Markets and Colours in Provence

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Roadtrip Nice Thru’ to Verdon Gorge

 

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Onwards McDuff. Meandered along the coast to Cannes. I guess we were expecting something a bit cheap, gaudy and classless. Well, that was reserved for Monaco. Cannes was a real delight. Of course expensive, especially as young man had an ice-cream obsession, where can I sell my next kidney? But a place  with a lovely ambience and wonderful streets to peruse back away from the seafront. Wealthy yes, but not tawdry like Monaco. The beach was great for the children, of all ages, with beautiful views along the bay in both directions.

Then we made our way to Nice which was very nice. The horror that would unfold there the next week was unimaginable. Again a wonderful place to spend time and simply take in the atmosphere. This included swimming, splashing and blowing up inflatables until I had cheeks as red as a lobster! All good fun in other words. Monaco was tacky, dirty and seemed to shove its vulgar wealth down peoples’ throats. A large ugly underpass comes to mind and a huge car park that didn’t want us to leave. Some things have passed me by, due mainly to the fact that I want to move onto the Verdon Gorge.

Verdon Gorge. There, it’s easy to say, yes? My wife showed me the map and the route. Assuring me it wasn’t the Alps and the way to Chamonix. Not ‘too’ high. So we headed to Moustiers-Saint-Marie. The Gorge  is 700 metres deep, or high and about 25km long. On I drove, upwards and upwards. The drive was stunning, my hands were wet and my eyes so focused they could have bored through rock. The road is narrow. Very narrow in places. As we rounded corners one could only see blue sky ahead, and still blue sky and then back online. Only to twist outward again. Tunnels wide enough for one vehicle at a time added to the fun. And still upwards. The view down was impressive. But a view I tried to avoid. A two brick high barrier marked the edge of the road. A barrier that couldn’t stop a sickly mouse.In some places nothing along the edge of the road apart from gravity. We stopped at a viewing point. Took pictures, had a look around, wrung out my shorts, that sort of thing. My wife spotted a twisting, switchback, extremely narrow drive down to the canyon floor. Super I said as we clambered back into the car. The way out of the Gorge is stunning and teasing. Just as you think you are going down, upwards swings the road again. I don’t do heights well and so felt proud of myself when we came out on the other side. A side with fields of lavender, wonderful trees and FLAT roads. Flat is good.

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Further Southwards into France

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Went into Avignon by bus which was cheap, clean and let me have a good gander as I was not driving. I did ask, but the driver said, ”Non”. Avignon was home to the pope between 1309 – 1377. Well he had one advantage then, the walls kept people out. They are still an impressive sight. However Avignon was beset by hoardes of tourists, they swept all before them. Really it was too much. Souvenir shops for instance. A few tacky shops are okay, however Avignon had its fair share. Nice bridge too, but when will it be finished?

Took in Aix-En-Provence which was a combination of the beautiful and the slighty grubby gracefulness. Prices for food were bad. Basically what we will pay in Polish Zlotych cost the same in Euro’s. The best way to negotiate this thorny problem was to stop and buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the roadside stalls. Great food from under the provence sun, and far better prices. Even managed to get service with  smile.

Headin’ down we drove through the Camargue. This is one beautiful place, truly. Low lying and flat, none of those pesky mountain passes with inches to spare! Driving past rice fields and then the most beautiful white horses. There are plenty of places to stop take in this area. We alighted in Cassis. Cassis in the sun is great. A long sweeping esplanade with a great beach and a free pissoir in the car park. What more can you want! Although there were tacky shops the place had a wonderful feel to it. Just walking along the roads one could see it was well looked after, with splashes of colour from beautiful flowers thrown in for measure.

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Pottered around and went to the most unhelpful information lady in history. Her Gallic indifference and shoulder shrugs were superb and her English, well, bazik. Anyway we discovered that safaris into the Camargue cost around 120 Euro for the four of us. So no thanks. Eventually we plumped for the cruise which was about 12 Euro for an adult and discounted for the children. The ferry trip went up the mouth of the (Lesser/smaller?) Rhone and although we draw close to some beautiful views, it was all a bit distant. The chop on the sea as we took in the swell of the sea on the return trip was pretty cool for me. Onwards and along the coast…

 

Arles

I never try to put too much trust in technology. Brought up pulling plugs out at night has kind of stayed with me. My point, well, purchasing a GPS is a point in question. In the old days I would lift my quill and scratch directions, turn -offs (politics, curtain shops) and have all to hand in my grubby little mitts.

Resplendent  on our dashboard was a GPS. It kept slipping off so it was put on the windscreen, ”No, not here dear, I need to see the road.”

And this device with its purple thick line seductively led us successfully from Avignon to a small roundabout outside Arles, we could actually see Arles. But it was but a tease. GPS went into meltdown, or as far as I’m concerned. Up a narrow street, that then became narrower, twisted, turned almost back on itself. Look, we’ve already seen that cigarette pack already. Just in case it wasn’t narrow enough the locals had planted bollards. We we’re close enough to pass the time of day with an elderly lady leaning through her window. Wonderful shutters. Blue. Must get a picture later.

I protested about the route, then spied a sign from history to the village/town centre. Back and round, and round and back. Finally onto a road wider than a bow legged women doing the splits. Breathe. The road, not the bow legged woman, you understand??And the good news, the GPS took us out the same way out. I still know somewhere there is a proper way into Arles. Park and debuss amongst calls from the children for food, toilets and drink, but not necessarily in that order.

Hey, well done Arles. Why?  For they had a delightful young lady wearing hint of Goth,  in the information centre, who spoke English, was helpful and actually suggested what we should visit. She was doing great until she mentioned the football;-)

To walk around and see the buildings painted by an Gogh was amazing. The cafe where he stood and painted with a pencil behind his ear, no the other ear.

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The ancient arena a delight and the prices frightening, and outside the arena a  dog with all  real talent. Bless it!IMG_1761

Wonderful to visit, but don’t trust the technology.

 

Lavender to the horizon

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The lavender fields of Provence. A stunning view, with the Alps as a mountainous backdrop. The plant itself is part of the mint family and magnet for bees.IMG_2174

Such scenery was an inspiration for the beautiful works of van Gogh.

IMG_2185Used as a herb in cooking and and cultivated for its oil. The word lavender itself is thought to derive from the old French for, ‘to wash’.  Awash in a field of lavender is to feel invigorated by nature itself. A memory in the mind forever.

Nice

Intent last week on relaxing, sightseeing and having fun, the family wandered amiably along the edge of the Mediterranean as part of our road trip. In Cassis, St,Tropez, Cannes and Nice. We had taken into account the terror attacks in Paris, and other assorted incidents, and even the football was weighed up. But we went and it was fantastic. People in Nice were from all of the world. They walked, ate, cycled, drank, roller skated and simple ambled around peacefully.

Then this happens. Words sometimes fail me. Really. Simply that as a species we are so self-destructive, so cruel and so bloody hateful to one another. Some revel in the filth of hatred and pain. The answer to such things is not for here, or now, for the moment. Once again we send our thoughts and prayers for the families of the dead, and for the wounded, both physically and psychologically after this senseless abomination.

I will go back to France with pleasure as it is a beautiful country. And as our way of life, imperfect as it can be, must go on.