My last update, over the weekend, was from Nice, which we used as a base to explore the area by car -- Canes, Antibes, Villefranche-Sur-Mer, Monaco, etc. We dined in Villefranche that night. One of my favorite places in the south of France going way back. Oh, yea, we also did an afternoon in Saint Tropez (and yes, the Gendarme de St. Tropez building is still as it was in 1964) on the way to Nice. I used to live just an hour from there and I went often. Can't get enough of looking at those yachts tied up in the harbor.
Upon departing Nice we took the auto-route and headed straight for Italy and its Cinque Terre region. I was due for three days of relaxing on the beach, so we decided to forgo Rome this trip and take a breather. We chose Monterosso and I loved just about everything about it -- especially the part owner of the hotel we stayed at. 35 years on the job and you get good at it, and he is.
The auto-route along the Italian coast is an engineering marvel. It has got to be at least half tunnels and bridges. Some of the tunnels are more than a kilometer long. Imagine the Pacific Coast Highway drilled right through all those hills and mountains, with bridges connecting the tunnels in-between. Also imagine it's a 4-lane highway. It went on like that for a good hundred miles, at least.
So we got to Florence yesterday with a brief, obligatory stop in Pisa for some obligatory photos. It really was a marvelous sight, in spite of the oppressive heat and humidity combined with huge crowds of people.
A side note on my trading, which I write about here as well. I had to spend a couple of hours on Monday in an Internet cafe in Monterosso (the notebook has GPRS, but I needed really fast). I was pretty sure that the welcome downtrend in the market was going to be on hold for options expiration week and that was confirmed in the first hour of trading Monday. So, I needed to go to work to protect some of my July positions against expiration. It came at a cost of about $7,000, but I rolled to more conservative positions for August. Great, $10k in the hole from this vacation, and now another seven?
I initiated a trade to make it back, plus another $7k, but couldn't get it filled for the rest of the day Monday, then all day Tuesday. I was asking for too much of a credit on the spread. Anyway, due to the action on Monday and Tuesday, I was really expecting a big pop on Wednesday. So here we are at the Leaning Tower and I'm on my Treo's web browser and managed to get that order canceled. The market popped big, as expected, and I re-entered that same trade this morning before the open, asking for a lot more credit on the spread. Got filled in the first few minutes and made $24,000 instead of the $7,000 I'd have received had I not cancelled before Wednesday's open. So, the vacation is officially paid for.
We'll be leaving Florence tomorrow and heading back towards Paris. We'll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so it's a comfortable drive and I plan to take it right up and over the Swiss Alps. That should be cool. It was great getting up to about 8 or 9 thousand feet going over the Pyrenees into Andorra a while back.
I just now realized that the entry right below this one seems to have gotten itself unpublished after I'm sure I published it. So, if you were one I'd sent a link out to and it didn't work, it's there now, though it applies to what was going on three days ago.
Franky, this is a piss-poor travel log. I'd had grand designs of publishing along the way, but I think that desire was based on the ability to publish from anywhere at any time -- which is certainly cool -- and not on a particular desire to share continuously. So you get the mish-mash, for now, but I promise to do a better writeup -- if not soon -- when I get back home. There will be a few hundred pretty good photos too. Those who remember the Kauai trip know I take decent pics.
Right now we're in Nice, which is a bit of a disappointment. I'm not sure whether it's because it has changed from 15 years ago, or just because it's a holiday (Bastille Day, yesterday) and the whole stupid world is here and the local restaurants are catering to such stupidity by being stupid. Well, more on that later.
As I posted last, we were preparing to leave Arles for Avignon. I decided to take the auto-route, which took us through Nimes and within range of Le Pont du Gard. Do check out that link. This is the most amazing ancient construction I have ever seen.
If you look closely at that arch in the center, those are heads of people standing on the bridge. That gives you perspective on the enormity of this.
Most of all, this "monument" is the best thing I've seen so far because it wasn't built as a monument. Though its arches are decorative, their function is to save construction costs. This aqueduct was started 19 years before Christ was born and finished 16 years prior. It carried 44 million gallons of water daily to the city of Nimes, which I guess is a place in which men saw potential that God had not. One must wonder why God, walking the earth for 30-some years, never acknowledged or alluded to such god-like feats on the part of his children. Huh?
So now it's a monument. It's a monument to the heroic and environmentally-controlling nature of man. It's a monument to civilization and that which is at its very foundation: water.
I look at that construction, realizing it's over 2,000 years old, realizing what it accomplished back then, and I am overwhelmed with feeling about how wondrous, how virtuous, how righteous, how holy is the very core nature of man -- the essential being. Man qua man: the very defining standard of morality.
Then I go see monuments to Kings and Gods, and I get a very different picture of the nature of man:
How puny. How depraved. How insignificant, next to his bedfellow-betters: the church and the state.
You can have them both, in all of their miserable wretched glory; all of them.
Where are we? Arles, France, at the Bouches-du-Rhône (Rhône river delta). Here's the Wiki-article as well.
We headed out from Cadaques, Spain yesterday, hugging the rocky coast, but arrived in France pretty quickly. We then hit a stop or two with the French side being roughly the equivalent geography. That changed pretty quickly as we got into the plains, river deltas, small inland seas and such. Boring. So -- and this is the point of all this -- I kicked the car up to 90 mph (140 kph; but the limit is 130, which is about 80 mph) and off we headed towards Avingon. It's a city were the center is completely within the walls of the ancient Roman city. Alas, tough to get a hotel, etc., so we headed to Arles and are actually in a Best Western, of all things. Today we're going to check out the Roman Arena and Theatre here in Arles, then head back to Avignon to check out Le Palais des Papes.
(Aside: I've yet to talk about the car we rented. At the Hertz counter at Charles de Gaulle, I was quickly persuaded to take the Mercedes for a about a 50% increase in price. Glad I did. It's got one of those small "euro-diesels" that are "green," or whatever -- as if I give a shit about that -- but I love the car. It consumes gas like a damn hummingbird and it drives like a sports car. It's automatic, but has the sport shifting as many do now, so you can wind out with ease on those coastal curves. I've filled up twice since leaving the airport more than a week ago and we've been all over the place.)
We're right here now; Cadaques, Spain. I'm quite surprised how much I've been enjoying Spain -- at least this northeastern portion of it: Catalonia.
I've got a lot, a lot to write about -- going back to Paris, actually -- but it's been go go go and when we've stopped I've not felt like writing. I had good opportunity back in Sant Pol, with killer WiFi, but opted to spend the day at the hotel pool, reading. One thing is that we've been doing as the vacationing Spaniards do, which is to say: napping in the afternoon; going out to eat about 10-11 pm; staying out until 2 am; and sleeping until 9 or 10. Wouldn't want to make a life of it, but it has its logic in the context of a Med vacation.
Speaking of Internet connections: I am amazed. To say that they (France and Spain, so far) are miles ahead of the U.S. in connectivity is laughable. They are light years ahead. I've not had less than a 4 of 5 signal since leaving Paris. Nowhere. No. Where. This includes out in the middle of nowhere, over the Pyrenees, darting in and out of these coves in Spain... Moreover, I've yet to hit a town that didn't have numerous WiFi options.
That said, the hotel I'm at turns off their WiFi at 9 p.m. for some stupid reason, so I'm connected with the same GPRS/EDGE that the phones use for data. This means I can get on the Internet (it's built into my Sony TX notebook) literally from every square foot of western Europe (so far as I can determine) at about 100-120 kpbs. It's enough to do just about everything really important, but not practical for uploading pics and such, so those will have to wait.
Well, it's just about midnight, I'm turning in early, and we begin our assault on the southern coast of France tomorrow.
Been driving hard. Once we left Paris, late in the afternoon of Thursday, the 6th, it quickly became apparent that nothing would suffice except the beauty, peace, and wondrously calming environment of the Med. Like this:
We made it to Toulouse that night, scrounging a hotel across from the train station at 1 a.m. The next morning we continued on, over the high Pyrenees, through Andorra, and on to Barcelona. It was getting late and I was in no mood to search for a hotel there, so we headed north along the Med and finally found a nice place. Then we ate at about 10:30 p.m., but being Spain, this is normal. Locals were arriving after us.
Anyway, we're at this tiny little village of Sant Pol, just one step up from Sant Feliu de Guixols. Our lodging, the look from the terrace in the photo above, is right under the "Sant Pol" label you see at that Google Maps link.
Dinner. I've catching up to do, which I'll do tomorrow. We're here for two nights.
So the flight was a little over 10 hours, not 9 as I'd been thinking. I never sleep on airplanes, and it's always odd when arriving in a completely different time zone to just continue on without the benefit of a refreshing sleep. It was hot and muggy in Paris as we arrived at around noon of the 4th. Got through immigration, got the car, and then got lost in the 8th & 9th arrondissements looking for the hotel. These old cities aren't based on a grid as are most American cities, so it's difficult to keep bearings. The map was pretty useless, so I initiated a search pattern and after 30 minutes or so, stumbled upon a street I recognized and made our way.
We got about three hours of sleep, got going around 7 pm, and had dinner in a tiny little Italian place just down the street. Excellent service and food. I reflected on why I'm so damned impatient with American restaurants. With the exception of the rare few, they simply do not get it right. The presentation and the timing is always off. This is one of the things the French are famous for. Good for them, and I don't see them relinquishing that prestige anytime soon.
My senses are experiencing full-on assault. Living here for two full years in the early 90s, at a job that required conversing in French exclusively, I find it remarkable how naturellement (see) your mind can migrate into a whole different manner of thinking. Back then, I often went months not speaking or hearing a single word of English. I thought in French -- even dreamed in French. It probably wouldn't be more than a month or so before I could return entirely to that state of mind.
Bea's having a good time -- though she misses dreadfully her "puppies" and dreads the thought of three full weeks without them. I told her it's really only two, since week three will be looking forward to seeing them soon.
We both ended up wide awake at about 4:30 am this morning, got up, and Bea's out walking the neighborhood at 6, getting her bearings.
Well, time for our petit dejeuner.
I actually read about some well-known conservative blogger nitwit referencing the U.S. Constitution -- the document that rescinded American independence -- in celebration of this day.
Anyway, here (in case you've never read the actual founding document of America...).