While Laurie was planning our “assault” on the Louvre, she read that it began as a fort in 1190 to watch for Vikings coming up the Seine. They somehow heard we were coming, because police were everywhere dressed in full riot gear, blocking all entrances to the Louvre when we got there. Lots and lots of people were walking around trying to find a way in, to no avail. We wondered if there had be a threat or other incident, then Laurie asked one of the policemen who told us it was closed because the president of Holland was visiting. So we went back up to our neighborhood, a ten minute walk on crowded streets in the rain, and explored the neighborhood. Today’s photos are shots of fashion on the streets and store windows in the area around the Opera. The area is pretty upscale, with fine clothing and jewelry shops and a variety of ethnic restaurants. There are a lot of tourists from all over, but there seems to be a large concentration of Japanese and Chinese in the area, and there are several Japanese restaurants and an oriental food store on the three streets that border the building we are in.
Laurie and I stood in line and got tickets for Handel’s opera Guilio Caesare, and then walked the Champs Élysées for our 31st wedding anniversary. Our walk was from the Opera down one side of Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, a loop around the Arc, a shot of the CBD, the a walk up the other side of the Champs Élysées through the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre and back home. Along the way we saw the latest Renault Dezir on a showroom floor, and an old Citroën 2CV driving by. On the way to the Arc de Triomphe the sidewalk was covered with people as far was you could see, and the Champs Élysées had a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic. The many cafes and restaurants lining the sidewalks were full of people and there was a mix of tourists gawking, street venders hawking, and well dressed business men and women making their way through the hustle and bustle.
Bathroom stops are quite interesting — you have to pay to pee in Paris, and you certainly can’t pee in peace, because there is always a woman in the men’s side cleaning. We stopped at the restroom at the entrance to the Jardin des Tuileries, and there was quite a line. There were several attendants keeping order on letting people in and out of the bathrooms. I got waved through, payed my 50 cents, and was standing at the urinal when I heard “Pardon!” in a female voice and felt a nudge against my shoulder. The cleaning woman was mopping making me and the guy next to me step over and around the mop while we were trying to pee. When there is a constant stream of people, she just cleans around them.
We got back to the apartment from our walk around 7:00 pm, then we went out to the Monoprix (a French Corte Inglés) and got food. Laurie made a pizza with bread, lardon (a cross between bacon, ham and salt pork), creme fraiche, eggplant and a medium aged Cantal cheese for dinner that was really good. You can see the outside of our apartment on the building in the last photo. The tiny window in the roof is the kitchen and the main room looks out the gabled windows on either side.
When we left Aix en Provence it was raining; it rained all the way to Paris, and when we came up out of the metro at Opera to go to the apartment we are renting, in was pouring rain. The first photo is a panorama of Aix viewed from up the hill from where we stayed. The second photo is a farm from the TGV traveling at 200 mph. The rest of the photos are of the apartment we are renting for the rest of our stay in Paris. It’s on the fifth floor (sixth, American) of a building at the corner of Ave de l’Opera and Rue d’Antin in Bourse, in the 2nd arrondissement, a block from the Palais Garnier – Opéra national de Paris (last photo).
Our last day in Provence, and the sea was calm enough for us to get a boat out to Chateau d’If, the island castle turned prison that was made famous by Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The most famous prisoner on Chateau d’If was Edmond Dantes, Dumas’ fictional character who was wrongly imprisoned on d’If for 14 years, and who meets the Abbe Faria after Faria digs a tunnel into Dantes’ chamber. Faria educates Dantes, Dantes escapes posing as the dead Faria, and becomes the Count of Monte Cristo. Even though Dantes and the Abbe never existed, there is a tunnel adjoining two chambers that are labeled Abbe Faria and Edmond Dantes. The castle is in great condition with access to almost every room. In some of the rooms they have sound effects to give added ambience. There are lots of seagulls nesting on the island, and ignoring the signs saying that seagulls are dangerous, I got very close to one that sitting on her eggs. She was very vocal about my close proximity, but simply held her ground.
We drove northeast of Aix to the Grand Canyon du Verdon. We turned around at the first photo, which was the Clue de Chasteuille Réglès at 1447 meters above sea level. This is the lower end of the Alps, and at that point we were about 200 kilometers from the Italian border. At one point we had a really good view of the snowcapped Alps, but the road was too narrow to stop and get a photo, and by the time I could pull over, the snowcaps were out of view. Along the way we passed the remaining supports of an old suspension bridge at the confluence of the Durance and Verdon rivers, a castle at Allemagne en Provence where a group of men were playing pétanque. At the mouth of the canyon is Moustiliers St. Marie with churches built up in the steep walls of a small canyon above the village. Moustiliers St. Marie is well known for the fine pottery produced there. We drove through the canyon on very narrow roads hugging the cliff, which made Laurie very nervous, up to the top where we encountered the view of Clue de Chasteuille Réglès. On the way back down, we stopped and hiked about a third of the way down into the canyon. To hike all the way down to the river and back would have taken three or four hours, which we didn’t have time to do.
We took a drive around Montagne St Victoire, visited the Barrage de Bimont, a lake with a dam that was built between 1946 and 1951 and went into service in 1952 to supply water to Aix en Provence and other villages in the area. We drove on mostly very narrow and winding roads through forest with scenic views on the north side of the mountains, and through villages and vineyards on the east side of St Victoire. The weather was still cool and windy, but it was a beautiful day.
We took the long road to Avignon and visited the market at Lourmarin where we got cheese, meat and bread to eat along the way. The large, half round of cheese in the first photo is Cantal. We have a recipe that calls for cantal, but I couldn’t find it in Albuquerque. There is a castle in Lourmarin as well. Then we drove to Bonnieux, a picturesque 12th century village built on a hill. The photo with the church in the foreground shows Mont Ventoux in the background. We passed by an old bridge that was probably either Visigoth or Roman on our way to Roussillon. There is a similar bridge in northern Spain that is Visigoth. Roussillon is painted with the red and yellow pigments they make from the soil in the area. We ate lunch on a bench in an area protected from the wind and watched the light change on Mont Ventoux in the distance. You can tour the valley and the operation for making the pigments, but it was cold and windy so we didn’t do the tour. Gordes is an amazingly beautiful village built on and in the rocks on the side of a hill. After Gordes we visited Fontaine du Vaucluse, which is a headwater, but instead of a trickle of water from a melting snow pack that eventually turns into a river, Fontaine du Vaucluse produces volumes of water gushing from a spring. Parking was expensive, so we didn’t stop and get photos. After almost seven hours visiting , we made it to Avignon. Avignon is a large city, so it takes a bit of driving to get to the old city still surrounded by a wall. The Papal Palace is quite an imposing structure, a very well fortified building.
Cassis is a beautiful village tucked into a cove with a couple of small, but nice beaches. It’s like a dream village for those who would like to get up, have coffee looking out on the water, lay in the sun and wade in the clear, blue water. There is a scenic road the winds along the cliffs above the sea between Cassis and La Ciotat we were going to drive, but it was closed. The road up the mountain on the way was so steep that the VW Up! we are driving could barely get Up the road — truly “hors catégorie” on the grade of that road. The last photo is face of Mont Sainte Victoire. Cézanne painted the profile of the Sainte Victoire looking east.
We went to Arles yesterday where there is a lot of really well preserved Roman ruins, Arles has a lot of interesting old architecture as does all the old cities in Provence. After Arles, we drove down the Rhone peninsula to a little strip of beach. The area is a large nature preserve with flamingos. The wind blew hard all day and is was really strong on the peninsula — it was so strong that I was having trouble getting clear photos of the flamingos.
Yesterday was a free day, so we did laundry, then our hostess drove us to the TGV station where we got our tickets back to Paris on the 28th and where we picked up a rental car for the rest of the week. After talking to locals and getting recommendations of places to see, Laurie and I decided we needed to rent a car so we could get out in the countryside and really explore the area. So we are still going to the same places as the class, but we are going to do a lot more exploring. After we picked up the car, we drove out to Les Baux de Provence, an old fortified city built on top of a rock at a pass in the hills, which was highly recommended. You can only get there by car or hired tour bus.
Baux is a popular village. There were a lot of people visiting the village, a lot of large groups of bicyclists slowly making their way up the hills into the city, and lots of tour buses. We parked in the village in the valley below Baux and walked up on the the stone stairways that brought us to gate 6. Just below the gate there were areas where buildings had been built into the rock that were now just cutouts in the rock that reminded us of the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. We were going to go into the old fort that would have given us access to the highest points on the ruins of the old fortification, but two or three groups of about 100 schools kids were going in, so that slowed down the process of getting in, and we had limited time as we had to get back by 6:00 at the latest for cooking class.
There are a lot of shops and restaurants tucked into odd shaped places and on terraces. We ate crepes in the narrow, almost triangular building (photos 7, 8, 9). It was pretty late so we and another person were the only people in the restaurant. The crepes were excellent and while were eating, the waitress and cook where busy bringing things in and taking things out the door. When we left, they had set up an ice-cream machine and slush machines and had a soft drinks available on the street. The weather was cool, but I’m sure when all those kids came back through after touring the fort, she would get a lot of business.
We also stopped and explored some of the vinyards and olive groves along the way, and I got my first French drive-by photo of the shark on the truck — the drives can be quite wild in France, but drivers seem quite wild everywhere. BTW we are driving the VW Up! to the left of the Mini Cooper in the second to the last photo.