french riviera: cannes film festival and gran prix monaco in a nutshell

I never realized juggling two major events on vacation would be so challenging and yet so much fun. I also don’t understand why the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Gran Prix were running at the same time or maybe it’s better I don’t understand these things.

Anyway, we arrived in Nice for Cannes late on a flight from Madrid, past midnight to be exact and since I had a chauffeur pick up arranged for us, I wasn’t worried. Now before you pass judgment about chauffeurs and all, I had no other choice at the hour our flight landed, and public transport getting us to Cannes from Nice airport was not an option.

image

The following morning, I got ready very early, and headed out to the film festival/tourist information office to get myself organized to see as many films as possible in the days I alloted for this portion  of the trip. My travel partner however was antsy to see the Monaco gran prix and was busy organizing that bit of the trip, pushing my buttons. :) Not really.

The next few day in Cannes, we queued up to see films, which I will talk about on my film blog here, running from theater to another, barely having time for lunch in between the shows, and celebrity red carpet appearances. In the evenings,  we queued up to watch different free films on a big cinema size screen set up on the beach, tucked under blankets, reclined on beach chairs,  surround sound to die for. It was amazing!

image

 

After the films we headed to restaurant/bars, I believe it was Cafe Roma, not that I cared which one it was along the main road, and back alleyways, and partied along with many individuals in the industry dressed in tuxedos and gowns, until the early morning hours.  This went on for a few days, until Saturday to be exact. On Sunday, we woke up very early, with a hangover naturally, and got train tickets to Monte Carlo, hopeful we would find gran prix tickets to see the main race.

Now I am not a fan of race car events, but the fact, we were in Monte Carlo, fighting the crowds, and queueing in line for tickets to this major event, I would have to say was something I would never consider passing up.

image

When it was our turn, we walked up to the window and asked for two tickets. The clerk behind the window offered up 400Euro dollar per person seats, somewhere near the pool/piscine which really is the prime area for this race. OR 70Euro up the side of the mountain leading to the palace. Standing space only, no guarantee we will be able to see much since the crowds already there have been since 6a.m. Mind you it was 11:30a.m.  We made our way through the masses, up the hillside, and once our tickets were checked and we crossed the gate to the pink section, we were both disappointed to discover all the prime standing spaces along the ledge were taken. I suggested we climb further and see if we could find a gapped space we could stand on our tippy toes and take a peek. About half way up, we saw that very gap, where if the crowd stayed seated, along the ledge, we would potentially get a glimpse of the track by the pool- which is the prime area, I have to remind.

A gentleman in his 60s, British we assumed at first from his accent, later confirmed, was poking fun at his wife, to his friends, and they were laughing. Since we understood the language we couldn’t help but laugh along. He noticed, and began to talk to us, and then eventually invited us to share their stand. At 2 we took our places, and got the best view of the race, including the pit stop, the turns, and most of the tracks coming out of the tunnel, up the side of the road, as well as unfortunately the crash, which was the turning point of the race, from potentially being the Brit,  Lewis Hamilton who was in the lead before to Nico Rosberg after the accident. Hmmm.

Disappointed we bid farewell to our British friends, and went down the hillside, getting caught up in street parties, and crowds, nearly unbearable and yet the experience well worth it.

I needed to be back for the Film Festival award ceremony we were told was schedule for eight. BUT when we got to Cannes, the stars had already walked the red carpet, and the award ceremony nearly halfway done by six. NO MATTER. We watched the program on the large screens mounted just outside the main entrance to the theater, and then watched the stars make their way out of the theater, to the parties.  I have to say I was proud of myself for knowing most of the French actors present. How you ask? I watch an average of two French films a week at home on Netflix. I’d like to think only for my film blog, but really it’s because I love French films.

image

Anyway, back to the bar we went afterwards, and again shared tables with some more men in tux and women in gowns, discussing films in general and winners of the Cannes Film Festival awards.

I think I was on cloud nine…

{What I learned. Take a chance if you are a film buff to experience the Cannes film festival. There are always tickets available. Hydrate and do eat. Line up in front of the main theater early and you can get a great view of the stars on the red carpet. It is true you do see stars in restaurants, on the streets, and even the boutiques. For Monaco Grand Prix, you can get tickets, 70Euro will get you a spot up the hillside by the castle and if you are there at 7a.m. you can get a really good viewing of the best of the race track. Always buy roundtrip train ticket to Monte Carlo/Monaco if you are staying in Nice or elsewhere, it’s very difficult to get train tickets on the way back. Be very very patient. Pack a good lunch to wait out the race or the red carpet events. Avoid drinking too much beer as finding a WC is a nightmare}

 

 

madrid, spain to the french riviera

I got too lazy for a few days about blogging. I suppose I am not to be blamed since I have blogged for over six years now, every day, for three different blog sites. I figured I needed a break, some wine, and much touring around. Anyway, after Lisbon we flew to Madrid. This is the first year I decided to fly in between countries to save time, although I hardly call getting to the airport, checking in, waiting around, boarding, waiting on the tarmac, flying, waiting for a gate, being bussed to the gate, getting bags, and leaving the airport saving any time. Madrid was a two-day stop, and only included because my travel partner wanted to visit the Real Madrid Stadium, and I went along for the ride. We stayed in a wonderful brand new five-star property (which I will talk about another time) near the Gran Via – close to everything, even the best of restaurants. On the first day which technically was a half a day since we flew in the morning, we toured the city by walking, getting a glimpse of the palace, a few churches along the way, fountains, and ended up having dinner in  a Thai restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. The weather in Madrid was very cold, surprisingly, or maybe I don’t know better. But we bundled up and braved the high winds, and freezing weather, not to mention the pollen dancing around like snowflakes taunting our allergies to full flare.

Day two: full day we spent in Segovia, since I asked our concierge the night before for the closest place to visit outside of Madrid, and she offered up Toledo – which I’ve seen before and Segovia, which I hadn’t. The only trouble was she sent us to the wrong train station on foot from the hotel, we walked early morning for 45 minutes to get to, only to pick a number and wait to buy our tickets to find out we were at the wrong station, and the 10a.m. train which I was aiming for was sold out. We secured tickets on the 11:30 train, and took the metro to get us to the correct train station, Chamartin, and not Atochia, and took the thirty minutes calming ride to Segovia, where we stepped out of the train in the middle of an open field of grass and cows. We took bus 11, which is better than bus 12 since 11 drops you off right by the main entrance, if you will, the aqueduct. An impressive sight for sure, almost enchanting.

My gut dictated that we climb the stairs just to the right of the ancient marvel to find Alcazar castle, which I had trouble explaining to my travel partner about. On the top of the mountain, we followed a crowd of tourists through the narrow streets, from a map mounted near a tree in a center park, pointing the very direction for the castle. And what a castle it was. The entrance not to impressive, but the inside, (a self guided tour a must) was worth exploring. If only we could see the entire castle perched along the mountain side, than it would have been even more worth while.

We had lunch unfortunately for us at Burger King, since most places were closed by the time we were done touring. I have to figure out how to eat before even if I am not hungry to be able to sample the local cuisine otherwise, I keep ending up at Burger King or McDonald’s. Anyway, exploring the enchanted town of Segovia made the trip all worth while on this short stay in Spain. The Real Madrid stadium was an impressive tour also. For those interested 19 euros gets you a really cool tour inside, learning about the team, seeing uniforms, trophies, experiencing high-end technology bringing the past to the future, and in the end what is in store for the stadium. Pretty cool for all soccer (a.k.a. football) fans. Next stop: Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Gran Prix.

a day in lisbon, portugal

On our last day, I figured we would see the city, the old-fashioned tourist way.  We left our hotel at 9:00 and walked over to a smoke shop to buy a day pass for the public transport.

First train – 15 to Belem – a waterfront town if you will, with an impressive monastery, a monumental discoveries monument, and an impressive forte, several museums housing everything from archeology  to coaches – all worth exploring, and pondering over.  We spent a few hours sightseeing, snapping photographs and learning all about some of Portugal’s history, and yes they do have a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge even though in my opinion its a mixture of the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge.

{pointers: If the 15 isn’t working for some strange reason such as the one we experienced, a head on collision with a car, take the 728 bus which runs the same route and gets you there faster I almost feel. Avoid temptation by going into McDonalds. Instead eat Honorato Burger Artisian, afterwards have the best of pastries CUSTARD CAKE from Pasties de Belem}

Cable car 28 – near the main Lisbon square. We opted to take a ride on the 28, hearing that it is the best way to get a quick tour for your buck (a.k.a. day pass). It was true. It was the best and most unique way to city the Lisbon past the main square. We went uphill, and down, zooming and I mean zooming through the winding and narrow cobblestone roads, where one can practically touch the buildings from the cable car windows had the driver been going a reasonable speed. It was well worth it. We stayed on from one end of town, back to the square and to the other side, until we were told to get out, and line up again to take the cable car back down to the square. The entire trip lasted over an hour, in my opinion, the longest roller coaster ride imaginable.

Trolly or Tram – last stop for the evening was a Tram tucked in an alley near the Rossio train station, ask someone if you can’t find it. Anyway, the Tram took us up the side of a steep hill, where upon landing, you have the most magnificent views of Lisbon, which is always best when the wind isn’t blowing at 35MPH, making it very difficult to enjoy the panorama.

image

Next stop Madrid Spain

portugal: sintra not sinatra smartphone auto correct

If you try to type in Sintra on your smartphone you may get Sinatra and although some of us appreciate the classic artist, he is not a travel destination. Sintra is, for Portugal.

We got up a little later on Sunday, since we knew within 40 minutes we would be in Sintra, and we also learned the last train leaving Sintra was at 12:50a.m. or something like that, which meant we could come and go as we please from Lisbon.

But we opted to leave our hotel around ten, leisurely  walking to the Rossio train station, a hop-skip from the center of town where we are staying. I looked up at the monitor mounted at a corner wall near the escalators  taking note the next train leaving at 10:40, with a line a mile long to buy tickets. I wasn’t worried since according to the TV monitor there was a train leaving every 30 minutes. My travel partner however was freaked out, along with the hundred or so people in line desperate to get on that particular train. Whatever. We crawled through the line, got our tickets with a minute to spare, running and jumping onto the train as the doors slid to a close. Perfect! Looking for a seat or two was another ordeal, since I had no intention of standing up in the hot muggy train. Lucky for me two workers, not sure if street or security since their uniforms were misleading, stood up and offered us their seats. Thank you Portuguese workers of some sort. And we were on our way, falling asleep almost instantly, me not really caring since I figured the chaos upon arrival was enough to wake me up, and it was.

We got out, got in line to the tourist info booth, and was given too much information about all of our options to see Sintra. I asked the agent how much of it was walkable, and she pointed to the center of the town and two castles – Quinta da Regaleira and Palacio National De Sintra. We could walk to the others if we wanted to, but it required hours of our time. I was okay with it, my hubby wasn’t so off we went for breakfast to fuel up and began our walk to Regaleria.

Sintra according to Lonely Planet , and according to me is a must see. A mountain top destination most popular for the countless castles perched along the peeks, each unique and full of history, open to the public, best seen with a tour or by car. Doable on foot, if you have the energy and the right shoes.  I have to say I appreciated the plush greenery surrounding this picturesque hidden gem, almost fairytale like, most definitely peaceful and surreal.

The plus side to this wonderful UNESCO destination is that all of the restaurants and shops remained open throughout the day, and most everyone in the area is very friendly and helpful. The palaces are unforgettable and fascinating.

We stayed until seven, taking our time after the walks to sit at a restaurant in the town center and just people watch, an experience all of its own. I couldn’t ask for a better day.

{heres more on Sintra}http://www.sintra-portugal.com/index.php

travel: porto, portugal day trip

On saturday we got up at 4:30 in the morning, to get ready for our day trip to Porto, a 2:45 train ride from Lisbon. We purchased our roundtrip tickets the evening before to make avoid lines and the stress of making sure we got seats on a train. 110.00USD for two tickets roundtrip leaving at 7a.m. getting there at 9:40 and leaving there at 6:45p.m. arriving in Lisbon nine something. I didn’t care to worry about the return time.

We left our hotel at 6:00 in the morning to walk for twenty minutes or so to the train station. Since we are staying in the center of town, walking was our best option. Even though the hotel concierge suggested we take a taxi.

The streets were quiet, not a shop or restaurant open yet, and the walk very refreshing, considering it was going to be nearly 80F degrees.

The ride was comfortable, I fell asleep just as I expected to, still a little jet lagged and woke up to the sound of my cell phone alarm clock five minutes before our arrival time.

The first thing I normally do is walk over to the tourist information booth at the train station, in any city I haven’t been to before to get a map, and a few pointers on where to visit and so forth. Which we did. We got our map, and followed my instincts down a windy narrow cobblestone road to the waterfront, where artists were setting up their kiosks, restaurants were just starting to open their doors. It was nearing eleven in the morning. We walked through the neighborhoods, up one narrow street, down the other, snapping photographs of unusual architecture, ornate doors, and windows, even abandoned buildings, which in a strange way added to the character of the small port town. Lunchtime we had a salad and beers at a street side cafe, like most tourists, not really experiencing authentic cuisine.

It was a nice day overall, walking about the town. In the evening, we took the train back to Lisbon, to discover there was a street party happening at the waterfront as well. We hung around for a while and then had dinner and went back to our room.

{Couple of pointers: Porto’s restaurants do not serve food between 3-7PM so if you are hungry you are out of luck. You can get a great meal for two for under 40USD. The architecture is fascinating in an Alice In Wonderland sort of way, be adventurous and get off the beaten paths to see more than you bargain for. Wear comfortable shoes, the cobblestones are wabbly and gapped. Walk across the famous bridge Av Viama Peres, the views are spectacular. And yes everything is walking distance, on foot is always best even though there are plenty of touristy hop-on-hop-off options and day tours.)

lisbon on my way to a book promo tour

image

View from our hotel in Lisbon 5a.m.

 

I will explain the book promo tour later. But for now, let’s talk about Lisbon.

I started out with planning a trip to promote my books, mostly at the BEA- Book Expo America happening the end of May. I figured if I was going to take a trip to the East Coast, I may as well cross the pond and promote my novels in a few places in Europe also, ending up at the BEA. The tour got creative just like anything else I do. I went from a simple tour for work, and ended up including a few days to play here and there.

First stop, Portugal. I’ve never been. Not sure why, I asked myself all the way to catch my flight, and then I arrived in Lisbon, thinking – what took me so long:

I’ve realized the older I get the more I want someone else to worry about travel details. I mean past the planning, organizing and getting to a destination. I just don’t want to struggle with airport transfers and worry about finding my hotel in a place I haven’t been.  So, I went with Blacklane, a company which provides  luxury airport transfers. I figured I’d earned it as an avid traveller to do something nice for myself. And I have to tell you it was very nice to see a chauffeur holding a sign with your name, waiting just outside of baggage claim. It was wonderful. It added to the celebrity :) of this entire trip.

Jorge, he introduced himself, a handsome gentleman in his 40s, dressed the part, in black tie, black suit, pressed white shirt. He spoke perfect English, although apologized for experiencing the worst allergy in his life-he said. I loved it. Loved the humor in his approach.

We got to talking, about Lisbon naturally, eventually learning he is married to an American woman from Seattle. Exciting for her to live in such a beautiful place, I voiced. He told me she goes home five months out of the year to work. I neglected to ask what type of works she did. He gave us a brief tour of the main part of the city, explaining to us all of the places we should visit in the next three days.

So, we are here, ready for the adventure. We actually walked through the ancient almost modern part of town to get acclimated, figuring out the Metro, the inter-country train, and another one which takes you to the suburbs-of course all of it, I will be experiencing in the next few days.

We had Italian for dinner, although Jorge suggested seafood, which we plan to leave for another day. We had coffee, espresso of course, delicious I have to say, and tasted the famous custard the locals are proud of. So far everyone has been nice, very nice in fact, and when they discover  we are from the US, they announce they have relatives living somewhere, mostly expressing how much they love New York. :)

Stay tuned…

armenia: best travel destination for 2015

I may be late in suggesting this year’s best travel destination, but here it is: Armenia, an untapped territory for certain worth exploring.  A land rich in history, culture, beautiful scenery, organic, pure and natural in more ways than you can possibly imagine.

lonleyplanet

according to Lonely Planet

tripadvisor

Tripadvisor

KhorVirap

Travel and Tourism Armenia

lake_800x600

Cradle of Civilization – Archeology

Dilijan

Levon Travel – most recommended tour to Armenia

 

 

decor: chandelier talks

While growing up, my entire extended family, from aunts and uncles to cousins of my parents and family friends close enough to be referred to as family, had chandeliers in their homes. At the time, I hated them, don’t know why. Maybe, as a child I considered modern lighting to be the best in lighting.

In my twenties, I began to venture into the world, traveling mostly to learn about decor, fashion, style, and even a little about history. With that, my appreciation for chandeliers flourished:

{source: Veranda online}
gallery_nrm_1425411342-12-chand-1213

07-chand-0313

06-chand-0313

04-chand-0811

03-chand-0811

designing lunch get-together in a home with outdoor space

I live in San Francisco, and the weather as we all know it, is very unpredictable especially since I live by the ocean. Planning to do anything outdoors weeks or days in advance doesn’t really work for our type of weather. But I have to say, I envy those who can plan such an event, and for that here are some wonderful ideas from Veranda Magazine – one of my favorite sources for style:

landscape-1429738922-ver040115table02-1

click on photo to find your way to the article