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Remember the scene in The Simpsons where Homer is daydreaming about the land of chocolate? Well, that was me in the south of France only it was with foie gras. Um, wait a second. That sounds kind of gross on a lot of levels. Well, even though I only had it twice in the nine days we were in France, it was equally as glorious as it was horrendous. But, like they say, when in Rome do like…Hedonismbot.

Here are some gastronomical highlights from the trip:

cwbuecheler from Flickr

Photo credit: cwbuecheler from Flickr

Picnics—By far, our favourite thing to do when travelling in Europe is checking out the fresh local produce and putting together meals to go. In Nice, we frequented the Cours Saleya Market & Monoprix, while in Avignon we enjoyed the offerings at Les Halles & 8 à Huit. Things we looked for included sundried tomatoes, olives Niçoise or en herbes de Provence, fresh baked bread, and, of course, fabulous cheeses. Whatever you do in France, if there’s an open display of cheeses that aren’t pre-packaged, for goodness sake don’t touch anything. In Paris, Cokebaby got his hand slapped for reaching out. Just remember, cheese is like a religion here. Don’t sully the alter. There are also plenty of pâtisseries and chocolatiers to go around for dessert.

Wines of the region are rosé and Côtes du Rhône which you can purchase for incredibly reasonable prices. Even champagne is dirt cheap here. For special treats we tried Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (a sweet fortified wine) and pastis (an anise-flavoured liqueur usually served on ice with a pitcher of water that you can use to cut it to your liking). In Nice, we found a great wine shop called Côté Vin where the young shopkeep was keen to speak English and gave us some great recommendations for local (and organic) wines of the region without an ounce of pretension.

Le Atmosphere (Nice)—On opera night, we tried finding a recommended restaurant called Chez Palmyre. Finding no signs of life there on that night (or any other) we wound up on the very touristy Cours Saleya Strip where we were reeled in by an employee. Yes, yes, tourist trap antics. But we were running late and it was literally a two minute walk from the opera house. We went with the formule which got us a starter, main, and dessert for 13,50€. Each of us had a fish soup (served with croutons and rouille), grilled sword fish with roasted vegetables in rice. For dessert I had a creme caramel while Cokebaby opted for chocolate mousse. For the price, service, and quality of food we weren’t disappointed.

Maison Nani (Avignon)—We kind of hit the jackpot with this little gem of a restaurant. The atmosphere is warm and homey, the service impeccable, and the food was everything we wanted it to be (and then some).  On our first day, we arrived close to the end of lunch service so we missed out on the specials but after our meal we vowed to come back early to check them out. Both days the place was filled with locals and the owners were around greeting everyone personally. Our meals ranged around 8-12€ and you could purchase a 75cL Cotes du Rhone wine for about 4€. The wine came in unmarked bottles that brought the term house wine to new meaning but who can argue for the value? I indulged in a foie gras salad served with toast. Simple but delicious. For dessert I couldn’t resist the café gourmand: a cup of espresso with a sampling of Chantilly cream, a cake that tasted like homemade Ferrero Rocher, crème anglaise, and a raspberry crumble for under 4€. On the next visit, I was very happy to get the special tart of the day made with broccoli, onions and olives, with a side salad, and vegetables (potato salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, mustard fennel, lightly salted and boiled string beans).

jenny downing from Flickr

Photo credit: jenny downing from Flickr

O’Neill’s (Avignon)—At supper time many of the restaurants along the main strip were closed, we assumed, due to it being low season. Back alleys turned up international cuisine for very reasonable prices. It probably would have made some sense to have Chinese food for the lunar new year but, frankly, we didn’t come to France for the Chinese food. So, we stopped in at O’Neill’s Irish pub. Um, yeah, that didn’t make much sense, right? The thing is they had a bunch of French items on the menu. While Cokebaby enjoyed his pizza Alsace (ham, olives, mushrooms and Emmenthal) and pint of Kronenbourg blanc, I was happy to receive the yummiest (and biggest) salade Niçoise with a goblet full of vin chaud (aka Glögg or mulled wine).

Le Courtois Café/Pâtisseries (Nîmes)—A family-run business since 1892, this gorgeous spot is situated in the same courtyard as a palm-tree and crocodile fountain (the city’s emblem). The dining room had crammed seating but elegant Old World decor. Cokebaby and I felt like the veritable bulls in a china shop and if the weather had been a bit warmer we probably would have enjoyed the experience more on the patio. That said, the food was delicious and the service both pleasant and efficient. This was my second and last foie gras salad. Not quite as delicious as the first but it came with a tasty side of scalloped potatoes. Cokebaby’s poulet Basquaise (chicken served in a clay pot with peppers and smoky spices) was not the most memorable meal but he enjoyed it nonetheless. On the way out we passed the display case of pastries and, although incredibly tempting (and probably where they excelled in terms of food), we passed them up in order to move on to the sites of the city.

Restaurant du Gesù (Nice)—This was a quaint little Italian restaurant situated at a cobblestone square across from a church. We opted to dine outside in the enclosed patio next to a heat lamp. The food here was simplicity at its best. We shared plates of gnocchi (potato pasta) with Gorgonzola, and ravioli with pistou (basically, pesto without the pine nuts). On the blackboard they had featured a wine of the month which we tried out for 14€ (this time it came in a corked and labelled bottle). By the time we were served our meal the place was packed with locals and students.

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Our last day in Nice was spent trying to cram in as much food and drink into our faces before we had to fly back. We had croissants, café crème, wine, cheese, beer, pastries, and more. By the end of the night I was wholly and truly satisfied that I could indulge no more. Thankfully, vacations do have to come to an end sometimes. Otherwise, I’d be the size of an elephant. That or I’d have to take up smoking as an appetite suppressant which I’m convinced is the only way everyone stays so thin in France. Kidding..!

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A view from outside the walls

A view from outside the walls

The highlight of our trip to the south of France (besides the food and wine) was by far our day trip to Nîmes where we visited the historic Arena. Formerly a Roman amphitheatre, the Colosseum-style building is now the site of two yearly bullfights and other public events.

Cokebaby is a bit of a history buff, particularly of this period, so the opportunity to see this monument of human civilization was phenomenal. All the tours we’d paid for up to this point included an audio guide and this historic site was no exception. We found ourselves listening to pretty much every single detail and sitting down to hear the “extras” that were provided. In fact, although we were one of the first people to arrive of the handful that were taking the tour at that time of day, we were the last to leave.

Some interesting things I learned about gladiatorial life:

  • originally, gladiators were highly skilled volunteers
  • matches to the death were not the norm as the host would have to pay the gladiatorial school the cost to replace the trained fighter
  • it was an equal opportunity profession (as in there were lady gladiators)
  • lots of animals and convicts were, in fact, harmed in the making of this form of entertainment

The history of the Arena was also quite interesting as it changed hands and served different purposes during its time. Although initially constructed for entertainment purposes, it also became a military fortification during the reign of the Visigoths and then an enclosed community before eventually returning to its original purpose for entertainment.

As for the bullfighting that takes place there, we saw conflicting information about whether or not it was a no-kill kind of venue. So, it’s probably just as well that one wasn’t going on while we were in the town.

A lovely day in the public gardens in Nimes

A lovely day in the public gardens in Nimes

After grabbing a delicious lunch at a local bistro we continued on a walking tour to take in the exterior of the Maison Carrée (one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world) and eventually to the Jardins de la Fontaine. Here, we recaptured memories of Versailles and Paris. It’s an elaborate public garden with well-manicured lawns and maintained walkways. Families were everywhere. Old men played boules. It was absolutely lovely. It made me wish there were more of these types of public places in Canada where people can spend their time outdoors with loved ones.

We returned to our hotel, content and ready to return to Nice for the final days of our stay.

This part of the trip is what I like to call:

Planes, trains, & automobiles.

Literally.

We had already proved ourselves oblivious to the world by missing the news about the biggest storm to hit the region in a decade. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise to us when the concierge at the hotel informed us that there was a train strike. Apparently, unions just randomly hold strikes every once in a while in certain parts of Europe. The same thing happened to us in Venice only we were actually on the way to the airport then. I guess 35-hour work weeks and five weeks of vacation is enough to drive anyone to mobilize and take action. Or at least pick up smoking as a hobby.

Trying to get by in a second language in this sort of situation is not amusing. I understood that there was a strike. I even got that only certain routes were posted. What I did not figure out on my own was whether or not we could a) still use our pre-purchased tickets and b) get back to Nice.

There was only one employee that we saw behind the closed stall. And let me tell you the stereotype of the rude Frenchman must certainly stem directly from the ancestors of the a-hole who was the only ticket agent in the station. I only got out the first part of my sentence to ask if he spoke English and upon hearing my accent he put up his hand dismissively, scoffed, and walked away to an area where he could not be reached by us lowly customers.

With only a basic understanding of the language we were at the mercy of those around us. Thankfully, the town of Avignon is filled with very kind and helpful types such as the women behind the café at the station. One of them explained that we would use our tickets to get to Aix-en-Provence and then transfer from there. And that’s what we did with several delays in between.

Although we added about two additional hours to our journey, we found our way back to Nice a little worse for the wear but with a story to tell and a number of photos from the scenic route.

Next week: a French cuisine overview. Then, back to regularly scheduled blogging.

Sean Munson from Flickr

Photo credit: Sean Munson from Flickr

One of the worst things you can do on a trip is tempt fate. Case in point: on our train ride to Avignon I noticed an entry in our guidebook that talked about Le Mistral winds in southern France. Living in Halifax, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that rain falls sideways, that umbrellas must be purchased seasonally, and that good hair days are when you don’t have to leave the house.

So, reading about how the south of France—which until that point had been giving us temperatures of around 13 degrees—could even remotely compare to the wind tunnels of downtown Halifax, gave us a good laugh.

Well, that was a mistake.

Mother Nature does not like to be taken lightly. She’s kind of like that mean popular girl in high school who’s all fake-nice to the people she thinks “matter” but will claw your eyes out if you mess with her in any way. As a result of overhearing our snide remarks, Mother Nature unleashed Le Mistral upon us in the same way.

Although we didn’t hear about it until days later, apparently we were arriving during the end of one of the worst storms to hit the region in a decade. As a matter of fact, the name Avignon derives from the Roman word avenio meaning “town of violent winds.” That turned out to be a fact we didn’t find out about until our second day in the quaint little town.

We found ourselves shivering in a bus shelter outside the train station, as cold torrential rain poured down. When we boarded the shuttle bus into town, as further evidence of why one should never mess with Mother Nature, a woman sat in front of me who couldn’t have wanted to be more Amy Winehouse if she was Amy Winehouse: crazily styled hair amassed atop her head and in the process of layering makeup upon her skin. The only reason I could be sure she wasn’t the real deal was because the real Amy Winehouse was probably in rehab or maybe doped up and sprawled out on a bathroom floor somewhere (I still was having problems figuring out what time it would be back home let alone in the UK. Not that there’s really an acceptable time to be doing blow).

It turned out that our hotel, the Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis, was only a few short steps away from the train station. All our cold little worries melted away once we arrived. I must admit that we splurged a little here to stay in a charming 4-star hotel that was formerly a monastery and recently converted to a hotel that housed very modern rooms. Our room had a bathroom on one level and a bedroom overlooking a grassy courtyard.

Because we’re troopers and didn’t want a little bit of foul weather to ruin a perfectly good vacation to Provence, we decided to grab a bite to eat at a local bistro before visiting the Palais des Papes. This is what the UNESCO World Heritage Site has to say about the historic site:

In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated by Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, dominates the city, the surrounding ramparts and the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone. Beneath this outstanding example of Gothic architecture, the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms complete an exceptional group of monuments that testify to the leading role played by Avignon in 14th-century Christian Europe.

If you’re any sort of a history buff, you’ll know that seeing this in real life just made our day. One of the great things about the little town of violent winds is that so many of the locals were amazingly friendly and let me struggle along in French. I think it amused them but it gave me the much needed practise that I was hoping for.

Strolling around a random beautiful churchyard

Strolling around a random beautiful churchyard

At the local market in Les Halles, we bought some Brie from a vendor who was so excited about his city and the fact that we were staying at the Cloître Saint Louis that he basically gave us a real life audio guide of tips on the best views of the city, particularly from the rooftop of the nearby church.

The next day we went to the Pont Saint Bénezet (of the Sur le pont d’Avignon song) where, although sunny and beautiful, we learned the true meaning behind the town’s name. Fun fact: back in the day, a couple of priests were blown off the bridge into the frigid water below. To console them, the pope sent them his personal physician and…some money. Because nothing eases pain more than cold hard cash.

Sadly, shopping in Avignon consisted of window browsing (apparently the French version of this phrase translates roughly to window licking). Even with 50% discounts, most prices came out to the same original price in Canadian dollars. So much for Soldes d’hiver 2009.

Next up this week: Gladiators! Bull fights! And national train strikes!

In France, dog culture is part of everyday life. You see them in cafés, dressed up, carried in handbags, sitting in restaurants and pretty much everywhere. In fact, the hotels we were staying at both offered dog-friendly accommodations that included dog beds.

If I didn’t think Air Canada was more than capable of killing my dog (legally liable or not), I might have been half-tempted to bring him along. But on the flight back, I was relieved I did not fully entertain this thought. There was a crazy dog lady whose loud but limited conversation with the staff behind the counter (“I can see dog now?” said repeatedly à la Latka Gravas) that left me little hope and much irritation.

Her dog never made it to the plane.

“Tenk you veddy much.”

In Nice, we were surprised to see how many dogs just roamed the streets free like cats. What this means for pedestrians is that dog poo is left pretty much unchecked. As a tourist this leaves the dilemma of trying to take in the constant marvel of one’s surroundings while watching very carefully where you’re putting your feet.

And let me tell you that a day you will rue is when you step in doggy poo.

A view from the palace wall

A view from the palace wall

Cokebaby and I managed to evade several piles during our first few days. It was on our day trip to Monaco where my misstep took place. And it happened as soon as I stepped foot off the bus. Welcome to the world’s most densely populated sovereign country. *splat*

Thankfully, there were enough puddles and curbs to rid myself of any prolonged afternotes.

Now our little excursion (a 30-minute and 1€ bus trip) was not for the casino or even the palace. Our plan was really just to explore the principality, check out the old city, and take in the exotic gardens.

It was our goal on this trip to just take it easy, see some key things, but not overexert ourselves to the point of site-seeing exhaustion. So, after checking out the beautiful marina with all the luxury private yachts, we had a bite to eat at a waterfront paninerie (yes, it’s a restaurant that specializes in paninis). That’s where we had our first taste of pastis (a delicious an anise-flavored apéritif).

Taken in front of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco

Taken in front of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco

While having lunch, I took a peek at the Rick Steves’ Provence & the French Riviera guidebook that we brought with us. That’s when I discovered the most wonderful little overshadowed treasure. The Cousteau Aquarium (aka Oceanographic Museum of Monaco).

Having fond childhood memories of watching the various Jacques Cousteau TV series, I attribute part of my love of wildlife to him. Also, The Life Aquatic is among one of my favourite movies. So, off we went to check out the aquarium.

It did not disappoint. The building itself is magnificent, with carvings all across the front of aquatic life. Inside was a wonderful trove of all sorts of creatures, a lecture hall, whale exhibit, and a rooftop restaurant with a panoramic view of the city.

We even found a red hat to bring back with us as a souvenir! No undersea adventure is complete without that hat. Day = made.

Coming up this week: our excursions to Avignon and Nimes. Inlcuding, how we survived a random transit strike. Vive La Republique! Next week, I’ll wrap up with a tour of French cuisine and our gluttonous last day in the south of France.

I’m not by any means a culture vulture. At least by some standards. Sure, I like watching some indie or foreign films, am passionate about world food and wines, listen to a wide variety of music, and am fairly well travelled. That all being said, when it comes to things like ballet or opera performances my experience is pretty limited. By that I mean mostly through secondary school field trips. (For the record that’s a long time ago).

It’s not that I don’t enjoy these types of cultural experiences. It’s mostly because a good deal of my adult (and therefore able to afford things) life has been spent in a small city. Frankly, since moving here it seems to me that the options are fairly limited and I’m not about to repeat the brutally uncomfortable experience at the Halifax Metro Centre when we went to see the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo with Cokebaby’s family and accidentally heard some beautiful opera performed by Measha Brueggergosman.

In fact, outside of that experience, one of the few others I’ve had with opera is through a very small collection at home that includes safe bets like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. However, on our trip to Italy last year we made it to The Barber of Seville at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and were so amazed that we wanted to repeat the experience. It was an opulent opera house and overall wonderful performance which I enjoyed immensely despite undergoing the early stages of a sinus infection that would make the flight home almost unbearable.

At the market

At the Cours Saleya Market

This is all to say that we had some high expectations of the Opera de Nice on our recent trip to southern France. So, on our first day on vacation we took in a day of walking around Old Nice, stopping by the opera house to find out that all the main tickets were sold out and that we’d have to come back at 16:30 (not 6:30 as I almost made the mistake) to purchase last minute tickets in the upper tier. It was to be expected so instead of being disappointed we spent the rest of the morning touring through the market stands where we picked up some souvenirs and the best sun-dried tomatoes ever made.

Eventually we made it back to the opera house where I’m pretty sure I asked the ticket agent in French if he wanted two seats at the opera. To his credit he didn’t laugh at me and continued to converse in French without switching to English. As the assigned seating was sold out he lamented that the only tickets available presented poor to no visibility. But they were also only 8€ each.

From where we were seated we could see only part of the stage and that was only when standing. Although there was an overhead with captions to follow, that too was half obscured. It seemed that I understand all but every fifth word but it also seemed that every fifth word was the most important.

The opera itself was one that we’d not heard of: Les Contes d’Hoffman. Not Le Comte Hoffman as we originally thought while listening to the performance. A somewhat important distinction. You see, one of the main characters sounded like he was the Count from Sesame Street and every time he entered the stage with that distinctive laugh I thought we were about to get a lesson in French numbers (which actually would have at least been educational in some way). The unmistakable laugh only further confused my understanding of what was going on because I naturally assumed he was “Count” Hoffman when, in fact, he was actually the “nemesis” Lindorf.

From the set of Les Contes d'Hoffman

From the set of Les Contes d'Hoffman

Then, at some point—no word of a lie—a giant baby’s head emerged on the stage. For a little while it was all we could look at. We were transfixed and beyond perplexed and losing the plot line with every passing second that we weren’t paying close attention to the words or overhead.

That’s when it got really weird. A bald-headed robotic woman sprang out of the head. All bets were off at that point. It felt like we were watching a live-action episode of The Simpsons. I imagined Lenny and Carl standing by the enormous tête asking, “Ain’t you never seen a bald chick leap out of a giant head before?”

Even after the automaton proceeded to sing the very beautiful aria, Les Oiseaux Dans La Charmille, we couldn’t put the oddness out of our minds. Yet we persevered.

Then, the stage was flooded with identical blind couples tapping their way with white canes across the stage. By the time Act II came along Cokebaby and I were entirely lost.

Apparently there was an Act III but we never saw it.

For us, the opera didn’t end when the fact lady sang. In fact, there was no fat lady at all. And maybe in the absence of one, it ends when the bald chick leaps out of the giant head. I’ll have to test that theory out on our next operatic excursion.

A typical Air Canada flight

A typical Air Canada flight

I know you’re all probably thinking that this is a post about the trip itself and all the food, wine, sites, and wonderful weather that was had. Well, that’s not what this post is about. No, we had to try and get to our destination first. And by try, I mean, battle it out against Mother Nature, time zones, Air Canada, and a possible gremlin. Here is our story:

3:54 p.m. AT: We arrive at Halifax International Airport as light snow begins to fall. Having checked in electronically online the night before, we simply pass our bags in to an Air Canada attendant and head over to the departures section.

4:01 p.m.: With limited options we decide to have dinner at the Molson Ale House. Perhaps as a bon voyage reminder of the good food to come, we are promptly served the most mediocre bar food we’ve ever tasted alongside a glass of beer that is the size of my dachshund.

4:52 p.m.: We are screened through security by the friendliest people in Halifax. I immediately suspect something is up. In the departure lounge, we watch snow accumulate on the wings of our plane. Cokebaby develops a sudden headache and self-medicates with coffee. It does not help.

5:45 p.m.: We board the plane. On board, the stress accumulates at a rate that grows exponentially in relation to the amount of snow that is falling. Although our original direct flight to London would not have left for another several hours, that flight was cancelled and we were forced to take this earlier flight in order to make a connection in Montreal. The connection time upon arrival there is a mere 50 minutes. With every moment we are delayed, we are eating into that connection time.

6:10 p.m.: The captain announces we will be slightly delayed due to waiting for passengers on a connecting flight from Sydney. We quietly curse them.

6:20 p.m.: Five minutes late from departure time, the delayed passengers finally board the plane which is sent to de-ice for what seems like an eternity.

6:35 p.m.: We finally depart. Our stress does not.

7:15 p.m. ET: We land safely in Montreal but our connection is scheduled to leave in 25 minutes. A flight attendant assures us that connections “usually wait” for passengers. That does not sound reassuring.

7:17 p.m.: The chief steward announces that passengers with connections to Fort Lauderdale, Paris, and London (us) should deplane first. Everyone and their sister piles into the aisles. By this point, Cokebaby’s head is about to explode.

7:21 p.m.: We are guided to gate by an Air Canada employee and make it to the plane with 10 minutes to spare.

On board we don’t even care about the snarky Francophone staff who are inexplicably rude to Anglophones considering the flight is going to London (England) where the primary language is, well, English. We’re just glad that we’re finally on our way to Europe.

9:57 p.m.: At least that’s what time I think it is because by this point we’re probably flying over Halifax again where the time would now be 1-hour ahead of Montreal.

As promised, approximately an hour and a half into the flight, we are served a small meal. This is the part of the flight I always look forward to because I’ve listed myself as requiring an Asian vegetarian meal. In the past I’ve had things like couscous salads, hummus sandwiches (I’m honestly not sure how that’s Asian either but it was tasty), and Channa Masala. So, I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when the flight attendant rolled over with her little cart and had to explain to me that not only did my special meal not make it to the plane but that in the future I should call ahead at least 24 hours.

Excuse me? You mean I should pick up the phone while on vacation to stay on hold for who knows how long just so I can say, what? “Hello. Yeah, I’m just calling to confirm that you’re going to do your job in the next day or so?”

The following choices are then offered to me: chicken or beef. Seriously. Thankfully she had the good sense to say she’d check in first class to see if there is a vegetarian option. There is. And it was a spicy roasted vegetable pasta dish with chewy globs of half-melted cheese. Did I mention this is what they were serving in first class? It was even served on a real plate.

The time is now…What time is it over the Atlantic? Atlantic time?

Having lost track of time, the rest of the voyage is spent dozing in and out of sleep. A much needed sleep. At one point, I look out into the pitch black of night. The plane’s wing by my window seat is only briefly lit by a blinking red light.

For future reference, this scenario is not the time to be thinking of the episode of Twilight Zone with the gremlin. As a child, that episode scared the bejesus out of me. However, I think back and believe that William Shatner was in that episode so that makes it more funny than scary. But then I second guess myself. Or was it Charleton Heston in which case it makes it the reverse?

7-ish a.m. GMT: Breakfast is a cold muffin with a side of bitter caffeine and aspertane-filled yogurt. I note that the Dairyland creamer is labelled “creamo.” This point becomes inexplicably funny to me as I imagine a cartoon character named “El Creamo.” Clearly, the crazy from lack of sleep is starting to set in.

Time?: In London we play the waiting game. We have arrived with something like five hours before we board our connection. At this point I’m so tired I feel sick. But we have to wait it out for at least two hours before checking in to the departures section. We have coffee at Costa Coffee (basically a British Starbucks). The wi-fi connectivity confounds us.

Some time later Cokebaby forces a couple sips of some energy drink down my gullet. Rocker or Superstar or some other marketing genius offered up by Big Guarana. As a result, I almost spew the contents of the last 12+ (?) hours.

When we finally check in we wade our way through the high end shops and find a place called Giraffe Restaurant. Think Disney Theme Park restaurant integrating The Lion King with Putumayo World Music in real life. Had a veggie breakfast including sausages that tasted like they were made out of stuffing.

12:20 p.m.: We board the plane to Nice.

3-ish p.m. CET: We check in to our hotel where I promptly try to take a bath in the world’s smallest bath tub. Failing this task, I shower and manage to get sprayed in eye by a malfunctioning shower head.

4-ish p.m.: We stroll the main strip and pick up a picnic dinner from the local Monoprix including olives, cheese, sliced meat, bread, and champagne.

6-ish p.m.: Censored. Hey, we were there to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

1-ish a.m.: I wake up to the sounds of people seemingly rather close at hand and realize that the walls are paper thin.

[Next up this week: find out whether or not we enjoyed the rest of our trip.]

(Spoiler alert: we totally did.)

What do Amy Winehouse, a gremlin, and dog poop have in common?

Hey, that’s not nice…

What I’m talking relates to things that happened on my vacation in the south of France. However, I’m still recovering from jet-lag and an inbox full of messages that may require my attention. So, you’ll have to wait to find out about the details. But believe me, I’ve got plenty of details to share.

In the meantime, if you didn’t catch these great East Coast guest posts last week, check them out:

The great battles of snow shoveling in Nova Scotia, by Giles Crouch

Livin’ on the East Coast: finally home, by La Belle Ecrivaine

Choosing Wolfville, by Chris Campbell

ECFL, by Craig Moore

The Right Coast, by Maria McGowan

[Wolfville is one of my favourite places to visit in the province. So, I have to admit it was really hard for me to read this post because I don’t need any convincing that it’s also a great place to live. If only I had a driver’s license…But I digress. If you haven’t been to Wolfville, you seriously need to drop what you’re doing and go there right now.]

By Chris Campbell

For some reason it was cloudy every day we went house hunting in Windsor. I accepted a job offer to work in the birthplace of hockey and had given my notice in Fredericton. We needed to find a place to live when we moved to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick in June of 2000. It wasn’t an easy decision as I’d grown up in Fredericton, went to school, worked and learned to make films with my friends at the NB Filmmakers’ Co-operative.

Lured by the challenges of a new media startup in rural Nova Scotia, the decision was made to move me, my partner Carolyn and our three children to a relatively unknown future in the Annapolis Valley. Searching for a house (our first house) is a challenge, but doing so remotely is even harder. We found a real estate agent and began our quest. Two days were set aside to find a place and on the first day it wasn’t going well as everything seemed either too small or too run down and we didn’t see the sun at all. For the second day our agent suggested we expand the search to include more of the surround areas such as Wolfville and Kentville.

Chris Campbell from Flickr

Photo credit: Chris Campbell from Flickr

On day two we drove down the highway from our motel in Windsor to Wolfville. The sun broke through the clouds as we came over the hill before the Gaspereau River. We saw Blomidon and the Minas Basin spread out before us and we said “wow” and knew that this was going to be the place. We liked most of the houses we saw and found one that fit within our budget and much paperwork and administrative costs later, we owned it.

We were happy with the house and being relatively close to where we were going to be working and to live in such a beautiful place. The kids could walk to school and the neighbourhood was quiet and peaceful. But we didn’t really know much about Wolfville, so we began to explore our new home. The first pleasant surprise was the Just Us! Coffee roasters in Grand Pré. I had been enjoying the coffee for a while and now lived just down the road and would smell the roasting coffee on the way to work.

Things got even better when Just Us! opened a café downtown in Wolfville in the Acadia Theatre building, which had closed just before we arrived. The café was part of a co-operative established to restore the theatre and after a few years the Fundy Film Society was screening great films that I wanted to see in the Al Whittle Theatre (in recognition of Al, who ran the theatre for almost half a century). To supplement the big screen films is the video rental store Light & Shadow, which has an eclectic collection of films to rival any large rental chain.

There are great restaurants and Paddy’s Pub, where they brew delicious beer and often feature talented local musicians from the surrounding area in the evenings. The town is filled with music and art from the bars and restaurants to the theatre to the Saturday morning farmers’ market with live music accompanying the diverse food and crafts for sale.

Wolfville is a progressive town with a wonderful lack of fast food chains and a commitment to environmental responsibility with anti-smoking and anti-idling (for cars) initiatives. As you walk around the town and through the walking trails you’ll be greeted with smiles as it’s a very friendly place. Even though I work in Dartmouth and need to commute during the school year, I love the balance that Wolfville has struck between work and life with nature and essential things such as good food and drink, good films, and a strong sense of community. Wolfville is a wonderful town that I’m proud to choose as my home.

Chris is a long-time media creator with a keen interest in combining storytelling with new technologies in film, video, audio and the web. During the day he teaches Screen Arts at the Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax with an emphasis on producing and post production. He’s also taught workshops in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Bermuda. In the past he’s edited a feature-length documentary film about the end of segregation in Bermuda, shot video, recorded sound, hosted radio and TV shows, made web sites, and served on several arts boards and juries, including the NB Filmmakers’ Co-operative. In his spare time at home in Wolfville Chris writes on the web at bitdepth.org, shares photos on Flickr, and microblogs on Twitter.

jbelluch from Flickr

Photo credit: jbelluch from Flickr

[I’m probably on a plane en route to Nice, France at the moment. But I scheduled this little travel related post to hopefully keep you entertained. Next week, I’ve got a special treat lined up for you with guest East Coast bloggers filling in for me while I get a little R&R. Until then, here’s a post about a travel experience during my youth that left me scarred musically.]

When I was growing up my family was all about the road trips. We saw most of Canada and the continental United States of America by car.

It was torture.

When we were younger, my sister and I went through the whole whiny “she’s brushing up against me” phase where we couldn’t even breathe the same air without there being some kind of issue. Then my sister had bouts of car sickness for a while that allowed her to sit up front with our parents. And even though that helped us get through our quibbling, it brought on another element of torture.

Here’s some non-numerical math to paint a picture for you:
Stench of vomit + heat – air conditioning + rolled up windows = a car full of nauseous unhappy campers.

Plus, we weren’t the kind of family that played car games. We had to maintain silence for the most part so our dad could “concentrate on driving.” The only thing that got us through our long trips were things like reading, writing, and music.

In high  school, I got my first Walkman which I happily brought along on our last family road trip to Quebec city. I only had a small collection of audio cassettes at the time but I didn’t want to have to listen to whatever lame talk radio station my father would invariably tune into. Of the collection that I brought I can only remember two, but they provided a life lesson about music that I have not since forgotten.

And that is: some music is timeless (e.g. the When Harry Met Sally… soundtrack as sung by Harry Connick, Jr.) while others are not to be repeated in an endless loop during an eight hour drive (i.e. Stone Temple Pilots’ album Purple).

To this day even groups that remind me of STP get under my skin. And whenever I hear one of their songs, I feel like my ears are bleeding. In fact, I don’t listen to the local radio stations on the off chance that they might play something by them. Well, that and I’m of the mind that too much pop music makes the brain explode…ella…ella…ella…Thanks Rihanna for making me shudder every time it rains.

So, there you have it. My musical tragedy. What kinds of things have you done that you’ve regretted while travelling?

Simon Pais-Thomas

Photo credit: Simon Pais-Thomas

In what seems like another life, I used to be quite the fashionista. During my early years of university I worked at a variety of retail clothing stores, from Le Chateau to Club Monaco to the Gap and finally Boutique Jacob. Because of my flare for style back then, I even got a gig as a merchandiser, a job that involved dressing up mannequins and display boards. It was like playing doll.

I became a clothes hog. Every paycheque went toward buying some new item to feed my addiction.

But eventually the reality of a career and life kicked in. No disrespect to the folks who make and earn a living as sales associates and retail store managers, but I needed to move on. I had to find “real work” where I could write and do the things that interested me most which meant no more beloved discounts (up to 50%!).

As the years went by, my wardrobe dwindled. I had to choose more carefully clothes that would outlast one season’s trends. Then, I decided to go back to school as a full-time mature student. There I fell into a wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts.

But it was worth it in the end. Though I may look shabby, today I’m in a dream job making good money to do what I love most: writing, reading, and interacting. It also means I’m finally back in the financial position to buy nice clothes.

Alas, here is my dilemma. I am now out of the fashion loop.

Since declaring I would not buy a fashion magazine because of the industry’s flagrant disregard for the environment, I have been mostly without a clue. There are days where I manage to look stylish but then there are other days where I feel that I may be a fashion train wreck.

In eight sleeps time, Cokebaby and I will be travelling to the south of France for our (belated due to conflicting schedules) 10 year anniversary. Coincidentally, we’ll be there in the middle of soldes d’hiver, a massive nationwide sale.

So my question is: what to buy?!

This is a fashion 911 emergency. Someone please save me.

Is there something fun that should be in every girl’s wardrobe for the upcoming season? And what about Cokebaby? Or Tofu (I’m assuming there will be dog boutiques)?

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