Exploring Pompeii

Our second full day in Naples was devoted to exploring Pompeii, yet another UNESCO world heritage site.  After our miserable train ride to Herculaneum, we tried a different tactic to get to Pompeii.  We still took the Circumvesuviana train, because (a) we are too cheap to do anything else and (b) we absolutely hate group tours.  But, we got up WAY earlier and were at the train station before 8 am.

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The entrance to Pompeii.

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Exploring Herculaneum

Everyone has heard of Pompeii, right?  I mean, I’m pretty sure it was even discussed in Highlights magazine (remember that blast from the past?) when I was a kid.  But did you know that Mount Vesuvius destroyed another city called Herculaneum on that fateful day in 79 A.D.?  If not, no worries.  We had never even heard of Herculaneum before we started researching things to do in Naples, but once we heard about it and realized it too was a UNESCO world heritage site, a visit to Herculaneum was a must do for us.  In fact, it was how we spent our very first day in Naples.*

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A view of Herculaneum from the entrance to the site.  The modern town of Ercolano sits on top of  large portions of Herculaneum.

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Falling in love with Bordeaux

We should have known we would fall in love with Bordeaux.  Something like half of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site, and you know how we love those.  And, as it turned out, we absolutely adored Bordeaux.  Even if it was cloudy and rainy for a big part of our stay.  And, even if we both decided that Bordeaux wines aren’t even close to our favorite wines (sacrilege, I know).

Bordeaux has some amazing old architecture.  You can walk in pretty much any direction and stumble upon something pretty cool.  We both loved La Grosse Cloche (the Big Bell), one of the oldest belfries in all of France.  The building was once used as both a gateway to the city and as a prison.  The gate was constructed in the 13th century, the belfry was constructed in the 15th century, and the current bell was cast in the 18th century.

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La Grosse Cloche in Bordeaux.

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A glimpse of Marseilles

OK, I’m going to be brutally honest here.  We so did not fall in love with Marseilles (spelled with an s at the end in English and without the s in French).  Don’t get me wrong.  Parts of Marseilles are beautiful.  The views from the Basilica, for example.

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Cathedral Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille, as seen from the Basilica.  First built in the 12th century and then rebuilt in the 19th century, it, like almost every old building we’ve seen in France, was under renovation.

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The Abode of Chaos

So, as we were researching things to do in Lyon, we came across something called the Abode of Chaos.  With a name like that, you know we were immediately all in.

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One of the many skulls at the Abode of Chaos.

After visiting, I still can’t really tell you what the Abode of Chaos is all about.  I can tell you where it is — about 10 km North of Lyon in a small, cozy little village called Saint Romain au Mont d’Or.  The bus ride there is stunningly beautiful as it follows the river.

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Faces of various people, including Bernie Sanders.  I have no idea what, if anything, these people have in common.

I can tell you that the Abode of Chaos is often referred to as a contemporary art museum and that it contains thousands of works of art from several different artists.  I can tell you that the museum is supposed to reflect chaos and some say it is supposed to reflect a post-apocalyptic war zone.

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More skulls, human and robot, and (maybe) monkey.

I can tell you it was the brainchild of someone named Thierry Erhmann, who is apparently a very successful business man in France and the CEO of multiple companies.

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More faces at the Abode of Chaos.

I can tell you that the Abode of Chaos sits on the site of what was apparently once a pretty nice 17th Century villa.  I can tell you that the people of Saint Romain au Mont d’Or do not appreciate the Abode of Chaos and that Thierry Erhmann has been sued over and over and over again in an attempt to shut the Abode of Chaos down.

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Another skull, reflecting in a pond, at the Abode of Chaos.

Apparently, as a result of one of the many lawsuits, Thierry Erhmann was ordered to dismantle the Abode of Chaos.  When he refused, he was ordered to pay a daily fine.  I doubt he paid it and, somehow, the museum is still open.  In fact, from what I understand, because of Thierry Erhmann and the Abode of Chaos, France enacted a law protecting artistic expression.

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Art at the Abode of Chaos.

And, I can tell you the Abode of Chaos is only open on weekends and that admission is free and that you can take a city bus to get there.  And, I can tell you that you will leave confused but happy that you made the trip.

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A brief glimpse of Lyon

Lyon sits where two rivers — the Rhone and the Soane — meet.  Apparently, there have been settlements here since B.C. days (to be precise, since 43 B.C. according to wiki).  These days, it is the third largest city in France.  We spent just a few days there, and it was rainy for about half of our visit so we didn’t see nearly as much as we would have liked to have seen.

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Pretty river view near our hotel in Lyon.

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Final thoughts on Spain

We’ve left Spain for France so that must mean it is time for final thoughts.  Once again, our final thoughts are somewhat limited, as we only visited Seville, Valencia, and Cadiz (for part of a day).  But, that has never stopped us before, so here goes!

We absolutely fell in love with Spain.  The people were friendly, the scenery was amazing, the conveniences were modern, the transportation options were plentiful and easy, and the food (at least in Seville) was outstanding.  I even spent a few minutes looking into retirement visas…

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Art at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia.

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Valencia street art

One of the best things we did in Valencia was to take the street art tour offered by Free Tour Valencia.  It was phenomenal.  Our guide clearly loved the subject and wanted to provide us with as much information as possible.

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A brand new piece of art on the streets of Valencia.  You could still smell the paint.

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Eating in Valencia

I’m not going to lie.  I did not love the food in Valencia.  After devouring everything in sight in Seville, I was surprised at how difficult it was to get a decent meal at a decent price in Valencia.  My dislike of seafood no doubt played a large role in my dislike of the food in Valencia….

So, what would we recommend?

First, because it is Valencia, you simply have to try the paella.  I’m pretty sure you can’t visit Valencia without trying the paella and a true Valencian will tell you not to bother with paella outside a 50 km radius of Valencia.  A true Valencian will also tell you that CHORIZO DOES NOT BELONG IN PAELLA.  Why they care so much about the no chorizo rule, I don’t know, but boy do they ever hate the idea of chorizo in paella.  There are a million and one things that could be added to paella (personally, I like pancetta in mine), but all you will hear about is no chorizo, no chorizo, no chorizo.  And, you must, must, must have your paella at lunch.  Real Valencians never ever eat paella at dinner.  I have no idea why, but I do know that you will stand out as a tourist if you order it at dinner.  Finally, real paella should be served in the pan and in multiples of two — if a restaurant offers paella for one, and it isn’t part of the menu of the day special, the paella was probably frozen and heated up.  One of the best places in town for paella is said to be Navarro.  Be aware that you absolutely have to book a table and, if you want traditional Valencian paella with chicken, rabbit, and snails, you have to order it 24 hours in advance.  Robert thought this paella was very good.  I was annoyed that it was full of onions (which, as I understand it, do not belong in paella, just like chorizo doesn’t belong in paella).

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Paella at Nararro.  A good paella should only have a very thin layer of rice — the rule is the pan should get bigger, the rice shouldn’t get deeper.

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What to do in Valencia

We spent 10 wonderful days in Valencia.  We packed quite a bit into those 10 days.  So, what did we do?

On our first morning, we set an alarm (oh, how we hate that these days) to make it to a free walking tour at 10:30 (I know, I know, you are shocked we need an alarm to be somewhere by 10:30, but we do these days).  The “free” tour was offered by a company called, aptly enough, Free Tour Valencia.  And, it was a really good tour.  We saw quite a few things and learned various bits of trivia about Valencia.  Five minutes in and I turned to Robert and said “this is already better than the tour of Seville.”  Of course, free doesn’t mean totally free, as you are expected to tip at the end, but at least you can tip according to how good the tour turned out.

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Statue in the Plaza of the Virgin — meeting place for our walking tours and a fun place to people watch if you don’t mind paying inflated prices for drinks.

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