Provence and surrounds

Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
Trip End Jul 01, 2008

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday 18 - Saturday 19 April
Our last day in The Dordogne region was one of thundering rain with ice so we didn't spend too much time outside. 
Our trip to Provence on Saturday was a pleasant one as the day was warm and sunny.  We left the green rolling fields and entered into the more hilly southern terrain.  We stopped at Pont De Millau which is an amazing bridge with a span of 2.8kms over an incredibly deep valley. 
Our house in Tarascon is recently renovated with a huge kitchen equipped with more utensils than I could ever use or learn to use. The bedroom is fitted out in shabby-chic style and there are exposed beams. Fortunately the inside does not reflect the outside which looks a little stark with its bare, dirty brown concrete.  We are located on a tiny little street, too small for a car to park and we could not be more integrated into a normal French environment with a pattiserie just around the corner. The town of Tarascon is larger than we thought and is more of a commercial than tourist town but it has a lovely boulevard flanked by huge plane trees just coming into leaf. 
Sunday  20 April
Today we explored the town of Tarascon which has a new area and a more interesting historic area which contains the town hall, chateau and church.  We crossed the bridge over the Rhone River to have a look at the neighbouring town of Beaucaire which has a large canal full of very nice looking yachts.  We walked through the town but saw hardly a soul.  Sunday is a quiet day here.
We saw a sign for a brocante (second hand goods) fair in Vallabregues and headed there in the rain.  Unfortunately the rain was chasing away the vendors as we arrived so we headed home as well.
The houses don't have drain pipes as such, just pipes that come straight out of the wall or off the terracotta roof tiles.  It rained so heavily later in the night that we watched the water pouring from the pipes with such force it was hitting the middle of the road
Monday 21 April
Today we headed to Saint Remy de Provence.  We drove along a tree lined with huge plane trees that made the morning light flicker. 
With tourist map in hand we went through the old town gates and saw the house where Nostradamus was born.  We also read the displays which indicated the places where Vincent Van Gogh would have painted some of his most famous works. 
Van Gogh did over 150 pieces, including the irises, while he was in a mental hospital in Saint Remy for 12 months.  The tourist material said there was a display of reproductions of his works and you could see the room where he painted while in the asylum.  Danny had the map and directed us to the gates of the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole centre.  One part of the centre is the tourist area the other is a mental facility.  There was a large automatic gate at the entrance and as there appeared to be no other way in we followed a car through the gates.  We walked around for a while and figured things didn't quite look right so we decided to leave.   We went up to the car gates but they wouldn't open.  We then walked around the side and tried the pedestrian gate but that wouldn't open.  We then pushed the intercom button that didn't get us a response or open the gate either. 
We walked around some more and I was becoming more convinced that we were definitely in the wrong place.  Yes, he had led me into a fully functioning mental hospital.  Finally we went into admissions where we were told that we were in the wrong place.  I was pleased about that as being committed to a French mental hospital really wasn't what I had in mind for this holiday.  Not sure what Danny had in mind though.  Anyway, the receptionist directed us to the main gates and luckily before any French orderlies in white coats arrived we were able to follow a car out.  While I didn't run, I will admit I did walk with a purposeful stride through the gate and out to the road where we turned left and walked another 200 metres up to the entrance to the tourist area. 
We finally got to see where Van Gogh spent part of his life and the view he had from his window of the gardens with the irises and the alps in the distance. 
Tuesday 22 April  
Tuesday is market day in Tarascon and it was in full swing by 7.00am right at the end of our street.  Very convenient of them to do that for us.  A very pleasant two hours was spent looking at the all the fresh fruit including the biggest tomatoes I have ever seen, as well as the cheese, bread and fish stalls.  There must have been around 150 stalls in all and I resisted buying too many pairs of shoes or any more clothes. 
We took in Tarascon chateau in the afternoon.  It is such a huge structure built in the 1500s on a rock base on the rivers edge.  The moat is full of frogs and the sound of their croaks echoe through the walls giving it an eerie feeling.  The building is shaped like a doughnut and in the centre there is an area with a garden planted full of lush green vegetables and a pond.  The walls are so thick and there are three levels.  The sheer enormity of the structure is impressive.  The chateau was used to house prisoners and we saw the graffiti of Italian and English sailors held there in the 1700's. 
 Wednesday 23 April  
Today started too beautiful to ignore so we went for a walk to Beaucaire.  As we approached a school we noticed what is the French equivalent of a lollipop lady; a big burly police officer with a gun, handcuffs and a big baton.  There are two of them; one at each end of the school road.  I guess the kids do as they are told here.   
On the way back we saw a sign for Brocante so we were entertained for an hour or so looking at all the stalls. Then we were off to Avignon which is a bustling city but has a stunning older part which includes lots of art museums and narrow streets.  The prime building is the Palace of the Popes, the biggest gothic palace of Europe which is stunning for its magnitude as well as the gold statue on the top which glints in the sunlight. 
Thursday 24 April
Les Baux de Provence was our first stop.  It is a village in a stunning location atop a grey sandstone outcrop. Unfortunately, having the title of 'one of the most beautiful villages in France means it is full of tourists.  The major feature is the chateau but it was being overrun by school children so we gave it a miss.  We had our lunch of Provencal sandwiches sitting on the stone walls overlooking the valley 
The landscape is a lot more rocky here but there are poppies growing everywhere along the side of the road and in the fields amongst the crops.  They are so pretty and bright.
We took in a couple more villages and stopped in Fontvieille long enough to see lots of men playing booles(?) in the square. 
Friday 25 April
Today was Site Pont du Gard, a three-tiered aquaduct built by the Romans to deliver water to the town of Nimes   The river that flows underneath is a vivid blue colour.   We walked through the Memories de Garrigue garden, through old olive plots and saw lots of purple and pink wild flowers. 
We then drove to Gordes.  It is a town perched on a hill top which was stunning in the late afternoon light.  The town has a château, little streets and very quaint buildings.  We had a view down the valley and could see other villages dotted in the landscape. 
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