Friday, December 31, 2010

A book review (and then maybe we'll head back to France)

Dead or AliveDead or Alive by Tom Clancy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I was in college, I read a book called The Hunt for Red October, and I loved it! Then came Red Storm Rising, another terrific book. In fact, I'm getting ready to read that one again. More great Tom Clancy books followed.

For years, Tom Clancy turned out great, thrilling, tightly written books. Then he started to slide. I gave up on him a number of years ago. His writing style had suffered, and he couldn't keep his political views from making blatant, ham-handed appearances in his books. Sharing the writing with others hasn't helped.

I saw halfway-decent reviews of Dead or Alive, so I thought I'd give him another try. Sadly, things aren't any better. The writing is plodding and in need of a good editor, and his political views aren't at all subtle. I might be able to live with him espousing his political views (even though this is supposed to be fictional entertainment, not a political work), if the rest of Dead or Alive were a taught, entertaining read. It's not.

For my money, I'll stick with newer authors like Alex Berenson and Vince Flynn. They're far better!

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Cap d'Antibes

On the day we drove from Aix-en-Provence to Nice, we traveled along the French Riviera and stopped in Cap d'Antibes for lunch and a little look around. Cap d'Antibes has been a resort town for a long time.

See the fort on the more distant point in that last photo? Near where I took the photo, there was a reproduction of a painting of the fort that Monet had done in the 1800s, so one could see the painting from the view where the artist stood. There were a number of reproductions like this around the waterfront, as a number of great artists have painted parts of Antibes.

This plaque commemorates a British agent having been put ashore there by a submarine during World War II

If you click on that last one, depending on your screen you may be able to read some of the text.

This was part of the park area across from where we had lunch

Around here in suburban New York, people of Italian descent played a game like this called bocce. In France, it's called boules.

A fountain in the waterfront park

Next up, Nice!


I know what you're thinking. Espelette? Like the pepper? Yes, just like! (Okay, maybe you don't know those peppers. That's okay.) But in this case I'm actually talking about a Beagle puppy.

In Aix-en-Provence, we stayed at a B&B called Villa Valbelle. The owners have a puppy whose name is Espelette (actually, by now, I suppose she's not a puppy anymore). She was adorable, and she was thrilled to have guests who were happy to play with her!

Before we left, I went looking for her, so I could take a few photos. When I spotted her, she was at the other end of the property. So I called to her, and she came running.

What a face!

The puppy at rest

Espelette having a word with someone

Before we leave Villa Valbelle, I have one more photo. We went out for some great food in Aix, but we also decided to hit a local market and have a more modest couple of meals. Here's a shot of some of the food...

It was simple stuff, but the tomato and that salad were fabulous. The bread, from the boulangerie next door to the market where we bought the other food, was wonderful!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Two posts in one week? Really?!

Yes, my pretties. Two posts in one week. I've so neglected this poor blog lately, so why not share more, even though I posted just 5 days ago?

First up today, the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct. According to Wikipedia--so it must be true!--the Pont du Gard once carried 44 million gallons of water a day. The multi-level structure is still in great shape today and is a tribute to great engineering, quality building and probably a lot of slave labor.

Seriously, do you think anything we build these days will look this good in 2,000 years?

And I think this is about the only time we got in front of the camera ourselves during the trip...

Not to be missed, the scenery near the Pont du Gard...

Isn't that gorgeous?

Next up, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. While it's a lovely area, what we really were looking for was the Glanum Arch, another leftover from the Roman Empire.

Our first view of the arch

And from the other side

And if you're wondering what the underside of the arch looks like... well, so was I. So here it is...

Alongside the arch is the mausoleum...

There's plenty online about Glanum. An interesting article discussing Van Gogh's time in this area is here.

The Glanum arch and mausoleum are just a small part of the entire Glanum site. We drove around to look at more of the area. This sign can give you some idea...

If you click on this, you'll see the circular area in the bottom left of the map/diagram. That's the arch and mausoleum.

Lots more France to come! (Bored yet?) :)

Monday, November 08, 2010

La Couvertoirade

Shortly after driving across the Millau Viaduct, which you saw at the end of the last post, we made a stop. La Couvertoirade is a town founded by the Knights Templar. When I was doing research for our trip and learned that a stop there wouldn't take us too far off our route, I couldn't resist. As a history buff, the idea of walking in a town built by the Knights Templar was a thrill. If you're not familiar with the Knights Templar, they were Crusaders, a law onto their own, answerable only to the Pope. For an idea of their view of Christianity and those who didn't toe the line to their satisfaction, think of them as a Christian version of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. These were not nice, tolerant folks, and I wouldn't want to meet any of them. Even so, they are a significant element in European history.

Looking around La Couvertoirade, it's clear that it once covered a much larger area than what now remains. And what does remain standing is made up of parts that were built by the knights and other parts that are more modern (around 500 years old, as opposed to the 800 years for the parts the knights built). Then there are the shops built into some of the spaces, but that commercial aspect doesn't change the fun of walking through this slice of history.

Arriving at La Couvertoirade, one parks in a lot and then walks in. Walking in, the first prominent feature is this...

This is a pretty typical view inside...

See that kinda brown spot in the center of the walk? Here's a closer view...

I'm not sure, but I think he may be an original Knights Templar dog. It's that whole drinking-from-the-grail thing, like in the Indiana Jones movie.

No? Not buying it? Okay, fine. He belonged to one of the shop owners.

A path in one of the original sections

Part of the original fortifications

And if you really want to see the name of the game at La Couvertoirade, 21st-century style, here it is...

What's "show me the money!" in French? :)

Okay, next up, some shots from the south of France!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A few more Loire Valley shots, and then we head south

I closed the last post with a shot of a covered bed inside Azay-Le-Rideau. So let me share a few more shots inside the château. First is a shot of what was the kitchen...

A large fire would be built and pots would be swung out over it

And for relaxation after dinner (not that the master of the house was cooking the meals!)...

As we left, this lovely view was one of the last things we saw on the way out of the grounds...

That was our last château before we wrapped up our Loire Valley visit and headed south to Provence. As part of our travels, I had planned to take a route that would bring us across an engineering marvel, the Millau Viaduct. While the name may not sound impressive (a viaduct?), the Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world.

We stopped before we crossed it, so we could get a good view and I could get a few photos. To do that, we had to park in a parking lot near the bridge and hike up a rather impressive hill. It had a walking path, but it still was quite a climb. (I was pleased, on the way back down, to see a young man in pretty good shape breathing quite hard as he hiked up there.) Here's a photo I took once we got up there...

Next up actually won't be Provence. Rather, we made another stop on the way, and I have some photos from that. I would promise not to take so long for the next post, but I try to keep my promises and I've been bad about posting lately! So let's just say that I will make some effort to post again soon and leave it at that! :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not done with the Loire Valley yet!

Let's go back to France! When last we left off, we were looking at the hunting dogs at Cheverny. Now we head to...

Or the shortened version, as we barbarians from America call it, Azay-Le-Rideau.

It's a modest little place.

Here's a view from the chateau, looking toward the front gate.

Notice the gate house? They do love their wisteria! Here's a better view...

And what's a chateau without a moat?

Amazing how nice the moat looks after the trees have had a few years (okay, about 500 years) to grow!

Azay-Le-Rideau didn't have a lot of furnishings inside (some chateaus do, some don't), but what it did have made up a few interesting rooms. Here's a bed...

I have a few more from Azay-Le-Rideau, but I think we should stop there for now. Lots more France photos to come! (Think I can milk this so long we'll be ready for our next trip when I'm done here?) :)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A small improvement on the way

As longtime readers will recall, we did major renovations to this house (pretty well gutted most of it, in fact) before we moved in. One thing we didn't do was replace most of the windows. We put in a few new ones that fit with changes we were making--including a kitchen window, an upstairs bathroom window and a bunch of windows in our newly upgraded sunroom--but most of the house's windows were left untouched. We installed plantation shutters over them, but the windows themselves remained.

In recent years, we've talked about the age of those windows (guesstimating 30 years) and how much heat/air conditioning they leak. So we've been window shopping. No, not window shopping; window shopping! It's a lot more difficult than it might seem.

We finally settled on a window company a couple of towns over from us that has good reviews (on Angie's List, among other places) and had someone come and scope out the project. He has now been back to write up the details and formalize the agreement. We got a good price, and we'll also get a tax credit (we just had to get windows that were sufficiently energy efficient--but it's an investment that will keep paying us dividends, so it's a win-win).

Added to the insulation value of the new windows, they also should make the house even quieter. Not that it was particularly noisy to start with, but the less noise that gets in, the better.

In discussing our options, after the guy's first visit, Marc and I decided to take things even further for part of the project. Among the windows we're replacing are all of the ones in the upstairs bedrooms. To make sure we get the best possible insulation and to make things as quiet as possible, we're going to replace those with triple-pane windows (as opposed to the usual double-pane windows). The three panes of glass, put together with energy-efficient coatings on the glass and inert gases between the panes, are supposed to provide top-notch energy insulation and really should do a great job blocking sound.

Yes, folks, this is exciting news in the life of a homeowner! And for those of you who've visited the cheapest bed & breakfast in town, this is good news for you, too... your stay is getting even comfier and quieter! So be sure to book your room soon! ;)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Canine surgery and more from Cheverny

I'll continue the France photos in a moment, but first a note from the canine front. You may recall the need for Dodger to have surgery a couple of years ago to fix a torn cruciate ligament in his back right leg. I posted a few times about it. In the end, he healed well, and you'd never know the leg ever was a problem.

Well, about a week ago, Mandy was running in the yard when she suddenly yelped and pulled up her rear left leg. Opposite side from her brother's problem leg but the same behavior. Sure enough, the same thing had happened to her. So today was surgery day. She's in recovery now, and we hope her healing and return to normal use of her leg goes at least as well as Dodger's recovery did.

Now then, let's get back to those France photos. We were heading out the back of Cheverny to check out the Orangerie and some of the grounds:

A view of the back

From the perspective of the main house, looking towards the Orangerie

The path to the Orangerie

The Orangerie itself

An interesting thing at Cheverny--they still keep a kennel of foxhounds. So, of course, anything with dogs got our attention. Since they were just lounging about during our visit, we got a good look at the whole pack:

They slept in a giant pile, sprawled all over each other...

And then there was a bark in the distance, and everyone was up!

Of course, they barked and howled in French. First the bark in the distance, and then dozens of dogs jumping up... "Sacré bleu! Le woof! Le woof!"

Well, that's what it sounded like to me... that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it! ;)

Anyhow... there was a sign asking people not to excite the dogs...

And yes, while my French is far from perfect, exciter is "to excite." Even so, this is how they translated it for those speaking English...

Who knows, perhaps "exciter," when used in that sense, is colloquially taken to mean "tease." Not that it matters. I tend to get too concerned about these little things! :)

Okay, still plenty more to come!