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Paris Before Midnight

The first part of our Le Marais-based week

July 4-5

This is different - for all of us! Although we met up with my parents before in France (in 2008), we've never had an extended holiday with them, and they've never travelled independently in Europe. It was weird even being in the Toronto airport with them. I started a running joke of "hey, what are you doing here?"

Overnight flights are pretty gelling (& I probably slept more than anyone), and so was the nearly two-hour taxi ride in from CDG airport. We're staying in the heart of Le Marais in a classic-looking Parisian flat. It's also the heart of the gay village, which makes it quite interesting in the evenings! I don't understand...why I haven't I got on hit more? Anyway, the building itself is from 1889. Though they added a claustrophobic one-person elevator, we mostly ignore and walk the spiral stairs to the third floor.

Roland, and his little white dog, were there when we arrived and showed us around. My Dad and I foraged for some basic groceries in the neighbourhood as everyone else unpacked or napped a bit.

(Dining room of our flat in Le Marais, with evidence of someone's breakfast.)

It was to be a big first evening: we'd booked advance tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower. This would ensure that everyone wouldn't just crash. And it worked, though it was a little hard to put the time in when you're all in a jet-lagged fog.

We bought our first Metro "carnet" (book of 10 tickets) and got on at our Hotel de Ville stop and figured out a way to the Rue Cler neighbourhood near the Eiffel Tower. It wasn't much to look at, but we had an early dinner at a pizza place (Gusto Italia) near there (just because it smelled good, and we couldn't wait for a real French restaurant to open at 7 or 8), then looked at the Tower from ground level, before hanging out with drinks and desserts in a nearby cafe.

Finally it was up the to the top. The very top! My parents had never done that before. The elevator ride to the highest platform is a bizarre sensation, a little scary. When you finally look out, it's an astonishing view. The perspective actually flattens the hills of Paris. It's so white. Another meaning for the "city of light."

It did turn out to be a pretty exhilarating start to our week in Paris.


July 6

To start our first real day in Paris, Jenn wanted to take us off the beaten tourist track. A word about our trip: it was my parent's idea, it's based on having more time to be in Provence than one of the package tours would ever offer. Jenn's role is planning, and she's thrown herself into the role over the past year and a half: a one-woman tour director/travel agent extraordinaire. Jenn's other role during the trip is photographer, so you won't see her in many pictures (none on this blog) and that's how she likes it! My role (other than this blog) will be in driving once we leave Paris. And speaking French: I've been brushing up on my French for over a year using a computer program called "Fluenz," and the encouragement of the colleagues at my school who teach French (I teach History).

So we started the morning at Parc Monceau, a beautiful area of Paris that I'd never heard of, and walked to the Nissim de Camondo museum/mansion. It was a huge hit with everyone. My parents were amazed that so impressive an attraction would not be on any of the travel itineraries. The Camondo family mansion is preserved exactly as it was when opened as a museum in 1935. They were a wealthy Jewish family who had collected French decorative arts objects mainly from the 18th century. Although the museum is named after a son in the family who died as a French soldier in WWI, all of the family's next generation of daughters died in concentration camps in WWII. It's quite a story, showing that no amount of money or status protected French Jews.

(Beautiful and lesser-known Parc Monceau)

To tour the house now is to tour the home as if people were still living in it, surrounded by their museum-quality objects. Particularly interesting were the servant and kitchen areas, and the entire room built just to show off the china sets.

(Going Camondo)

Then we made our way be Metro (pretty easy to get around, although often crowded) to the Arc d'Triomphe. Four years ago we were here with my parents and had our picture taken in pretty much the same spot. Anica's changed the most, of course!

Anica wanted to reprise our walk down the Champs d'Elysees, and go in some of her favourite stores, like the Virgin Megastore and the Peugeot boutique (we will be leasing a Peugeot when we leave Paris). Lunch was at Leon's, a Belgian restaurant right on the famous boulevard.

(A second Triomphe!)

(Original Triomphe - 2008!)

The afternoon highlight was a visit to the Orangerie, and Monet's famous "Waterlillies" rooms. The oval galleries were made specifically for these works.

Dinner: our new Paris favourite, a restaurant called "Chez Papa." We'd had this recommended; there's several locations, but we went to Bastille one, just two Metro stops from our flat. The Bastille has a huge column in the middle of its massive roundabout, dedicated to the 1830 revolution. A new opera house (designed by a Canadian architect) dominates one spoke, and a canal coming up from the Seine dominates another spoke. It was across from the Canal that we made the acquaintance of "Papa." The menu is country cooking: huge salads called "Boyardes" and "planchas" of cheesy, meaty bread. I had the "indecis" which means I couldn't decide and got both. My Dad, whose not known for his adventures in food, got an omelet and loved it. We might even be back, it was so good!

(The reward for my indecisiveness - a little of both at Chez Papa!)

July 7

One of Anica's favourite places in Paris (on both visits) has been the Louvre. This time we spent a "mere" three-and-a-half hours, even though, if properly fed, Anica could have spent the whole day there. It's always amazing. Mona was even more enchanting to me this time!

Anica and her Nana, loving the Louvre

We ate lunch just down the street from our apartment on Rue des Archives, in the "cave" (or cellar) level of Le Pain Quotidien, before re-charging for an afternoon exploration of the Montmartre neighbourhood. Unfortunately it was raining, and pretty heavily. We were happy to duck into Sacre Coeur and put our umbrellas down. Even with some rain, however, it's quite a view just in front of the famous onion dome. We dutifully traipsed through Montmartre's hilly streets, spotting artist hang-outs and even the last remaining windmill. But the rain pretty much got the better of us; we glimpsed Le Moulin Rouge, then scampered into the Metro station. We weren't about to hang out there until dinner/evening.

Montmartre windmill, rain, and me

"Dinner" turned out to be problematic at first. Nobody wanted to walk much further and some restaurants were already filling up. Eventually, Jenn and I chose "Picard" dishes for everybody while they waited at "home." It was pretty funny, actually: Picards is well-known frozen-food store, and everybody got their own microwave dinner. But it was so yummy! With a few other fresh food and junk-food items from the neighbourhood to round things out, it was a memorable meal. And no complaints from our diners!

Posted by jennrob 09:27 Archived in France Tagged france Comments (0)

Plus de Paris

Finishing Up Our Week

July 8

There's a great market near the Bastille on Sunday mornings, so we went to check it out. It was certainly full of beautiful "traiteur" goods, as well as some clothing, and produce. Going up and down its rows took most of the morning. We ate lunch at "Hippopotamus," a well-known French mid-level restaurant chain. It looked right out onto the Bastille monument.

(Cutting the cheese, er, in the Sunday Bastille Market)

We took our stuff back to the apartment, and then set out to properly explore Le Marais. We saw the lovely Hotel de Sully, with its entrance onto the charming Place de Vosges, with its stately arcades and densely-treed square. In the center is a statue of King Louis XIII, who drained this swamp ("marais") and created this royal residential area. In each of the four corners of the park is a fountain, so it's very pretty and somewhat peaceful.

We looked in the Carnavalet museum of Paris history, then spent a lot of time in the Jewish Museum. Le Marais is hard to explain: part of it's the Jewish quarter, part of it's the gay district, part of it is the riches of past centuries, like Place de Vosge, where Victor Hugo also lived.

Dinner was again at our apartment, mostly the food we'd bought at the market that morning.

Jenn and I decided to go out at night. "Night" doesn't really come to Paris this time of year until about 11:00 PM, so seeing the lights of the city and also beating the crowds in the morning would mean you're really burning the candle at both ends. Both Jenn and I took a romantic stroll along the Seine, stopping at each bridge. Before we knew it, we were at Place de la Concorde, and the Eiffel Tower was lit up.

(Does the sun ever set?)

Mon, July 9

First stop of the day - easily within walking distance - was Saint Chapelle. Anica literally said "wow" when we first entered. The stained glass is breathtaking (even with the ever-present renovations going on).

(Saintly Glass)

Next door is the Conciergerie. Once the Royal Palace, now best known as the place Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her execution. That era is really well reconstructed.

We ate in a cafe across the road, a convenient place my parents had been on their other trip to Paris, called Les Deux Palais.

The afternoon, which was sunny and warm for a change, we took the Seine boat cruise. It left from the quay near Notre Dame, not far from "point zero," really, so that's appropriate. It turns around just past the Eiffel Tower, another great way to view that landmark.

In the evening, Jenn wasn't feeling well, and left the rest of us in "Flunch," a cafeteria-style dining option. Unfortunately, she missed going to the Pompidou Centre, which is a really interesting building in itself, not to mention probably the best modern art gallery in the world (with apologies to the MOMA and the Tate). It's one of the first inside-out buildings, with very colourful tubes. The galleries are accessed by "view escalators." Well-named! The views of Paris from there are spectacular. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise since we picked out the Pompidou Centre from the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur earlier this week. These escalators run parallel to the gallery's public square, which slopes like a concrete amphitheatre or beach.

Inside, I loved the earlier modern floor, with its Braque and Picasso pieces. Anica found a Mondrian painting she'd studied in grade 7 art class this year. She preferred the more post-modern floor. That definitely kept us awake after a long day and questioning: what is that? What does it mean? Is it art? Who decides this is good?

Tues, July 10

(Hugo's latest perch)

My Dad said later that the Musee D'Orsay was his favourite place in the whole trip. Not just for the art, of course, but for the building, too. This time around, Anica was comparing it as a gallery now to how it was shown in Hugo, as a train station. We went straight to the top for the best collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. We spent a lot of time there, even having lunch at the little cafeteria on the main floor, before walking to the Rodin Museum, where we mostly enjoyed the gardens. The Thinker is still deep in thought, and The Gates of Hell are still not open!

We had dinner at the "famous" L'As Du Falafel in the Jewish quarter of Le Marais. While my Dad did not have a falafel, he picked away at his food in good spirits. In particular, Anica and Jenn loved the food here. It often has a huge line-up for takeaway. We also got dessert pastries at a kosher bakery.

At night, Anica, Jenn and I went to the Trocadero square for 11:00 PM and the "twinkling" of the Eiffel Tower. It does that for a few minutes every hour when it's dark out. Quite a sight!

Wed, July 11

Dad summarized our last full day in Paris in his pithy travel notes as: Sewer-China-Grave. If that's not self-explanatory enough, read on!

We did the Paris Sewer Tour first, and guess what? It smelled! But not too bad, and it was interesting. Anica bought a stuffed animal to add to her growing travel collection (a rat, of course!). She said it was cool to do something so different (i.e. not another Paris gallery or museum). Having worked up an appetite (?), we walked around in the area until we stumbled on a Chinese restaurant near the Eiffel Tower called Chez Ming. It turned out to be pretty great Chinese food. And it was almost all local business people eating there, despite being so close to the biggest tourist site.

Then we got on Bus 69, which might as well be a sightseeing tourist bus, although it's just a regular public bus route. It takes you through St. Germain and the Latin Quarter before crossing the Seine, and eventually we could get out at Pere Lachaise cemetery. This is the famous burial place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, whose gravestones are now protected by plexiglass barriers. We also saw, and learned about with our guidebook, the graves of Edit Piaf, Colette, Gertrude Stein (Anica's seen and enjoyed the movie "Midnight in Paris," which has made her week more interesting several times by recognizing the people and sites in it). I was surprised to see the monuments to French Jews who ended up in various concentration camps - there's a whole section of those. Some of the art is grimly realistic. Even more amazing is the wall dedicated to the Paris Commune victims of 1870. It's not just a grave, it's the exact spot that about 140 were killed in a final, defiant resistance against their fellow countrymen who had already given up in the Franco-Prussian war.

So there you go: Sewer-China-Grave. One more note: we had really good crepes at Breizh Cafe, which is also in our Le Marais neighbourhood.

("This is The End, my only friend The End" - Jim Morrison)

(Anica contemplates the Auschwitz memorial in Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery)

Posted by jennrob 06:18 Archived in France Comments (0)

Beaune Temps

on our way to the South of France

(Hotel de Dieu, Beaune)

Thurs, July 12

And now the travel style changes again. We were on the move in Paris by Metro and by foot and by boat. Today, we got our car. We're heading for Provence, with a stop in the town of Beaune on the way.

For the second time, we've signed with Peugeot's short-term lease plan. We got a brand-new 5008, which has enough room for five people and their luggage (given that we don't have a ton of luggage). It's also automatic because I don't drive standard (to my shame and embarassment in Europe, although we've sure noticed a lot more "big" cars in France this time).

This Peugeot is incredibly high-tech. It doesn't have a "park" gear; the parking brake is automatic. It doesnt' idle; the engine goes off and on instantly in "eco" mode. The speed is shown on a "eyes-up" glass panel that can only be read from the driver's angle (Ha! Nobody else knows how fast I'm going...) It also has GPS, which I've never used before, but am growing to really like. We switched it to English, and she sounds like a firm but fair British schoolteacher. We've named her "Annabel."

Beaune is a pretty medieval town, with much of its walls and remparts intact, and generous pedestrian-only area. We stayed at the "Hotel de la Cloche," which itself is five hundred years old, originally a coach-stop on those routes. It's all exposed beams and charm, and just outside the walls.

We had no trouble getting there, and my parents enjoyed their "cottage" style room on the single-floor annex of the hotel, with its front gardens. We had a decent dinner in the main square, Place Carnot.

Fri, July 13

One of Beaune's attractions, especially for Anica, is that they make mustard here. We visited the "Moutarderie" in the morning. The tour guide explained that Canadians use more mustard than anyone, that we even put on bread instead of butter. Everyone looked at us. "Yup," said Anica. (It's true for her, at least). We had lots of tasting, even got to "make" mustard by grinding the seeds, saw videos and had an audioguide at a couple of points. It's a very thorough visit and was worth doing.

The Hotel-Dieu (or Hospices de Beaune), though, is what Beaune's claim to fame is. It's a medieval hospital for the poor, and it is one of the most interesting historical sites I've ever seen. It's distinguished visually by the colourful slate tile rooftops - vivid geometric patterns. It's a huge complex, and the hall with the sickbeds has been faithfully re-created. The founder, Nicolas Rolin, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, really cared about the poor people when they established this place in 1445. We were all really surprised by this as a highlight of our trip, and we soaked up all the wonderful stories about it through the centuries.

(Sick bed in the Hall of the Poor)

Dinner was also a highlight, and a bit of a splurge. We ate in "Caveau des Arches," which is in one of the famous "wine cellars" of Beaune. Good shelter from the pouring rain. The tables were set out in between the series of low, vaulted ceilings, with white-painted brick and recessed lighting. The food was very good. I had their Beef Bourgignon. This is Burgundy, after all. Anica tried escargot and liked it. She wore her new sandals she bought today her in Beaune. Good stopping here. After dinner, we looked at a little of the light show that they do. Shifting images are projected onto the front of their historical buildings - very pretty.

(One of Beaune's building projects...I mean projections)

Posted by jennrob 06:19 Archived in France Comments (0)

Roman Through Provence

Based in Roussillon

(Ochre Cliffs of Roussillon)

July 14

Bastille Day! Or Fete Nationale, as they actually call it in France. We spent most of it driving. The traffic was stop-and-go at times even on the toll autoroute. It took about eight hours to do what could have been a four-hour drive. We were expecting that, however. And, since almost all the homes in Provence rent from Saturday to Saturday, it was hard to avoid.

Getting to Roussillon was worth it. There were, however, a few hiccups. "Annabel" (the GPS) took us some bizarre and precipitous back route that I wouldn't want to do again. Then, we couldn't find "Georgette" to open the villa for us. We were knocking on doors up and down the street - all except hers, I guess. But that was okay, because our cell phone's working fine, and we found her. As we were settling in, however, we noticed the front door wasn't locking. We got Georgette and her husband (Lulu? I swear that's what I heard. And their dog is Lola) back to help, and they broke the door handle off on the street side. The villa is right in the middle of town, but they basically said, "we can't fix it until Monday, so don't worry, just leave it unlocked." That didn't make us feel too comfortable, but at least the door "looked" locked from the outside...and there was no handle anyway. Instead, we would come and go from the garden door, using an old-fashioned skeleton key.

One thing I was pleased about: all the conversation was conducted in French, and I held my own, even under stress. Georgette and Lulu (?) don't speak a word of English.

The villa is huge, with three bedrooms, four different outdoor sitting areas, on different levels, a swimming pool, and the characteristic red ochre stone and blue shutters look of this town, famous for its ochre quarry.

It was, however, a little dusty and cobwebs, despite the owners having just been there for a couple of weeks. Another drawback for Jenn is the wasps that are around the pool in the day. She wouldn't take a chance on the epi-pen and its follow-up hospital visit (there's no "nearby" hospital), so she only swam at night.

The only food-related item left behind was a welcome bottle of wine, so Jenn led the "girls" on a grocery-run while Dad guarded the place and I worked on the lock issue with Georgette.

At night, our hosts had made reservations for us at the Bistrot de Roussillon, which looks under the town square, Place de la Mairie. All the restaurants were packed for Fete Nationale, and the buildings had tri-couleur bunting and flags up. An accordion player strolled around, then the DJ invited him to play over the mic from a stage. "La Marseille" was played and the music slowly became less...traditional. The party went on long past our endurance - it had been a long day!

July 15

(Looking at the pool deck from another of the villa's decks)

What a great place Roussillon is. We spent our Sunday just relaxing at the villa, swimming, shopping, exploring this hill-top town. We had food from the "Petit Casino" for lunch outside around the blue, wrought-iron table that's shaded by grapevines. We had dinner across the street (literally six steps from our door) at "Le Petit Snack," where we ate sandwiches on their back deck and looked out over the ravine from a different angle.

(Bell Cage of Roussillon church)

July 16

A lot more ambitious today! We drove into Avignon, a city of about 500,000. We somehow found free parking in the shadow of the medieval wall. From there, we walked in to the centre past walls absolutely covered with play posters. It's their drama festival time, which creates a colouful mess.

(The play's the thing in Avignon)

The big attraction is the Palais des Papes, from when the Papacy moved here. Or did they? It led to a schism, and rival popes in Rome. Either way, it's an impressive castle - much more a fortress and residence than a religious site.

(Papal Palace)

We got the combo ticket and walked up and out on the Pont D'Avignon. As in the children's song: "Sur le pont, d'Avignon..." Much of it is washed away, but once this was the only bridge that spanned the Rhone.

(Sing along: "Sur le pont...")

For dinner, we were back in Roussillon and celebrated Mom and Dad's wedding anniversary!

July 17

What's Roman on the bottom and Medieval on top?

No joke, the answer's Vaison-La-Romaine.

It was also this town's market day, so, although the town was busy, the Roman ruins of the "lower town" were not. We saw the ruins of palaces that were several thousand square feet. We saw the "commercial district" and imagined shopping along the arcade.

Then we picked our way through the market until we came to the river, a canyon really, spanned by a single-arch Roman bridge. It's still THE bridge here, even after two thousand years. Crossing it, we grabbed lunch on a patio looking over the canyon - beautiful breeze on a hot day - before moving on (and up!) in to Vaison-La-Romaine's "upper town." It's the medieval part, and it's beautiful.

(The medieval "upper town" of Vaison-la-Romaine)

We were able to get stuff from the market in Vaison-La-Romaine for dinner, and go back to Roussillon to enjoy a swim. So nice! There literally hasn't been a cloud in the sky since we arrived in Provence, and the temperature's been climbing higher into the 30s each day.

July 18

With all this Roman stuff, I keep thinking I'm in Italy. Today, I figured it out: it's actually Spain!

No, it's France, but we did see the bull-games today in Arles. They're NOT bull-fights; the bull is never hurt. The "Courses Camarguaises" consist of a bunch of men trying to pull ribbons off a bull's horns, and jumping the boards out of the ring in an effort to avoid being gored. It's a hilarious, acrobatic sporting spectacle. The bulls may be teased, but apparently they're treated like stars before and after the show, and they "die only of old age." The bull-games take place in the ancient Roman arena, right in the heart of Roman Arles, so it really is like being part of history.

(At the Bull-Games in Arles)

Arles today was hot, dusty, beautiful and intriguing. It may have reached forty degrees celsius. We ate lunch just outside the Roman Arena. We saw the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and bathes, we cooled off in the shade by the Rhone and we explored the cool, dark depths of the "Cryptoportiques," which runs under the remains of the old Forum. Everyone liked that the best of the "ruins," because it was a way to cool off and because it was so unexpected. You really could get lost in the ancient, dark galleries down there!

Aboveground, we ate gelato and looked at the exact spot where Van Gogh painted "Cafe Terrace at Night." It looks pretty much the same now!

July 19

The last of our Roman-themed sightseeing is probably the most famous: the "Pont du Gard." This ancient aqueduct is in such good condition, and is so impressive, that it could easily have been one of the "world's wonders" instead of the Coliseum in Rome. It certainly has stood the test of time.

Here in France, the group that protects it as a monument to visit charge "only" for parking. The other displays, walking across the bridge, swimming in the river below, and touring their ridiculously-good museum, are all included. We pretty much did make a day out of it. Anica and I at least waded in the freezing, fast-flowing Gard, beneath the aqueduct.

Dad said there have already been several moments of discovery on this trip - those first glimpses - that take your breath away. Coming over the ridge and seeing the Pont du Gard today was one of them, as well entering the Hotel-Dieu courtyard in Beaune, and entering the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

(We stand on Gard for thee)

But our day was not over yet! Anica was very much looking forward to our next stop: the Haribo candy factory and museum! It's in the nearby town of Uzes (pronounced like YOU-zays, although I preferred to call it oozes, or useless). Anyway, there were far more people lined up to tour the candy factory than there were at the Pont du Gard. We all enjoyed their colourful tour of the history of their company, which is now a giant Germancompany, Haribo, based in Bonn. We bought bags and bags of candy in their gift shop!

Posted by jennrob 13:21 Archived in France Comments (0)

Luberon and On

Daytripping from Roussillon

July 20

We were still hot on the trail of Vincent Van Gogh, but first...Les Baux!

(Poised to conquer Les Baux)

Les Baux is like the small-town version of Edinburgh, in the sense that you explore the vast castle grounds at the top of the hill. Nobody's going to sneak up on you from there! This town has a fascinating history, including being owned by the Grimaldi family, the royals of Monaco. A photo exhibit documented Princess Grace's visit here in 1982.

My Mom and Dad were amazing today: climbing every single battlement, tower, keep and narrow, windswept staircase there was on offer! The views are stunning. You could see for perhaps a hundred kilometers across the plain. Bright white rock, olive orchards in the valley below. centuries-old buildings built into caves - like the restaurant in Les Baux we ate in at lunch, a "troglodyte terasse." I had an "assiette" (plate) with about eight different Provencal specialties on it.

We had a demonstration of how the castle was defended in medieval times. "Saracens" were the enemy then! Actors, who were hilarious even in French, worked the siege machines. They hurled water balloons the size of cannonballs from the massive trebuchet and other catapults.

(Battle stations, everyone! Climbing around the Les Baux keep)

In the town, Jenn and I got a table cloth with matching napkins, and Mom bought an outfit (not at the tablecloth store!).

But the day was far from over. My Dad said later this was his favourite day taken as a whole on the entire trip.

Just down from the town proper of Les Baux is a old quarry that's been transformed for the "Carrieres des Lumieres." We've never seen anything like it! On giant stone walls inside a cool set of cavernous chambers made by the quarry, hundreds of projectors coordinate with each other and with music to put on a display. (We don't have any photos of this, as photography's not allowed.) There were two shows: one of Gauguin and Van Gogh using their paintings, and another called Metamorphoses about life & the seasons on Earth.

After Les Baux, we struggled to put in our time (we had an 8 PM dinner reservation at a restaurant in the area). It was another hot day with temperatures in the upper 30s. We did go to St. Paul's monastery near St. Remy, which is also the grounds of the mental hospital where Van Gogh stayed. They've re-created his room, and put up big reproductions of the paintings he painted there, which sometimes show scenes from these very grounds.

The monastery, too, is interesting because it's so old! The chapel is from the 10th century and the beautiful cloisters date to the 12th century. After that, we avoided getting out in the hot sun to see Glanum (more Roman ruins) and instead got cold drinks and sat in the square of a town called Mausanne des Alpilles - just a non-descript town, but they've still got the cafe/terasse scene going.

Finally, after checking out the tiny hamlet of Le Paradou itself, it was time for the big dinner. This country crossroads restaurant, Le Bistrot du Paradou, is somehow practically world-famous, yet also has it regulars and all of its charm intact. Not at all snobby, the waiters joked around with us . Each table has just one sitting per night and by 8:15 the place was full. The menu is set each day, and currently costs fifty-one euros including very good house wine.

(Exterior of Le Bistrot du Paradou)

We had a vegetable soup to start, served piping hot in a giant crockware pot for us to share. The main course was lamb (the tenderest I've ever had!) with mashed potato and vegetables (artichoke, carrot/onion). Then came the cheese course - a huge selection from which we freely served ourselves. The dessert course had a LOT of options, and, oddly enough, we each had something different. Then I had an espresso and geared up from the drive back to Roussillon. After our two-and-a-half hour dinner, it was past 10:30 and we didn't get parked in Roussillon until the church bells tolled midnight.

July 21

We made the short drive to Apt in the morning. So far it's just been a town name on road signs each day.

Saturday is market day for Apt, and we were there to buy food for lunch and dinner. It got very busy but we'd arrived early and (since it was sunny) took a chance on the "stationnement submersible."

We bought pate, sausages, vegetables, bread and a poulet roti, which we had for lunch. The rest of the day was just swimming, reading and souvenir shopping in Roussillon.

July 22

We drove to the nearby town of L'Isle Sur La Sorgue today. What makes it different is how clearly an island it is. The Sorgue river winds through it, and there's all manner of bridges that span it: iron foot-bridges, stone ones, ones for cars. There's several large, mossy waterwheels, too, still turning as they have for hundreds of years.

And it's market day here. No coincidence; Jenn's tried to get us to these towns on their market days where there's the chance. This one has been my favourite market in France. The wind blew through the streets and aisles in the morning. There were a few really good musical acts performing here and there. The goods included cloth, clothes, food, antiques...lots of variety. We easily spent two or three hours there.

(The famous Cavaillon melons)

(Market-day music, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue)

In addition, there was a summer festival on which included people in traditional costumes demonstrating fishing techniques (by hand, by spear) from antiquated wooden rowboats. There were races of long skiffs, where the rowers had to lie down flat to go under the low bridges. The trick was to do at the last second and then pop back up again as soon as possible. Huge crowds gathered on the river banks for these events.

(With his bare hands...L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue traditional festival)

The problem for us came as lunch-time approached. Looking for a place, we became all Goldilocks and no bears. One restaurant had seats, but was too expensive, another's menu was not appealing, another was too noisy, another had seats but only in the blazing sun, many others had no seats. In frustration, we left the town, keeping our eyes open for road-side places, but there were none. At mid-day, parking in Roussillon is also impossible, so we kept going to the outskirts of Apt and...McDonald's. This is how it happens, people. It actually hit the spot, was far better than I remember Canada's being, and of course had free parking and washrooms. I handled all the ordering in French, and it was funny when I had to repeat "McFlurry" in an exaggerated French accent to be understood.

Thus fortified, we drove on through the hills and hill-towns of the petit Luberon, including a jam-packed photo-op of the famous Abbey with the lavender field in front of it. That was so crowded that we didn't even try to get parked or even to get everybody out of the car. Just my Mom and Jenn to take pictures, while I carefully turned around.

Less crowded, but much more remote, was the village of the "Bories." Good thing we didn't wait to eat lunch here, because we wouldn't have found it. There was even a gift shop. Although we'd all seen "bories" before near Sarlat, and buildings like them in Ireland, this was special. For the uninitiated, they're stone structures, stacked and fitted together without mortar, which leads to a beehive-shaped dome. For 4000 years, there have been bories in this area. The village we saw today was reconstructed to be like it was in the 19th century. There are many dwelling, sheep-pens (usually bigger than what people had!), walls, and fences. Even the road in and out of the area was a one-way lane lined with stone walls. Very narrow!

(This place is borie!)

We also passed through such villages as Gordes and Murs today as part of our "hill-town" Luberon drive.

It was a special dinner in Roussillon - a place where the Provencal speciality was "aioli." Basically a big pile of creamy garlic as the centerpiece of the meal. Anica and I had it - with fish, vegetables, potato - but it sure didn't agree with me! I won't be having that again soon, even though it was really tasty at the time.

Posted by jennrob 05:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

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