November 17, 2010

More than Provence

Press HERE to see a slideshow
of Southern France.

The Carcassone Chateau
IMG_2265: Carcassone Chateau
The Village of Minerve
IMG_2282: Minerve
Midi Canal at Beziers
IMG_2286: Midi Canal
Arles Town Square
IMG_2302: Town Square
Betty by Door to Aix City Hall
IMG_2329: Betty and Door to City Hall
Bill at an Aix Fountain
IMG_2338: Bill at an Aix Fountain
Red Clay Cliffs
IMG_2357: Red Clay Cliffs at Roussillon
View of Gordes
IMG_2373: View of Gordes
The Palace of the Popes
IMG_2385: Palace of the Popes

After leaving the Dali Museum, we drove about 20 miles north and entered France about sundown. We were not going far, but traveling at night in Europe on its narrow roads can be difficult. Our GPS helps out when bounding through the countryside. Our only hangup was a road closed for construction and the GPS got us out of the problem. We arrived at a B-and-B outside of Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It was a nice accommodation that included breakfast for a change. The owner was a charming English woman who was kind and helpful.

On Sunday the 7th of November we spent the day visiting some small French villages. We started in Carcassonne with its fantastic walled chateau and ramparts. After an hour or so of exploring the town, we set out to see a few more villages. In one we found a working, artisan paper mill. It was set back in a woods where we walked to it. After this we drove through several more small villages. We passed a very old windmill. Unlike Spain there are not so many modern windmills in the countryside. Our last village stop was in Minerve, which is listed as one of the most villages in France. It was very beautiful. I only wish that the weather had been nicer as we were downright cold. These villages can be so small that you can walk through the entire village in half an hour. While on our walk, we stopped to taste and buy some local wine. Our final stop before going to Beziers was at a large outlet store for an olive cooperative. We got several things including two jars of olives. We have been eating so many olives of every type that we have really come to love them - especially the very fresh green ones. With some difficulty we found our hosts in Beziers. The problem was the GPS could not recognize their street and that they are on a small farm just outside the city.

Catherine and Etienne
IMG_2301: Catherine and Etienne

Catherine and Etienne were wonderful hosts. They raise and race horses. Catherine is a trainer and former jockey. Their home is more than 250 years old. We loved our stay with them. We also got meet their lovely daughter Marine. On Monday we visited the town of Beziers where we found the 300 plus year old Midi Canal. The Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The most amazing about the canal in Beziers was the bridge that raises the canal some twenty feet over the Orb river; just amazing! We wondered about the city after climbing the hill from the canal port. The nicest building was the cathedral, which we could not get into; we had missed the entry time by five minutes. After seeing Beziers, we drove out into the country, first to see an old Gallic ruin. Unfortunately, it too was closed. The view from near the ruin was spectacular. I especially liked the field that looked like a giant UFO landing pad - see my photo on my Flickr page.

Tuesday we left for Provence, some two hours away. We stopped in Arles. This was a great little city with a Roman amphitheater and colosseum. The theater is still used as is the colosseum, which is now used for French and Spanish style bullfighting. The other noteworthy thing about the city is the residence of Van Gogh. This is where he checked himself into the hospital for his mental problems. A cafe in the town was the subject of one of his most famous paintings, which is called Cafe Terrace at Night. After Arles we drove to St. Remy and we walked about the town for an hour or so. We found the home Nostradamus there. He is well known for his predictions today, but he was best known as an apothecary in his day and his research into cures for the plague. From here we made our way to Aix to find the home of our hosts, Sylvie and Christian.

Thomas, Sylvie and Christian
IMG_2340: Thomas, Sylvie and Christian

Sylvie and Christian were a wonderful couple. They have a lovely home a few miles from the center of Aix. Sylvie is a school teacher. We learned a lot from her about the French school system. Based on her description it is clearly a superior system to the USA. Christian works in a company that does software simulations for sound. We also got to meet two of their three children. Thomas is a university student, still living with his parents and Adrian has just finished with an EE degree and he is still looking for work. The one thing that they all love is hiking, especially in the mountains. Adrian is looking for work in Grenoble, which is in the Alps. We did not meet their daughter. Sylvie and Christian are planning a North American tour in a couple of years and we really hope that they will visit us then.

On Wednesday the 10th, we spent the day in Aix-en-Provence exploring the old city. There was so much to see from the central fountain to the city hall to its old churches. You will just have to look at my pictures to get a flavor of the place. Again the weather was not great, but it was not so bad that we could not make our way around.

On Thursday, we visited six or so villages near Aix. First we visited Lourmarin. Then we drove into a fantastic little valley with high cliffs all about. Our destination was Fort de Buoux, an ancient defensive ruin. It was a hike and a bit of a climb, but the country is so beautiful. Then we visited Bonnieux where it was a bit windy and cold. We climbed to the highest point in the village and could see for miles and miles. It was lovely place. Then we went to Roussillon, which is famous for its red clay hills. All the building in the town had that red glow from the local clay. It is also a prominent source for red pigment for paint. It was really pretty little village. Finally, we came to Gordes. Despite its great beauty, we were very tired. We walked around a bit, then stopped for a hot chocolate at about $5 per cup. Finally we headed back toward Aix. We were going to the home of a new host, Phillip, who lives about twelve miles north of Aix. Like so many of our couchsurfing hosts, we was kind and gracious. We enjoyed his company and we talked late into the evening.

Phillip - A CS Host
IMG_2419: Phillip

On Friday we went to Avignon. Avignon had a great history in the 13 hundreds when the popes left Rome and moved to Avignon. At that time Avignon was on the northern border of the Holy Roman Empire. Our main goal was to visit the Palace of the Popes and the old bridge that connected Avignon to France. Only half the bridge remains as much of it has been destroy by the flooding Rhone River over the centuries. The seat of papacy was in Avignon from 1309 to 1403. The Palace of the Popes is an astounding building. It is 700 years old. While the structure and its internal details are wonderful, it is just a shell with NO serious collection of items from those years. I suspect that nothing was left behind when the papacy moved back to Rome. After an day of wandering about the town, we returned to Phil’s house. Later in the evening, we all went into Aix to enjoy a local dish called Daube, a kind of beef stew, that was served on pasta.

On Saturday we got up very early. We planned to drive all day from the south of France to the north. It was hard going. We tried to avoid the toll roads, they are so incredibly expensive at about $1.40 to drive six miles. There are almost no alternative four-lane roads. Finally after we reached Grenoble, we took the toll roads. Our final stop was at a Formule1 hotel in Arras, about 60 miles from Calais. Just a note on the Formule1 hotels: They are the only chain of inexpensive hotels in Europe. They are clean but stark and with shared baths. They cost $48 per night plus or minus $10. The charge is per room and up to three people can stay in one room.

To say the least, I really like France. Both our visit to Aquitane and Provence we wonderful. The French are delightful. Their villages are beautiful.

Sunday we crossed the English Channel to England. I had research costs weeks ago. My experience with ferries in Scandinavia has been that you pull up and pay the crossing and that the price is the price. Not so with ferries to and from England. The 39 euro Chunnel crossing must be purchased weeks or perhaps, months, in advance. Try to book on the day you cross and you pay more than 200 euro. It was a shock to find this out. The same held true for the 43 euro on the ferry boat. Purchase a ticket on the day you cross and you pay 106 euro. Finally we are in England, where we will spend ten days visiting are good friends Javier and Guille.

Posted by bill at November 17, 2010 10:21 PM

Your France photos are great. Now I am really wanting to plan another trip. Aix and Avignon have been on my list for years, but I have never gotten there. Had lunch with Brian and other retirees today. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Posted by: Rochelle at November 18, 2010 05:36 PM