon very late in the day, thank goodness for it being summer and long days. Lovely sunset pictures in the village on top of a hill and the sun hitting the clay cliffs. Time for more souvenir shopping and exploring the narrow streets on foot. We had dinner at a restaurant there. I had veal, mm had lamb and we had wine of course.

A delay leaving, an ambulance blocked the street for a long time. The streets were cobblestoned and narrow and the way back to the hotel was via that street where the ambulance was. At the end we couldn’t wait and used our instinct to drive the other way out of the village and double-backing back to our hotel.

provence trip day 2

prov031apt prov015aptmkt 

prov028chapel

Breakfast at the hotel, croissants, ham, bread. The hotel has a small book that describes the markets in the Provence region. In French, but we were able to read it. So following its advice we headed to Apt for the market. It was very busy, and we had a hard time finding parking. At the end, I had to reverse down a steep unpaved slope to a narrow space between other cars. Heh, Mum taught me well.

Loved the market. Lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, crafts, just fantastic. Bought sun-dried tomatoes, honey, olive wood board, grapes. We could go crazy at these markets, everything so fresh and so tempting. No wonder people want to come live in this region.

In the middle of the market is St Anne’s Chapel. Very small, quiet and peaceful. We walked around, prayed and made a donation. Made friends with one of the volunteer ladies there. Didn’t quite know what each party was talking — our French wasn’t good enough and she didn’t speak English. However, the warmth and friendship shared with fellow catholics didn’t need language.

prov062chatneuf prov051chatneuf 

prov066chatneuf

Bought a big slice of watermelon, which we took back to the hotel to enjoy, as well as offloading our purchases. Next stop, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Lunch in the car was apricots and peaches we bought yesterday. Parked at the tourist office, and had a late lunch of salad and the châteauneuf wine. Perfect food and drink for an extremely hot day, the temperature gauge in the car read over 40°C.

Visited a few caves for wine tasting, learned about the traditional 13 grape varieties allowed in a châteauneuf wine. Also found out they had whites and rosés. Walked up to the top of the chaâteau for the amazing views. There were weddings galore in town; a wedding party was taking pictures at the top of the château, and we stumbled across a wedding in a church while exploring. It could be the same wedding party, dunno.

Visited one of the wineries at the bottom of the steps and bought a bunch of wines. Red and white. They are able to ship overseas too, and it was soooo tempting to get a couple of cases. Such a lovely, wine-focused town. Beautiful Provencal architecture, great food, wonderful wine. We visited another winery on the way out of town, and we can safely declare our love for this region.
Dinner was back at Avignon. Moules frites, dorade and we’re becoming addicted to rosé. Quite a long, dark drive back to the hotel which mm did, I’d finished most of our wine.

provence trip day 1

prov101avignon

We took a minicab to St Pancras and were on the Eurostar in no time. I was a bit concerned looking at the timing that timing may be a little tight. We had to get from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon with our luggage, via the RER. But it turned out to be quite straightforward although we didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until we were well and truly on the TGV to Avignon. It was hot in Avignon when we arrived, took us a few minutes to find the rental car area. I’d already prebooked and prepaid our car so it was just a matter of getting the keys. It’s a small Citroen C3, good enough for us.

We made our way to Avignon city centre, parked our car in the car park near the papal palace and went in search of food. There were a row of outdoor restaurants in what looks like the main square, so we settled into one. Lots of shops in the pedestrianised district, had ice cream, hit a small Spar for soft drinks and supply. There are more shops and things to see than expected, so nice. Found a small wine shop that looked interesting, saving it for later.

The drive to Rousillon was about 1-1.5hr. Our hotel is supposed to be near Rousillon, but we got to the town and couldn’t find our way round. Had to use our basic french to ask directions. Turns out, the hotel is pretty much in the middle of nowhere on a tiny D-road. We finally found the entrance, drove up the hill and there it was. Very well decorated, rustic yet modern. Our room led out to a small patio, and the whole place screamed style and coolness and Provence.

We opted for dinner at the hotel, which was served outside by the pool. A few other guests were also enjoying dinner. Proscuitto & melon, roast veal and vegetables, rhum baba and fig tart for dessert.

provence by train

Vaucluse-roussillon-village
image courtesy flickr user fabrice terrasson

Both mm and I have been doing research on Provence, and the conclusion is to take the train because flight schedules are not useful. The only flight to Avignon is from LCY at 4.30pm, that’s a whole day wasted. Flights to Marseille are either early in the morning (BA has one at 6.40am) or get there late afternoon; by the time we pick up the car and drive to Avignon it’s dinner time.

The train routing we are thinking of is to take the Eurostar early (but the advantage of Eurostar is check in 30mins before not 2hrs), with a change at Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to Avignon. Pick up a rental car and that’s it. Return to Paris, stay a couple of nights then back via Eurostar.

I sent of a bunch of hotel enquiries for the Vaucluse region and around Avignon, having decided against Avignon city centre in favour of the more rustic and charming hotels in the countryside. We’ll have a car, it’ll be even better to stay outside the city.

#67(1) new restaurant in Paris

auxlyonnais

All the restaurants I went to on the trip to Pairs were new. I hadn’t been back in Paris for 6+ years, and my eating habits have changed somewhat since then. I remember always looking out for moules frites and though I still love the dish, I’m looking for something different.

If I were to return to Paris in the near future, and I’m only allowed to pick just one restaurant to revisit, I’d choose Aux Lyonnais. Yes, it’s probably the most touristy of the bunch, but there were dishes on the menu that intrigued me, and I want to try. I was extremely adventurous and tried the tripes but as we were leaving I looked over at a nearby table and saw someone tucking into the most scrumptious looking calves liver — thick, soft and cooked pink. Then every review I read talks about quenelle de brochet et ecrevisses, so how can I not try it?

And the île flottante aux pralines roses et tarte aux pralines, so worth trying again. Though next time I will try the soufflé (didn’t this time cos of the wait) and definitely the creamy St. Marcellin cheese my colleague had.

paris last day

The conference finished but some of us stayed behind to have individual meetings. It was a pretty quiet day, nothing much to report. Lunch was steak frites at a bistro opposite the office.

Dinner was at Chez Flottes. We shared a seafood platter for starter — oysters, mussels, clams, tiny shrimps. I had confit de canard, another item to check off my “must eat in France” list. It was served with a delicious aligot — mashed potatoes with cheese and garlic. Oh my, that cheese just melted into the potato!

Was back in my room to pack by 9-ish. Watched some football and went to bed at 10.30pm. Tired.

paris more

Originally the agenda was only half a day but the conference continued until almost 6pm. It was my first time participating in this steering committee meeting and at the end I have this sneaking feeling that it won’t be my last time. I hope.

I followed some people to the Louis Vuitton shop to ogle at the expensive bags. I was a little bored, though some of the bags look nice, I can’t see myself ever wanting or needing something like that. Talking about LV, there was an ad on the flight that is really pretty, though associating philosophical journeying with bags is a bit of a stretch.

Dinner was at Aux Lyonnais, which served well, Lyonnais food. The restaurant is now part of the Alain Ducasse stable and has been in place since 1892 and it seems that some of the original art-deco like fittings have survived. There was a wee bit of confusion about the booking, but all was settled at the end. We were served cervelle de canut while we waited for the rest of our party. This is a specialty of herbed garlic fromage blanc served with fingers of toasted rustic bread.

I had asparagus for starters, it’s in season and pretty much a must-have in any occasion. For mains I had the tripes aux lyonnais. A cast iron pot of tripe in a creamy sauce with potatoes and carrots. Not everyone likes tripe, of course, but for me I was willing to try and it was very good. The others had shoulder of lamb and a Ducasse special — quenelle de brochet et écrevisses (pike quenelle dumplings and crayfish) — all looked good.

Because I was the adventurous one, the waitress recommended that I tried the special dessert. Île flottante aux pralines roses et tarte aux pralines was made up of an island of egg white floating in crème anglaise served with a pink praline tarte. I’m so mad the cameraphone is so disappointing.

A few of us walked the 25mins back to the hotel, and a small group stayed at the hotel bar for a drink. Originally we were going to have tea but it became cocktails. It was nice to catch up with people from around the world.

paris all work and all play

Early start, met up with everyone at 8am in the hotel lobby. Most of us opted to walk to the office, with a couple of people (the ones who don’t walk or are in heels) opting for the taxi. It’s a very pleasant walk to the Champs.

We were holed up in the conference room all day. Lunch was sandwiches brought in. The meeting was intense with lots of agenda items and discussion. Pretty exhausted at the end of the day. There was enough time to go back to the hotel, dump our bags. I got changed, I didn’t care if it was formal, I wanted comfortable.

Dinner for the group was at La Cagouille, specialising in seafood from La Charente, the flat sandy district on the Atlantic south of Bordeaux. The seafood is prepared as naturally as possible, with no fancy sauces or elaborate techniques. We shared starters — a huge seafood platter, oysters, salted cod salad, asparagus. For mains I had a duo of red mullet and john dory. Both were extremely fresh and definitely needed no fancy sauces.

par002cagouille

In the continued tradition of trying something new, I had Paris-Brest for dessert. It turned out to be a bagel-shaped pastry made from choux pastry and filled with crème pâtissière. Sigh. A million calories.

paris day 1

Arriving early sometimes means the hotel room isn’t available, which is a bummer. I was able to borrow my colleague’s room for a shower.

So without anywhere to go or anything to do, I dumped my luggage at the hotel and went out with my camera. The hotel is just oppositeTuileries, so it was nice to get myself re-acquainted with the area. Joggers and tourists were already out in force but there was enough space to find quiet time.

par022tuileries

I went into the Louvre but only under the pyramid and the shops, I didn’t go into the exhibits. Somewhere in my albums and photocds there are pictures of Paris, but I’m still glad I have the opportunity this time to re-build my collection.

par037louvre

After finally checking into my room at 12.30pm, I went out again to search for lunch. By then it’d started raining quite heavily. First I walked in the direction of Concorde thinking perhaps I should try the Champs d’Elysée but then realised it’d be too much in the rain.

par062concorde

Instead I headed for Opera and les grand magasins. Lunch was at the self service place at Galleries Lafayette. It was only after lunch and walking around the gourmet supermarket bit that I saw all the various counters for cold meat, cheese and seafood. Argh!!!

Met up with the rest of my colleagues for dinner. The concierge apparently had recommended Le Dauphin, a bistro within walking distance … and closing tomorrow. I had a tuna carpaccio starter and for mains I had pig’s cheeks slow cooked in armagnac for 7hours. The pics from the cellphone camera didn’t turn out too good, this was the best one.

par001dauphin

europe trip day 07: 3 countries, 1 day

We drove up to one of the highest points on the Route du vin, Wihr-au-Val-, but didn’t see anything interesting. Doubled back towards Colmar and stopped at Eguisheim, where I visited before. A larger place, almost a town, built in 3 concentric circles, with a well marked vineyard trail.

Did some souvenir shopping — teatowels, some of the distinctive houses. The ovenware were interesting, but too heavy.

Made our way east towards Freiburg. That’s in Germany. Again it was a drive through and no stop. If we had time, may have stopped at Titisee. Our destination was Schaffhausen though.

The funny thing about Schaffhausen. It’s very near Zurich, straightforward train journey. Most of us who had visitors would tell them to go there, unfailingly. Which was why I held off visiting until there were overseas visitors.

This was my 3rd time, and the Rheinfalls looked the same, the small rock still jutted out in defiance of the raging waters. Still not seeing how it’s the largest waterfall in Europe. Hmmm.

The drive back to Zurich was a different way than I thought, and then all of a sudden we were back in Germany, then back in Switzerland. What a strange road.

Cooked at home. Grilled asparagus, lamb kebab, Eton Mess.

Our last full day in Switzerland. Neither of us wanted to leave. Sigh.

europe trip day 06: a good vintage

Where next.

East this time, to Alsace. Yes, another country, this time France, less than 2 hours and we were in Colmar. Really, French drivers are not as nice as Swiss drivers.

Headed straight to the tourist information office to book accommodation — a booklet lists available accommodation along the wine route and the lady at the desk will help us call and collect the payment. All very convenient. We stayed at a simple b&b at Ribeauville, typically small French rooms but comfortable. No aircon but a ceiling fan, which served its purpose neatly.

The Alsace region consists of a vast collection of tiny villages, more like hamlets, scattered along the hillsides. Strasbourg to the north, Colmar in the centre and Mulhouse to the south. Get off the main road and drive along the windy smaller roads and all along the road are vines, lots and lots of them.

We stopped at a secluded spot and tried some of the grapes, very sweet, really nice. Mostly they produce white wine — Tokay Pinot Gris, Muscat, Riesling, Gewurztraminer. The red — Pinot Noir — was really bad, worst than plonk. But some of the whites were great, we liked Gewurztraminer the best, sweet, easy to drink, and very very pleasant.

What you do, go into a winery or shop and they will let you try out their wines, take your time and taste and then buy. Some proprietors are more knowledgeable and friendly than others. We bought a little, added bread, pâté, cheeese, had a really great indoor picnic dinner in our room. Nothing to watch on French TV, went to bed quite early.

2001 04 Nice & Monaco

Stars gather at Cannes for the film festivals, supermodels saunter along the beach at St Tropez, but the draw of Nice is undeniable. Despite of the image of glitz and glamour, in reality the beach is made of pebbles not sand, which was the first surprise. The second surprise, this time pleasant, was the colourful old town with narrow streets, alfresco dining and vibrant nightlife. It was possible to find tranquility in Nice, sitting quietly out on the beach watching the waves. But at night the bars and clubs opened their doors to the nightowls. It was in Nice that I first tried this cocktail (forgot the name) that was a shot glass with crème de menthe at the bottom and Bailey’s on top, in 2 distinct layers. One gulp of mint and coffee and cream combined, neato. It’s easy to do at home too, just have to pour very carefully so not to mix the layers.

At an outdoor restaurant we had French styled tapas. A giant outdoor counter with all sorts of different foods – bread, roasts, salads, seafood and something new: socca, which is olive oil flavoured chickpea bread. We placed our orders, received them on small plates, paid and ate at one of the pavement tables. Sigh. All sorts of yum.

Vieux Nice square Vieux Nice street
what a view beautiful coast

Drove from Nice through the Corniches to Monaco. Probably one of the most spectacular coastal drives in Europe, if not the world. Beaches spread out along the shore, luxurious houses on the hillside and yachts moored in the bays.

a never tiring view a closer view of the sea

Monaco is, well, decadence central. The smell of money is prominent and kind of scary. It’s more built-up than the rest of the Côte d’Azure, the yachts just seem that little bit bigger and the shops more exclusive. The casino has a dress code and charged an entrance fee, so we skipped it. There is a small area inside the lobby for slot machines that is free, so we played a little there, to bolster our claim of having gambled in Monte Carlo.

The harbour and the casino
absolute luxury win or lose your shirt there