Wednesday, March 18, 2009



Photo Notes: Jim said he wanted to see more photos with me in them…so you’ll note that I’ve included some of Mary’s photos at the end of the slideshow.

Monday, March 16, 2009 Carpentras and points North

Up early this morning we headed for Carpentras by 8 am hitting the morning traffic which slowed us up a bit. But soon we were rapidly moving along the country roads enjoying the scenery as we drove. We saw a short section of a Roman aqueduct but other than pointing out the area where their weekly market is held we were in and out of the city very fast. We did consider stopping at one chateaux called Le Barroux in a small village but decided to continue our trip as planned.

Our initial destination for the day was “Le Vieux Moulin” an olive mill in Mirabel-Aux-Baronnie owned by Alain Farnoux who I had met when he visited California in 2007; that was so good that I gave it a special blog all of its own so you’ve probably already read about our adventure!

After stopping at a grocery store (mini Wal-Mart) for food supplies we spent several hours exploring the Ville-Haute of Vaison la Romaine, the twelfth century area surrounding the ruins of a Chateaux; all located above the river that has a two thousand year old Roman stone bridge that is so strong that it was the only bridge crossing the river that survived the floods of 1992.

On the way back we detoured to climb Mount Vontoux, famous for winds and a favorite route of the Tour de France. I’d hoped that we’d be able to drive all the way to the top and then down the other side. No such luck; snow had closed the road just short of the top so Mary got the thrilled of retracing those sharp turns on the downhill as we retraced our path to the valley. Found our way home by 3 pm and had some great Skype calls to home regarding our experience at the olive mill.

For dinner we took our canned tuna salads to the park and enjoyed our meal beside the Sorgue River that rushes through the center of the old village. We have a sign in the elevator that says that “No Food is allowed in the Rooms”. Opps…we’re very careful to not leave any food out during the day where it can be discovered and take any food trash out of the hotel with us when we leave. We decided to walk for a while afterwards and looked for one of the large meringues to share; but we discovered ice cream bars that looked even better!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 French Popes and Roman Ruins & St. Patrick’s Day

Had a great nights sleep and left the hotel about 8:30 am. We headed east to Avignon for a look at where the French Popes lived in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when they left the evils of Italy and created a Vatican in France. Eventually there were two Popes as the Italians decided that they also wanted a Pope. It is a massive fortified palace that is fully preserved but barren as all of the interior décor was removed over the centuries by the various rulers; the free audio guides do a great job helping you envision the palace in its glory days as “le Palais des Papes”.

Left Avignon after filling the tank with Petrol…uses regular at 1,115 per liter…about four liters to a gallon. We headed north and stopped at Chateauneuf-du-Pape; famous for its wines grown in a very rocky soil and as the summer home for the Popes during their stay in Avignon. We tasted the vin, a very good 2006 blanc; but at 86 euros a bottle we only tasted and didn’t purchase any to take home! The proprietor did tell us that this wine would be good for up to five years but after that it deteriorates rapidly; but the rouge keeps forever and just gets better each year. Spent a short time at the ruins of the Chateaux on top of the hill and then pointed the Fiat north in the direction of Orange.

In Orange we visited the Roman Theatre that is still used for performances today. The massive stage wall was built by the Romans when the city was called Gaul; at the start of the Christian Era. It is the best preserved “stone theatre” in the west of the Roman Empire and still holds more than nine thousand spectators at each performance.

Home about 4 pm after a stop for an American fix at McDonald’s for an early dinner. We even sprung for the regular prices and not the “Euro Menu”. This was our first visit since Madrid and yes, they do have free wi-fi at the French McDonalds also.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Empty Lavender fields

Eight seems to be the ideal time for us to leave each morning on our adventures and true to form that’s when we left this morning! Another beautiful sunshine day in Provence gave us pause to enjoy the scenery as we wound our way across the countryside. A serendipity stop at an old cemetery in Pernes-les-Fontaines; a quick stop for a photo of the village steeple in St. Didler; and finally our arrival at the village of Venasque, on top of a small fortified mountain east of Carpentras. Jim and I loved our stay at this quaint little village that shutters itself at dusk and is know for restaurants of cuisine that people will drive for hours to find. We stayed for several days in rooms over one of these little gems and enjoyed learning about Provence herbes and cheeses at our evening meals; each table is only reserved once each evening.

Took lots of photos as I showed Mary the village and then it was back in the car for a hair raising ride on single lane roads that have traffic both ways! We arrived at the Abbey de Senanque about 9:30 am and found nary a lavender plant in bloom. The sharp edges of the cut plants were in place in most of the fields but alas…no blooms. But, the shop was open and we were able to window shop all the items that are created by the brothers at the Abbey for sale; mostly things made from their lavender and olives, a bit pricey but we’re the worst of shoppers as we only purchased two bookmarkers for one euro.

I asked about seeing the Chapel; Jim and I had attended Vespers there when we were staying nearby; but it is reserved for the priest except if we wanted to pay seven euros for a one hour tour in French. We decided to take the tour and there was an English brochure explaining things for us. Mary froze in the old stone twelfth century buildings but it was a marvelous experience that we thoroughly enjoyed. We saw the original dormitory where the monks slept on straw; the chapel, the cloister, the warming room that was the only room heated in the whole monastery. The warming room was where the monks worked to copy manuscripts. The Chapter-House was the only room where they were allowed to speak. It was a very interesting tour even if most of the explanations went way over our heads.

Soon we were back on the road towards Gordes; the road was even narrower on this section with only small spots for passing. Found easy parking at the Chateaux and enjoyed walking around the village before heading out for the “Villege des Bories”, our last stop of the day. This is a small village of mostly beehive shaped buildings using an ancient method of building with stones using no mortar that was actually used in this area in the twentieth century. It was a long ways off the main road but fortunately I’d been there before and realized that we could drive almost all the way in before using the final parking lot right next to the park. Many people were walking from the furthest parking lot next to the road; like we did years ago.

It was a fun day and we arrived home earlier than usual after a stop at the grocery store for supplies for dinner. We’re going to the park with our food for a picnic: sandwiches of ham and cheese, lettuce for salad, wine to drink and fresh strawberries for dessert. Tomorrow is Market Day in our town so we’re taking a day off to enjoy the village.

a bientot (see you later) sorry too lazy to put the accents where they belong for those of you that speak French!

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