• 2018 Southern France- Part II- Mostly Culture

    And then came the Mistral, the blustery, cold wind from the polar north that blows through Provence from time to time, sometimes for two weeks at a time. In our case it was just two days, but, it made an impression.
    Being bold birders, we carried on anyway, and walked through La Crau Nature Preserve, steppe habitat that used to be the delta of the Durance River. It has been shaped by 6,000 years of sheep and nature and has been preserved as a sheep grazing area since then....therefore...no plantings and only a few buildings needed for sheep and shepherds. There is little protection from the wind. 
    We wore our warmest digs, but still.....
    Below we see S's pants blowing up and J. about to lose the blasted scope.
    L. and I thought the howling wind called for a poem and she hatched the brilliant opening phrase..."O Mistral."  For whatever reason, though, we couldn't seem to flesh it out after that perfect title, despite wailing it out from time to time during the trip.  "O Mistral" we would cry with desperate emotion in the hopes that the second line would follow.  But, no..nothing. The whole trip...nothing came to us. It wasn't until I saw these pictures that the rest of the poem burst into my poetic consciousness.
    O, Mistral, leave low thy mace, thy flail,
    Regardez, O Mistral, your flagrant fail,
    Thy worst yields naught, our smiles prevail.
    O, Mistral.
     Vegetation was quite low and the place was studded with stones.
    There were many of these conglomerates 
    During World War II, the occupying Germans forced the Provencals to make these piles of rocks to deter any allied air landings.
    This is a sheep breeding building and the home of a not-so-friendly large shepherd's wife and their scary dog. The large white sheep dogs can be dangerous when they are performing their jobs as sheep protectors.
    These are sheep.
    Thanks to M's brilliant spotting we saw a Hoopoe there, but not much else, and I couldn't run fast enough against the prevailing gale to photograph that desirable, but distant bird.
    At this point, our fearless leader decided to show us some of the well-known Provence culture (always with an eye out for birds, though).
    We started out with an ancient castle and fortress on a hill.
    The Mistral continued to pummel us that day, so our "picnic" on the grass may have lacked something in the way of comfort, but will forever remained scarred into our memories. The only bird we hoped to see there was a no-show. But the Crag Martin (no pics) braved the breeze and we got good looks. 
     The Three Marys are famous in Provence for being sent out to sea in a boat without food or water, yet surviving and washing up on the Meditarrean shore not far from here.
    I found doorways awesome in Provence....
    Walking up to the town
     There was a little village within the walls. I had a hot chocolate.
    On a chilly breezy evening we went to La Caume in the hopes of seeing the very unusual Egyptian Vulture. We did, and although it was very far away, the wind was blowing my large lens all over the place and I was chattering from the cold...well, these are my shots...take em or leave em.
    The weather turned nice and we visited the Pont du Gard...the ancient Roman aquaduct, and the museum that explained everything about it.
    The weather stayed pleasant, and we visited some quaint little towns, all of which were very much still lived in, not like our ghost towns in the US.
    This is Gordes, surely the most adorable little town on a hill. 
    A lot of rock houses
    Do cute little towns on hills get any cuter?
    Well, maybe...here's Roussillon...
    And here are some garages built into the ocre rock
    "You have to be of a certain stature"...said L.
    Where does the color come from for the houses here?
    The ocre sandstone hereabout
    We had lunch and the waiter had a tough time understanding "I'll have a hamburger without the bun, please"  Kind of out-of-the-box thinking for him, but he was a bit of a tease, I think. 
    It had been 50 years since I'd spoken French and really enjoyed it, but was glad to get this tip about "Kiwi"
    And in case you want to buy an "ocre thing"...here's your shop.
    We saw many memorial statues to the "enfants" who died for France in World War I. "enfants" means children, but in this context it is a word of respect with a patriotic nuance. Eg: National Anthem = "Allons, enfants de la Patrie" or "Let's go, sons of the country"
    And upstairs to residences
    Good-bye, beautiful, clean, colorful Roussillon.
    Then, there was Ezes where the European Robin managed to make it impossible to get a good photo by sitting and singing enticingly at eye level in a tree....but in the deep shade. Also, toilets were in short supply.
    Our next stop was Avignon where we did laundry. It was actually quite exciting to figure out how to make the machines run from a master board of buttons and switches...but mostly because we got to sit en plein air at a table on the square and have a glass of wine while we waited.
    We had several memorable meals in this town, and we visited the grounds where the popes lived...looked pretty fancy from the outside.
    At some point on a lovely day, we visited the sanatorium in St. Remy where Van Gogh lived for 15 months during his most difficult time. He surely must have had a bipolar experience because there were times when he painted ferociously, a painting a day, and times when he was so depressed he could not get out of bed. It is thought that he may also have been exposed to toxins and that he had epileptic seizures as well. It is all very sad to me and brings me closer to understanding the mental torment that so many others have undergone. 
    Because it touched me so deeply, I want to show you some of what we saw ...  so many familiar paintings .... so many of which were painted on the grounds we were standing on. Here is the entrance. Imagine you are there.
    This is the Dutchman who left Holland for Paris, then left Paris for Arles where he wanted to set up an artists' colony, and who after just a short while had to admit himself to this "hospice" after he assaulted Gauguin in the streets of Arles and then cut off part of his own ear. Here he was lovingly taken care of by doctors and nurses who must have provided him with some peace after the town of Arles asked him to leave.
    This is the garden at St. Paul's painted in this very spot. Looks very much the same.
    "La Nuit Etoilee", painted here in St Remy
    "Almond trees in blossom", painted here
    "The Olive trees", painted here
    Love this quiet space
    This was Van Gogh's bedroom in "the yellow house" in Arles 
    Below is the room he stayed in while he lived in the sanatorium
    "Butterfly Garden at St Paul's"
    The bathtubs outside his bedroom...looks like they might have offered some sensory deprivation experience to patients
    From the back garden - looking toward the chapel
    "The Yellow Wheat", similar to the wheat fields of La Crau where he shot himself (presumably) in the abdomen..the event that ended his short life.
    Prairie in the mountains, painted here
    Here's the beautiful atrium...St Paul's was originally a religious institution that housed several different religions before it became a hospital
    This is the garden where prints of several paintings are posted
    This Great Tit was feeding young in its cavity nest in this tree along the entranceway.
    Here he is again with a packet of spiders for his offspring
    Chaffinch in the garden
    Outside of town there were birding areas where we caught a couple of species and this pretty sight.
    Common Kestrel
    Common Kestrel
     After our lovely eight days were up with our new friends, we had to split         up...some to go to Paris for a week, and Scott and I rented a car to drive south to Nice. Scott was an awesome driver, but I was a loser navigator on this leg. I couldn't figure out why my phone GPS kept leading me onto narrow dirt roads...very frustrating until I realized I had the GPS set to find routes for Bicycles, not Cars. Got better after I figured that out.
    We passed through Nice and stopped at our first apartment in the eastern suburb of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. This was really a terrific beach town and we got our first taste of real "walking" here when we walked from one end to the other along the Mediterranean Sea. Plus our apartment was up, up, up a hill from the beach. We also enjoyed finding the little grocery shop where we bought our gluten-free food (and a baguette or pastry for Scott) to cook up in our apartments.
    When we would have our pre-dinner glass of wine, we enjoyed our very own "Rear Window" (a favorite movie of mine) experience. So much "living" noise coming from the apartments across the way, or above us, or next to us, plus some very insistent tomcats about.
    It's right on the Mediterranean
    Around the bend from the busy business port of Nice
    And just beautiful to walk around in, visit the old fortress
    Two days here was all we got...then we turned in the car at the train station and hopped TrenItalia for Pisa. It was a lovely ride...all of it along the Mediterranean coast...such a calm and clear coastline...not like the crashing waves of many of the US coasts we've traveled.
    See you in Italy!
  • Comments on this post (6 comments)

    • Bonnie Beuning says...

      Wonderful pictures! Thank you for the guided tour. I hope we can get to some of those towns!

      September 16, 2018

    • Connie Shaver says...

      Lovely Carol…isn’t it amazing that at 14 we had all of this ahead. Life is such an adventure.

      July 02, 2018

    • Carol Blackard says...

      I tend to find a lot of things memorably funny on our trips…but to be honest…sometimes they’re not exactly hilarious at the time. Rachelle – we actually wound up in a barnyard while on our search for the perfect bike route :). The nicest French farmer helped us find the autostrada…“tout simple” as it turned out…one left and then another left..poof, there it was. Ha.

      June 29, 2018

    • Rachelle says...

      So fun to “experience” your trip with these photos and words. I can just imagine how funny it must have been to find out you were navigating bike trails! The art is breathtaking especially seeing it there.

      June 29, 2018

    • Michelle says...

      You’re so funny, I laughed out loud twice! Sounds like such a great trip, can’t wait to read about Italy!

      June 28, 2018

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