Walking: France: Roya Valley: PIENA


We’ve always been fascinated about this old abandoned building sitting above a tunnel where everyone drive past on their way to the coast.     It’s always been my dream to stop the car, take the best vantage point for a good photographic shot.   This was taken from the car as youwill notice from the cloudy glass.

Our chance came one day when, while driving towards the area, we decided to stop at a car park nearby to do some exploring.

Seen from the railroad level

Piena in French or Piene in Italian used to be part of Italy but ceded to France in 1947. 


It is home to a hydroelectric power plant, which exports most of its energy in Italy.

Unfortunately, since its cessation, it was never used by the French to serve the purpose, that of  train station.


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It is now abandoned.  As you can see, the etiquettes are still in Italian; Uomini means men; Donne as ladies  and cessi means toilets.

Only weeds now are queueing up at the Telegraph office

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The glorious yesteryears are still evident.




Seen from the old station.

Herbs like thyme dot the sides of the footpath.   

The footpath which is cleared of weeds regularly

This mysterious house is the only neighbour. 

The morning after the storm

After 3 days of continuous rain, the sun finally came out, and what a better time to do our food shopping in Italy than today! 


The mountainous area were we live in, though stunningly beautiful, is prone to erosion after a torrential downpour. That’s exactly what happened today. Many parts of the road going to the coast were blocked due to repair works being carried out.

The beauty of our region is, even in small disasters like this, it is still a great place to watch life go by…

Big boulders have fallen off the road tearing open the metallic nets securing the rocks so public workers have been dispatched to repair the damage.

Because of road repairs, the way to the supermarket was closed so we had no choice but to trek the only road available, that is, going uphill. We drove and drove in a zigzaggy fashion until we realized that we lost the way to the supermarket. However, getting lost in this beautiful part of the world has its price, that of discovering places that you didn’t think existed.

Olive trees, the view of the turquoise-blue mediterranean sea, terraced gardens, rural houses interspersed with beautiful villas, all this sight right in Italian soil. We thought, “how about taking our picnic here?”

It was past lunchtime and we were getting hungry. We already did the first-phase of our food shopping earlier in another supermarket so coupled with our picnic basket which we never fail to take with us (to avoid eating out), we stopped to take our al fresco lunch using the car bonnet as our table.

picnicking at the summit


After the impromptu dining, I took time out taking shots of these wild flowers


It’s only in Italy that we see hilly farmlands like this one. 

Still feeling lost and all we could do was to follow the main road blindly. But we kept stopping for some photo opportunities like this one. This is the foot of the motorway bridge.


Wonderful feats of engineering like this one really amaze us! But I wouldn’t want to live right underneath it!
We finally found our supermarket, hurray!

Spain: Driving holiday ’99

H and I had our first ever driving holiday to Spain ten years ago. I made a travelogue scrapbook for that trip with maps showing our route, tickets of boat trips made, flyer of a Flamenco show we attended, brochure of the hostels/campsites we stayed in.. and many more. I am looking at the scrapbook as I type and it brings back happy memories  
I will post extracts of our travelogue and some (poor quality) pictures as we only used a video camera that time and the pics were just digitally captured from the video recordings.

Map of Spain divided into her 17 autonomous communities + 2 autonomous cities.

The white broken line on the map indicates our route. We started in Catalunya, proceeded to Valencia, then Castilla La-Mancha and finally Andalucia.

12 August 1999……. we were on our way with the intention of getting to Granada (Andalucia) that day – some hope! We began to realize just how damn hot this country is! While trying to find our way out of Valencia, H made plenty of mistakes on the road. We had no intention to go inland but we just found ourselves heading towards Albacete (Castilla La-Mancha). Meanwhile, the day seemed hotter and hotter and we saw more and more olive trees. 

Olive trees as far as the eye can see!

Inland Spain this time of the year is dry and the heat is vicious! There are no shades to stop by and we were just driving in the middle of boundless and never-ending olive groves. The sun pounded us down all day, unrelenting. We were getting dehydrated so we kept stopping for water.We soon realized with the progress we are making that we would not make it to Granada. We started looking for hotels at around 6 pm but only succeeded in finding small villages with smouldering piles of evil-smelling ash – unbelievably disgusting! How can people live in a place like this?


 One thing that H and I still talk about to this day is the desert-heat-olive-grove-country that is Albacete. And since all we saw were olive groves upon olive groves (Hey..Spain must be the world’s largest exporter of olives or olive oil!), we made fun that if we did decide to buy our first home there, the mailing address could easily have been:

Mr and Mrs H
The Olive Cottage
Olive Road
Olive Village
Albacete, Spain

It was around 2pm that seering hot day on the road when the first sight of civilization came upon us. A village comprising of white washed houses. But where are the people? There is not a single soul around.

(I learned later that in Spain, people take their lunch at 2pm, have their siesta, then go back to work at 5pm. Don’t expect to see humanity between 2pm and 5pm, sometimes until 6pm. Dinnertime is at 10pm. If you get hungry before that, better find a Chinese fastfood!) Badly in need of rehydration, you cannot imagine how delighted we were when we saw a bar, its facade so typically rural Spain! Upon entering, I saw three men sitting on high stools by the counter, two in their cowboy hats as if the scene is in the Wild West. Nineteen ninety-nine (1999) was my first time to travel to Europe and also my first time to enter a bar so the sight of men holding bottles of beer kind of intimidated me, so I asked H if it was safe to be in the same room as these men. “Of course it is safe! you have nothing to worry about!”What was fascinating about the bar was the several gigantic hams hanging from the ceiling! Like any ignorant Pinay whose full knowledge of a ham that size was only limited to the Chinese hams I saw in Chinatown (in the Philippines)  and they are actually smaller and fewer. The Spanish version and the huge number of them hanging just one after the other really blew me away!

A ham kiosk in a Barcelona market. The arrangement of the hams is exactly the same as the one I saw in the bar in Albacete



The 14th century Alhambra Palace sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Granada.

I still have the entrance ticket on my album and it shows we paid 2000pesetas for the 2 of us (in 1999), wonder how much is that now?


The gardens



The Alcazaba which is part of the fortified wall of the Alhambra. The mountains you see are part of the Sierra Nevada range


The hostal where we stayed. We can see the view of the palace from the terrace where we were served breakfast (included in the price)


At the back of the hostal’s business card is the map showing how close they are to the Alhambra Palace


The old town of Granada where we walked past a workshop of a guitarmaker. H fell in love with one of their guitars that he bought one at 39,000pesetas. It almost melted and its strings went haywire because we left it at the backwindow of the car never realizing how the sun could bake it like a cake!


On our first night in Granada, we went for tapas in one of the restaurants in town. Different kinds of eatables were served on a chopping board which H and I shared. Although they were meant for 2 people, we enjoyed it so much that we asked for another one!


This is the restaurant where we had our tapas. Big paprikas tied up in bunches hang on the terrace. It was so charming. I don’t know what those dots on the wall were.

While we were having our tapas, we could hear traditional dance music being played on the square. Then people started dancing, and the (dusty) square was getting filled with locals and tourists alike, dancing to the beat. H and I, after thoroughly enjoying our tapas, went to join in the fun!


That same night, we went to watch a flamenco show. That was one of the most unforgettable moments of our Spanish trip! As the dancers moved and danced at the pulsing rhythm of the guitar and their faces cringing with orgasmic-like expressions, I was totally enraptured, almost crying in awe! Huh! I love to dance it myself!

Colours of Vence

Garden of Vence, marvel of Provence (Nostradamus)

We went to the historic town of Vence yesterday (next to the famous St Paul de Vence village, one of the most beautiful villages in France) for H’s regular check-up. We were like walking down memory lane for this is where we used to live (1999-2002), in an apartment where 2 of the 4 exterior walls are lined with a long terrace where yours truly was responsible for making passers-by heads turning because of the flower display, and every square meter of that terrace was exploding with colourful blooms coming out from the upright, climbing and crawling plants practically covering the two-sided facade of our property.

No amount of manicured or immaculate gardens of Vienna, London or Paris could equal the ecstasy I feel everytime I see the chaotic charm of window garden displays of Provence (in France) and Liguria (in Italy). I don’t know why.



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Dealing with the French civil servant

What a business!  This changing of address in France!  We just find all this administration ridiculous, totallly unnecessary, a complete waste of time!

After selling our house in the Var 2 months ago, we had to declare our used-to-be-second-home as our principal residence and as a consequence, we had to go through a lot of unnecessary administration like changing our car plate numbers (from departments  83 to 06)  changing the address of our Carte Vitale (the card which allows us almost free medical cover),  of our tax return, changing from one bank branch to another, and today, I started the first phase of changing the address in my French residence card,

The window transaction took only 3 minutes, but it’s the waiting at the queue outside the building exhausted every nerve cell out of me.  It’s reminiscent of the queues infront of the Dept. of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines for applying or renewing passports.  The advantage in the Philippines is, you can pay someone to do it for you.  This is not the case in France.

The Prefecture in Nice opens at 9am.  H dropped me at the gate and I got to the queue at 7:30am where 80 to 100 people were already ahead of me.  This month of April, the Spring weather is still cold and rainshowers are recurrent.  I’m glad I came well-protected from both as the showers started pouring as soon as I arrived.  What gets me about Prefectures is that: you could be snowed over, hit by lightning, soaked wet or washed away in floodwaters but the functionnaires in their glasscovered counters wouldn’t care an inch as to install a waiting shade with benches or provide us each with an umbrella as it is common knowledge that these French civil servants take delight in making an applicant’s life miserable for a day.  One classic example:  you queue up for hours and hours, armed with a foot-thick transparent file containing all the imaginable documents you have ever since you were born to this earth but as soon as your turn comes up, she would ask you for an insignificant document that you haven’t thought related to your application so how ever you dramatize your situation, that you cannot possibly get hold of that document because your house just caught fire yesterday and all you were able to save was that foot-thick transparent file and the clothes you are wearing now, he will nary a chance sympathize with you as these functionaires are made of stony heart.

To be honest with you, my readers, I actually suffered the same fate few days ago, but not because our house caught on fire – it’s just my unnecessary stupidity.

To recant: Last week, I arrived at the queue at 6:30am complete with all the documents you could imagine.  The previous day, the weather was so lovely, with blue skies and I actually had my first wear of duster this year, at home, as it was quite hot.  So basing my weather prediction of that previous day, I went to the Prefecture in an almost summer dress.  Lo and behold, I didn’t listen to the Weather News and I was caught unprepared.  That day was particularly cold and it started to rain just as soon as I installed myself behind the 30th person in the queue.  So imagine, I stood there for 2 1/2 hours shivering to the bones, but at least, I had an umbrella!  When the main door finally opened,   everybody ran inside like there was a stampede!  I arrived at the room where I thought was the place intended for Changing Address of Residence Cards.  I must have stood on the line for 40 minutes.  When my turn came, the functionnaire said I am in the wrong room and that I must go to the other room next to the entrance.  I was petrified! I almost wailed to the lady as I am sure I would be queueing up again. 
“Don’t worry! the lady said. She said it in a magical way that I instantly believed her!

So I went to “the other room next door”. 
“Huh, another queue, but no worries, only 10 people on the line.”

And guess what?  As soon as the applicant infront of me reached the glass-covered counter, a notice was being put up stating “No more tickets!”  (the “take-a-number” ticket system)

And I assumed that they just ran out of ticket because they didn’t bother to order from their printer.  So when I reached the counter and explained to the man that I have been at the Prefecture grounds queueing up since 6:30 in the morning but committed the stupid mistake of waiting in a different room for 40 mins, and now finally that I reached “this” room that they have the gall to announce the depletion of their ticket supply? 

“Desole, madame!  (sorry, madam)  Come back tomorrow!”
Believe me my dear readers, it’s not like I left the building without putting up a fight.  I went back to the lady where I wasted 40 minutes queueing up, asked for her help, went into hysterics, went back to the room (the one next to the entrance), threatened them that I am going to shoot myself if they don’t give me a ticket…but to no avail!

You can cry blood instead of tears but as I’ve told you, a functionnaire is made of stony heart.

Luckily today, I got through the first stage.  I just have to wait now for their notice (via the self-addressed envelope I submitted) that my newly-addressed residence card is ready for pick up.    And that means queueing up as early as 7:30am and going through that stampede again. 

By the way, after my transaction this morning, and after ecstatically calling up H to say “he could now pick me up as I was done”, and on my way out of the building, I noticed that the room where I just did the transaction had its shutters closed down, i.e., no more receiving of applicants for the day…and it was only 10:30am! So that explains why it’s really important that you are already there at dawn and, if possible, pitch tent the night before so you are assured to be the first on the line!