30 August 2009

Summer Vacation 2009

Earlier in August we were fortunate to have the opportunity to get away from the city for some rest and relaxation in the south of France, Monaco and Italy. We (Randy, Gina, Delaney, Tucker and Scout)took the TGV from Paris to Nice. We enjoyed our journey in comfort and preferred that mode of travel over flying. No security and less hassle all around.

We stayed at the Hotel Rex which was modest but comfortable and perfectly situated right in the thick of things, just a few minutes walk from the beach. The staff was warm and gracious, pitching in to help us lug our suitcases and dog carriers up the steep steps to Room 6. Once settled, we ventured out to explore. It was very hot! We ended up buying tickets for the top level of a tour bus so we could both see and learn about the city from a high perch and enjoy a steady breeze! The Mediterranean was magnificent and the color of the water a beautiful cerulean blue.

One of the beachs in Nice, FranceOne of the great beaches in Nice, France. We were surprised at the size of the public beach (well over a mile long) and how many people were out enjoying the warm Mediterranean Sea. The shore is mainly rock instead of sand, but that doesn't deter anyone from venturing down to lay on the beach. Some parts are private and owned by the hotels across the street, but there are plenty of public beaches so that everyone can enjoy the shore. It was magical to be there.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice, FranceDuring our double-decker tour bus rid, we stopped at a traffic light which gave me a chance as afternoon storm clouds passed by, to take a photo of the beautiful Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas Russian Orthodox church built in 1912 by Russian Czar Nicolas. The cathedral is made up of a harmony of pink bricks, light grey marble and brightly colored ceramic.It is crowned by six domes and contains fabulous treasures, icons, woodork and frescoes.

Randy, Delaney, Gina after dinner in Nice, France Randy, Delaney, Gina, Tucker and Scout the walk home after a great dinner in Nice. Traveling with the dogs was a peace of cake. They were welcome everywhere and behaved extraordinarily well. It gave us peace of mind to know they were with us.

While in Nice, we took a short train ride to Monaco, home of Monte Carlo. As soon as got off the train, we understood why people love to live and visit this beautiful country. The streets were clean. There were no homeless in sight. The architecture was stunning and the views of the harbor breathtaking.

Looking at Port Hercule, MonacoOverlooking Port Hercule in Monaco. Monaco is the second smalled city in Europe (Vatican City located in the center of Rome is the smallest.) It has a population of the 33,000, with just under 85% wealth and moved in from other countries to avoid paying income tax. Most people can cross the length of the country in just under an hour.

Our next destination was Cinque Terre, a group of five small villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) on the Italian Riviera. We traveled there by train from Nice. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare. The beach was sandy and clean, the water a gorgeous azure blue and the perfect temperature for cooling down from a busy day under the hot sun. Here in Monterosso, many parts of the beach are reserved for guests of the hotels across the street and throughout the town. Only a small portion is available to locals and people like us whose hotel didn't have a section of beach.

Older women waiting for butcher in Vernazza, Italy.Local women waiting for at the butcher shop in Vernazza, Italy. Vernazza has no car traffic (a road leads to a parking lot on the edge of the town) and remains one of the truest "fishing villages" on the Italian Riviera.

Coming into Riomaggiore, Italy

The view of Riomaggiore, the most southern village. We visited each village via a water taxi that pulled up next to the dock and extended its gang plank so the passengers could quickly debark. Very unstable situation - not for the faint hearted! Each of the five villages was slightly different. If we go back, we plan to spend more time in Vernazza, our favorite village.

One of the five towns in Cinque Terre, Manarola, ItalyWe hiked up above Manarola to get this shot. Time seems to have stopped at this village. The people are quite content. They have everything they need to survive as well as a tremendous view of the Mediterranean Sea.

Gina and Delaney in Monterosso, ItalyGina and Delaney stay cool with a cold drink while we wait for the train to take up from Monterossa to Firenze (Florence). Temperatures were in the high 90's for the entire trip. The heat really saps your strength, and was tough for our small mutts.

Colorful window in San Gimignano, ItalyWhile in Firenze, we took a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano. We were in Siena just before the Palio, the traditional horse race run around the Piazzi del Campo on August 16th. The 17 Contrade (the city neighborhoods formed as battalions for the city's defense) vie for the trophy - a painted flag, also known as a Palio, bearing the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though often a brutal and dangerous competition for horse and rider, the city thrives on the pride this competition brings. All of the locals, young and old, were wearing scarves representing the Contrade in which they live or were born.

Delaney and Gina above Florence, ItalyDelaney and Gina relax at a look out a short distance from the restaurant in Fiesole, a small village on the outskirts of Florence, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner. The first recorded mention of Fiesole dates to 283 B.C. when it was conquered by the Romans. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas spent their summers in Fiesole before the WWI.

18 August 2009

Another Dull Day In Paris

Paris can be so much fun compared to other cities around the globe. I suppose because of its size and beauty, it attracts all kinds of people, business, cultures and movie scenes.

For the last several days, from our fifth floor apartment windows, we've watched our neighborhood be transformed into a movie set. Where parking spaces used to have cars, orange cones with plastic tape have become the norm. Security guards have policed the neighborhood 24x7 making sure no one parked in marked spaces or walked away with photographic gear that appeared on the scene.

Flyers posted throughout the neighborhood stated that shooting would begin this afternoon and continue through end of day Wednesday. We had no idea what movie was being shot. Yesterday, before they completely cordoned off several blocks, I took the dogs for a walk and noticed the movie crew had constructed a fake cafe, fake flower store, fake book store, and a fake produce market.

Today was the day filming was to begin and sure enough by 7:00am huge trucks started replacing the orange cones. By 9:30, filming had begun. I set up my camera, tripod and big lenses, opened up the double floor to ceiling windows and waited for the action to begin. After taking a few shots of the crew getting things just perfect, the doorbell rang and two very large and tall men in suits told me in French and in broken English that I couldn't take photos. I’m not sure how they got into our secure building. They said that Leonardo DiCaprio was not allowing outside filming. Because I didn't want to cause a scene and because I wasn't sure of the legal ramifications I said, sure no problem I'll take down my camera.

Gina did some quick research on the Internet and found out that Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page (from Juno) and Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner from La Vie en Rose) are starring in the film being shot this week in Paris. The movie "Inception" directed by "Dark Knight's" Christopher Nolan began shooting in London last month.

The set has hundreds of people all around performing their various duties: lighting, sound, catering, setting up movie camera tracks, finishing touches on the set, etc, etc. It seems much of the time people are just standing around waiting for something to happen. It looks rather boring.

We've spent the day glancing out the window to see if anything new has happened. We've watched them film about a half dozen takes of Ellen and Leo talking over coffee (after the third take it got boring to watch). This afternoon I thought something was going to happen as they nearly cleared the set and had the crew standing many yards away. As I was watching Ellen and Leo sit back down for coffee, the cafe exploded. A nearby car and motor scooter went flying in the air with debris falling all over the set.

It's about 6pm and outside below our window, a crowd of onlookers have gathered including the paparazzi with their cameras and big 500mm lenses.

Here are a few photos I was able to capture.

04 August 2009

The Paris Metro Can Be Entertaining

Riding the Paris Metro is not always a mundane daily event. I've learned to expect the unexpected while moving around the city. With an open mind and an appreciation for the talented (and the not so talented), the brave (with more guts than I'll ever have) and the working class, you'll come across some interesting entertainment.

A certain person I know thinks that if she wanted to be entertained she would have brought her iPod, while others find the whole scene part of the Parisian culture.

Take a look at a few of the videos I found on Youtube.com regarding the Paris Metro.