June 6, 2011

Golfing in Chamonix France

Golfing in Chamonix France

Spring 2011 came early to the French mountain resorts, mostly due to a lack of snow during the ski season.  Ginger and Nutmeg needed to change the tires on the car to the “summer wheels”, as we had been rolling along on dry roads for several months in the South.  The “stars aligned” and Ginger found a few consecutive days with no commitments, a good weather forecast and a chance to visit Saffron and Truffle while they were on holidays in Chamonix.  The three of us piled in the car with almost no luggage and headed NE.  The drive was easy and Nutmeg’s only disappointment was that the walnut trees near Grenoble were not in bloom. We arrived in Chamonix and I headed straight for the river, Ginger went directly to the car garage and Nutmeg settled in for a massage – anybody wondering who is the smartest in the crew?  The next morning dawned and it promised to be a beautiful day.  The team was headed to the golf course and I was destined for a very big nap, or so I thought, until Saffron said that she was sure I could join them on the 18-hole walk. (more…)

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May 30, 2011

Master of the Kitchen in Provence

Master of the Kitchen in Provence

Who would not be inspired by this view? Whether your passion is art, music, food or something else it would be hard not to feel the urge to be creative.  Ginger and Nutmeg were very fortunate to spend two days with Marc Heracle in his beautifully appointed kitchen at Chateau D’Arnajon. The Chateau is located in the village of Le Puy Sainte Reparade.  Marc’s focus is on traditional Provençal style cuisine.  Traditional methods pre-1900s did not include dairy, butter or refined flours.  The cooking methods of the time used olive oil, almonds, olives, citrus and spices that were (and still are) found in abundance in the region. Marc’s style is relaxed as he shares his knowledge and practical experience.  He encourages participation and is happy to share some stories. (more…)

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May 23, 2011

Following Provence’s Mimosa Trail

Following Provence’s Mimosa Trail

According to Nutmeg, the Mimosa in cocktail form, does not do justice to either of it’s ingredients; champagne or orange juice.  It is often served for brunch and that is a whole other story (see previous blog post). This post is about the first flower of the season in Provence. The mimosa is a beautiful flowering bush that is often found in gardens, green-spaces, and forests all over the south of France. There are over 1200 varieties world-wide, the shrub is native to Australia, Central and South America and parts of Asia, not France. It is believed that the mimosa plant travelled to Europe on one of Captain Cook’s voyages. This flowering beauty was introduced to southern France around 1850, by wealthy English, who planted them to in order to brighten-up their gardens during the winter months on the Cote D’Azur. (more…)

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May 16, 2011

A Magical Provence Day in a 2CV

A Magical Provence Day in a 2CV

Don’t tell Ginger. Several years ago Nutmeg had a boyfriend who was fanatical about 2CVs; that is the Citroën 2CV or “deux chevaux”.  On a six-week backpacking trip through Europe he took 90 Kodachrome photos of 2CVs (2 of Nutmeg and 8 of buxom blondes).  On top of that he insisted on eating at MacDonald’s throughout Europe. For those of you who know Nutmeg, it was a good thing the relationship “fizzled”. History (above) aside Nutmeg thought that Ginger would have lots of fun driving a 2CV around Provence for a day.  The answer was simple, there is a Dutch/French company called 2CV Experience that rents lovingly restored 2CVs or “two horsepower” cars for the day.  It could not have been easier, as they are based minutes outside of Aix-en Provence.  They currently have 12 cars and are building their inventory to 15 shortly.  These pristine cars have been fully restored by hand, painted meticulously and are ready to go when you arrive.  All of the cars are named: Tournesol, Olivier, St-Tropez, Menthe, Sahara…Ginger and Nutmeg were handed the keys to Lavende for the day.  Have some fun watching the video: Fun in a “Deux Chevaux” The Citroën 2CV was produced from 1948 to 1990.  Technically well built and engineered the 2CV, was affordable and literally designed to move the French rural population from a dependence on animals (horses and carts) to the automobile. The car continues to be iconic.  It is minimalist by design, lightweight, offers easy serviceability and consistent reliability.  In 42 years of production over 3.8 million cars were produced. Nutmeg could not have dreamed of a more perfect day in the middle of March.  It was a brilliantly sunny, cloudless, warm day.  At 10am Ginger was instructed on how to “roll-back” the canvas convertible top, from then on it was a “topless-day” until 19:00. Ginger and Nutmeg had a vague idea of their day-trip.  It looked something like; head to the coast and then “discuss” whether to head left or right. This would be followed by a more hearty talk about where to eat lunch and then finally a more silent trip back to home base.  Thankfully, 2CV Experience saved the day by providing a detailed map, route instructions and tourist notes for a 145km tour of l’Étang de Berre. There are actually seven lakes but Étang de Berre is the largest.  The area was formed during the last ice age.  This inland water body is fed by fresh water sources.  The whole area is over 20km long and 16km wide.  There are numerous tiny villages and towns to be visited along the way. The first stop was Chateau La Barben, just outside La Barben.  There has been a structure in place since 1064.  The castle has been restored and now accommodates several needs; day tourists, overnight B&B guests and special function receptions.  Unfortunately for G&N they arrived early season, and too early in the day so could not view the interior.  Certainly the exterior is well restored and the location is a beautiful cool oasis, surrounded by water sources. The next towns were Pelissanne, Salon de Provence, Grans, and Saint Chamas.  Each town has some unique sites and photo opportunities.  Hands-down the village of Grans was a favored stop.  The village is small and maintains a real Provencal feel with a mix of residences, restaurants and cafes.  This tiny village has a permanent population of about 3800 residents. The other towns were not highly remarkable although each one has some unique characteristics and offers some photo opportunities at the most unexpected moments.  Although 2CV Experience provides all the tools for a picnic, you still need to spend a few moments purchasing the ingredients (Ginger and Nutmeg were not that organized or motivated), so they ended up in Istres for lunch.  This is an ancient town has a few remaining Roman sites surrounded by a bustling town.  A quick drive through the area and it is clear you should not venture too far from your car and keep your valuables close at hand.  That being said G&N stumbled across Pinçée de Sel for lunch on the main street and it was excellent. The post lunch stops included the village of Saint Mitre les Remparts, this village should NOT be missed.  The ancient town was surrounded by high defensive walls, which date to back to the 14th century.  There are two main entrances into the old village, the North and South gates.  Do not miss the residences built into the old walls of the village.  This small village is a lovely, relatively quiet stop on the tourist circuit. Unfortunately, time was ticking and the sun was headed the wrong direction so the next towns were literally “drive-bys” for another time.  Here is a picture of the seaside harbour of Carro, where the duo made a brief pit stop before heading back to the starting point. Ginger was warned about some of the idiosyncrasies of the 2CV. First up was where the hazard lights were just in case of any unforeseen events. Important details included the fact that there is NO power steering, NO power brakes, and the transmission is un-synchronized. Translated that all means that one needs to use a little muscle to drive the car and must think ahead. With an un-synchronized clutch if you need to downshift into first gear, the car must come to a complete stop before engaging the gear.  The gearshift is interesting as it is on the dashboard, with a unique shift pattern. Lavende was fun to drive, cornering took a little effort to manhandle the steering, and a rolling stop in second gear was the name of the game, avoid full stops if possible. The car accelerated well. The car seems to perform best at 90km/hr and below; much better to enjoy the sights and sounds of the little towns, natural vistas, and historic monuments along the route. At the end of the day it was really a “magical” experience in a 2CV.  The small team at 2CV Experience is well organized, professional, accommodating and they provide excellent route notes!  Otherwise Ginger and Nutmeg might still be “discussing” the directions!!!  Follow @twitter

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May 9, 2011

Red Sports Car at Ferrari in Maranello Italy

Red Sports Car at Ferrari in Maranello Italy

There are several brands that epitomize Italian style, one that is known worldwide is Ferrari. Boys of all ages, have visions of racing in the streets of Monaco in a red sports car. Bright red is truly one of the distinctive traits of the Ferrari automobiles, a patented color, “Rosso Corsa,” or Italian racing red. In fact, red is the international color for all Italian race cars, while the French use blue, and the English defaulted to British racing car green. On a recent visit to Bologna, Ginger and Nutmeg made a small side-trip to Galleri Ferrari, the official Ferrari museum located in Maranello, to experience these magnificent machines up close. Aside from distinctive color the Ferrari coat of arms, a bright black stallion prancing on a yellow embossed background, is iconic. History surrounds the emblem: the black stallion symbolizing the Piedmonte Reale Cavalleria which World War One, Italian flying ace Francesco Baracca had painted on his fighter plane. Ferrari originally received approval to use the prancing stallion on its cars from Countess Baracca who suggested it would bring luck in car races. Yellow is the official color of Modena, an Italian province in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Modena has been deemed the “Supercar Capital” as it has been home to carmakers Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborgini, and Bugatti. Two scripted letters “S” and “F” are also included on the logo and are important as they signify Scuderia Ferrari, or the “Ferrari Stable.” The stable got its roots in 1928 as a collective of amateur race car drivers led by Enzo Ferrari. The crest is an appropriate coat of arms for such a legacy of great automobiles, which have been built with ever increasing horsepower. (more…)

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May 2, 2011

Carnevale di Venezia the Stunning Venice Carnival

Carnevale di Venezia the Stunning Venice Carnival

Many years ago Nutmeg saw a fabulous photo of Venice during Carnevale.  Attending this annual event has been on her “Top 10” list ever since. What is not to like about this event?: The beautiful city of Venice A really big 10 day party through the streets Fantastic costumes Italian food Ginger and Nutmeg checked Jade into the doggie spa close to Aix, and told her to be a good girl, as this was not to be an event for black dogs. Off they headed to Italy with a hotel room booked, masks in hand, rental costumes organized and tickets to the more affordable Ball of the Grand Duke – Palazzo Pesaro Papafava – The fancier ball was thankfully “sold-out”, as the per person cost was well over 450 Euros. (more…)

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April 25, 2011

The Stunning Italian Dolomites

The Stunning Italian Dolomites

Ginger and Nutmeg chose the Italian Dolimites for some skiing in early March. They were able to schedule their trip just after the winter school break so the crowds were light.  The problem was the snow was ‘light’ as well.  So there was nothing but groomed trails, which suited Nutmeg just fine. They chose the resorts of Cortina and Corvara/Alta-Badia, as Ginger wanted to ski a couple of the classic Olympic and World-Cup pitches. The Dolomites landscape is incredibly spectacular.  One is struck immediately by the range of colours from pine forests and meadows to rocky spires and limestone walls (some of the highest in the world).  In 2009, the Dolimites were declared a UNESCO Natural Heritage site and it is easy to see why as every viewpoint is more spectacular, than the last. This area is an outdoor playground all year round, attracting skiers, ski-touring, climbers, hikers, bikers and para-gliders, among others. There has been recorded climbing in the region since 1887. (more…)

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April 18, 2011

Alberta’s Spring Tease

Alberta’s Spring Tease

This will be a short one on Alberta’s spring.  Nutmeg moved to Calgary 17 years ago, Ginger had arranged with Mother Nature for a fantastic spring and even better summer that year.  Since that time, Calgary and Mother Nature have ignored Ginger and completely tormented Nutmeg.  Practically every year there is a deficit of snow for skiing in January and February, or it is too darn cold.   (more…)

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April 11, 2011

What is there to like about Aix en Provence a Dog’s View

What is there to like about Aix en Provence a Dog’s View

Ginger and Nutmeg are a bit distracted by our move from Aix en Provence to Eygalieres, so it is once again my turn for a bit of “air-time”.  Here is my rebuttal to Nutmeg’s last post “Our Favorite things about Aix en Provence“. I have never lived in a place quite like Aix en Provence.  When I was a young puppy I lived in the woods in Vermont, and putting on a collar was a dress-up occasion.  Then I moved to Calgary. Ginger came to pick me up in Montreal and took me on a long trip to that strange place (Calgary).  We arrived and there was another dog who looked like me but she was not very interested in me.  My roaming space much reduced, in fact it was a bit like a sardine can after Vermont.  The good news is Ginger and Nutmeg made lots of trips to Canmore, where we could swim and run around like black Labradors do. Aix en Provence is a place where I go for lots of walks but never go off leash.  Nutmeg says it is because there are no parks.  I think it is because of all the tempting scraps on the ground.  We walk every morning up the famous Cours Mirabeau, it is lovely and often there are a few morsels of food on the ground from the restaurants along our way. It is possible Nutmeg might be right, the single park that is close to our house is locked on weekends. (more…)

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April 4, 2011

Our Favorite Things about Aix en Provence

Our Favorite Things about Aix en Provence

Aix en Provence is often referred to as “Cezanne’s city”.  It is hard to miss the “Steps of Cezanne” emblems on the sidewalks of Aix, these symbols lead tourists to some of the more famous sites for Cezanne.  The problem with looking at your feet to follow the little emblems, is you might miss some of the sights along the way.  Nutmeg could fill a book and several photo albums to really describe this city.  Aix en Provence has a long history (founded in 123 BC) as a centre built over hot springs or “thermes”.  Aix is a student town, tourist town, the official centre of the 13th department of France. (more…)

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