A Travellerspoint blog

A day at home

Enjoying our first market

sunny 16 °C

Today was a day when we did very little but what we did was lovely. First may I take you back to last night when we went out for dinner. We'd been advised that things were busy and that we'd need to book - our experience so far has been that restaurants are eager for our custom as there are few customers around. We walked around the island and looked at restaurants but most were empty and we really wanted some atmosphere. Amazingly we ended up in a local Vietmanese place which was very very popular and very very nice. Surprise! Surprise! It was a slight challenge trying to understand a Vietnamese menu in French with our truly appalling lack of knowledge of the language but we managed quite well. We shared an entree and then I had gambas with rice (prawns) and Hugh added to his list of other species by having grenouille (frogs legs)! Who'd have thought that our first frogs would be Asian style. The food was all great and the restaurant was busy - just what we needed.

I slept incredibly well last night and was slow to move this morning. As it was a "home" day, this wasn't a problem - probably just as well as Hugh was even slower. How nice to have the luxury of a "home" in the town and the opportunity to relax and enjoy the surrounds. It was market day in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue today and the weather was kind to all - vendors and customers. The last couple of markets have been blown away by the Mistral and this was our first chance to find out what a local market was like really. We loved it! We're sufficiently at home to look at tourists in the area and laugh at them despite the fact that we're tourists ourselves. The town was full of tour groups - many of them American - and we chuckled at them from the comfort of our semi permanent status. Having coffee in the square at the Cafe we saw a group with a tour guide and smiled at them. Interesting for us was the distinctly Australian accent we heard at ontee stall which made us slightly homesick but also gave us a buzz as we recognised the sound. Shopping wise I bought a lovely scarf from one stall all organges and blues and blacks - very useful for my travelling wardrobe. We bought some food which was tonight's dinner and will be tomorrow's picnic. Also bought some lovely Provencale place mats - very nice and infinitely postable home - got to think about these things.

One treat - from many in the day - was to go to a lovely artisan hat maker and look at her wares. Two hats and many temptations later and I was more than satisfied. I bought one in orange - love the colour and it goes with so much of my wardrobe - and a smooth number in noir et blanc (ready for Anzac Day ladies!!!).

Lunch was at the Cafe in the square and the plat du jour was a steak with gratin dauphinois and some local wine. A lemon meringue pie and coffee left me ready for nothing but sleep - so why not? Stretched out to relax and slept for a couple of hours. Since then we've got ourselves organised ready to leave Provence tomorrow and had a dinner of quiche, tapenade and about to enjoy some strawberries - c'es bon!!! It's nearly 9.30 and the sliding doors are open on this mild Provencale night.

It's been a sensational week here in Provence and we've totally fallen in love. The town is welcoming and friendly and the traders are amusing and warm. Our French is basic to say the least but they know we are trying and seem to appreciate it. I know we've got a lot to see but it's going to be hard to leave.

Posted by dawnandhugh 13:07 Archived in France Tagged people provence Comments (1)

Les Fontaine and Orange

Two days in the sun!

sunny 16 °C

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that being an active tourist becomes harder as you get older. It also doesn’t help when you’re slightly (alright very) unfit when you set out. We tried to get into shape a bit before we left home but the fact is that we’re overweight and well on the wrong side of 50 and we can’t do what we used to – not sure that we could ever do that much. This means that we need to be sensible about our sightseeing or we’ll be shagged out and spend the rest of the next week in a sports massage or bed! We haven’t come so far to spend it in the sack so common sense has prevailed.

After Monday’s big trip to Avignon, we were a little slow yesterday morning. The alarm went off as usual at 0630 – why I ask myself are we getting up so early??? We got moving about 0700. At least I did – there were emails to respond to, Australian news to read and time to potter. Hugh, sensibly, decided that more sleep was in order and surfaced about 0830. We decided to have a “local” day – whatever that means – and to do some chores that needed to be sorted. First and foremost was sorting out a dry cleaner for Hugh’s clothes. It’s much easier to get his shirts and pants done at a laundry as they come home pressed and ready to go – before I completely stuff them up when I pack them in the case. He found a suitable candidate and then we got out the translator and wrote out what we needed. Once we’d done some washing and washing up, we took the clothes and tried out our translation. The lady there was lovely and all was sorted – clothes to be picked up on Thursday (just in time as we’re heading off on the next leg on Friday). Then it was time for coffee – of course – and back to the Café de France along with the other regulars.

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Hugh decided that it was really too nice to do nothing – not sure I agreed as an afternoon with a book on the roof terrace was attracting me – so we packed a picnic (fromage and baguette) and went to the Fontaine des Vaucluse. This glorious spot is only 8km or so from us and is the point that the La Sorgue (the river that we’re living on) erupts from the rock like a natural fountain. We parked a little out of the town avoiding the one way streets and traffic hold ups and walked up to the source. Not surprisingly it was a steep rise as we made our way up the hill; it was sensational surroundings and fabulous sunny weather. It was far and away the best weather we’ve had since we landed with the temperature sneaking up around 19C – had to carry my jacket and stuff. The source itself is a tranquil pool at the bottom of the rock face and it then tumbles exuberantly down the mountain to form the river! Gorgeous!!!

The walk to the source

The walk to the source

The source

The source

A relaxing walk back – so much easier going downhill than up – and a stop in the village for some vital essentials (postcards and wine). Back to the car park which was located on the edge of the river and lined with tables and benches. We found a chunky concrete table looking out across the water and enjoyed our first French picnic – actually I think it was our first since 2007 and our stop on Salisbury Plain. We had some Brie and chevre which we’d bought at the market on Sunday and a fresh baguette. We’ve also bought a lovely olive wood chopping board and Opinel knife so are set up. We haven’t managed to buy some picnic cups yet so had to drink the wine from the bottle but only the ducks saw us and they didn’t care! Back to town and the daily fun of finding a car park close to home. We were lucky this time and got a great spot nearby. Home for a relax and a read and a pre-dinner drink and look at the news.

Bonjour Provence!

Bonjour Provence!

Nothing planned for dinner last night so we went for a walk to see what was open and what we fancied. It’s been interesting actually as we were warned about the need to pre book restaurants around the place. I think that the fact that we’re here out of season and with chilly weather has been good for us as places have been empty. Last night we ate at the Bistro Pascal and picked it because there were a couple of other groups there when we went in. Unfortunately as we went in, they left so we were the only customers. We had the Menu Prix – three courses for 19 Euro and all delicious!! I had Foie Gras fried and with a salad including cured duck and apple, this was followed by Coquille St Jacques (scallops) in a slightly curried sauce with beautiful baby vegetable and then a juicy apple tart. Hugh had much the same except that he had Gambas (prawns) as a starter. A bottle of Vin Pays (local red) and coffee and dinner came in about 77 Euro. Can’t complain about that for three courses and drinks. The owners were lovely and we battled on with their non-existent English and our non-existent French. I think they wanted to give us a glass of Marc but we decided to pass and came home.

After another good night’s sleep but some seriously weird dreams, we were up and moving again about 0730 today. It had rained fairly steadily through the night – I was up about 0430 and it was going then – and the world had a washed grey look about it. Another load of washing and another walk for croissants for Hugh and breakfast was ready. Once we were ready – about 0900 – we were out and off. Today we drove to Orange which was a former Roman stronghold and has some major Roman ruins. We’d done some homework as we were desperate to avoid the motorway – tolls are haunting our dreams – but the GPS took us up some backways that we really didn’t need to explore and we decided to follow the signs.

We got to the town without major drama and then went looking for a car park. Actually, that wasn’t too hard as we passed a large paying park as we drove in and only did one lap of the area before we found the entrance. We followed our usual process and took a photo of the park and the area so that we had it as a point of reference in case we got lost – still haunted by Liverpool in 2007!!! As it was there was a handy map nearby even though we did have to metaphorically turn it upside down to work out where we wanted to go. We were looking for the Roman Theatre and I somehow managed to go the wrong way. Realising that we were exploring the suburbs of Orange we retraced our steps and realised that the dirty great wall in front of us was in fact the back of the Theatre Ancient – what we were looking for! D’uh!

Bloody big

Bloody big

This is, without doubt, the biggest Roman building that I’ve ever been in – and that includes Pompeii! It is massive and I hope that the pictures give the sense of scale. Getting up to the top was a challenge on our knees (and getting down was a challenge for my vertigo!) but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything at all. To see something of this nature, so much still intact is absolutely extraordinary! I’ve read Peter Mayle’s account of seeing Pavarotti there and that sort of performance would be a rare privilege!

What a stage to perform on

What a stage to perform on

After the theatre and the nearby museum, we found our way into the central square and had a coffee before tackling the walk to the Arc de Triumph. Now the more observant of you will realise that we’re not in Paris yet but there are, in fact, multiple Arcs around France celebrating any number of triumphs. The one in question in this instance was a Roman success and the arch is no less exciting for being so old.

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Arc de Triumph (Roman style)

Arc de Triumph (Roman style)

Back into the centre of town and wandering around the lovely narrow streets and oohing and aahing at the gorgeous buildings. Lunch was in a café in the square – andouilette (sausage) for me with frites and ravioli with truffles for Hugh. Some pink and the inevitable coffee and it was very hard to move.

Lunch

Lunch

We took a more direct route home although we nearly ended up missing the turn off for L’Isle as we were distracted by some of the installation art!!

what you'd expect in the middle of the road!

what you'd expect in the middle of the road!

Mt Ventoux - as close as we're getting

Mt Ventoux - as close as we're getting

We got a great view of Mt Ventoux which still has snow on it. It would be nice to go up there but not sure we’re equipped for it. Home without trouble and found a car park not far away. Wandered home exploring some more streets and picking up another bottle of French whisky for our aperitif. Just about to have a drink and then think about dinner somewhere. It’s a tough life!!

Posted by dawnandhugh 10:47 Archived in France Comments (1)

Brilliant Bouillabaise

Magic in Marseille

sunny 5 °C

We'd been warned about Marseille. About it's air of danger and it being a home of criminal activity in France. First of all by Keri - who has watched a lot of tv shows based in the place and, most recently, by our chauffeur on Tuesday in Nice who warned us to be careful.

Duly warned we arrived here yesterday afternoon after a slightly stressful drive from Nice. Some bright spark - aka me - had suggested that we take the opportunity to experience the French Riviera and drive along the coast road. What I really didn't realise is that the coast road - at least from Nice to Cannes - is essentially a collection of towns and you spend your life on very narrow streets dodging the beautiful people. Along our trip, I saw every Riviera cliche from Belmondo wannabees to blond matrons in fur coats and carrying little dogs. Ghastly! The coup de grace was in Cannes where the place was overrun by 100s of men in dark suits, with mobile phones locked to their ears and id tags on who swarmed all over the Croisette and seemed to multiply as we looked. The town was full of signs welcoming the Russian Federation - what, we thought. all of it???? It appears that the Moscow City Council was having a conference. Why they had in Cannes and not Moscow in March is clear to me but I'd be less than impressed if the City of Frankston had their conference in Port Douglas.

At Cannes, we cracked it and found the freeway. We also found the car's in built GPS which proved to be a blessing and navigated us through the city to our hotel with a minimum of fuss. Tolls proved to be a challenge. Not paying them so much - although nearly 15 Euros seemed steep - but actually reaching the tollbooth (Hugh) to get the ticket and pay the money - must practise that. The bonus is that we managed to piss off a lot of Frenchmen in the process of driving across 4 lanes at the booths and then sitting there for a couple of minutes while we worked things out and Hugh contorted himself accessing the machine - so not all bad!

Our hotel here is the Sofitel Vieux Port and it is magnificent. Exceptionally welcoming and friendly. We've been upgraded to a Superior Port View room with a magnificent view of the port. Turn down service last night left us a friendly welcoming note which made us feel like we were more than just a number - had Tania's style which is unusual in a big hotel - also left us a bottle of lovely olive oil as a welcoming gift. Nothing has been too much trouble in the 24 hours we've been here and we'd gladly come back.

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Now for Marseille. What can I say about it? We love it - that's the most important thing. It has a raffish charm and is rather like that slightly misbehaving uncle who has been a roux in his previous life and is still reliving those glory days. It's charming, lively - actually vibrant - and yes, slightly dangerous. It's also quite a challenge for the legs as it drops from the hills to the port area and is hard on the legs.

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We had a gentle walk yesterday - down the hill to the Vieux Port and round to the other side. It was busy and lively - not unike Circular Quay in Sydney but with French subtitles. Back to the hotel and after a change and freshen up, we got a cab to L'Epuisette, a restaurant that we first discovered on a Rick Stein program. We'd done the research and decided that looked like a spot for a Bouillabaisse - and it didn't let us down. I've had versions of this dish back home and even tried cooking it myself but now that I know how it should be I know there is a long way to go. We were advised that we didn't need an entree` so sat back in the hands of the masters. First of all a couple of amuse bouche - a selection of little fishy treats and then some creme asparagus and foie gras - and then soup part of the bouillabaisse.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

Tres tres bon!!! The flavour in that rich thick soup was amazing. We were given a plate of croutons and pots of aioli, rouille and grated cheese and we were off.

Accoutrements

Accoutrements


I had to tuck my napkin into my neck - no other way to eat it. When the soup was drunk, or at least that bowl, the fish from the stew were presented to us whole and identified - it was a bit like having a date with them - and then taken away and filleted and brought back along with saffron flavoured potatoes. More soup was ladelled on and more bread brought out. Delcious doesn't really say it all - but not sure what else to say. Dessert was raspberry macaroons filled with lychee and ro se creme and with fresh raspberries. Also delicious and made us realise that we're struggling with French portion size. Got a cab home but had to walk up steep stairs about the equivalent of two building floors as the restaurant is in a somewhat inaccsessible spot.

Home and straight to bed and asleep through to 7 this morning. The wind had come up last night and was howling this morning - rattling the windows and shaking the building. After a lovely breakfast in hotel we set off about 9 o'clock and battled the gale down toward the port. This time we deviated and started exploring the side streets and following our instincts. Despite the wind, we walked nearly 10 km up and down hills and with wind at up to 50mph and gusts much stronger than that. It's a very beautiful city and well worth the time just to look, listen and smell. Glorious residential areas with yellow stone, flat fronted buildings decorated with black lace metal work. We found a street market in the Arab quarter with fruit and vegetables grown locally and also in Tunisia which seems so much closer than other parts of France. We saw our first French butcher and were rubber suctioned to the window at the sight of the Bresse chicken and Maigret. A patissiere had us drooling! Hugh spotted an "interesting building" at the end of one street so we climbed toward it - to be rewarded by the sight of the Palais Longchamp - and the workmen who are currently restoring it. The search for a toilet took us off track and we made our way to the Gare Marseille which is huge and busy and friendly - and warm - and where a toilet could be found at the knock down price of 50 euro cents!

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We got slightly lost when we left the station and headed down hill to what we thought was the Vieux Port. What we actually found was the international shipping terminal at the new port - and the sight where Colin Firth says goodbye to Aurelio in Love Actually! The best thing I can say about the walk along from the terminal is that it was flat. It was also phenomenally windy to the extent that even Hugh nearly took off! We found the Vieux Port at last and had lunch at a breezy establishment on the front before conceding that we could walk no further and finding a cab home - to the hotel.

We still have the views of the port to enjoy as we relax and we know that we have fallen in love with Magnificent Marseille - or wicked Uncle Willy!!

Posted by dawnandhugh 09:45 Archived in France Tagged buildings Comments (1)

Avignon

A tourist at last

semi-overcast 14 °C

In 1309 things got a bit hectic in Rome and Pope Clement V decided that things weren't safe - this was before Berlusconi and his bunga bunga parties you have to remember. Looking for a safe haven, the holy father chose Avignon and for 68 years this was the home of the Papacy. Just think, if they hadn't moved, we'd have been in the middle of all the excitement of the election of the new Pontiff!!!

Instead, today saw Hugh and I behave as "proper" tourists for the first time and travel around 40 minutes or so to the capital of Provence (something that they share with Marseille) and our chance to have a look at Avignon. It was an easy trip and the assistance of "Sally" - the voice of our GPS - was much appreciated. Once we got into the city itself, things got a little hairy. We knew that park and ride was the best option as the city itself is not welcoming to cars but we got a bit confused. After a bit of exploring - around some one way streets - we found a car park on the far side of the Rhone and got a bus to the walls.

Avignon is a beautiful city and has protected its heritage with pride - as it should We found the Pont d'Avignon without trouble and had a good explore. The interesting thing about this very old bridge is that it doesn't actually cross the river and only four of the eighteen pilons remain but it's incredibly famous and well worth a look.

Pont d'Avignon

Pont d'Avignon

from Pont d'Avignon

from Pont d'Avignon

We met a lovely couple from Portland on the bridge and had a chat.

Making our way up from the bridge, we battled the souveneir shops and found the Place des Palais des Papes. A gorgeous area sitting in front of the old papal palace. It was time for a coffee - any excuse to sit and watch the world go by - and we've worked out our orders now. We order deux caffee un creme (small coffees with milk) and Hugh orders a single espresso and tips it in to strengthen up the dose. It seems to work!

Hugh in a cafe near the Palais des Papes

Hugh in a cafe near the Palais des Papes

The Palais de Papes was magnificent and was a wonderful indication of the splendour of the papacy - even if it was only in situ for 60 years. The buiding became a military barracks in the 19th century and restoration of former glories began in the 20th century but it is easy to get the sense of its papal glory. Not too hard on the knees and well worth a good explore.

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

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Lunch called us after we left the palais and we made our way into the centre of town and found a cafe. Hugh was concious of the fact that we were eating too much and we decided to order a lighter meal at a cafe in the square. Hugh had a quiche Lorraine and I had a Croque Monsieur - both with salad and we avoided the temptation of wine and had soft drink as an accompaniment.

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I was seriously tempted by the merry-go-round but restrained myself and contented ourselves with a walk through the town. Avignon is a gorgous place. Full of energy and self importance and worth a good luck around.

Not sure but it was lovely - Avignon

Not sure but it was lovely - Avignon

Thankfully, we found the bus to the carpark and without too much trouble we found our way back to the I'sle. We had the fun of our first visit to a supermarket on the way home and were able to collect some distilled water, some salad for dinner and other bits. It's funny how a supermarket becomes another tourist site when you're so far from home.

Tonight we've had chicken that we bought - cooked - from the market yesterdayy and salad bought today. We've had a local - Luberon - red and are about to have dessert of Tarte Pomme (apple) before crashing in bed. I love France!

Posted by dawnandhugh 13:08 Archived in France Tagged buildings provence Comments (1)

Dealing with the elements

Two very different days in Provence

rain 8 °C

The weather can play havoc with a holiday if you let it – we’ve decided that the trick is to go with the flow and manage accordingly.
Yesterday – Saturday – was gorgeous. The Mistral had dropped, the sky was blue and still and the weather was edging up to a balmy 16 degrees. Hugh boldly wandered off to the Boulanger and brought croissants and pan du chocolat for our breakfast. His task was helped by having a native New Yorker running the place but why ruin the story. After breakfast we found the car and drove off toward the Luberon. Those of you who have read Peter Mayle’s books will know that this area was where he lived and is what he wrote about in “A Year in Provence” etc. As these books are one of the reasons that we’re here at all, it was something of a pilgrimage for us and was tres tres exciting to find so many familiar towns and villages.

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We managed to avoid the motorways – firstly because we’re sick of battling the tolls and second and most importantly, we want to see the countryside – and made our way to Menerbes. This is a lovely hilltop village/town which was Mayle’s home in the early books. It’s not quite the town it was back then as the books have made it a tourist destination – hello, that’s why we went – and there are now huge car and coach parks outside of the town with visitors encouraged to park and walk. No problem for us. Even better, not many people around so we parked, we looked and we lunched. As the sun was shining we sat outside and enjoyed a light repast of Thom Rouge (Red Tuna) with an Asparagus Mash and a Pistou sauce – delicious! Hugh had his first Pastis (Ricard) of the trip – he’d hoped to have it in Marseille but it really wasn’t the weather for it – I had a Kir au Vin Blanc and we shared a carafe of local Rose`. All so good!

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Thoughtful - Menerbes

Thoughtful - Menerbes

After a little walk around the village – all it really needed as it’s a tiny place – we drove on to Bonnieux. This is another hilltop town which doesn’t have the parking outside and is seriously windy and narrow. Hugh managed it magnificently – tricky enough at home, a nightmare when you’re on the “wrong” side of the road. We decided not to stop – parking may have been a challenge – and instead looked for Buoux. There is a restaurant there called the Augerge du Loube which is mentioned heavily in the books and is still serving meals as described. We had thought about going there for lunch one day in the week but having seen it – and experienced the drive – we think not. Had a drive around the Luberon area and saw some magnificent sights – sadly didn’t take photos – before heading for home.

We’d heard the warning about where to park on Sundays because of the market so we managed to find a spot near the house and by the hospital. Seems weird just leaving it in the street but there’s nothing in it so should be fine. After a drink and a read, we went to find some dinner. By this time the wind had come up again and the temperature dropped so there weren’t a lot of people around. We were well rugged up and found a place on the outside of the L’Isle. It was a noisy cheerful café – welcoming and warm and good simple food. We both had Steak au Frites and a bottle of the Vin Pays. Actually felt like dessert so we enjoyed a Crème Brulee and coffee. I’m actually turning into a coffee drinker – weird but true. Even at “home” I can’t be bothered with tea – I’m sure this will change when I leave the country.

This morning the world was a very different place to yesterday. The wind had whipped up in the night and had brought rain with it. We didn’t rush this morning – I did some washing, Hugh went to make sure the car was still there. Had a small drama when the washing machine tripped the circuit breaker – twice – but we got the load done and all is fine.

Off to our first French market and supposed to be a huge affair. Hm – not so huge by the time we got there. Because of the weather, the crowds were down and many of the stall holders were shutting up when we got there – which was only 1030 or so. Never mind, we ploughed on and bought some goodies. A selection of fromage – chevre, Brie, Livarot – some saucisson sanglier (boar sausage) – as a side, the saucissson seller had a wonderful range of sausages including donkey. I may be a wimp but I wasn’t quite ready to try that. We also bought some bread and tapenade. Reasoning that the weather was so ghastly that we weren’t likely to want to go out again we bought some Paella and chicken from a stall and will warm them up for our dinner tonight. Some more Vin Pays and whisky and we’re laughing.

An afternoon stroll on L'Isle

An afternoon stroll on L'Isle

The rest of the day has been an “at home” one. Hugh had a walk after lunch while I slept and then we both headed out about 1500 for a walk. I posted off some cards and we had a coffee in the square at the Café de France. Home again, Hugh’s having a snooze, I’m talking to you and that’s the update.

Postcards!

Postcards!

One of the regulars

One of the regulars

Our local cafe

Our local cafe

BTW – a big thank you to those of you who are leaving us comments about the blog. I’ve always just kept a private journal when we’re travelling and not shared it with the world before. It’s nice to know that there’s a point to it and that others are enjoying our travels. Au revoir mes amies!

Up close and personal with an ostrich

Up close and personal with an ostrich

Posted by dawnandhugh 09:16 Archived in France Tagged provence Comments (3)

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