Sunday, 19 June 2011

Moving on to The Riviera!

Tomorrow we will leave this campsite and drive east. Le Vallon des Oiseaux was a perfect reintroduction to France with its wide open spaces, dark peaceful nights, big sky, constant birdsong and friendly neighbours complete with a big soft dog for Victor to befriend! As we have driven around Provence in the past week, I have noted how like Tuscany it is; little hilltop villages gazing down deity- like from above, tall pointed Cyprus trees and banks of flowers. No sunflowers yet, just fields of lavender. Well, we have those in Norfolk! Having taken the Smart out for its jaunt last Sunday, we have used her often since and realised the worth of towing her hundreds of miles!

On Tuesday we visited the University town of Aix-en-Provence, , small yet perfectly formed, developed by the Romans on top of a hot thermal spring, as they did! The capital of Provence, Aix is known as the ‘city of a thousand fountains’ and we certainly saw evidence of that as we wandered around, guide book and Hagan Das ice cream in hand! A mix of wide fashionable avenues with trendy expensive bars, and tiny wiggly streets full of independent shops and small cafes, Aix was welcoming and of course, we had a mission in mind! Aix was the home of Paul Cezanne, ‘the father of modern painting’ and the subject of one of the modules in my next (and final!) Open University course from October. We picked up the leaflet on the Cezanne Trail from Tourist Information, and although we did not cover it all, we saw a few landmarks including visiting the Musee Granet which houses the only nine paintings by Cezanne outside of Paris and the rest of the world. Not many I grant you, and even the most well known was out on loan to Barcelona, but it was good to see the real thing before walking up the hot and dusty hill to have an English tour of Atelier Cezanne, his workshop for the final years of his life, which is preserved exactly as when he died in 1906. It was most informative and quite moving to see some of the real artefacts used in his paintings such as the ginger jar and the clay pipe from The Card Players. I drove the car back to camp that evening – about 2 hours – not a good experience and one that Victor will not care to look back on, neither will the dozen or so French drivers who were stuck behind me as I crawled cautiously around the hairpin bends leading back to the safety of our van!! I get better....

Thursday was our fourth wedding anniversary, and we celebrated by buying ourselves a posh hotel room for the night in the inspiring walled city of Avignon, famous for its bridge and historical Palais des Papes, the 14th century stone fortification that housed the Popes in hedonistic luxury for nearly seventy years while problems in Rome were threatening their existence. The buildings dominate the skyline and having found a hotel with parking, we took a boat ride sur le Rhone which passed by the shattered end of the remains of Le Pont St-Benezet, better known as Pont d’Avignon from the French children’s nursery rhyme. The bridge was largely destroyed by floods in 1668 and no longer spans the river. The guide books take great pains to point out that unlike the song, the people did not dance SUR (on) the bridge, but instead danced SOUS (under) the bridge, but the words were changed over time. In the evening Victor found us an open air restaurant right at the edge of the huge square directly underneath the walls of the Palais des Papes, and we were not only well fed and watered (well, wined actually), but we were entertained by French singers at the next restaurant, various groups of tourists who wandered into the square with their cameras at the ready, a beautiful puppy dog sitting at the next table, and an 18 month old curly headed French boy who toddled around confidently as his parents tried to enjoy their meal! All that and we were mesmerised by the powerful architecture and the stunning gold covered statue of the Virgin Mary, way up on top of a high tower. At dusk huge floodlights lit up the walls and the intricate carvings with the whole space awash with pinks and creams. Quite breathtaking! A wander around the atmospheric streets discovering tiny courtyards, dark alleys with stray cats, uplit churches and modern bars was the perfect end to our anniversary in Avignon. The hotel was comfortable and stylish, and a joy to sleep in a bed wider than four feet! The following day was unfortunately marred by my usual tummy problems – brought on no doubt by too much rich food and too many glasses of champagne – serves me right – and it did mean that any further tourism had to be curtailed and Victor drove me home to sleep off the problem. Never mind, there will be other towns....

And hopefully there will –the plan now is to check into another campsite just north of Cannes, enjoy their facilities and hopefully sunshine, and take out some days touring to Grasse, Cannes, Nice and possibly even Monaco. For now today is clearing up day and preparing for the off tomorrow morning. Let’s hope the Smart behaves herself this particular journey!

No comments:

Post a Comment