"We may never pass this way again..."
That's how I felt as we took a last morning walk in Roaschia, stopping by the cemetery to place wildflowers on some graves and search for one last ancestor that we couldn't locate before.
I felt these Maritime Alps in my heart, in my bones, as I looked into the cloudy mountain tops and stopped by the clear stream, with green arguilite-like rocks sitting against the white limestone, reminding me of Glacier Park.
I marveled at the pink valerian because we just have white; the unnamed yellow and purple wildflowers that dotted the green grassy hillsides, once terraced into gardens and places for sheep to graze.
I stood in amazement at the tetti (plural for tetto, or little villages) tucked so way up high in the alpine mountainsides, glad that many were being taken care of once again by descendents of those who have gone before us.
I watched as the roads wound high on switchbacks and through tunnels from Italy into France to Italy to France again as we headed into Nice and as we stopped for one last cappuccino at a small village in a valley.
And then I felt the change as we approached the last tunnel that would take us into France for good and drop us to sea level at the Mediterranean coast, perhaps never to return to this special place called Roaschia, the land of my paternal grandmother's family.
Such sadness but gladness that we braved driving in France, in Italy, in the mountains, venturing into a place where no one except Google translate and one cousin could speak English. Arrivederci, my love, ciao, ciao.
(Tomorrow, we fly to Amsterdam, Montreal and then Calgary to spend the night. The next day we drive home; the end)
Last day in Roaschia
Today was full of emotion and surprises. It started with a plan to meet Attilio for church at 10 a.m. But Tom and I were up early and decided to get in a walk beforehand. Attilio saw us from his balcony and came down to join us. We went on a tour of the town and then to the cemetery, where he explained that the people from this area all had the same last names: Viale, Aime, Gibaudo and two others that I can't remember. My relatives came from all three of these names. He also explained that "Viale" is like "Smith" in the U. S.: it is common all over Italy, even in Argentina and Africa, so not all Viales are relatives. In the cemetery, he showed us which Viales were from our direct families. Tom noticed that all of the graves were from the last 100 years, all well kept in solid marble. The bodies are in sealed caskets and stacked, one on top of each other. The family pays for 100 years and after that, the bodies are put in a common grave and different bodies are put into the marked graves. No markers or memorials commemorate the dead after 100 years unless there are relatives who want to keep paying or if the person is famous. This was very interesting for us to hear, that a person can't wander around a graveyard to find very old graves.Cost of a family crypt is around 2500-3500 euro and the burial around 4500, so around the same as U. S.
Then we went to church, a very short service with an elderly, yet animated, priest. Not many were in attendance and mostly all over 60. Tom had a laugh when he saw one of the altar boys had his surplice on backward and was fidgeting around with it. Anyway, Attilio said most people in Italy are Catholic, but they only go to church for holy days and funerals. Not many are being baptized or even getting married in the church. Most aren't getting married at all.
Then we went to the social hall for a drink with the locals, a very fascinating place, very informal with talk, potato chips and drinks. We had bottled Aperol spritzer and Mauro, Attilio's brother, who was there also, bought our drinks when we tried to do so. Everyone was so nice to us.
Then we went our own ways to have some lunch and then to meet at 2 p.m. with Sergio and some other relatives to walk around San Bernardo, Tetto Viale and Tetto Barlot (or Barlotto). Sergio had a four-wheel drive Fiat that could handle the jeep roads better. We met Liliana and her father Giacomo, who told us all about living in San Bernardo, where my great grandfather Giorgio Viale lived and died. They then left us with Liliana, who had my exact birthday, saying she may come visit in two years.
Then we headed to Tetto Viale, where none of my direct relatives lived but it had the name "Viale" so we stopped to look around. Some people were hard at work in a garden. Sergio, ever the joker, rolled down his window and said, "If you need some help, call me, ha ha." Then it was off to Tetto Barlot where my great grandmother (bisnonna) lived before she immigrated to America. Attilio was the last child to be born here and he showed us his house. He said he loved life when he lived there. School was only two months and started just after Easter. When he moved to Turin and had to go to school full time, he hated it and yearned for the country days running around Tetto Barlot. He remembers it so fondly that he wants to be cremated and have his ashes scattered here.
We saw many houses and a mural that I remembered clearly from my earlier visits. Tom and Sergio were trading barbs back and forth as were Attilio and Sergio. Sergio was very alive and talkative, but he couldn't speak English and we could've understand Italian although he kept speaking right to us as if we could understand.He was interested in the band Dire Straits, Harry Potter, etc, pop culture in America, and had us pronounce them all in English so he could get his accent right.
Some people, Attilio explained, are starting to fix up a few of the abandoned houses and use them in the summer. We saw some that said "private property" on them, but most were in pretty bad states of decay. I felt very connected to this place with the surrounding soaring limestone mountains; Tom did too.
Sergio was so sweet to take us around, but he had another surprise for us. He took us to his house, way at the end of the road, for wine and to see his home and his dogs. His house was really fixed up, considering all of these places date from the 1500-1600s. And his border collies and one other mixed breed dogs very cute. He also gave us a chocolate and offered to give us a bottle of wine but we were afraid of customs. The wine was fantastic, so we took a picture of the bottle in case we could get it in America.
Then we said a tearful goodbye to Sergio and told him to come visit and headed to Attilio's house to say goodby to him and his wife Dahlia. They needed to head back to Turin to their home and close up their second house for a while. I didn't want to say goodbye.
We had one more surprise at dinner: Claudio, our hostess at the B and B, gave us a care package full of goodies from Roaschia: biscotti, chocolates, pasta. She said she didn't want us to leave but we told her we would be heading out at 10 in the morning.
Sorry, still no photos as I have no way to upload anything here. This post is two for the price of one. Yesterday we flew to Nice (up at 6 a.m. for a cab ride to the airport. We landed in Nice at 11 a.m. after a one and a half hour flight that included views of the alps we would soon be driving over to reach my relatives in Roaschia, Italy, nestled against the Maritime Alps.
We picked up our car and asked for a GPS, which Hertz gave us for no extra charge, thankfully. But the GPS gave us bad directions in the long run. I had mapped out three different routes to get to to Roaschia, this very little town that had all but been abandoned until the children and grandchildren purchased some homes for summer homes and rehabbed them. The new mayor is very active in putting the little town on the map, with planning festivals, bringing back the local sheep from a small remaining herd of 15, to promoting tourism with mountain biking and opening up the old rifugio and a camp ground.
Anyway, we started driving up the way the GPS recommended, which was one of the three ways I had, not the recommended way of Google. To make a long story short, we stopped for lunch in a very small village high up in the alps after an hour of very winding but beautiful road, and I asked about the road as it seemed to be a lot of construction and equipment around. I used Spanish as the locals didn't speak English. But they were able to tell me that the road was closed due to so much snow still. And they drew a map and put an X through all of the ways not to go after checking the road reports on Italy. Arghh. The GPS would not pick up the other route, even with me putting in other towns. But with their drawings we were able to negotiate and find the correct way.
When we found a pull out after getting on this toll road and another and crossing over into Italy, France, Italy, France and Italy again, paying tolls to both the countries back and forth, I discovered that the GPS was set to "no toll roads" in the settings, which was why it would not pick up the best route. Yikes. So we learned a lesson: check the settings on the GPS. The only thing we did was switch it to English and not check the other settings.
When we finally arrived in Roaschia after five hours that should have been just under three, Attilio, my cousin, greeted us very warmly with a kiss on both cheeks then asking Tom for permission after the fact! He was beaming ear to ear, so excited to see me and me him.
We got settled at Spada Reale, a bed and breakfast, where the hostess and her daughter and husband fixed us homemade food--too much of it--Roaschia-style pasta with peppers and tomatoes and basil, cheesy risotto (the best we had ever eaten) and sheep's milk ravioli, all home made. The husband and daughter are the chefs, while the mother Claudia is the hostess and inn keeper. She was so gracious. We had to get along with Google translate as they don't speak much English. Attilio is the only one here who does speak English, due to his international traveling for work. He also knows French, some Russian.
He took us for a 10 kilometer ride to another relative's bar to have a drink to meet him and his girlfriend. We also met Attilio's brother Mauro.
Then it was to bed.
Today, we had a 7:30 a.m breakfast with frittata with cheese and potato (raw on one side as it was sunnyside up), yogurt, fruit, cereal, pastries--again, too much food. Claudia fixed us a picnic lunch as today we hoped to reach the rifugio, a three-hour hike up and total around 4.5 hours. Neither tom nor I was feeling too well. We had been eating too much rich French food; plus tom got really sick with a head cold on this trip, but we attempted to reach the rifugio anyway. It was up, up, up, about 7 miles and 2500 feet of gain. We made it almost all of the way, stopping because rain was starting to come in and I didn't feel well at all. We reached Gai Fontana Fredda, a place where the people and animals stop on their way to and from their grazing grounds, complete with a supply hut, place to sleep and watering troughs. We also saw a chamois off in the distance. Of course, we saw many wildflowers, some the same as Montana, others very unusual.
On the way down from the hike, I felt very sick, with my arms and hands going numb and my stomach feeling awful, like a rock was in it. I had to walk slowly. I missed my trekking poles too as we didn't pack them on this trip.
When we got down, later than expected, we went to the B and B and had a coke. It did help my stomach. I took a shower and just rested for an hour and felt a bit better. Neither tom nor I had eaten our picnic lunch nor did we want dinner. But we did get to see Attilio's summer house and had a "ginger" drink with him, which tasted like Aperol spritzer, and also some Panetonne, a light cake with raisins and other candied fruits and/or citrine.
The Attilio took us for a ride around Roaschia for an hour of very scary roads (these single-laned roads were just paths 15 years ago) to visit many tetti (plural for tetto, or small village). We also had an awesome view into a col in the soaring mountains.
By then, Tom and I were tired and it was really raining. Attilio said to message him if we wanted to take a walk later, but we were too tired. Tomorrow, it is off to mass and to meet more relatives after church and fill in some of the blanks in the family tree with the little church's records, which date back 100 years or more. Attilio showed us how he is tracing the tree using Excel and promised to send it to us. We will also visit the tetto where my great grandmother grew up, farmed and raised sheep as well as the get go of my great grandfather.
Last day Paris
We had our fullest day yet with three big sightseeing items on the agenda: Eiffel Tower, Versailles, dinner and seine cruise
We met our local specialist for the day, Valerie, who was the friendliest of our local guides, meeting us and talking to each of us in the lobby before we boarded the bus. She was lively and funny and full of information. She talked to us the whole way to the Eiffel Tower pointing out many places including the Ritz where Diana and Dody stayed before their fateful day and the tunnel where the crash took place. She explained about the Cartier and the most expensive shopping area, about the Place de Concorde, where the guillotine did its grisly deeds, Napoleon's resting place, the opera house, among others.
Before we took the lift up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, we had a group photo in front of the tower. Then it was up we went in an elevator that probably held 50 people. The views were fantastic, but hazy due to pollution, but Tom and I could look down on all of the places we had walked. When we saw the mount of Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, the D'Orsay, Napoleon's tomb, the opera district, Rodin Museum the Place de Concorde, we realized we had walked all over the city. It was impressive to see it mapped out before our eyes.
Then we had a half hour to find a picnic lunch in a district just off the Eiffel tower. We bought fresh raspberries and black berries, bread, lentil salad, Italian salad (tomatoes with mozzarella, and bruschetta. The food truly is better tasting here.
Then it was off to Versailles for a picnic in the gardens before our tour of the palace. The gardens are magnificent, all manicured and symmetrical, unlike English gardens, which are more natural. We were surprised at the lack of flowers and that the fountains no longer worked. But it was a pleasant picnic lunch. Then we sauntered around, although the heat kept us from doing too much before the inside tour.
Once we entered the palace, we were amazed immediately with all of the gold and rich frescoes and paintings (mostly of the royalty, even one with Jesus and the king and queen and family). The hall of mirrors was particularly impressive but the bedrooms sumptuous. We all said that we could see why the people started a revolution. The palace was so big and expensive to maintain that Napoleon didn't even move in (but he might not have wanted to be associated with the Louis Kings either). Instead, he took residence in one of the palaces on the grounds, the Grand Trianon. The petite Trianon was where Marie Antoinette liked to play country girl, having farm animals and vegetable gardens, so she could escape life at court.
After our indulgence in courtly kingly and queenly life, we headed back to the hotel for a one hour break before our farewell tour dinner. The dinner was good, starter choice of goat cheese with vegetables (very strong), escargot or French onion soup; main of ratatouille with fish or puffed pastry with a poached egg or beef in a burgundy sauce, followed by cream brûlée or fresh fruit and ice cream for dessert.
Immediately after dinner, we drove to the boat dock on the river for our evening cruise. Seeing the monuments on a leisurely boat ride was gorgeous just as the sun was setting. Our driver had a surprise for us after: he braved the traffic (which he had all day, including a woman on a motorcycle who swerved in front of him and got clipped--but was okay) to take us to see the Eiffel Tower at night. And he stayed for 15 minutes, enough time for us to get many pictures and see the tower change to sparkling lights, which happened on the hour for five minutes. We were there at 10 p.m.
Then it was time to get back to our hotel and pack for a 6:30 a.m. Departure for Nice and on to Italy. We said goodbyes to our tour mates, some of whom we hope to keep in contact with.
What a day! Our busiest, but surely one of the best.
Giverney and Paris
Today we traveled back to Paris with a stop at Giverney, Monet's house and gardens that were let go to ruins and weeds during the war but then rehabbed and replanted to their earlier splendor. This was the most disappointing stop of all due to the crowds. We had to wait in line to get in, got stalled in foot traffic in the gardens, where many of the paths were roped off, got stalled again going into the underground tunnel to the Japanese gardens (where Monet's famous Lily Pads/bridge painting series was painted using the plein aire style) stalled again on the way back and really had stop and go traffic as we made our way back to the house and exit. The house was a nightmare trying to get in and then out and up the stairs. Neither Tom nor I enjoyed this visit, and tom had his worst day of the trip with his stuffed head, hurting leg and a crick in his neck. It was bad. And because we were stalled in foot traffic, we had to wolf down a lunch before boarding the bus. Not enough time coupled with the stop-and-go crowds had us a bit frazzled.
Then back on the bus for one hour.
Once we arrived in Paris, we made a "splash and dash" in and our of our hotel as our tour director called it, before heading for a tour of the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame cathedral. Our local guide was very good but Tom had a tough time with her thick accent and he was really not feeling well at this point. A bit of coffee and a gelato helped perk him a bit, but he was stilled awed by the airy yet massive beauty of Notre Dame at Paris. We also peeked into a Greek Orthodox Church with its icons, walked past the Sorbonne, stepped on the star marking "ground zero, " from where all monuments are measured in Paris and drove past many monuments including the Louvre, Joan of Arc Statue, the d'Orsay museum, many gothic churches, schools and the Pantheon.
Many in our tour decided to go to the Moulin Rouge tonight but we decided to pass. It cost $170 euros each and would have put us out until midnight. It will be better that Tom gets some sleep and rests. We already had a long day, getting into our hotel at 6 pm. and still needed to find a place to eat.
Mount St. Michelle and Normandy Beaches
We had a long morning (4 hour drive) to the Abbey at Mont St. Michele, built on a small island along the English Channel with a causeway, a sand bar that is exposed at low tide. In the past, the causeway was the only way over, requiring people to either sail over in high tide or wait until low tide to walk or ride horses over. The abbey fortress was very impressive, with the architecture designed around the natural rock of the island. We toured the Abbey, an extra, 10 euro ,which was well worth it. In the main church, the monks and nuns were having silent prayer and then they started singing, the mail voices and female ones playing off each other. Unfortunately, like the other holy sites, the abbey is surrounded by shops selling cheap religious trinkets.
Then we headed a bit east to the beaches of Normandy. We had a 20-minute stop on the Omaha beach to visit the memorial. Tom and I walked down to the actual ocean to touch the water and the sand. We were very touched, thinking of the brave young men who lost their lives storming these beaches. The memorial had a modern statue, resembling scimitars or swords pointing upward along with flags from England, Poland, Norway, Holland, France, Germany, United States, Canada.
Then we drove a few minutes to the visitor's center and cemetery, again evoking very sad but proud emotions, as we walked around the white crosses arranged alphabetically. One gal on our tour brought poppies and asked if anyone would help her place them on graves. Tom and I took some; however, there were ropes around the graves due to lots of rain. We did see a few graves with flowers, so we decided to step over and place the poppies on the graves anyway. Then we visited the chapel
We didn't have time to do justice to the visitors' center, which had many audio/visual displays, a 20-minute video (but our tour director played a video on our coach ride), along with artifacts and personal stories of individuals. On the way out, visitors walk through a blank hallway with a voice reading the names of the fallen.
A very somber day.
On our way to Tours, our next stop, we visited Chateau Chenonceau, which is called the Ladies' Chateau, having been given to famous beauty and favorite mistress Diane de Poiters by Keng Henri II. Then queen Catherine de' Medici kicked her out when the king died, giving her another chateau instead. During this time, the chateau was enlarged to cross the River Cher as well as adding on to the chapel and upgrading the rooms. The chateau then passed through to Louise of Lorraine, Louise Dupin, Marguerite Pelouze, who refurbished it with original Renaissance art, tiles, furniture wherever the original had been lost. She was caught up in political scandals of her brother, so she lost it.Then Simonne Menier owned it until 1972.
The chateau is marvelously preserved, with many famous paintings, including from the Dutch master van dyke, Rubens, among others. It could be called a museum as well as a castle. The portion that spans the river is a gallery on both floors and during the wars were converted to hospital wards.
The gardens equaled the building for splendor, hosting both the mistress's garden, the Medici garden, flower garden, vegetable garden and maze. In addition, donkey stables lie at the far end of the vegetable garden, providing milk for the beauty treatments of Lady Diane.
Then we continued down the road an hour (our morning drive was 2.5 hours, a long time, with one rest stop where we picked up a picnic lunch) to our next destination: a Lady's castle/chateau where we will have a "Be Our Guest" Trafalgar experience, in which we dine in someone's home. The Marquesses was very gracious and explained how the food was all cooked on her estate. She also told us her husband's family inherited the title during the 12th Century when they fed the poor. She also told us how when her husband asked her to marry him, he said he was going to be a farmer but she didn't believe him but said she wanted a nice house, which she did get, but a lot of work too.
On the way back, the tour director played oldies that really got everyone going except Tom (Sweet Caroline, YMCA, Twist, Copa Cabana, Rock Around the Clock, Sugar, Sugar). Then when I Get Around came on, the bus driver even got into it by driving around the traffic circle three times, making everyone clap and howl. This helped us perk up after a long day of bus riding.
After a long day, we arrived at our hotel at 8 p.m., too late to enjoy Tours. It will just be a sleeping stopover as we have to get up early to head to Mount St. Michelle, quite a drive as we head up the coast to Normandy and back to Paris.
this morning we were up early for a beautiful drive through the foothills of the Pyrenees and the Basque Country. In this area, many people speak Basque and Spanish (Castilian with the lisp for letter "s"). we also saw the Basque cross, an ancient symbol of unknown origin, but it was often stamped on the cookies we had. The hills had many very large oak, cedar and pine trees as we got up higher.
We then took a train ride to the top of a mountain. Unfortunately, our heads were in the clouds so we didn't get to see too much, but it was still a fun experience. At the top, we had a hot chocolate or coffee in the refuge hut before riding back down. We were surprised to see the wild horses (often rounded up by the Basque people and sold or trained in dressage). We also saw herding sheep and some cattle. The flowers were pretty: pink foxglove, buttercups, speedwell, potentilla among others we couldn't identify.
The it was off to St. Paul de Luz where we had lunch and a walk along the beach. I picked up a few shells and pebbles, smoothed by the waves. I had to touch the Atlantic Ocean from the European side. We also saw the buildings that housed Louis XIV and Maria Teresia before their wedding, each with their own buildings, of course. We noticed that again, people spoke Spanish as much as French. We happened upon a dancing exhibition, very Spanish with the tiered dresses on the women and a Latin beat and Spanish guitar strumming.
Then we had a three-hour drive to Bordeaux, a very large town, with fantastic architecture from Louis XIV and earlier, including several basilicas, cathedrals and bell towers in the gothic tradition, complete with flying buttresses. The town is more run down than Vienna, but very similar in the tall nice buildings. Our guide said it is similar to Versailles in style. We loved it.
Day 9, Bordeaux and St. Emilion.
We traveled through the heart of wine country, stopping first at a smaller, relatively unknown-to-tourists town, to see what a local market looks like. Our guide explained that the French purchase food locally and fresh. They have very small refrigerators, so they can't stock up for a week. All items are clearly marked with the place of origin and most French shop locally and purchase items in season. We saw the fresh strawberries, so flavorful compared to ours; white asparagus, huge artichokes, and very large, very juicy and tasty tomatoes. Then there were rows upon rows of hams hanging, cheeses (especially ewe cheese), fish (eels and oysters especially), clothes and jewelry, such as cabochons of various rocks. This stop is one of Trafalgar's "hidden secrets," as was the rest stop with the dioramas. It wasn't too much different from our own farmer's market, except it is the rule rather than the exception on how people purchase their food
On our drive, we saw field after friend of vineyard among terrain that was mostly flat with just a few bumps for hills. Many of the vineyards had roses and other flowers to attract the insects to the flowers instead of attacking the grapes.
When we arrived at the small village of St. Emilion, we immediately saw shop after shop of wine sellers, all selling wine for 25 euros on up, in contrast to the price of 3 euro and change that we had seen at the market.
One man who has a hard time walking took a Tuktuk, electric tricycle to meet us at the church. It broke down, so he really had an adventure (there were no spares as they were all booked , so he had to wait there while we took off in the bus and the bus had to go back for him).
We were able to go to into the underground cave where St. Emilion lived in the 8th century, as well as the catacombs where the monks were buried over the years. We also went into the 8th century (with 11th century additions) with still preserved paintings. Then it was on to the monolithic church, carved from one slab of stone, which took the monks about 10 years, amazing. When the columns developed cracks, they townspeople tried to use concrete to shore it up, but they discovered burial grounds around the church, not surprising. Today, there are reinforcements surrounding the lower part of the pillars.
Then we went to a winery chateau/castle that produced two Cabernets, a "bleeding" rose ( a rose made from what's left after a red is made instead of using special rose grapes) and Malbec, a special spicy wine. We heard about the process of making the wine from concrete vats to barrels and then to vats again, a process taking two years at this chateau. We tasted three wines and ate cheeses and salami in between.
We ended the day at 5 p.m. It was then on to dinner and bed.
We traveled through the countryside going from red poppies to orange California poppies, from flat vineyards and orchards to foothills of the Pyrenees with their cattle in the lowlands and hardwood trees obstructing the views of the snow-capped peaks. The gorgeous green lulled us as we rode the two and a half hours to Lourdes, a pilgrim site where Bernadette Soubiroux had visions of the "Immaculate Conception" for a fortnight.
Lourdes was very crowded as this was Pentecost weekend, with a holiday making it three days. A military day of peace being celebrated by over 40 countries was also taking place, in its 60th year. But once the military ceremony was over, the square settled down; a feeling of peace filled the air.
We purchased little vials and headed to the grotto at the base of the large basilica built over it. The line moved quickly, with pilgrims touching the weeping rocks leading into the cove, where Bernadette dug a hole in the mud, ate herbs surrounding it and washed in the mud as instructed by "That" (the lady), producing a clear spring. After visiting the spring, we collected water from it to bring back to family and friends.
Then we visited the gothic revival basilica, a massive church built over the site as Bernadette had instructed. This place used to be the garbage dump, so everyone was amazed that the "lady" would ask for a church to be built here. Anyway, the church is quite amazing, filled with huge mosaics, most with gilded tiles. The mosaics represented the sacred mysteries of the rosary among others. The stained glass windows show Mary as the new Eve. Above the main church is another church and burial chambers. In one alcove, relics of Bernadette herself are housed. Her body, which has not decomposed, is at the Abby of the convent where she lived.
We were amazed at all of the souvenir shops selling rosaries, plastic madonnas, crosses and other religious goods, mostly the same in every store.
After a brief lunch of soup and salad, it was back on the bus, enjoying the scenery of the Pyrenees.
The we arrived in the charming town of Biarritz. We took a stroll along the promenade, watching the surfers and the Atlantic Ocean crash against the rocky shore. We walked about five miles, including out onto a small island that had a bridge to it. A rock with three crosses was visible from the island. One of the crosses said it was in memory of a ship lost at see: the Surprise of Bologna, 1895, and asked for prayers for the men.
We had a lovely dinner with our tour family. It was a Basque-inspired meal of veal, fish or bread topped with sautéed peppers, onions and tomatos.