Thursday, April 17, 2014

The continuing adventures of the Phillips in France

Monday, April 14 - Thursday, April 17
We apologize for taking so long to post a blog. The last few days have been extremely hectic and very tiring. It turns out that we arrived in Paris during the Spring Holiday. Monday started with a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral. We realize that we have talked about the major cathedrals of Europe to the point that you are probably bored to death. To be brief, the inside of Notre Dame is every bit as impressive as the other major cathedrals we have visited. The outside, however, is architecturally more beautiful than all the others. It has a lightness to it that the others don't. After seeing the inside, Tim and the Phillips went outside and got in line to take the steps up to the top of one of the tours. Lynda remained inside the cathedral, renting an audio guide. After an hour in line and very little movement, we gave up on the tower tour, found Lynda and set off for lunch. There are two small islands in the River Seine; Isle de Citi where Notre Dame is located and Isle de St. Louis, a smaller island upstream from Isle de Citi and connected to Isle de Citi by bridge. After passing up many over priced cafes on Isle de St. Louis we found a bar that served sandwiches. While the owner of the bar was very friendly and extremely entertaining, his cooking skills were lacking. Tim's 93 year old father could have made better sandwiches. All was not lost. We found excellent ice cream.
The next stop was the Louvre, the home of many kings of France and now the home of one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Arguably, one of the world's most well-known paintings, Michelangelo's Mona Lisa, is located in the Louvre. As usual, we think, every one in the Louvre was trying to see this painting at the same time. The Mona Lisa is a mesmerizing painting and, despite the throngs of people jostling to see her, she managed to maintain her enigmatic smile. After viewing the Mona Lisa, JIl and Rob took Madi and we took Jocey to further explore the Louvre. Jocey has been studying ancient Egypt in school so she was anxious to see the ancient Egyptian art. We hadn't explored this part of the gallery before so found it of interest, but especially were amazed at the knowledge that Jocey demonstrated of the art we were viewing. Just ask her about the Hamurabi Code when you see her next! Because of the throngs of people in the gallery we were not able to enjoy the Louvre as much as we had on previous visits. This was to become a common theme for the week.
Rob, Madi, Jocey and Lynda were very interested in visiting the Paris catacombs where the remains of the dead were placed before the use of cemeteries. So Tuesday morning they set off to visit the catacombs. Tim and Jil stayed in the apartment for an hour reading and then set off to Montparnasse where the catacombs are located to meet up with our merry band of ghouls when they exited the catacombs. Unfortunately we found them still in line and nowhere near the front. The next hour was spent trading off holding our place in line while others found lunch. Eventually Jil decided to visit the catacombs. Tim had no interest in them and instead went back to the St.Germain area near our apartment to visit the many art galleries located there. Once we met back up at the apartment we discovered that the Phillips and Lynda had seen a bunch of neat bones and Tim had seen a bunch of neat art.
You may recall from a previous post that we went up to Montmarte to eat at a Raclette restaurant that we had enjoyed several times on previous trips. Unfortunately it was closed, but we found a similar restaurant near our apartment and enjoyed an excellent and fun meal there on Tuesday night. After dinner we went back to the Eiffel Tower for our third attempt to go to the top. We only had a 45 minute wait in line before getting on the elevator for the trip up. Trust us; This was a short wait. We thought it would be very cool to see Paris after dark at the top of the tower. Unfortunately, the only cool thing about it was the temperature. The lights were not as spectacular as we thought they would be and the huge press of people made it less then enjoyable. This was sad because we had enjoyed a trip up the tower with Lynda's brother and sister in law several years ago that was both breathtaking and enjoyable.
Wednesday was a lost day. The plan was for Tim to go to the airport and pick up a rental van, pick up the rest of the family and head for Mont St. Michel, arriving there in mid afternoon, Problems began when the minivan Tim had reserved was not big enough. He was able to get a larger van but an hour was lost in the meantime. This would not have been a catastrophe had we not run into a major traffic backup on the expressway caused by either an accident or roadwork. We finally exited the expressway after two hours of stop and go driving. We scraped the plans for Mont St. Michel and went directly to our reserved rooms at a hotel in St.Lo. Food and wine at a brasserie in St. Lo restored our spirits.
We chose St. Lo as our base for exploring both Mont St. Michel and the Normandy beaches. Tim's father has talked for years of going through St. Lo after landing at Normandy during World War II. Five years ago, Tim toured the Normandy beaches with the Holland American Legion Band on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The band had been based in St. Lo. Thursday's agenda was a history lesson on D-Day. The first stop was Ste. Mere Eglise. The first wave of the invasion were paratroopers dropping into Normandy to try to cut lines of communication. One of the paratrooper's parachutes entangled itself on the steeple of the church in Ste. Mere Eglise. This paratrooper hung from the steeple for hours watching the fighting below him before finally being rescued. To this day there is a replica paratrooper hanging from the church steeple in Ste. Mere Eglise. Incidentally, Ste. Mere Eglise was the first city liberated by the Allies after the landing in Normandy. Our next stop was Utah Beach where Tim's father landed during the war. Our drive to Utah Beach and further on to the other beaches took us through beautiful little villages and lovely country side. As lovely as the countryside was, we could see that it was difficult terrain for the Allies to advance through. From Utah Beach we traveled on to Point du Hoc. This was where the American ranger units had to climb up very steep cliffs in order to neutralize Nazi gun emplacements in this highly strategic location. The sight at Point du Hoc still contains many Nazi bunkers and there are many craters from the shelling the Allies made on this location. From Point du Hoc it was on to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. It is difficult to describe what a meaningful experience this was. The cemetery sits atop a bluff overlooking Utah Beach. We have visited many American military cemeteries, all of them beautiful and beautifully maintained. This may be the finest of them all. The American Cemetery in Normandy contains the remains of over 9000 soldiers who died in battle, 1500 being "known only to God". Today was cloudless with little wind, adding to the incredible atmosphere. Our last stop was Arromanches. Arromanches is where the Allies established a temporary harbor and docks once the beachhead was secured to bring in the necessary supplies to support the further invasion of France. Many of the these "temporary structures" still remain. While Tim and Jil were strolling on the walk overlooking the beach in Arromanches, they discussed what a meaningful day it had been. They both wondered it Madi and Jocey understood the import of what they had seen and agreed someday they would

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Paris Weekend

Saturday and Sunday, April 12-13,
We have a guest blogger today. The following is Jilayne's take on our weekend in Paris.
Saturday morning Lynda was still not feeling well so Dad and the Phillips set out for the Paris Sewer Museum which Mom wasn't looking forward to anyway. Dad's brother, Steve, has long recommended the Sewer Museum and we wanted to be sure that Mom and Dad saw some things they'd never experienced while in Paris.
The Sewer Museum is just as you would imagine: dank, darkly lit and odiferous tunnels underground displaying the history of bringing fresh water to the people of Paris while disposing of their waste. The amazing thing about Europe is that even the sewers have a fascinating history that ties into people we've all read about. For example, Napoleon I wanted to leave a lasting legacy for the people of Paris and his advisors told him that bringing them fresh water would be the most beneficial. In the U.S. we think of fountains as pleasant sights in public parks, but they were originally created to distribute safe drinking water to the public before plumbing was feasible. Madison and Jocelyn particularly enjoyed learning that Victor Hugo based the Les Miserables sewer scenes on his good friend's mapping of the Paris sewers which was done in order to expand and enhance the system. Jilayne spent most of the time holding her breath.
After emerging from underground, the troupe walked along the River Seine toward the Eiffel Tower. The lines were too long to wait to ascend the Tower, but the views from below were amazing.
After our afternoon naps, Mom joined us in another trip to the Montmartre section of town. Mom and Dad have frequented a restaurant there with a delicious warmed cheese dish that everyone was looking forward to. Unfortunately, upon reaching the restaurant, we found it closed. We ended up at a typical Parisian brasserie for a mostly forgettable meal. Rob ordered the steak tartare, however, which was an interesting culinary adventure. Steak tartare, a Paris delicacy, is ground raw beef, presumably a high quality cut of beef. Rob described it more as uncooked hamburger paste which arrived with a raw egg on top. Jocey tried it, but Jilayne couldn't even look towards his plate during most of the meal. We ended the evening with a stroll by Notre Dame Cathedral. Madi and Jocey enjoyed a fire twirler in the square at the front of the Cathedral. Mom and Dad returned to our apartment while the Phillips browsed through the many souvenir shops that line the Seine near the Cathedral. Nothing says Paris like a miniature plastic Eiffel Tower.
Sunday began with another travel adventure. Dad assured us that he knew the way to the small local art fair in the Montparnasse section of Paris. Mom and Dad had visited and purchased art at this art fair on a previous visit to Paris. After asking three different locals and traipsing 270 degrees around Montparnasse Tower (fancy French word for a skyscraper), Rob asked the train station cafe attendant who pointed us in the right direction. Once there, everyone enjoyed the numerous stalls of local artists displaying everything from abstract paintings to Paris photography to ceramics, jewelry and sculpture. Dad was able to visit with the wife of an artist they had visited on a previous trip and whose art hangs in their home. After much debate, Rob and Jil purchased two prints to commemorate their trip while Jocelyn and Madison also found pieces to remember Paris by. Jilayne had read before the trip that Montparnasse is the place for crepes in Paris, so after the art fair the group found a creperie where we enjoyed savory crepes for the meal and decadent sweet crepes for dessert. A true Parisian meal and one that everyone agreed should be exported to the U.S. ASAP.
After returning the newly purchased art to the apartment, we took the metro back to the Eiffel Tower for attempt number two at ascending the tower. After sprinting to meet Dad at the front of the line for tickets, we discovered that the very top level of the Tower was temporarily closed, possibly due to wind. We voted to wait for the full experience and walked along the Seine to the Pont D'Alma, a bridge over the Seine, where we purchased tickets for that night'sriver cruise. We returned to the apartment, take out pizza in hand, for a short rest before the evening's entertainment.
The Phillips recommend the River Seine cruise with no reservations. It's an amazing way to experience the city. The Eiffel Tower lights up after dark and every hour on the hour a special five minute light show makes the tower sparkle like diamonds in the night sky. On the trip down the Seine we were surrounded by the full spectrum of history, from the nearly ancient Notre Dame Cathedral built in the 12th century to the Eiffel Tower which represented Paris's turn toward the modern age in the late 1890's, and the more recent phenomenon of newlywed couples and lovers of all ages placing padlocks on Paris bridges and then throwing the key into the river. We saw our apartment building from the river, viewed the Louvre as it must have presented itself to arriving diplomats when the Louvre was still the royal palace, and watched the young people of Paris party in parks along the river. It was truly a beautiful way to view the "City of Lights."
To top the evening off we sent the girls back to the apartment while the adults stopped at a Canadian Pub down the street from our apartment to watch the last round of the Masters golf tournament. We were hoping for a double bill with the Tigers game but the pub was showing an ice hockey game. It is a Canadian pub, eh.
A couple of observations from the guest blogger. Only a couple as truly versed in traveling can fit so much into a day as Mom and Dad do. I'm sure they feel that we've wasted our time by seeing only two or three sights a day. And only a truly cosmopolitan couple like Tim and Lynda can take the time to write a blog for you all! I can barely fit meals into the days of sightseeing, let alone have time to allow inspiration to strike! As much as my kids make fun of Grandma and Grandpa for their age, they sure do make this traveling thing seem easy! So glad we have the chance to enjoy one of their amazing trips with them!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Phillips arrive in Paris

Thursday and Friday, April 10 and 11, 2014
Jilayne, Rob, Madison and Jocelyn arrived in Paris at 7:30 Thursday morning. We took the train from Paris to the airport to pick them up and took them back to our apartment by train. Our apartment is on the River Seine. We can see Notre Dame Cathedral about a quarter mile upstream. As rustic as our apartment in Apt was, this one is modern. It is filled with art work, much of it small statuary. By Rob's count there are almost 20 of the statues that are nudes. Madi and Jocey are more impressed with the small replica of Rodin's The Thinker, which is actually a skeleton. We may need to inspect Madi's bags when we leave to make sure she has not packed it. While the Phillips unpacked and napped we went exploring our new neighborhood specifically looking for a grocery store to lay in some basic supplies. We are very pleased with our location. It is a short walk to the Place St. Michel where we can catch either a bus or the Metro, Paris' subway. In the other direction it is a short walk to a vibrant neighborhood nestled between the Blvd. St. Germain and the Seine. This neighborhood has a wide choice of cafes and restaurants, several interesting art galleries and several markets and grocery stores.
In the afternoon we all traveled by bus to Montmartre. Montmartre is a neighborhood of Paris that sits on a hill overlooking the rest of the city. It has long been the home of artists including Picasso and Toulouse Letrec. At the very top of the hill sits the Basilique de Sacre Couer, the church of the Sacred Heart. It was built in the late 1800's during a time of increased growth in the Protestant churches to show that the Catholic Church still dominates Paris both literally and figuratively. Its architecture is totally different then the great cathedrals of Europe built during the early part of the last millennium. One of the domes is even an onion dome of sorts. It is very traditional on the inside and beautiful. At any time of the day there will be hundreds of people gathered, sitting on the steps enjoying the stunning view from the front of the church of Paris at your feet. There is a small plaza a block or two from Sacre Couer with many restaurants and souvenir shops and lots of struggling artists anxious to sketch your portrait. It is a fun place to visit.
Friday morning Lynda woke up with an awful cough and a sore throat which she probably caught from the Johnson's while we were in Provence. She stayed in bed while the rest of the family ventured out. She did instruct Tim before we left to keep her informed through text messages as to what we were doing. We were able to catch a bus right outside our door that took us directly to the Musee D'Orsay. Originally a train station, the shell of the building was retained and the interior was remodeled to house one of the many outstanding art exhibits in Paris. We like this museum because the building itself is as much a part of the art as the works themselves. The art spans all of the different periods of art. We have always been partial to the impressionists so that is where Tim headed with Jocey and Madi joining him. It is a standing joke with us that when we see a piece of art in a museum that we are particularly taken with, Tim will ask Lynda to create a diversion while he steals the painting. This time Jocey created the diversion when Tim saw a Pissaro of special interest.
The five of us met up at the agreed upon time and took a bus to the Champs Eylsees, the most famous boulevard in Paris, if not all of Europe. The Champs, as we Parisians say, is anchored at one end by the Arc de Triomphe and the other by the Place de la Concorde. Most of you have undoubtedly seen the famous photograph of the German army marching through the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees when Germany first captured Paris during World War II. We ate at an outdoor cafe on the Champs in brilliant sunshine and luxuriated in the Parisian atmosphere. After lunch we strolled up the Champs to the Arc de Triomphe. It took us several visits to Paris before we finally found the underground passageway to the base of the Arc. The Arc sits in the middle of a roundabout with 8 lanes of traffic and 12 different streets feeding into this circle making it impossible to cross to the Arc on the surface. Once you reach the Arc you are able to either climb or take an elevator to the top where you have a commanding view looking down the Champs Elysees as well as great views of the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Couer. The Phillips were unanimous in naming the Arc de Triomphe their favorite site so far.
Madi and Jocey have been quick to remind us that this is there Spring Vacation from school and with the remnants of jet lag still affecting all the Phillips we went back to the apartment for naps. In the evening Lynda felt well enough to join us as we strolled through the St. Germain neighborhood and enjoyed a delightful dinner at an Italian cafe. After dinner Rob and Jil took the girls back to the apartment and then joined us as we sat at a sidewalk cafe, sipping a pastis and watching the interesting parade of people walking by.Thursday and Friday, April 10 and 11, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Weekend in Provence

Saturday, April 5, 2014
Saturday is market day in Apt. We decided that both couples should explore the market on their own and we meet back at the apartment at 1:30. The market was spread all around the town and included not just fruits and vegatables, but meat, cheese, bread, desserts and clothing. All the streets around our apartment were crowded and it was fun to be part of the throng. When we returned to the apartment about 12:30, Lyn and Don were already back and we discovered that both couples had purchased bread and cheese. It made for a wonderful lunch.
After lunch we drove to St. Remy. Most French towns have an "old town" section in the middle of the city that is a warren of "pedestrian only" streets that go off in all sorts of directions. The church/cathedral sits in the middle. St. Remy is like this. It was a sunny day and it was nice to leisurely stroll aimlessly along the streets, exploring in all the shops.
From St. Remy we drove to Les Baux de Provence, a small village perched on the side of an impossing hill with an old castle perched on top of the hill. Les Baux is suceptable to very high winds and Saturday was no exception. While the Johnson's visited a chateau in the village, we went to the Carreries de Luminairies at the base of the hill. Carreries de Luminairies is a multimedia light show that is projected on the walls and floor of the abanded rock quarry in the side of the mountain. Rock was taken from this quarry many years ago to build Les Baux. Because it was taken out of the side of the mountain, removing the rock created huge rooms with ceilings that lay in a very randon pattern. The light show is an impressive production, the images being projected on all of the exposed walls and floor simultaneously accompanied by classical music that pours from speakers mounted throughout the quarry. You are completely surrounded by sight and sound. The show we saw was a retrospective of the works of the late 19th century artist, Gustav Klimt. The production lasted almost an hour and left us in sensory overload.
Sunday was a lazy day. Don was not feeling well so we took Lyn with us to Buoux, a village near Apt for lunch. Lynda had read about a restaurant in Buoux that was suppose to be very good. It was. All three of us had wonderful meals but the real suprise was after dinner. As we left the restaurant the chef was there to thank us and accept our compliments. Lynda then pointed out to Tim a couple of horse drawn carriages sitting in a sheltered area. Before we knew it, the chef had taken us to a garage that had over 20 similar carriages, all in mint condition, packed into the garage. Each carriage had a sign identifying its place of origin. Most were from the United States, with one being from Detroit. We excitedly told the chef that we lived near Detroit but we don't think he understood us. We returned to the apartment and spent the rest of the day reading and catching up on laundry.
Monday Don was feeling somewhat better and joined us on our trip to Aix en Provence. We had nothing specific to see in Aix but it seemed to be a "must see". The drive from Apt out of the Luberon mountains into the relative valley around Aix was scenic and fun to see except for Tim who was driving. Cours Mirabeau is the main boulevard of Aix. Its about a half a mile long with a very small road running down the middle and wide sidewalks fronting beautiful 17th century buildings. Cours Mirabeau is anchored at each end by lovely fountains and there are two additional fountains in between. Interestingly, one side of the boulevard is dominated by cafes, restaurants and shops. The other side of the boulevard is predominantly banks. It was sunny and 77 degrees so sitting in a cafe sipping a Pastis and watching Aix en Provence pass by was a real treat. As we said, there was nothing specific to see but we enjoyed watching it all.
As we finish this particular posting it is Tuesday. Both couples need to pack and we need to ready the apartment for our departure tomorrow. We may take a final drive through the Provencal countryside. Lyn and Don are riding with us into Paris tomorrow. They have a hotel in Paris for several days. We will be moving into our Paris apartment tomorrow preparing for the arrival of Jil, Rob, Madison and Jocelyn on Thursday morning. We have thoroughly enjoyed our week with Lyn and Don but eagerly look forward to Paris and the Phillips. When we next talk with you it will be from Paris.
Au revior Provence!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Out and about in Provence

Friday, April 4, 2014

This morning we left Apt and headed west through Avignon, headed for the Pont du Gard.  The Pont  du Gard is a two thousand year old aqueduct built by the Romans to provide water for Nimes.  It is truly a marvel of engineering  whether you think 19 B.C. or 2014 A.D.  It was designed to drop one inch every 350 feet and the arches are the largest that the Romans ever built. It is an imposing and impressive structure.  About 10 years ago there was a terrible flood in the river the aqueduct spans. Trees were uprooted by the flood and several modern day bridges were destroyed.  Officials lived in fear that the Pont du Gard would also be destroyed.  It survived without a problem.  Let's hear it for those Roman engineers.

We left the Pont du Gard and drove back to Avignon.  In 1309 Pope Clement V decided to move the seat of the Catholic church from Rome to Avignon.  For almost 70 years Avignon was the center of the Christian world.  During this time a large fortress was built and was the home of the pope. Our plan was to visit this fortress, the Palais des Papes.  Unfortunately, while standing in line we observed signs that said that the chapel and the general audience room were closed for renovation.    The ticket seller told us there were many other rooms to see but it was the chapel and audience room that held our interest.  We decided to save the Palais des Papes for another trip!  All was not lost however.  The Palais des Papes is inside the walled old town of Avignon. This was worth seeing, plus we had a nice lunch.

Heading back to Apt we stopped in the village of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, also know as "the Venice of France".  We suspect that any picturesque village with a bunch of little rivers or canals in it is called "The Venice of whatever country you are in."  At one time Sur-la-Sorgue was a center of textile making and the water wheels on the streams still remain.  It really is a pretty little town.  0ur interest, however, was the small cathedral at the center of the village.    King Louis XIV had paid to have the cathedral decorated and had it decorated so the peasants knew that the person responsible, King Louis, was much closer to a higher being then peasants could ever be.  This cathedral proves the motto of Tim's brass quintet:  You cannot explain good taste and there is no end to bad taste.  It really is beyond words to explain the interior of this church.  Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed inside the church, so you will just have to trust us on this one.

Our last stop of the day was not so much a stop as a "drive through" with a photo op.  Gordes is a village with little of interest except for its commanding and stunning location on the side of a hill overlooking a lovely valley.  A few years ago the wealthy Parisians discovered Gordes, buying up and renovating properties and driving prices sky high.   Still it has its stunning location.  We do have pictures of this and hope you are as impressed as we were.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April 2-3, 2014
Apt, France 

Wednesday morning we reluctantly left Cassis and drove to Marseilles to visit the Cathedral Major. The great thing about visiting the major cathedrals of Europe is that each is different and has its own distinct feel. The Cathedral Major features horizontal stripes much like the Duomo in Florence, Italy. The particular color of the stripes in Marseilles gives this cathedral a "Moorish" feel. While many of the European cathedrals have a "pieta" in them, the Cathedral Major had two, both very different and very moving. A "pieta" is a sculpture depicting Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion. Michelangelo's "Pieta" in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome is the most famous.

From the cathedral we drove to the Marseilles airport to pick up our friends, Lyn and Don Johnson, who you may remember from our riverboat cruise down the Danube last May. After picking up the Johnsons we headed to Apt to move into our apartment that we will occupy for the next week. The owner of the apartment, an American named Paul, spent much time with us, getting us acclimated to the apartment and the neighborhood around the apartment, suggesting restaurants in the area and other points of interest. Our apartment occupies part of the second and third floors of an 18th century building in the old section of Apt. The only drawback to the apartment is the total lack of drawers and closets in which to store our clothes. We were looking forward to not living out of our suitcases the rest of this trip, but guess we will have to wait until Paris to unpack. The rest of the evening was spent drinking wine, eating cheese and baguette and catching up on family news with Lyn and Don.

Paul suggested that we take a drive from Apt to Bonneaux because all of the cherry and almond trees were in full bloom. Thursday we decided to take this drive. But, before leaving Apt we visited the local wine co-op. A co-op is where farmers who don't grow enough grapes to make their own wine sell their grapes. The co-op uses all of these different grapes to make a wine that may not be a vintage wine but is still excellent and is considerably cheaper than bottled wine from a proper wine maker. Interestingly, there is an area in the co-op where you can watch people filling large 5- to 10-gallon plastic containers with wine using a nozzle similar to a gasoline pump. We bought a 3 liter box of red wine thinking the 5 liter box looked too big. We may have been wrong!

The drive to Bonneux was truly beautiful. While Bonneux was not a particularly picturesque village, the road from Bonneux led to LaCoste, a village we are sure you will enjoy reading about.  LaCoste is built on a hill and at the very top of the hill is a castle that was said to at one time belong to the Marquis de Sade. Yes, that Marquis de Sade. Our guide book suggested that we drive as far up the hill in LaCoste as we could and then take the steep walk on up to the castle. The guide book also said that the Marquis brought local peasants to the castle where "he did scandalous things to them. The walk up to the castle was indeed steep. So steep, in fact, that Lynda did not attempt the climb. We were not able to actually enter the castle once we reached it but the views over the countryside were spectacular. After the Marquis de Sade the castle actually fell into ruins until purchased recently by the fashion designer, Pierre Cardin. He refurbished the castle so that it now hosts an opera festival each summer. We don't know if this is a coincidence or not, but the Savannah School of Art and Design has a branch in LaCoste.

Our next stop was Menerbes. This village is supposedly the home village of Peter Mayle, the author of "A Year in Provence" and subsequent books about Provence. Menerbes has not fully embraced Mayle because after the publication of his book tourists descended upon the village.  The popularity of Menerbes led to foreign investment to clean up the city, which led to higher prices for food and wine for the locals. Sacre bleu! Menerbes did have a rather spiffy look about it. But despite that we found a restaurant for a lovely lunch.

Our last stop was Roussillon. Roussillon is famous for the ochre cliffs around the town. All of the buildings in Roussillon are the color ochre. It is a lovely village with many interesting art galleries and shops. While we enjoyed Roussillon it did not feel like a typical Provencal village. It was like the Disney people decided to build their take on a traditional French village.

In all of our travels Lynda has never found a road that was too small to drive down. She was in her glory today because some of the roads were nothing more than wide sidewalks. Our rental car is a 2014 Peugeot that is equipped with GPS that includes a small video screen showing the route and warnings when turns are coming up. Additionally, a lovely slightly British-accented woman gives verbal commands. Tim is pleased because she never becomes annoyed when he occasionally makes a wrong turn. She just calmly continues to give instructions to get him back on the proper route. We've named her Amelie and are quite taken with her.

We have now returned to the apartment where we are enjoying wine, cheese, pate and bread and planning tomorrow's adventure. Life is good!

Bon soir.
Marquis de Sade's Castle

Provence Countryside


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cassis, France  March 30- April 1, 2014

We spent Sunday and Monday driving to the south coast of France.  It had been our original intent to take our time getting to the south and explore along the way.  But once we left the Loire Valley there was very little to see other than beautiful countryside so we just kept driving.

The Loire Valley is about an hour or so south of Chartres and is famous for the many Chateaux that have been preserved and maintained. Many have been given to the French government. We picked out one that appeared from the guide book to be interesting: the Chenonceau Chateau.  Chenonceau was built in 1194 over the River Cher. King Henri II purchased, or more likely just took over, the chateau and gave it to his mistress to live in. When Henri died, his wife, Catherine of Medici kicked the mistress out and gave the chateau to her son who became Henri III. During the French revolution Chenonceau was owned by the grandmother of the author George Sand and hosted many of Sand's friends at the chateau. Because of this, the chateau survived the revolution, unlike many chateaux that were in the hands of royalty. The many rooms of the chateau are maintained as they would have appeared during Henri II's time. There is a lot of the original art hanging in the chateau including two paintings by Rubens. The ceilings in all the rooms are probably 12-15 high. Sunday was a cool day and we had a sense of how uncomfortable these opulent-appearing chateaux could be during cold weather. There was a fire in the huge fireplace in one of the drawing rooms that helped keep the chill off. There were two beautiful formal gardens outside of Chenonceau. A small one built by Henri's mistress and a larger one built by Henri's wife(!). One final point of interest: in addition to the several drawing rooms, many bedrooms, and large galleries, there was a small chapel. We are not sure what the chapel was used for. Probably the King was constantly asking forgiveness from God for giving his mistress this nice home.

Monday was a long day on the road but the scenery made it interesting.  We passed through large fields of we know not what into rolling hills of woodland before driving through reasonably mountainous terrain. South of Lyon we drove along the Rhone River and could see the beginning of the French Alps off in the distance. For those of you who may tire of our constant discussion of wonderful meals, we stopped in a highly forgettable French town for probably the worst French meal we have ever had.

Lynda had decided that we would travel to Cassis, find a hotel for two nights before going to our apartment that we have rented. Cassis turned out to be a picturesque fishing village on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea located east of Marseilles. An old fort sits on top of a hill overlooking the small harbor. Our hotel is right on the harbor and it is going to be hard to leave.  While we have been here Cassis has been a sleepy village but we are sure during the summer it is a bustling place.

Tuesday we drove east to Monte Carlo. In 1986 when we came to England for Tim's sabbatical year we had a couple of weeks before we could move into our home in Guildford so we spent the two weeks traveling on the continent. We won't bore you with a long explanation as to why, but we ended up staying overnight in the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel in the suite above the main entrance to the hotel. It was a magical visit. Besides the beautiful, more then we could afford, accommodations we watched Chinese fireworks over the bay while ogling huge yachts, many with helicopters situated on them. Today we proved that you can't go back and relive former glory. In 1986 the Hotel was located sort of off by itself outside of Monte Carlo. Now there are many high rise luxury hotels encroaching on the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel. It no longer looks so big and special. But fear not. The huge yachts with the helicopters are still there.

Tuesday night all the planets aligned just right for us to have a truly memorable meal.  Marseilles and the surrounding region are famous for its bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse is in simple terms a fish stew, something that Tim has always had on his bucket list should we ever visit Marseilles. At the recommendation of our hotel we went to the Poissonnaire Laurent for dinner.  While a bit cool, because of heat lamps we were able to sit outside to eat. We could look across the bay at the fort lit up. Tres romantique! Tim had bouillabaisse while Lynda opted for sea bass.  It turns out there is a very strict procedure for properly eating bouillabaisse. A large plate was brought to the table that contained large pieces of three different grilled fish surrounded by six mussels still in their shells with a large roasted potato on top. A large terrine of hot fish broth was also brought to the table along with a basket of croutons, and containers of shredded cheese and an aioli made of mayonnaise, saffron and garlic. You begin by spreading aioli on several croutons, placing them on the bottom of the soup bowl and sprinkling cheese on top.  Then you put small pieces of the different fish and pieces of potato amongst the croutons.  Finally you ladle the broth on top. As the croutons soak up the broth the dish takes on a consistency of stew. It was sumptuous. The meal lived up to the many years of anticipation. We ended the evening on the little balcony of our hotel, reading and sipping Bailey's Irish Cream and feeling truly charmed.

Au revoir Cassis.