Monday, October 31, 2011

France Day 10

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I really don't know if we started out any earlier today than any other day, but it continues to be the goal. We headed out to Chateauneuf Du Pape. This is actually a town or village or city, not sure what ranking it gets here, more of a village in my mind. But it is pretty famous for wine. Really good expensive red wine. And it is not just one winery. There are gobs of them. So many that the map for the village is all just tasting rooms and wine sellers.

All I really wanted was a postcard to send to my Dad and my Aunt Denise. I remember when my aunt flew out to surprise my dad for his 75th birthday, her one goal was to get a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape for him. I think she said that was the wine their parents had at their wedding. But in true idiotic American style, we showed up at 12:05 pm. Yep, smack dab in the middle of nap time when nothing is opened. So we drove around and kind of accidentally found what I think was the the original Chateua, now a ruin. It was at the very top of the hill and had majestic views. The wind was also back today with very strong gusts. So I think many of my photos will be out of focus because the wind was literally blowing me and the camera around. But it was still beautiful none the less.

We then wandered down and ended up in the town. We did find one open store that sold beautiful knit sweaters (that absolutely did not fit my body, dang it) and some gorgeous scarves. I got me one of those. Reminds me of lavender flowers and fields. We then had a delicious lunch at an outdoor cafe. The menu du jour was filet mignon with champignon (mushrooms), tomato and mozzarella. So we were thinking our kind of filet mignon, you know, cow flavor. Nope, this was pork. And absolutely delicious! We sat next to a very large party hosted by a very gregarious man with a sweet big dog who sat with him. Unfortunately he kept talking to us but I have absolutely no idea what he was saying. So I just smiled, a lot. I can follow your French if I first tell you that I don't speak it, okay maybe just a little. And if I know what the subject is. Words out of the blue stay out of the blue for me. But I liked the dog.

After lunch we hit the tourism office to see if there was an area that other stores we could wander in, you know, stores other than wine stores. And she either didn't understand me or there really weren't any. Or at least that is what I understood. I finally just asked where I could get a post card and she told me the Tabac, but it didn't open until 4. Mom was not eager (or even willing) to wait around an hour an a half for that. Oh well, my one goal, quashed. But we did go to a chocolate store on the way out of town. A very fancy chocolate store. And we bought stuff. Now to get it home without melting...

We regrouped once we got to the car. It was all up hill. Steep, steep hills which took a bit to recover from. Hey, I probably could have run back down to the Tabac at that point. (teasing!) We decided to go to Roussillon. It is a town known for the red coloring of the cliffs that it is built on. If you are from my area, its kind of like Red Rock just up from my parents' house. Or for the rest of you, similar to the color of the Grand Canyon. That is how they describe it. It was quite the adventure getting there. We let the lady (GPS lady) direct us. And we went through some pretty crazy small, skinny, windy, hilly roads. The kind where you hope there are no cars coming around the corner. The lady did pretty good this time. Well except for one time. Although her directions were accurate, she kept saying make a left turn, make a left turn. I bust out laughing because if I didn't follow the road to the left, the only way it was going, I would have driven directly off the cliff. I don't think my passenger thought it was that funny. Maybe you had to be there.

The cliffs really were beautiful. And they have an overlook that shows some erosion that has happened, but you get to see a range of colors from deep red at the top through orange and yellow, down to a shade of white at the base.

We wandered a bit and I found a cemetery. Yeehaw. For some reason I have become fascinated with the cemeteries here. They are amazing. First of all, they are very crowded which looks really cool, the monuments and markers range from very sleek and modern and newer, to those from the 1800's, ornate carvings, crosses, moseleums as well as markers. For some reason I am thinking they are really cool. This is the third one I've photographed on this trip.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

France Day 9

Friday, October 7, 2011

The operative word for today is WINDY. Like really big wind. Kind of cold wind too. But still mostly blue sky with pretty white clouds. And huge winds. Blow you over kind of wind. Very cool.

We headed off, not quite so early, again, toward Avignon, to then head up to the Pont Du Gard. Wow. Really, just wow.

It is a beautiful bridge. Or at least that is what it looks like. Yet they also tout that it is part of the Roman aqueduct system. It took me awhile to figure out how it could be both. They had to build this massive bridge in order to put the aqueduct on top of it to get water into Avignon. Now it is celebrated more as a bridge with the aqueduct kind of secondary. At least that is the way I see it. And in reality you can't physically see the aqueduct. But you can definitely see the bridge. It is amazing to think of the time period that they built this, and the technology they had at the time. Really amazing.

We were going to explore a few more areas today but mom is a bit under the weather so we headed home. Unfortunately our GPS system took us the vey long way through Avignon during rush hour. Yuck. Silver lining to the traffic; I was able to get a lot of photos of the old walls surrounding the city. Really pretty. (This is how I took a lot of pics.)

The GPS then wigged out and started to take us somewhere other than our apartment. Luckily I knew how to get there. I'm not sure how the trust thing will go in the future with that lady.

So this evening will be spent in, drinking a lovely red wine, reading a bit, maybe knitting a bit. But seriously relaxing.
A few observations to go with my wine:

French drivers are insane. They drive very, very fast, everywhere. It is top speed even if it is only 200m. They also need to be as absolutely close to your bumper as possible.

Some of the roads here are insanely skinny. Like I'm not really sure I can pass by that car coming at me the other way skinny. Combine that with the info above. Yikes.
We have some very cute neighbors.
We have a gorgeous persimmon tree in the front yard of our little house. I think I will try one. I wonder when persimmons are in season. I wonder how you tell if they are ripe. (EDIT: Not ripe.)

I miss my girl, the man, my kitties, my house, the way my house smells, my shower, my hot water tank. Interesting side note: the French have large heavy steel drums to house their hot water. They heat it at night with an immersion heater when electricity costs less. If you run out during the day, you wait until morning for more. Thus short showers in weird small uncomfortable shower type things. Think of taking a shower on a boat, or in a motor home. That is what they have been like.

Traveling with mothers can some times be challenging. And that is all I am going to say. Other than I am sure it must also be challenging to travel with daughters. (Hi Mom!)

Oh, oh, I forgot to mention: I went into a McDonalds today. In France. I am kind of sad but it was really cool. You know I love McD. I really do. But this is France. The food here is so much better. Every kind of food is so much better. I had made a promise to myself not to go into one. I mean seriously, this is France. But we needed a bathroom. So there you go. And they had free wi-fi, pronounced wee fee. They also served my Coke Light with ICE! Yes, I had a soda with ice. Heaven. But I only ordered fries. Promise.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

France Day 8

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Today we had lunch with our hosts Max and Regine. They did an orientation type meeting (that dragged on and on) and then we walked down to the Cheval Blanc to eat. (Did you notice that we had our first orientation at Cheval Noir, and this one at Cheval Blanc? I did.) There were 8 additional people here, most of them already having been on an untours vacation. It was nice to chat in English for a while. I am doing pretty good with French but it takes a lot of mental energy on my part. Funny aside: we actually had 13 people for lunch but Regine is very superstitious, and she is good friends with the owner, so he sar down to eat with us so we would be 14. Nice small town friendship.

After lunch we went to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It is similar to some of the other village we went to in Alsace, but this one was surrounded by houses, apartments and businesses, so it was a bit decieving. The town is surrounded by water and there are quite a few paddle wheels throughout. We just did a quick tour as we will come back on Sunday for their big outside market.

We went home to nap before venturing out for dinner. Which we did. We went into our town, Pernes-les-Fontaines and found a great small restaurant, Dame L'Oie. I had foie gras as a starter with a Provencal stew for dinner and delicious creme brûlée for dessert. Yum.  EDIT: This was really one of our only big dinners out for the entire trip. Which felt fine as we were there, but in hindsight is a bit disappointing we didn't take better advantage of the delicious dining delights of France. C'est la vie.

Then we tried to roughly plan out our next few days. Tomorrow we are off to the Pont Du Gard. Not sure exactly what that is, but supposedly it is amazing and like one of the seven wonders of the world type thing. I know, ignorance is bliss sometimes. Other times, it is just ignorance.

Friday, October 28, 2011

France Day 7

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Today is driving day. That is it. Just driving. We packed all our bags, loaded up the car and off we went. Well, we did stop at the local store with a boulangerie for pain au chocolat for breakfast, yum. This time we were following some printed instructions and we did okay. A few missed turns that we quickly righted. There were a few errands that we wanted to do along the way, or actually we wanted to do them before we started out but never found the right places. So I randomly pulled off the road into what looked like a pretty good sized town looking for gas. And the first thing we saw was a post office, bingo. He gave me directions to the Intermarche (supermarket) down the street. And on our way there, a bank, bingo again. The third and final item was the gas at the supermarket. And luckily all of this was on just the one road, so that we could trace our steps back to the highway. So, mission accomplished. And I don't even know the name of the town we were in.

Most of our drive was on toll roads which were great roads. You take a ticket as you start which is stamped with your location. Then at some point down the road, when you get off the toll road, or when it seems to be ending, the toll center reads your ticket and you pay your euros. I think our trip was about 8 hours and our tolls were a little over 100 euros. But we did travel most of the length of France.

Random fact you may not have know. They have deer bridges. On parts of the toll roads. Yes, overpasses for deer to get from one side of the road to the other. I really like that.
EDIT: Okay, I know it is hard to see but it is not easy getting a photo in focus, through a windsheild, into the sun, driving 130KM per hour with your mother sitting next to you saying "Ummm, what are you doing?" trying not to freak out. Although by then she was kind of used to it. I have some pretty cool photos of some of the signs on the side of the road. What the photo should show you is the very high sides and the trees and foliage across it. It is also pretty wide. It was confirmed that it was a deer bridge a bit later by some construction signs for another they were building. (I'm pretty sure that is what they said.)

Two cool things about the toll roads. The first is that the speed limit is 130km. Not sure what that is in miles, but it was a good little clip. And since it is illegal to pass on the right hand side there is a lot of active driving, moving to the left to pass, then back again immediately for others to pass. The other thing I really liked is how many rest areas they have, and how beautiful most of them are. A majority have picnic areas, lots of grass, playgrounds for children and then many others also have gas stations, restaurants, and a few even had hotels. All pretty cool so you don't have to get off the toll road. We had brought the best sandwiches in the world with us to have as a picnic lunch. They are so simple, delicious French bread with butter and a few slices of jambon (ham). There is just something about each of these simple things that is just done better in France, then you put them all together and wow. Well, we went through the city of Lyon and at that point decided we were hungry so to pull off at the next rest stop to eat. I pulled into one and immediately pulled right back out. Mom was squawking about how hungry she was and she needed to eat right then but I was not going to eat in that ugly rest stop when I had seen such beautiful ones before. And as mom had been snoozing most of the drive I think she missed seeing them. So when I finally did pull over she admitted it was worth the wait. So beautiful. A big park area with picnic tables under the trees, two different playgrounds for kids, and it was huge.

There were also very cool clean bathrooms. Very modern set up. On the wall was a pretty big cut out with pictures of water, soap and a dryer above. So you put your hands through this kind of conveyor system that all turned on automatically. I had to get a picture of it. Seriously.

EDIT: I also noticed this great grove of trees just on the other side of the rest stop. They were so beautiful I had to take a few shots.

I was pretty amazed by this angle. Such precision.

We finally pulled into our new area with relatively little fuss. We used the gps to find the home of the Untour hosts for this area. Then our new landlady came to their house so we could follow her back to our new apartment. Thank goodness she did. I would never have gone down some of the "roads" she took us on if I hadn't been following her. I think we were spoiled by going to Alsace first. This area is much more populated than where we were. So far there really haven't been that many open spaces and the towns seem to extend into one another. Not a bad thing, I just loved the open beauty of where we were.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

France Day 6

Tuesday, October 4 th
Tuesday the goal was to actually get up earlier. Didn't happen. Still 10 or so. But we did get moving a bit more quickly. Our first stop was the abbey just on the other side of Selestat. We hadn't been this direction before and there were a lot more farm lands than grape lands. Still beautiful. We, okay I, saw a few different crucifixes along the side of the road. I ended up seeing them all day. Maybe it was the influence of the abbey.
The outside of the building was pretty nondescript. And old building with large wood doors, two towers reaching up, not a lot else. But man, when you walked into the building, oh my. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Supposedly this is the the only baroque church in the area. It was definitely ornate. Huge vaulted ceilings with paintings in each of the sections, beautiful chandeliers, gorgeous woodwork, embellishments everywhere. The alters were spectacular. Such amazing craftsmanship. Especially when you realize when it was built - I think the early 1600’s. Okay, rebuilt. It had been destroyed once or twice in it's history. So beautiful. And we were the only ones there so that added ton the peace and majesty of it for me. We just sat in a pew for a few minutes. I think Mom was praying. I guess I was of a sort, marveling at the beauty of it. I think that may have been one of the highlights for me. Very 'trip to europe'.

Okay, castle, check. Church, check. Next, monkeys! Yep, monkeys.

There is a sort of preserve, at least that is what I think it said. And they have been raising groups of Barbary Macaques since 1969. I think they may reintroduce them to the wild but those details weren’t clear to me. My french isn’t that good. When you come to this resereve you can walk through paths in their habitat. They give everyone a handful of popcorn when you go in and tell you how to approach and how to feed them. You don’t really have to approach any of them, or call them over. They know the drill. Manyof them sit right on the walkway railing waiting for the humans to come by and feed them. They were exceedingly gentle. Not necessarily goodlooking, but so interesting. There were many babies and they had a few areas set up where a worker would come and throw out a lot of food so they would all gather around and you could watch them interact. There was a very extensive presentation on monkey culture, who is who and the roles they play. Unfortunately they only did French and German versions. One of the elements I did pick up was that the males take a large role in the raising of the babies. The guide was going over that one again and again so I was able to get that, in both French and German. The area was a beautiful forest so very pleasant to walk through and just sit and observe different groups. I think they liked doing the same thing.

After monkeys, eagles. This was our wildlife day. And they were very smart to be right next to each other. The eagle show was a short, beautiful, walk through the forest. And then you came to another castle ruin, this one much smaller. They had a circular clearing with rows of benches all around. We got there a bit early (can you believe it?) and mom sat down while I looked around. There were dozens of birds of prey all around the castle grounds; eagles, falcons, vultures, owls, you name it and they had it. I have very mixed feelings about that set up. Most of the big birds had basically anklets on both legs with about a 5-8 foot tether. They had perches, water and overhangs. Their wings were not clipped. The signage explained that they would spend hours at a time in the wild just perched on one tree, etc. So this wasn't that different, but I still don't know. Hmmm, conflicted, that's new. Not.

Anyway, the show was pretty cool. There was an emcee and three additional handlers. They would bring out a few different birds that would circle around and then land either on a perch, on one of their arms or even the ground. The birds were spectacular. The handlers moved aournd the audience so some times a bird would literally fly right at you, graze your head and land just behind you. Quite thrilling. They brought out a group of falcons ( again, I think due to their size, this one was also all in French so I didn't learn very much) and then gave different members of the audience a chance to have the bird land on them. Guess who stood up and put out her arm for the glove? My mother! I couldn't believe it. I dont think she could either. But it was very cool. The entire show was exciting to watch. Even the birds eating dead things was okay to watch.

After that we headed toward home with the goal of a pharmacy, which we found, for cough drops, which they didn’t have ( tablets instead) and the supermarket for a cooler. We head to Provence tomorrow and have things from the fridge to bring with us. We did find the supermarket, and it was open, but no luck on the cooler. Oh well, now to pack because we really do have to wake up early on Wednesday to start our drive.