Monday, May 25, 2015

Following the footsteps of the Impressionists - May 2015

What a magnificent two weeks in France!  This year's impressionist art tour consisted of a small group, only 5 fantastic and easy-breezy travellers joined Natascha to follow in the Impressionist Footsteps, visiting ateliers and plain-air painting sites!  We lingered in appreciation of the memoirs and artworks of Renoir in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, Cezanne at Aix-en-Provence, Van Gogh and Gaugin in Arles and we finished with a visit to the master of the impressionists's home; Monet's house at Giverny.  
Everyone on this trip was a first time traveller with us at VM Travel Adventures. All were so very flexible and easy-going, and although strangers at first, they became fast friends! We shared many laughs, cooking experiences, good food and maybe a few glasses of 'vin blanc'!  Our trip started in lovely Nice for some time at the beach before heading west into Provence for almost a week.  The trip terminated in Paris after much exploring of the city of lights.
The group in Giverny after a visit to Monet's Gardens

With almost a week in Paris at the Hotel Chopin, we enjoyed taking in all of the impressionist art at the Musee d'Orsay and the Orangerie, while studying the art-nouveau and the modern graffiti that popped up on each street corner!  We carved out some good shopping time and then balanced that with a few little stops for a pastis in the cute cafes of Montmartre really was a dream!
Sharon at Les Collettes, Renoir's House
Sharon from Courtenay, B.C is a very well travelled girl and we were glad to have her join us!  With her tiny suitcase she was the quickest on and off the TGV that linked us from Provence to Paris!  Passionate about the flowers of Provence, Sharon found her way through the Paris streets to be able to take home a perfume gift for those dear to her.

Dawn and Rich from New Jersey were such a blast to travel with!  We got to know Dawn's generous spirit through the sharing of cookies and wine, while Rich's rock and roll personality had us sharing music videos and links!  Rich made us a fire in the Mas St. Antoine's cozy guest living room every night, really looking after this group of ladies!  Dawn is a lucky lady and their 14 year marriage has now been sealed with a lock on the Pont des Arts in Paris - he's just so spontaneous!  These two were always ready to point the way to a great restaurant, hang out with the pack of us and also make the most of the nightlife in Nice and Paris!  Thanks for joining us you two, and see you on the next trip!

Sharon and Verdyne did not know each other before they decided to room together on this trip. These fantastic educators from Saskatchewan travelled magically together, despite a few slaps in the forehead.  Sharon, professional photographer took some stunning photographs, all the while instructing her apprentice in photo composition.  These gals were always ready to stay up late and share stories, recipes or home-economics teacher tips!  Thanks for those wonderful meals we shared, Verdyne!

Cafe La Nuit - painted by Van Gogh

We had a very important stop at the Cafe La Nuit, where we enjoyed a variety of fruit juices and wine!  We followed Van Gogh through all of his painting sites and one of the most moving places we visited was at St. Paul Maussole clinic where they still practice Art Therapy.  

St Paul Maussole's Cloister
While spending quality time around the fire, while we speculated on Vincent's emotions, desires and frustrations during his time in Provence.  We could sure feel the inspiration from the Provencal sun, something that Van Gogh expressed the best, and we made the most of our sunny days while thanking the impressionists for inviting us on this lovely journey!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Turkish Delights

Not only does this term refer to the delightful jellied sweet originating in this city of Istanbul, but also the delightful surprise we experienced in our recent visit to Turkey.  It was easy being a tourist here – the food was colourful and delicious, the Turks speak English, they are happy and cheeky…Natascha’s term for them.  Everything is very well organized, it is SAFE – no worries of stolen passports – the only difficulty was learning the local language and we did take a stab at it!  Really, visiting Turkey is a “ delight” – a real pleasure. 

We stayed in the middle of the action in a neighbourhood called Sultanahmet. In fact I arrived on May 5 – celebration of spring with singing, dancing and drinking in the streets. Quite the welcoming party!!! Natascha and I and our good friend Isabelle decided to explore this country together. After some pointers from Umit (Humid as Izzy called him) front desk manager at the Best Point Hotel, we set off to visit the major sites within walking distance: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cisterns and Topkapi Palace. He lent us his tram card to go further afar to the Palace Dolmabahçe, Sultan’s palace since the 1800s totally decorated with elaborate 4 tonne chandeliers and reception rooms for guests. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk spent his final days here.  The Galata Tower was close by, but after queuing to climb the 400 stairs of this 1451 tower we found out that the only way up was by elevator. Did seem worth $12 not to climb it so we went for wine instead and met a Turk who invited us to view the Bosphorous straight from this Penthouse apartment!!! Better view and no ticket… how could we refuse?! Yes, we met some great people – really genuine hosts. Certainly the restaurant owners or the carpets sellers tried various charming techniques to entice us into their shops, but a kind no thanks from us was sufficient to give them the message.

We fell in love with Istanbul, but wanted to go further afield to the Cave dwellings in Cappadocia and the Hot Air Balloon ride. Over 13 companies now launch over 100 balloons over this volcanic countryside every morning at 5am. We hiked the valleys, entered the underground city and witnessed the twirling trance of the Whirling Dervishes. We could have used one more day in Göreme, but alas we found a rare flight from there to Izmir and we jumped on it instead of the alternative overnight bus ride of 15 hours. 

We found some beaches for Izzy in Selçuk (the smaller town near Ephesus) and managed to spend a couple of hours each day for the next 4 days on the Aegean Sea. Mahmet, our guide in Ephesus gave us a very passionate tour of this ancient site and slowly the history of this area spanning over 4000 years started to take a foothold in our minds. Hadrian’s fountain, the infamous Library and the 20 000 person amphitheatre came alive with Mahmet’s stories – and he had a few!!!  Our visit to the small hillside town of Sirince had us taste wine from the area and dine with home cooked specialities. We stayed at the Nylia, a small hotel in Selçuk where we enjoyed a copious breakfast in the courtyard. Again, well situated to the town center, the bus station and the museum. 

From here, Izzy made her way back to Istanbul to join her friends on a bike trip in Belgium. Natascha and I endured the long bus ride up to Çanakkale where we participated in a tour of Ancient Troy and Gallipoli, the latter being a pilgrimage for Auzzies and Kiwis as they honor their soldiers in a battle that resulted in many deaths including the Turks. Ataturk’s reputation as a strong leader for the new republic of Turkey in 1923 was apparent in the commemorative statues dotted over the Gallipoli peninsula.

Back to Istanbul for a couple of days to check out a few more sites, buy our Turkish lamps, do a quick sketch of the Blue Mosque from our roof top terrace and pack our bags for our next adventure. It won’t be long until we visit this “delightful” country again. Tesekkur Ederim to our new friends in Turkey!