August 12, 2014 – Roadtrip to St. George, Part II (Tonopah, NV to St. George, UT)

After having typical night-in-a-motel kinds of sleep, we are up early to continue on to St. George, UT. There’s no fear of traffic jams today as we will be traveling through some of the most uninhabited land in the West. The good part is that you can pretty much go as fast as you want on the roads. Only thing to watch out for are cows wandering across the street.

We are off around 7:15 AM after a less than impressive breakfast of pre-made rubber western omelets, sausages with a lot of filler, toast from the anemic toaster and coffee with milk which is just a little too old. There’s really nothing much to keep us in Tonopah. (Pah in Paiute means water. There are a lot of names out here with “pah” in them such as Pahrump, NV. A natural hot springs spa near St. George is Pah Tempe Hot Springs.)

Tonopah in the early morning light. The "T" on the hillside helps you to remember where you are.

Tonopah in the early morning light. The “T” on the hillside helps you to remember where you are.


I love being on the road early in the morning. It really speaks of vacation to me. We head east. We are the only ones on the road which stretches out like a thin silver ribbon through the desert.
Go straight for about 60 miles.

Go straight for about 60 miles.


Since this is John’s first long car trip since his hip replacement we are careful to stop about once an hour to stretch and change drivers. Our first change comes at Warm Springs, NV. Warm Springs was settled in 1866 but since has become a ghost town. There is a stream that runs through this old town that is full of minerals and is steaming in the early morning temperatures.
Warm Springs defunct bar and cafe. The white stuff in the left of the picture is mineral residue from the spring.

Warm Springs defunct bar and cafe. The white stuff in the left of the picture is mineral residue from the spring.

The warm spring

The warm spring


Turning the corner here in Warm Springs we leave U.S. 6 and begin our ride on NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway. This road skirts Area 51. It used to have Extraterrestrial Highway signs at both ends and in the middle. The only sign left is the one in the middle near Rachel but it is so covered by stickers and graffiti that it is unreadable.
We turn right onto NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway

We turn right onto NV 375, The Extraterrestrial Highway


We tear along the road towards Rachel. The suggested speed is 70. John is driving now so we are closer to the posted limit. I will make up for that later. All along the road are the warning signs of “Open Range” with jaunty looking cows. Open range means that there are no fences and the cows can wander across the road. I keep a sharp eye out. If you hit a cow and survive, you have to pay the rancher. I guess if you hit the cow and both you and the cow die, your estate has to pay the rancher. There are two types of cows on the signs. In Nevada they are mostly jaunty beef cattle. In California and Utah they are drawn as stolid dairy cows with udders. You’d think from a survival point of view that beef cattle would be a little less happy looking.
Jaunty open range beef cattle

Jaunty open range beef cattle


Sixty miles have come and gone. Time to change drivers at Rachel, Nevada’s newest town founded in 1973. It’s claim to fame is the Little Ale-e-inn. There’s lots of E.T. and UFO kitsch here.
The Little Ale-e-inn in Rachel is always worth a stop

The Little Ale-e-inn in Rachel is always worth a stop


I’m the driver now and we really zip along to our next stop, Crystal Springs. Things out here don’t change much so it is pretty exciting that an Alien Research Center has been built here recently with a giant alien out front. Crystal Springs is also the best place to get E.T. Fresh Jerky.
The Alien Research Center in Crystal Springs. Snoopers welcome!

The Alien Research Center in Crystal Springs. Snoopers welcome!

Alien Fresh Jerky

Alien Fresh Jerky


We’ve been on the road about three and half hours when it is definitely time for some coffee. Being creatures of habit we always stop in Caliente, NV at the Sinclair station for a mixture of coffee and cappuccino. Caliente is famous for its hot springs and its Mission Revival style train station. Once trains became diesel-powered Caliente was no longer a stopping point. The train station was turned over to the town and has been repurposed. In another bit of notoriety, according to testimony given in the criminal case, Utah v. Warren Jeffs, the Hot Springs Motel located in Caliente is the site of several forced marriages between under-aged girls and older men. Hot times!
Caliente train station

Caliente train station


Me with the Sinclair dinosaur

Me with the Sinclair dinosaur

John fueling up

John fueling up


Yay, we’ve reached Utah! And what’s that in the corner of the picture? Yes, a stolid dairy cow!
Welcome to Utah!

Welcome to Utah!

Here's a close-up

Here’s a close-up


We decide to take a side trip down the main street of Modena, Utah. Modena is a former railroad town and home to the Righteous Branch, a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism. It’s pretty dilapidated.
Main street in Modena, Utah

Main street in Modena, Utah

The Last Chance Saloon in Modena

The Last Chance Saloon in Modena


Picture of a reported UFO sighting over Modena in 2005

Picture of a reported UFO sighting over Modena in 2005


We are getting close to St. George now, only about 45 minutes away. We pass by the entrance to Mountain Meadows. This is the site where 120 men, women, and older children on their way to California from Arkansas were killed in 1857 by a Mormon militia. The Mormons in the Utah Territory were afraid of an invasion and had been educated to fear outsiders. Seventeen young children were spared since they would not be able to remember what had happened.
Mountain Meadows Massacre site

Mountain Meadows Massacre site


One more town to go before we reach St. George. The town of Veyo in volcano country is known for its cindercones.
Cindercone in Veyo

Cindercone in Veyo


This volcano's caldera is apparent

This volcano’s caldera is apparent


We are traveling down Utah 18 now and coming around a bend we are treated to spectacular views of Snow Canyon. Snow Canyon State Park is about a mile from our house and has scenery and hiking that rivals the bigger national parks in the area.
A view of Snow Canyon from Utah 18

A view of Snow Canyon from Utah 18

We can see that its raining over Snow Canyon State Park

We can see that it’s raining over Snow Canyon State Park


We head through the gate and turn onto our street. We’ve been away for over two months and I am always a little apprehensive until I see the house. Everything seems in order, though, and we are happy to be in our home away from home.
Through the gate...

Through the gate…


Down the street...

Down the street…

and home!

and home!

(Update: Everything was not quite right unfortunately. Our air conditioning system broke and has to be replaced. With temperatures forecast in low 100′s this weekend. We are hoping that the new system can be installed quickly.)

August 11, 2014 – Roadtrip to Saint George, Part I

Sometimes a drive is just a drive, but sometimes it is a ROADTRIP! John and I have probably made this trip 50 times over the last 11 years, but there is always something new and interesting every time we go. Today’s trip starts at home and ends up in Tonopah, NV. We will go the rest of the way to St. George, UT on August 11. Rather than a lot of text, our journey is narrated with pictures.

Since we need to break up the trip about an hour at a time, first stop is for some breakfast and gas in Oakdale, CA.

Since we need to break up the trip about an hour at a time, first stop is for some breakfast and gas in Oakdale, CA.


The Kiwi Tavern in Chinese Camp has been for sale for several years now.

The Kiwi Tavern in Chinese Camp has been for sale for several years now.


This is the first time we've ever stopped in Groveland. It's too early in the day for the Iron Door Saloon.

This is the first time we’ve ever stopped in Groveland. It’s too early in the day for the Iron Door Saloon.


Groveland is at the top of the Old Priest Grade, a really steep narrow road with a scary drop next to it.

Groveland is at the top of the Old Priest Grade, a really steep narrow road with a scary drop next to it.

There are even old timey wood boardwalks in Groveland. We stop at the Firefall Coffee Roasting Co.  and pick up a couple of sandwiches for a picnic later in the day.

There are even old timey wood boardwalks in Groveland. We stop at the Firefall Coffee Roasting Co. and pick up a couple of sandwiches for a picnic later in the day.


Reaching the entrance to Yosemite National Park, it is time to stretch our legs again.

Reaching the entrance to Yosemite National Park, it is time to stretch our legs again.


In the park there is still a lot of evidence of the Rim Fire from a couple of years ago.

In the park there is still a lot of evidence of the Rim Fire from a couple of years ago.

One of the perils of traveling through the park is that you can be held up by road work for 20 minutes at a time.

One of the perils of traveling through the park is that you can be held up by road work for 20 minutes at a time.

Although the scenery is spectacular, we are now in a long line of cars

Although the scenery is spectacular, we are now in a long line of cars

Storm clouds begin to gather

Storm clouds begin to gather

The park is packed. It is hard to imagine enjoying the wilderness with all these people!

The park is packed. It is hard to imagine enjoying the wilderness with all these people!

Uh oh, it's starting to rain and there's another traffic delay due to roadwork

Uh oh, it’s starting to rain and there’s another traffic delay due to roadwork

Finally we are out of the park and taking the scary road down to Lee Vining.

Finally we are out of the park and taking the scary road down to Lee Vining.

We've been here when the snow is still deep during the summer.  This year there are just a few patches left at higher elevations.

We’ve been here when the snow is still deep during the summer. This year there are just a few patches left at higher elevations.

After passing Mono Lake and driving the exciting rollercoaster road, we arrive in spooky Benton where we have never seen anyone at this park.

After passing Mono Lake and driving the exciting rollercoaster road, we arrive in spooky Benton where we have never seen anyone at this park.

There's a playground here that we've never seen any children play on.

There’s a playground here that we’ve never seen any children play on.

The basketball nets swing quietly in the breeze. No one shoots hoops.

The basketball nets swing quietly in the breeze. No one shoots hoops.


Here's what is left of Coaldale, NV. Over the last 10 years it has fallen into more and more disrepair.

Here’s what is left of Coaldale, NV. Over the last 10 years it has fallen into more and more disrepair.


Yay, we are finally in Tonopah, NV! It is after 5 PM. This has been an unusually slow trip. I think we'll pass up the Clown Motel.

Yay, we are finally in Tonopah, NV! It is after 5 PM. This has been an unusually slow trip. I think we’ll pass up the Clown Motel.

Wouldn't you?

Wouldn’t you?

We are staying at the BW Hi-Desert Inn. You always need reservations in Tonopah these days. A solar energy project and gold mining has made this place a boom town again.

We are staying at the BW Hi-Desert Inn. You always need reservations in Tonopah these days. A solar energy project and gold mining has made this place a boom town again.

There's only bad food in Tonopah. We settle for bar snacks at the recently renovated Mizpah Hotel.

There’s only bad food in Tonopah. We settle for bar snacks at the recently renovated Mizpah Hotel.


The hotel and bar has a real Victorian feel to it.

The hotel and bar has a real Victorian feel to it.

Time for bed. We still have about 5 hours to drive tomorrow!

June 23, 2014 – John’s total hip replacement

Today John goes into the hospital for a total hip replacement. I am staying up in Brentwood for the next few nights since Kaiser does all orthopedic surgery in Antioch. We arrive at the hotel on Sunday night and the next morning John is scheduled for 7:15 AM.

He is taken in and prepped for surgery. He is nervous but excited about a new life without constant hip pain.

John looking spiffy in his pre-surgery duds

John looking spiffy in his pre-surgery duds

The surgery goes smoothly and he is in his room by around 1 PM. He has some serious pain medication on board.

John in his room after surgery

John in his room after surgery

I am writing this almost three weeks after the surgery. The first two weeks of recovery were hard. John has been very good about doing his PT and keeping after the pain. The most difficult thing for us is sleeping. Starting after the first two weeks his stitches came out and he was given a cane. His mobility has increased rapidly and his pain level is low. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

June 21, 2014 – Summer solstice celebration

Since Sarah, John and I were not home at Christmas this year, we decided to have our celebration on summer solstice. Everyone bought into the idea and the kids got to have a second Christmas. All such celebrations must include hors d’ouevres (ala Pilat Eve), a tasty bread product (mimicing bagels and lox Christmas morning), gifts, and a festive dinner with a fancy dessert (Jon usually hosts Christmas dinner.)

I think we manage to hit all the high points. Jon brings chopped liver pate and pimento cheese for hors d’oeuvres, Sarah makes pretzel rolls for our tasty bread product, John and I grill a festive dinner, and Leigh makes a buche de Noel for dessert. And of course there are gifts.

Nathan and Sam are ready for some presents

Nathan and Sam are ready for some presents


Nathan is very excited to get a recycled iPad

Nathan is very excited to get a recycled iPad


Sarah's pretzel rolls

Sarah’s pretzel rolls


Our festive dinner - not sure whether Sam is in terrific pain or is smiling for the camera

Our festive dinner – not sure whether Sam is in terrific pain or is smiling for the camera


Our fabulous Buche de Noel by Leigh (with Sam)

Our fabulous Buche de Noel by Leigh (with Sam)


There is talk about making this a permanent holiday. We’ll see….

June 1- June 8, 2014 – Jonathan visits St. George

While Ryan, Leigh and their folks take the kids for an exciting week in SoCal, Jonathan joins us for a week in St. George.

We start early on June 1 and go Jon’s favorite way – through Yosemite NP, up and down roller coaster road, lunch in Tonopah, and a brief stop in Rachel, NV.

Jon at Olstead Point looking at...

Jon at Olstead Point looking at…


looking at Half-Dome in the distance

looking at Half-Dome in the distance


A stop at the Little Al-e-inn in Rachel, NV

A stop at the Little Al-e-inn in Rachel, NV

After reaching St. George we spend the week playing tennis, pingpong, swimming, hiking and playing golf (just Jonathan for golf.)

Jon on the tennis court

Jon on the tennis court

Jon and John at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead

Jon and John at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead

The guys taking a break

The guys taking a break

Jonathan enjoying the view at trail's end

Jonathan enjoying the view at trail’s end


The view

The view

We ended our trip to St. George with an overnight in Las Vegas and a special dinner at Alize. We all agreed that the dinner and the service were spectacular.

Jon and John before our dinner at Alize

Jon and John before our dinner at Alize


The three of us after dinner with Las Vegas lit up through the windows

The three of us after dinner with Las Vegas lit up through the windows

Every trip we have taken together has been really wonderful. I am looking forward to many more.

May 25, 2014 – Sam’s graduation party

Where has the time gone? Sam is five and graduating from preschool. Kindergarten is on the horizon. It seems like just yesterday he was a baby.

Here are some pictures from his graduation party.

Sam in his pink Darth Vadar cape

Sam in his pink Darth Vadar cape


Sam's party has a "Dem Bones" theme. Auntie Leigh supplies the cake.

Sam’s party has a “Dem Bones” theme. Auntie Leigh supplies the cake.


Sam peers through the slits for a zoetropic effect

Sam peers through the slits for a zoetropic effect

May 19, 2014 – Bourges – The Final Judgment

I am calling this last day of our sightseeing The Final Judgment. I think it’s been building up to this – a devil here, a leviathan there, a pot of boiling souls, thumbs up, thumbs down, you’re saved, you’re damned. Today at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, judgment is everywhere.

Imagine yourself in 13th century Europe. Most of the things that even everyday citizens knew was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire. Knowledge was for the few and the privileged. Religion gives you hope for a better life in the hereafter. You walk into this amazing cathedral full of light with beautiful windows and carvings telling you how to achieve eternal bliss and how to avoid eternal damnation.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the late 12th century as a replacement for a mid-10th century structure. That 10th structure was probably a replacement for a Gallo-Roman church and before that a Roman temple. Architecturally it is surprising. There is no transept, the cross part of a church. It is light an airy. Buttresses have been built to support a bell tower and the fragile glass walls.

St. Stephen's Cathedral i Bourges

St. Stephen’s Cathedral i Bourges


Heavy early Gothic style buttress to keep the tower up

Heavy early Gothic style buttress to keep the tower up


Flying buttresses to support the glass and stone walls

Flying buttresses to support the glass and stone walls


Interior of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Bourges

Interior of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Bourges


My 13th century self wants to know how to behave and what is the penalty for breaking God’s rule. It is all over this church. And it is scary.
Souls damned to hell in a pot of boiling oil tended by demons (part of the original rood screen)

Souls damned to hell in a pot of boiling oil tended by demons (part of the original rood screen)


The Leviathan having a munch on sinners (part of the original rood screen)

The Leviathan having a munch on sinners (part of the original rood screen)

All men have to struggle with devils (13th century stained glass)

All men have to struggle with devils (13th century stained glass)

St. John in Revelations tells of the Last Days with Jesus and his double edged sword

St. John in Revelations tells of the Last Days with Jesus and his double edged sword


If you sin, it's into the pot with you ( 13th century stained glass)

If you sin, it’s into the pot with you ( 13th century stained glass)


Here's the Leviathan again with more damned souls (13th century stained glass)

Here’s the Leviathan again with more damned souls (13th century stained glass)


Out on the tympanum of one of the portals, the Archangel Michael weighs souls and the devil gathers up those not going to heaven (12th century)

Out on the tympanum of one of the portals, the Archangel Michaels weighs souls and the devil gathers up those not going to heaven (12th century)

It's into the cauldron for sinners (12th century)

It’s into the cauldron for sinners (12th century)


Another interesting aspect of the 13th century stained glass windows is that many of them are sponsored by local trades. The tradesmen want to make sure that everyone knows who paid for the window and how they have obviously bettered their chances of getting into heaven. Most windows are read from the bottom up so the advertisement for butchers or masons is the first thing you see.
This window brought to you by carpenters (l.), coopers and wheelwrights (r.)

This window brought to you by carpenters (r.), coopers and wheelwrights (l.)


This window brought to you by butchers

This window brought to you by butchers


This window brought to you by tanners

This window brought to you by tanners


Needless to say we do a pretty complete inspection of the cathedral. We decide to skip lunch and have a little relaxing time in the hotel while we wait for the afternoon’s sites to reopen at 2 PM.

After non-lunch we visit the palace of Jacques Coeur, Steward and Director of the Mint for Charles VII. During the 15th century he amassed an enormous amount of wealth, enough to build a fleet of armed vessels to trade all over the Mediterranean and India. He used his wealth to build a splendid palace. Unfortunately he fell out with the king, was sent on a crusade and died. His wife got to live in the palace but not Jacques Coeur.

Jacques Coeur palace

Jacques Coeur palace


Statue of Jacques Coeur (with Clark and Lewis)

Statue of Jacques Coeur (with Clark and Lewis)


We are pretty tired out from all the walking about today. We decide to partake in the quintessential French relaxation, sitting in a cafe. Since we’ve skipped lunch we share a croques-monsieur and watch Bourges pass by.
John has a Floreffe Belgian white beer

John has a Floreffe Belgian white beer


In the picture before, over John's right shoulder is a half-timbered house

In the picture before, over John’s right shoulder is a half-timbered house


I did not realize that a croques-monsieur had cheese on the outside!

I did not realize that a croques-monsieur had cheese on the outside!


Tomorrow we won’t be doing anything other than getting back to Paris to catch the plane on Wednesday so we treat ourselves to one final French dinner at La Bourbonnoux.

Great day, great trip! Looking forward to being home.

May 18, 2014 – Le Puy to Bourges

John and I wake up early. It has been a difficult night for sleeping. We are on the first floor (U.S. second floor) and since the air conditioning has not been turned on for the season yet, we have the windows open. All night long there is revelry going on in the square below. Around 5:50 AM I give up and read the news. John wakes up shortly thereafter.

Shortly before 7:15 AM there is a noise at the door. There is no knock. Someone is putting a key in the lock. They open our door which is around the corner from the bed so I can’t see who it is. I call out, “Hello?” A man says “I am sorry” and leaves. So some man has used a pass key to get into our locked room with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. We are mightily disturbed.

We call down to the desk. No one knows anything. The manager comes up and talks to John. He says, did you lock your door? There is no way to lock the door any further because the door locks automatically and can only be opened with a key. The night manager’s voice sounds suspiciously like the voice we heard when the man who came in spoke.

We are pretty freaked by the whole thing. When we leave there is no explanation, they are just sorry we had a problem. We feel like the people at the front desk know what is going on. Who else would have a key to our room? And why would they want to get into our room at 7:15 in the morning? It wasn’t the cleaning people who are women and were not even working yet.

This has put a real damper on the day. We drive through beautiful countryside on the way to Bourges, talking periodically about what has happened. We stop for lunch at a rest stop on the highway. They have a map and we are smack dab in the middle of France. We have plates full of vegetables and bread.

We reach Bourges around 3 PM. John and I, exhausted from the activities of the day, decide to just have some quiet time until dinner. Our room is fine and has a pretty view of the garden in the back. We have all day tomorrow to explore what looks to be a very beautiful city.

Our room in Bourges

Our room in Bourges


View out our back window

View out our back window


Around 7 PM we take a walk around the old section of the city. We are eager to explore the cathedral and the palaces tomorrow. There are also a lot of well-preserved half-timbered houses. We will have to check in at the Visitor’s Information bureau to see if there is a walking tour.

We find a restaurant that the hotel has recommended. It has a few Americans, some Australians and French couples out to dinner. I figure that the hotels have all decided this is the best offering for a Sunday night when almost all the restaurants are closed. (ditto for Monday)

We start our dinner with an amuse bouche and a couple of salads. My salad has vegetables in it. John’s salad has salmon in it. Both will make a reprise in the second course. John and I share a dessert. That’s a rarity since I don’t really like sweet stuff and I definitely don’t like to share.

Looking forward to a full and interesting day tomorrow.

May 17, 2014 – Le Puy en Velay

(I have gotten behind in posting so John has been gracious enough to help me out.)

John here.

Today we bid farewell to St. Remy en Provence (and to our very kind hosts, Katrien and Filip) and set out for Le Puy en Velay, home of the green lentil of the same name. We get to the A7, head north for about 70 km, exit at Montelimar, and take the N102 towards Meyres where we hope to have lunch at a restaurant Mary has found on the internet.

Jack, our GPS, has other ideas. Despite all the signs directing us to continue on the N102 towards Aubenas and Le Puy, he keeps trying to take us a better way. We know better this time and selectively disregards his errant suggestions.

We proceed up (and steeply so) the valley of the Ardeche River. It is beautiful country despite having what appears to be a thriving logging industry. The road is very twisty with broad vistas of farms and mountains.

We finally get to Meyres and actually find the restaurant, Auberge du Pont. Mary has a salad and a roast beef plate, I have calamari Provencale style and fish Normady style. Mary’s beef and fries could have been materially improved by a sauce and some ketchup. We also suspect that the cattle had grazed on lavender. The owner is very pleased when we say that we found his website, which he apparently designed and implemented himself.


On to Le Puy (again no thanks to Jack). We find our hotel and decide to take a little walk around town to see the cathedral, one of the few large purely Romanesque churches left in France, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot plus being a major stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Campostela in Spain.

What we had not realized is that the cathedral is in the Upper Town and that up is REALLY up. And then the church itself has another hundred steps to get in. Serious exertion to say the least. Inside there is interesting art from the 11th through 17th centuries. Stepping out back, we get a view of the giant statue of the virgin made of melted captured Russian cannons from the Crimean War, perched on the very top of the peak.

Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy

Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy


St. James, patron saint of travelers

St. James, patron saint of travelers


Cathedral interior -the Romanesque structure shows in the massive columns and small windows

Cathedral interior -the Romanesque structure shows in the massive columns and small windows


Notre Dame de France

Notre Dame de France

(I have finished Clark and Lewis and am now taking over from John. Thanks, sweetie!)

What is more perilous going up those hundred stairs or down them and then steeply downhill on cobbled streets? I have to say down. My knee just does not like doing down.

Looking down the hill from the cathedral

Looking down the hill from the cathedral

We make it back to the hotel and flop in the room for a while. Then we go down to the Tavern here for dinner. We must have lentils in Le Puy! My meal is unsuccessful. John’s is more successful and reminds us of the giant pork knuckle we had Prague. Today is my day for ordering badly. Tomorrow I am going to decide what to order and then eat something completely different.

Short stay in Le Puy en Velay. Tomorrow we are off to Bourges.

May 16, 2014 – Arles, Nimes and the Pont du Gard

We have a lot to accomplish today and we are out of the apartment by 9:30 AM. Our first stop will be Arles to see the Roman theater and amphitheater and maybe Van Gogh’s little yellow house.

Arles is kind of a big city with lots of industry, really not what we were expecting at all. We find a great parking space right next to the amphitheater and make our way in. The amphitheater is impressive from the outside but not so much on the inside. There are a lot of bleachers set up which hide the original structure. The original structure itself has been renovated and reconstructed over time. We read that there are bullfights in the arena as well as other modern activities. Today some school kids are learning history first hand.

The amphitheater in Arles

The amphitheater in Arles


The teens look fairly bored by the costumed Roman

The teens look fairly bored by the costumed Roman


The middle schoolers are much more into it

The middle schoolers are much more into it


We peek through the gates of the Roman theater in Arles. It is not nearly as complete as the one in Orange so we decide to keep our 13 euros and move on to our next destination.

Is it possible to get lost with a GPS? We are caught in a rabbit warren of tiny streets trying to get out to where Jack, our GPS, says “Proceed to the highlighted route.” We try to follow his original route but he keeps wanting to take us down a road that is shut off by bollards. No matter what, he wants us to turn around and go to the bollarded road. So we keep pushing on and the streets are getting smaller and smaller. At one point John has to make three maneuvers just to get around a corner.
Sometimes we wish we had a smaller car.

Chevy Orlando and John

Chevy Orlando and John


Finally we break free and are on our way to Nimes. Once there and parked we have no idea where we are. We decide to eat lunch and ask the waiter where the Roman ampitheater is. Oh, only about 200 meters away in the only direction we haven’t looked. This is a big structure. Hard to miss.
Roman amphitheater in Nimes

Roman amphitheater in Nimes


Inside it is much like the one in Arles. It’s been refitted for modern events. Here, though, instead of school kids on field trips, there is a large Trojan horse.
Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse


One more sight to see is the Maison Carre or square house. It is a very intact Roman temple. Originally dedicated to the Princes of Rome, the emperor family cult, today it is another site for field trips.
Maison Carre

Maison Carre


John and I have been tired all day and now it is around 3 PM and we need to make the decision, Pont du Gard or go back to the apartment? Pont du Gard wins. Having seen the amazing aqueduct at Segovia, Spain, I want to see this one. It is a magnificent three tiered structure. There is a short movie about it and many other activities that one could do on the site. We look at the aqueduct and take a short walk on it.
Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard


1000 year old olive tree near the Pont du Gard

1000 year old olive tree near the Pont du Gard

John  and the Pont

John and the Pont

View of the aqueduct from the adjoining road

View of the aqueduct from the adjoining road


Last thing on the list for today? Stop at the grocery store to buy the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. We make penne with a cacciatore sauce. And now I think I’ll go to bed.

May 15, 2014 – Pope day in Avignon

John has been calling this our Pope Day for so long that I can’t think of anything else to call it. We awake to the sounds of the mistral, the cold northwesterly wind that blows especially hard during the transition between seasons. This is our fourth day of it and I am ready for calmer weather. The wind has been blowing at around 20 mph with higher frequent gusts. Today on the bridge of Avignon it was hard to keep one’s balance.

But otherwise this is a great day. The palace that the French Popes built in Avignon is very interesting and the audio guide very informative. We find a parking garage under the Pope’s Palace and emerge to a striking view of the Palace. The Palace was built and remodeled over many centuries. In the end it was a barracks for soldiers.

The Pope's Palace in Avignon

The Pope’s Palace in Avignon


Pope Clement V was the first French pope. In order to insure continuity of French popes, Clement packed the cardinals who elect the pope with fellow Frenchmen. Thus, in the 14th century there was a line of nine French popes. Popes Benedict XII and Clement VI are responsible for the early construction of the Palace. Inside, we go through many plain looking rooms but then see the Chapel of St. John. Here are some frescoes from that room.
Jesus with Holy Spirit on his head in the form of a dove

Jesus with Holy Spirit on his head in the form of a dove


The head of John the Baptist that Herod gives to Salome

The head of John the Baptist that Herod gives to Salome


Jesus with the double edged sword from Revelations

Jesus with the double edged sword from Revelations


While I am writing this John is playing medieval music. It reminds me of the Grand Chapel of the Pope’s Palace where we learned that Pope Clement VI approved polyphonic music for use in the church.
Grand Chapel

Grand Chapel


Finally as we exit the Palace there is a tympanum with an exciting scene of damned souls being eaten by the Leviathan. It’s kind of hard to see but the Leviathan is on the right hand side with his mouth wide open. It reminds me of the final judgment tympanum at St. Lazarus in Autun that we saw earlier in the trip.
Leviathan eating the damned

Leviathan eating the damned


We have been sightseeing mightily for several hours and it is almost 2 PM. We must find a place for lunch. As we leave the Palace across the narrow alley of the tinsmiths, there is a hotel which has a menu posted outside. The menu looks pretty good so we decide to go in and then have the best meal of our trip so far.

The restaurant at La Mirande is a former Michelin star winner. We are swept into a lovely, quiet dining room. I am glad that John and I look presentable today. We chose a three course menu and then are blown away by how good the food is. It is beautiful and tastes wonderful. Every component has a purpose on the plate.

The service has been wonderful. Our waiter gives us extra wine, a rose from Cotes Ventoux. He jokes with us. Who said that the French are unfriendly and aloof. We have met nothing but warm, friendly people on our trip.

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond

Our last stop in Avignon is a walk on the bridge made famous in song. Both John and I know the song. I learned it in English in grammar school and he learned it in French in high school.

The bridge at Avignon

The bridge at Avignon

It is close to 4 PM when we finish touring the bridge. Unfortunately the last item on our list for the day, visiting wineries to taste Chateauneuf-du-Pape, will have to wait for another day.

May 14, 2014 – Ants and Bandol

(Please imagine an accent over the final e of rose in all occurences)
This morning it is really chilly and the wind is howling. We are experiencing a mistral, a cold northwest wind that will last until Friday. It is really intense. We decide we will head down to Bandol to do a little rose wine tasting and take a look at the sea.

Not so fast, though. I take a shower and the bathroom becomes inundated with large black ants. They are everywhere – in the bathtub, on the towels, crawling around the mirror. Yuck.

No way are we staying in this room. I start to look up alternate hotels in the area. The problem is that everything is pretty well booked up. John goes to talk to the proprietors. They will move us if there is a free room.

We end up getting a room a couple of doors away. It’s for handicapped people and is actually quite a bit more spacious than our previous layout. I am still apprehensive that our ant problem will arise again in this room.

It’s after 11 AM by the time we move into the new apartment but we decide to carry on with our original plans and after a longish drive we get to Bandol around 1:30. First business lunch. We want a nice seafood lunch.

I order what I think is a brochette of wild sea bass with rice and veg. John orders mussels and frites. I end up with a whole fish that is impossible to filet. So in other words, mouthsful of bones. John’s dish is more successful with properly cooked mussels but soggy fries.

After finishing lunch we head outside to take some pictures by the dramatic coast.

John's yummy moules with setoise sauce and soggy fries

John’s yummy moules with setoise sauce and soggy fries


My bony wolf fish with clumpy rice

My bony wolf fish with clumpy rice


Picture outside the restaurant of the beautiful Mediterranean coast

Picture outside the restaurant of the beautiful Mediterranean coast


Mary, John and KMart backdrop of coast

Mary, John and KMart backdrop of coast

After leaving the restaurant we head to Domaine Tempier where we taste two vintages of their rose wine and a mourvedre. We buy some of the roses and then make our way back to St. Remy de Provence.

A rose wine we bought at Domaine Tempier

A rose wine we bought at Domaine Tempier

John and his bag full of wine goodies

John and his bag full of wine goodies

Dinner tonight is paninis that John makes washed down with the rose wine.
It has been a long and windy day. We are hoping the mistral will be a little less fierce tomorrow.

Dinner of panini and rose wine

Dinner of panini and rose wine

May 13, 2014 – Glanum and St. Paul de Masole

This morning it is chilly and very windy. I had hoped to eat our breakfast outside on our little porch but the weather is not cooperating. Still, it’s nice to be in our comfy clothes having a small breakfast of tea and toast rather than the more elaborate breakfasts we have been having.

Is toast you make in France automatically French toast?

Is toast you make in France automatically French toast?


Then we are off to the Glanum archaeological site. The town of Glanum was first settled south of St. Remy de Provence (SRdP) in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C. The site has successive layers of buildings as the town changed from Gallic to Greek to Roman.

First we visit a small section outside the city walls. As a traveler approached the city he would see a large necropolis filled with monuments to the dead. One very important person’s mausoleum still exists. It is a monument in honor of a compatriot of Julius Casear’s in the Gallic campaign. Service in the army lasted anywhere from 16 to 25 years. If you survived, you were given a plot of land in the provinces.

Mausoleum

Mausoleum


The traveler would then see the arch welcoming them into the city. This arch was built around the time of Augustus’ death in 14 A.D. It declared Glanum’s status as a Roman colony. The arch is decorated with triumphant Romans and Romanized Gauls and shackled barbarians.
Arch with tiny Mary

Arch with tiny Mary


Closer up

Closer up


Across the street is the entrance to Glanum Archaeological Site. There is a small interpretive area. Then we walk through the springtime flora to the excavated city.
Olive buds

Olive buds

Spanish broom which grows all along the highways

Spanish broom which grows all along the highways


Poppies spilling through a crack in an ancient wall

Poppies spilling through a crack in an ancient wall


The town of Glanum is laid out with a main street and several side streets. It ends at a rampart built between a narrow spot in Les Alpilles, a rock formation which provided a natural defense. There are houses, a market, a forum and curia, baths and temples.
Les Alpilles form the backdrop for Glanum

Les Alpilles form the backdrop for Glanum


Mary with Main St. behind

Mary with Main St. behind


Water fountain at the public baths

Water fountain at the public baths


Temple to the cult of the emporers

Temple to the cult of the emporers


We do a thorough job looking through the Glanum and then head back to the apartment for lunch. What a pleasure to relax and have a salad instead of eating out. And it is so much fun shopping in the markets.
Lunch salad with tomato, olives, salami and bread

Lunch salad with tomato, olives, salami and bread


The afternoon’s entertainment is going to St. Paul de Masole, the place where Vincent Van Gogh was hospitalized in the year before his death in 1890. In the exhibition are prints of pieces produced by Van Gogh during his hospitalization in SRdP. Here are a few I tried to match to their 2014 counterparts.
The Ravine of Peiroulets

The Ravine of Peiroulets


Looking towards the ravine

Looking towards the ravine


Van Gogh's The Olive Trees

Van Gogh’s The Olive Trees


The orchard of olive trees

The orchard of olive trees


Irises

Irises


Irises in the hospital garden

Irises in the hospital garden


John and I walk around the hospital grounds. It’s all very peaceful.
My composition - Man on a bench with geraniums

My composition – Man on a bench with geraniums


The old folks

The old folks


Van Gogh was a tortured soul whose last year of life was spent in delusions and paranoia interspersed with moments of brilliant artistic vision. He lived in a tiny room with barred windows and had hydrotreatments to try to soothe his ailing mind.
Van Gogh's room

Van Gogh’s room


The treatment room

The treatment room


Van Gogh checked out of the hospital in May, 1890 and took his life in July 1890 at 37 years old. Most of his greatest works were made in the frenzied last two years of his life.

We are pretty tired out from another full day. Tonight we fix penne with asparagus and have a relaxed dinner before retiring for the night.

Penne with asparagus that we made in the apartment

Penne with asparagus that we made in the apartment

May 12, 2014 – Orange and Saint-Remy-de-Provence

We are up early today. Actually we’ve been up early every day that we’ve been in Vienne due to the terrible internet connectivity at our hotel, La Pyramide. I really don’t want to give them a bad review because everyone seems like they are trying hard and are extremely likeable. But we have two complaints, the air conditioning is very feeble and the room is hot and the internet does not work except for a small window between 3 AM and 7 or 8 AM. We have told them the internet is not working four times and they just say sorry. I think they need to try to get it fixed. But we are leaving now and we all say au revoir with smiles and we depart.

We stop at a service area for breakfast. It is not like our 22 Euro per person breakfast at all. Just a roll and some coffee but totally adequate.
We plan on stopping in Orange and visiting their Roman theater and museum before heading to our next stay in St.-Remy-de-Provence hereafter known as SRDP.

We find the theater with no difficulty and rent the audio tour. It is a really fine Roman theater and the audio tour is excellent. We learn a lot. I am always surprised when John learns something new. I have peppered him with questions about the Wars of Religion, the Hundred Years War, Charlemagne, Viking invasions and a lot of other things and he always knows the answer. He’s like my own personal Google. But we learn about the House of Orange and the Protestants in this part of France and the Edict of Nantes and the revocation of the Edict through the audio guide.

The theater itself is the most impressive one we have seen so far. The seats are built into the side of a hill and the stage wall is over 100 feet high. Until the Christians took over and banned public frivolity it was the site of comedies and tragedies for hundreds of years.

Side view of the Roman theater in Orange

Side view of the Roman theater in Orange


Exterior wall of the stage over 100 feet high

Exterior wall of the stage over 100 feet high


There’s a lot of climbing up and down the steep steps but we manage slowly and neither of us fall down. At the top of the theater you are up really high.
View of the theater stage

View of the theater stage


Roman emperor in the niche on the stage. The statues have removable heads so they can switch to a new emperor head when needed

Roman emperor in the niche on the stage. The statues have removable heads so they can switch to a new emperor head when needed


The audio guide is really good and gives us a lot of interesting background about putting on plays in ancient Orange.

Before heading to the Museum we stop for lunch at a cafe across the street. It is much warmer now that we’ve headed south and we sit outdoors for lunch. We order the plat du jour.


After lunch we take a quick look around the museum.
Roman mosaic of centaurs

Roman mosaic of centaurs


It looks like this centaur with the rabbit is being pursued by...

It looks like this centaur with the rabbit is being pursued by…


this centaur with a fork

this centaur with a fork


We check into our little apartment for the next five days in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. We take a trip to the grocery store for supplies and chill out for the rest of the evening.

May 11, 2014 – Vienne environs

We start today with the incredibly expensive breakfast at the hotel. It’s a special treat for Mother’s Day. The eggs especially are cooked about as perfectly as you can cook a scrambled egg.

We want to go up to see the castle ruins above the city but we are told at the front desk that part of it fell down recently so it is no longer open to the public. Another great vista point, however, is the Belevedere at Mont Pipet. We drive up there and are treated to sweeping panoramas of the valley and the Rhone River.

The view looking south down the Rhone

The view looking south down the Rhone


The view looking north up the Rhone

The view looking north up the Rhone


The massif Pilat in the background

The massif Pilat in the background


View of the castle ruins

View of the castle ruins


Tower of Phillip the Fair (Phillipe le Bon), king beginning 1285

Tower of Phillip the Fair (Phillipe le Bon), king beginning 1285

Our main concentration of the day is the Gallo-Roman Museum.

Omnia Gallia est divisa in tres partes – the opening sentence of Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic wars. Vienne was an important outpost on previously conquered parts of modern France. When Caesar started his campaign to conquer the other three parts was begun in 58 B.C., the thriving city of Vienne would have been important as a supply depot. The area around Vienne had been brought under Roman rule about one hundred years previously and it was a decidedly Roman city with amenities rivaling those of cities in Italy.

Romain-en-Gal, across the river from Vienne, is still being excavated. The museum and outdoor museum display various artifacts and the layout of the town.

Mosaic floor

Mosaic floor


Mosaic

Mosaic

Before the day is over, we also are interested in a place called the Isle of Butter. It is a natural area within the Parc du Pilat which extends all the way to the river here. Who wouldn’t want to see an island of butter. As it turns out, we walk down a path in the woods along with chirping birds and beautiful flowers to overlooks onto the Isle of Butter. The butter, though, is the way beaver used to be written. So it is really the Isle of Beaver. We didn’t see any beavers or sticks of butter floating by but it was a nice walk.

Entrance to the Isle of Butter walk

Entrance to the Isle of Butter walk


Beautiful red poppies are everywhere

Beautiful red poppies are everywhere

Later, we eat at the bistro at the hotel again since there doesn’t appear to be anything else open on Sunday. The meal is semi-successful.


Tomorrow we head to Provence and a self-catering apartment for 5 days. I am looking forward to fixing some of our own food and relaxing. It has been a food and sightseeing intense vacation so far.

May 10, 2014 – Vienne

We are still having massive internet problems.The system has not connected more than a few seconds at a time since around 8 AM. I guess that I will have to get up at 4 AM again to see if I can get this posted.

Anyway started the day with a fabulous breakfast which I am not going to describe now since tomorrow when we have it again I will bring my camera.

Today’s activities are to do the Vienne walking tour and have dinner at La Pyramide’s fancy restaurant. We start by walking to the tourist information office and past the pyramid whence the hotel and restaurant gets its name.

The Roman pyramid just outside our hotel

The Roman pyramid just outside our hotel

The pyramid was built during the reign of Augustus and was the centerpiece of a stadium. Apparently the Romans were having an Egyptian decor period and designed this little pyramid after the ones in Egypt. And now here it is stands in the middle of a side street almost 2000 years later.

Picking up our brochure for the walking tour we head through downtown Vienne which is bustling with a massive market day. There are clothes and books and vegetables and you name it being sold on the streets of Vienne. It’s very busy with a multi-ethnic crowd. We struggle our way through to the historical sites.

Market day in Vienne

Market day in Vienne


There are a lot of Roman ruins in Vienne which was an important Roman outpost being at the confluence of the Rhone and Gere Rivers. In Vienne you can see Roman ruins next to medieval half timbered houses next to Renaissance buildings and then modern buildings. We view the Roman Gardens of Cybele, the giant outdoor theatre, and the temple of Augustus and Livia on our walk today. All have been damaged to some extent as more modern Viennois sought building materials from the temples and theater or pulled down antiquities in the name of religion.
Half timbered house with Roman ruins in the background

Half timbered house with Roman ruins in the background


Gardens of Cybele

Gardens of Cybele


John expounds in the Roman theater

John expounds in the Roman theater


The Temple of Augustus and Livia

The Temple of Augustus and Livia


John and I have been walking and climbing for about two hours so it is time for a little refreshment at a sidewalk cafe.
The pause that refreshes

A break that refreshes

Then it’s back on the walking trail to look at some old churches. We take a closer look at the Cathedral of St. Maurice. John likes to call these Frankenchurches because they start out as Romanesque and then someone decides to put a new Gothic front on and whitewash the frescoes and this is followed by some Renaissance elements etc. The Gothic front of St. Maurice is pretty ugly but there are some interesting details inside – a carved zodiac, a 13th century carving of the dinner at Emmaus.

Cathedral of Saint Maurice

Cathedral of Saint Maurice


Carving of the dinner at Emmaus (very detailed feet)

Carving of the dinner at Emmaus (very detailed feet)


We’ve come to the end of the walking tour but still have a long walk back to the hotel. Vienne itself has gone from bustling market day in the morning to a ghost town this afternoon. I wonder what they are all doing. Reaching our hotel it is time for relaxing before dinner tonight. We are skipping lunch to prepare for the sumptuous meal. Since I have been up since 4 AM, I promptly nap for quite a while.

The dinner at HenriRoux La Pyramide does not disappoint. Since it is 5:30 AM and John is still asleep, I don’t have access to his brain for all that we ate. But I do have pretty pictures –


P.S. John is now awake and fills in the details

Dinner takes over two hours and even though the portions are very small, we are very full and look forward to a long night’s sleep.

May 9, 2014 – Roche Solutre and Parc du Pilat

Today we are driving to Vienne with a couple of stops along the way. John has found the Roche Solutre, a pre-historic site where early humans were making especially fine flint tips. There is a museum and a giant rock with hiking trails.

The ride through the countryside is beautiful. Quant little towns and vineyards are nestled into rolling hills. We find the site. The rock is impressive. It reminds me of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming except made of limestone instead of basalt. We go up the steep hill to the museum to find…that it is closed for renovations. So sad. Continuing up the rock with my knee and John’s bad hip is not possible so we turn around and drive back to the highway continuing south.

Beautiful countryside

Beautiful countryside


Roche Solutre

Roche Solutre

It’s now past 1 PM. We are low on fuel both for the car and ourselves. We figure we will take care of this once we are off the highway and on our way west to the Parc Regional du Pilat. No way could we miss out on a park named Pilat.

Our park

Our park

Once off the main road, there is no gas and nowhere to eat. We turn around and search frantically for a gas station. The first one we find won’t accept our credit card. We are all the way to Vienne now and on empty. Finally we find a station with an attendant. Good thing because now John can’t figure out how to get the gas cap open. Well, long story short, someone helps us, it’s past 2 PM so we eat at a McDonald’s and finally arrive at Pilat Park around 4 PM.

The park is not like what we would think of as a regional park. There are many towns in it and farms. There’s not a lot of wilderness. We find the park headquarters. We take numerous pictures. John relates how his name is Pilat. The staff is non plussed. Oh well, we are stupidly happy about all the Pilat things.

Mr. Pilat with his park

Mr. Pilat with his park


His very own flag

His very own flag

Apparently the park was created as an artisanal protected area. Kind of like a modern Sturbridge Village. Products from the land diligently crafted is as much a part of the park as are the hiking trails. What’s this? A Pilat Brewery? Yes, we will go visit that.

Biere du Pilat

Biere du Pilat


Pilat beer headquarters

Pilat beer headquarters

Arriving at the Brasserie du Pilat we sample some beer, take some pictures and John once again tells the proprietor that we are Pilats. Not much reaction.

This Pilat's for you!

This Pilat’s for you!

We head back to Vienne and check into our hotel, La Pyramide. They have a two star Michelin restaurant where we have reservations Saturday night. The room is fine but the Internet is not. Also the air conditioning is feeble. We are not making much headway with the person at the desk. John learned French before the Internet was invented and he can’t explain the problems.

Our room at La Pyramide

Our room at La Pyramide

We have dinner at their bistro. Dinner is fine.


Back at the room the internet is still not working. I wake up periodically to check on it. (Yes, I am obsessed) So now at 4 AM with the signal weak and intermittent I am trying to get this written. I know I won’t get back to sleep until it is done.

Success!

May 8, 2014 -Beaune and Autun

Our hotel is conveniently situated right next to the old section of Beaune and everything we want to see is within a few minutes walk.

Hotel de la Poste

Hotel de la Poste


Our first stop is at the Notre Dame Collegiate Church begun in about 1120. Our visit to the church is cut short, however, by a service which appeares to be about World War II veterans. Many really old men in their service uniforms and company flags assemble on the portico.
Romanesque Collegiate Church of Notre Dame

Romanesque Collegiate Church of Notre Dame


We wend our way over to the Hotel Dieu (hospital) through the charming streets of Beaune where every other building seems to be a restaurant or wine shop.
A gastropub in Beaune

A gastropub in Beaune


The main attraction in Beaune is the Hotel Dieu, a hospital built by Chancellor Nicolas Rolin in 1443. This hospital has survived the ages and was in general use until 1971 and then converted to a geriatric hospital. On every picture postcard around town is the beautiful Burgundian roof of Hotel Dieu.
The courtyard of the Hotel Dieu

The courtyard of the Hotel Dieu


There is a large hall for poor, sick people. Beds line the walls and a fanciful roof looms overhead. A chapel fills one end of the large hall.
Large hall

Large hall

Line of beds along the wall

Line of beds along the wall


Beams held by imaginative animals

Beams held by imaginative animals


The famous Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden which originally hung in the chapel

The famous Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden which originally hung in the chapel


Many other parts of the hospital complex are also included in the audio tour. The nuns did most of the work, cooking, cleaning, tending the patients and even making medicines.
Kitchen in the Hotel Dieu

Kitchen in the Hotel Dieu


Many years ago when John and I were here for the first time, we drove out into the vineyards surrounding Beaune and happened upon a really fine restaurant for lunch. So today John and I drive over to Meursault to have lunch at the same place, La Diligence. We have a really fine lunch. It will be our main meal of the day.

Dessert or cheese is included but we are way too full to have any.

Next stop, Autun. Autun was formerly known by its Latin name, Augustodunum, and was founded by the Emporer Augustus. There are still traces of its Roman roots around town. Part of the city wall still exists and there is a Roman theater that at one time held up to 12,000 people. Now it sits crumbling overlooking a soccer field.

Roman theatre in Autun

Roman theatre in Autun


Another highlight in Autun is the Cathedral of St.Lazarus constructed between 1120 and 1146. The tympanum over the central doorway was created by Gislebertus in 1130-1135 who unusually signed his work. It is a dramatic last judgement with devils, saints, Jesus, angels, the saved and the damned all done in a bas relief.
St. Lazarus in Autun

St. Lazarus in Autun

Last Judgement tympanum

Last Judgement tympanum


The interior much like the exterior is a combination of the original Romanesque with Gothic elements and other later embellishments. The capitals on the columns are early sculptures and depict Biblical stories.
Interior of St. Lazarus

Interior of St. Lazarus

Carved capital of Simon the Magician being thrown into hell

Carved capital of Simon the Magician being thrown into hell


We have had a really full day. Getting back well after 5 PM we change into comfy clothes and its time to picnic in the room and write the blogs.
Picnic in the room

Picnic in the room

May 7, 2014 – Auxerre to Beaune

This morning we wake up feeling that jet lag weird. Even though we are sleeping better than we sleep at home, our heads are buzzy and we are fidgety. The third day is always the worst.

At breakfast we meet a couple from Florida. Even though we send out our best “do not disturb” mental signals, they are eager to help us enjoy our vacation. They explain travel in the wine region of France and go get us a book so that we may better plan our visits to wineries.

Escaping our new pals, we bid adieu to Auxerre and hit the road for Chablis. We choose a winery to visit and are arriving at the door when our new friends from the hotel arrive at the same time. Weird. However, the guy seems disgruntled about white wine and decides to pass on the winery.

Laroche Winery in Chablis

Laroche Winery in Chablis


We have a wonderful time tasting their different Chablis, so different from California’s idea of Chablis. Made totally of chardonnay grapes, it is very dry. The better Chablis have a hint of fruit. Our server is charming and once she sees that John is trying to speak French, she tries to speak English and between the two of them they communicate. We buy a bottle and thank her profusely for her time and expertise.
John at the tasting bar

John at the tasting bar


Two old winos

Two old winos


Domaine Laroche label

Domaine Laroche label


We decide to have lunch in Dijon. We pick out a restaurant named Les Oenophiles and set course on our GPS. After only moderate struggles we find the place with a parking space open right across the street. That has to be a good omen.

We order the offering of the day – a first course of country pate and a second of some kind of fish (cabillaud) with rice pilaf and vegetables. The fish is sadly way overcooked but the vegetables are good and the sauce is lovely. We have a glass of a 2012 St. Roman chardonnay.


This afternoon John plans a stop in Nuit-St.-Georges for another tasting. Our first try is a bust since the proprietor will not let us taste the wine unless we buy six bottles first. No thanks. We travel further up the road and find the Chateau de Premeaux. Mme Claude would be happy to share her family’s wine with us. They have been making it for five generations. She is very charming and once again John’s fractured French elicits an attempt on her part to add some English to her explanations. John buys a bottle of each wine we try. We are up to five bottles now. I wonder when we are planning on drinking all of this.
John in front of the Chateau de Premeaux

John in front of the Chateau de Premeaux


The colorfully roofed clock tower across the street from the chateau

The colorfully roofed clock tower across the street from the chateau


Now it’s into the car and off to Beaune where we will spend the next two nights. We are booked into Le 5. It looked nice on the internet. We are shown to our room which turns out to be a giant suite all done up in white with a zebra hide on the floor. Plus it is at the end of a endless windy staircase. This is way too many steps for me. It will take me forever to hobble up and down these stairs. We ask for a room on the ground floor. Not possible, all booked. But they are very nice and call around to find us accommodations elsewhere. We settle on the Hotel de la Poste where we’ve stayed before. Everyone is lovely and they help us find a room we like.
The white room at Le 5

The white room at Le 5


Another red room! John immediately smashes into one of the low rafters.

Another red room! John immediately smashes into one of the low rafters.


By the time all the hotel shifting around is done it is past 7 PM, we are tired and the best idea is just to have dinner at the hotel. The food is mostly good and we are entertained and mortified by a fellow American from Las Vegas who is some kind of grand poobah of a Buddies du Vin club in the U.S. He expounds endlessly to the waitstaff and sommelier about wine and how they have to try some decanted wine he has since it is exceptional, blah,blah, blah. John says the guy is a wine bulvon, a pretty scathing remark for John. Anyway here’s what we ate, but let it be said that the portions were small and we didn’t eat all of everything…
Not surprisingly, after dinner we go back to the room and pass out.

May 6, 2014 – Auxerre, France

Not surprisingly we slept like the dead last night. We’ve learned from prior experiences that usually we are so exhausted the first night that we sleep only to be followed by two or more restless nights.

Our red room at the Hotel Parc de Marechaux

Our red room at the Hotel Parc de Marechaux

We have breakfast at the hotel. It is a dreary looking day with light rain. We have only today in Auxerre so a few raindrops are not going to stop us. Our first stop is at Visitor Information. They have a walking tour of Auxerre which should take us to all the most interesting spots. After collecting our map, we are on our way.

A local artist, Francois Brochet (1925-2001) has carved wooden statues that are civic art around Auxerre. He has a museum here in Auxerre but it is only open July and August (of course.) The first statue that we come upon is of the 17th century writer, Nicholas Restif de la Bretonne. Further down the street there is a statue of Marie Noel, a famous poet in France. The last statue we encounter is of Cadet Roussel, a character from the French Revolution. The walking tour is named after him.

Nicholas Restif de las Bretonne, a writer from Auxerre

Nicholas Restif de las Bretonne, a writer from Auxerre


Marie Noel, poet

Marie Noel, poet


The statue of Cadet Roussel with half-timbered house in background

The statue of Cadet Roussel with half-timbered house in background


Because it is important that there is historical data that I actually participated in this trip, I allow one picture to be taken of me by the fifteenth century clock tower. The tower was built on an ancient Gallo-Roman structure. The town of Auxerre originally was a flourishing Roman outpost named, Autissiodorum.
Mary near the clock tower

Mary near the clock tower


Another view of the clock and tower

Another view of the clock and tower


We walk around town looking at the various historical sights. Up and down hill we tread. We see half-timbered houses and Gothic and Romanesque churches.
Fine half-timbered house with the Abby of St. Germain in the background.

Fine half-timbered house with the Abby of St. Germain in the background.


The Cathedral of St. Etienne built between the 11th and 16th centuries is our main goal of the day. Earlier on in our perambulations we attempted to get in but there was some sort of service going on. Now we head back to try for a second look. The outside of the cathedral has elaborate carvings on the three front tympani. Although it is ravaged by both war and time, the medieval art is very impressive.
Cathedral of St. Etienne

Cathedral of St. Etienne



The interior of the church is much like the cathedral in Sens only on a less grand scale.
Interior of Cathedral of St. Etienne in Auxerre

Interior of Cathedral of St. Etienne in Auxerre


According to what I have read online, the crypt is not to be missed. It is a Romanesque space from an earlier church that the newer Romanesque-Gothic current church was built upon. There are some pretty fabulous frescoes in this dimly lit, austere space.
John descends into the crypt

John descends into the crypt


Jesus with two of the gospel writers icons (the winged man and the eagle) along with two menorahs showing a link to Old Testament

Jesus with two of the gospel writers icons (the winged man and the eagle) along with two menorahs showing a link to Old Testament


Finishing up at the Cathedral we go in search of lunch. It is almost 2 PM and we know if you don’t make lunch by 2 PM you are SOL. Surprisingly there seem to be very few places open. We find a brasserie and sit outside enjoying a leek tart and salad for me and a salad Nicoise for John. Around 3 PM we head back to the hotel.

We are only supposed to be going back to change our outerwear since it is no longer raining and pick up the car for a short trip over to Chablis but we make the mistake of lying down to stretch out our creaky joints. Uh oh, I am asleep.

So John and I end up taking a nap instead of visiting Chablis. I guess we needed it. Later we head out around 8 PM in search of dinner. Now we are used to things not being open on Sunday. And also on Monday. But Tuesday, too?! Out of a list of five places that the hotel has sent us to only one is open. It’s pretty crowded but we get a small table next to a little girl who seems charmed by the mere existence of John. She smiles when he smiles and laughs when he laughs. She is intrigued by this extrememly large man speaking gibberish.

Our waitperson is a lovely young French girl who has been perfecting her English by living in Stockholm for the past year. John speaks his French to her and she speaks English back. I smile. She shows us the board with the menu on it. The menu is the menu for the weekend apparently since on a Tuesday most of the items are unavailable. It would have been easier if she had just told what to eat. It is all pretty good but not amazing.

We climb back up the hill to the hotel. We have a jovial Franglish conversation with Eric at the desk. It’s off to blog and bed.