On Monday we went hiking in the Alpilles. This was just an hour and a half , because we all agreed we were tired. A little while later we hiked up a hill, to take in the view while enjoying our baguettes. The baguette long was my favourite because it tasted like a woodfired pizza, when you add a slice of cheese. Tuesday we went to the Saint Paul de Mausole. It was where Van Gough spent a year, he was there as a psychiatric patient. He created most of his famous paintings, including Starry Night. He only ever sold one painting, which was the Red Vineyard. Not as famous as Starry Night but equally beautiful. We visited a reconstruction of his room. His story is sad but also very interesting and inspiring. He will never know how celebrated and respected he is. Wednesday we went to the morning market. This was the biggest market we’ve been to yet. There was lots of cheese, meat, vegetables, fruit, clothing and sweets. We sampled cheeses, pesto and nougat. AJ probably took to many samples of nougat for the sellers likings. It was delicious! The original flavour of nougat is almond and honey. But later was made with pistachios, hazelnuts, chocolate, dried fruits and much much more. We also let in for AJ’s request for tapenade and olives.Which everyone loved , even I liked them and I’m not olive person. We also bought hummus, kale, paella which is a seafood and spicy rice mix for daddy, a Madeleine to share and a macaroon to share. Next we went back had a quick lunch and headed of to les Baux de Provence. We walked through a little town and bought some small things from the local market. Then we headed up to the castle. We saw some cool cannons and other weaponry, that I’ve never heard of. We learned interesting things from our audio guide, and enjoyed being there. Then we went to a gallery that make it seem that your in the painting. We saw Japanese paintings and Vincent Van Gough paintings. They had to use tons of projectors. On one painting it felt like we were swimming in the ocean. Because there was ocean everywhere, on the ground, ceiling and all the walls. Thursday we went biking for the day. We hiked along a canal. And my favourite part was when went down a bunch of bumps. We biked past majestic horses and other farm animals. It was a nice change to get away from all the cars and loud noises. Today we went to Arles a nearby town. We saw an old amphitheater and a theatre. The amphitheater is definitely not as big or historic as the Coliseum, but it has its pluses. Such as not being crowded by thousands of people. The amphitheater is still used to this day, for bull fights, gladiator recreations and so on. We also went to a museum with lots of old artifacts. And there was an old shipwreck that apparently still had all it’s money and things to bring. But it never made it. Tomorrow we our heading to Palavas des Flots. We did lots and saw lots in Provence, but we also took time to work and relax. I will always remember the smell of Provence, a light lavendery smell.
We are now in our third stop in France. Our visit began with a brief visit to sunny, stylish Nice. We tried two delicious local foods in Nice: socca, a chickpea pancake, and Pissaladière, a type of Provençal open tart resembling pizza that usually includes onion, anchovies, and/or olives. We then spent three nights in Cassis, a picturesque seaside town where we hiked the Calanques, narrow steep-walled inlets. Our somewhat challenging and rewarding trek ended included a frigid swim in breathtakingly clear Mediterranean waters.
It is interesting being able to communicate more effectively. Locals speak to me and I realize that I can understand them—albeit it takes me a moment or two. I found yesterday that I was wondering “what is that bruit?” Words are coming back covered in cobwebs: voisin, propre, brosse, tapis, gaspillage, usine. My accent is fairly tragic, but we are no longer in places where English is widely spoken, so people are not switching when I use French.
We are now in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and there is much to do here, though we are all winding down somewhat, missing friends and family and weary of the packing and unpacking. On our first full day here we walked to Glanum, a local archaeological site founded by the Gauls, then a Hellenistic period and finally the Romans. It is enjoyable to roam around en plein aire.
Yesterday, we visited the Saint Paul de Mausole, the Romanesque monastery where Vincent Van Gogh spent a year of his life as a psychiatric patient and produced an astonishing number of works while there, including The Starry Night. The institution still serves local residents and provides programs to help them make art—I was tempted to buy some that was on display.
I was surprised to learn that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. I was feeling wistful, and it made me sad to consider how much more content and stable he perhaps could have been had he benefitted from modern pharmaceuticals. St. Paul’s sounded (and, to be honest, made themselves sound) fairly progressive for https://davidleach.ca/wp-admin/media-new.phpVan Gogh’s times though they still used therapies that are horrifying today, such as forced feeding and regimes of hot and cold baths.
It was moving to stand in Van Gogh’s former bedroom, look out the window and see those colours and the landscape—the golden yellows, the olive trees, the wheat, the hills—that inspired his greatest works. As we walked back to town, I mentioned to A.J. and Briar that I hoped the stigma of mental illness is successfully reduced during their lifetime. We are far from there yet.
Moving on to lighten the mood of this blog: we have an outdoor ping-pong table at our AirBnB. The condo is spacious and pleasant—especially after the cramped quarters in Cassis, where we occupied a tiny, eccentric main floor space between two restaurants.
Ping-pong remains the one game involving hand-eye coordination that I can actually play. I am not allowed to reveal the details of which individuals I may have beaten in ping-pong combat. The property also has an outdoor pool, walnut trees and fragrant flowers and shrubs that attract a very strange moth-hummingbird, a creature new to me. It looks just like a tiny hummingbird, but is technically an insect. Very étrange!
This week is my first week in France. Apart from some foods and the language it’s not too much different from Italy most likely because we’re still very close to the border. I think I like Italian cuisine more because of the pizza and pasta though the French baking looks delicious. I tried some lavender ice cream yesterday and it was good but gelato is much better.
As we enter week #6 — the final stretch — of our European journey, we have settled into a rhythm of almost perpetual motion.
We have gotten good at packing up quickly and leaving each AirBnb clean as we move on to the next — 11 stops in total. My pre-trip planning has worked out so far, with train connections and accommodations… some, admittedly, better than others. (My back is still recovering from a hard mattress in Nice and our cute but space-deficient boat-like cabin in Cassis.)
Anything to do with the rental cars spikes my anxiety. But the driving in France and Italy hasn’t been too bad, aside from a few Google Maps glitches. And we’ve let the car sit at our accommodations’ parking spot for severals days, so we can wander by foot. Most places we could shop for groceries and other essentials without the car.
We have suffered sleeplessness at times, but have all stayed (knock on wood!) relatively healthy, with only a half-day each for AJ and Briar when they felt out of sorts. We hadn’t lost anything until I mentioned that fact… and realized I’d left in the car my pricey attachable sunglasses when I’d dropped off the rental in Bologna.
Our actual day trips and sightseeing haven’t matched up with the ambitious plans sketched out on our trip-planning Google Doc. Often we don’t get out the door until 10 or 11am — or in the case of today, nearly 1pm. But we get out each day and walk and walk and walk and see something new…
We got tripped up in Nice, when every other city seemed to shut its museum and gallery doors on Mondays… except here, where things are shuttered on Tuesdays, our only full day in the city. So that meant no Matisse Gallery or the Mark Chagall Museum. (And there was much rejoicing from the kids!)
When we tried to make up for the lack of gallery time with a visit to the Picasso Museum in Antibes, on our drive to Cassis, we got caught in a massive traffic jam due to a highway accident… and just missed the last entry before the long lunch break, so we walked the old town and breakwater instead. France doesn’t want us to visit its galleries apparently. But its beaches and ruins and hikes and old towns and crepes are impressive too.
After five weeks, we miss friends and family back home, but our portable technologies at least allow us to stay in touch in ways that I couldn’t when I first went backpacking, to Israel, when I was 20. The familiarity of home will seem welcome, too, after struggling to figure out the odd functions of new bathrooms and ovens, locks and foreign TVs, to find peanut butter in the aisles of grocery stores, and bumbling through conversations with my high-school French and Duo Lingo Italian.
But aside from the odd scowl from a shop clerk or a driver, we have felt welcomed and warmed by the hospitality from all the people (and especially our various AirBnb hosts) who have helped us along every step of the road. We all agree with the words on the mosaic we found in a park that overlooked the spectacular coast of Nice: “Happy are those like Ulysses who have a good voyage.”
Our quick days in Nice were very nice. The place we stayed was not my favourite but the bath was enjoyable. And the sunsets over the ocean were stunning. We were very tired when we got there after a long four hour train ride. The next morning we had a swim. It was very hard to get in as it was sloped, but once we stumbled in the bright blue sea we knew it was worth the blisters on our feet. Afterwards we had a warm grilled cheese and cantaloupe. Then we went up up up a tower, and saw the rooftops of nice and the dazzling water from above. There was a nice park there were we quenched our thirst and replied sunscreen. Next we walked down the busy streets of old nice. We tried new foods we loved and some just for the experience. Socca is one of the foods that was for the experience. It is like a chick pea pancake. Pissalediere is one of the foods that we ate within seconds. It is a tart with onions and some times anchovies on top.When I saw it I had mixed feelings, but when I bite into it I thought don’t judge a book by its cover. It was mouthwatering. We decided it was time to head back. The next day we hit the road. Aurevoir Nice! We got stuck in some traffic, because of an accident. So when we got to Antibes we rushed out of the door for the sake of our butts. Antibes was a stop we made to have lunch and stretched our legs before the 2 hour trudge to Cassis. We walked through the town, but unfortunately the Picasso museum was closed. So instead we ate our lunch on the steps of a square, while the market dogs begged for food. It was hard not to give in. Then we walked on by the harbour and saw some impressive yachts. The Dillbar yatch is by far the biggest with its helicopter landing platform. It’s in between 800 million US dollars and 1 billion US dollars. We also saw a cool statue and Ferris wheel, sadly we did not have time to go on it. We went back to the car, not excited for the car ride but excited to visit a new place. Our day in Nice was fun, and our few hours in Antibes was a pleasure too.