Back in Maine, where it’s still winter!

snow bank in front of cove

Expecting spring, we were greeted by winter!

We arrived back in Maine a week ago, after experiencing beautiful weather in France for three weeks. We knew it had been a hard winter, and that we wouldn’t be seeing the flowers that were all over the place in Paris.  But we thought maybe we’d see a few daffodils poking through the ground.  No way!  We couldn’t even see the ground. It’s great to be back in Maine, but we hear that we picked a good winter to be away. Hopefully, this bodes well for a delightful summer.

We had a fabulous time in France, and while far from being fluent in French, we’ve made a lot of progress.  If you’re interested, there are photos and reports on our French adventures on our travel blog:  covesiders.blogspot.com.

 

Postcards from La Cote d’Azur

Cap Ferat from the Col d'Eze; our first hick (the train down was a real challenge!)

Cap Ferat from the Col d’Eze; our first hike (the trail down was a real challenge!)

We just finished six weeks in the South of France, on the Cote d’Azur, in a little village just next to Nice called Villefranche-Sur-Mer.  As we have done for the past three years, we’ve been trying to improve our French language skills (while, incidentally, escaping the Maine winter. This year proved to be a great year to be away from Maine!)  Here are a few pictures of our activities — when we weren’t studying our French. (Click on the small image to see a larger version)

Winter in the South of France

sea view from high on a hill, with Mediterranean in the background

So it hasn’t been as pleasant as we expected here on the Cote d’Azur — lots of rain and chilly temperatures. It’s still a lot warmer than Maine; especially this year!  We’re spending almost two months in France this winter, most of it in a little fishing village next to Nice, on the Mediterranean — Villefranche-sur-Mer. We’re continuing our efforts to learn to speak French reasonably well with courses at the Institut de Francais. And, of course, we plan to absorb French culture, food, wine, etc. The weather reports predict an improvement, and we’re looking forward to putting our umbrellas away for a while.The picture above is the view from our school, looking toward Cap Ferat. A lovely spot. If you wish, you can follow our travels on our travel blog here.

WOOFING during the Mistral in Provence

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The field from which we removed a truckload of young grape vines, to make room for a new field of asparagus. The tractor is digging up the rows so we can pull out the vines. This was not a small field!

After spending two months, over two years, working on our French in classes near Nice, we wanted to put it to use and see how we could do in the real world. So we signed up to be “Woofers,” [World-side Opportunities in Organic Farming] on a farm in Provence. We lived for 4 days with a family whose son, Mario, was intent on becoming a self-sustaining organic farmer. We traded our work for a place to stay, all our meals, and a chance to get to know the family, their way of life, and to  practice our French (no one in the family spoke English). We emailed back a forth a bit before we left for France, but really had little idea what we were getting into. It turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.

In addition to farming, Mario and his family ran a bed & breakfast (a “chambre d’hote” in France) so we thought we’d fit right in — help cook breakfast, clean rooms, work in the garden a bit. Except that he had no guests in March, and a great need for help in his fields. So we spent four amazing days working as farm hands, living with his family, and speaking French. The only bad part was that we arrived at the same time as a major windstorm — a Mistral. This legendary wind blows straight from the Artic; it is fierce and very cold. For the first three days, the wind blew constantly at 40 – 50 miles per hour, with gusts well over 60!  And the temperature was in the 30′s and low 40′s. The only saving grace was the brilliant sunshine.

You might think that with these climactic conditions, no one would work outside. Not so! We spent 3 1/2 frigid days pulling out grape vines, planting some of the vines in another vineyard, weeding a newly planted vegetable garden, pruning back a sizable vineyard that had gone without care or pruning for several years, and trying to stay warm. Fortunately, the wind stopped for our last day of work so we got a sense of what the Provencal weather is usually like this time of year. But the four days we spent “:woofing” were unforgettable — we laughed a lot, drank a lot of wine, ate very well, took a lot of Motrin, found out that we could understand and make ourselves understood pretty well in French, and got acquainted with a truly delightful family which we will probably visit again. Here are some pictures of our adventure. They include trying to light a fire to make coffee in 60 mph winds, the load of vines we removed, Tom weeding, Carolyn trying to stay warm, a work break from pruning during our one warmish day, the vineyard we pruned (note its size, and the difference between the pruned and unpruned rows), the B&B, and Carolyn with Mario’s wonderful family.

Rome food adventure

artichoke

After our four-week French course in Villefranche-Sur-Mer was over, we spent four days in Rome, visiting old friends who were in Rome for the month of March. On the first day they booked a fabulous Rome food tour with Elizabeth Minchilli, an acclaimed cookbook writer and blogger. She is an American who has lived in Rome for many years. Her blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, is one of our two most favorite food blogs (the other is David Libovitz’ “Living the Sweet Life in Paris.”)

We spent an hour or so in the Campo de’ Fiore, one of Rome’s best known vegetable markets. Artichoke season had just begun and the bounty of artichokes was amazing. To say nothing of the other vegetables, the flowers, spices, etc. And then we visited food shops in the neighborhood. A feast for the senses!  If you are in Rome, we highly recommend Elizabeth’s food tour, which includes visits to pastry, cheese, wine, bread, and sausage shops — with tasting — and a lovely lunch at a traditional Roman restaurant. Some pictures of the bounty:

Only in France: The Menton Lemon Festival

Menton Lemon Festival 2013

We’re in southern France, on the Cote d’Azur, working hard on our French at an intensive language school, L’Institut de Francais, near Nice. A long way from Coveside and the Maine coast in February! We had a day off today and took the train to Menton, a lovely resort town on the Italian border, to check out the annual Lemon Festival. They create a park full of huge displays made entirely of oranges, lemons, and flowers (as well as parades with floats made of fruit, night-time displays, and other events). The theme this year was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and the amazing citrus displays depicted various places in the world visited by Phileas Fogg on his voyage. The fruit are attached to the huge display frames with elastic bands.  This year the displays consumed 120 tons (!) of citrus and a million elastic bands. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images. Only in France!

We’re in France!

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Our blog entries may slow down a bit until mid-March.  We’re spending almost 7 weeks in the South of France, attending a French language school in Villefranche-sur-Mer (a beautiful village next to Nice on the Mediterranean). And then we’re doing a bit of traveling. We’re even spending five days working on an organic farm and B&B in Provence, practicing our French (our hosts speak no English), working in the fields, and helping with the housework. We’ll let you know how this works out!  Here’s the view from our school — L’Institute de Francais. You can see why we like it here!

If you’d like to follow our adventures, our travel blog is Covesiders.blogspot.com.

Escape to France

We’re in France until March 13, spending a month studying French at L’Institut de Francais in Villefranche, a pretty seaside town just north of Nice (where, incidentally, it has been unusually cold — along with all of Europe), and 10 days in Paris with friends from Maine. So we won’t be doing much Coveside blogging.  If you’re interested, you can follow our adventures on our travel blog: http://covesiders.blogspot.com.

Here’s the view from our school:

Carolyn and Tom’s Excellent Galapagos Adventure

Up close and personal with a Galapagos tortoise

We spent about ten days in late February in Ecuador — three days in the mountain highlands (over 9000 feet) in the hills above Otavalo, and a week cruising the Galapagos islands. The mainland part of our trip introduced us to native crafts (especially weaving), spectacular scenery that includes volcanoes on the ecuator topped with snow year-round, and cool spring-like temperatures. The Galapagos — a 90 minute flight away from Quito — were something else altogether. We sailed the islands in a catamaran with 11 guests and a crew of 6. The trip was labeled as “adventure” and we kayaked, snorkeled, and hiked our way through the islands. Truly an extraordinary experience. The wildlife were as tame and fascinating as we were led to expect, the scenery much more beautiful, and the kayaking and snorkeling truly amazing.  We snorkeled with playful sea lions, sea turtles, rays, sharks (even hammerheads!), and — of course — a rainbow’s worth of tropical fish. Here are a couple of our Galapagos pics. If you’re interested in seeing more, we put together a photo album on Snapfish that you can see here.

Ferocious baby sea lion attacking Tom

His portrait

They liked to play in the water, too

The peaceable kingdom

Our Bar Harbor and Acadia Getaway

Acadia National Park

Coveside closed for the season on October 17, and after our annual “work weekend” with friends to winterize the inn, we took a short (two-night) trip to Bar Harbor for some R&R. We had hoped to hike trails in Acadia National Park and reacquaint ourselves with a region we haven’t had the chance to visit since we opened the bed and breakfast 13 years ago. The weather was pretty disappointing, however – steady rain during our only full day, and fog on our final morning.  We did manage a short (4 mile) hike up Gorham Mountain, where we had a brief aerial view of the coastline before the fog returned.

The trail began easily enough

 

But the trail degenerated to a rock scramble at the Cadillac Cliffs

This is a trail?

More of the Cadillac Cliffs “trail”

Sand beach from Gorham Mountain

When we reached the top it looked like the fog was about the clear; but, alas, it soon returned with a vengeance.

We stayed at a spectacular B&B in Bar Harbor — the Bass Cottage Inn. Located in a quiet neighborhood of grand old “cottages,” it is just a short walk to the waterfront and the town’s many shops and restaurants. The innkeepers, Jeff and Teri Anderholm, have lovingly restored the hundred-year-old summer home to its former grandeur. Their hospitality and good taste permeate the place; the public spaces and guest rooms (some with fireplaces and water views) are both elegant and welcoming; and the breakfasts were excellent. The quiet location and peaceful charm of this inn is a welcome antidote to the hurlyburly of Bar Harbor. Also highly recommended (by us, and by reports on Trip Advisor) are the two restaurants we visited for dinner:  Mache Bistro and Town Hill Bistro.