October 2, Graveson

Okay. Got out of Marseille on time and in one piece, which might have been in doubt for a bit while struggling to carry the big suitcase up about four flights of stairs at the train station. Arrived in Avignon, eventually found a taxi (after asking the bristly guy at the Help desk to call one) who whisked me away into the countryside. Everything grew quieter and more bucolic and beautiful as we went, and we finally ended up at this utterly charming rustic inn, surrounded by orchards. I fear Peter Mayle may have been right about it all. The innkeeper had my name on his roster, and sent me up to my room. My old-fashion key is tied to a big chunk of wood, and on the way down, one simply puts the chunk in a little cubby, where anyone else might grab it, and of course no one does. That’s the way it is. I’ll get a photo of the arrangement tomorrow. But here’s the view from my room:HPIM0394.jpg image by zecainfrance

I dumped my stuff, and wandered around, looking for the “bike guy” as the guy at the desk called him. I found Gustave, working on his I-pad, and waiting for the rest of the participants to arrive. He’s very nice, Belgian, very knowledgable about bikes, and gave me careful directions to walk to Graveson, as nothing would be happening for a few hours, and I warned him how easily I get lost.

So I walked to Graveson, and came across this interesting announcement:HPIM0392.jpg image by zecainfranceThis seemed promising. I wandered further. I found the old church, which was locked. It had several different types of stones, and looked like it had been worked on for many centuries. The stained glass windows, seen from outside, seemed very sentimental 19th Century. But it did have this interesting bit. I really hope it had been done during the Revolution:

HPIM0393.jpg image by zecainfranceYou probably have to enlarge the picture, but look at the red lettering above the door. I had quite a successful kitty search, with one charming feline resident at the hotel, and a few in town that willing endured my caresses. Graveson is very tiny, and not terribly attractive. There’s lots of old, old buildings in the central area, probably 100-300 years old, mostly not in great shape, and all the surrounding well-to-do areas are built in the same style, red tile roofs and pale stone walls. Somehow, it doesn’t work, with the newer parts being derivative and not interesting, and the older parts dilapidated. oh well. I found a little bakery, bought a sandwich and pastry, and headed back to the hotel.

Eventually the other participants arrived, and half of us were summoned to get fitted for our bikes. The bikes are very similar to my dear old “Sweet Cheeks” bike, seven gears, inside derailleur (whatever it’s called) same brakes, same big seat. Hans, the group guide, directed the whole operation. He’s a big Dutchman, 71 years old, in amazing shape–he looks like an Olympic decathalete, and has a big outdoor voice that he uses to speak in many languages, and I suspect he doesn’t even always know which language he’s in. After all the seats and handlebars were to the riders’  satisfaction, we were tested with various simple actions to execute while on the bike, and we all passed. It made me realize how instinctive biking is for me, that I don’t think about rules or actions, I just do it. This might become a problem later on.

After that exhausting test, we repaired to our rooms to rest, or the pool for a swim, or beside the pool to enjoy a drink. I look forward to drinking lots of rose wine in France without getting sniffs of disdain, though the innkeeper managed to make some snarky remark about this wasn’t the BEST rose, as he was opening the bottle. The various tour participants gathered around, and started to chat. They used to send participants a list of names and states of folks on the ride, so we could google each other, but have stopped that, probably because of the googling. So this is going to take longer, but everyone so far seems interesting and very nice.

Okay, dinner, trooping to a lovely little dining room at the back of the complex, carrying our wine, and having fresh decanters of wine (including rose) waiting for us on the table. This was the extraordinary starter:HPIM0395.jpg image by zecainfranceWhen was the last time you had a hard-boiled egg for a starter? It worked perfectly. Look at the innocuous sauce in the white bowl with the spoon. It’s an extraordinarly powerful, delicious garlic sauce, that we dumped on everything. We had no concerns about vampires bothering us.  Then to the entree:HPIM0396.jpg image by zecainfrance We really didn’t need more green beans, but the chicken and rice were delicious, plus we were a little full from the big starter, and had been imbibing impressive amounts of wine. But we held up, and bravely faced the cheese plate:HPIM0397.jpg image by zecainfrance That little blue cheese on the side was powerful; I think it cleared out my sinuses, or perhaps that was the wine. All were delicious. Then, of course, dessert. I started importuning the hostess for a little cup of decaf with steamed milk. She brought it, and the other participants were very interested, and she ended up bringing out a tray of them for everybody. Here’s the final picture:HPIM0398.jpg image by zecainfrance Lemon tarte, and I think we had drunk all the wine, because my glass is almost empty. But in reality, my glass is very, very, full. Take my third shower of the day, open the window to the Provencal evening air, and settle in for a beautiful sleep. What a wonderful day.

This bodes very well, indeed. Story-book cute place, resident cat, charming companions, comfortable bike,

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