Provence is Van Gogh country. Today I’m headed South of Avignon to St Remy de Provence where Van Gogh lived and painted for awhile before he died in 1890.
Brian and I saw several of his paintings at Muse d’Orsay. Driving to St Remy with the corn fields, olive orchards, and vineyards I can see where he got his inspiration and stayed in the south so long.
After a few leaps of faith finding the right road out of Avignon I finally start seeing signs for St Remy and get there without a wrong turn. I park Blanche down a side street a couple of blocks from the main square, grab my back pack, and I’m off on another adventure.
I was asked how my French was coming along and I am using it for simple questions or requests. When I got into St Remy I went to a cafe and ordered coffee and a glass of water and asked if she had a pen I could borrow. She understood without hesitation. That sounds small but I felt pretty good. Enough to give me a boost so I’ll continue to study. I’ll never be able to discuss philosophy or the state of the world, but its an accomplishment. I know that if I lived here for a few months I could pick up enough to get through daily life.
St Remy is another small town with a main square in the center. It’s not market day but there are many tourists. I’m not sure if this is correct but my observation is most of the tourists are German – or from a Germanic language country. I’m told many Dutch come to the South of France for holiday, and Brits. I don’t see, or hear, many Americans unless in a tour group. One thing that struck me here was a group clearly on a bicycle tour. They sounded American and were all 50+ and didn’t look like cycling is normally their preferred mode of transportation. They were average American build and had new cycling clothes that looked tight, very uncomfortable, and hot, but you have to give them credit. It’s hilly in this area!!!
I wandered around the narrow streets taking pics and enjoying the small gardens and archways, the small shops (all these towns have the same goods it seems). I feel very safe in these towns and everyone is friendly. I looked for a place to have lunch, I’m not sure exactly what makes me go into one place over another. I can pass 10 restaurants then duck into one for no reason. It’s not the menu, its just the feel.
I later find out L’AILE OU LA CUISSE has an excellent reputation in St Remy.
I’m seated next to a couple my age and hear them order in French but then I hear Brit. I ask if they know where the Van Gogh sanatorium is located and start a great conversation with them for 1.5 hours! Ann and Brian are from Birmingham but have a small place in the South of France (not Provence) that they use for 4 months of the year. This trip they’re using their camper for 10 days of wandering Provence. They showed me a picture of the “camper” and it looked like a large SUV with a bed in the back! they sleep in it and drive it and that’s it. However they told me camp grounds here have wonderful facilities and they cook and lounge outside, the places have pools and good shower facilities etc. They told me they kept their home in Birmingham and bought a small house in a really small town very inexpensively so they have the best of both worlds. Time at home with family and a vacation place for the cold, rainy months in the UK. Their grandchildren are in their teens and often stay with them in France sans parents. It was second marriage for both and they were in their early 70’s, they met when she was doing a thesis on textiles and she interviewed him (he worked in textiles). They were in their early 50s when they met. Really nice people.
Lunch was a piece of white fish over mashed potatoes with a coconut curry sauce and it was wonderful. Ann and I were eager to try one of the pastries and I had a raspberry tart and she a cream puff thing with lavender flavored icing. The French know their pastry! I’m not usually a potato fan but it’s so different when you eat it fresh from the ground. This is the market basket of France and everything grows here. Those potatoes were probably taken from the ground the day before.
After lunch I hit the road again to Les Baux de Provence just down the road (hilly road, lots of olive orchards and vineyards, rocky hills) fun to drive because there are a lot of curves and not much traffic. In not too long I look up at this fortress above me – Les Baux.
Parking here was a real challenge but I found a spot with a long walk to the top (work off the raspberry tart at lunch. The town is charming and not too crowded, I was concerned when I saw all the cars but its spread out enough to be able to handle the people. I met a nice young couple coming into the town (he had a U Mass Lowell t-shirt on) they were on a Med cruise and come up to Les Baux for the day on a ship excursion. It shows you how close we are to the Med here in Provence.
After wandering around the town and the castle I head back to my car its about 4:30 now but I had seen a sign for Les Carriere Lumiere and found it when I drove on a bit. I had read about this light show, for want of a better description, on the works of Gustav Klimt
It’s a huge man made cavern from mining rock used for centuries for local building. You walk into this huge room that the rock has systematically been cut from and the walls, ceiling and floor are covered with Klimt colorful paintings, there’s appropriate music and the paintings change. It’s vert cool.
Note: Two towns a day is more than enough, and you have to stay in the moment. You can’t be looking at your watch. If you really like to first town stay and save the next for another time.
Note: When traveling solo everything is on you and its exhausting so a take a break one day and just relax, you’ll thank yourself later.
Note: Be sure to note where you park your car. Take a picture of the street and street sign. Otherwise you may be wandering around for awhile and you’re doing enough walking!
Note: Loneliness when traveling solo. That was my biggest worry before I left. Of course having Brian join me in Paris was wonderful and that’s probably where I would have been the most lonely. It’s a city, big difference from small town where people are more friendly. I haven’t felt it a bit, of course I was determined to meet people and I have, so its been great. I originally worried about being gone so long but I needn’t have been.