Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy, Happy in Calistoga, California

Happy Birthday, Malcolm!  What an awesome celebration!  What a special weekend.  I am taking notes.  This was such the way to celebrate.  Just 4 couples, in a gorgeous house and grounds even better, in Calistoga, California.  Yes, the place where they bottle Calistoga water.  It's also rich in wineries.  We visited a couple.  But really, the best part was just hanging out with family and friends, cooking, eating, enjoying the pool, baccy ball, making huge fires, delicious wine and scotch, and conversations as long as you want.  We canceled all our dinner reservations within minutes of arriving.  Almost in unison, we all said, let's stay here and cook!  Yes, we did ride our bikes, all of 15 minutes, before deciding we should stop for a beer and what the heck, some oysters, and buffalo wings too...and the spa, massages and salt rub.  It was fine.  But the real fun was hanging with our tribe. 

This is the "after" picture.

Jib Jab
It's an incubator for growing friendships.  No to do list.  Just incredible people, great food (and cooks), great drinks, and an outlandishly gorgeous setting.  First, the house, but really, the beauty was the grounds.  So many treasures, little nooks and crannies, so much attention to detail, blending in, looking so natural, yet landscaped, just so.  Gorgeous pool, outdoor dining area and huge stone fireplace, and a little kitchen bar, bathroom and shower and the gardens.  Everywhere.  The veggie garden had cilantro, and strawberries en masse(yes, we used plenty).   What else?  Basil, and spinach.  And a bunch of other stuff in perfect raised beds, for later in the season.  And flowers and so on everywhere. 

We did include some cross training with what I want to call cattle bells.  I think it's really kettle bells.  We did sit-ups, push ups,  some sort of deep bend, and of course, swinging the kettle bell and sprints.  A pretty serious work-out and done in about 20 minutes.  Oh, we also enjoyed a hike, not sure what mountain.  We didn't quite reach the top, but got to where we had monster panoramic views.  Okay, fine, I swam some laps too, so in the end, we did quite a bit, but never felt rushed or out of time for anything.  Such a treat, and pure relaxation and rejuvenation. 

This turned into one of our favorite spots.  It's  dream outdoor living.  Pool, fireplace, dining, everything done, just right.  Right in the lower right corner, see the serving table.  Concrete with two down-lights.  They thought of everything!  Behind this is the cabana, with a little bar, bathroom and shower, all done in teak.  The pool was huge.  Plenty big for swimming laps.  And the hot tub attached to the pool was huge.  A party tub.

Have you seen the blog where the guy puts his camera on 2 second delay, then runs?  This is my version.  On 10 second delay, and swimming.

Here's something else I've never done.  Linking to my facebook album.  Not sure it works.
Let me know if you can't get to it.
More photos

Sunday, May 23, 2010

French Riviera travel notes - Monaco, Biot, Nice, Cannes, Antibes

Getting to Eze from Nice
This is the view from the bus, #82 from the bus station in Nice to Eze.  I forget how often this bus travels.  My guess is every 30 minutes, possibly every hour.  It's 1 Euro!  Pretty much, all buses were 1 Euro, with the exception of the airport express which was 4 Euro, although we could have taken the regular bus in Nice, to the airport.  Avoid the taxi if at all possible.  It's really not much more convenient, and costed me about 35 Euro to go about 4 miles.  The bus took about 20 minutes to arrive in Eze.  From there, hike up to the town, and pay the 5 Euro to get to the top, which is through a really nice garden.  The view is, well, what you see below.

This was a beautiful stop.  The scenery is spectacular.  If you want to shop, we found spices, soap, and perfumes.  Also paintings, pottery, clothes, and other local crafts.  An awesome half-day.  It's about halfway between Monaco and Nice.

I know we didn't do this town justice, in a regular day.  We were there during the final Gran Prix racing day, which of course meant there were people, and concession stands everywhere.  So, we got here by train.  Again, exceptional views along the water.  The train is sweet.  Very comfortable.  6 Euros each way.  It's about a 40 minute trip from the train station in Nice.  I think the train travels at least once per hour.  It makes about 5-6 stops along the way.  We climbed the rock up to the old part of the city, hoping to see some of the races.  As you can see in this picture looking out on the water, they put up temporary metal barriers so you couldn't just view the race from above...dang.  The yachts.  Oh, the yachts.  My camera battery ended at this point.

We went to Cannes by train.   It's a short ride from Nice, maybe 30 or 40 minutes.  Take the train from the station downtown.  You can also take a bus. I think the bus takes a little longer, and can be more crowded.  The train is a treat, and only 6 Euros.  The bus is 1 Euro.  We were here during the Cannes Film Festival, making it super crowded.  Lot's of people well dressed, and fine cars taking them around.  We watched a red carpet event for a while.  I was bored stiff, but hey, I was there.  Everyone asks - did you see anyone?  Yes, but I don't know who.  hehe, smart@#*.  Anyways, we had dinner on the beach.  The food was quite good, and I think about double the price of a good meal, in one of the many nice looking places all around the streets, tables outside everywhere.  It turned into a fun day, although not typical around here, without the festival.  The bus heads back to Nice about once an hour.

Pascal Guyot, Glass Blower

I love this town.  It's an old hilltop village, turned craftsman, artisan enclave. It's a little off the beaten track, so, although a tourist attraction, not as heavily trafficked as some other places.  While we were here, it was really light, partially because the restaurants all close between lunch and dinner.   I went here to see the glass blower we saw last time we were here.  His name is Pascal Guyot.  His wife runs the connected retail shop, and speaks some English, while he works in the shop, shown.  You can see it through an open window at the street.  Here's Pascal and me, with the pot I got.

Lisi Lopez, Jeweler
It was the quiet period between lunch and dinner, and the door was closed, but not locked here.  I had a glimpse of some of the pieces from the window, and loved what I saw, so tried the door, and it was unlocked, so I went in, sort of by this woman next to me.  She followed me in, and I started looking at cases, and totally loving the designs, and started to realize the person who followed me in worked there, and soon I discovered, she was the jeweler, Lisi Lopez.   Apparently, she used to live and work in Paris, then moved to Biot a couple years ago, and just moved to her present main street location a couple weeks prior.  Anyways, the more we talked, the more I liked her, and her designs.  She shared how the asymmetrical design fits the fingers better, and is more comfortable.

To get to Biot, we took the 200 bus, from Nice to Antibes, city center.   Another beautiful old, French Riviera town.  After some water and beer at a local pub, we found the bus station just a block from the city center, where we caught the bus to the Biot, old town.  Both are 1 Euro bus fares.  Both are totally easy to catch.  Be careful leaving Biot, as the bus only travels about 1 per hour.

We spent most of our week in Nice, but mostly nights, going to find restaurants, around the main shopping area.  My favorite, by far was a recommendation by my friend, Doug, who I re-met at the convention we were both attending.  We used to work together 10 years ago, and 3-4 years ago, the company he moved to was acquired by Oracle.  Mine, just a few months ago, so, we were working together, again.  The favorite restaurant is called L'Universe.  Crazy good food, awesome atmosphere, and fun staff, and nice artwork on the walls.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nice, Biot, Eze, Cannes film festival - Touring the south of France

This is in the beautiful town of Eze, halfway between Monaco and Nice.  It's just a little old village, hanging off the edge of steeps hills, and overlooking the azure blue waters off the south of France, Provence.

This is from the garden on the top.

And then, looking the other way.

Dinner again, at L' Univers.  Best food in Nice, ever.

 My new friends in Biot.  This is Lisi Lopez, and above is Pascal something, the glass blower.  The beach shot is Cannes Film Festival.  Notice the overabundance of yachts.  Okay, one Cannes red carpet shot...

This is me, getting a sunset swim in, last night in Nice.  Thanks for the picture, Ravi!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nice is nice

We were walking to the center of town on the promenade and there is a constant of fancy sports cars here.  Just here is a Bentley and a bunch of Porsche s.   Then the sporty Audi.  See the engine in the rear window?

This was in front of the casino, another Ferrari and the Rolls Royce in the background.  
Almost so many cars, you might miss the sunset.   Lots of natural beauty here.

Moules and Frites, and Ravi had the schnitzel with spagetti.  Is that German and Italian?  Anyways, the mussels were really good, in a curry sauce.  We saw this on many menus, but only this place with the curry.  Ravi, sorry for cutting you off in the picture. 
This is sort of an interesting picture, but you really have to look to see it.  The jet.  Again, like the cars, there are many private jets coming in.  At the end of the beach is the airport, so these planes come somewhat close over the beach.  The water looks so blue, and beautiful.  You can see a few swimmers and tanners.  The beach isn't sandy.  It's like river rocks.  This is just off the promenade. 

 This is on the train to Monaco.  So beautiful.

Jib Jab
Okay, it's like 6am or something.  I should be sleeping.  I'm contemplating a swim, but we have an early morning training Ravi and I need to do.  Some things I want to add, hopefully later.
Dinner last nite (and the night before).  My new friends, the Taits (of which I include Betsy and Steve), but Doug and Karen.  Doug I met at Sun, about 10 years ago.  Anyways, small world, lots of fun.  We ate at Le Universe, both last night and the night before.  The best food I've had in France, since we've been here.  Okay, I am not including the Nutella crepe from the Nokia booth.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Grand Prix Formula One in Monaco

We're in Nice, the weather looks great.  It's the Cannes film festival and the Grand Prix in Monaco.  Both today.  Somehow, with virtually no hesitation we head off to Monaco.  It's a hike to the bus or train.  The front desk guy said either will do.  We head out for the train, since it stops in Eze, and I want to see it, and then goes onto Monaco, which secretly I am not looking too forward to, because I know it's going to be so frigging crowded, commercial, and crowded and commercial.  Anyway, don't let that creep in.  It could ruin an awesome thing.  So, we keep heading for the bus, and asking people which way to turn, every time we feel lost, which seems to be every third or fourth block, and low and behold, we end up closer to the train than the bus, even though they are in opposite directions!!  Oops.  Went straight for the jib jab again.

On the train
As is mostly the case, the train is awesome, and only 3.3 Euro.  Nice.  (especially in contrast to the $50 for a taxi to go 4 miles from the airport!)  Again, I digress.  So, we're on the train.  Beautiful, comfortable, and quickly we are on the rocky ledges of the coast, overlooking massive beautiful villas and mansions, and the yachts.  So many yachts.  Huge yachts.  Very huge yachts.  Everywhere.  It's just too too much.  So much excess.  Still, the water is pure blue.  So pretty.  The hills are gorgeous.  The ride total is like 20-30 minutes and immediately we know the day has already been a tremendous success.

Monaco is, also beautiful, dramatic hillsides, huge villas, and more yachts.  And race cars.  Not the F1 cars, but for people driving around town.  On every corner- Lamborghini's, Ferrari's, Bentley's, Audi's - that 12 cyclinder one, where you see the engine from the rear window?  Yep.  So many of them.  Lined up, even.  They literally made the super fancy Porsche look second class, not to mention BMW.  So many people.  So much opulence.  So many concessions.  We did not get the $40 (about $60 USD) euro Grand Prix baseball hat.  Or the $75-80 tee shirt.  We looked though!  And we climbed the rock to the high point of the city.  Gorgeous views, but big metal sheets to make sure if you did not pay for a ticket, you do not get to see the race.  Still, we heard them.  Those engine sounds are incredible.  Instant adrenaline rush.  It was a blast.  So we went to a brasserie and watched on television, with the cars racing in the background.  Really an amazing day.

Jib Jab
Too tired to jib jab now, except;
- i swam on the roof top pool- views of the ocean and hillside.
- i ran the esplanade this morning, the strand off the beach.  when is the last time you went for a run and saw 4 Ferrari's in a row.  Seriously, they were everywhere.