Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Vieil Antibes

Posted in Cycling, La France, Photography, Travel at 17:46

Cottard, Antibes by Anna Stevenson on

Keeping with the cycling theme of late – this was the first photo I took on a Thursday visit to Antibes’ old town. I needed to go to my company’s offices in Sophia Antipolis, and since Sophia is a hop, skip and a jump from Antibes, or more precisely an express bus ride, I went to the original Antipolis afterwards. Antibes takes its name from the Greek for the village, Antipolis, meaning “the city opposite” or “the city across”. Likewise, Sophia Antipolis can mean “the city of the wisdom of opposites”, as well as having a double meaning in that its founder’s wife was named Sophie, and, naturally, it’s near Antibes/Antipolis.

While putting the pictures onto 500px, I discovered that an appreciative visitor had actually purchased one of my photos! It reminded me to mention it here: on 500px you can buy high-resolution downloads, as well as prints. Feel free to browse my photography store, and, naturally, it goes without saying that I’m always happy to see others enjoy the pictures. As you well imagine, you’ll also know where any profits go! More photography, funds towards a new kitchen (which will also be photographed), sewing projects, and cycling goods (still moar photos!!), among others.

Although it’s September, the weather has stayed hot, so I ambled through the old town and its Marché Provençal until noon came around. Then I hopped on a train back to Nice for a refreshing lunch at home with the cats. We have a new train reduction card in France, called la carte Zou! (exclamation point included), that has been a real boon for hopping around the area. It’s free, and a flexible subscription: you can fill the card with a set of 10 trips, or a week-long or month-long subscription. Any of the choices has to be for a single route, for instance, you can’t go from Nice to Monaco with the card if you’ve chosen the Nice-Antibes route; you would have to buy a separate ticket. Reductions are great, 75%! A round-trip ticket from Nice Ville to Antibes currently costs 8.80€, whereas a ten-trip set with la carte Zou! will only cost you 11€. Two euros more, for four more round trips. It’s less expensive than taking a car, and only one euro more than ten bus trips would cost on a ten-trip bus ticket (currently 10€).

Indeed, even if I could afford a car, I doubt I would ever buy one. My bike will take me to backcountry villages (will be taking it home early next week!), and paired with our train network, the possibilities are nearly as endless as with a car, but much less expensive. We’re spoiled here when it comes to public transportation, and it is really nice.

Flowery street, Antibes by Anna Stevenson on

Doorways, Antibes by Anna Stevenson on

Epices, Marché Provençal d'Antibes by Anna Stevenson on

Huiles et confitures, Marché Provençal d'Antibes by Anna Stevenson on

Pentecôte en Camargue

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 16:06

Taureau rouge, Aigues-Mortes by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on

The replacement lens I ordered for my broken Nikon 50mm arrived today, and I was also able to subscribe to my new photo host, opening up my sets for public view. While I had been happy with Flickr, their new pricing scheme and restrictions (not on storage, which is indeed better now, but on statistics and other features) finally gave me enough impetus to move to 500px, where you can find me under my usual handle, fraise. I especially like their Stories feature, where you can essentially blog within your photostream.

Our three-day trip to Camargue started out with a brief thunderstorm, soaking me to the bone as I was caught unawares walking around Nîmes without an umbrella. The rest of the long weekend was beautiful, however, and Le Grau du Roi, Aigues-Mortes, and Nîmes were wonderful to visit. You can read and view the full story on 500px; below are a few of my favorite photos from the trip.

Canal du centre, Grau du Roi by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on

Eglise Notre Dame des Sablons by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on

Fortifications au sud-est, Aigues-Mortes by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on

Marché d'Aigues-Mortes by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on

Of kings and dead waters

Posted in La France, Travel at 17:23

The small town I’ll be visiting soon is the Camarguais fishing village named Le Grau du Roi, literally, “the king’s bayou”. During the Crusades, its sister city to the north, fortified Aigues Mortes, was a royal port linked to Grau du Roi and the sea by canals built through the salty marshes. “Aigues” comes from the Latin aqua, a word you probably recognize, and “mortes” is the feminine plural form of the adjective mort: Dead Waters. At the end of the 16th century, the Rhone river flooded the Repausset marsh, forming a new entry from the sea that was used to build a permanent canal, causing Le Grau du Roi to gain in importance. This same canal still exists today.

Grau du Roi has since grown from being a major fishing port and viticultural area to also being a major tourism destination, as one of France’s well-known beach resort towns. While outside of France, it’s mainly included as part of the attractions of the Camargue region, within France, it’s rather well recognized on its own, which is one reason my company chose it as a destination this spring. It also continues to be the second most important fishing port on the French Mediterranean coast, the largest being the Grand port maritime de Marseille, and the largest in France at Boulogne-sur-Mer, in the Pas-de-Calais département. The most major contribution towards Grau du Roi’s tourism development came with the extension of the Nîmes – Grau du Roi railway line all the way to the fishing village, in 1909. The first part of the line was built in 1845.

While the marshes between Aigues Mortes and Grau du Roi are home to no fewer than 340 species of birds, the most iconic are their pink flamingoes! I’ll be taking that same railway line from Nîmes to Grau du Roi, and am very much looking forward to the sights along the way. France’s national railway company, the SNCF, also promotes tourism in the area, a ticket costing only a single euro. I’ll also have the opportunity to ride an even older means of transportation, and one that also represents Camargue: the Camargue horse. We’ll have a two-hour ride along the beach at sunset.

For more on visiting Grau du Roi, visit their Office de Tourisme’s website.

Voyageons, voyageons

Posted in Biographical, Journal, La France, Travel at 21:10

In France, companies with 50 employees or more are required to have a comité d’entreprise, CE, works council, which not only serves as an apolitical employee union (in addition to external, non-company-limited unions), but also organizes activities, outings, tours, voyages and such, all at discounted prices since they can negotiate group reductions. My company’s CE organizes national and international trips, most of them to large cities I’ve already visited, but this year they offered a 3-day trip to the Camargue region. I’ve been to the area in the past, but it was 15 years ago, and have often wanted to return. It was all finalized recently, and having bought my TGV tickets, it’s been bringing back a wave of travel memories in France!

Very, very long-time readers (I know of at least one *waves to Chris*) may recall that back in 1995, I started writing web pages about France, the French language, and cross-cultural issues. The web has changed so much since then, veering from backlash against personal pages (I fondly recall receiving emails in the 90s treating me as a madwoman for thinking I had any business writing about France as an individual and mere student of French, the horrors!), to an influx of “blogs” viewed with a mix of incomprehension and mild derision, to what’s now seen as so normal that the phrase “get your own blog” has entered our vocabulary and people enjoy random photos and videos of cats.

La roue tourne ! So it is that as I rememorated my travels in France, my 1995 writings also came to mind, and I realized that in all that turning of the wheel of Internet fortunes, a record of my past travels had fallen into the ether. I would like to do a series of posts while approaching the trip to Camargue, beginning with a look back at my travels in France that have preceded it.

In the fall of 1994, I started my university studies as a double Russian (yes!) and music performance major. I finished a semester of Russian language and literature courses, then decided to focus on music performance. At the same time, I continued to be intrigued by the Internet: I had first gotten online several years earlier, as a mere pre-teen, via Prodigy and a local Freenet dialup that offered UNIX accounts. Those where the days of wheezing, beeping modems, BBS, and gopher. I had a thing for gopher, because you could connect to library collections across the world, in foreign languages – utterly fascinating for an up-and-coming language and literature nerd. In my forays into foreign libraries, I met people I got along with well enough to get into IRC.

Thus my first trip to France was born. I met students at a top telecoms engineering school (university level) in Brittany, got the wild teenage idea that I could up and go with cashiering money I’d earned, and so I did, in the summer of 1995. To make a very long story short, I landed in Paris, never really saw the inside of the city, and boarded a train for Lannion. Later I took trains to the opposite side of the country, Mulhouse, through Paris again, but only seeing its métro while moving from one train station to the next. The métro blew my countryside Oregonian mind. I had never even taken a public bus before! Later my hosts in Mulhouse showed me most of Alsace, as far north as Strasbourg, with hikes in the Vosges.

That fateful trip led directly to changing my major to French. I had studied it since the age of 10, stopping only for that first year of university, then fallen definitively in love with the country during my short visit. I changed my music major to a minor, threw myself into French studies, and loved every minute of it. My web presence reflected both: with Chris, the friend I waved at earlier, we ran our university’s web presence for the School of Music and especially our marching band. I also wrote pages on France, curated a list of links (back then this was something many people did), and also wrote personal entries from time to time, before “blogs” were a thing. Thoroughly enjoying my studies helped keep me at the top of my class, and so it was that I earned a scholarship and a spot as a direct exchange student for the final year of my BA.

Once again, I arrived in Paris but saw only the inside of a hotel in the middle of the night, waking up before dawn to catch a TGV to Lyon. I had met a French student there, whose family lived in the Ain, and with whom I got along very well. We all loved the outdoors, hiking, travelling, literature and language – it was a wonderful time. They drove me to Chamonix, Annecy, Bourg-en-Bresse, Gex, Ambérieu, Chambéry, Grenoble, Valence, and innumerable other villages, most of them in the Rhône valley. We went on hikes in the foothills of the Alps, and the mountains themselves. I’ll always remember taking the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi, near Mont Blanc, and seeing the glacier. We would return some years in the future, and the glacier’s rapid disappearance was easily visible. My mother-not-quite-in-law also invited me on a week-long hike through all the peaks of the Swiss and French Jura mountains, where I took some of my favorite photos… with my old Nikon 35mm!

Our university also organized outings, my favorite being to the châteaux de la Loire. Not long afterwards, my adoptive host family drove me to southern France, passing through Marseille and Arles, and on to Nîmes. It was sensory overload – I had never seen so many incredible Roman ruins and stone castles in my life, and the countryside was simply stunning. To top it all off, my father-not-quite-in-law and I both enjoyed the same types of wines: strong reds and hefty whites, so he took us to dozens upon dozens of vineyards and filled the trunk of the family Volvo with 5-liter casks.

I saw Paris for the first time in the summer of 1998! Where Lyon was a lovely concentrate of fabric arts, cinema, and literature, Paris was everything.

In the fall of 1998, I joined my French partner, who had found a job earlier in the year in Helsinki, Finland. I did love Finland, but am focusing on France in this entry, so we’ll skip two years ahead!

April 2000
I had a job interview as a web designer for a startup in Sophia Antipolis. I flew from Helsinki to Nice, and still recall my first sensation on exiting the plane: “Wow, it smells wonderful here…!” I took the bus to Sophia, the very same bus I still commute in to this day. The interview went fine, but the position wasn’t very well-defined and all the interviewers were young and terrifically ambitious, so I politely declined. Like so many web startups of the early oughts, it skyrocketed for a year or two, then floundered into nothingness.

June 2000
I returned to Nice, working as a freelance translator and interpreter. I’ve visited innumerable villages in this southeastern corner of France, as well as in Provence. My favorites are the fortified hill cities so typical of this part of the world, and our sparse yet fragrant forests. When the spring and summer sun comes out after rainfall, you can smell what I now know is a lovely mixture of pine needles, wild lavender, thyme, and rosemary.

September 2002
Corsica requires a mention of its own! Like the Rhône region, the island reminded me of my home state as soon as I set foot in Ile-Rousse. Wild, rocky, mountainous and wooded, with wild boar and goats roaming the countryside, it felt like seeing what the French Riviera must have looked like before its wild coastline was tamed into an immense, unbroken city. (Travelling from Nice to Cannes, there is not much separation between towns.) It was also the site of a rocambolesque horseback ride in which I started out on a horse who had wanted to go to stable for the evening. He made his displeasure at the change in schedule known by flipping his ears back at the prospect of carrying me. After much nipping of other horses’ rear ends, going straight down steep hillsides rather than using switchbacks, and stopping to nibble Corsican greenery, his final mischief was to piss off a couple of red long-haired cows. The irritated bovines took their own revenge-nips at my horse’s behind, he reared, I grabbed on for dear life, his neck couldn’t hold me, and so he managed to set me down gently, feet in the air and helmeted head on the ground, my back against an ancient stone shepherd’s lean-to while the other riders gasped and laughed.

The digital age
I forget exactly when I got my first digital camera, but starting around 2004, most of my other travels have been photographed and put online, with a few older film photos scanned as well.

Growing up, it seemed wild just to imagine visiting European capitals, much less the joyful peregrinations I’ve had the good fortune to experience in reality. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming Camargue trip since it has been so long since I’ve been elsewhere in France, other than this southeast corner and Paris. The southwest is one part of l’Hexagone that I still haven’t seen much of.

Kings Park

Posted in Journal, Travel at 17:15

Baobab - boab tree

The belated continuation of my December trip to Western Australia! Perth is home to the largest inner-city park in the world, Kings Park. I took two guided tours through it, both were wonderful: the first was the Indigenous Heritage Tour, with a Nyoongar guide, and the second was one of the free guided walks, with a volunteer (and non-aboriginal) guide. They both gave complementary information about the park’s and, by extension, Australia’s flora, although I was glad to have taken the indigenous tour first since it was more in-depth about things that the free walk only looked at momentarily.

The photo at top is of a boab tree, which is also known as the baobab. They mainly grow in northern Australia; this one and another were actually transplanted in the park. They don’t grow as well in the southern part of the country, we were told, because the wet and dry seasons aren’t clear-cut enough.

We were told that the most emblematic plant is the kangaroo paw:

Red kangaroo paw

…but the ones I most noticed were banksia, with their saw-tooth leaves, and zamia, a plant that dates back to prehistoric times:

Banksia buds


My favorite part was when our Nyoongar guide, Greg Nannup, sat us down to tell a short version of the Dreamtime, when the land was created – in our case, Southwest Australia.

Kangaroo pelt cape

I wrote down what I remembered of the story afterwards. I’ve only studied Haudenosaunee, Northwest Native American, Scandinavian, and Greek creation myths (including for my Masters thesis, so not casually!), and have only occasionally read Australian Aboriginal, so this was the first time I had heard a Dreamtime story in real life. My recounting probably misses some things, in addition to how much shorter it was than a true telling of it would be. Much like Native American creation myths, our guide told us that Aboriginal creation myths are meant to be told over a period of several days, ceremonially. It’s also important to keep in mind that as oral traditions, they’re truly meant to be performed. Reading myths on paper/written down “takes them out of their context”, so to speak, something I can relate to personally having grown up with stories of my Oregon surroundings. As fascinating as our Internet age is, it’s good to keep in mind that there is also a grounded reality to which our own spoken stories, whether everyday or more, are fundamentally related. In the West we tend to see the written word as the final word, which is not the case in other cultures – the spoken word is an embodiment of spirit (which is still hinted at in our languages, as it is from the Latin spiritus, breath, and speaking is in fact using your body and breath to create).

Dreamtime – Creation: There was a time when all was not a dream, but it was not reality as we know it either. The Earth existed, but the sky lay heavily upon it, and so nothing could come into a reality existence.

But the time was coming when the sky would be lifted, and there would be a reality.

In the spirit world — for that was what it was — there were many types of spirits. Tree spirits, animal spirits, fish spirits, flower spirits… and also human spirits. A gathering was held — several, in fact [this is one area in which the story has been shortened] — in which it was debated and discussed and eventually decided who would watch over beings in reality; who would be the caretakers.

Tree spoke first: “We trees stay in one place. We cannot wander the land as a caretaker would need to do.” And the other spirits also spoke. It was decided that humans would be the caretakers, for they had abilities the others did not.

Tree spoke again: “You may use us as you wish, but never destroy us all.” In turn, animals and plants alike offered to protect and nourish their human caretakers in exchange for balance. All agreed: “never destroy us all.”

One day, the giant keeping down the sky became angry with his burden and lifted it. Reality now appeared beneath the sky.

The first two spirits to see it were First Woman and First Man, but they were not yet real. First Woman tentatively set her foot down: it became real, and her footprints are today the deeps in the Swan River, Derbarl Yerrigan. A long strand of her white hair also fell, and became the white sand beaches along the south of the river. First Woman understood she could not go completely into reality, for her true purpose was as a spirit.

Meanwhile, in this part-real, part-spirit world, First Man roamed the land. The last First Woman saw of him, he had been picking up small round things and eating them.

First Woman also roamed, creating hills and plains. In her travels she came across small white spirits: helpless children. She felt she needed to save them, so she picked them up and put them in her hair as she walked the land. Then she realized: the children’s true purpose was to be born as real humans. By picking them up, she was not allowing them to become real.

Then a terrible thought struck her: there was nothing she had crossed on the Earth to eat. There had only been these spirit children; millions and billions of them. First Man had been eating them…!

Now First Woman was really in a panic. The time of reality was also nearing. First Woman replaced as many spirit children as she could. But when reality became permanent, she had to leave, with some of the spirit children still in her white hair.

She flew to the skies with them, having no other choice. Now we see her hair as the Milky Way, and its stars are the spirit children who remained spirits.

Milky Way near the Southern Cross
   (The Milky Way near the Southern Cross, photo by Yuri Beletsky)

Marsupial island

Posted in Journal, Travel at 19:31

Rottnest Island

On the 14th of December, I boarded a flight that went from Nice to Milan and on to Doha, where I changed planes and flew to Perth, Western Australia. I arrived a day and a half after I left, in the evening. The gracious friend who hosted me fed me a lovely dinner of spicy vegetarian stew, and the next morning, we took a ferry from Perth to Rottnest Island, so named by a Dutch captain who mistook the local marsupial population of quokka for rats. The Aboriginal, Noongar name for the island is Wadjemup, meaning “place across the water”.


Villas on Rottnest

There were indeed quite a few of the hoppity, tea-nibbling pouch-holders on the island! We humans stayed in “villas” (cabins). The island is managed by the Australian government. Villas are given on a lottery basis, to ensure as much equality as possible in the distribution. Indeed, one of the nicest things about being on Rottnest is that in spite of its undeniably gorgeous setting, the people who visit it are down-to-earth. Cars are forbidden except for those used by island management, so everyone gets around by foot or bicycle.

Rental bike, Rottnest

Making the most of my jet lag, I borrowed a friend’s bike on my second morning, at around 5am, and rode around a good two-thirds of Rottnest. I didn’t make it to the farthest end, instead cutting across at the narrow western part, since the hills and jet lag had started to fatigue me on the 7-speed rental bike.

Fairbridge Bluff, Rottnest


Later that day, my friend and I returned to Little Salmon Bay, where I had the treat of my life, snorkeling amongst tropical fish. I had my waterproof camera with me, so not only was I able to take photographs, I was also able to shoot video! I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite photos, and a video I took with several different types of fish. The crackling you hear in it is from the seabed; I heard it as well.

Synchronized swimming
These large, silver fish were everywhere, and swam in schools of a dozen to several dozens.

There were also seaweed and corals, stunning surroundings. Enjoy the fish as I saw them while swimming!

Bonne anneé 2013 !

Posted in Travel at 17:51

Boat and Museum of Islamic Art

Can you guess where I was for the New Year? I arrived there at 4 in the morning local time and left just after midnight on the 2nd, giving me enough time to snap some photos. I’ll share more about my Christmas and New Year walkabouts in the days to come! In the meanwhile, I hope all of you had happy holidays, and here’s to wishing for a peaceful 2013!

Villa Kerylos

Posted in La France, Travel at 12:34

Villa Kerylos, Triklinos - wall and ceiling

As my vacation continues, I’ve been able to visit some local sights that I had often heard about, but not seen until now. One was the Villa Kerylos, a “reconstruction of Greek noble houses built on the island of Delos in the 2nd century B.C.” The Greek word kerylos means halcyon, a bird of good omen, also able to calm the seas, thus our English expression “halcyon days“.

The villa was built by banker and archeologist Theodore Reinach, and architect and archeologist Emmanuel Pontremoli, who was born in Nice. Imagery surrounding the goddess Nike can be found in the villa, no coincidence as Nice’s original Greek name was Nikaïia after the goddess, who is often depicted as having wings, which also fits well with the legend of Alcyone, a nod to the villa’s name meaning.

Villa Kerylos, peristyle - Nike and Phygele

Villa Kerylos, Nikai

My Villa Kerylos photoset has several other photos of the beautiful home. One of my favorite areas was the downstairs sculpture corridor, with several well-known statues. Before visiting, I was only a little acquainted with the myth of Athena and Erikhthonios / Erichthonius, depicted in this sculpture. Erichthonius, “son of Earth”, was born as a serpent when Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, who took a scrap of wool and wiped his seed off onto the ground. Some legends speak of Gaia, goddess of the Earth, then handing Erichthonius to Athena, who hid him in a basket and raised him in secret.

Athéna à la ciste

Bastille Day weekend

Posted in La France, Travel at 23:54

Last weekend I was invited to visit friends in La Seyne sur Mer, a small town near Toulon, which is a major port in France, especially for military vessels. It was a beautiful, although windy, weekend, and we were treated to a great fireworks show – that’s a video I shot with my handheld HD camera; be sure to try out the different video qualities (you can change them by clicking on the grey gear icon and selecting one).

As always, I also took photos! Lately I’ve been using my 30-year-old manual lenses on my Nikon D40 and having great results with them. Over the weekend, I only took along my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. While at times I wished I had wide angle or telephoto lenses, it also encouraged me to see things a bit differently. You can see an example of surprising results in this photo of Toulon – with a wide angle to get the full buildings, this chance pigeon would have been nearly invisible! As it is, it made a beautiful addition of movement to the classic Provençal colors.

Couleurs et pigeon

In the photo below, looking east from La Seyne, you can see how the Mistral permanently bends trees – we have simlarly-bent trees due to winds along the Oregon coast as well.

Bateaux, La Seyne

Looking west from the same spot in La Seyne, I was able to see Les deux frères, a pair of large rocks in the Mediterranean.

Les deux frères

All of my photos from the trip are in the Toulon et La Seyne photoset. There’s also this video I took in the TGV showing some of the beautiful landscapes between Nice and Toulon. To finish, one of my favorite photos for its colors, a boat in the port of Toulon.

Bateau, port de Toulon

Le petit cabanon de Le Corbusier

Posted in La France, Travel at 13:40

Le Corbusier's cabanon
A little while ago, two Dutch friends suggested a visit to Le Corbusier’s cabanon, a log-sided cabin with a view of the Mediterranean in Roquebrune Cap Martin. I hadn’t heard of it before, and apparently it’s only mentioned as an aside in some travel guides. Yesterday was our visit date! It was worth the guided tour – we were shown not only the cabin, but the adjacent restaurant owned by Le Corbusier’s friend, Robert Rebutato, and the unité de camping bungalows that Le Corbusier also designed.

The cabin is quite small, at 3.66m x 3.66m x 2.66m – 14 square meters, or about 145 square feet. I found this floor plan in an aRoots article on Le Corbusier’s cabin, but it’s not credited. In any case it does reflect the cabin well enough, though it’s missing the small window in the back upper right corner. Le Corbusier wanted three of the windows to open onto different aspects of the cabin’s surroundings: the small one near the foot of the bed is about a meter from the floor, rectangular, and opens onto the rocks behind the cabin – l’aspect minéral. To the right, by the work area, is a square window with a folding painting and mirror cover, that opens onto a view of the agave tree outside – l’aspect végétal. Finally, the square window near the entry opens onto the Mediterraneanl’aspect aquatique.

There is a replica of the cabanon that tours different countries, with a video at that link (The Guardian) and some nice photos of it at IconEye. One detail that doesn’t come through in them, however, is how the main room is not truly broken up, not even by the sink column:
Sink column

There’s also ingenious built-in overhead storage:
Built-in overhead storage

Le Corbusier used the basic principles of the cabin’s design when creating the smaller camping bungalows for the Rebutato family. Each bungalow measures 8 square meters, or about 80 square feet.
Bungalow interior

Each has a colorful ceiling that ties together their differently-painted doors and window frames:
Bungalow ceiling

For more photographs: Roquebrune – Le Corbusier. Below, Le Corbusier’s “Modulor”, whose measurements he used in his designs. This one is painted on the north end of the bungalows.

Le Modulor