Bonifacio and T Mobile Rant

What’s up

Before describing our time in Bonifacio I want to catch you up on where we are and current plans.  We are in Elba, a small Italian island off the west coast of Italy.
Ice Floe has been scheduled to be shipped to St Thomas, US Virgin Islands from Genoa, Italy between October 25 and November 5.  Even that broad window of time is not certain.  We are sailing to Genoa, arriving on October 15 to get her ready for shipment and to ensure we have cleared customs before our grace period expires for Ice Floe’s stay in the European Union without being subject to a costly value added tax.
It will take approximately 10 days for her to arrive in St. Thomas and we will meet her there.  We will need some time to get her all set up and then we will fly home to join the Thanksgiving holiday at Allison’s and Mike’s home.
We will be voting by absentee ballot.

T Mobile Rant

We could not have been more pleased with how well the T Mobile UNLIMITED international cellular and data plan has worked for us this year.  Unfortunately, there is some small print in the contract that indicates they can block roaming on your phone if your roaming use is uninterrupted for 3 months.  Interestingly, T Mobile sales representatives and customer service representatives are not aware of this policy.  George received notification his service would be turned off within a month.  During that time he spent many hours on the phone with customer service to see what alternative plan we might enroll in.  They vehemently denied that his service would be turned off.  They said “It is unlimited”.  Even as he read the notification to them they continued to deny it.
Here is the real kicker – George’s roaming service has been PERMANENTLY  blocked (as in his phone number will never be able to get data outside the US with T Mobile).

My phone number will be up soon.  It has hardly been used these past months.  This does not matter because the clause the restriction is to the length of time you predominantly use roaming – not about the amount of use.

So…. in the very near future we will have difficulty with Internet access – our phone and text services will not be effected.  Internet is a necessity as George needs to check multiple weather models each day to keep us safe.

Oh well – we are deep into our research of what plan may work for us in the Caribbean.

Now let me tell you about Bonifacio

Approaching Bonifacio Old Town

Allison, Mike, Riley and Tristan joined us in Sardinia on August 21st.  It needs to be said that I could not be more grateful that our children have carved out vacation time from their many obligations in the “Real World” to join us in our “Dream come true World”.

Allison and Mike took the spare cabin and Riley and Tristan slept in the workroom – Riley in an ample, if slim, nest on the counter top;  Tristan in a hammock that failed to grow as much as Tristan had over the past year.  Tristan did not seem terribly daunted by this fact and took to sleeping with his legs draped out along the hammock sides.

A bad weather system called a Mistral was forecast during their stay with us.  A Mistral is a strong, cold, dry, northerly wind in France.  The strong winds of a Mistral and the large swells that develop, make for uncomfortable, at best, sailing and anchoring.

One item on everyone’s “Choose your own vacation itinerary” was to visit old towns and castles.   So…We decided to sail the short distance (~ 7 miles) across to Corsica and spend several days in Bonifacio.

The Citadel and Old town of Bonifacio were built in the 9th century on the top of white, limestone, cliffs which are about 230 feet above sea level.  Legend has it that a staircase, named the Staircase of Aragon, was hand-carved out of the limestone in a single night by soldiers of King Aragon during a siege in 1420.  However, it is widely believed that it was carved out by Franciscan monks long before King Aragon’s reign.  The staircase leads to a spring with fresh water.

Staircase of Aragon showing modern safety
Staircase of Aragon visible as diagonal line

Allison longed to climb the stairs and Riley was quick to second her desire.  I said I was not going to pay 5 euros to climb 187 stairs (said playfully, but sincerely).  By the end of our stay in Bonifacio we must have climbed 10 times that many stairs, but we never did climb these fabled ones.

I feel a little bad about that.

The town overlooks a natural harbor that now includes a modern marina.

This large, natural, harbor is both beautiful and unique in Corsica
Ramparts at edge of remaining cliff

The cliffs have been undermined by the sea and portions of the Citadel walls and some residences seem precariously perched at the edge of of overhanging cliffs.  There is conspicuous evidence of large portions of what was once part of the cliff down below.

Portions of what once was a part of the cliff lie below
Note reinforcement of the cliff face

Despite the appearance of imminent collapse, I trust a close eye is kept on this national treasure to ensure it will be kept safe for centuries to come.

Old Town

For our first visit to the Old Town, we rode a small “train”, similar to the one we rode to Monet’s gardens with Margaret and Burt.  From that point on we hiked up the 200+ feet – George and I likely made the trip 2-3 times a day – Allison, Mike, Riley and Tristan surely were up and down more often than that.

The climb sure felt more steep than this picture shows

We explored the narrow streets, and like much of Corsica, found few adornments compared with Old Towns on the France mainland.

We followed gravel paths beyond the town that led us to beautiful new views of the town, cliffs, and an old cemetery.

We must have taken 20 pictures of these cliffs.  This one, taken by Mike, is my favorite.
Defensive walls surrounding the ancient town complement the protection afforded by the cliffs
This cemetery in Bonafacio, like of most we saw in Corsica, was entirely above ground.

Many shops were essentially man-made caves carved out of the stone.

This candy store had a narrow entryway and continued deep into the mountain.

Riley and Tristan are great travelers.  They want to see and try every new thing and are always up to pose for a picture.

Tristan was excited to see a castle and unfortunately there is no castle, per se in Bonafacio.  On top of that, the fort was closed.  It appeared to have been converted to a school.

More stairs!

George hung a line from the mast so the kids could swing (when we were not under sail).

Tristan went first and suffered quite a bit until we got the harnesses padded better.

We (especially Tristan) were antsy for the beach so we climbed up to old town and then down to a small beach.

The water was rough from the mistral so no one swam but we spent a nice day climbing rocks, conversing, and searching for sea glass.

Wine bottles make great beach glass

The following morning Allison, Mike, Riley and Tristan were still in search of a beach where they could swim.  They set off on a hike that lasted a good part of the day.

They climbed up one tall hill and down into another valley over and over again.  Their fit-bit estimated they climbed the equivalent of 137 flights of stairs and walked 9-10 miles.

They had encountered a number of beautiful beaches along the way but never could decide which one to swim at.

May your lives and ours be filled with many more days like these.

Riley is missing because she took this great picture

Monet’s Gardens

Our visit to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, France

Preface – by Susan on Ice FloeOur visit to Monet’s gardens was prompted by my sister Margaret (a newly graduated Master Gardener).  Margaret and her husband Burt joined us for a visit that began with a sail enjoying the Mediterranean towns and cities along the French Riviera and ended with a whirlwind tour of the most well known sites in Paris.  Margaret asked that, if possible, we include a visit to Monet’s gardens, at Giverny and we are so glad we did.

Margaret is guest author of today’s post.

Monet’s Gardens by Margaret on Ice Floe

“Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny are like his paintings – brightly colored patches that are messy but balanced. Flowers were his brushstrokes, a bit untamed and slapdash, but part of a carefully composed design” (Rick Steves, Gene Openshaw, and Steve Smith).

View from the far end of Monet’s flower garden to his home

I first learned of Monet’s Gardens when I attended a presentation at our local library as part of the Master Gardener “Cabin Fever” lecture series. The presenter was a local watercolor artist, Celia Knapp. Celia has made numerous visits to the gardens and is very well versed in the history of Claude Monet and the development of the gardens.

Claude Monet is considered the “leading light” of the Impressionist movement.  He pursued his art in defiance of his family, who were of very modest means, and practiced his art in the “open air”, in contrast to the accepted approach of painting in the “perfect lighting of a controlled studio setting”.

We arrived at Giverny from Paris by way of a high-speed train ride and, then, a “train-like” trolley that included an overhead recorded history of the village of Giverny, whose claim to fame is primarily its connection to Claude Monet. Giverny sits on the right bank of the river Seine.

Entering Giverny by “train”
Left to right, George, Burt, Margaret, Susan
On the little train

From there, we approached the gardens on foot.

Giverny (Zhee-vair-nee or, as George likes to pronounce it, Gib-er-nee) is in the Normandy region of France, about 50 miles north of Paris. Monet discovered Giverny while traveling on a train, and eventually purchased a farmhouse on an orchard, turning a barn on the propery into his studio. He settled into the farmhouse with his wife, Alice, and their eight children. The surrounding land would eventually evolve into one of the most inspirational settings of his art.

Claude Monet’s home  (photo downloaded from  Author Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium)

My first impression is that it was a little confusing determining exactly when we reached the gardens. In retrospect, I think it may be because the town, itself, has identified itself so closely with the gardens that it’s difficult to determine where they actually begin, apart from the town. At a certain point, we reached the ticket window. From there, we entered the gift shop. WOW!! The town, and the entity that oversees the gardens, have definitely perfected the commercialization of the site. The gift shop was buzzing with visitors and consumers of books, prints, artwork and memorabilia. In order to enter or exit the gardens you were required to go through the gift shop – genius!

All of Monet’s gardens sit on approximately 5 acres, but there is hardly a square foot that isn’t in bloom in the month of June. The grounds are made up of two gardens – the Clos Normand and the water garden.  Monet’s house is located in the Clos Normand side of the propery.  It’s painted pink and “Monet green” – his favorite colors. The public is allowed to tour the interior of the house, which we did. The dining room is notable for its color scheme of bright yellow and blue – a favorite color combination of Monet.

Dining room in Claude Monet’s home in Giverny (photo from

The Clos Normand gardens were designed to provide colorful blooms and/or foliage year-round. Just as one flower fades, another takes its place. You really have to see it to believe it (which you will with the pictures that Susan will share).

Editor’s note – I am quite certain a thousand pictures cannot substitute for seeing these gardens yourself.  We are so glad Margaret suggested we visit.  Below are some of my favorite pictures.


Monet’s Water Gardens

This pond is the destination of the path through the water gardens and the inspiration of many of
Monet’s most famous paintings
Bridges and walkways allow you to meander through
the extensive water gardens
Across the road and accessible by way of an underground tunnel are the water gardens. Monet diverted a river to form the pond and erected two Japanese bridges, painted Monet green, overlooking the pond full of water lilies. This would become the inspiration for 250 painted panels depicting the “serene surface of his water-lily pond”. In addition to the lilies, there are various breeds of irises, willows and bamboo.
Many chaperoned groups of children visited the
gardens the day we were there.
In the last half of his life, Monet developed cataracts. “His canvases became larger and the painted details were fewer. Rather than focusing on the water lilies, he emphasized the changing reflections on the pond’s surface – the blue sky, white clouds, and green trees that line the shore” (Gene Openshaw and Steve Smith).
Margaret and Burt – Two of the most generous people we have ever known and while our lives and paths have taken us very different places, two kindred spirits we treasure spending time with.

As with our entire 2 weeks in France, George and Susan went out of their way to ensure that we experienced as much of the French culture and “experience” as is humanly possible in that length of time. I particularly wanted to visit Monet’s Gardens and, true to form, they made it happen. If you have the opportunity to visit France, you could not find better tour guides than George and Susan. The most generous couple we have ever known.