Palavas les Flots – Montpelier’s Seaside

Just six kilometres south of Montpelier lies Palavas-les-Flots, a seaside town with some very fine seafood restaurants lining the canalised section of the River Lez  that runs through the centre of the town just before it enters the sea.    This has the effect of splitting the town into two sections, a Left Bank and a Right Bank, the names by which they are known.

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See Palavas by Chair Lift- Mari Nicholson

In the centre of the town is the distinctive ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ with its popular revolving restaurant: next to this stands the church of Saint Pierre with its attractive garden.  There are few other sights to detain one in this seaside resort – it is a place for relaxation and enjoyment of the watersports and the facilities on hand.  What is a charming sight, though, is the canalised section of the town on which the fishing fleet makes a fine picture on a sunny day as they get ready to set sail.  And again, on their return, photographers line up to  photograph the fishermen who sell the fish directly from the decks of their boats to customers from the nearby flats and even from towns beyond.

Fishing-boats-ready-to-sail---Mari-Nicholson

The restaurants that line the canal are a magnet for visitors from Montpelier, especially at weekends, and you should be prepared to wait a while for a table and again for the meal to be served once you have chosen a restaurant.  The favourite meal is  mussels , served n every imaginable style, and always in the traditional big, blue enamel pots beloved of French restaurants.  They can be recommended.

Those who enjoy the fun of local markets should visit on the mornings of Monday, Wednesday and Friday when there is a market in the town.

The seafront is a short distance from the town centre and has a wide sandy beach, not what one would call a ‘golden beach’ but nevertheless, sandy and clean.  It is seven kilometres long and with this massive stretch of seaside comes all the water-related sports activities you could wish for  – kayaking, jet-skis, windsurfing, paragliding, swimming, snorkelling and diving.  Most of the equipment can be hired from concessions on and around the beach.

The sprawl of apartment buildings that is a backdrop to the beach either side of the centre is not especially handsome but the little harbour is attractive and from the small concrete pier are some good views of the town and across the bay to La Grande Motte.   And as I said, the good stretch of sandy beach is an ideal spot for families and couples to enjoy the facilities on offer.

Just outside Palavas, a short walk away, there are natural ponds that are home to an interesting selection of wildlife.   What attracts most people to the area, however, are the flocks of flamingoes that live here and that make a visit to the ponds something rather special.

How to Get to Palavas-les-Flots from Montpelier

By Tram or Bus, but the tram is so quick and fun to ride that I recommend them.  Purchase tickets before boarding, multi-lingual ticket machines at each tram stop. A day pass is recommended if you plan to use the tram much. Be sure to validate your ticket in the machines, being found without a valid ticket means an on-the-spot fine of around 30 euros. Not speaking French is not accepted as an excuse.

One-way tickets cost €1.40 round-trip €2.50. A 24-hour bus and tram ticket is €3.80.  Line 28 runs to the beach at Palavas les Flots.

The “Navette des Plages” bus runs non-stop to the “Face a la Plage” beach, between Palavas les Flots and La Grande Motte. Bus 131 runs to Palavas-les-Flots.

 

The Artichoke, Rome’s 8th King

I’ve given up trying to cook artichokes as sampled in Rome and I’m feeling very cross with myself.  I never fancied myself as a great cook but I am a fairly good one, but artichokes have beaten me.

I’ve always liked them but always bought them in tins or jars.  Then I went to Rome in May when the artichoke season was at its height and every restaurant and trattoria was serving them in ways I’d never even thought of and I OD’d for a week on this king of the vegetable world.  In fact, it’s called the 8th King of Rome in that city.

Artichokes and Wine, a Great Combination - Mari Nicholson

It’s scientific name is cynara acolymus and it was named after Zeus’s former lover who betrayed him and was transformed into a prickly plant in revenge, but its etymological root comes from the Arabic alkaharshῡf.  As it grew in popularity from being a food of the poor to one much sought after by the rich, it’s shape was appropriated by architects who used it to adorn various buildings, Chartres Cathedral being one.

The Italian artichoke usually has dark purple leaves and is eaten as an appetiser, in pastas, and as a vegetable with meats and fish.  It can be boiled, fried, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or marinated and I will gladly eat it any which way!  In Rome I usually had it “cariciofa alla giudia” which I was told is an ancient Jewish method from the 16th century and entails the vegetable being deep-fried twice.  That flavoursome oil dripping down one’s chin.  Decadent, I know, but delicious.

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Restaurant Window in Rome – Mari Nicholson

My favourite restaurant for this appetiser (I reckon 3 makes a good starter) is Trattoria da Giggetto to which the concierge at my hotel directed me, saying that it had been serving up the artichoke for three generations.  The secret, so the waiter told me, was to open the artichoke leaves like a flower and to cook it first in boiling oil before roasting it for a little and then deep-fryng again.  Labour intensive, yes, but sheer heaven when you taste it.

Deep Fried Artichokes a la Romana - Mari Nicholson
Deep Fried Artichokes, Decadent but Delicious – Mari Nicholson

I tried.  I deep-fried, then I roasted, then I deep-fried again and all I got was an oily vegetable that bore no resemblance to the ambrosia I had partaken of in Rome.  There’s only one thing for it.  I shall have to return next May and eat it every night as I did this year and try and wangle an invitation into the kitchen to see how it’s really done.

Prepared artichokes for sale in Rome market

Prepared Artichokes for Sale from a Stall in Rome – Mari Nicholson

 

TOKYO – Soaring Towers and Electronic Delights

From bonsai in lush landscaped gardens, to kimona-clad beauties shopping in Ginza, and from pale green tatami mats in Ryokans to exquisite floral arrangements, Tokyo, as well as reaching into the future, is picture-book Japan come to life.

This is the first stop on a tour that will take in stays in some of Japan’s most beautiful cities and countryside, Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps, Kyoto, the ancient capital, Takayama, whose beautiful old town still preserves traditions, Hiroshima and Miyajima, and Hakone where a cable-car side-trip to Mount Fuji is planned.  Fingers crossed, the weather will be fine on the day.

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Kamikochi, Japanese Alps, turquoise waters of the snowmelt from surrounding mountains – Mari Nicholson

Driving into the city from the airport did not show a green  and pleasant land.  Living space is at a premium in Tokyo, which means that the suburbs are composed of high-rise apartment blocks built wherever space could be found, all in a uniform grey, unbroken by a splash of colour or flowers on a balcony.  Once in the city however, another world becomes apparent.

Getting around Tokyo

Tokyo is a city of districts, each offering something different to the visitor, so it repays a bit of research before you set out to explore.

With its sensory bombardment, the capital of Japan can seem daunting to the first time visitor but with a little planning, we found it to be very accessible.

Tokyo is composed of many different districts each with its own character and charm, and as a capital with a reputation for safety, walking the streets is one of the best ways to absorb the atmosphere, check out the local craft shops, or explore the shopping malls both below and above ground.  I am a leisurely traveller, happy to leave some things unseen, rather than rush around ticking off the sights, so I didn’t try to see everything.

Orientation, subways, and trains

Inside-one-of-Tokyo's-stations

Tokyo Train Station – Mari Nicholson

Rail is, without doubt, the best way to get around Tokyo, and the trick is to buy an IC Rail Pass for 3,000 Yen which is something like the UK Oyster Card, and which is valid on the vast subway network, the equally extensive overland train network, and the Monorail (great for views over Tokyo Bay), and also valid to use in some Japanese cities.  Not only that, but you can use it to buy drinks from the kiosks on every station, just slap your card on the designated spot, and hey presto! green tea or hot chocolate can be yours in an instant.  Topping up when needed is easy, with instructions in English.

Taxis are on the expensive side, but you don’t tip in Japan so at least what you see on the clock is what you pay.  If you decide to hire one, then ask your hotel to write the destination in Japanese and show this to the driver.  Rear passenger doors are automatically locked so wait for the door to open.

Luckily my travelling companions, Ken and Steve, are wizards when it comes to map-reading, especially subway maps, so I was able to rely on their expertise on negotiating the metro.  Even I, after the first day, felt confident beneath Tokyo’s streets, as the system is made easy for non-Japanese speakers, with letters and numbers as well as names on the stations, fail-proof directions to platforms and tannoy announcements throughout the carriages when a station is reached.

Tip:  Buy your IC Card and get a Tube Map as a priority on your first day.  Then hurl yourself into the city and enjoy the experience – remembering to stop for sustenance occasionally.

Tokyo Fish Market

Octopus in Tokyo Fish Market
Octopus – Mari Nicholson

 

 

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Eeels in Tsukiji Market – Mari Nicholson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone said the Tsukiji fish market which handles a larger volume of seafood than any other market in the world is a must, and although we had all seen fish markets in the East before, we went there on our first morning.  It’s impressive, with over 400 varieties of seafood on display from massive tuna laid out on marble slabs, squid and octopus squirming in baskets, shellfish heaped up in mounds, baskets of crustaceans, and eels, lots of eels, along with species of fish I’d never seen before.  Tiny automated carts zip around (you need to watch out for these) collecting boxed items to be forwarded on.  I loved the machine where huge blocks of ice were man-handled into a drum which turned it into ice cubes which were then used to pack the fish for the retail market.

Parks and Gardens

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Misty Day in Tokyo Garden – Mari Nicholson

Too many to be able to visit them all, so we choose just three, the Shinjuku Gyoen Park where an air of tranquillity heals the spirit, and Koi carp plop in the streams under arched bridges, the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace which are a superb example of the perfect Japanese Garden and the Kiyosumi Gardens with its large pond surrounded by some very special stones placed in the garden as stepping-stones, paving stones and stones for the waterfall.

ImperialPalaceGarden, Tokyo

Imperial Palace Garden, Tokyo – Japanese Tourist Board

Tokyo Gardens

MUSEUMS

There are too many Museums to mention and too many to visit on a 3-day visit if one wanted to see anything else, so Fukagawa Edo Museum was the only Museum we visited in Tokyo.  This was an instant lesson in Japanese history and was a great help in understanding modern Japan.  It consists of a display of reconstructed Fukugawa Saga-cho houses, taverns, and shops, all looking as though they’ve just been vacated – as well as a small theatre and lecture hall, all furnished in the period.  There are interactive displays and fantastic model towns, rivers and courtyards filled with people.  Well worth the visit.

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Edo Museum – Mari Nicholson

 

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Restaurant Menu – Mari Nicholson

There are so many superb restaurants in Tokyo, that won’t go into the eating experience, but the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo is said to be in Kyubey, right here in Ginza .  Sadly, we just couldn’t make time to visit it as there was just so much sight-seeing to take in but from what we heard from other people, this is definitely the place to go.  The prices are in keeping with the area with dishes from 4,000 to 8,000 yen, while a full set runs from 10,000 – 30,000 yen.

But I was mightily intrigued by some of the ‘alternative’ restaurants in the city.  First up there are the ‘Maid’ restaurants which pander to Japanese male fantasies and allows the customer to interact with real-life manga characters. Waitresses are typically dressed as French maids and customers are treated as though they are the masters/mistress of the house.  These range from standoffish Victorian style maid service to the school-themed cafes where customers pay to be spoon-fed or to be slapped in the face in public.

An eye-opening blog by fellow WP blogger, Stacey Gleiss, is worth reading here, https://thesixfootbonsai.com/2016/05/22/child-bride-a-few-months-shy/ as it explains a lot about these restaurants and the Japanese man’s liking for ‘childlike women’.

Then there are the ‘Cat’ cafes, the ‘Dog cafes, the ‘Bird’ cafes, the ‘Rabbit’ cafes, where you can sip your coffee or tea while relaxing with either your own pet or a rental pet.  As space is so scarce, many people do not have the option to keep a pet so this is the answer to the problem.  Mind you, if you do have the space to have a dog or a cat, you can also buy a pram in which to wheel them about.  It stopped me in my tracks, but the Japanese sailed serenely by, unfazed by this strangeness.

And now there is a ‘Goat’ café as well, 5 minutes walk from Shibuya Station at Shinoda Building 1F, 23-3 Shibuya, but I wasn’t able to check this out to see how they interacted with the goats.  This one sounds seriously weird.

(To be continued)

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Japan – Land of the Rising Sun

I have had this image of Japan for years, of a country of kimono-clad beauties, beautiful gardens landscaped with flowers and red bridges, temples, and Bonsai, and, you know what, it is just like that.

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Kimono-clad Japanese Lady

I  didn’t manage to cover the whole of Japan on my trip, that will take a few years, but I did chance upon many instances of the above as well as the frenetic crackling neon of Tokyo with shopping on Ginza, the surge of people crossing the road at Shinju and suspicious bars behind curtained doorways off the main streets: the traditional craft shops in Takayama; the Ryokans where you sleep on a futon and eat only Japanese food: Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps, a sublimely tranquil place for walking and cycling, where snow-capped mountains surround fast-flowing rivers, and monkeys cavort among the bamboo, and where the birdsong is so sweet it stops you in your tracks: Kyoto, ancient capital of Japan with its traditions and spectacular sight-seeing: Hiroshima with its sombre Peace Park and its nearby island of Miyajima, and Hakone where the image of the ic0nic Mount Fuji changes depending on time of day and weather.

To say it was culture shock is putting it mildly whether it was from seeing a racoon on a lead being led along the street, to seeing a dog in a ‘dog-pram’ being wheeled around a park, to witnessing day in and day out, the regiment of ‘salarymen’ coming and going from their businesses all dressed in their uniform of black suits, white shirts and dark ties. The men of this most conservative of nations never sport coloured shirts.

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Japan

The kimono-clad women and young girls I saw, and the few men I glimpsed dressed in traditional garb, I later found were often Koreans who hired the kimonos when they were in Japan.  Many Japanese hire them also, as the cost of buying a good kimono, or a special one, can be astronomical, and they are nearly always worn for weddings.

So, join me as I blog about my trip on later pages, let me know if I can answer any questions you may have, or just log on and say ‘hello’.

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Photo Challenge: ORANGE

Been looking through my photographs to see what I could find that would fit this week’s challenge.  Quite surprised to find very little.  I thought I had an orange sunset at Wadi Rum but that turned out to be golden, and my terracotta roofs in Italy had taken on a brownish tinge by the time I blew them up.  But I found a few, so herewith my selection from Spain, Italy, Thailand and Sweden.

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Freshly squeezed juices at every corner in Palermo, Sicily
Freshly squeezed juices at every corner in Palermo, Sicily

Is Cruising all It’s Cracked up to Be?

Wash from the Ship
Wash from the Ship

Now that Christmas is over I can finally turn my thoughts to holidays again.  I am lucky to live on an island where the summer months are delightful, the waters are warm (usually) and sailing, swimming, and surfing are all popular pastimes, so I usually creep away somewhere warmer during the winter.

This year, for the first time, I have opted to try cruising    I am not sure if I’m going to like it as I’m an inveterate people watcher from cafe tables in Southern Spain and Italy, bistros in France and Konditori in Denmark and Sweden, but I feel it’s time I had a change.

Williamstad Harbour

Not only am I going on a cruise-ship but I’m going to the Spice Islands of the Caribbean so I shall not have the usual pleasure of traipsing around ruins and wrecked churches, guide-book in hand, feet encased is stolid walking shoes.   But everyone tells me I will love it, so I’m giving it a go.

I have travelled the ocean before, but always on a cargo ship, one of the big ones that are the length of 3 football pitches, around which a walk makes a perfect workout before, or after a meal.  I have always enjoyed them, but then feeling part of a working ship seems so much better than being a passenger on a cruise ship.

Beautiful Williamstad, Dutch Antilles Sure, we dressed up in the evening, but so did the crew who changed from oily overalls into pristine whites to mingle with the six passengers in the bar.  No entertainment but we made our own, pockets of conversation with the mixed crew from South Africa, Philippines, Angola, UK and South America, Trivial Pursuit, watching the latest DVDs together, or just spending longer over the magnificent meals: cargo ship food is always good I’ve found without encouraging too much gluttony.

Al Fresco Evenings in the Tropics

The Chef & the Barbie

And then there were the Sunday barbecues on the deck, dress-down for captain and crew when the flamboyant shirts and shorts made an appearance and we all relaxed.

Eddie Does His Thing

I think I shall miss all that as I polish up my hat and smarten my glad rags.  On the other hand I may find it the best thing since sliced bread.  Who knows?

Photos from my last cargo ship trip on display here.

AStreetin CartagenaA Pilot Boat Approaches

Security in Caracas