Pérouges et Paris

Yesterday Mark rented a car and we drove 30 minutes east to the picturesque medieval hill town of Pérouges. We wandered the cobbled streets, explored the gothic church and had a nice lunch. The morning fog cleared and the day was bright and warm. The church doubled as part of the ramparts with arrow slits in the thick stone walls. The town was quiet and peaceful despite a good number of tourists. We noticed cars parked in what were once stables and ancient stones building converted to private homes. The town depends on tourists no doubt but it is a living town. We visited the lovely museum and climbed the watchtower for a fantastic view of the alps in the far east. I’ve seen my share of medieval villages. This is one if the best preserved and most interesting.

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For dinner we were treated to gastronomic tour de force at Jour de Marché. I can’t possibly remember what everyone had so I’ll just show you.

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This morning we bid a bittersweet farewell to Ann and Mark and jumped aboard the high speed TGV which whisked us to Paris in a couple of hours reaching speeds of 180 mph! We navigated the bus system and checked into Bonne Nuit Paris, an early 17th century house renovated beautifully and owned by Jean-Luc Marchand and his lovely wife. We were made to feel very welcome. After showing us to our room, Jean-Luc proceeded to give us the history of Le Marais (our temporary neighborhood) from the 16th century to the present in about 10 mintues. My head was spinning. That guy can talk fast I’m tellin’ you.

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We then set out in search of a late lunch finding it at Chez Hanna, a cool falafel joint in the Jewish quarter.

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Tomorrow we begin our Paris adventure in earnest.

 

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Silk

If you look up canut in a French dictionary you won’t find it. Canut, like bouchon, is a word that only exists in Lyon (and maybe a Norwegian social club). No one seems to know where it came from but a canut is a silk weaver. The silk trade came to Lyon in the 16th century when some monks returning from China brought silk worms with them. It soon became a mainstay of the Lyonaise economy. Yesterday we visited the Croix-Rousse (red cross) neighborhood, the center of Lyon’s silk industry, where you’ll find canut everything, bars, restaurants, boulangeries, you name it. The name of the neighborhood comes from the 17th century when the Catholic locals were trying to purge the city of Huguenots. A red cross was erected here as if to say “Catholics only”. Today the neighborhood feels very work a day with a large street market and people of from all backgrounds and places. There’s a kind of friendly buzz here as folks go about there working day. We wandered the market and streets having lunch at, wait for it, Le Canut et Les Gones (gones is sort of slang for kids). The place was rustic but the food was gourmet. We were the only foreigners in the place!

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After lunch we visited La Maison des Canut where you can buy some of the most beautiful silk scarves I’ve seen. Ann bought a very pretty one for her sister (my other cousin) Kathy. Once again we were impressed with the hospitality of the Lyonaise. We struck up a fairly lengthy conversation with the proprietor before heading onward. As we walked we passed a boulangerie with some amazing looking bread in the window. As you may remember I bake bread and am somewhat of a bread snob. So I had to buy some – a sourdough, whole wheat, chestnut loaf and a baguette with dried tomato and basil, yum!

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Take a long close look at this photo before you read on.

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It’s a 3D mural. Some of the people in the picture are real, some are painted.

Ann and Mark then headed for home but to complete our silk experience, Kay and I took the metro to Presqu’ile and the Musée de Tissue. The silk fabrics on display dated from the 16th century to the present. The displays included a Jacquard loom which was automated with punch cards and examples of the designs laid out in grids. The fabrics were stunning, detailed and colorful. All in all an excellent little museum.

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The following gown belonged to Josephine, Napoleon’s empress.

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Finally we headed home for a dinner of wood fired pizza (there are two pizza joints within a half block of Mark and Ann’s) and a good night’s rest.

 

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Getting to Know Lyon

We’ve been in Lyon for 3 nights now and I’m finally getting my feet under me. Saturday we took the metro to Presqu’ile, a peninsula formed where Saône and Rhône rivers converge. It is the heart of Lyon. Our first stop was the Place des Terreaux, a beautiful square dominated by the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) built in the mid 17th century. The square also features the Fontaine Bertholdi. Installed in 1892, the massive lead and iron statue depicts France represented by a woman holding the reigns of 4 charging horses. The horses represent the 4 great rivers of France: the Seine which runs north through Paris to the North Atlantic, the Loire running north from the Massif Central in south central France eventually turning west and meeting the Atlantic near Nantes, the Dordogne running west to the Atlantic from the Massif and the Rhône with it’s headwaters in the Alps and mouth in the Mediterranean.

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We stayed on the square for lunch and I sampled my first Lyonaise beer, a golden brown Belgian style ale which was delicious. The craft beer movement is in full swing in France!

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After lunch we ambled south to Place Bellecour, the huge square that is the hub of the Presqu’ile. France loves a good protest and sure enough there was an anti-landmine demonstration with a huge pile of shoes brought from all over the city symbolizing I’m not sure what. Kay and I secured tickets for a walking tour of Vieux Lyon (old town) on Monday at the TI before strolling up the Rhône and back home.

Sunday I was a little under the weather so after an attempt at sight seeing I took a three hour nap before dinner in.

Monday morning found Kay and I in Vieux Lyon for our tour. Tucked into a narrow strip of land west of the Saône and east of the steep embankment topped by Fouviere hill, the old town sports a beautiful Gothic/Romanesque Cathedral and some of the best preserved renaissance buildings in France. In the Cathedral there is an amazing astronomical clock, with animatronic figurines, an astrolabe, and dials for time and date, dating from 1383. The astrolabe still shows the earth as the center of the solar system.

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As the population of Vieux Lyon increased, reaching 60,000 in the 17th century, the multi story houses were built so close that some had no access to a street. Passage ways were built within the buildings called Traboules. Though privately owned they are maintained by the city and open to the public. They provide and intimate look into the houses with small courtyards in the center, galleries and spiral stairs, each with a well.

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Following the tour we had a wonderful lunch at Fiston Restaurant, a traditional bouchon. Bouchons are unique to Lyon serving Lyonaise specialties in a convivial atmosphere. We had wonderful traditional salads and dynamite coffee before heading home.

For le dîner we went to Daniel and Denise, another marvelous bouchon near Ann’s apartment. The food was absolutely top notch served by a friendly, helpful staff in a warm atmosphere, a true Lyonaise experience. The wait staff at the bouchons is the exact opposite of the stereotypical haughty french waiter. They pride themselves on warmth, charm and comfort.

I’ll sign off for now. Today it’s more quintessential Lyonaise culture as we visit the Croix-Rousse neighborhood.

 

 

 

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Once More Into the Breach Dear Friends

After a mind and body numbing 14 hours on planes and in airports we arrived in Lyon the food capital of France. My cousin Ann and her husband Mark met us where the shuttle train from the airport dropped us. Ann and Mark moved to Lyon a year ago and they are loving it. A brief tram ride and a short walk found us at their beautiful eighth floor apartment. On a clear morning you can see Mont Blanc and the Alps from their kitchen window

Ann and Mark’s Apartment

Ann and Mark’s Apartment

Our first adventure was a walk through the 290 acre Parc de Tête d’Or. That is not a misprint! 290 acres of trees, lawn, paths, a lake with two islands, a velodrome, a zoo and a botanical garden. It is the largest urban park in Europe. We wandered through the placid pastoral scene while locals relaxed on the lawns, jogged and cycled through. Once in the middle of it one feels far away from the bustle of work-a-day Lyon.

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During our excursion, Mark went shopping and picked up a roast chicken and potatoes. Combined with some fresh green beans and Faisselle (soft cheese like cottage cheese) with raspberries, strawberries for desert and a lovely Chablis made for an excellent repast before turning in around 22:30 (10:30 pm).

Today we will hit the streets of Lyon.

 

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Post mortem post

We’re in Barcelona where our adventure began. Tomorrow we leave Europe behind. I thought I would do a little bit of reflecting on what worked and what didn’t and what I would do differently, partially for myself and partially for you, dear reader, should you decide to explore some of the places we visited.

For me the trip was about a week too long. I think in the future I’ll limit my trips to four weeks. The last week I’ve been feeling pretty road weary and a bit homesick. Europe has changed even since our last trip in 2002. Shoulder season starts later – November instead of October at least south of the Alps – and ends earlier – think April instead of May. It’s more crowded and a bit more crass in the worst cases. Still it’s possible to get away from the maddening crowds and have those magical moments all travelers hope for.

Something I learned is that neither Kay nor I tolerate places that are inundated with people very well, especially big bus tour groups. I would skip Montserrat near Barcelona for that reason. If you really must go to Montserrat stay overnight and experience it without the masses. By the same token we would avoid Roussillon in Provence or any other very famous villages such as Gordes or Isle sur la Sorgue. In the case of a must see like Pompeii, I would try harder to time our visit when the big groups are likely to be gone – very early or late in the day. In the Naples area we would stay in Salerno rather than Sorrento. Sorrento is packed with tourists and the Circumvesuviana train, the only way to get are around, is abysmal. Salerno makes a better home base. It’s just as easy to get to Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Pasteum or Pompeii from there. The regular Trenitalia system which serves it is much more pleasant. It has very little tourism, a cool old town and great food. The Palazzo Morese owned and operated by the wonderful Monica Giannattasio provides a beautiful two room apartment in a restored palazzo for less than a small hotel room in Sorrento and she’ll buy oranges for you so you can make your own fresh OJ!

In general I want to work harder next time to find cool places to stay. Two of the best we found, the aforementioned Palazzo Morese and Barrani Agritourismo in Corniglia, Cinque Terre, were not in any guide book! It is still possible to find the old Europe amidst the tour buses but you have to work at it. Luckily the internet makes it easy. When I planned our first trip together to Italy in ’97 I used fax machines. Today every place has a website. Next time I will also check Airbnb and VRBO for places to stay. In the coolest places we stayed, the two I mentioned above as well as Nice Home Sweet Home in Nice and Hotel des Voyageurs in Saint Saturnin les Apts, we made personal connections with the owners. That’s what great travel is all about. Another tip is if the place has no English version of their website it’s a good sign. I had to email Barrani Farm in Italian just to get a response.

Likewise I would rely less on guidebooks for restuarants. We had great luck with trip advisor for food. Also kudos to brother Ken for a couple of perfectly timed foody articles via text. Definitely read the guidebooks but check trip advisor.

That’s all I can think of although I’m sure there’s more. It’s been an amazing 5 weeks. Thank you again, dear reader, for coming on this journey with us. Have safe and rewarding travels were ever your wandering feet take you.

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Arrivederci Roma

Today was the final sightseeing day of our trip. Tomorrow we begin the long slog home, first a short flight to Barcelona, then Friday three legs to Amsterdam, Seattle and finally Portland. Thank you, dear reader, for following along on our adventure. It’s been fun to describe. I have to give Kay credit. Although I took some of the photos, the majority were hers.

Last night we had yet another great meal. This time at Ditirambo near the Campo di Fiori. We started with a glass of refreshing prosecco. For the primi we both had pappardelle with a rabbit ragu paired with a glass of great chianti. The pasta was fresh, the ragu was thick and rich and the Chianti was robust. For the contorni it was a salad of fennel, orange and pomegranate. Kay finished it off with a chocolate pudding with hazelnuts. I had a shot of Calvados which finished me off.

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Today we saw the Ara Pacis, a first century B.C.E. altar built by Augustus to commemorate his subjugation of the “barbarians” to the north. It was an amazing piece of imperial propaganda with reliefs connecting him to the mythic founders of Rome and establishing his dynasty.

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After a great lunch at a little trattoria we headed for the Borghese Gardens, Rome’s Central Park. It was a pleasant break from the traffic of the city. We had a coffee at a little outdoor café and enjoyed the placid scene. Our ultimate destination was the Borghese Gallery at the north end of the park. It contains three of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s most amazing baroque masterpieces, David, Apollo and Daphne, and the Rape of Persephone. At age 25 Bernini’s genius is fully evident. Unfortunately no cameras allowed so once again you’ll have to find an image of them. Apollo and Daphne is particularly mind bending. It captures the moment when Apollo grabs Daphne as she turns into a tree. Apollo seems to float in air his robe billowing. Daphne’s fingers and toes turn to branches and roots. Her legs become bark. In typical over the top Bernini style the piece captures all the movement, tension and emotion of the moment. It’s hard to believe it’s stone. Another highlight is Caravaggio’s painting of David with Goliath’s severed head. The face on the head is Caravaggio. What a morbid sense of humor that guy had.

On the walk home we went down the Spanish Steps. Crowded as ever it felt like a great way to end our trip. Kay’s in the picture somewhere. Can you find her?

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Arrivederci Roma!

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Upon this rock I will build my church

We spent today at the Vatican, first the Basilica of Saint Peter, then the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. This was our second time visiting. No matter how many times one enters it, St. Peter’s is amazing. First there is the size. The Nave can hold 60,000 worshipers. The Baldacchino over the main altar is seven stories tall! And church is ornate beyond imagining.

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It’s hard to tell in this picture but where I was standing is two football fields distance from the apse behind the altar or nearly half a mile! Much of the interior is baroque with many features by Bernini, the master of baroque illusion. The alabaster dove in the apse has a seven foot wing span. It’s translucent so that golden rays of sunlight project out of it.

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Oddly something that moved me was a round piece of polished porphyry granite in the floor near the entrance. Porphyry is the stone of emperors and thus of popes. It was on this spot that Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 799. I don’t know why this is so powerful to me but it is. The most moving piece of art in the church, however, is Michelangelo’s Pieta. Mary tenderly holds the lifeless body of her son with an expression of sorrow and yet acceptance that nearly brings me to tears ever time I see it.

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We knew the museums would be grueling, so after the basilica we took a break for food and coffee. Thus refreshed we plunged in. We made short work of the Egyptian stuff. To be honest the collection isn’t that great compared to Cairo or the British Museum. We did linger a little at the examples of Sumerian (today’s Iraq) writing, the oldest in the world, some 5000 years. I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff. But for me the big attractions are the sculpture and the paintings. The Hellenistic statue of Laocoön and his sons being crushed by serpents is one of my favorite ancient works.

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It is from the story of the Trojan horse. Laocoön was a Trojan priest who warned about the horse but the Gods wanted the Achaeans to win so they had serpents do their dirty work. The expression on Laocoön’s face as he wreaths is sheer agony. This is a far cry from the Classical Greek statuary of 200 years earlier with it’s balance and serenity.

Further into the museums and 1600 years later we found Raphael’s The School of Athens in which Raphael’s buddies are portrayed as great Greek thinkers. I especially like Leonardo Da Vinci as Plato (center left with the beard). My other favorite is Michelangelo in the foreground brooding, leaning on his elbow. While Raphael was painting this, Michelangelo was just down the hall doing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the same time.

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You can’t photograph the chapel so pull up an image from goggle. The ceiling was done at the peak of the renaissance. It’s overflowing with humanist optimism. Adam is not feebly cowering before God. He is confident and muscular as he is brought to life. You could say he’s portrayed as nearly God’s equal. 23 years later Michelangelo painted The Last Judgement behind the altar of the chapel. The counterreformation was underway. Freedom of thought was under attack as the Catholic Church dug in. The inquisition began. The painting is dark and filled with tension as a muscular Christ swings his arm banishing sinners to eternal torture. Clearly the optimism was gone. It makes me think of the optimism some of us had in the late ’60s – another renaissance. Humanism was on the rise. Sexual and spiritual freedoms were expanding. Equal rights for all and lasting peace seemed achievable. Art, literature, music and theater were finding new and exciting expressions. But ten years later much of that energy and optimism was gone in excesses of the ’70s. I suppose it is inevitable. When culture experiences that kind of flowering it will swing back the other way. Some people fear the freedom of such cultural movements. It happened in the renaissance with figures such as Savonarola. And it happened in our time as well. I guess the trick is not to loose sight of the things we gain, the expansion of human experience and consciousness, when the pendulum swings back.

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Crossing the Tiber

South of the center of Rome lies the neighborhood of Trastevere, literally “across the Tiber”. Our journey today took us there. We began on Isola Tiberna, a small island in the river. It was near here over two millennia ago that Rome was founded. Crossing to the other side, we felt the difference immediately – more real, more Roman. Parts of the neighborhood were not demolished and rebuilt in the 19th century as much of the city was. As a result the streets are narrow and picturesque.

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We visited the tranquil Church of Santa Cecilia. Immigrants – in other words non-citizens – to Ancient Rome couldn’t live inside the city walls. As a result this neighborhood has some of the oldest churches in the city, many built on the homes where early Christians worshiped in secret. Santa Cecilia was a martyred early convert who willed her house to the Christian community. Once Christianity was legalized in the 4th century a church was built there.

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We continued on to the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, thought to be the very first dedicated to Mary and built over another early Christian home. There is a wonderful 9th c. mosaic behind the altar.

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After a good lunch of traditional Roman cuisine – minestrone di verdure, pears with pecorino cheese and bacutini con cacio e pepe (thick pasta with pecorino and pepper) we crossed back from Trastevere. I love the sign.

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The Jews of Rome are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi, they arrived before the diaspora as merchants. They settled, like many immigrants, in Trastevere. Ceasar supported the community because they were well connected traders and didn’t proselytize. Over time things got worse. Once Rome was Christianized restriction on marriage and land ownership were instituted but still the community did fairly well. Then came the counterreformation and the swampy land just north of the Tiber was made into a ghetto. Some four thousand Jews were forced into seven acres behind walls and locked in at night. A few of the old streets that remain give an idea of the crowded conditions.

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The Ghetto was finally demolished when Italy united in the 19th c. Things were better until Mussolini then Hitler. Many Roman Jews were sent to the camps and the community never really recovered. Today the neighborhood has undergone a renaissance. Although most of Rome’s Jews don’t live here many visit often and consider it their spiritual home.

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The cafés are separated into meat and milk.

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The Eternal City

I love Rome. Of the 8 or 10 big cities I’ve visited in Europe it’s my favorite. Maybe it’s the Roman people, elegant and exuberant, maybe it’s the tiny streets of the old city, maybe it’s the timeless architecture thrilling at every turn, but really it’s all these. We were here 17 years ago in January and pretty much had the place to ourselves. After the crowds in Florence and Pompeii we were a little worried that the city had lost its charm. But Rome manages to maintain her grandeur despite the people. For one thing it’s big, not only the size of the city, but the size of individual monuments.

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After a good lunch in a quiet trattoria on a small side street we walked to some of our favorite haunts. Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona with its Egyptian obelisk on top, dwarfs the hundreds of people at its base in the square and the majestic Pantheon is so massive inside and out that the people are barely noticeable. I love the Pantheon, perhaps the best preserved building from antiquity. Sitting before the immense portico one realizes just how impressive the ancient city must have been.

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I like to imagine myself a merchant from some far flung corner of the empire coming here for the first time. Perhaps I have just become a citizen hoping to expand my business. I walk into the piazza filled with people. Acrid smoke from sacrifices rises before the massive columns of the portico. The square is lined with shops filled with activity. I have arrived at the center of the civilized world.

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Amalfi

Amalfi, the very word congers images of romantic sunsets overlooking the azure sea. Sophia Loren, Rudolf Nureyev and Gore Vidal each called it home for a time. The elite of Ancient Rome came here to get away from it all. Approaching from Sorrento it’s easy to underestimate its impact. The road climbs slowly for eight kilometers through olive and lemon groves. One wonders what all the fuss is about. Then suddenly you are atop the cliffs plunging hundreds of meters into the sea below. As the bus winds its way you seem to be suspended in air above the water.

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Yesterday we arrived in the insanely picturesque town of Positano, nestled in a ravine between the tan and gray cliffs. Our private terrace at Residence la Tavolozza overlooked the town, the church of Santa Maria Assunta with its majolica tiled dome and the sea. Peaceful doesn’t begin to describe it. There’s not much to do here but shop, eat and sit on the beach. We’re not beach people and the only bit of a souvenir we bought so far was a fridge magnet in Cinque Terre. So eat, drink and relax it was.

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The coastline between Positano and Salerno is some of the most breathtaking in the world. Ancient towns cling to the cliffs. Every inch of useable land has either a building or terraced garden. We viewed the coast from the top deck of a ferry. Although the drive is legendary, I think the best way to view it is from the sea. A picture is worth, you know, a thousand words, so …

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Our B&B in Salerno is in the old Palazzo Morese which our hostess Monica told us once accommodated a Pope, a Salerno native who is now and ever will be in the Cathedral here. For less than a tiny room in Sorrento we have a beautiful two room apartment with full kitchen and a huge shower. It’s nice to not be in tourist town for a change. In fact Salerno may be the least touristy place we’ve been with the possible exception of St. Saturnin les Apts in the Luberon.

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We just had a wonderful, gourmet quality lunch at a small Osteria, linguine con scampi for me and puttanesca with olives and capers for Kay, all for less than the mediocre tourist food in a Positano.

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It feels like the trip is really winding down. Tomorrow it’s on to Roma for three days then homeward bound.

 

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