#25 – Nimes, France. Romans, Bulls and Bikes!

Learning about Gladiators in the Nimes Arena

We left the coast of France, and headed back in time! Caroline had done a little research and learned about a cool little city a few hours away by train, full of ancient Roman ruins and lots of history and french culture to explore. Off to Nimes we went! We arrived to great weather and pleasant suprises, as the city was welcoming, not too busy and very easy to navigate. Our AirBnB was about 20 mins walk from the Train station and we had to walk through the center of town to get there. Along the way we discovered the amazing Arena, a cute downtown core, full of shops and restaurants, patios and fountains, and a bustling daily market we enjoyed many times.

Today, the Arena hosts Bull fights and Concerts

The first touristy thing we explored was the impressive Arena, right in the center of town, and imposing over the central square. There was a great audio guide, and it educated us about the history of the Arena, the types of entertainment provided, and the different influences over the years. Currently, the Arena is in great shape, well restored and used often for Bull fights and concerts, as well as city festivals. In the past, it had been taken over with housing, was fallen into disrepair, used as a fortress, as well as its glory days during the Roman times in 70 CE. You can read more about here.

They Romans and later, City Elders built extensive fountains and canals fed by water from the natural spring and Pont du Gard Aqueduct

We also enjoyed the tour around the city on their “train” bus, which gave us a great overview of the highlights, history and places to check out later. Again, it was pleasantly hot, not too busy and easy to get around. We loved learning about the central spring of the city, which fed into these canals, gardens and fountains, as well as supported the textiles industry of the past, which innovated the creation of Denim Jeans, made from “des Nimes”. We walked through the beautiful gardens, saw the central spring, the fallen down Temple of Diana, and the Tower on the hill, all great examples of Roman engineering and civil infrastructure.

Caroline modeling the latest Roman fashion

Across the street from the Arena, was a very modern museum all about the Roman history of Nimes, and an impressive collection of artifacts, exhibits and innovative displays like the picture above, where Caroline is demonstrating the latest in Roman fashion. We had lots of space in the Museum, as they were not many other tourists, and it was very educational, and worthy of a visit when in town. We also enjoyed many tasty and delicous meals around town over a few evenings, enjoying the local specialty, Bull meat, as it is on almost every menu! One of our meals was extra special as we were seated next to a young Scottish couple on a weekend vacation, and we spent the evening chatting and getting to know them and talking all about the similiarities and differences between Canada and Scotland!

medieval Castle in Uzes

One of our big adventures was to take a local bus to the town of Uzes, about 40 mins away, where Caroline had arranged for us to rent some E-bikes to ride out to the Pont du Gard Aqueduct, a truly impressive Roman installation that brought fresh safe water to the people of Nimes from over 50 miles away! The ride was gorgeous, as it was a very nice day, and the bike path was easy and smooth. We rode past a lot of farms and fields and through a couple small villages and enjoyed the ease of our E-bikes, speeding us along the route.

Riding through the countryside to Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard Aqueduct was an amazing feat of Roman engineering and demonstrated their technical abilities and wealth at the time. It is still special today as it is the tallest, best preserved aqueduct left in the modern world and attracts people from all over to spend some time in awe of it. There were tourists from all over the world, as well as school groups, locals and us, enjoying being in the presence of this amazing structure. We walked over it, and explored a viewpoint from the right hand side, as well as went down to the river below. Overall, it was a great day of riding, exploring and learning more about the Romans and their empire.

Bringing water to the people of Nimes in 50 AD. Pont du Gard Aqueduct

Nimes, France should definitely be on your list of places to visit if you are nearby. It has everything you would need, plus much more to make your visit enjoyable and informative. The people were friendly, and they had so much to do and see. We highly enjoyed our time and would love to return again one day. Check out our video below to see how much we enjoyed this area, and the photos are linked below the video. Cheers!

Check out our photos from Nimes here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/pfYZhZAzdGzMXTJH9

#24 – Nice, Monaco and Villefranche Sur Mel and how we got bowled over by a Moped!

Arriving at the Villefranche-sur-Mer Beach for the first time!

After our wonderful time in Italy. we headed west along the top coast of the Mediterranean Sea into France. Caroline had booked us a wonderful little apartment for a week in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a tiny little village inbetween Monaco and Nice. It had a bunch of delicous restaurants, a small beach, a market and a train station! It was warm and sunny and we thoroughly enjoyed our week there, with lots of beach time, hiking and exploring nearby.

Our apartment with our little slice of a view!

Our apartment had a tiny little balcony, and a slice of a view of the bay, just one block away. We were on a pedestrian only little alley with a restaurant right below us, a bakery nearby and small shop for groceries down the block. We also enjoyed the bi-weekly market up the hill for fresh veggies and cheese, olives and little croquettes, a type of roasted cornish hens that we shared for dinner! Our hosts were fantastic, and the apartment had a full kitchen, washing machine, and all the beach equipment we needed.

Enjoying some Poetry at the Fete de Rose

One of our first adventures was to go explore along the side of the bay, and we were not dissappointed! We happend upon the Fete de Roses, an annual weekend festival at the nearby Rothchild’s estate and palatial gardens. It was beautiful and extra special for all the unique presentations and beautiful experiences that were arranged for the visitors. We especially enjoyed lounging on the velour pillows and listening to engaging french poetry all about roses and flowers. It was incredibly relaxing and inspiring! We also got to enjoy a syncronized water display in the fountains, and a ballet presentation before a special ceremony to recognize a retiring gardener with his own named type of Rose plant. Then they released the doves. It was a great day!

The Rothchild’s Villa, Fete de Rose

Our next adventure was to take the train to Monaco, a few bays to the east, where we arrived after a very busy weekend hosting the historical Grand Prix. There were seating stands setup all over the roads and lots of people working hard to clean up after the event. The giant yachts and helicopters were leaving en masse all day as the wealthy spectators were all leaving town. We walked up the hill to visit the Royal Palace and got to see the changing of the Guards, which was interesting, but not as elaborate as the English Royals in London. It was very hot, and we explored the city, harbour and even went to the Monte Carlo Casino, but could not gamble as Caroline did not have any ID with her!

The historical Grand Prix in Monaco

It was incredible to see all the mega yachts, with boats inside of boats and helicopters on the back. We were gobsmacked by the wealth and oppulence of Monaco and felt very out of place. It was busy, but with mostly staff, and workers everywhere, but you could sense the wealth all around us It made us reflect a lot on the inequities of this Principality, especially as our phones would not work here and we could not even use our data to find our way around. I don’t think we will ever be back.

A boat inside your boat, for when you need to go ashore

The changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace was a formal event every couple of hours and we were able to be there when they changed over. The soldiers had pristine white uniforms and heavy automatic weapons. I’m not sure they’ve ever been invaded here, but they certainly are ready for anything.

The guard of the Palace in Monaco

Our next adventure was to go west, to the next bay over to Nice, a much more reasonable city with a long beach and beautiful walkway along the front of the bay. We did a little shopping for some warm summer clothes, as we are now south enough to not need any of our spring clothing. We had a delicous meal, and had a really nice chat with a recently engaged young woman on the beach where we compared teenagers in Canada and France. We also saw the sailing school getting towed out to practice and learn on a beautiful afternoon.

Sailing School in Nice, France

So, you are probably still reading, wondering “how did you get bowled over by a moped? Well, it was when we were in Villefranche-sur-Mer and we were returning from the market with our shopping. We were near our apartment, on a pedestrian only street and our guards were down. We did not really hear the moped coming up behind us, but soon, all we felt was a giant metal object right between us, hurtling towards a store display. We both fell outwards and the moped driver was able to stop before driving right into the shop. Both of us had our arms hit, but nothing too serious, just some light bruising. The moped was a La Poste, mail delivery moped, and the driver was super apologetic, and made sure we were both ok. The entire street of people all stoped to check us out and the shop owner came out to clean up the display. It all worked out fine and we were laughing about it in no time, but we both felt it was only a matter of time before we had a moped issue, as they are everywhere in Europe! We are glad our interaction was so minor and will keep our wits about us in the future!

Moules et Frites

Our last meal in Villefranche-sur-Mer was delicious and we especially enjoyed the Moules et Frites. We look forward to some more excellent meals as we head out to Nimes, France with lots of Roman restorations and then onto Spain next. Below is our video from this part of our trip, and a link to extra pictures below that. Enjoy!

Photos from this part of our trip: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Kog6zR6mkHvExoNbA

#23 – Vienna, Florence and Genoa! Pizza, Beaches and Sun!

St Stephen’s Cathedral Vienna, Austria

What a busy week we had in Vienna, Florence and Genoa! These three cities were each super beautiful, fun, and extremely busy! We started off in Vienna at a hip hotel, near the central train station, and were able to slowly explore this historic town. Transit there is easy, and we were able to explore the center tourist district on foot, walking along the river, and checking out the many Hapsburg palaces and gardens. It was pleasant, warm weather and we enjoyed the chance to learn a bit more about this fantastic wealthy city,

Hundertwasser House, Vienna, Austria

One of the highlights was the Hundertwasser house and museum! This inspirational architect designed new forms and structures that were not rigid, but flowing, full of nature intertwined within and without. They are definitely unique and I wish that more architecture around the world would adopt some of these ideas. It was so inviting and engaging to see and explore and I recommend it as a must see if you are ever in Vienna. We also enjoyed walking around the pemanant amusement park, the Prater, and seeing all the teenagers skipping school to go on the rides around the park.

Nightrain to Florence

We had our first overnight train from Vienna to Florence! It was on the Austrian rail line, OBB and their Nightjet service. The cars were a little older, but it worked out great. We shared our booth with a Ukrainian couple who were emigrating to Canada. It was so special to be able to meet them, answer all their questions about Canada and to become friends for when we are back home. The car was a little loud and rattling through the night, so not our best sleep, but we were happy to arrive in Florence in the morning.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence was a treat! It was warm, sunny and busy, with lots to see and eat while there. We really enjoyed how walkable the city was, and the beauty around almost every corner. We explored the traditional Cathedrals, squares and markets, as well as crossed over the river many times to see the views, parks and flowers on the other side. We especially enjoyed the sculptures and frescos all around the city and the tiny alleyways interconnecting all our walks. We shopped, ate, and lounged for three days and really enjoyed our time there. It was busy with lots of English tourists, as well as Stag and Stagette parties, and there should be lots of weddings coming up this summer!

Florence Sculptures

The artwork, history and culture in Florence was unbeliveable, with so many incredible works on display. The food and people were fantastic, as we had delicious meals and met many nice Italians. Our hotel was very close to the center of the city. We were able to do some laundry, and because we had our own apartment with a kitchen, we cooked some meals on our own at home, and shopped at the wonderful Mercato Centrale. The only annoying part of staying in Florence was the mosquitos! A total suprise to find out that we had them all over our apartment in the evening. It required a special bed time routine each night to get rid of them all before sleeping.

Mpvie Prop ship from “Pirates” by Roman Polanski

The train from Florence to Genoa was quite special. First we had to transfer in Pisa, and then take the coast all the way up and around to Genoa. We got a few nice views, but much of the journey was through long tunnels. We did get to see some cruise ships and some nice beaches along the way. Once we arrived in Genoa, we got checked into our hotel, and began exploring this ancient and vibrant port city. One of the coolest things in the Harbour was a giant Pirate ship “prop” built for the Roman Polanski movie “Pirates”. Everything on the ship was fake, but it was still able to sail!

Boccadasse Bay, Genoa Italy

Our hotel was very near a tiny little bay outside Genoa, called Boccadasse Bay, or “Donkey’s mouth” as it was translated. It was super cute, and a little less busy with lots of nice patios and spots to sit and enjoy the sun and the breeze. I enjoyed a delicious “suprise” pizza at a restaurant nearby and we came down each night for some Gelato and to see the sunset. The staff at our hotel were wonderful and very helpful with all sorts of tips and advice for our time in Genoa. We also enjoyed taking a city bus east along the coast to explore some more gorgous bays, beaches and tiny villages while we were there. Genoa was a great place for us and we hope to be back on day!

Below is the video for this segment of our trip and it showcases some of the best of our time there, so check it out. For many more pictures of these cities, see the link below the video! We are now off to Villefranche Sur Mel, near Nice, France!

Photos for this post: https://photos.app.goo.gl/6vu6e2ZHdZdu3Zzv5

#22 – A full head of Steam in Dresden, Germany!

The Moritzburg Castle on a sunny morning

We just had an amazing week near Dresden, Germany visiting with my family, and exploring all that Saxon Switzerland had to offer! Our week also included a ton of fun activities with Steam: Steam Train ride to Radeburg and a Steam Boat cruise up the Elbe to the Königstein Fortress. We ended our week with a wonderful picnic watching the Steam Paddleboat fleet on parade for May 1st!

Restored Steam Engine that goes from Radebeul to Radeburg every day

Our visit to Dresden was primarily to visit with my Uncle and his family and we really enjoyed all that we were able to do with them. My Uncle toured us around to see Morritzburg, Meissen, Pilna, Radeburg, Radebeul and all around this whole region, including the Czech Republic! He was such a great tour guide! We got to see the Bastei ancient fortress in the mountains, and his old shop and favourite spots for coffee and cake!

Bastei Bridge to the old fortress
Blowing off some Steam on the Elbe river!
Felt like we were being watched! Meissen, Germany

We really enjoyed the time we had with family, exploring the region, catching up and connecting after a long time! Our personalized tours were the best, and my Uncle, who knew the whole area so well, told us fascinating bits of history and knowledge with every town. We truly appreciated all this time he spent with us and how much he was able to show us.

Beautiful views in Meissen

Learning about time in the GDR, from my family was very powerful. Because of the split in Germany after World War 2, half my family was back in East Germany and my father’s family emigrated to Canada and there was not a lot of connection for many years. It was really good to spend time, to picnic, to explore and to hear about all the events and things we missed. My Uncle and his family were so gracious and made our stay so very special and unique! We got to see so many special spots away from the tourists and busy spots. Thank you Gerhard, Petra, Eike, Stephan and Linnea!

Enjoying the May 1st Paddlewheel Steam Boat Parade!

While we were in Dresden, we also got to explore and see all that the downtown, historic city center had to offer! We especially enjoyed all the restored architecture and modern developments, the parks and the Green Vault, the collection of the most valuable and precious artifacts from the Saxon lords of the last many centuries. It was truly impressive, but no pictures allowed!

Going for a drive in my Uncle’s fully restored 1938 Mercedes Benz convertable

A highlight for me was to be able to go for a drive with my Uncle in his fully restored 1938 Mercedes Benz! This has been a project of his for over 6 years and it was an amazing experience to enjoy driving with him around Dresden on a sunny day! Of course this car got so many looks and admirers everywhere we went and I am so impressed with his work and abilities to bring this car back to glory. It was a special treat and a wonderful time!

Overall, our stay in Dresden was amazing! We loved it and would come back any chance we get. It was sad when we had to leave and we wish we had more time to spend with our amazing family there. The whole of Saxon Switzerland was incredible, the history, the Steam trains, Steam Boats and old cars, the food, beer and views all made this week a big highlight for both of us. We will definitel be back on day soon!

Below is our exciting and fun video from this visit, and below that, a link to some indivudual photos and videos. Please enjoy!

Photos from this part of our trip! https://photos.app.goo.gl/iKMazhLxaHAUQEtp8