Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Trip to Piedmont Italy - April 26

First Stop - Grasse France - The center of the world's
perfume industry since the 16th century

Musee Internationale de la Parfumerie

Touring the museum, Emma is smelling some of the
plants that are manufactured into perfume

Fragonard Parfumerie

Grasse was the birthplace of Jean-Honore Fragonard

Second Stop - Cannes!

Palais Des Festivals et Des Congres - the location of the
International Film Festival (sans the red carpet!)
They were preparing for 2011 - Runs May 11-22
We were there a little early

Mickey Mouse's Handprint

The Pink Panther

Emma - A Jedi!

Adam - A Jedi!


Nathan and Andrew taking a break

Very fun sand sculptor

ITALY! (this was the best pix we could snap between

Our first italian dinner was here - a restaurant whose
driveway was between guardrails off of a very
windy, in the middle of nowhere, road.
We left for our big Italian adventure on Tuesday April 26.  This was the second two week break for the public school system so the kids did not miss any classes.  Our ultimate destination was Florence/Siena in the Tuscany region but we planned some fun stops along the way as well due to the distance involved.  We would travel east along the A8/E80 freeway, just north of the mediterranean sea and stop wherever we wanted to along the way.  We had numerous recommendations from friends and family regarding what to do and what not to do which were very helpful, so, although Monte-Carlo and Monaco sounded like great places to stop, we chose not to do so on this trip.  The size of the towns and knowing that they would probably be very busy due to the holiday time (children out of school) played a large part in that decision.

Rather, Emma and I suggested that we stop in Grasse, the center of the perfume world!  We were excited to smell a wide variety of scents and maybe even purchase something as a souvenir.  Grasse is a lovely little town positioned in between hills with views of the sea and surrounded by lavendar, mimosa, jasmine and rose fields (although we didn't see any of them in bloom). The buildings are painted with bright colors and the town is very warm and welcoming.  We parked Mo Mo in a parking garage and went in search of the Office of Tourism.  Before finding the office, however, we found the one museum that was recommended in our tour book - the Musee Internationale de la Perfumerie. Andy, Emma and I decided to go in and look around while Nathan and Adam chose to look around the town and get a snack - we agreed to meet back at the front doors of the museum in 30 minutes.  Overall, Andy, Emma and I were disappointed with the museum - We were hoping for more explanations of how the perfume is made, how scents are determined etc..., however, the museum included more information regarding the history of the industry overall - especially perfume bottles and cases.  Our favorite exhibit was the one in the photo above which allowed us to "scent test" the various plants used in perfume manufacturing.  We met up with the boys as planned (who had found the Office of Tourism!) and went over to the Fragonard Perfumerie and museum.

The historic perfumerie was built in 1782 and still produces perfumes and soaps daily today.  Emma, Nathan and I had a nice time walking around the quaint little shop smelling the various fragrances and looking for "just the right one" to claim as our official souvenir.  (Nathan was smelling the mens' fragrances :) ).  Meanwhile, Adam waited outside and Andy decided to check out the Fragonard museum.  I wish we would have had more time to spend in Grasse, because Andrew appreciated the Fragonard museum much more than the first museum we had visited and I would have liked to tour it as well.  In the end, Emma and I decided to purchase a three pack of mini bottles of perfumes which included one that she liked, one that I liked, and one that we would share!

After Grasse, we drove a bit south to Cannes to check out the town that is famous for the annual International Film Festival and many other festivals as well.

Although our handy tour book told us that, in addition to the festival area of town, Cannes has an Old Town which Lord Brougham (founder of Cannes who arrived in 1834 when he was unable to reach Nice due to a cholera outbreak) knew as the center of the city, we stayed around the newer festival area.  I think we are pretty "old towned and ruined" out by now!

The festival area reminded me a lot of what I envision Rodeo Drive in California to be like.  The stores lining the street across from the sea included names such as: Dolce & Gabbana, Coach, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Dior, and Hermes.  There were banners still on the poles lining the streets announcing the "Cannes Shopping Festival - 21-24  Avril" - I figured that since we arrived just two days after the festival, we might stumble upon some sales at those nice stores - ha ha - just kidding, I knew better, but it was fun to look! 

We attempted to enter the building where the Film Festival is held (Palais Des Festivals et Des Congres), however, there was a lot of construction etc... going on, I assume, in preparation for the festival which begins on May 11 so we were unable to go in and check the place out. We did enjoy walking around outside where we found many handprints of stars in the sidewalks - photos of a couple of them are above.  In addition, there were ice cream stands, street vendors and a lot of hustle and bustle - tourists, construction workers, kids riding the Carousel and playing carnival type games.  Cannes is an exciting area.  Even though the day was overcast, we had a nice time strolling along the streets where many movie stars, producers, and animated characters have strolled before us.

Getting out of Cannes was interesting and took quite awhile but thanks to Andrew's (now) expert European driving skills, we made it and began our final trek to Italy! As we came closer to the border, we understood why the Wolff family was so impressed with the number of tunnels they drove through on their way to our house a few weeks before.  The tunnels began coming one right after the other, with literally only 30 seconds to 2 minutes between gaps! The kids began keeping count when we entered the first one and Emma kept up the count all the way through Italy - final total: 270 and that was one way - we did not count on the return trip!  The "Italia" sign shown above is positioned between two of the tunnels so as soon as we exited one tunnel, we grabbed cameras and tried to snap but only got what you see above before entering the next tunnel!

The trip was absolutely gorgeous, with mountains on one side and the sea on the other side.  The scene at the exit of every tunnel was breathtaking - with the end of every tunnel came another "oh my gosh, look at that!" comment worthy scene.  Photos were difficult to snap due to the guardrails (very necessary!) on both sides of the car and there were nostopping opportunities.  We enjoyed the entire trip and hope to remember the beauty for a long time.

Our first destination in Italy was in the Piedmont Region - at an Inn run by the sister (Ivana) of an Italian wine maker (Stephania Stroppiana) that we met at a wine tasting in Ohio in November.  We needed dinner first, however, and Andrew decided that we should stop in ???? - a large town off of the main highway.  I, on the otherhand, as the exit approached, suggested getting onto the next highway and THEN finding a restaurant so we didn't get lost in a large Italian town where we knew even less of the language than we did in France.  So, we continued on -- into more mountains, in the dark, with no streetlights and where the roads got smaller and buildings were fewer. Pretty soon dinner was looking like a disant dream.  Although we saw signs for towns, they were not directly off of the highway so our chance of finding it within an hour and then being able to get back to the main road after dinner, wasn't looking good.

Finally as a result of hunger desperation, we decided to take a chance and got off of the highway, drove down a narrow road and noticed that there was a driveway to a ristorante between an opening in a guardrail!  Seeing very few other options, we turned in, bumped along the dirt driveway and parked Mo Mo.  The ristorante was teeny tiny - approximately 30 square feet which included the bar, about a dozen tables, an area where the host chopped fresh meat and cooked it in an open fireplace, and a coffee "bar" corner.  The kitchen was behind one of the walls, I have no idea how big IT was.  The place was full (I'm not sure where everyone came from) but did have one table left for our family.  The host was very busy, wonderfully kind, and even spoke a little english.  We each ordered a pasta dish (our first real italian pasta!!) and ABSOLUTELY LOVED every bite!!!  The sauces were amazing, the lasagna was the best that Adam  had ever eaten, and I loved the pesto - we picked the right teeny tiny ristorante (as if we had a choice!).

After dinner, our trip continued to Monforte D'Alba - a wonderful little town in the mountains where Ivana's Inn was waiting.  After several failed attempts to find it on our own, in the dark, we sunk to the level of having to call Ivana (late-it was about 11:00 pm by this time), explain where we were, and have her husband come and lead us to our temporary home away from home away from home ( we were within 1/2 mile).  Ivana was waiting outside for us, led us to our "apartments" - Andrew and I had one, and the kids had their own - they were lovely, comfortable, and we were happy to be there.

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