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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(I have gotten behind in posting so John has been gracious enough to help me out.)
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John and I walk around the hospital grounds. It’s all very peaceful.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.