Friday, December 12, 2008
As a photographer I am rewarded every year we go to Provence by the incredible clear light. There are places on Earth that seem to catch the light better than others. Around here I would nominate St. Augustine, Florida as one of those places. In France, Paris, of course, has wonderful light but I prefer the country and the country and towns of Provence are full od a rich defining light. This little cafe with the sun streaming through it's rustic awning looked like a painting thanks to the light.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
As I have written previously, people decorate the tiniest windows. This was a wee window in one of our favorite restaurants, Solveig. The owner/chef is an artist in her other life and the little restaurant is hung with her work. She makes art out of found or combined objects and it is all delightful. Her food is lovely simple preparations of whatever is fresh. I recommend highly the salmon brochette that she makes. Fish that melts.....ahhhhh. She also must have painted this window.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
When we reached the other end there was a nice winding road down that afforded a far better view of the cliffs. We were all amazed that we walked them in a few hours. We were tired and hungry, so off we went to secure a nice lunch. Those are Janie and Carol at the bottom of the picture.
At the end of our walk on the top of the massif, we came upon a large Hebrew star laid out in rocks on the ground. Harvey has a long and involved tale of how it might have come to be. I remain skeptical as there were no loose Harley-Davidson parts laying about.
Carol very kindly took our picture to prove we made it. The sun gained in strength all day and we had to shed a layer or two as the morning wore on. We passed a couple a bit later on, who had climbed up the other end. The woman had shed all of her clothes except her underwear! We didn't resort to that.
This is one of many spectacular views from this formation that a camera cannot really capture. At the rear of these fields you can see the road we travelled on our way up. The air was so clear that it all seemed closer than it was. The grey rock at the bottom of the picture is the edge of the cliff. I really do not like heights; so this was as close as I could come.
I apologize for the delay. We had a full house over Thanksgiving and I have been lax. This is the top of the massif and Harvey and Carol took a moment to enjoy the view and have a drink of water and an apple before we tackled the hike over the plateau.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Not being the most ahead-thinking person in the world, I am going through my photos from the trip from first day to last. Each little segment is done the same way, start to finish. Of course, on the blog you see them finish to start. Were I more organized I would plan each part ahead of time; but I tend to come to my computer and just plough ahead. So....it might be a good idea for you,poor viewer, to do the heavy lifting and go to the beginning of each little section and read them from the bottom up.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
We hit an area of gently sloping fields on our way up. We walked through a cherry orchard and came out in this field. I went to get a picture of the little white flowers and found that every little stalk of grass that would support one had a snail on it. They were tiny and white, so there were no hand-picked escargots for dinner.
I hope this picture gives a feeling of the steepness of the climb to the flat top of the cliffs. The French, in their perversity, make sure that all of their steep paths are covered with loose rock or gravel. If you want to build up your climbing legs, Provence is the place to do it.
I always like to show our rental. This is a VW Polo. It's one size down from a Golf/Rabbit. In the 70s I owned an original Rabbit and this is bigger than that. It's a diesel, as most small cars in Europe are. It sat 4 people comfortably for day trips, had plenty of low-end torque and, if my fading math skills are to be trusted, got 58 mpg. We were in Provence for 16 days and, when I filled up for the first and only time the day before returning the car, it only took half a tank. We only drove it every other day as Harvey and Carol had a nice Ford rental.
We walked about 100 yards from the picture below and got our first view of our walk. Yikes! It really was imposing. We have all learned that these walks always look harder than they end up being; but this was big. I cannot imagine living below something that big.
This is the lovely pastoral square in the town of Lioux. Harvey had done a lot of research before our trip to find walks we could do in half a day or so. He found the website of an English family that lived in Provence for some time and did a lot of hiking. This was our first. Lioux is a nice, unpretentious Provencal town. There are no real attractions so it is not overrun with tourists. The draw for us was a huge granite massif that hung over the town. These are called the Madeleine cliffs. They are 100m high (330 ft.) and run, so they say for a kilometer. Based on our walk I'd guess that the height is right but that the cliffs run quite a bit longer than 6/10 of a mile. Mt pedometer had our walk at 4 miles in total.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Across the street from the farmer's market is whole other market. There are artists, craftspeople and prepared food. The best rotisserie chicken is sold here and the best olives. This is a bakery that always has a line on market day. We now know why. The baguettes are much better than most bakeries, which seem, sadly, to be more and more alike. These were chewy and delicious.
We couldn't believe these potatoes. The ones on the right are what I have always thought were small potatoes, about the size of a ping-pong ball. The ones on the left were the size of grapes. We had to buy some. They cooked in a very short time and were very good in olive oil and garlic. (Well, what isn't?)
Last year when we went to the Coustellet market, we foung these wonderful little peppers. We took them to our house and grilled them. They were one of the best things we had last year and particular favorites of Janie's. So this year when we went back she had high hopes and here is the result. We didn't have a working grill but they sauteed up beautifully.
We went to the town of Coustellet on our first Sunday in Provence. They have a farmer's market there on Sunday with wonderful produce, fresh off the farm. The vendors have the look of farmers everywhere, weather worn faces and great pride in what they've grown. And the market gives them a chance to catch up with all of the other farmers and friends. This small band was playing where you walk into the market.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
This is the hotel that we stay in the night we arrive every year. A wonderful place to spend a night. The rooms are the opposite of the facade. Very modern and seemingly carved out of rock, with beautiful bathrooms and views of the street. The courtyard/square is where I went every afternoon to connect to their wi-fi and have a glass of wine.
Once you have parked in the municipal lot in Saignon, you walk by the church and down the hill. This is your first view of the town. At the bottom left is a man who lives in the building behind him. He has a beautiful dog and spends a lot of time with him out in front of his house. He is always in Christine's in the morning, reading Le Provencal and commenting on the news. He fills out his lottery ticket each day by asking Christine or her daughter for numbers.
At various times during our stay he was weaving lavander sachets shaped like little bolos or, at one of the small fountains in town, washing buckets of mushrooms that he had collected that day. The white signs on the door say Photos Interdit! which means he doesn't want to be photographed. After I read the sign I took no more pictures of him. The woman by the red sign is Christine herself, a delightful woman and supplier of those pastries!
The gentleman in the foreground is, apparantly, the town pest, who goes around pointing at trees and mumbling in a foreign tongue.
As I've said before, people in these small towns like to decorate their doorways. This door is right on a street in Saignon and cars go by often, about two feet from the pots. But it's a delightful little arrangement and makes the street so much friendlier to walk down.
This is a late afternoon picture of the Romanesque church in Saignon. It is cleverly placed to catch the last light of the day in Saignon. It is beautiful inside. We witnessed a wedding there during our stay, and watched a classical/pops concert by a German youth band on our last night there.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
On my second day I headed off on my favorite walk, out of Saignon and down a long hill, around on a road by the house that we rented last year, and back up to town. About 3 1/2 miles,and pretty views the whole way. Plus it's good exercise. I love rural roadsides and have great fondness for weeds. They're tough and often beautiful. They just aren't of much use to us so we call them weeds. On the way down the hill I saw these berries intertwined with a vine that was covered in seed heads that looked like cotton. Later in the trip, my wife pointed out that the "berries" were rose hips. The roads were lined with wild roses, the ultimate weed. As someone who struggles to get roses to survive in Florida's heat and humidity, I should have recognized them. There are a lot of shots of these coming up so be prepared.
Friday, October 31, 2008
This is a good idea. Whenever there is a scenic lookout that draws crowds, the French put up on of these circular maps. You stand on any side of it and every town, mountain, river or valley is lined up so you can place it. Very easy and very helpful. In one town they let the local school kids draw the map, then set it in ceramic.
Saignon, as I understand it, derives it's name from the Latin for signal. Because it occupies high ground and has a commanding view in three directions, it was a good place to look for invaders or just local enemies. At one end of the town is a huge rock outcropping called Le Rocher. There is a climb up the side of it and from the top you can see the whole valley. This is one of the views.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
In the little town we stayed in, if you wnet down a little side street, you'd often find little rentals. This lovely little hole in the wall went for about $40.00 a night for a room with 2 beds and a bathroom. It looked very neat charming.
If you want to cook in the Provencal style, you could start with all four of these ingredients. The tomatoes are obviously locally grown and the shallots are huge, yet tender and sweet. The garlic and onions are also top-notch. Add any meat or fish to these in a saute and you'll be in heaven.
Every year we run across this man or someone just like him. It seems that, in Provence, if it grows and you can eat it, you should make a tapenade out of it. This man had what seemed like 30 varieties of the traditional Provencal staples, whole or in combination, for sale. He had little bits of bread and he would give you a taste of each variety. They all taste so good that you want to buy a jar. Carol and I were in front of his table for about 10 minutes while our spouses stood at a safe distance and watched us taste,buy,taste,buy. No one complained later when we broke out a baguette and some wine and did a tasting at home.