Orcas Island Retreat

The San Juan Islands, located in the Salish Sea in the northwestern part of Washington State, are an ideal get away for anyone looking for a place to rest and relax. The slow pace, rural setting free of traffic jams and the stress of the city, make for a perfect place to wind down and recharge. And that’s exactly what my husband and I did for the past four days. We found a perfect little Airbnb house on Orcas Island, in a quiet, peaceful location where the deer roam through the yard in the morning and late afternoon. There is a picturesque pond, and several creeks, and each morning a woodpecker entertained us with its antics.

There is a pond just steps away from the deck.

There are many activities on Orcas including kayaking, hiking, whale watching, wine tasting, shopping, and many other things to do. Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park is an interesting place to visit for amazing views of the sea and surrounding islands. You will need a Discover Pass to park your car, but there is a kiosk in the park where one can be purchased.

The photo above is a view of Sucia Islands from the top of the mountain. Vancouver, BC is in the distance.

The long island in the distance is Matia Island, and the shorter one is Puffin Island.

There are many hiking trails on the island as well. We hiked the Cascade Lake Loop Trail, which is a 2.7 mile trail that offers nice views of the lake.

And of course, there are many beaches to explore.

This is the beach at Doe Bay.

Eastsound is the largest town on the island and offers many restaurants, shops, art galleries and wine tasting. The New Leaf Cafe in the Outlook Inn is a great place for dinner, with a beautiful view of the water. The Outlook Inn and the Doe Bay Wine Company (mentioned below) made the New York Times list of 52 places to visit in 2019.

The Doe Bay Wine Company offers affordable and interesting wines to taste. It’s a fun place to visit and the owners are friendly and welcoming.

The many harbours and inlets are inviting and offer many photo opportunities.

The country roads with a maximum speed limit of 40 mph help with the overall feeling of slowing down. We found them to be a welcome change to the frenzy of city life.

The islands are a popular destination in the summer, so book your accommodations and make your reservation for the ferry well in advance. Or, like we did, visit in the off season.

Have you visited the San Juan Islands? If so, leave a comment below with your favorite activities there.

The Beautiful City of Nice, France

Nice is a beautiful city that is situated on the French Riviera and was founded in the 4th century BC by the Greeks. It was named after Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory. The Italians changed the name to Nizza during their occupation of the city. In 1860, the name was changed back to Nice when it became part of France. The Italian influence is still prevalent, and you will find many Italian restaurants and shops.

It is a welcoming place to visit with much to offer, including beaches, castles, museums, and delicious cuisine. We visited in mid October a few years ago, and the weather was perfect with clear, bright blue skies, and a warm temperature in the high 70s. After settling into our Airbnb apartment, we strolled along the Promenade des Anglais, and found a cafe on the beach for a snack. We were both amazed at the brilliant blue color of the rippling Mediterranean Sea. My husband, who is an artist, commented that the color of the Mediterranean is so blue, that if he painted it as is, no one would believe the color was truly realistic.

The Old Town or Vieille Ville is a must see and is filled with narrow, twisting alleyways that eventually open up to larger plazas and squares where you’ll find statues, fountains and other interesting structures. You will find many restaurants, shops, vendors and so much more as you wander through the area. The Marche aux Fleurs Cours Saleya is a highlight as well.

The 7 kilometer Promenade des Anglais is a nice place to stroll and people watch. It was named for the wealthy English tourists who visited the area in the 18th century.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I have always found the French to be warm, welcoming and helpful. In fact, our Airbnb host actually picked us up at the airport, and drove us into town and to our apartment. He gave us a little tour along the way, and pointed out many of the famous sites. And people say the French are not friendly? Je ne pence pas!

Notre-Dame de Paris

Like many others, I was deeply grieved to hear the news of the fire earlier this week that ruined much of the beloved cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris. I am at a loss of words to describe the horror I felt when watching the images of the fire, and to see the magnificent spire come tumbling down. It is encouraging, however, to hear the optimism of the French authorities who say it will be repaired.

I have been fortunate to have visited Notre-Dame de Paris many times and found the history to be completely amazing. Construction on the cathedral began in 1160, and took many more years to complete. It is rich with architectural ingenuity, including the flying buttresses, gargoyles, the statues of saints and kings, rose windows, just to name a few, all of which beautifully showcase its French Gothic architectural style.

My husband and I first visited Notre Dame in the spring of 1998. It was a weekday, so luckily for us, it was not swarming with tourists. During that visit, we climbed the 367 steps to explore the belfry, et, bien sur, we climbed the next set of 147 steps to the top of the south tower, whew! The view from the top is absolutely amazing. Once you start climbing, or descending, there’s no place to stop, and there are people in front of you and behind you, so this climb is not for everyone.

On our first two visits, the exterior of the cathedral was covered with scaffolding, so I was thrilled on our third visit when the scaffolding was finally gone!

On another visit, in April, 2005, we visited Notre Dame the day after the Pope died. There were hundreds of tourists visiting that day, along with a handful of faithful mourners, near the alter listening to the priest as he prayed for the deceased Pope, and his followers.

The statues of the saints and kings on the outside of the building are very interesting, also with their own intriguing history.

This one is of St. Denis, the first Bishop of Paris. Apparently he ended up on the wrong side of the Roman authorities, and was beheaded. Legend has it that after his beheading, he picked up his head and walked north. The area where he finally fell and died is known as St. Denis.

My dear friend, Terri Watson, wrote this beautiful haiku after hearing of the fire:

On this Holy Week

Death springs to eternal life

Out of the ashes

My French friend, Pascal, said this: “Paris burnt, but will be reborn!”

There is always hope for the future.

Doors and Windows of Europe

Today’s post includes photos of doors and windows in various locations in Europe, that I have found interesting. They were taken in the Cotswolds, Provence, Brugge, Barcelona, Madrid, Dores and Castle Douglas (both in Scotland), Florence and Lyon.

As always, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Eze and the Cote d’Azur

The little village of Eze had been on my bucket list for many years, so I was thrilled when the opportunity to visit it finally came up. Eze is a charming village situated on the hilltop far above the Mediterranean Sea that has spectacular views on a clear day. Eze is about a 20 – 30 minute bus ride from Nice along a narrow, winding road, also with beautiful views. The ride can be a bit frightening at times since the road is perched right on the cliff; just try not to look down. 🙂

Once we arrived in the village, we stopped at Le Nid d’Aigle for a delicious lunch. Even though we visited in October, the weather was sunny and warm so we ate outside on the terrace,

After lunch we visited Le Jardin Exotique d’Eze. There is a small admission fee, but I highly recommend visiting. Le jardin est tres beau.

I could have sat here forever just looking out at the sea and the rooftops.

The garden is quite large and we spent several hours there.

After visiting the garden we slowly worked our way back down the steep hill and strolled through the village and did a little shopping. As I have mentioned in previous posts, one of my favorite things to do when visiting European villages is to wander around and take photos; Eze is a perfect place for that.

Just as a side note, if you take the bus from Nice as we did, you will be doing a lot of walking to get to the gardens at the top of the hill, and it is quite steep in places as well.

There are a few hotels in Eze, but we stayed in Nice, which is a lovely place as well. Check in next week when I write about our time there.

Visiting the Medieval City of Avignon, France

A visit to Avignon is a must for any trip to Provence. It is an ancient, walled city surrounded by medieval stone ramparts that sits by the Rhone River. Once inside, you will find narrow passageways, charming town squares, along with numerous shops and restaurants. Between 1309 – 1377, it was the seat of the Catholic popes, and the massive Palais des Papes is filled with rich history.

The first time my husband and I visited Avignon was in 1998. My husband was sitting in the square near the Palais des Papes working on a sketch, so I visited le palais by myself. I walked in, looked around, lit a few candles and said some prayers. It was October, so there were only a few people there. I had the place mostly to myself.

We returned to Avignon 15 year later, and oh my, how things had changed! An admission fee of 15 euros was charged, once that was paid, visitors were ushered through a metal detector, and there were tour groups everywhere, as well as modern art. In order to exit, one was forced through the gift shop where sippy cups, t-shirts and toys, all with images of le palais were for sale. Et, bien sur, there was a wine shop, The Pope’s Wine Cellar, where one could purchase Vin de Palais des Papes, But, it is still an amazing place to visit, and I highly recommend it.

Le Pont d’Avignon is another interesting place to visit and has the designation of a World Heritage site. One can take a walk along the bridge and visit the gate house. It’ s a nice location to take some photos.

The Avignon Carousel in Place de L’Horlage is another pretty site.

There are many other sites to visit in Avignon, but one of my favorite things to do is to wander through the narrow streets, take photos, stop for tea or a glass of wine, and watch the people go by.

Avignon is easy to navigate on foot, so you won’t need a rental car. In fact, it is difficult to get around the inner city in a car, so use Lyft, Uber, or public transportation to get around.

Have you been to Avignon? If so, please leave a comment with you favorite sites to see there.

J’adore la france!

As you may have figured out by now, I love to travel, I was bitten by the travel bug early in life, and the bite has never healed. My favorite country is France. Whenever I am in Europe, and my itinerary doesn’t include France, halfway through my trip, I am conjuring up ways to get there, as soon as possible. I love the people, the food, the country villages and, as many times as I have been there, I have never had a bad experience.

One of my favorite regions is Provence. Yes, I know it is one of the most popular areas in France, but it’s an amazing place to visit. It is still possible to find quiet little villages to explore that are much less popular and crowded than perhaps Gordes or Rousillion, but are equally as quaint, friendly and beautiful.

Robion is one such place. It’s close to Gordes, and many other hillside villages, and it has as much charm as the other popular villages.

We have stayed in several Airbnb homes here, and they are a less expensive than the more popular destinations.

From Robion, with a rental car, it is a quick, and gorgeous drive to many of the other villages in the area. A few of our favorites are Bonnieux and Menerbes.

These are lovely places to wander, take photos, have lunch, and chat with the locals. And, bien sur, Gordes is a must see as well.

The market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a must see. It is a good place to buy souvenirs, produce, scarves, and many other items.

A word of caution, don’t go cheese shopping after tasting wine! We spent 60 euros on cheese! C’est la vie. We were traveling with friends, and split the cost, and enjoyed the cheese in our Airbnb house in the evenings with a glass of wine.

My husband and I usually visit Provence in the autumn when the crowds have disappeared and the weather is a little cooler. I advise renting a car, since many of the most beautiful villages are not easy to get to by bus or train. In addition, be sure to brush up on your high school French, contrary to what you may have heard, the locals appreciate a hearty, “bonjour“, “merci” and sil-vous-plait!”

Bon voyage! Comment below with your experiences in France, sil-vous-plait.