Hive Mind Travels

Jordan and Michelle's Travel Blog

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Inax Clessence

European Tour 1132We made it to Barcelona, stayed with some couchsurfers, hiked, went to the Dali museum, the beach, blah blah blah.

OK, now let me tell you about this toilet.

It’s in our hotel room here in the tiny resort town of Cadaques in Costa Brava, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, north of Barcelona, isolated by a long, torturous twisting cliff-hugging mountain road, but it may as well be in Tokyo for all its gadgetry.

It features:

  • Shower (Low, Med, High)
  • Bidet (Low, Med, High)
  • Dry (Low, Med, High)

As well as a separate control for water temperature on the first two functions.

Let’s be clear: this is a toilet, not a shower, so shower is not for your head.

The room was only 50€ per night (or roughly $70), which isn’t bad for a tiny resort town in the Costa Brava on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, but had it been 500€ we likely would have booked it.

Or at least asked if we could have used the loo while we looked at room.

Here’s our review:

Toilet Close-up

The Inax Clessence Bidet provides an excellent target area for waste deposits, a strong, flexible (if perhaps inflexibily aimed) spray function for cleaning, but is wholly inadequate in the drying department.

Both defecation and urination can be accomplished in the unit without issue, but this is typically not the distinguishing characteristic of such models. Waste acceptance on the part of the unit is generally regarded as a "solved problem" in the toilet / bidet design arena.

Intercourse itself is also outside of the design parameters of the unit.

Upon completion of the preliminary task(s), the user depresses either the "shower" or "bidet" buttons, depending on the desired destination of the resulting stream of water. In either case, a pale, straw-shaped tube slowly extrudes from the back of the bowl, and subsequently said tube jets a strong flow of water upwards towards the areas that require it.

In the case of the "shower", the stream is directed slightly further to the rear, if you will pardon the expression, than in the case of the "bidet". This reviewer found the initial target area of the "shower" to be slightly further forward than desired, landing on the area scientifically known as the perineum, but often colloquially known as the "taint", "chode" or, in certain circles, the "snack bar". However, a quick adjustment in the seat corrected the problem, and a firm, delightful, dilating stream was immediately felt cleaning all the wrinkles of the rectum.

A female reviewer provided a similar review of the "bidet" function, such that the aim was not initially satisfactory, but manual adjustment of the target area to more accurately correspond to the location of the stream provided satisfactory results.

As previously mentioned, however, the "dry" function of the Inax Clessence Bidet leaves much to be desired. Even on "high", the airflow is tepid and mild, and after several minutes of application, the affected regions were still not merely damp, but wet.

Manual moisture removal via application of paper products was required.

Overall, the Inax Clessence Bidet receives a 6.5 rating from this set of reviewers. If final dryness is not an issue, customers may rely on this without hesitation.

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Museum Frolic

Michelle and I frolicked in the Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain in Nice today. We so prefer museums where they let you take photos (no flash, bien sur), and this one was perfect for it, because they had a huge exhibit by Michelangelo Pistoletto, who worked with mirrors. Mirros + Michelle + Jordan = Crazy Delicious.

If the slideshow below isn’t working, try clicking on the title of this blog post, which will load just this post in a new window. I think IE / Firefox bog down when they try to load all the slideshows in all the posts…

Quick guide to the pictures:

  • Michelle’s awesome lunch: Pistou, a kind of white bean minestrone. Super yum.
  • Michelle in front of the famous "LOVE" painting by Robert Indiana
  • blah blah blah
  • The blue dress is made entirely of the bottoms of plastic bottles tied together with used plastic bags
  • The red Venus is made of fake fingernail samples
  • The last 10 or so photos are by Michelangelo Pistoletto, painted on mirrors. Michelle and I played

Oh, and check it out. Who’s got a green wall? The hostel we’re staying does!

Green Wall at St. Exupery

We fly to Barcelona tomorrow. Au revoir, France, hola Spain!

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Geek Break

Brief break from our travelogue for a bit of geekery. Two new technologies that I’m psyched to try out:

  • My peeps back at Microsoft have released some of the features that I was working on when I was there, so I’m psyched to try it out for reals!
  • I’ve been carrying a pocket GPS recorder that logs everywhere I go so it can generate exact maps of all of our movements each day and (this is the cool part) it can tag each photo with the exact location it was taken so they can all be viewed on a map.

OK, OK, quick travelogue for the day: we visited Nice. It’s a beautiful city, much nicer than Marseille (OK, had to get that pun out of the way). We spent the day visiting it’s absolutely gorgeous, clean, pebbled beach, wandering the winding little streets of its old section (Vieux Nice) and dining on its sumptuous fare. Nice day. Oops, guess I didn’t get the pun out of the way. Look, it’s hard to avoid.

On to geekery!

First, nice job DMX! With the latest release of the Windows Live Photo Gallery (a photo organization and editing tool) and Windows Live Spaces (a photo sharing service, kind of like Facebook or Flickr), you can:

  • Upload your photos to Flickr with all the tags you set in the gallery intact
  • Embed your photo albums in your blog as a Flash slideshow
  • Set the permissions on your albums so only certain people can see certain albums
  • Order prints right from the web site (of you or your friends’ photos)
  • View slideshows full screen, not just tiny versions like Flickr
  • Upload videos and embed them in blogs, too

With the simple, editing the photo gallery offers (crop, red-eye removal, lighten / darken, create panoramics, etc.), the quick viewing and organization, I really, honestly believe this sets up the Windows Live photo offering as the first class option in the field, because it’s got everything, end-to-end. The only other service that has both a local program for editing and organization and and on-line service for sharing is Picasa / Google, and I frankly think Windows Live offering is better (it’s easier / more intuitive to use, and it pushes the metadata into the file, where everyone can access it, instead of locking it up in a proprietary database).

And of course, if you’re a Flickr user, you can use the Windows Live Photo Gallery to edit and organize your photos, then use it to upload to Flickr.

And to be clear, I quit Microsoft, so I don’t have to say any of this. Nice work, y’all.

Here’s the same photo album as a Flickr slideshow and as a Windows Live slideshow. You decide which looks better.

Windows Live
 
Flickr
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And here’s a little video of the Nice beach, uploaded using the Windows Live Photo Gallery.

If you need a good program to edit, organize and share your photos, download the Windows Live Photo Gallery.

And, seriously, nice work y’all.

For the second bit of geekery, I used Locr to take my GPS log and assign locations to all my photos. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a pain to go back and retroactively apply the tags to photos I’ve already uploaded, so I’ll just show the photos from today on a map.

Also unfortunately, the GPS seems to lose the satellite signal every once in a while, so not all of my photos from today got geotaggeed, so I cheated and manually placed a few on the map. Here’s the map, as generated by Flickr.

Kind of lame. I’m going to keep experimenting with it. Hopefully, it will be more interesting when it’s not just a few shots of a shopping area.

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Paradise Lost

We spent a tactical night in Grenoble (laundry, boiling eggs for the road, early to bed) and rose early for a quick sprint through the foothills of the Alps to the Southern coast of France, la Cote D’Azur. Our first day and night was spent slightly bewildered in a grimy, noisy and oddly shuttered Marseille (the first set of photos below are from that town), but that night we got a lesson in the coast from our couchsurfing host, Didier (a very sweet, very friendly, very animated, slightly bohemian brain tumor researcher who regularly punctuated his speech with a wild exaggeration of the  common "poof" sound, such that it sounded like he was expelling an olive pit, and with the mysterious adjective "boewrf") and set out the next day in search of Mediterranean paradise.

Paradise found.

Our first stop was to be an hour or so in the little town of Cassis, but the next morning, we were still there.

Check it out on the map.

We rolled into town to find them setting up their weekly farmer’s market, chock full of bright, fresh fruit, stinky cheese, mysterious "artisanal" meats, fresh baked breads and all the other wonders you’d expect of Europe.

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Finally, a good meal!

Michelle and I practically skipped from stall to stall, picking up a little of this and a little of that to fill our larder: two kinds of sausage, a bit of prosciutto, figs, dates, two kinds of cheese, two kinds of bread, some tapanade, even a bit of mead (or hydromiel, as they apparently call it), everything but spinach (which is another story, the short of which is, yes, some French live up to their reputation for rudeness).

We spread our goodies out by the crashing blue Mediterranean waves, and feasted. The festive meal was followed by an inaugural swim in the Mediterranean, which was chilly but not cold, and absolutely, stunningly crystal clear blue. I was ecstatic bobbing in the surf.

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Lunch was followed by a hike through les Calanques, American Southwest-esque white and ochre craggy rock formations fingered through with sinuous inlets of aqua blue Mediterranean water. The rock underfoot was sharp and our footwear wildly inadequate, but each crest drew us a little deeper and a little deeper, each new view outdoing the last, rewarding our effort.

Our long, hot hike was capped with a jump into one such finger, absolutely the best way to end any hike. Michelle enjoyed her baptismal dip into the Mediterranean thusly.

Back into the town of Cassis, where we found ourselves a port-side hotel with a sliver of water view from a cozy, private little veranda, enjoyed a bit of chartreuse (and tonic) and local Chablis by the water and and finally refueled with a bit of duck and lamb from a little back-street bistro. A cozy night’s sleep was followed by leftovers from the previous day’s market on our veranda and a double espresso long (with hot water) by the water.

Ah, paradise. Who would leave such a place?

We would, apparently.

Yep, when faced with paradise, what else would a reasonable human being do but pack up the car and head to Hell?

Our plan was to return our car on Sunday in Marseille and then to head to Barcelona, so, it being on Thursday, we had some days to spend on the south coast. Our guidebook (Lonely Planet, boewrf) promised that right on the Italian border was a cozy little seaside town, Menton, that was "more laid back and relaxed" than other towns on the Cote d’Azur, and cheaper to boot, and a bit of an artist’s haven.

They lied.

We hopped in the car, took a beautiful drive over the la route de la crete, a gorgeous, gorgeous drive past sea cliffs, and then sped past St. Tropez, Cannes, and Nice in search of our second paradise and found…

absolute tourist hell.

Thousands of transplants from Florida packed into some Disney-like maze of kitschy tourist shops wrapped in a grimy, overpopulated, traffic choked city.

We were stunned. We left Cassis…for this?!

We re-read the guidebook. We must have taken a wrong turn. This could not be the town it was talking about.

It was.

OK, change of plan. We found a McDonald’s (the European equivalent of Starbucks, in the sense that they all have free wifi (pronounced weefee)) and scoured the Net for options.

In the end, we decided to head to Nice and an awesome little hostel, which saved the day. Not only is it clean and comfortable, not only does it have good food and foolishly cheap drinks, not only does it have free wifi (on which I hungrily feed as I type this), but it came also with very knowledgeable hosts, who turned us on to skyscanner.com, a great site for booking flights in Europe, which netted us tickets to Barcelona on Sunday.

The only thing this hostel has going against it, honestly, is the very loud drinking game going on at the table next to me as I type.

Perhaps it’s time for us old folks to retire to our chambers.

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Missed Connections, Connections, Chartreuse and Cheese

"Gourmets, eat your heart out, Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France with a lavish table of piggy-driven dishes and delicacies to savour, and a fabulous bounty of eating spaces on which to do it." So says The Lonely Planet.

We wouldn’t know.

Here’s the thing: the French (or at least the Lyonaisse) are very particular about their eating hours. Lunch is over at 2 p.m. All the restaurants close at this time. All of them. If you’re really, really hungry, and you get stuck in traffic coming in to a city (such as Lyon), which for some reason has so much traffic on a Saturday that you spend 45 minutes getting through a light such that it’s no longer lunch time by the time you arrive, you’re going to go hungry.

And by "you" I mean "we".

OK, not exactly true, we did, after much searching, finally find a little neighborhood bar in the Choix Rousse district where the barman made us some of the best food we’ve had since we’ve been in France (excepting the fine meals prepared by our couchsurfing hosts): Cuisse de Poulet Fermier for Michelle (a huge, meaty chicken leg with a delicious sauce), bauette oc "ilee" for me (beef with a red wine sauce) and a side of haricots beurre (butter beans) for both us.

Sated, we wandered the area a bit and poked our heads in shops, but were feeling lazy and wanted to connect with the folks we hoped to couchsurf with that night.

Unfortunately, our connection strategy was flawed: we were to meet them at a bar that turned out to be packed to the jowls with rugby-frenzied drunks without a clear picture of what they looked like (and we hadn’t confirmed with them that we’d meet them there), so we ended up around 11 p.m. in the middle of Lyon with no place to sleep. All the hotels in the area were "complet", so, after enjoying a bit of art that we happened upon in the middle of town (below), we drove beyond the city limits in search of a Ibis (the Howard Johnson of Europe, best we can tell).

Having had a bit of a grumpy first try with Lyon, we decided to skip it the next day and head straight to Grenoble.

Well, not straight. Nothing’s ever straight. We told our GPS to find us a way that would twist us and turn us and take us through farmer’s fields and over mountain passes, and weren’t disappointed.

Absolutely gorgeous to see how the terrain changed coming from the mid-country up to the foothills of the Alps and then into them. The country farm houses were set on amongst small stands of trees on hilltops, surrounded by their gardens, horses and fields. The architecture had transitioned from the stone, medieval style of the mid-North to a more Hansel and Gretel plaster and wood style construction.

In Grenoble, we went straight to the home of Gil (pronounced &quotjeel"), a first-time couchsurfing host and truly sweet man. Gil is the deputy manager of a youth hostel, and has been living in Grenoble for 15 or so years. We spent the night at his place just talking, made a meal, went through a couple bottles of wine and just relaxed.

Gil drew us a map to a hike we took the next day, past the monastery at St. Pierre-de-Chartreuse, where the monks originally made the spicy-hot liquor that took the region’s name (bought a couple airplane-sized bottles: yum!). The drive and the hike were both lovely, autumn is painting the mountainside and the forest, different at different altitudes, reminds me a lot of New England: small and varied trees, moss covering glacial rocks, brown leaves crunching underfoot. It felt warm, but the air still had a lung clearing sharpness to it that left me feeling light and happy.

On our way back, we passed a small farm selling goat cheese, so we picked ourselves up a couple of rounds and enjoyed it on a thick bread we had bought back in Grenoble. The farm also sold honey, but when we explained in our broken French to the owner that we had hives of our own, she seemed disgusted with the idea of city honey: &quotmain les voitures!" (but the cars!) So much for the international bond of beekeepers.

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C’est beaucoup du miel

Just posted a bit about honey in France to the bee blog: C’est Beaucoup Du Miel.

In it, I mention we met some horses (and a braying donkey, by the way). They had a very unusual (to me) build. Anyone know what kind of horse it is?

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Wicked Medieval

Every night as we go to sleep and remember the day, it amazes us that where we woke up this morning was really the same day. Each day feels like a week.

Orleans ended up being a cute little town bordering on a city. It was clean and full of shops and such, but we didn’t spend much time in it, eager as we were to hit the French countryside, which I’ve romanticized as full of people who look like Jean Luc Picard, ride bicycles with strapped on baguettes down birch-lined roads and full of cows and sheep that bleat in French. Fortunately, I merely underestimated how beautiful it is.

First though, some things we enjoyed about Orleans.

  • We saw another green wall, which I take as a sign that I must see through my project and create one. It was actually just a green column set up in the square to demonstrate how vertical gardens can be created, but still. It included a solar-powered pump to circulate the water.
  • I found more street art, created in the same style as that I saw in Paris: papered on to the wall and then painted over that. There were two pieces, both right across from the room we stayed in.
  • The cathedral was just stunning. Huge, begun in the 1200′s and completed in the 1600′s, it absolutely left you in awe of its immensity and grandeur. It was completely open and unattended, so it felt very personal being able to wander through it.
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Later than we’d hoped, we set sail for the French countryside. Oh, and a what a countryside it was!

The countryside itself is everything I’d imagined: pastoral scenes of rolling hills of vineyards and pastures, centuries old farmhouses and barns, trees and green. What sets it apart from Eastern Washington or New England, though, is that every 10 km or so, you roll through a village that has been there for centuries, mostly still the same old buildings. It quickly becomes passe to see turretted walls left over from feudal times, as an hours drive will bring you by a half dozen of these. Chateaux with moats, booooring. Ancient abbeys and cathedrals with bells ringing in the hours by the fistful.

The cool thing is that it seemingly never gets tired. Each one we went through, we’d oo and aah and jump out of the car and walk around and snap pictures and stop and have a snack and gander and gawk.

We spent last night in the hilltop town of Vezelay, pop. 491, and woke to a dense fog. Exploring the towns of the Loire, Burgundy and the Cote D’Or today in a gradually thinning fog was quite a treat. In some ways, of course, we wish we could have seen to the horizon, but the mist gave the whole day a timeless, otherwordly feeling.

We especially enjoyed Flavigny-sur-Ozerain (where Chocolat was filmed) another tiny, medieval hilltop town and Sully-sur-Loire, a fairy-tale like moated chateau. Mostly, though, we loved just watching the scenery flow by, and stopping every once in a while to walk around, eat some food (we did some grocery shopping) and be amazed.


The GPS has turned out to be a Godsend. We tell it where we want to go, and it gets us there. No futzing with maps or worrying if we’re going to miss turns. It’s pretty much dead-on in estimating time, too.

Tomorrow, we’re heading to Lyon and hopefully more couchsurfing.

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Versailles, Prunelle, Orleans

European Tour 374Monday night we moved in with our second couchsurf host, Prunelle (aka Celine). She was also sweet, though her French was not as good as Justine’s, so making conversation was a bit more difficult. She made us a dinner of lasagne (good) served with wine (awesome). She took care to instruct in the proper opening and tasting of wine, much to my pleasure. Her family has been in the restaurant business for at least 4 generations. We’ll definitely visit her family’s restaurant in Marseilles.

Tuesday brought us to the Palace at Versailles, the most splendid, fantastically, opulently, over the top, gaudy building ever constructed by man. It’s as if Tammy Faye Baker was transported to the 17th century and had a gajillion dollars to decorate with.

And, granted, hired some of the greatest painters of all time to help her.

My camera screen broke as I was buckling up after using one of those squat toilets I thought they only had in 3rd world countries, so not many pictures, but it’s hard to capture, anyway. Just imagine really, really gaudy, except maybe the original gaudy, what gaudy is trying to be. That.

Area 19 folks: note the wallpaper. Area 19 and Versailles: separated at birth!


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As this is written, we are in Orleans, a small, old city a few hours south of Paris. We rented a car in Paris and made our exit today, and the acquisition of the car was a bit of an adventure (hint: don’t just walk in to a rental agency and say "I’d like to rent a car"), but all worked out alright in the end (if by "alright" you mean paying a lot of money).

After a dizzying half hour driving in Paris (where streets change name every block and there are no right angles), we decided to pay a bit extra for a GPS, which I think will turn out to be a good investment. It’s pretty sweet in that you can tell it where you want to go, and it tells you exactly, turn by turn, what to do. If you take a wrong turn, it doesn’t say "I told you to turn! How come you didn’t turn?!" as I might be wont to do, it just politely figures out a new route from where you are and continues.

Our plan is to get off the beaten track and explore the back roads of Burgundy and the Loire Valley with the aid of the GPS to bail us out when we decide we’ve had enough.

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La Cemeterie

Monday, Justine, Michelle and I took a nice, long walk starting off at Le Marais and on up to La Cemeterie de Pere Lachaise, the largest (only? oldest?) cemetery in Paris. The cemetery was amazingly dense, grave stuffed in with grave on top of grave replacing grave, and all of them works of art unto themselves. A brief slideshow of some of them are below. Also, I’ve got it marked on the Google Earth map that’s linked to from the right. You can switch to hybrid view and see it from a satellite view.

Note the grave of M. Noir in particular and where his reclining statue has been rubbed so frequently the brass always shines through. Apparently, if women stroke him there, it brings them fertility. We also visited Jim Morrison’s grave, as is de rigeur. Nothing special, really, some flowers and a bottle of scotch, a few notes.

There were a number of other famous people there, such as Oscar Wilde, but we neglected to get a map on our way in, which was just as well, I thought, as the folks wandering around sniffing after the "famous" graves seemed to be missing the beautiful but pedestrian sites all around.


At one point, I sought out the restroom and ended up in the mortuary under the chapel, almost toppling over the steel tables they use to prepare the bodies. Oops.

Afterwards, we returned to Justine’s and packed ourselves up to move to a new couchsurf host. Staying with Justine was a great pleasure. She was sweet and easy to get along with, the kind of person you can chat with or be silent with, as your moods suit. We’ll miss her.

Janice, if you’re reading this: there are a thousand Fournier’s in the cemetery. I’ve also seen your face on the streets of Paris often.

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Le Mur Vert

We saw the coolest green wall in Paris on Sunday. Check this out: the whole side of the Musee de Quai Branly is a garden. I’ve wanted to make one of these forever, and even got as far as having Buphalo create the infrastructure (my design will integrate a sundial, as well, bien sur) but got busy with this and that and never finished. This one is an inspiration.

Green Wall

The rest of the day was spent in pleasant strolling. We picnicked at Les Invalides, an old army barracks converted to a museum and park and home of, I believe, Napoleon’s tomb. For some inexplicable reason, twenty or so guys in the uniforms of the army from different eras all lined up and had everyone take pictures at one point, so we joined in that fun.

I also found another sundial inside. There were several, actually, and I think I may have missed one, but I took a picture of the description of it in hopes of translating it later.

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European Tour 175We also found a couchsurfer’s meet-up on the lawn (we had read about it on the site) and hung out with them for a little while. All very sweet people, mostly from Paris, but a few guests from elsewhere, as well. It was someone’s birthday, so there were a few home made cakes and some wine. Perfect afternoon snack!

We finished the day over at the Grand Palais where there was an awesome exhibit on design and furniture, Design Contre Design. The pieces they had were just so cool, and they did a really good job of showing how different pieces in different eras influenced each other.

The pieces ranged from traditional to a bar shaped like a giant metal cat, but our two favorite pieces were:

  • fantastique a complete…room? house? shaped like internal organs and a womb: it had a shower, toilet, a kitchen, and a bedroom that you crawled in through by a tube, and it all looked like internal organs. I wish we could have taken pictures, but it wasn’t allowed. There’s a video of it being unveiled on this page, though.
  • A room that you could crawl around in that had a very colorful, playful quality. I stole a picture from the exhibition’s web site to the right. I loved that they let you actually crawl and play in it.

We bought the catalogue, you can check it out when we get home.

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