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Bonjour! Day 6 and we’re still getting along! An update just as we’re about to leave France for Spain. We’ve been off the grid as there aren’t many internet cafes, this doesn’t seem to be a backpacker route, mostly French and Britons on holiday. I like it that way, it feels like the villages offer a more authentic French experience than would Paris. Although I can see that in the summertime this area will be full of tour buses, and some of the villages are distinctly touristy, in the springtime we have the place to ourselves.
Since leaving Toulouse, it has felt like we’re on the Amazing Race. First, trying to explain to the taxi driver that we needed to go to the airport, but for a car, not a flight. Then, trying to cram all our luggage into a European compact car, then trying to navigate the French highways and tolls. Our first stop was Albi, a tiny town high in the mountains with a magnificent fortress/cathedral and river panoramas, not to mention our first day of sunshine. Then we wound our way down through the mountains to the agricultural Provence valley, not unlike Eastern Washington or the Skagit Valley. We arrived in the town of Arles just as the shops were closing up, but in time to see the Roman coliseum and amphitheatre before dusk.
The next day we explored Provence intimately, by way of spending the first hour lost and disoriented, but at least it was scenic! The driver blaming the navigator, and the navigator blaming the driver, but eventually we found our way, but not before Nathan decreed that I must use the English phonetic pronunciation of town names rather than my interpretive French accent. The reward was worth the trouble, as we found our first destination, L’Isle Sur La Sorgue (“L Eel Soor La Sor-geew”), arguably the best market in Provence. Our first impression was the Peruvian flute band playing Abba’s greatest hits. The market is huge, along the canals and narrow alleys, selling produce, meats, olive oil, and other Provencal specialties. Luckily the weather cooperated: blustery, but intermittently sunny. We had a nice market lunch of quiche before heading for our next destination, but unfortunately the storm caught up with us by the time we made it to St. Remy. We wanted to watch a bullfight in the town arena, but it was cancelled due to the weather. So for consolation we had a café & chocolat in town. Everything was closed anyway since it was a Sunday. At least the next town was open, albeit a tourist trap, the mountain fortress village of Les Baux. The rain and wind intensified, putting a damper on our sightseeing there. I get the impression that there’s not much going on in Provence until the lavender blooms in late summer, so it was a bit of a disappointment.
Monday morning the weather was decent, so we left Provence early to stay ahead of the storm. We began the day with the customary seeking of the boulangerie (pastry shop) for breakfast on our way to a plaza rendered by Van Gogh, then we checked out of the monks cloister and headed along the Cotes du Rhone wine road where we found 3 very different wineries. The first, a small place where the vintner himself tried to communicate in Franglish and we bought two bottles of his excellent “chataneuf de pape” wine. The second, a tourist trap in a castle that ignored us because we didn’t come in a bus, and the third a very professional one in town with a British kid who gave us a tour and tasting lesson. Afterward, we drove out to Le Pont du Gard, a magnificent Roman aqueduct where we did a little nature hike to the viewpoint. Yet again the storm pursued us, and most of the drive threatened rain, which didn’t materialize until we were unloading the car at the Mediterranean cliffside hotel. Luckily it passed in time for sunset and a walk to town for dinner.
Which brings us to today, Tuesday. Nathan’s narrative: “It was hot. The day started with Alisa trying to wash my underwear in the sink, until Nathan convinced her to go to the Laundromat. We then walked to the ‘crap-town’ next door, because Alisa wasn’t sure if the town we were in was the ‘good one’ or not. Turns out it was. The only saving grace of the hour-long walk was that we got to go to the Wal-mart of France and buy our signal flare for driving in Spain.” Well, that pretty much covers it for today. We see why Nathan doesn’t blog. Until Barcelona, Au Revoir!