Monday, May 19, 2008

A Day in Arles, Ste Marie de la Mer, and Les Baux de Provence

Today we spent in the car. We drove to the Mediterranean this morning, to the small city of Saint Marie de la Mer. It's famous for having the actual bones of the mother of St James and St John,and the bones of the sister of the Virgin Mary, along with their servant Sara. Supposedly they were put into a boat after the crucification, without sails or oars, and ended up in this place 2000 years ago. A church was founded here in the 9th century, and miraculously their bones were discovered in 1448!!! Sara was an Egyptian woman, and is venerated by Gypsies as their patron saint. While we walked around the tiny place (and saw Sara's actual bones) there were many men and women lighting candles and praying before the shrine. It was very strange.

We then drove to Arles, where Van Gogh spent much time painting. We used my National Geographic guide book and followed a suggested route seeking the Arena and the Amphitheater. It so happened that the government of France is restoring these monuments. The Arena was half done...on one side, it was the gray and black decaying edifice, and on the other side, they have blasted it back to the original white limestone. It will be beautiful. We visited the Church of St. Triomphe, which (supposedly) contains a relic of St. Stephen, the first Christian matyr, as well as numerous relics from other maytrs. It was built over 1000 years ago. After a nice refreshment of sangria on a tree-lined medieval street, we then headed for Les Baux de Provence, where we climbed endlessly to the ramparts of the top hills. The quilt-patch photo below is of the orchards and vinyards that can be seen from the top. The original lords of Les Baux believed themselves to be descendants of one of the Three Wise Men, and generally reeked havoc and ignored the Pope and king of France right through the end of the Middle Ages. We spent over 3 hours wandering and climbing. Because we were tired, and the grocery markets close at 7 pm or so in France, we feasted on an egg frittata and pan-fried potatoes, all things we could find in the pantry.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

At the Pont du Gard

Sunday we had a leisurely breakfast of eggs, fresh melon and, of course, bread, we headed to the Pont du Gard. ( I have always wanted to see this magnificient Roman monument - what a testament to the feat of engineers. I did notice that the French are being dragged into the 21st century and now have English posted alongside French in their newer museums. That is certainly not the case with most sites, although you can sometimes sometimes find brochures in other languages.

At the Uzes Market

We visited the market in the medieval town of Uzes on Saturday. Although a bit rainy, we had a great time. Here are some random shots from the day:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

After Market

Although it was still raining a bit, we ventured into Uzes for the weekly market. This is what rural France is all about. The central walled part of the ancient city was full of street vendors selling food, cheese, wines, fish, clothing, linens, truffles, pottery, and fresh flowers. We shopped at an outdoor stand offering 20 kinds of olives, bought a wheel of fresh Brie, a bottle of truffle oil, several chunks of various homemade saucissions (dry sausages), a beautiful cantelope and baby artichokes. For lunch we had pizza, French-style: one was tomato sauce with cheese and 'mashed cod' and another with sausages and baby goat cheese. And wine.

Afterwards, we went to Carrefours, which is a huge supermarket. In short, the French are more serious about their food. There were three aisles of cheeses, alone. We bought scallops, with the roe attached, vegetables, bread, makings for sauces, lots of fresh butter and eggs. And wine and beer and pastis. Below is a sampling.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Travel Days

At last, a real computer connection. Posting from my Blackberry is quick and easy, but a bit tedious to compose more than a couple sentences. And no spell check.

Friday morning we took the TGV (highspeed)train from the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, and arrived at Avignon less than three hours later. I tried to stay awake to watch the scenery, but like others in our group, I found myself asleep, with eyes closed and mouth open. We had a few moments in the car rental place, where the clerk tried to tell me that my American Express card's rental car insurance plan wasn't any good in France, and that I needed to pay about 300 Euros for all the insurances or I could be liable for up to $50,000. Both Eric and I tried calling our Amex card numbers, but couldn't get through (I later figured out the Blackberry automatically knows where I am, and I didn't have to dial all the country codes, and the agent confirmed that I was completely covered through my card). I declined everything, and we packed our stuff into a Ford minivan and headed through the curvy roads and the rain.

We found M. Le Fur in a typical French neighborhood cafe, in this small town. Dozens of people eating the plate du jour, drinking wine, talking, laughing, shouting across the room to each other. I would have liked to have stayed for a bit, but we were anxious to get to our place. I'll post some photos on my SmugMug site when I get home, but the place couldn't be more lovely. All around, we are surrounded by medieval stone walls and cobbled streets, where people have lived for centuries. After a couple hours, Janet, Eric and I walked through the maze of streets and eventually found the little shop, as well as the boulangerie (bakery) and the boucherie (butcher) shops. Fortunately, we also found a little city office that had maps. This particular town is well known for its pottery (hence the name "La Poterie") because of special clays found here. The tiny streets are lined with artist studios. We bought cheeses, wine, bread, mussels, pasta, some fresh vegetables, and ended up with a garlicky cream sauce with mussels over pasta, bread with fig preserves, and a fresh salad. Nice quality wines run about 2-7 euros per bottle.

The market in Uzes opens at 8, and I was hoping to be off by then. However, it's almost 9, and I am the only one up right now, although I just saw Eric walk by from their room, which has a private entrance. I'm not sure the girls are even breathing...

Arriving in St Quentin la Poterie

We arrived in this tiny hamlet in the midst of a rainstorm. M. Le Fur, the owner, showed us our place - full of antiques, original paintings and sculpture, and a three courtyards. This is the one at the entrance. The building is 14th century. On three levels, the house has a private courtyard off of the main living area, one of the master bedrooms, and at the end of the upstairs hallway, which overlooks at 12th century church.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm here too

I always take all the photos. This is me at the outdoor cafe, across the street from a nice bakery and pate shop.

Foraging for foie gras

After touring Notre Dame, the Louvre, wandering around the Right Bank, and prowling underground by way of the Catacombs, we looked for refreshment in the streets of Montparnasse. Here, we are choosing a nice goose liver for tonight's dinner. We are going to buy fresh handmade pasta, paella with six kind of seafood, some sauces and fruit tartes, to take back to our apartment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Moveable Feast

We roamed the markets of Montmartre, finding helpful people to direct us to the various markets; pate campagne and rissellete d'oies, fresh breads; wines; three types of cheeses; a whole roasted chicken. Excellent, all.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Two Very Tired Ladies

We've been walking for hours today, having climbed the Butte in Montmartre and visiting the Sacred Couer cathedral, St Denis's abbey (he was beheaded by the Romans in 250 AD), the Champs Elysee and up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It was very warm today, so we're a bit draggled and will appreciate a shower this evening. I hope there aren't too many Metro stops between where we are and where we sleep tonight.

Dinner in Paris

After trekking to the top of La Tour Eiffel this evening, we stopped at a Russian restaurant in the 7th arr. That's Whit with her first vodka and Eric pretending to not be on his Blackberry.

Touring Paris

We"re off! On our way to the Champs Elysee.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dinner Time

While strolling around Montmatre, sampling the various bars and bakeries, I decided to wander through a local grocery store (named "Ed"). After noticing that fine French wines were running about €2-3 per bottle (that's 2-4 DOLLARS), instead of eating out we bought two kilos of mussels, a package of foie gras, a bag of shallots, three bottles of wine, a bagette of freshly baked bread, and a large chocolate bar: total cost €21. Life is good.

Safe Landing

Arrived safely. It's a gorgeous day, and the entire city is enjoying theire holiday. We're outside our apartment in Montmartre.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bon Voyage "Snacks"

The first class lounge at Air France was a bit stark (although the wine selections were excellent), so we retired to the airport's Pappadeaux restaurant for pre-flight drinks. And snacks. You can tell we're raring to go.


Janet and Eric settling down next to me.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Getting ready for France

We're getting ready for our epic Tour de France. While on a business trip to Midland, I stopped by the gorgeous home of the Prims, to check on the packing progress. (If I lived in such an over-the-top, spare-no-expense home, I would never leave it. The only thing missing is a gold-plated bidet.) We've got our business class seats, our apartment in Paris and our villa in Provence, train rail passes, car rental, Metro passes, and lists of restaurants.

As we have time between museum hopping, wine tastings, browsing food markets, and looking for wonderful findings in the famous French flea markets, we'll keep in touch. We haven't left yet and have so far spent to date: $15,000.