21/08/13 Nine hours of train travel today. We have three changes but only one is a confirmed booking and on two of the legs we have less than 10 minutes to get the four of us off one train, drag four freaking heavy cases through hordes of commuters along one platform, down stairs, up stairs and down another platform filled with more hordes. What could possibly go wrong.
Well better that things turn to shit from the start I guess. We had ten minutes to make our first change and that was blown straight out of the water when they couldn't close one of the train doors on our first train and we left twenty minutes late. On top of that it was a regional train that we couldn't reserve seats for so we end up in the toilet compartment between carriages for four hours standing sitting and leaning on our luggage. Which, oddly enough ended up being the next best thing to a proper seat because the train was that full people were crammed into the narrow aisles with their luggage piled around them and people continually stepping over them. While we weren't exactly swimming in space we had a lot more than they did. And, as an added bonus the toilet in our compartment wasn't working so we weren't getting bothered by people coming and laying big stinkies right where we were camped. In fact as it turns out none of the toilets on the train worked. Nice one Italirail.
Sure enough we missed all of out connecting trains and tried vainly to play catch up from there. We kissed our previously paid reservation fee goodbye and parted with another $100 to reserve more seats on the next train. We finally got to our hotel at 9.30pm, miraculously only an hour later than planned. As it turns out that was the last of our train trips. It is all car, boat and plane from here in.
We are staying at a gorgeous little boutique hotel called Le Cadran Solaire in the Graveson Provence run by Jean Claude and his delightful wife Elisa. There are only ten rooms in this charming little 16th century coach house. The gardens are full of beautiful trees and flowering plants are in abundance. Wisteria and roses add colour and fragrance to the traditional Provincial colour schemes of cremes, terracottas and the faded blues and greens of the painted shutters. I'm so glad we opted for an out of the way place as opposed to one of the more touristy traps of Nice or the Cote d Azur.
|This is where we had breakfast each morning|
|Quiet spot for a drink or a chat|
|Or a lie down and a read|
22/08/13 Thought we'd take a drive out to The Pont Du Gare today. What was originally going to be a one hour return trip drive-by turned into a three and a half hour enthralling excursion.
This amazing piece of architecture was built two thousand years ago and in an astoundingly short five years. It was the largest ancient aqueduct system in the world. The Romans used it as part of their 50km underground aqueduct system to bring water from the river Uzes to the Roman colony of Nimes. For five centuries this systen delivered over 44,000,000 gallons of water daily to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nimes.
|They built this massive aquaduct in under five years|
|Believe it or not, this scraggly hunk of tree is over 900 years old|
Bloody astounding when you think of it.
The museum was really interesting and had some great displays showing how the construction would have unfolded. The cinema had a film running on a continuous loop that I'm guessing would have been nicely informative. It's a pity the production budget didn't stretch to some sub titles.
The town of Graveson is tiny. A few shops, restaurants and that's about it. Tonight we're trying one of the restaurants Jean Claude has recommended.
|Just a very quiet and quaint town|
|Rush hour in Graveson|
23/08/13 Out to the very cute town of Saint-Remy today, birthplace and home of Nostradamus. I wonder if he knew we were coming?
There's not a lot to do here except wander the narrow laneways with a gelati in your hand looking at the little boutiques, craft shops and art galleries. Maybe grab a coffee in an alfresco cafe under a big shady tree and watch the crowd roll by or just dip your toes into one of the many little fountains. Nostradamus has his only little fountain.
|Nostradamus's fountain, more like a big bird bath really|
I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you splashed a little of the cool water on your brow. There are a couple of small museums to while away a little time. We went in for a lazy lunch and a bit of a wander and easily lost a few hours.
|We discovered some alternate uses for a snail shell holder, this...|
|Some people even use it for this.|
|The hillside fortress of Les Baux de Provence|
What was once the seat of a feudal lordship in control of over 79 towns and villages is now a thriving tourist attraction with the population of the village now well down on it's peak of 4000. Twenty two people live in the village but the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit every year keep the place thriving and on it's toes. The ruins of the castle are very interesting and although most of the original village dwellings are now shop fronts they have lost none of their 15th century charm. There are many examples of medieval siege machines and weaponry. In fact on the weekends there are demonstrations on how some of them actually worked. They fire up a fully working Trebuchet, and there is a working couillard, baliste and bricole.
|It's like a massive sling shot on steroids|
|Your good old fashion ramming machine|
All basically giant slingshots in one form or another. There is a very entertaining little role play involving some duelling Counts using actual weapons. The swordplay is very realistic and from the clanging swords, it's pretty full on.
|So, when you've got your sister down, grab her pigtail in your left hand and then...|
|I dont mean to spoil the ending but... the guy in blue wins|
There is even the opportunity to fire off a replica cross bow. Our family blowpipe specialist, Christina, once again showed herself to be the marksperson of the family. I once again completely missed the target. Callum and Charlie both did better than me.
|The family sharp shooter at it again|
We finished our stay at the village and the castle with some Violet, Lavender and Ferere Rocher gelati before heading down the road to what has been one of the visual highlights of the trip.
|It was like licking Lavender|
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to literally skip along the giant score sheet of a Chopin concerto, to actually step from one Monet lily to another or to stand in the middle of a gigantic blossoming Chagall rose. For those of you that have been fortunate to see some of the great masters of the Impressionist era you'll know what I mean when I say that such is the seduction of these works of art, such is their ability to capture the light and the essence of the scenes they recreate that you feel you could just fall into the painting.
|Words fail me|
|Unfortunately no simple photo can do this place justice|
|If ever you can, then you must|
Well the Carrieres de Lumieres at Les Baux de Provence has been able to achieve just that sensation, and more. A disused bauxite and limestone quarry has been converted to immerse the spectator in the most unique multi media presentation in the world. The 45 minute show is projected onto over 7000 square metres of towering quarry walls and huge expansive floors and takes you on a journey that incorporates not only the Master Impressionists but also a film which transports you on a fascinating voyage through the elements from raging tornados to the dark and amazing depths of the oceans to the wonder of the far reaches of outer space.
It was truly a unique experience heightened by the accompanying music that varied from classical to 20'S swing to some haunting Billy Holliday.
Avignon has a rather special claim to fame. This small city of 95,000 is also called the City of Popes because during the turbulent years of the Catholic Shiism from 1309 to 1423 the Popes of Rome were relocated to Avignon. The ramparts of the walled city are still in tact and about 12,000 people still live within the city walls.
|The Popes Palace in Avignon. Nice, but it's no Vatican. No wonder they moved back.|
We had read the reviews for visiting the Popes Palace and combining the poor reviews with the fact we had seen a few palaces and cathedrals we opted to not pay the 40 euros and just had a good look from outside.
Looking for a little something different to eat for lunch we walked past a hundred restaurants selling the same thing until we came across a French Vietnamese Restaurant. Why not we thought.
|Matt Preston popped in to give us his take on the Vietnamese fare|
We were glad we did. It was typical Vietnamese fare. Light, tasty and delicious.
Home from here for our last afternoon at our beautiful little hotel. One last French pizza for dinner, an early night and up early ready for a seven hour drive to Spain tomorrow.
|Delicious French pizza, who woulda thought|