Wednesday was a trip to Cassis and my first glimpse of the Mediterranean

To market to market to buy a fine horse! Markets everywhere – we left St Remy which had their weekly market in full swing, to travel 2 hours south west to the coastal town of Cassis. The motorways were fast but a bit knuckle-clenching, and we discovered the toll booths and spent some panicked moments interpreting instructions in french. After a wrong turn that delayed us 30 mins we were finally gliding downhill into another lively market at Cassis.

Thunder sounded overhead and the rain poured down and we made our way in to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

Afterwards, in clearing skies, we lined up and boarded a boat for a two-hour trip out to view the Calanques. Sooo worth doing!

By this time the sun was beating down on us and we applied sun lotion and glasses and spent the next two-hours in awe of the limestone cliffs listening to an unintelligible commentary which was full of interesting facts, I’m sure.

Lots of caves, coves and deep emerald or indigo water.

We made it back to port just as the skies became overcast and after some shopping headed up the steep slope out, Helen driving. At one point a campervan coming down swung right over into our lane and had Helen’s reflexes not been quick we’d have been hit. As it was we drew shakily out of the verge where we’d been forced and on up the hill.

This is where the boat went – ignore the road line – you can see Marseille around the corner.

We got food from supermarket and relaxed at the hotel after a very exciting day.

A down day and then the Luberon

Yesterday rained which gave us the perfect excuse to take it easy. We made our way in to St Remy and wandered separately then met for lunch. It’s a common practise here to close up the shops between 1 and 3pm for a long leisurely lunch. Then dinner at 8pm.

The afternoon was spent reading.

Today we had our European breakfast here and then drove off to investigate the high bowl of hills and fertile plain called the Luberon.

The first of the three quaint hill towns we visited was Roussillon. A RED rock town high on some wonderful cliffs.

We had a coffee – still haven’t found one anything like the kiwi ‘flat white’. Then we set off for nearby Gordes – the cream clay town.

It, too, was up a hill – and to my horror I found myself following instructions through the heart of a country market. I had to drive through here:

Once we parked and in the market on foot it was wonderful. Purchased another top and we bought a sausage chopped into a bread stick and enjoyed it on seat in the shade:

It was pretty hot by now. Winding down through the valley we found cute little Goult – up another hill – parked and walked around.

There was no one in the streets – the shutters were closed. ALL the townsfolk must have been clustered in the one lively restaurant doing a roaring trade under umbrellas by the parking lot. I found I was required to drive between the buildings and could have touched the houses on either side as I negotiated out of town.

We’re having beer in the lounge area of our hotel now and preparing to go into St Remy to Cafe de la Place for a casual dinner.

Bon appetite!

Two wheels instead of four

We set off a little later today – weather overcast – deciding to do a cycle around the local roads. As we prepared to set off it became apparent that some sort of parade was about to circle the town. Streets were cut off, police were dotted at intervals around. I asked one policeman and managed to gather it involved horses. We also saw some beautiful traditional costumes being worn. Took these two on their way to the start:

We’d rented ebikes for half a day but spent the first hour of that waiting to see what would show up. It was worth it.

Just after 11 sis and I set off to do a flattish circular route that lasts 2.5 hours. The thing is, it’s pretty hard to follow instructions in English-is-a-second language. And we’re already disoriented. Still – as this Map-MyRide shows (and thank the Lord for THAT) all the hairy little lines heading away were corrected.

We managed a 40 km ride and even stopped for lunch in a village in the foothills. It was a great bit of exercise and a good way to see the countryside.

The rain even held off! Had a swim upon our return and have taken it easy since. (Crepes at a wee family restaurant for dinner).

Abbaye de Montmajour and some more Vincent at Arles

The good times keep rolling on. Today it was raining when we sat eating our breakfast and contemplated the things to do today. Decided to continue our appreciation of Van Gogh’s genius by visiting some of his paintings at Arles. On the way we stopped off at this old – mostly Medieval – abbey. Notable for its ‘dug into stone’ graves.

The chapel inside was beautifully adept at making our voices roll around – it must have been glorious when the monks all sang together here.

Outside there were wide views towards Arles and the flat plains between.

It was only another ten minute drive to Arles where we parked and found a coffee. These streets are every bit as winding and intriguing as Avignon but poorer somehow. I really liked them.

Here we found an authentic market selling vegies, food, meats etc to the locals: it felt less tourist-focussed. We bought some items for a picnic lunch and proceeded on to the Van Gogh museum/gallery. Very glorious to be able to absorb some of his paintings up close:

We made our way to the banks of the Rhone and dangled our legs over eating our lunch and appreciating the millenia that man has done just this in this very spot. So many ancient Roman ruins everywhere!

We have driven back and swum in the pool. Bliss.

A fountain out of a mountain and Van Gogh

Yesterday was spent driving to the delightful wee town of Isle sur Sorgue. I had to negotiate a tight knot in the roads leading to the town and drove around the roundabout a few times. Once there though, the emerald green river flows through the town in canals and we continued through the village, going uphill to find the source of the water at Vaucluse. We parked in a leafy carpark and followed the wide waters of the river uphill past a waterwheel that pounds pulp for the papermill.

There are covered stalls along this wide pathway – both of us happy in the knowledge that we had beaten the main rush of tourists. At the top of the path is a deep, still pool of emerald clear water sitting at the base of a pink wall of rocky mountainside.

I cannot describe the serene minutes we spent here, in mesmerised contemplation of the water rushing from the spring downhill. We could see it oozing out of other spots as we descended.

All in all, one of my favourite spots on this whole trip.

When we reached the little town of Vaucluse we had a cool drink overlooking the waters.

Then a bit of shopping and we got back in the car to go down to Isle sur Sorgue and lunch. What a charming antiques town it proved to be too. No antique shops open but plenty of street stalls and charming back streets.

Eventually we stopped at a riverside table and enjoyed a lunch special of asian origin which was very tasty.

Upon leaving town we wound through tiny country lanes barely wide enough for the car. Came back to relax by pool and eat bought deli items for dinner.

Today – Friday 25 May – was ‘discover Vincent van Gogh Day”. This town we are staying in (St Remy) is where he spent some time, particularly at a hospital for his mental disorders. There is a museum in the heart of the old town which gives a short outline of the artist and his influences. We started there, picking up a map to continue a journey up the hill to the sanatorium where he stayed. All the way along were paintings in noticeboards with quotes from his letters beside them.

It was a lovely walk uphill and so good to see the influences on his paintings right at hand.

We shared the path with many school children on assignment. Soon the stately entrance to the hospital opened up before us.

Inside were many posters of his work. A rather melancholy statue of him stands at the entrance clutching sunflowers.

Best of all, his room which he mentioned in his letters to his brother, and the view he must have stared out from so often.

It was not too bad a spot to spend some time.

Walking out to face a long downhill progression to the car, we noted the immense Roman ruins over the road. These will have to wait for another day!

Helen and I lunched in St Remy at a sweet little bistro which featured a chatty parrot.

We have both swum in the hotel pool and feel a pleasant sense of having used the hours well.

Up to the City of Kings, Les Baux

Wednesday 23 May we dined on the extensive brekky here – cold meats, fruits, bread, cheese and coffee. We are hanging out for a good strong cup of tea when we hit Dublin late next week. It was another fine morning and a short 20 min drive saw us cruising up into a free park outside The Cathedral of Images at the foot of the City of Kings.

Carved out of solid rock this immense cavern – broken into two or three parts – is the backdrop for moving images played over its surfaces to the rousing music that accompanies it. We were entranced!

The pics were from Picasso’s rich range and – to my delight – Sgt Pepper/Monty Pythonesque as well. After viewing the full show for what felt like 45 mins we found a source of light leading to a cafe and sat in muted tones sipping coffee.

Outside the car nosed further up the hill until it squeezed into a tiny car space on the road. It was a 5 minute walk up the footpath into the ancient town at the top.

We spent a ridiculous amount on some nougat at a street vendor and had a delightful lunch overlooking the valley below.

A wander up further revealed some sweeping views.

And then it was a rumble down the twisting streets and cobbles to the car again. Back at the hotel we plunged into the pool – astounding (again) the French folk sunning themselves beside it.

An Annual sheep run and Avignon

Yesterday we had heard that the moutons would be herded through town before being taken up to eat the grassy slopes of the Alps. Naturally we joined the throngs of people lining up to watch that happen at 11am. It was worth it!

Afterwards we ambled around the market for a while and grabbed the odd coffee or patisserie item. The afternoon was spent lazing around the hotel and nibbling a fresh loaf we’d purchased for dinner, along with the last of our wine. For some reason the afternoons the last few days have yielded thunderstorms – somewhat curtailing our swimming – but nothing like the drenching rain we ‘enjoy’ at home in NZ. We spent the evening watching netflix in the car (nearer the wifi).

Today it was Helen’s birthday. After presentation of a small bicycle gift and the usual splendid breakfast . . .

We set off to spend the day in Avignon. We arrived into the heart of a protest march but soon found the meandering cobbled streets and hung around in them for a while.

Then we encountered the carousel my friend Annie had told us about and availed ourselves of a ride on it.

And just beyond it was the Palace de Papes (popes) itself. To our delight a small train of carriages took people for a ride around the city and we quickly became installed in the last carriage.

Amazingly the train negotiated the narrow cobbly streets between tourists and buildings. I could have reached out and grabbed someone’s croissant easily.

When we recovered at our hotel we headed into St Remy for birthday dinner at a cute restaurant tucked inside the old town called Le Cuisine Des Anges. Lovely food!

Afterwards managed a bit more movie night in car in hotel carpark before heading in to bed 🤪

St Remy and Uzes

It’s a wee bit hard taking time to blog – we’re either moving or we’re not – and I’m a bit tired to write it all down. God bless my friends Peter and Annie F who told us about this place and gave us a list of all the things to see. We’ve made a good start. Yesterday we spent looking over St Remy, the town we’re staying in for 16 days. Helen set off on foot and I drove a bit later. Bought a dress and earrings. We got some supplies separately and ended up eating them back at the extensive grounds of hotel. Later we headed back for a meal at the dining hour for French – sometime after 8pm.

We struck it lucky and found a sprawling Spanish restaurant complete with musicians and a dancer.

It was absolutely delightful to hear them. At some point some of the diners got up and joined them.

I was a little taken aback by the unexpected crustaceans on my plate, but had a poke around and a nibble.

This morning we availed ourselves of the excellent breakfast served at the hotel. Then we piled into the car and set off an hour away to Uzes and the largest market in south France. It was stupendous. Bought 3 more tops/dresses and accessories and walked all the cobbled streets.

Then we stopped for lunch – immense platters of gourmet delights.

After, we drove home via Pont Grande (?) and the river. A bit cold to swim but had our togs just in case.

We’ve come home, rested, gone back into town for a movie and found it is in Spanish. Supermarket instead and al fresco eating at home.

One of my purchases is on me as I type.

St Remy in Provence at last

We have finally arrived where we will remain for a couple of weeks. Both of us are tired from travel, and enjoying the prospect of a little space to relax and do our own thing – and what a great place to do it! What we’ve seen so far is tantalising.

We left Paris feeling a little nervous about the rail strikes but soon found ourselves hurtling at nearly 300 kph towards the south.

When we got to Avignon and were about to board the train bound for city centre, I realised the car hire places were all just outside the station. Whew! Soon H and I were seated in a bright red Renault – Twingo- and driving on the other side of the road towards St Remy.

Without too much difficulty we arrived at our cute family-run hotel and settled in. I discovered the pool and both of us had a refreshing dip. We tried to ignore the presence of a digger and other workmen all attending to major garden renovations just beside us.

I even found time for a sketch or two.

Then we set off to discover the town of St Remy and have been delighted by its quaint streets and olde world charm. Can’t wait to wander at random tomorrow.

After sipping Coronas in the street outside a restaurant, we’ve purchased Italian deli food and eaten it on our own outside table. Very happy! Good night all! Bon soir.

Goodbye Albania

Feeling a weight in heart at leaving Tirana. What a rich weekend of fellowship, food, and totally unique and different customs and culture. But most of all the delightful group of Christians we met who all have met together in homes for the last 18 years. They treated us like treasured guests – I have never been more kissed, hugged and cared for in three days before.

We loved walking the streets taking in the sights – among us were Canadians, Americans, Dutch and we Kiwis.

In all of the time I felt safe and looked after – but it was sobering to reflect on all that Albania has endured over her long and tempestuous history.

Now back in London about to depart for Paris but I can’t help thinking the richest part of our trip is behind us.