Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Days Keep Getting Better and Better

How to top today?  It couldn't be done.  It's fitting that it was our last day...what great memories to leave with.  Today, we visited three countries:  France, Monaco and Italy.

We woke up early and drove up the French Riviera.

Our first major stop of the day was at a perfume factory!  We learned how perfume is made and that there are only 150 "noses" in the world--those who are hired to smell and to help create the fragrances.  We had an opportunity to smell different containers and see if we could identify the main ingredient as well.  After our tour, we were led to the showroom to buy some souvenirs.

As we finished up in the perfume factory, many of us wandered outside to wait and were greeted by a Ferrari test drive site.  It was 200 Euros to drive for an hour or 59 Euros to sit in the passenger seat for a 15 minute drive.  We definitely enjoyed looking.

We drove a bit more and got out of the bus in MONACO!  We walked by the Royal Palace, saw the Grand Prix track (coming next month), saw the tennis stadium which attracts world class athletes from around the world and saw stunning views of this country. Wow.

We got back on the bus, drove an hour and then explored Sanremo, Italy.  We had pizza, pasta, shopping, gelato, exploration, walking, shopping, pizza, pasta, gelato....yes, all of that, that many times. :)

After our day abroad, we came back to France and enjoyed our time in Nice.  We said goodbye to this wonderful country.  We had our dinner and boarded our bus with our faithful drivers for the last time.  We said thank you to Stephane Olivee and Sofiane who drove us all over the continent all week.  We are grateful for them.

Tonight we are packing one final time....cramming our clothes and our souvenirs into our luggage in preparation for our early flights home tomorrow.

We are looking forward to seeing our friends and family, but are sad to leave this fantastic country.  We've had a superb trip!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pictures from Our Roman Themed Day

An European Market and the Meditteranean

What an amazing and beautiful day!

Today we woke, boarded the bus, and headed to Aix-en-Provence.  We arrived in a quiet town, still waking up from it's Friday night.  The streets were quiet and the morning cool.  We took a walk to see a Roman Catholic church, different from the Gothic, symmetrical cathedrals we have been visiting.

After our visit, we walked through the narrow, quiet streets, past several markets, until we reached our meeting point for later in the day.  We were told our meeting time and place, and off we went.  The town was slowly waking up and many headed back toward the markets we saw.  The markets were filled with AMAZING produce, rich smells, the sounds of purchasing and bartering.  We had a wonderful morning.

We boarded the bus again for a shorter ride to to Cassis, along the Mediterranean.  The mountains greeted us and views of vineyards and towns as we drove.  As we approached Cassis we saw a spectacular view of our destination---the Mediterranean and the gorgeous coastal town.  Our main activity here was a boat ride out on the Mediterranean.  The sun was warm, the sea was calm....a perfect day for a boat ride.  We came back to shore and had 45 minutes to explore...many of choosing to shop, get an ice cream and put our toes in the Mediterranean.

Then, we were off again...this time, headed for Nice.  The European town was bustling.  We walked through the town center to dinner, taking in the new look.  After dinner we had time along the boardwalk to be with friends and take in the beautiful sites. 

Our evening ended with our ride to our hotel---in Nice, but along the top of the valley's ridge, overlooking the city.

We can't wait for tomorrow---three countries in one day:  France, Monaco and Italy!!!!

Friday, April 18, 2014

It's Been a Roman-Themed Day

Today we left our hotel a little "later"--boarding the bus at 9 am.  A group got up early and went for a run, the rest enjoyed some extra sleep in our comfy hotel rooms.

We started our day with an hour's drive to the Pope's Palace in Avignon.  We toured, had free time, shopped and ate.

We hopped back on the bus for a short ride to the Roman Aquaducts in Pont du Gard.

Then, another ride to a well preserved Roman Colosseum. 

We walked to dinner and then rode back toward our hotel. But we didn't go to our hotel directly.  Instead, we walked to an overlook of the city and enjoyed our evening hike.  At the top, as the sun was going down, we celebrated our birthdays on the trip:  Jack, Joey, and Chloe.  We all sang Happy Birthday to them (in French of course) and shared with Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Tomorrow we will rise earlier and head to Nice with a stop in Aix-en-Provence.  How can Friday be over already?

Pictures from today will be posted tomorrow.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Medieval Forts, Pink Salt Marshes, and Flamingos in the South of France

Today was an *EARLY* rise and shine kind of day.  We had wake up calls at 5:15 am, and had bags packed and on the bus by 6 am.  We had breakfast and were pulling off by 6:45 am.  Way to go team!  We had a five hour bus ride to our first stop.

The down time was a great way to catch up on sleep.  Our destination was well worth the miles. 

We had lunch in Carcassonne, a medieval city dating back to the 12th-15th century!  It was not damaged during either of the World Wars because there was nothing of military importance in the city.  What a beautiful city and a great stop!  As you can see, our weather continues to be outstanding!  We couldn't be luckier!

We got back on the bus and headed further east toward our next destination:  Aigues-Mortes.  This was a medieval town dating back to the Crusades!  Most well known for its salts.  You could see the salt marshes out our windows as we drove up---the water was purple/pink, reflecting the color of the salt.  When harvested, it is white.

We also saw many flamingos!  Yes, flamingos!  Flamingos are found in only two regions in France.  What an unique site to see!  It is the delta of the Rhone River. 

In Aigues-Mortes. we had more free time to explore the town.  There was a statue of Louis IX, commemorating his efforts (though losses) in the Crusades.

We enjoyed more crepes---and enjoyed a ham and cheese crepe with an egg on it....yum!  Ice cream continues to be a fave snack as well.

We arrived in Orange to our new hotel.

We had a later dinner and celebrated John Gretschel's birthday!!!  Happy Birthday John!

Tomorrow we'll sleep in a little bit (wake ups at 7 am) and then off to explore our new region!  We've all been enjoying our time together and the rich experiences we've been having!