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Being the playground for the rich and famous, there was no end of luxury to how the other half live. With its glistening seas and idyllic beaches, the French Riviera screamed exclusivity, extravagance and excess.
The super yachts owned by the super rich were incredible. Mind bogglingly insane even. The fanciest we saw had its own helicopter.
Much of the coast reminded us of the Mediterranian version of Australia’s Surfers Paradise
We, being Aussies, were not aware of the dress code. We felt like we were at a party that we’d not been invited to and were surprised not to have been asked to leave the shopping precinct. We learned quickly though, and played dress ups regularly there after - Yah - no complaints about that!!
Bill did like the beach attire, that is the bikinis the girls wore. He was disappointed however, that they didn’t take after their grandmothers, as it was the older women that took their tops off - bugger!! He he.
Checking out the toilets at Monte Carlo’s Casino had been on the top of Alo’s bucket list since she was 18
At Cannes we went looking for movie stars, but didn’t find any so settled for an ice-cream instead.
La Napoule was a stand out though, due to the Chateau de La Napoule. Once an ancient construction, then a medieval fortress, the Chateau of La Napoule is known today for the fantasy of an American couple, Henry and Marie Clews. Although the father of Henry Clews was a proprietor of a powerful bank and was well-regarded on Wall Street, his son decided, to consecrate himself to Art.
Henry and Marie had both previously been married, Marie to one of the richest men in America. Not long after having met Henry, of all places, at a dog show, Marie sought a divorce from her first husband and married Henry soon after.
Whilst on vacation to La Napoule (in the 1920’s), they fell in love with the run down Chateau, purchased it and then spent the rest of their lives restoring it.
Quite an unusual individual, Henry had a controversial view of the world and shunned science, technology and the political views of his day. These were elaborated on in his book ‘Mumbo Jumbo’
“It doesn’t much matter what you love, but you must love something with all your heart and soul. Then you become a living personality.”
“Choice is after all, the greatest freedom in the world.”
He suffered from bouts of depression, as many artsy people seem to and this negativity was evident in his artwork.
Inside a tower, near the Chateau, Henry and Marie clews are buried. The two tombs are half open as if their spirits moved the stones to find each other. This was their own design, depicting the love and complicity of themselves as a united couple forever more.
Further west, at Port Grimaud we found to be loads nicer than St Tropez, which to us was ho hum and very commercial. Lots more super yachts though. Bill’s warming to the idea of a cruiser boat for our next trip and Alo’s jubilant. Could be just the incentive to get the old head down and wobbly bum up when we get back to Oz. The more we save, the nicer the boat - wahoo!
Whilst at Muir’s Camping, Port Grimaud, we met a delightful English couple, Ray and Diane
Taking leave of the Riviera we made our way to the countryside of Les Baux de Provence. There we visited an old discarded limestone/bauxite mine (bauxite being named after the local provence in which it was found). At this sight (Carrieres de Lumieres) we were privy to the most extraordinary multimedia art exhibition we could ever have imagined. Projected onto immense 14 meter high walls, pillars and floors of the quarry, we were taken on a musical journey to the colourful world of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh. The remarkable character and mineral beauty, intertwined with the art show was the most spellbindingly fanciful exposition we have ever witnessed.
Astonishingly, Van Gogh started painting, in earnest, at the age of 31 (in the year 1882) and was vastly influenced by southern France’s Provincial region. Within a few short years he was starting to go mad, attempted suicide several times and by the age of 37 tragically succeeded. He had shot himself and died 2 days later from the wounds. What a sad waste. Whilst his auto-portraits appear to depict a tortured soul, the paintings he left for the world to enjoy are so abundant, bright and cheerful
Whilst camping at Arles we decided to have a coffee at Van Gogh’s famous painting of Terrasse de Cafe le soir. We are now of the opinion that Van Gogh had a vivid imagination and used a lot of artistic license, as the cafe, to us, was very ordinary. We had coffee and cake at a more enticing cafe around the corner.
After a restful nights sleep, we headed to France’s Vatican. We learned that in the 14th century Avignon was once the capital of the Christian world and where the Popes hung out. Popes, like emperors, like nice stuff and the Palace was pretty massively impressive. We weren’t told why, or which old Pope decided THE Vatican (in Rome) wasn’t such a great stomping ground. He must have been a Froggy Pope. We’ll have to google that one and find out.
Being a place of such religious significance, it was ironic that a gay celebration was taking place. Lots of scantily clad gay boys dancing in the streets. What’s more, since 2004, students have been banned from wearing the crucifix, overtly religious symbols or the Islamic hijab. It seems the froggies are non discriminatory and are turning their backs on ALL religions
Anyway, on the Catholic’s Lord’s day, we had our Sunday picnic lunch up the road at Pont du Gard. The stone bridge was built by the Romans, an aqueduct to cart water from one part of the country to the other. We were a bit confused as to how it all worked, we thought it was a big fancy head dress for an underground canal system, but were told later that the water travelled across the top of the bridge. Another thing we’ll have to google.
Being the longest day of the year, for 2012, in the Northern Hemisphere. It was adorably hot and we thoroughly enjoyed cooling off in the icy river below the Pont du Gard. Today it is visited by tourists, who are like the passengers on the 2000 year old stone vessel, as they lackadaisically meander from one end of its length to the other.
Later in the afternoon, much to Bill’s chagrin, we drove an hour to take photos of fine lavender in bloom, only to find out that we’d arrived at the Lavender Museum. The actual farms were higher in the mountains (800+ meters higher) another hours drive away. As Bill’s getting, “sick of seeing stupid flowers”, Alo had to settle for photos of a common clone variety, Lavendine, instead - boo hoo!!
We’d been told that the Froggies love wild camping and this was proven to us at Salin-de-Giraud
Many vineyards in France offer camping cars overnight stays. Travelers pay an annual membership and join the France Passion and they are then provided with a guide to the participating vineyards. We had not become members, but had been told about Domaine Morin Langerin, outside Meze, being a fine spot and that they may not mind us staying.
We arrived late in the afternoon, bought several bottles of Merlo and a jar of honey. When to our delight the couple who had recommended the sight, Joe and Caroline Gipps, arrived
Together, that evening, we thoroughly enjoyed consuming the local produce. To our amusement we were told that Joe’s father, being an English Gentleman, would never ask, “would you like another drink?” as it would have been considered too rude. Instead he would always ask, “would you like a drink?” (as if he hadn’t noticed you’d already had one or more). Caroline and Joe were impressed that Bill had leaned quickly and for the remainder of the evening - 3 bottles later (Alo counted those cause Bill was being too polite), Gentleman Bill would ask, “would you like a drink?”
A very upper class English couple, Caroline spoke so eloquently, it was as if she was reading to us from a novel and the remarkable tale of her Dutch Aunty gave us goosebumps.
Recently retired, Caroline had been the Dean at Wolverhampton University and was still invited to speak at various conferences. In April of 2012 she had been to Brisbane and Caloundra, no less. Joe, on the other hand, had been the Director of London Zoo and he too was invited as a guest speaker in his field. Later that year he would be in Melbourne talking at a conference.
We never cease to be impressed by peoples pursuits. It’s fabulous to hear what people squeeze into their 3 score years and 10. Endless symphonies are composed on the same 88 keys and we always look forward to hearing new tunes
Carcassonne was, yet another, walled City. We’d been told, by several people, we must go - so we did. Built in the 12th century, it has been magnificently well preserved, along with the township within its walls. It seemed too realistic, as if it were a set built for a movie. The only difference was the shops had been converted to cater for pesky tourists - restaurants and junk souvenirs were abundant. We had our evening meal at a cafe and then returned back to, our now, stinky Bertha.
It seemed the fridge was straining in the summer swelter. Bill had turned the dial up, hoping for better results. It didn’t work. We turned it down again and hey presto it was much colder. Still not quite as cold as we’d have liked, but at lease not the strong pong of decaying tucker every time we open the door.
The weather bureau had predicted 35 degree heat the following day, so we made an early departure and we were off to Espania.