Category Archives: Bon Voyage!

This is where I put all the places we have traveled.

An Evening at Le Pradet

With summer upon us and the days in Provence becoming increasingly warm, we have opted to stay indoors during the mid-day to keep cool and venture out for our travels in the cooler evening hours. The bonus for us is that by the evening time most of the crowds and tourists have left and we get to enjoy the scenery with only a few others.

Last night our choice for an evening outing was to Le Pradet, a small village in the Var that is situated just next to the Mediterranean Sea.  The village has installed a nice walkway along the water that stretches for about one kilometer and they have also put in benches so one can take a rest and just gaze out at the ocean. There are two restaurants in close proximity to the walkway, one it L’essentiel and the other is Le Samana.

Continuing south you will find some hidden away stairs leading down to the rocky beach. Once on the beach you can head left and you will come upon a Sentir Littoral. This is one of the many located here in Provence and it is a nice path that follows the ridge along the water on which you can stroll. Last night we only encountered a hand full of people, but mostly we were the only ones enjoying the lovely view of the sea from this advantage point.

The end of the trail leads you down to the port where there are a few restaurants. We stopped in for an evening snack of crepes abricot and refreshing drinks.

After our “dessert before dinner” snack, we followed the trail back to the walkway with the benches and finished the night off by watching the sun set. A perfect end to a relaxing evening.

Basilique Sainte Marie Madeleine

In the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Saint-Baume is located one of the most beautiful basilicas in all of Provence. The outside unfortunately needs quite a bit of work, but once you step inside it is wondrous to behold.

The construction of the basilica began in 1295 A.D. and the Gothic style was chosen by Charles II d’Anjou. It was he who discovered the tomb and relics of Mary Magdalene in 1279 A.D which had been buried since 716 A.D. The relics were hidden there as protection from the Sarrasins who were pillaging and devastating the region at the time. It is said that Mary Magdalene spent many years in Penance in the Grotte de la Sainte Baume (also known as La Sainte-Baume Grotte Marie Madeleine) located in the hills above Saint-Maximin-la-Saint-Baume.  The crypt of the basilica, which was built in 1316 A.D., contains an ancient Gallo-Roman tomb of the fourth century and four beautiful marble sarcophagi decorated with scenes of the Christian religion and allegedly contains the skull of St. Mary Magdalene. You are allowed down into the crypt to see the sarcophagi and the skull. It is quite an eerie feeling, I must say. Is this really the skull of Mary Magdalene? I couldn’t tell you, of course, but it has been legend for many centuries and the Catholic Church believes it to be so.

In 1348 A.D. due to the plague, construction stopped for a while on the basilica. Work started again in 1404 A.D. All construction was halted in 1532 A.D. after 237 years of being worked on. Due to this, the front doors to the church and the bell tower were never finished.

The basilica’s dimensions are superior to those of the other churches in the region. It measures 73 meters long, 37 meters wide and 26 meters high.

Behind the alter is the seventeenth century work of art entitled “The Glory”. It was sculpted by Joseph Lieutaud. It represents the Holy Trinity who is surrounded by angels. The walls of the choir area were carved from 1681 to 1692 in walnut wood by Vincent and Jean-Baptiste Funel Oleri who were brothers. It contains 94 stalls and 22 medallions depicting the life of the Dominicans and is one of my most favorite things about the church. The delicacy in which these two very talent brothers carved these masterpieces is unreal and rivals none in my opinion. There are also many angels atop the choir area and a large crucifix above the main door leading to the main alter which was installed in 1676 and made of marble. The pulpit was carved in 1756 by Brother Louis Gudet and is made of walnut. It contains seven medallions depicting scenes from the life of St. Mary Magdalene.

The basilica is also home to a magnificent organ. The order of the Dominicans wanted an organ present in the church that would match the magnitude of the basilica itself. They got their wish.

From 1772 A.D. to 1774 A.D, Jean-Esprit Isnard and his nephew Joseph constructed the organ which now resides in the basilica. It is immense and matches very well the size of the church and like the carvings in the choir area, the organ is absolutely marvelous.

I could spend hours in this church just gazing at all the little intricate details that are present. It is truly a work of art in and of itself.

Ile de Porquerolles – Le Jardin Emmanuel Lopez and La Plage

Taking our leave of the Gorge du Loup, we headed back towards the village. I was interested in seeing le Jardin Emmanuel Lopez. Entry is free and the gardens are open every day from 9:30am-12:30pm and then from 14:00pm-18:00pm.

The garden is enclosed and contains lovely trees and flowers. There are many benches along the trail on which to sit and have a rest. It would be a wonderful place to bring a book to read. While we were visiting, there was only a few other people so, like the gorge, we pretty much had the garden all to ourselves.

I pointed out the things I would love to have in my garden at home, like this beautiful iron trellis. I had visions of blooming Wisteria and grape vines overflowing at my house. Oh, how the mind starts dreaming of all the lovely things to have in a garden when you’re visiting someone else’s  garden!

I really wished the sun would have made another appearance so that I could have captured some of the colors of the flowers. I had no luck in that department. As a matter of fact, the overcast had gotten a bit thicker.

As we made our way around the trails of the garden, I noticed all the beautiful houses that bordered it on all sides. How nice for the owners to have this place as their backyard.

After visiting the garden, it was time to head for the beach. This would be our last stop of the day on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland.

By the time we arrive, the clouds had really rolled in so the color of the water, though still a beautiful blue, was not as captivating as it had been earlier that day. There were a few boats anchored in the harbor and the beach was scarce of people. Nearly everyone was gone so once again we were able to have part of the island all to ourselves.

The island has a real, sandy beach that stretched for miles. I say ‘real’ since I don’t consider rocky beaches to be a ‘real beach’. I’m not a fan of rocky beaches. I want to feel the soft, warm sand between my toes as I stroll along. I don’t want to be in pain and watching my every step as I hobble along next to the water!

I made a mental note to come back next time just to stroll along this beach and to see where it would take me. As far as I could see, it rounded a bend. Hmm, what was on the other side? Another adventure I presumed and something to look forward to.

The water was calm, but surprisingly cold for this time of year. They day had been warm so I assumed the water would have been warmer than what it was.

There was one enormous yacht anchored not far from where we were.

We decided to have some fun with picture taking.

Believe it or not, this is harder than it looks and I didn’t get the photo exactly perfect like I had wanted, but it turned out okay. I was my first attempt at trying something I had seen others do with the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, etc. I must try and perfect this technique as it is fun to do and when done right, the pictures end up coming out terrifically.

It was finally time to head back to the ferry. On our way, we spotted a restaurant whose many, different, colored tables lined the edge of the water. Now that would be a nice place to have lunch!

My list of things to do on my next visit was growing ever larger. I had now planned to do a biking tour, visit the other forts on the island, take a stroll along the beach to see what was around the bend and dine at a restaurant near the water’s edge.

Yup, I’d say all of those were the best reasons to come back for a visit.

If you’ve been to the Ile de Porquerolles, I’d love to hear what you found interesting to do. There is always room on my list to add a few more things 🙂

 

Ile de Porquerolles – Hiking, The Lighthouse and The Gorge du Loup

When we last left off from our cliffhanger on the island :), my family was at the Moulin de Bonhour (which really wasn’t). From there we headed left and down the hill until we came to an intersection that gave us four choices. One way was back to the village and in two other directions was the way to separate beaches. I was more interested in strolling through the island vineyards; there are 200 hectares of them, and olive tree groves and then hiking up to the lighthouse.

In the end, that was the direction we took. We headed down hill towards the center of the island and passed beautifully manicured vineyards which abruptly stopped just at the edge of the island “forest”.

Then it was onto the olive tree groves

 

and after that a mixture of crops ranging from wheat, to corn, to flowers, to palm trees and many other crops and groves that I didn’t recognize. Remember, I’m nowhere near to being a green thumb (I am a self-proclaimed lover of LOOKING at nature not dabbling in it) so there are many plants and flowers of which I have no idea what they are.

Kilometers after kilometer were beautiful crops and some scattered houses of inhabitants lucky enough to own a piece of the earth on this island.

Just before making the turn to head in the direction of the lighthouse, we came upon this little shack.

At first I thought it was just some broken down thing that was left by the way side but as we continued along the main road, we noticed that it branched off onto a small trail and ended up at the little shack. To our surprise, it was a brand new shaded area with a bench to be used as a rest stop and bird watching area! We were lucky enough to have it all to ourselves and enjoy the chattering of the large amounts of birds that came to bathe and drink the water of the pond we were next to.

After a quick bite, we brought a backpack of snacks with us onto the island; we headed off in the direction of the lighthouse. The wide trail had been newly graded and compacted and to the side of the road there were surveying sticks every few kilometers. We wondered if this area was being prepared for building houses or condos. It would be a beautiful place to live, but what a shame to spoil the natural beauty of the landscape. There were no signs to tell what was to take place so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see until the next time I come by for a visit.

After rounding the bend, we came across a tiny collection of apartment houses (no more than 5 or 6) and then it was up the hill towards the lighthouse. Once we reached the top of the hill we could see the lighthouse, called Le Phare du Cap d’Arme, through a gate. It was built in 1837 but looks like it has been restored.

Unfortunately, you can’t go through the gate or onto the grounds to see the lighthouse up close. I was thoroughly disappointed as the lighthouse is on the map and there were never any signs along the way to say that you weren’t allowed to visit it up close. We only saw signs pointing us in the direction of the lighthouse. It seemed others had the same idea as us and the same disappointed look as we gathered around the fence peering in.

After a brief rest and some grumbly words coming from my lips, we headed off down the road and onto a little trail towards the Gorge du Loup. The trail is very easy to follow and hike on. It leads you through trees instead of groves and fields.

As you approach the gorge the trees open up into a wide open space overlooking a gorge with a view onto the Mediterranean. The gorge is a small one, but beautiful nonetheless. There happened to be a small sailboat anchored near the edge and some divers taking advantage of the beautiful day. This was another perfect spot to pull out a snack and sit and rest for awhile and enjoy the view. There were only two other people we had to share the view with. It was amazingly quiet and sheltered.

By the time we were ready to take our leave of the gorge and venture off to our next site, the clouds had started to roll in and it was getting a bit chilly. I put on my sweater and off we went towards the gardens and the beach.

What’s this?? Another cliffhanger??? More to come 🙂 ……

 

 

Ile de Porquerolles-The Village, The Church, Fort Ste. Agathe and The Moulin du Bonheur

Since Tuesday was a holiday here in France, what else was there to do but go out and explore some more of Provence!

The week before, we had spotted the Ile de Porquerolles from the village of Giens. I had commented that if the weather would cooperate, I wanted to go visit the island that we had seen from the ruins of the chateau.

Lucky for us, the day was perfect for an outing to the island.

We drove to Tour de Fondue which is where you catch the ferry that takes you to Porquerolles. The cost is 18€ round trip for an adult and it takes about 15 minutes for the crossing. There is no set time for the return ticket you just need to be sure you make it onto the last ferry of the day or you’ll have to spend the night or hitch a ride back to the mainland on some nice person’s boat, if you’re lucky 🙂

Once we landed on the island, I headed straight for the office of tourism. I wanted to be sure I got a map since I intended to make good use of the many hikes you can take around the island. The map costs 3€, but if you treat it right it will last you a good many trips back.

One thing that is very noticeable is that there are bike rental places everywhere. This is a biking community and nearly every trail on which you can walk, you can also bike. We didn’t bring our bikes that day but I have plans to return again for a day of biking. If you want to take your own bike on the ferry instead of renting one on the island you can do so and the cost is 13,50€.

We first took a look around the little village. There are a plethora of restaurants and also little stands to purchase fruits and veggies, ice cream, crepes and sandwiches. You will not go hungry here. Since we had eaten breakfast right before leaving the house, I chose to make my first meal an ice cream cone 🙂 What?? My mom wasn’t around to tell me no!

The buildings in the town are fairly new compared to the other villages we have visited. Beside some homes and businesses built a few decades ago, there is also a good majority of new homes and apartments near town center.

On this particular day, the island was not very busy. There were plenty of spaces in the restaurants and the village was comfortably laid back and calm.

We visited the church in the town square. It was built in 1850. The modest exterior mirrors the interior. Though not as elegant as some, it is decorated with some of the most beautifully sculpted, wooden pictures of art depicting the life of Jesus and the saints.

Above the entrance and exit doors hang some very large paintings and a very simple stain glass window.

Upon exiting the church we headed left and up a small street following signs to the Fort Ste. Agathe, said to have been built around the 16th century.

The trail leads you around a small hill and gives you a terrific view of the port and the open sea.

The hike is not long at all and once you reach the entrance of the fort, you have a magnificent view of the Mediterranean and vineyards. It just so happened that when we arrived at this point, the sun broke free of some clouds and showed us that gorgeous Mediterranean Sea blue that you usually only get to see on a postcard.

After some time gazing out at the view, we headed through the front gate of the fort. There is not much left inside the ramparts that you are able to see. The main door says private and you can’t enter into the interior of the fort. We were able to see the views of the valley and the vineyards and see some of the outside of the fort and old guard house, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t go inside. Upon exiting out the back gate, there is a large sign with information on the fort and its history. The story is told in both English and French.

We then headed left down a dirt road to see the Moulin du Bonheur or Windmill of Happiness, which is the name given to it in sarcasm, since the windmill never brought any happiness to the few families who lived on the island a few centuries before.  Here there is also a sign with information about the history of the windmill that is told in both English and French.  The windmill has been restored and it is in lovely condition. The view from the hilltop overlooking the valley is quite exceptional. You can take the short walk around the windmill, but you cannot go inside.

After some picture taking and view gazing it was off on our next hiking adventure.

Goodness, I think we’ve come to a cliff hanger! More to come…..

 

Le Vieux-Cannet

The village of Le Vieux-Cannet is right out of a motion picture set and could very well have been a set for a French movie at one time. This very tiny village is considered a classic site and sits atop a hill overlooking the ville of Le Cannet-des-Maures (the “new” village) in the VAR.

Vieux-Cannet is one of the tiniest villages I have ever been to. They have no post office, no boulangerie, and no boucherie. In fact, not a single store or administration office is located there. They don’t even have a Maire (town hall). The villagers must go down the hill to Le Cannet-des-Maures for all their needs.

There is an old church named St. Michel in a quiet little square on which rests a wrought iron, free standing bell tower dating from 1776. The architectural design of the church is around the 11th century.  I tried to go inside, but found the doors to be locked up tight. There are remains of what was once a chateau, as well, but what is left has become a private residence. What this little village does have is a magnificent 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and villages and a very unique charm about it with its cobble stone streets.

This quiet little town was completely deserted when my family and I visited even though it was a beautiful, warm day. I doubt many visitors come here even though they would be delighted at the old village houses being redone and cared for. It seems that this little village is working hard to ensure its longevity and many villagers have restored their homes. In fact, several of them were just gorgeous.

The day of my family’s visit, we saw no one. There were no people out in the square or in the small streets. The town cats were the only visible signs of life. We were able to have the whole village to ourselves to stroll about, look at the houses and admire the view. It was the first time I had ever visited a town in France and did not see another person. When approaching the village from a little area we parked in and passed through the remains of the ancient wall, I actually thought it could have been a ghost town. It did have that eerie empty feeling. Once we took a stroll around, though, we could tell that a ghost town village in France would not have restored houses!

This village is a wonderful place to stop off while touring through the VAR. If you plan to make a quick side trip, I would recommend doing so during lunch time. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view while having a relaxing lunch. If you stop by in the spring, the hillside leading up to the village is covered in yellow flowers. We went during the month of October so no flowers were to be found, but the visit and view were just as spectacular.

If you want to see more photos of Le Vieux-Cannet they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.

Views From The Remnants of Le Chateau de Giens

In the VAR department of Provence there is a little village called Giens or Presqu’ile de Giens. At one time a chateau stood atop the village, but barely anything is left now. The villagers have turned the area into a beautiful little garden and what still remains offers the most spectacular views.

To one side are the Mediterranean and the iles-de-Porquerolles.

Directly on the other side are an inlet, where kite surfing and parasailing reign supreme, and a view of the surrounding hills of Provence.

The little garden is quaint and lovely, and this time of year the flowers are all in bloom.

It is neatly manicured and also houses an artist’ shop. The artist happened to be holding an exposition on this day. His does beautiful artwork, by the way. If his shop is open, feel free to browse. He allows pictures to be taken, as well.

Just above his art work that was hanging on the stone wall, you will find a plaque giving details of what transpired during history to this chateau.

To see the views you must access some steps to a balcony (which I assume was probably the ground floor of the chateau). On a clear day, the views are exceptional and this day happened to be fairly good weather wise. From this point you can also see the entire garden.

It such a peaceful place and I always enjoy seeing people out and about appreciating the beauty that these little villages have to offer. I also appreciate it when these little villages value their history enough to keep it alive for others to share and enjoy.

Aqueduc-de-Roquefavour

Near the town of Aix-en-Provence, rising out of the landscape, you will find the Aqueduc-de-Roquefavour. While on an outing to see the town of Ventabren, we happened upon it.

Even though I lived in Aix-en-Provence for two years and the aqueduct is situated only about 15 kilometers from there, I never knew of its existence.

It was built between the years of 1840-1847 by a young engineer named Franz Mayor de Montricher. The reason for its construction was that the surrounding area (mostly Marseille) which was continuing to grow at a rapid rate was having trouble getting access to fresh, clean water. They needed some way to bring the fresh waters of the Durance to the town. An epidemic of cholera a few years before construction began was a major pushing point in getting the aqueduct built.

It measures 393 meters long and 82 meters high and is comprised of 3 layers of arches. There were around 5000 workers who contributed to its construction. Today it is classified as an historical monument.

To see the aqueduct up close, you can park your car just under the railroad bridge and there you will find access to some steep and narrow steps. Once at the top of the stone steps there is a path just up to the left of the aqueduct. The climb up this rocky path is pretty steep but it gives you access to the next level on which you can stand and see a wonderful view of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the entrances to go under the arches are now gated and you can’t pass through to walk across, but you can still walk around the area to see different views of it. If you’re like me, you will love getting up close to be able to touch it.

It is in near perfect condition and looks as if it were built recently (except for the architectural style). It is definitely worth a stop if you are on your way to one of the surrounding villages.

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon there and were blessed with great weather, as well.

 

Vacation Weekend at La Feria in Arles- Day 3-Horse Show, More Bullfights and Dancing in the Street

Thanks to going to bed much earlier on Sunday night, we were all able to get up and make it out of the house on time for our morning bullfight. I was still tired but somehow when you know you’re going to do something exciting, you just manage to get yourself up and going no matter what it takes or how you feel. You push the limit cuz you know it’s worth it.

This particular bullfight was preceded by a show of the horses on which the matadors were going to ride during the event. The corrida we were going to see this day was quite a bit different than the one we saw on Sunday. Today was the day that the matador showed off not only his skills as a bullfighter, but also the grace, skills and beauty of his horses. The people really came out for this one. We even got to hear some bands play for us while waiting to enter the arena.

Here’s a glimpse of the show of horses.

I have no idea how these horses were trained to do some of these moves, but it was wonderful. I especially loved the horse at the end of the video that did a prance and waved his head back and forth. Amazing!

After the show of horses it was time for the day’s event of bullfighting. Today we had brought Tinki with us. We thought that she would at least like to watch the horses. The bullfighting was altogether a different story, though, and once the end came I had her sit down and not watch. I actually had her lay her head on my shoulder and shielded her eyes a few times if I saw that the end for the bull was going to be in view.

Here’s a video of one of the events. Again, as with my last post, the killing of the bull is not in the video.

Now, for those of you who are ardent bullfight lovers, have grown up in the south-east of France or in Spain, you might think I was being silly with regards to my daughter, but for the average American, bullfighting is not exactly a sport of choice. I actually think many Americas would be up in arms about this sport which is probably why it hasn’t taken off there. Now, yes, there are animal lovers in France, of course. We’ve all seen the French with their dogs or cats, but every other animal on the planet is fair game and not worth coddling over. Let’s face it, meat eaters win out here and it makes no different what meat that may be.

We Americans, in general, think that every animal out there is a potential pet and totally adorable (regardless of what animal it is) and shame to anyone who would hurt any of these creatures. We bring our children up all sheltered about where the food comes from and how it gets to the table. Let’s face it, we’re mostly animal lovers with a capital A! I’m guilty of this as well and of course, brought my children up this way. So that being said and my daughter an ardent animal lover with a capital A, I did what most mothers would do and said, “Don’t watch”.  Boy did I get some weird stares from the French! Here I was surrounded by families with small children all watching these bulls get annihilated one after the other and they were all cheering for a good fight, kids included. That’s just how it is here. Now, I’ve been told that there are rules and regulations which must be adhered to at all times during the bullfight but heck if I could figure out what they were.

The bullfight is a sport of passion here in Provence much like soccer. The French come out in droves to see this event a few times a year and the matadors are admired like they’re gods. This is a sport that is deeply rooted and has a long history here. Who am I to change that and I wouldn’t want to. Even though a bullfight is not my event of choice, I do respect that it is a cultural event for this area.

That being said, I do confess that Dude and I were always rooting for the bull. We sort of felt like he was the underdog in this whole thing. Besides, it seemed as if everyone else was rooting for the matador so why not help the little guy out, right?? We did have two choice moments where the underdog made our day and boy did Dude and I cheer. The best was when during the second bullfight the bull actually said (yes SAID) that he’d had enough of this and he jumped the fence! Literally jump it and started running around and scaring people in the bottom row!

It was awesome and boy did Dude and I yell and cheer. I tell you it was super exciting. I figured they should have stopped the bullfight right then and there and let that brave bull go. He deserved it, but it was not to be. He had to go back in the arena and finish out the bullfight.

During both the events on Sunday and Monday I got to thinking about how I really felt about the bullfights. I did say I would give my take on it, so here goes. Mind you, I have no intention of protesting, no intention of not ever seeing a bullfight again or telling people to stop spending money on the sport. No way, this is just how I think it goes in my mind.

So, I came to figure that this is not really a fair fight in my opinion. The lovers of the sport will say yes it is (remember there are rules here) but if you really think about it, the cards are very much stacked against the bull and completely in favor of the matador (in this type of bullfight anyway), especially when the matador is on horseback. So here go my reasons for thinking this:

1)      The taureau has only his horns (big deal, he has to have something to defend himself with, sheesh).

2)      There are individual stages throughout each bullfight and at the end of each stage the matador was able to leave the arena and come back on a fresh horse that was totally raring to go and not tired at all. The same horse didn’t fight the whole time. How is this fair, the taureau was the same taureau? He couldn’t go out and have another taureau go take his place so he could rest up.

3)      The matador is usually higher than the taureau so he is able to get a clear approach on the attack and almost always from the top.

4)      There are these little alcoves in the arena that the matadors can run and hide behind to protect himself if need be. The taureau has nowhere to hide. He is always out in the open and given nowhere in which he can run to safety.

5)      There are times when 4 or 5 matadors are in the arena trying to confuse the taureau, why can’t there be 4 or 5 taureaux in the arena to confuse the matador? Come on matador, give us a real show!

6)      The matador can stop and take a break if he needs to, the taureau can’t say, “Wait folks, hold on, I need a quick drink and a break to get back up to speed. I’ll be right back, K”.

7)      If the matador gets hurt, the fight stops and the guy is taken out of the arena for treatment. Nothing happens when the taureau gets hurt, that’s part of the game. You aren’t going to see a fight stop for the taureau to get some medical treatment.

8)      The matador can reason. He can watch the taureau’s actions and manipulate the taureau to turning to his weaker side. He can make the taureau do a great many things just by knowing and studying the nature of the animal. The taureau cannot reason, he is doing what comes by nature. He doesn’t know what the intentions of the matador are therefore he plays along. Animals cannot reason, that is what sets man apart from them.

So there you have it. Some of the reasons why I think this is not a fair fight. I do feel bad for the taureaux since they didn’t ask to be in the arena. They were enlisted, they are not volunteers. So that’s why I have to root for them.

Anyway, like I said, I’m not out to change the way of thinking on bullfights or anything, it’s just my opinion.

Since there were several events that day, Tinki and I watched a few then we headed off to take a look at the renovation of the arena. I wanted to get some good shots of the work that had been done. I can’t believe how great the arena looks. The city has done a nice job of cleaning it up.

I was also able to take some photos of the surrounding city from the view point of the arena.

After the event we all headed over to the American Bar (yup-you read that right). It seems that a friend of a friend owns this place and we had reservations for a late lunch. Here we are all hanging out enjoying the fact that the sun actually came out that day!

As before, Patrick and Jean-Claude busted out their guitars and played for us and anyone else who would listen. They also serenaded some police officers who seemed to enjoy the music.

Then, right before food was served, Nicole, who is a friend of Patrick’s and works at the American Bar, came out to give us all “the bise” and say bonjour. Patrick talked her into dancing while he and Jean-Claude played a song. So here she is Flamenco dancing in the street while a crowd gathered around to watch.

Man, I better start taking lessons so I’m ready for next year!

Dancing and music over we proceeded to have lunch and what was on the menu??? Taureau, of course. Dude, Tinki and myself stayed on the veggie plan since we don’t eat taureau. It was cool, though, cuz for dessert we got ice cream and cheese (together).

After fine food, dancing and music it was time for me, Dude and Tinki to head home. There was another bullfight at 5pm, but we didn’t have tickets for that one and we had a long way to go to get home. After stopping back by Patrick and Toni’s house to get our stuff we were off. We managed to arrive home around 9pm so that wasn’t too bad. We were, none the less, totally exhausted from our weekend, but in a good way.

The dancing, singing and food are enough to call me back again. Fete, fete, fete….Oleeee!

Vacation Weekend at La Feria in Arles- Day 2 Bullfights and Partying

Day two for us at La Feria started out a bit rough. Since none of us went to sleep before 3am we had a difficult time getting up in the morning.

After several hours of moseying around the house all glassy eyed we finally all managed to get ready and take our leave.

We were headed today, first off, to the house of another friend of Toni and Patrick’s. We were all meeting for a late afternoon lunch before going to the bullfights.

We arrived at the house around 1:30pm and right away were greeted by everyone doing what I call “the bise”. This is that famous kissing the cheeks of everyone when saying hello or good-bye in France. The more people there are, the longer it takes and even longer in the Camargue region since in this region it is three bisous instead of two! After what seemed to amount to 10 minutes per person in my family, bisous dispensed, we were offered some salty snacks and drinks as appetizers. The French love their aperitif and salty snacks to get the stomach juices flowing. I was up for the salty snacks of chips, nuts and the like, but as usual, abstained from the drinks. One of the aperitifs they serve in this region is a Pastis and the French in the south are all about it. It is a very, very sweet liquor that is anise flavored and served in a small glass. Attention to those who haven’t tried it and would like to. It is about 90 proof and pulls quite a punch if you’re not use to it. Dude tried it, but decided it was not for him. It was much too sweet for his liking. I guess he doesn’t have enough French in him 🙂

We sat and conversed for a while as people continued to show up. I can’t remember how many there actually were at this party but I did quite a lot of “the bise” and the house was full. We continued to chat with both people we knew from our prior outing the night before (and from our last visit with Toni and Patrick) and we struck up conversations with people we were just meeting for the first time. The cool thing for my family is that with the exception of Toni and her son Spencer, who was in France for a visit; all conversations for the entire weekend were in French! Lucky for us only one or two of the people that Toni and Patrick know speaks English so we were forced all weekend to practice our French. Note to expats: spend a lot of time with non-English speakers. It definitely improves your French.

Well, what would be a party be if there was no music? In the Camargue, it would be dull. Every time Toni and Patrick get together with their friends it’s all about music and food. Hmmm, I could get use to this.

Patrick and his friend Jean-Claude are amazing guitar players and singers and when all the gang gets together the parties last for hours with music, singing, and food.

Here are Patrick and Jean-Claude entertaining us. Jean-Claude is on the left with the guitar and Patrick is on the right with the guitar. The blond lady in the video is Toni and sitting next to her is her son Spencer. Dude is in the blue shirt sitting the middle of Jean-Claude and Patrick and Tinki is on the right of Patrick.

We also got to hear their friend Marie-Jo sing. She’s an absolutely fantastic singer and she also plays the guitar. Unfortunately, since we were at a party and there were a lot of people, conversation was going on at the same time so there are parts where it’s difficult to hear her beautiful voice. Here’s a picture of us together.

She is in a traditional dress of the region. Do I look hung over from the night before? I think I do and I didn’t even drink! I believe that for me, 3am bedtimes are no bueno.

Here she is singing.

Food was served up and it was the most delicious stuff, ever! Pasta salad, rice (not your ordinary rice, either, but all kinds of custom made rice mixed with special goodies and flavors in it), meat, lamb, bread and of course, wine. Dude ate the lamb (which had been cooked slowly for 7 hours) and said it was absolutely wonderful. Here, in the south, they keep serving up the food, too! When you’re full and don’t want anymore, they take your plate away and bring it back piled with more food. Don’t ever say no to more food at someone’s house here. It does no good. They want to be sure you are happy and feed even if you’re full to the point of bursting. It’s all a part of their wonderful “southern hospitality”.

We were suppose to leave around 4pm to get to the bullfights, but the French time schedule is quite different that the American time schedule which for the most part innerves us Americans who are very time conscience. Toni kept trying to get everyone to leave at which Patrick’s response was, “In 10 minutes.” Now is that French ten minutes, cuz in that case that’s an American’s one hour! No kidding.

Of course time moved on and about 30 minutes later we asked again, “Are we almost ready to leave?” The response this time was, “In 5 more minutes”. Wait a second. Thirty minutes ago it was stated that we were leaving in 10 minutes and now it’s another 5 ?? Tinki just looked at us and said, “It’s a different time every time you ask! How do they ever manage to get anything done around here?!” Ahh, from the mouths of babes.

It’s so true and living in the south of France you just have to get use to it. They march to the beat of a different time table and there’s nothing you can do about it. I swear no one even owns a clock here, cuz it wouldn’t do any good anyway!

Before leaving it was some final farewell dances and singing. Sheesh, life is harsh here, isn’t it?! 🙂

Finally we were all set to go and made sure visits to the potty were in order before heading to Arles. I snapped a couple of shots of the hostess’s bathroom since I thought it was so cool. It was super small but very nicely done with a beautiful blue paint, posters of bullfights and the smallest sink I have ever seen with a strange looking soap holder (a bit erotic looking in my opinion, but hey, anything goes here, right??).

Of we headed to the center of Arles for our very first bullfight. We were warned ahead of time about bullfights since this was our first. For many people they can’t really stomach it so Toni and her friends warned us and asked us if we would be okay with it. Some areas were a bit crowded while others had no quite got up to speed, yet.

It was starting to get a bit crowded in front of the arena as people started to show up for the bullfight.

Here’s Patrick as we entered the arena. Oleeee!

Here are some of the photos of the bullfight. I didn’t take any of the actual killing of the bull since I don’t think that’s photo worthy for me, but the interaction between the bull and the matador was interesting to see. In my next post, about our third day in Arles, I will have more info on the bullfights and my ideas and thoughts about the sport.

All together we saw 4 bullfights on this day. There were 6 scheduled but we missed the first two thanks to the “French 15 minutes which is really and hour” time frame. It turned out fine for us, though, since I think 4 was enough. Tinki didn’t come with us to the bullfight. She went off with Spencer and Patrick’s daughter Celia into town. We met up with them later.

Around 8:30ish the bullfight was over and we headed out of the arena to meet up with some of Toni and Patrick’s friends and the kids. We headed off to take a look at the entertainment for the kiddies.

Tinki tried her hand at shooting balloons and actually won herself a little stuffed animal.

Then she decided that was such tough work that she needed a waffle with a ton of Chantilly (whipped cream) on top.

Patrick opted for the mother of all mother’s with a giant sized cotton candy (Barbe de Papa as they call it in French).

After walking through town, off we went to go find some food. Don’t you just love how we have dessert BEFORE the food! We tried to make it to another Bodega or restaurant, but unfortunately every place we looked at or tried was full. We settled on a little hole-in-the-wall place that served Turkish food. Tinki and I had a chicken sandwich drenched in onions, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo with, of course, the fries INSIDE the sandwich (I’ll never get over that). Dude had an omelet with eggs, lettuce, tomatoes all wrapped in a crepe with, you got it, fries inside! Too funny. Everything was super delicious and we just stood on the side of the street munching away and people watching.

After our meal, we took off once more to the Andalusia (remember this place from my last post). It’s the cathedral turned into a dance hall. We wanted to check out the dances this night and also get involved in some of the action.

Here are some kids enjoying the dancing.

We watched for a while and then Toni, Patrick, myself, Dude, Marie-Jo and her friend all jumped on the dance floor and boy oh boy did we have fun. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos or videos of us dancing CUZ we were all dancing!

We left just before midnight. We had an early start the next day so Toni and I vowed that we wouldn’t stay out as late as we did the night before. Off we went back towards their house and past a few police checkpoints. On this night, I actually had to go through two of them. The first time around the police officer asked me if I had anything to drink. Since I said no, truthfully, he let me pass sans breathalyzer test. The second checkpoint proved not to be so lucky for me. They made me take the test but I passed with flying colors. See, I said I told the first guy truthfully. Apparently he didn’t call his buddy up ahead to tell them that I was an honest person.

Finally we made it home around 12:30am-ish and off to bed I went. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day. Fete, Fete, Fete….Oleee!

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