Christmas is over again…

Christmas has come and gone three weeks ago but everytime we drive through the streets at night, I am left spellbound, like a little girl under a magic spell, as I marvel at the festive lights twinkling in enchanting patterns and colours, until yesterday, when I noticed that they are gone, put away by the workers of the Mairie.  This morning, I even saw a Christmas light frame left leaning on the wall of our building and I suddenly felt a bit emotional  knowing that I will have to wait for another 11 1/2 months before they are back up again!

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Bye-bye Christmas…see you again later this year.

Which brings me to the subject of this belated Christmas post.  I have never shown you photos of the creche  I mentioned in an earlier  article about the traditional Nativity Scenes they hold annually in our region.  I am posting them here as well as those I saw in Italy.  The various styles remind me of the British school teacher we have befriended in Malaysia about ten years ago.  Upon learning that we are going home to the Philippines for our Christmas holiday, she requested if we could buy her our very own native version of the creche.  She is collecting nativity images from around the world, you see, and I can just imagine these tiny sculpted images filling her home every Christmas season!

Here are the photos:

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La Brigue, Roya Valley, France

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La Brigue, Roya Valley, France

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You will notice that the image of the infant Jesus is not in the scene,  I read somewhere that traditionally, it is to be put there only on Christmas eve.  
La Brigue, Roya Valley, France

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Life-size wooden cuts outs
Breil-sur-Roya, Roya Valley, France

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Inside the church of Saorge
Saorge, Roya Valley, France

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Saorge, Roya Valley, France

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Fontan, Roya Valley, France

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Nativity Christmas fruits.  This one shows miniature images inside a pear, I’m not really sure if it’s of wood.

Fontan, Roya Valley, France

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Creche made of recycled buttons, bamboo crafts and all
San Remo, Italy

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An Italian creche has to be in a Piaggio ape…cool!
San Remo, Italy

Around Europe on a Bike

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H and I were walking back home after a quick tour of the abandoned cemetery of our village when we spotted our 87-year old neighbour, Monsieur Zed*** , walking hurriedly towards our direction.  A fair-looking 32-ish man on a bike was pedalling next to him and judging by the number of bags straddled on both sides of his bicycle, I could tell that he is doing a cycling adventure on two wheels.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Zed*** !” 

“Bonjour”, the old chap replied panting.  He lives 3 doors away from us and unlike the 90% of the population of our village who disappears for the entire duration of the winter, he, on the other hand, lives all-year round alone in his home but is active enough to be seen walking the streets whatever time of day it is.  “I am going to show this gentleman the pique-nique grounds where he could camp for the night.  He was asking about the village campsite but as you know it is closed for the winter.  

Just ten meters away from where we stood, I could see the biker exploring the green spot equipped with some tables and benches.

“That would be a quiet place for him, pretty hidden from view and a toilet nearby.  But he speaks little French.”

“I could talk to him.  I’m English.”, H proudly offered.

By this time, the biker was heading back towards us and by the looks in his eyes, he seemed to be pleased with his future outdoor bedroom.

We started chatting in English telling him that there’s probably no problem pitching his tent on that spot as long as he doesn’t make it too obvious.  He told us that he had been cycling for the last one and a half-months, started in London and travelled all the way down here hoping to reach Turin in Italy in few days.  He is from Sydney, Australia and could not believe himself why he chose to travel in the Winter. 

“The beauty of Winter is that it is quiet, no tourist crowds”, says H. 

Walking home, I kept thinking about him.  H and I have already met amazing people – young students, families, middle-aged couples and solo travellers like him embarking on such extraordinary adventures.  They simply started with a dream, believed in themselves that they can do it and went on to turning that dream into reality. It may not have brought them financial gain but it certainly made a big difference.  Personal fulfillment perhaps, a higher self-esteem, but certainly a greater sensitivity to the feelings and needs of others especially the less fortunate …. 

“Why don’t we invite him tonight for some apperitivo?” H asked me unexpectedly.  “He would surely welcome the idea of sitting infront of the fire enjoying some wine and finger foods with us and it could be very interesting  to listen to his travel story.”

But it was never meant to be.   The next morning, H’s iPhone thermometer app gave a reading of -3°C! 

“Oh my goodness! I hope he did not freeze in his sleep!”

“He would be okay.  With the right sleeping bag, he would be kept warm by his own body heat.  He would be on the road by now, anyway.  Winter cyclists usually start very early, that’s the only way to keep themselves warm again.”

The Abandoned Cemetery of Fontan

Long before I came across the term “urban exploration”, my fascination about abandoned structures for purposes of photography was already rife.  How I used to take delight in taking shots of Spanish church ruins in my country, the overgrown cemeteries in the islands which have been forgotten by time and by the departed’s family,  even those old factories that have been closed down and condemned.  

This weird interest would continue and when I discovered the essence of “Urban Exploration” from the photo magazines I subscribed to, this fascination turned to passion!  Abandoned structures are great photographic subjects.  They speak of history.  They serve as my connection to a bygone era. 

So when H and I went for our after-lunch walk yesterday and passed by this ancient and abandoned cemetery of our village, my excitement started rising!   We stumbled upon this spot a couple of years ago but that was in the summer when the entire grounds was in itself buried under  the wild vegetation.  We could barely see the centuries old tombs much less walk through the thorned overgrowth.  Today, the place seemed to have just been recently cleared, thanks to the Mairie (local authorities)  except for the side areas where few headstones and rusting grave iron fencing are peeking out from the course shrubbery. 

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A neighbour in her 90s who grew up in the village told us that the Mayor’s office decided to close down this cemetery because of rock erosion which could pose danger to visitors.  Indeed, while I was standing on that spot trying to photograph a headstone, I heard a rock crashing down next to me and when I looked, it was just inches away…I quickly ran for my life!   

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The burial ground ‘s position at the foot of a rocky hill could have been a lovely and peaceful setting except that the rocks became unsteady and started crumbling down so a new cemetery was created just few hundred meters away.

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This thickly invaded grave seems to be crying out to be cleared.

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It is crying in Latin…

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This one is engraved in Italian owing to the village’s history of once a part of Italy.  The triangular roofing is typical to snow-prone mountainous regions such as ours.  It symbolizes protection from the falling snow.

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A shrine of the Virgin still left standing

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An iron grave fencing

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The tower of the church of the village seen from the cemetery gate.

Photodiary – December 2011

Daily Photos

31 December 2011

Spent the last day of the year in San Remo, Italy and we enjoyed it so much we even extended our stay till the next day. So much photographic opportunities, but first, the Christmas lights….

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San Remo, Ligurian Coast, Italy

30 December 2011

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Everytime we go to Ventimiglia, we always drive around a roundabout (rotonda) that is beautifully landscaped with cacti, a form of advertisement by a cactus store. This Christmas season, look what the store has done…. a cacti Christmas tree!

Ventimiglia, Italy

29 December 2011

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What is this small structure protruding… suspended …hanging out from a building?

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A toilet. We see them in many rural villages of France and Italy. It’s because in the old days, houses had no toilets so people just went out to the field to answer the call of nature. Later on, a public restroom was installed by the local authority where residents had to queue up for their turn. It was only in the beginning of the 70s when new houses were built with inside toilets. But old houses have no space for this important fixture so owners had to smash a portion of their wall to build a small extension..voila, the modern village toilet!

Saorge, France

28 December 2011

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We went hiking up Breil-sur-Roya today and saw this picture-frame perspective of the village.

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This commercial property off the main road seems to be changing tenants each year. One time it was operating as a real estate agency, then a fastfood shop, and now, a funeral services office. I wonder what’s next?

Breil-sur-Roya, France

27 December 2011
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All cities, towns, villages and even hamlets in France have an office building for the local Maire (Mayor) and this one with the French flag is one of our village.

Roya Valley, France

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A nice day for walking today. Our house maybe freezing cold but as soon as we step out to a blue sky, it’s warm and beautiful! The walls of our 200-year old house is something like one meter in width so it takes an awful lot of time to get it heated!

Roya Valley, France

26 December 2011

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We did our after-Christmas walk in San Remo. This liberty-style (Italian term for Art Nouveau) casino built in 1905 is one of the oldest in Italy, in fact, one of only four “real” casinos operating in the country. In 1924, as part of Mussolini’s Fascist ideology, he banned gambling and closed down all the casinos except this one of Sanremo.

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It’s not only cute, it has also gone artistic – that’s the Piaggio ape with the painting of Sanremo’s old town.

25 December 2011
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Here’s wishing all followers of Pinay in Europe a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year! …. from Mariadams and H

24 December 2011

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The love padlocks of Ventimiglia, Italy

23 December 2011

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Just at the edge of the medieval village of La Brigue is this horseshoe-shaped apiary. An apiary is a place where beehives of honeybees are kept. There are about 90 apiaries in this region of the Roya Valley, most of them dated as early as the 17th century.
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The shape of the apiary wall is meant to protect the hives from predators.

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The sign, Rucher du Patrimoine, translates to “Heritage Apirary”, which means it forms part of the National Patrimony and is a protected area.

La Brigue, France

22 December 2011
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It’s a pleasure driving through our valley, it’s like travelling in time with bits of modern infrastructure. Here seen is an elevated railway of the Nice (France) – Cuneo (Italy) line.

21 December 2011

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The Bay of Montecarlo. Notice the building on top.

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It’s like tip-toeing on the rocks!

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20 December 2011
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Our newly-baked bread fresh from the oven!

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We call this bedroom – the Blue Room. The piece of wood on the wall is a “maid bell”. Not that we have a maid. About a century ago, big multi-level houses like this one belonged to wealthy families where the maids stayed in the ground floor or basement while the former lived upstairs. Each floor of the house has a bell connected by a string that runs from the lower floors all the way to the top floor, so that if the master needs the maid’s attention, he only had to pull the wood (as shown) which would stretch the string connected to a bell.

19 December 2011

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We were driving on the busy Via Aurelia tonight which is dazzling with a kaleidoscope of Christmas lights and I thought, what a great moment to practice on creative photography! The car was moving so this is the result…

18 December 2011

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Too cold to go out for my photo-a-day project so I just toyed around in the house looking for a good photogenic corner…

17 December 2011

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This muscovy duck posing for my camera. Fascinating bird!

Breil sur Roya, France

16 December 2011

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Passed by this supermarket with a sculpture of recycled shopping trolleys. Nice and great for a greener environment!

Draguignan, Provence, France

15 December 2011

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The lower trunk of this plane tree looks like a giant face!

Flayosc, Provence

14 December 2011
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One of the things that we learned from working in that B&B in Tuscany is the art of making bread. Here H is giving finishing touches to the dough before he puts it in the oven.

13 December 2011

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Stopped by in Lucca today on our way back home to France. The tree-topped tower in the background is the 14th century Torre Guinigi, a famous landmark of the town.

Tuscany, Italy

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The Piazza Anfiteatro is an elliptical “square”, so named because it was the site of a Roman amphitheater and over the passage of time, houses started cropping up over the ruins.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

12 December 2011

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Went for a pizza tonight to celebrate the last day of our Tuscan adventure. This is my pizza….

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… and this is H’s. We always order different flavours then share half-half, that way, we can taste two kinds of pizzas in one meal!

11 December 2011
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An old family photo enlarged and posted on the wall is a very pretty feature for a house. I just have to dig on our old photo chest…

The lobby of the bed-and-breakfast hotel where we work in Tuscany, Italy

10 December 2011

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This sculpture in the village of Gavorrano is in memory of its miners who died on duty. The town had a very prosperous mining history owing to the abundance of iron sulphate in the area.

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After Gavorrano, we visited Ravi, another medieval village with its old brick red houses and walls.

09 December 2011

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Walked this two kilometer dirt road of the Coastal Nature Park of Scarlino to see the rugged bay of Calamartino and look who we met on the road! These two horsemen are wearing the traditional costumes of Maremma, a region of southern Tuscany.

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The splashing waves of Calamartina.

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Went beachcombing and here is our treasure trove: the snorkel mask is in very good condition, made in France! The tupperware is also another find, very practical for some Maremma sand!
Tuscany, Italy

08 December 2011

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Shrines in Italy are just about every corner. Most of them are as old as three generations combined but this particular one looks new.

Tuscany, Italy
07 December 2011


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H trying to get a souvenir piece from a cork tree. I tell you, it’s awfully tough to peel it off when you are only using your bare hands…

Tuscany, Italy

06 December 2011

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We took a day trip to Florence today. This is the famous Duomo also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

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I won’t leave Florence without buying a fridge magnet, but there are just too many to choose from, some very naughty though! Actually.I ended up not buying anything at all because I procrastinated…

04 December 2011

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Lovers at sunset.

Punta Ala

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Watching the sunset at Punta Ala, a popular resort and marina half an hour from Scarlino.

03 December 2011

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It’s a fingerfood party for 22 people tonight at the hotel so another chef was called to prepare the very delicate way of preparing food in stylish miniature containers!

02 December 2011

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How can I describe the country of La Dolce Vita?

01 December 2011

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We finally made it to Pitigliano after driving for 3 hours! But it’s well worth it….

How we ended the year 2011

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– Spending the day in the beautiful seaside town of the Italian Riviera – San Remo 

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– Watching the last sunset of the year

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– Doing one of our most favorite activity – Walking.  We must have walked close to  about 10 kms of the seaside promenade plus the streets of the old town.

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– Watching thousands of birds fly crazily in synchronized movement, a strange activity they do at dawn before going to their nest to roost.

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-Swaying to the beat of beautiful music rendered by these great performers.  Very uplifting to the soul!

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– Doing another of our favorite activity – exploring a medieval town for the last time, before 2011 ends.

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– Stumbling upon this amazing sight – the roots of a Magnolia tree like a monster’s arms invading this old wall.

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– Doing the countdown from H’s favorite spot on earth – a traditional fishing port

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– Ending the year with a successful first time attempt at Fireworks Photography albeit the cluttered foreground.

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– Learning a new trick in photography.  I love it! 

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– Watching an art exhibition at the elegant 4-star Hotel de Paris.  That made my day!