October 4, Les Baux

Sad news today, Dear Readers, or as Hans says before he addresses us, Chers Amis. Something is terribly wrong with my camera, and all the fabulous outdoor photos I took today look like poor-quality etchings–wavy black lines, with a mild wash of color in one part. I have Jim, the resident tech expert, fussing with it, and so far nothing has fixed it beyond just one photo. Oddly, inside flash seems to work fine, so there can be photos of food. I’ll try to arrange photos from the other travelers, but, till then, you’ll need to use your imagination. Dommage.

So today was packing up and moving out of Graveson. We started with another lecture about Van Gogh from Marie-Charlotte. It was interesting, though a certain amount of drowsing occurred. Marie, in her enthusiasm, announced each painting was “especially beautiful,” and I pointed out to Helena, and we then giggled each time we heard it.

Today was our biggest climb, over Les Alpees, meaning the little alps. We did stay below the snow line, but I admit to some anxiety about how difficult the endeavor would be. We started out in the lovely Provencal countryside that we all enjoy so much. There’s a certain mindlessness involved in cycling a lot, and and it’s possible to simply absorb one’s surroundings, though the birders in the group were obviously more aware of sounds while I concentrated on sights. Some of us did see a kitty resting in a driveway, and enjoyed the sight. Anyway, the climb was broken into three parts, long and not bad, shorter and worse, and shortest and just walk that sucker.

We arrived at Les Baux around noon, and it had been worth every calorie burned, every muscle tested. I loved Les Baux, and took fabulous photos, none of which are usable, alas. It’s a fortress town on the top of a rocky mountain, the highest in that area, and splendidly suited for defense, as enemies would be seen miles away, almost to the Mediterranean, and picked off as they climbed the mountain.  It was a fortress for more than a thousand years, and an early lord conveniently claimed Balhtasar, one of the Magi, as his direct ancestor, perhaps pronounced as “BaUlthasar.”(This was also where Bauxite was first discovered, and hence, named.)

Upon arrival we dispersed to lunch, with orders to gather for a lecture tour in an hour. The lunch was very interesting, as Les Baux is totally a tourist town, and you would think were used to dealing with their lifeblood, tourists. The lunch embodied all my worst images of French stereotypes. A number of us, about ten, ended up at a little restaurant, sitting at tiny tables. First, the waitress announced they were “ferme’ (closed) and chased away some late arrivals. Then as some tried to order the sandwiches listed on little stand-up separate menus, she whisked them away, and announced they weren’t serving sandwiches. So Clasina and I ordered the plat du jour, a pork chop, roasted tomato, and ratatouille, which were all delicious, I must say. I requested “eau normal”–tap water. She brought some for the tables on each side of us, but none for me. I’m glad the others we willing to share. The Japanese couple sat next to us, and we helped them with a little French, that “L’addition” is the bill. I taught “merci beaucoup” and “merci mille fois” (thanks a thousand times.) So when l’addition arrived, it was given to the Yuji, the Japanese gentleman, and was for 74 euros, apparently for about six of us. “Merci mille fois” I exclaimed to him. We asked the waitress to break the bill into individual tabs. She refused. We asked for change while we paid separately. She said she didn’t have any change. I was thoroughly pissed off by now, and didn’t leave her a centime over my bill. We shrugged. At least the food was delicious.

So then we met with Patrick our local guide. He traveled all over the world as an Air Force Brat, and hasn’t used English as a primary language for many years, though he’s obviously a native speaker. And he was incredibly well-informed. A little more information that we needed, perhaps, on siege weapons, but his stories on the history and architecture were excellent. We tromped over much of Les Baux, but I would have loved to spend the entire day there, visiting the museums and seeing the ancient structurse we missed. (I am really missing my fabulous photos here. You would have loved them.) I did try a little of my nasty game “Stump the Docent” and though it contribued to the conversation, Patrick was always ahead of me, except about Vatican Two. It was definitely one of the best lectures we’d had. We were told to stop for ice cream on the way back to the bicycles. And so we did. It was a perfect afternoon lift, with still a long ride ahead of us.

But! It was mostly downhill, which made it much easier. and enjoyable. Hans took us on a wonderful little side trip down a deserted road. And, on either side of one spot in the road, were the partially-intact remains of the Arles aqueduct. Right there. We climbed right up onto the structure, and followed it on its path, to its abrupt end above a field. I continue to be enchanted by the touching–this stone was put in place 1,800 years ago. Someone held it to put it here, just where my hand is now.

We ended up at Hostellerie de la Source. It’s in a tiny town, just outside Arles. Hans told me the name, but I can’t remember it. It also had a pool, and I realized later, a clothesline, which would have been fabulous. And they did have a restaurant, which served us a lovely dinner.

There was another filo dough starter: HPIM0447.jpg image by zecainfrance with salad.

And fish with rice, both, I presume, local: HPIM0448.jpg image by zecainfrance

And a chocolate brownie for dessert, with creme anglaise, which ended up in my coffee.

HPIM0449.jpg image by zecainfrance Notice also the generous quantites of rose wine, though the blush-colored white was delicious, also. ah.

Starting to cough, and I fear a cold is developing, and local insects have been finding find pickings on various body parts. Whatever.


October 3, Graveson

Posts may get a little shorter from about now. They are keeping us so busy. We’re on the road on our bikes for a good deal of the day. Then, of course, dinner takes a couple hours, and plenty of rest for the next day. We’ll see.

We had been directed to appear not a moment before 7:30 for breakfast, and so we did. I was disappointed to notice there were no little containers of yogurt, which constituted most of my breakfast. It was all white bread, good, yes, but not what I wanted. The two cereal dispensers were the same as my hotel in Marseille, as were the cereals inside. The assortment of cheeses was really good, and there was some very pungent-looking sausage. I passed on that. As promised, here’s a photo of the elegant antique arrangement that constituted the key and lock on my door:HPIM0399.jpg image by zecainfrance

We started our first day on the road with a safety lesson. As I feared, my casual approach to bicycling safety won’t do here, though I appreciated an explanation of the various traffic signs that I’ve never understood. The bicycling touring company, BTI, has an interesting method of using team members to help keep track of everyone, and keep everyone on the same path. So far it works well. Then, saddle up, and hit the road.

We stopped for lunch in a little nameless town that had a supermarket that most of us used for lunch. We didn’t have much time, and worried that a restaurant would take too long. I found a big container of vanilla yogurt-type cheese. I suspect it was full fat and really rich, but it kept me going all afternoon. I had to buy a packet of plastic spoons, so I was able to help the folks out who bought (spoonless) Activa for their lunch. Some fruit from the market, and lunch was served.

I was disappointed to hear that the excavations at Glanum were closed on Mondays. But we were able to visit two splended monuments of Glanum. The first was an amazing mauseleum:HPIM0400.jpg image by zecainfrance There are many more photos of this that I took on my photobucket site. Check them out. Then, the next was what remained of a huge triumphal arch:

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It is impossible to over estimate the level of its awesomeness. Partly, its appearence, in the middle of a deserted countryside, surrounded by trees and rocks (also from Glanum?)  makes them seem more remarkable than if they’d been in the middle of a big city.

They were truly a major treat.

The other treat of the day was the visit to St. Remy, the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh spent a couple years, painting about every day. We were visited by a guest lecturer, Marie-Charlotte, who spoke with a delicious, if not always comprehensible, French accent, and all of us standing outside in the sun is not the best way to absorb a lecture.

It was better when we got inside the building. St. Remy was a 12th Century monastery, so there was plenty there to amaze me, without the paintings of Van Gogh (Hans did a wonderfully proper Dutch prononciation of Van Gogh’s name, which sounded like a great way to clear out all the nasal passages. Also, Van Gogh looked remarkably like Hugh Laurie in “House.”) But there was this:HPIM0413.jpg image by zecainfranceand this:HPIM0414.jpg image by zecainfranceand this:HPIM0412.jpg image by zecainfrance

and this: HPIM0417.jpg image by zecainfrance

I’ve never been a huge fan of Van Gogh’s painting, but there’s no way to deny the genius, the urgency, of his paintings, and his valiant struggle against his mental illness. I remember seeing a huge exhibition of his paintings in the early 70s, arranged chronologically, and it was excruciating to witness his collapse, as documented in his paintings.

But it was great to see copies of paintings, placed where he found the inspiration for painting them. HPIM0410.jpg image by zecainfrance

And it would be interesting to read his letters to his brother Theo.

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Overall, a most rewarding visit.

Then a ride back to our hotel near Graveson, with interest in the pool and what they would feed us for dinner. First, we had our introductory meeting, and had a chance to say something about ourselves. I’m with a very interesting, articulate group, that I’m looking forward to getting to know better. I wrote down all the names, and now, two days later, know about half of them. It’s progress. Well, I’m not with the pool crowd, but was certainly looking forward to dinner.

This is what we had:

a filo dough starter, with cheese, onion and tomato:HPIM0422.jpg image by zecainfrance

Then on to the entree: HPIM0423.jpg image by zecainfrance Beef, beans, and rice, probably local

The cheese plate, always delicious: HPIM0424.jpg image by zecainfrance

Then the dessert, all lubricated with lots of rose wine, and we once again managed to get some decaf after, if not with dessert. The French do have their standards after all, including coffee separate from dessert. HPIM0425.jpg image by zecainfrance I had to use some filling from the creme caramel to lighten the coffee. It worked very well.

Then to bed. Enough for today.

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,

October 1, Aix-en-Provence

I was eavesdropping on a tour guide talking to his group, and the answer to the question about the population of Aix-en-Provence was about 140,000. And I swear, every one of those souls was out in force on Saturday for my visit. I saw a wedding group, a group of young women celebrating the upcoming marriage of one of them by wearing weird clothes and yelling “Fumer tue!” (smoking kills) at the many smokers around.  There was a big crowd of well-dressed folks at a reception at the Maison de Ville (city hall.) There was also a huge farmers’ market, and everyone not already mentioned, was there. And the tourists. But Aix isn’t that big a town, and I was pretty much able to get around with the little map I had in the guide book, and an occasional question.

And if there’s a theme from today, it would have to be doors and doorways, as this was a most charming place I entered into. Alas, most places I visited didn’t allow photography, so I had to content myself with photos of the marvelous buildings that held the exhibits. So, just as an earlier post had a theme of angels, let’s go with doors here.

My first stop of the day was at the church of St-Jean-de-Malte. There, I was befriended by a middle-aged woman whose English was about equal to my French, and we had a good visit.  She told me that much of the church had been destroyed in the Revolution, which explained why the statues of the son and wife of the Comte de Provence were new-ish, as was the comte’s (empty) tomb. So, what we really enjoyed was a genuine plaque from 1323 or so, honoring a local bishop. I was pleased to be able to read some of the Latin, and it had a wonderfully earthy feel to it.

Then across the square to the Museum Granet. Monsieur Granet was a local painter who bequeathed his impressive collection to form the basis of the museum. The museum boasts eight Cezanne paintings, as he also lived in Aix for a while. To my sore disappointment, the greatly-anticipated exhibits of archeological artifacts and XIV-XVII Century paintings were closed. I must confess that much of modern art underwhelms me. I felt I should be impressed, but was rather disappointed, by the Picasso of a woman in a chair holding a cat. I mean, a cat, and I wasn’t thrilled? I dutifully looked, then moved on. But I was moved beyond tears in the gallery of sculpture by a bas-relief piece titled “Phalante et Ethra” carved in 1814 by Girard de Luc. I carefully wrote all the information down, hoping to find a photo to show you, and I can’t find anything about it on the net, the legend (I presume Greek?) or the sculpture. But it was a middle-aged woman, in profile, in a tender, awkward embrace of a very tall young man, who appears to be setting off on a journey. I immediately pictured myself with my very tall young son, and every emotional cell in their postures and expression rang completely true. I loved it at first sight. Nina Rowan, one of my clients, is an art historian, and found a photo of the relief for me. I’m so glad to see it again.

I continued on my quest, with the problem that it was now lunch time, and things were closing for two hours. I spent part of that time on a discarded chair by some dumpsters, reading. It all felt eerily like the intersection of 5th Avenue and Willamette Street in Eugene. Don’t know why. Should I have gone to lunch? I ate my two clementines, and decided to splurge at dinner.

I had hoped to visit the Cathedrale St-Sauveur, but the first time I found the door there was a notice that they were closed for lunch, two hours. Then, when I went back, there was a notice that a special event was happening, so no visitors, despite the woman who was using both hands to try to pry the door open . The woman at St. Jean-de-Malte had scoffed at it as being so stylistically confusing–they spent almost a millenium building it–that it wasn’t worth the visit. Elsewhere I read that visiting it was like taking a course in art history–every major Western style was represented. I preferred the latter. I’ll never know.

So, then on to the Tapestry Museum. It was housed in the archibishop’s palace. Indeed, it was probably the only building big enough for the huge hangings. They were in a succession of public room, all with 20′ ceilings, extraordinary wallcoverings, incredible chandeliers. It certainly makes one understand why both the Catholic Church and the king were rejected by the Revolution. Many of the tapestries illustrated scenes from Don Quixote, which I’m not that familiar with. The workmanship was astounding, the overall effect amazing. I best remember a cute little kitty in one tapestry. How I would have loved a photo. The museum had a special exhibition of the work of Lotte Reiniger, who filmed entire Mozart operas using just silhouette cutouts of all the characters.

And a great doorway:HPIM0387.jpg image by zecainfranceThe doorway also had a plaque that mentions Marechal Bernadotte, whom we idolized last year in Pau, where he went from being a poor humble soldier to the King of Sweden.HPIM0386.jpg image by zecainfrance

Then off to La Musee du Vieil Aix, which was also in a splendid huge old townhouse, and the surroundings were often more informative than the exhibits. This, oddly, was mostly a collection of some lovely faience dishes, and a whole lot of carefully dressed dolls. Obviously from a personal collection, though I got two splendid photos of the dolls, in two of my favorite dress styles:

HPIM0380.jpg image by zecainfrance

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and a great door:HPIM0379.jpg image by zecainfrance

Next up was the Museum of Natural History. I had hoped for details about the area, but it was more aimed at dinosaur excavations and reconstruction of dinosaur skeletons, etc. It would be perfect for grammar school kids, and pre-school dinosaur fans. They did have some lovely stuffed animals, and an owl, fierce and beautiful, that looked like it was out of Harry Potter. This was the only place were all photos, even flash photos, was allowed. But the only thing I wanted to get a photo of was this beautiful door, carrying on the theme.

HPIM0388.jpg image by zecainfranceIt was interesting that it was a French woman, a doctor’s daughter, who contributed the bulk of the first artifacts for this museum. She and her mother collected fossils, shells, and bones. But I did learn something: did you know they were porcupines in Europe? I thought they were just American. They had a most impressive specimen.

My last stop of the day was the Pavillion de Vendome, a cozy little love nest built later in the 17th Century by the Duc de Vendome for his mistress. The duke was a grandson of the fabulous King Henri IV, by one of his many mistresses. No photos inside, but you see the outside, what a lovely little place it was. It’s amazing to think it’s close to the center of the city, it looks so bucolic, and actually is next door to a rather dilapidated grammar school. And yes, another photo of a doorway.

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On both the way to Aix, and back, I managed to be the next-to-last passenger aboard, with a total waiting time of about two minutes. This good luck came to an end when I had to wait in line almost an hour to buy my ticket to Avignon tomorrow. The machine didn’t like my debit card–didn’t have the fancy chip? So I had to buy it from a person, as did all the dozens of people in front of me, most of whom had long, complicated dealings with the folks behind the counter. Mine, when I finally got to the front, spoke English, good English, which was great, as any French was beyond me at that point. Then, I fled downhill to the hotel, too tired to dare get lost.

So after being out and about the whole day, and tired of the backpack, and desperately in need of a shower, I took the easy way out, and ran to the end of the block, and my new favorite restaurant,  Brasserie Richelieu, and my favorite table, and my favorite waitress. She remembered my thoughtful tip from last night, and brought me a little bowl of truly pungent, salty olives, which made a good start in rebalancing my body’s electrolite level. But I had left the hotel in such a hurry that I left my camera behind, and just brought money, and my passport, in case I was kidnapped. So no photos. You’ll have to just follow the description. I ordered a goat cheese and noodle casserole, pure comfort food, with just enough veggies to make it healthful. I also had asked for a small green salad, all the salads on the menu were complicated and contained protein, so the waitress made one for me, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and some parsley-type sprinkle. You’re kind of getting my level of specialness? After the rich entree, I had no room for dessert, but wanted the decaf. I asked if it could be “to go” but our communication fell apart, and she said she’d surprise me with something. She brought out a lovely little square of slate, dusted with powdered sugar, with a cup of decaf, foaming with hot milk, a little square bowl full of fruit salad, a smaller bowl with homemade ice cream topped with whipped cream, and a little slice of a chocolate and custard cake. OMG. Was I a happy camper! Just as I started on my decaf, a dozen hungry, hearty, thirsty German guys showed up, and the waitstaff hurriedly slung tables together and dragged out extra place settings. I knew she would be busy, so I got my “addition” my tab, and left an even more thoughtful tip. I may be back in Marseille again, and I’ll certainly head to that lovely little restaurant.

Then up the little hill to the hotel, and firmly closed my door on a long, exhausting, sweaty, wonderful day.

September 30, Marseille

Wow. Four, maybe five, of the really big tourist attractions I wanted to see were closed. Two might have been because of electrical failures, the others were closed for remodeling. I can see the point, that you want to start working on things just after tourist season, so everything is ready for the next tourist season, but really? Could they wait until October? I certainly wasn’t the only disappointed tourist.

So, started with the first of many tourist breakfasts at the hotel. The lovely little yogurt containers, the non-descript cereal flakes, the only thing resembling fruit, except for the orange juice, were some containers of not-too-sweet applesauce. I mean, not even bananas? I found another fruit vendor today, so will be taking care of that for myself. But it was fine, it was there, it was already paid for. More of the same tomorrow, and for the next several weeks.

So the Museum of the Roman Docks and the Museum of Old Marseille were both closed, due to electrical failure. The guard felt sorry for me and gave me complicated directions to the Vielle Charity, built under King Louis XIV around 1670 as a square of apartments, perhaps for migrants (rather palatial, I would think) surrounding an amazing Roman Baroque chapel. I finally found my way there, and was very pleased both with the architecture of the buildings, and the collections they housed. All the women working there were dressed in non-uniforms, but all in black and white, and I was wondering if I missed a fashion statement. I also decided, and am testing the theory, that the best people to ask for directions are the ones walking dogs. They can’t be in a tearing hurry, are glad to talk to someone, and are used to traversing the area on foot. I’ll report back.

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The chapel had been deconsecrated, and bore no resemblence to a church, though a couple from Michigan and I were able to figure out the parts. The windows didn’t depict any saints, no statues, no paintings, it was a completely bare building. But it was fascinating; I don’t remember seeing that style before, you could almost see how it slid into Neo-Classicism.

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The coolest collection had belonged to a French physician, invited in the first half of the 19th Century to live, I presume, in or near Egypt, and he worked there for many years, and was honored with the title “Bey” which he added to his name. He brought back amazing artifacts on an incredible wide range of Egyptian subjects. The little cat mummies were really sweet, though I didn’t want to photograph them, and the huge sarcophagi gave me the creeps. Certainly they wouldn’t allow any of that stuff taken out of the country today.

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The other collections were from Africa, late 19th and 20th Centuries, French Polynesia, and a few things by Native Americans. Not nearly as appealing to me, but I got a few photos.

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So then off on my next quest, for the Museum of the History of Marseille. I was totally impressed with myself when I came up the hill, and found myself facing it! I’d found it! Actually, I found the gate, which was firmly locked, and the sign explaining they were doing renovations. I managed to look, from a distance at the “garden of vestiges” bits of Greek statuary and columns and walls unearthed, and left where they were found. I also found a kitty in the garden, and hoped someone was taking care of it.

So, heading off to Fort St-Nicholas, on the side of the harbor I hadn’t been to. I had a good hike, uphill, in the bright sunshine, and found lots of stonework and an ancient tower that is a monument for all those who fell fighting for France. (Don’t know about the Resistance movement in the South of France, though I suspect they weren’t waiting for the Americans to come all the way down from Normandy to save them.)

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 My stroll into the main part of the fortress was stopped by a bureaucrat who explained the rest was closed for repairs. I did whine a bit, and asked where the Church of St. Nicholas was. He huffed and said there wasn’t a church (yeah, I bet there was a chapel in the fort somewhere.) Then a little whining about looking for the Abby of Saint-Victor. I mispronounced it, and he huffily corrected my pronunciation, and gave me directions by car, which didn’t work at all. The fort’s official name is Fort d’Entrecasteaux, Fort Between the Castles? There was another bit of the fort on the other side of the road, but it was posted as military property, so no exploring there, either.

However, it was a delight to find the Abbye Saint-Victor. It’s a huge church, very traditional gothic, but the very way-coolest part was a trip to the crypts downstairs, for just one Euro. This was a record of the early Catholic Church, still tinged with practices and artifacts of ancient Greece and Rome. Look at the photo of the doves carved on a lovely 4th Century altar.

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 The photo of the sheep, on the other side of the altar, is fuzzy, (like the sheep?) alas.

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Searching for the Abbey, I found the oldest bakery in Marseille, in continuous operation. It was delightful, and made up for passing a beckoning chocolatier. See the photo, but no photo of the bag of delicious cookie-like goodies I bought. They’re just for me.

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Then I started looking for the Museum of Faience, and both reports I got on its location were far beyond my walking range. I wondered about that little arrow by its name on the map. sigh. Then I found the Museum Cantini, which is mostly 20th Century art, which shows the level of my desperation. I stared several minutes at the locked gates until I realized someone was there to tell me it was closed. More whining ensued, but most of it was in English and probably not completely understood.

So now it was past 4pm, and I’d only had a nectarine since breakfast. A trip back to my nearby hotel, two cookies, and I was on the street again, looking for a restaurant. Many advertised fish in way more daring fashions and varieties than I would eat, or fries with everything, or too much white bread. I even asked if my hotel served dinner, and she sent me back out looking, and I found a delightful place, Brasserie Richelieu, right at the end of my block, and had a most perfect meal, grilled shrimp salad with veggies, with lemon tart and de-caf (and hot milk), while people-watching in the late afternoon sun. It was certainly worth waiting all day for. yum.

HPIM0375.jpg image by zecainfrance

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Then back to the hotel for laundry and letters.

Even I couldn’t plug in all the photos I took, so if you’re

curious, check my photobucket account.

September 29th, Marseille

Did you know the French spell Marseille with an ultimate s, as in Marseilles? Not sure why, since they don’t pronounce it.

So I was rather sad about leaving Ann and her household in Cleveland. Her less-large cat, Ivan, after ignoring me for years, fell in love with me, followed me around, sat in my lap, let me take liberties with his person, etc. That was hard to leave, as also was Lucy, her little rescue doggie who becomes more charming and beguiling as she continues to feel more secure. And Ann and her dh are about the world’s best companions, but we were all brave.

The airline flights were fine. It was crowded to Newark then enough empty seats on the trip to Brussels to make things much more comfortable. We also, ta-da, were given a meal. Wow. It was pretty awful. I should have stuck to my energy bars. The final flight, to Marseille, was a bit of a time crunch, as we had to show our passports and go through security again to transfer, but we were rewarded with a 1/3 full plane, so it was very comfortable. When I finally got organized enough to leave the airport, I was just in time to be the final fare on the bus to the Gare Saint-Charles, the main train station. My timing is seldom that exquisite. The driver was less than impressed with the feeble job I did of trying to wedge my huge bag in the already-stuffed baggage hold.

Then I had to find my hotel. I haven’t been in a totally unfamiliar place for a while, and had forgotten what a not only non-existent, but latently evil, non-sense of direction I had. I would ask someone about every ten minutes for directions, would only slightly understand the directions, then head off again. So, I waited to ask a middle-aged woman who was being dropped off by a friend, The two consulted, looked at the map, then told me to put my stuff in her car, that she’d take me there. I would never recommend this idea to anyone, but I know we middle-aged women are the most trustworthy creatures on the planet. So she took me almost to the door, stopped only by a one-way street, and I had a 20 foot walk to the front door of the Premier Classe Hotel. It’s a rather spartan hotel, but clean and comfortable, and has wi-fi. And look at the scene from my window, taken in late afternoon sunlight. Lovely.

HPIM0352.jpg image by zecainfrance

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After a much needed shower, I headed out again. After a little airline food, I needed lunch, and at the first restaurant, I waited at an outside table for ten minutes, then finally left. Service was much better at Cafe de la Banque. I asked for lots of water, and had to get a photo of the French table setting–water in an old wine bottle, the cut baguette, the wine, the water glass. Very nice. Look at the salmon; it was very nice too, and good to have some protein, finally. I thought I ordered a creme brulee, but she didn’t bring one, and didn’t bill me for one, and I didn’t want after dealing with the salmon, so that worked.HPIM0344.jpg image by zecainfrance

HPIM0343.jpg image by zecainfrance

It was wonderful to people-watch in France again. French people are certainly a lot trimmer than Americans overall, though they do have a range of body types. Too much smoking, alas, including the young woman with the huge baby bump and the cigarette in her hand. And I’m sad to report that the French are almost as hooked on cell phones as we are. The phone is kept on the table, for an immediate response to anything that might arrive. And people walked down the street, eyes glued on the phone, impervious to the beautiful world around them. sigh.

So my museum tracking was very unfortunate because of poor signage, technical problems at the museum, and short hours. I did make it to the completely Romanesque Church of Saint Laurent, which was first built in the Ninth Century. I think I found some of the original walls, with a beautiful pink tint in the stones. I also like the geometric patterns in the stained glass windows, .HPIM0350.jpg image by zecainfrance

HPIM0349.jpg image by zecainfranceand the use of oil paintings of religious themes for decorations

While cruising around, looking at interesting buildings, I saw one especially imposing 19th Century, Second Empire one that had the look of an administrative function, and I headed in for a look. A voice, increasingly urgent, began calling “Madame!” and I finally figured I was the madame in question. I stopped, and was confronted by a cute young gendarme, looking at me quizically. “Qu’est-ce c’est?” I asked, “What is this?” He answered that it was the prefecture building for the police. Deciding abasement was the best policy, I announced I was a tourist, apologized, thanked him, and left the building.

More wandering around, lost but enjoying the view, and then I returned to the hotel to succomb to jet lag and another shower.

May 28, Sarlat

There’s definitely a feeling that this vacation is almost over. My thoughts are turning more and more to home, and my life there, though my eyes and my camera are still turning to France. A few random thoughts: Teenage boys seem more affectionate, less afraid to touch each other in France. It was good to see them as comfortable maintaining contact as girls do. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the young man, laden with a heavy backpack, and a guitar strapped to the backpack, stretching his neck and camera up to get a photograph of a window frame. Saw a few kitties today; one let me pet her, obliging shed on my backpack, and then avoiding letting me get a good photo of her; another scampered by, a twitching bit of gray fur in her mouth: she was taking her mouse somewhere to enjoy it in private.

Breakfast: see above. Actually, I had cheese left over from the other day, so had that for breakfast. Enjoyed the fresh fruit. It will be strange to go back to having tea for breakfast, as I’ve gotten very used to a couple cups of strong coffee to get me going.

This morning was free, and though I hadn’t slept well, it was good to have free time when still fresh and alert. I had a map of the historic parts of Sarlat, and a cheat sheet for the cathedral, Saint Sacerdos, from Katherine, our guide. So I cruised around, especially appreciated the Lanterne des Morts, built to commemorate a visit by (St.) Bernard in the 12th Century, and the beautiful, peaceful, cloister ruins on the west side of the cathedral. I met Teddy and Tom at the cathedral, and we took a tour together. Midway through, we noticed some movement in the organ loft, and a few minutes later, the low, unmistakable pattern of the bass in Pachelbel’s Canon in D reverberated throughout the entire building. It swelled into the treble, and we listened, transfixed, to the piece. It was one of those rare times when one is seized by the power of the moment, and a powerful impression is etched into one’s memory. Wow. A little more music, a little more of the cathedral to admire, and we were done. I checked off a few more place on the guide. Unfortunately, the Chapel of the White Penitents, now a museum of sacred art, wasn’t open. I had hoped to see the chapel and the art. Then back to the hotel for our noon appointment with the bus driver.

So we spent the afternoon driving around, visiting various historic sites. They were all wonderful, and I took far too many photos to inflict on you, but that happens.  But I remember best the trip to Beynac Castle (and got the best photos there.) It was the best possible way to see a castle, kept as close to what it was as a working castle as possible. (The fact that it’s been used for so many movies is definitely a testament to its visual authenticity and charm.) Beyond the way-cool oldness of everything, there was also a sense of how difficult and desolate life could be, how safety was hard won.  

One of the cool things about Beynac was that we were able to view the French countryside from way, way high up. It was absolutely splendid, and offered a much wider vision than we’d had before. And we all noted, ruefully, that France is every bit as beautiful, manicured, perfectly-arranged in panorama as it is close up. We were making jokes about the length the French must go to achieve such visual perfection—using tweezers and nail clippers on the lawn and the yard to catch every miniscule weed. Look at the photos.

Lunch was at Le Pech de Malet, a lovely country restaurant. We had yummy shredded veggies for starters, and a wafer of some paté, which I actually ate. The bread was hearty and rough, and tasted of walnuts, ubiquitous in this area. Wine and coffee were including, and happily consumed. The main course was served family style, slices of veal with fancy mushroom gravy, delicious potatoes, and some green beans cooked with a little bacon. It was great French family food, not fancy, but very tasty and satisfying. Fresh strawberries with sauce and whipped cream for dessert. For once, we didn’t linger over our meal, but were urged back to the bus, for more sightseeing. I did get a photo of the kitchen, at the urging of one tour member. I don’t think the chef was too pleased, but he was gracious.

For dinner, we made our third trip in a row for dinner at e Bistro de l’Octrol. This was for our big gala dinner. It was interesting to hear tour members compare this to other tours. The general consensus was that this group was more fun, easier to get along with, better company, than other tours. I would have said the same thing comparing this to the Drouin trip, except for a few cousins that I really got along with. But overall, it did seem to be a cohesive, coherent group. For a starter at dinner, we each got a little glass filled with a delicious tomato puree—it would have been great over noodles. And, concealed in the middle of each glass of puree was a poached egg. No idea why—we didn’t need the protein, but it was certainly delicious, and someone said it was a Spanish dish. Baskets of hearty bread were on the table, and most of us at my table had requested white wine. It was cold and refreshing, and we went through almost two bottles. The main course was fish in a mushroom sauce, with two pieces of potato, and some green peas, a grilled tomato, and a mystery square. The square was the subject of much speculation, and requests to the waitress, and errors in translation. I think the final decision was that it was pureed celery, gelled and seasoned. Dessert had a fancy name—Poires Belle Hélène, poached pears with gobs of fragrant and delicious chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a little fruit. My own tiny, crumpled pear looked so pathetic that I had to borrow Myrna’s for the photo. It was good for a laugh. There was one young waiter, a cheeky kid, who ended up waiting on us all three nights we ate there. We were good friends by the second night, when Teddy, frustrated with his incomprehensible answers in French to her questions about the menu, blurted out “I bet you speak perfect English.” He allowed that he had studied English for ten years in school, but continued speaking in French. The next night, more of the same, and she said “You need to talk in English tonight.” “I’ll talk in English,” he responded, “if you speak in French.” And so they did.

I can’t think about the tour being over. I can’t think about not seeing these wonderful people again. So I won’t. I’ll pack, and try to get some sleep tonight, as tomorrow night will not be restful.