Sunday, August 18, 2013

Return Visit to the Cave of St Baume

A couple years ago I made my first visit to the cave of St Baume.  On that occasion, some friends invited me on a hike and I jumped at the chance to get out and explore.  I had no idea of the jewel I would discover in the rock face.
This time I went back, again invited by friends, with my kids and we took a shorter route following a picnic in the woods.  This time, again, I was struck by the jewel of a quiet nook in the face of a rock wall: un abri, a cathedral, an apparent pilgrimage spot that's become my favorite quiet place in southern France.
French legend holds that Mary Magdalene arrived by boat par hasard in Provence, converted the whole of Provence (that sure didn't last...), and then retired to a cave in the St Baume mountain ridge forest.  This cave is now on a popular hiking route in the south of France, now fancied up a bit as a cathedral complete with a priest living next door in a house on the rock face, a tourist boutique, and (I'm told) weekly worship services.  I can't speak to much of that, but what I can say is that the cave is dark, cool, and quiet.  Even my son dropped to a whisper as we approached the site, asking in hushed tones where to find the chef.  I love to sit and think in there.  And while I'm not sure I put much stock into the Mary Magdalene story, I do appreciate her as a person and character in the gospels and that appreciation perhaps only makes me like the place more.
Hiking buddies.
Every boy on a hike needs a stick, right?

Mary had a pretty sweet view coming out of her cave.

The hike up was long and slow. Going down, they didn't wait or put on the breaks.

Lying in wait, sure to frighten an unsuspecting passer-by.

Yeah, so my son's not the oldest one on that bench, behind almost a full year.
We're giants over here, he and I.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Summertime - hiking in the calanques


What is a "calanque"?   A steep-walled inlet, cove, or bay that is developed in limestonedolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coastapparently.  Or, it's simply a natural park full of wonder that sits in and around Marseille, our happy home in the south of France.
When summer hits (assuming it hasn't been so dry as to close the calanques), we hit the trail in search of natural beauty, adventure, and fun time with family and friends.  This summer we've made every effort to get an early start, visiting everything from the peak of Marseilleveyre to the fun calanque de Morgiou to the crystal clear teal blue oasis of En Veau.
A perfect way to spend a day with friends.
Start young, love the trails forever!

Calanque d'En Veau - love this place!

Cliff jumping from 7m
video

With water that inviting, one can't help but jump in!

Hitting the trail as a family.

You can hike to the inlets or come by boat.


Calanque de Morgiou

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

CE Euro Vacay - Belgrade

A couple of weeks before our daughter's second birthday we took off across Central and Eastern Europe for a wild and crazy touristic adventure en famille.  My lovely wife graciously accepted my minimalist packing challenge and we fit all of our essentials for 10 days into 3 small day-packs.  Prague - Vienna - Budapest - Belgrade - Sofia.  5 countries/cities in 10 days.  Planes, trains, automobiles.  Couches, air mattresses, hotels, sleeper trains.

Today I'll share some memories from Belgrade.
You can also read about Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.

Belgrade is the capitol and largest city of Serbia.  Serbia is an Eastern European country that's fresh out of communism, doesn't get along with its neighbor of Kosovo, and likes sports.  A lot.  Think NBA and olympic basketball, competitive soccer, tennis (Djokovic), and other stuff where tall, athletic people thrive.  Nikola Tessla and alternating current, that too.

Being in Belgrade was the most shocking visit to our system in many ways.  The whole experience felt weird.  Our hosts were gracious and wonderful and we had soooo much fun hanging out with Trey and Randi and Kyle and Brooke (these friends were, in fact, the primary reason for our visit).  The city and even the people of Belgrade were difficult for me to wrap my head around.  Modern and yet broken-down.  One side of the city was old and historic (on a hillside), a river separated the 'new' city built under communism with perfect block streets, insipid block housing, planned neighborhoods, and addresses like "blok 23" and "blok 54".  The new side was built when added sand reclaimed swamp land and the city was planned and built under communist rule in the 40's.  From a distance things looked nice and modern, slick glass skyscrapers and wide new roads.  Up close, windows were broken and buildings abandoned, grass waist-high and graffiti everywhere.  People were generally nice, helpful, and inside apartments and offices were well-kept.  Food was meaty and enjoyable and cheap, so that was nice.  At times I looked around at trashed and cracked streets, a run-down train station and snack stalls and felt like I was back in East Africa.  But then I saw a sports field with practices being run with efficiency and skill I'd not seen in France.  Contrasts, everywhere.  Impossible to rectify.  So post-modern :).


I don't like ferris wheels anyhow, there was no way I'd consider getting on this rickety thing.

Eastern European water, mmmm.
Exploring the old fortress.

My new favorite basketball court anywhere: built in the middle of a fortress.  So cool!

Also built within the fortress: clay tennis courts.

Big guns.

For a generally tall/large people group, these tanks seem to be rather clown-car-ish.

Looking down on the new city.  From a distance: modern, sparkling, clean.

Old city to the left, new to the right.

Communist playgrounds...

Within the new city, block housing and wide streets.


The largest orthodox church building in the world.  It was massive.

We had a lot of fun with our friends!

What's for dinner?  Meat.





Saturday, May 18, 2013

CE Euro Vacay - Budapest

A couple of weeks before our daughter's second birthday we took off across Central and Eastern Europe for a wild and crazy touristic adventure en famille.  My lovely wife graciously accepted my minimalist packing challenge and we fit all of our essentials for 10 days into 3 small day-packs.  Prague - Vienna - Budapest - Belgrade - Sofia.  5 countries/cities in 10 days.  Planes, trains, automobiles.  Couches, air mattresses, hotels, sleeper trains.

Today I'll share some memories from Budapest (pronounced 'Budapesht', or so I'm told).

Budapest was a much needed breakpoint in the middle for us.  While Budapest, Hungary is a more eastern european city and country than the ones we'd previously visited, we stayed with some wonderful American hosts who cooked for us and shared American goodies and generally made us feel right at home.  The city also had an international feel with all variety of restaurants, embassies, and shopping.  Although not everything translated quite right:
Math must be different in Hungary. 100 years old?
Hard Rock Budapest. Well-played, son.
Budapest is a city known for its bridges.  Not because of their particular grandeur or beauty, but because of what they represent.  One side of the Danube river is hilly, inhabited, and full of Castles: 'Buda'.  The other side is flat, full of commerce, administration, and housing: 'Pest'.  We were told that for years, the two sides remained essentially separate cities, with little connection.  In the middle of winter, the river would freeze and people would throw down straw, walk across, and trade/shop for the coming year.  Then finally someone had the bright idea to build a bridge and the city would be forever changed.  Thus the connected city we know today.

A bridge. Not especially significant. Unless you consider free trade within a city significant
Pest. The section of the city, not the nuisance.
The old market. Still a market. So maybe it should just be called, 'the market'.
We had a fun time in Budapest. To be honest, there's plenty we missed - like the baths, the castles, the monuments. We needed a break from our vacation, so we took it by visiting parks, watching movies, and chowing on comfort food (including the best mexican restaurant we've visited in Europe - Arriba's). We'll try and go back someday perhaps!
Fun times with E: hummus, slides, and bubbles.
S's adventures.
Re-hydrating.
The Gellert Hotel. It's important and notable. 
The Hungarian Parliament building. Really big, prized by the city.
This building was built for the World's Fair.
A cool concept, each section replicates and represents different notable buildings throughout Hungary.
Saved us plenty on gas money. 
A biiiig church. Every European capitol needs one.