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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Meeting the Impressionists in France

­Meeting the Impressionists in France
with Artist Christina Thoen

Along the French Impressionist Path as been a theme tour for VM Travel since 2005 and every year I manage to find some new gems to help us better understand the lives of these renegade artists!
This June, Christina Thoen, artist and certified art teacher and eleven of her students landed in Nice, France to learn their stories.
The first day we gathered in the 15th century artist town of St Paul de Vence.  After perusing the art boutiques of this village we delighted in a gourmet lunch in the gardens of Colombe d’Or, a favourite of Picasso and Matisse whose works still adorn the walls of the antique dining room.
Close to Nice and the Mediterranean Sea lies Les Colettes, Renoir’s estate where he lived with his wife Aline and their children. His motivation to move to the Côte d’Azur was to ease the discomfort of his rheumatoid arthritis in order to finish his days as an artist. Many of his compatriots joined him under the ancient twisted olive trees which still adorn the gardens to this day.
Further along the autroroute in Aix-en-Provence, Cézanne’s studio remains untouched. One feels his presence in this small space.  His cloak and umbrella in the corner remind us of his daily treks along the country road to Mont St Victoire which he captured on canvas 142 times. 

That afternoon at the beach in the pastel fishing village of Cassis resulted in some reference photography before we headed off to the Mas St Antoine just south of Avignon to our garden lodging.  The Kiwis, gardeners and cooks shared the culinary delights of Provence with us under the Platane trees. We were to enjoy five warm, sunny days in this gite lodging. In fact our first day we spent at the Mas with a breakfast of croissants, cheeses and delicious coffee before taking a dip in the pool before Christina gave us our first lesson in water colours!
The next day a refreshing rain cleared the air so the colours popped in the Provençale countryside. After our visit to a winery in the reputed Chateauneuf-du-Pape which gave us the scoop of these world renown wines, we were anxious to capture these intense colours with our brushes.
Every Wednesday St Remy de Provence hosts one of the most colourful markets(more reference photography) in the south of France. Close by is St Paul Maussole where Van Gogh was hospitalized with roaming privileges, resulting in some of his most famous pieces: Sunflowers, Irises, and Starry Night. We chose to sit amongst the Olive Trees, as he did, to capture the light and shadows of these cranky trees with the blue Alpilles mountains looming in the background. Just by chance, we enjoyed a Van Gogh presentation in the Image Cathedral of Les Baux de Provence!
Thursday we continued down the Van Gogh path in the Roman city of Arles as I led us along his footsteps, past the Yellow House (no longer standing), the Arles Arena, the Hotel Dieu where he was hospitalized and painted the garden, then on to the Place du Forum (Roman) where we enjoyed a pastis and lunch at the Café Van Gogh. This is the Café La Nuit, Christina’s favourite so we all painted the bright yellow awning just a Vincent did!  What a lovely connection!

Gourmet Pizza Night around the pool was our farewell dinner with the Kiwis (Keryn and Kerrin) as we prepared to leave vibrant Provence for Paris!
With the theme of Impressionist Art our Paris visit included the Musée d’Orsay (the former Gare d’Orsay turned into the impressionist art museum) and the Orangerie housing Monet’s giant water lilies. The morning on the Butte Montmartre where the impressionists regrouped helped us understand the support they got from each other as they initiated their own Salon des Refusés of which there were 7 before they became accepted into the art world.
Our day in the country in Giverny, Monet’s Gardens was busy with tourists, but the garden and the lily ponds were in their glory for everyone to see. We returned to Paris via Auvers-sur-Oise, the small village where Vincent Van Gogh died and is buried next to his brother Theo in the village cemetery. The Cathedral (famous Van Gogh Painting) is also in this village so we spent our fourth lesson with Christina in the shadows of this ominous structure. A touching final moment was standing in Vincent’s bedroom in Auberge Ravoux as our guide described the final days of his life. It was a somber ride back to Paris!
Our farewell dinner at the 120 year old Chartier Restaurant and our evening cruise along the Seine, around Notre Dame and past the twinkling Eiffel Tower was a glorious finish to our tour to Meet the Impressionists in France!
Thanks Christina! Merci beaucoup to all of you: Janelle, Bonnie, Simon, Kelly, Colleen, Cory, Denise, Nicole, Phoenix, Diane, Madelaine and Maria. You were great travellers!
2021! Venice and Croatia!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Sakura - Cherriful Japan 2019

Cherriful Japan 2019
This spring during Sakura (Cherry Blossom Time) VM Travel offered up Japan as a new destination. A close friend and relative, Mieko orchestrated our intimate visit to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Tokyo. The weather was a little colder than expected – brrrr! even the blossoms were shivering!
We started our tour in the old capital Kyoto – home to Temples, Shrines and Geishas!  We rode through the Bamboo Forest in Rickshaws commandeered by muscular, young Japanese with smiles on their faces – happy to be in this “fitness camp”! In the Tea Farms of Wazuka we hopped on electric bikes and meandered through the mountainous region covered with hedges of tea. A couple of mishaps resulted bruises for those who had not ridden a bike since the age of 13!  A tea guru instructed us on to prepare green tea using various temperatures of water and then to the final consumption – eating the leaves! It was likened to a wine taste – lots of tannins!  In Nara, the oldest capital of Japan we visited the giant Buddah.  Apparently if you are small enough to crawl through a hole the size of his nostril you are blessed with eternal life! NO – none of us tried that!!! 

From Kyoto the bullet train or Shinkansen whisked us off to Hiroshima where we visited the Peace Museum and Gardens a somber visit for all of us.  Just off the coast of Hiroshima is the beautiful Island of Miyajima where we stayed in a Ryokan or Lodge with Japanese style foutons and meals! An authentic experience!  We spent a day enjoying the cherry blossoms, visiting the Shrine and hiking on Mt Misen. One of our troopers, Nancy along with guide Mieko hiked to the very top rather than taking the ropeway. Brava! 

Back on the bullet train, we experienced a cultural homestay at the Hattori’s 100 year old Japanese Home in Yokkaichi! We were introduced to Soba making and Sushi rolling and had instructive sessions in the Tea Ceremony, Calligraphy, Ikebana (flower arranging) and Kimono dressing, all offered over 2 days by the Hattori family and friends. This was a very special cultural experience and welcome from this Japanese family! Argiato!

Our last two days were spent in Tokyo. One might think it crowded but it was so well organized and disciplined we could have been walking the streets of Saskatoon!  Except on our last day when we decided to leave for the station at rush hour! “The Sea of People “ parted and let us through! So polite and respectful! No pushing or shoving! A delight!  Not a drop of rubbish on the street – ultimate cleanliness! Impressive!
Despite the cool weather we enjoyed a cruise along the Sumida River lined with Cherry Trees, a visit to the Hokusai -Sumida Museum and a city tour around the Imperial Palace.  After a farewell luncheon on a roof top near the station we took the Narita Express to the airport for our flight back to Canada.
 Our fit bit indicated that we had walked over 80 Km in the 10 days we were in Japan – not for the faint of heart!
Comments from our guests to describe the Japanese culture:
The first word to come to mind is “disciplined”. But also I think they were very accommodating to tourists, happy to share and explain.  Chandra – Landis, SK
Very clean … not many garbage cans around but less garbage around than you see in North America. Pride in their environment.  Nancy, Saskatoon, SK
Gracious is the word I was thinking of . Clean too, yes Nancy. I did see more than one person stoop to pick litter off the street or floor of a train – and it was not only Glenys stooping to pick up a 1 yen coin (worth .01 of a cent). She spent it right away!  Leona  Saskatoon. SK
All of it in Japan was wonderful, how you and Mieko got us through all the Bus  and train connections  was just amazing,  especially Tokyo, a  city with 37. mill people, was so easy to go through, so clean, so many very polite people everywhere, no matter how busy the market streets were !!!! The hotels we stayed in were small but so comfortable and the homestay with the Hattori family was a very much appreciated highlight to see how Japanese families live , the beautiful home and the fabulous meals they provided for us and kept us busy with cultures of their country.
A tour I would recommend to anyone who has been to Japan, (like me) or there for the first time.
Linda Socher

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Living like a local in Provence

Birthday tripping along the Amalfi Coast

Happy birthday Jen!!!

Oh dear, well that was FUN!!!!  Jennifer and her 6 best gal pals decided to take a trip to Italy for their 50th B’day.  Not all 6 ladies were turning 50 and not all 6 joined us… (next time Carolyn) but all of us spent 10 days in Italy celebrating what was more than a birthday, it was a dream!

All of the ladies arrived in Napoli, that’s Italian for Naples, where it was hot and humid and the setting was just right for the start to our Amalfi coast wining and boating trip!

Day one was already electric with the introduction of the Aperol Spritz into our beverage menu.  Bright shiny orange and fizzy drinks… yep, I’ll take another, per piacere! 

Day 2 – We were off early on a boat since we were so well organized, with small suitcases and even a clothes washing machine aboard (grazie Janice)!  The trip to Capri was smooth and easy with a wonderful welcome at the Villa Ceselle, our own Villa in Anacapri!  We were hungry, so Pietro took us in the mini ‘pullmino’ up to Da Gelsomina, the most reputed seafood restaurant on the Isle of Capri!  What else do we have to do today?  Drink spritzes and “Wendy’s” by the pool?  Non che problema… Who does not want to experiment with a little bit of Amaretto when in Italia…?  And then….? ‘Andiamo in il pullmino!’
On Capri we boated around the island with Marco, and he invited us to swim in the Green Grotto.  There were little blue fish everywhere!! What an exhilarating experience to be in the cave…maybe a bit of salt in the mouth but this is the Tyrrhenian Sea, after all!

We had a look at the Faraglione and the Grotta dell Amore from the top, and then went home for some Jacuzzi time.

What next, and what to do on our free day in Anacapri except for make friends with gorgeous Italian shopkeeps, buy clothing, shoes and lemon scented everything, and of course most of us mustered the courage to go up the Monte Solaro chairlift, despite Dawn’s exclamation, since she didn’t know that THIS WAS HAPPENING TODAY!!!???.  Blue skies, blue sea and beautiful ladies, nuff said.

On no! We have to leave. For where you say? The reputable and stunning Amalfi coast with Lorenzo who picked us up in Sorrento, certo! Pasta and salad in an artsy garden that I got to enjoy with Pat, then we were off !

Lorenzo had us hopping out of the van and posing for so many pictures of Isole de Galli on the ‘wild side, and then the famous traffic infected town of Positano.  We stopped for a refresher in Amalfi then were back on the incredibly windy roads to the clifftop town of Ravello.   Solo una 'notte here' in Ravello but Wendy went home with a fantastic bottle of Falanghina, the best from the region. Thanks to the enchanting woman at the ‘Wine and Drugs’ store.  No fibbing. Look it up. J

Ok, that was the teaser.  

We moved on to stay at the Vecchia Quercia our dear friend and fellow hustler in the tourism industry’s private home. Anna Imparato welcomed us with open arms and her Napolitano ideals, and along with that came her recipes, her garden secrets as well as her sentiment about being from Italy’s south.  She expresses herself so firmly yet delicately, that you can’t not let her teach you how to make squishy and bouncy gnocchi from dry old bread crumbs.  Home made Ravioli followed as a lesson, and then it was time to eat! The terrace lit up at night was made spectacular and we would all like to give a thankful Grazie to Giovanni, Valeria and the other Vecchia Querica family members.

Mamma Mia!  It is time to go after three magical nights by the pool surrounded by orange groves and fresh Fico d’India.  Rosamaria, also a Buffalo Mozzarella farmer can tell you more about how to carve out the best piece of fleshy cactus or persimmon. Rivabianca was a slippery, hot, cheesey, wet time but that day we learned about the mysterious leftover buffaloes as well as ancient ruins at Paestum.  Hey the Greeks need some credit on this boot of a peninsula, no certo? 

L’ultima note had us drinking the last spritz and then the Transatlantico fed us insalata caprese with mixed seafood pasta, polpo, calamari, vongole and the fresh treasures that come in every morning to the wharf.  Oops, sorry to wake you, sir with the giant yacht… I have a fresh catch coming in.

Allora.  Hugs and felicità upon the dark parting under the shadow of the Castel dell’ Ovo.
These ladies were never holding back their gregarious ways...and so we became fast friends after even a few minutes.  I am honoured to be part of this past 10 days in bella Italia and grazie mille Jennifer for inviting us to be a part of it.  Buon compleanno!

Ci vediamo la prossima volta le belle donne!!