First weekend back

August 21-23, 2015

Bonjour a tous!  This blog recounts my continued adventures in France, following my blog from spring 2014 ( (of which a partial, less-than-perfect-French version can be found at

[Content notes:
* I don't seem to be able to make French accent marks in the text.  Dommage.
* The actual dates of the events covered in the posts are given following the titles.
*  The posts are in chronological order; I put fake dates into the blogger (behind the scenes) in order to have the posts come out oldest-first instead of newest-first.  Yes, that is actually the simplest way to do it.  The only drawback is that "older posts" and "newer posts" at the bottom of the page will be reversed.]

My previous stay consisted of about two months in Paris, shared with my partner Ellen, my friends Marilynd and Leslie, and my sisters Ellen and Susan (not all at the same time).

My current stay started with just a couple of days in Paris, getting settled again in my same apartment, followed by a 4-day trip to Provence, where I spent a day with my landlady, Claire, and her family -- more about that later.

During that first couple of days, I enjoyed walking around the old neighborhood, seeing familiar sites as well as new (or changed).

I was very glad to see the dome and colonnade of the Pantheon (very close to the apartment), since they had been completely under wraps during my previous visit.  Renovation is ongoing, but it looks much nicer now.  Four individuals whose remains are being added to the crypt (including two women, the first since Marie Curie, thus bringing the total to three out of 74) are featured on the large banners in the front.  All four were involved with the resistance during WWII.

I continued on to the Jardin du Luxembourg, and walked through the "panhandle" area to the south.  I saw some very proficient table-tennis players along the way (you can just see one of the tables, over to the right).

This lovely fountain, which I believe was featured in "Gigi" (with more dramatic lighting), is at the very base of the panhandle.  There was some glam-ish photography going on; I then got a closer shot of the turtles watering the horses:

This magnificent building nearby is the Institute of Art and Archaeology (l'institut d'art et d'archeologie) of the University of Paris.  I returned the next day with my "big camera", near dusk (la crepuscule), to photograph it.  Here is a selection:

On my walk back, I took the opportunity to add to my collection of expressive Paris lions (see previous blog):

... also featuring an elephant!

Here is another interesting building, though in a very different vein, from
a nearby street.  I wasn't sure what to make of it.  I doubt very much that anyone lives here. Warehouse?  Garage?

The next day, I walked in the other direction, to the Jardin des Plantes, another favorite location. Naturally, the ornamental plantings were very different from those I saw during my springtime visit. Here are some nice sunflowers:

The plantings in the botanical section of the garden are more permanent, and it was interesting to see distinctive plants that I remembered from before during a different stage of growth.

Later, on my way to see the Seine and Notre Dame (two words: selfie sticks!), I passed a series of posters honoring scientists who had made contributions to preservation of the environment.  These two women had invented an eco-friendly plastic based on a milk protein:

And, of course, I had to do some grocery shopping.  Normally, I would not comment on this, but I loved the label on these free-range eggs:

In the true French tradition, the benefits of liberte, egalite, et fraternite (ou, sororite) extend to these chickens!

A day in Provence: St Remy and Les Baux

August 24-25, 2015

I took the TGV (high speed train) from the Gare de Lyon to Avignon on Monday, August 24th.  I had read up on the layout of the Gare de Lyon and the TGV system in general ahead of time, so the trip went smoothly.  However, I would recommend getting a seat on the upper level if possible -- the view is better!

Claire (my landlady) and her cousin Frederique picked me up at the Avignon TGV station, which is outside of Avignon proper, and took me to my hotel in town.  I had dinner that night at a nice little outdoor cafe down the street and then walked around town a bit, but I will save the Avignon photos for later.

They picked me up again the next morning, and we first went to the wonderful house in St. Remy that Claire and her husband, Bertrand, had rented for the month of August.  We had a little aperitif featuring an anise-flavored drink (whose name I can't remember), some tomatoes, bread with anchovy paste (!) (which Claire loves), etc... then headed out for lunch at one of their favorite spots in this charming little town.  The lunch was delightful.  Here are Claire, Bertrand, and Frederique:

And here is my salad!  I don't normally post food pictures, but it was beautiful, and delicious. You can't see the figs, but they were certainly the tastiest figs I've ever had.

Then it was time for the trip to Les Baux, a village with the ruins of a medieval castle/fortress high on a hill.  Bertrand sat this one out, so the three women went to rent... the motorized bicycles!  I had heard of these, but had never seen one, much less ridden one.  

We went past some beautiful countryside, with me in the middle and the two experienced riders flanking me (single file of course).  We stopped for photo ops occasionally:

Can you guess which of the above cyclists is from France and which is from Oregon?

Frederique had an important text to send:

Here is our destination in the distance:

We first stopped to see a spectacular show inside a former quarry (carriere).  The quarry (no longer in use) had many surfaces (not just one big room), and images were projected all over the walls, ceiling, floors, etc.  The first film (actually sequences of film and still images) was a tribute to Jules Verne, and the second featured works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.  It was really too dark for photos, but I lightened these two up enough to give some idea of the effect.  Note that all the people in the photos are spectators; there were no performers.  (The two in the first photo are, in fact, Frederique and Claire, and Claire is in the foreground in the second photo.)

(This area was once a major source of aluminum ore -- hence the name, bauxite -- but I believe this quarry was a limestone quarry.)

The village has many unique features -- Claire pointed out to me this house built right into the rocky hillside.  (I think that white object over the tower may be a satellite dish, but I'm not sure.)

Walking through the streets of the village -- not too many tourists yet:

Then we went up to the castle/fortress area.  Claire found a shady spot to sit for a moment (it was a pretty warm day):

The castle dates from the 11th century, and has clearly undergone a great deal of erosion, but there are some vestiges of structural detail:

(Those aren't steps on the left side of the photo, but we climbed some that seemed almost that steep! Fortunately, there were very sturdy railings.)

An interesting formation (yes, that's a person on top):

And a close-up of some of the tafoni (honeycomb-like features in the weathered rock):

We were treated to some nice Provencal views, with vineyards and olive trees.  I believe the road in the second photo is the one we took on the way back.

The road back was filled with unexpected adventures:  First, the battery on Frederique's bicycle kept giving out.  I stood by and watched (and sometimes helped) as she and Claire yanked the battery out and shoved it back in (which was not easy), since Frederique suspected that the contacts were at fault. Even though we were heading back, there were still some extended uphills.  Fortunately, Frederique was the youngest of the group, and pretty strong.  She reported at the end of the trip that the battery eventually gave out for good.  (She had called the rental company at one point, but perhaps she gave up on them as well.)

Of course, my bike couldn't be left out of the fun... we were headed downhill on a winding road (with cars!) when it started making a loud rattling noise.  I pulled over, and Frederique, who was behind me, immediately knew what it was -- the rear fender was broken!  After asking if I was familiar with the show "MacGyver" (vaguely), she pulled out her trusty Swiss army knife and sliced off the remains of the fender (which was plastic), without touching the tire.  So, the bike was still making a noise, but a much quieter one, the rest of the ride back.  (Claire had realized at some point that we were no longer behind her and had ridden back to find us.)

Upon returning home, did anyone call the bike rental company to chew them out, or discuss doing so?  No!  We sat on the patio and had another nice little snack before Claire and Bertrand drove me back to my hotel.

So... a very full and unforgettable day!  :)  (and good French practice too... we spoke French most of the time.)


August 24 & 26, 2015

I was based in Avignon during my stay in Provence, as I mentioned earlier.  It's a substantial town and doesn't have the charm of St Remy, but I enjoyed my stay there.

Here is some art work from the stairwell of my hotel:

There was art work all over the hotel, in fact, but most of it was edgier than this.  Some of it was a lot edgier (posters from A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse now, for example).  I preferred the kitty-cat variety above.

I was in the walled historic (read: interesting) part of the city.  The walls are in good shape, in general; I believe a lot of restoration has been done.

The city is situated on the Loire; I took this shot of the river from a not-famous bridge.  

Here is the bridge that has been immortalized in song (sur le pont d'Avignon...) (actually called the St Benezet bridge).  Only 4 arches remain of the original 22 (it originally continued some distance past the river).  Behind it on the far right is the Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes), and on the left is a nice park, le Jardin du Rocher des Doms.

I climbed up to the park on my first evening in town and took this photo of Fort St Andres, across the river, to the north.  It was built around 1360 by the French "to counter the papal incursion", according to Rick Steves' travel guide.  The Catholic church had basically bought the town, and several popes in succession lived at the Palais des Papes.

Here is another view of the Loire, taken from the Jardin du Rocher des Doms.  The whitish cap on the mountain in the distance is (again per Rick Steves) not snow but limestone.

Another viewpoint in the Jardin looked out over Avignon rooftops:

Here's some fun stuff for the kiddies in the Jardin:

And a nice carousel!  This is down below in the main town square, not far from the Palais des Papes.

Here is some of the entertainment, so to speak, that I saw in the large plaza in front of the Palais des Papes. The two stayed in this position for quite a long time.  It looked very convincing, but I remained skeptical (as usual).  The "act" opened and closed with both of them covered by a large black cloth, so....

I did go out onto the "Pont d'Avignon"; you have to pay to do so, but not too much.  So here is the view back towards the town:

I even took a selfie (which looks back towards the river).

I do not like taking selfies, but that isn't the worst selfie ever.  THIS is the worst selfie ever:

I wasn't committed at that point, and yeah, it was pretty windy.  My first instinct, of course, was to delete it, and I never thought I would post it here... but it cracks me up.  So there you have it.

Next came the tour of the Palais des Papes.  I had the audioguide with me, but it didn't explain this little donkey.  He has some carpentry tools with him, so my guess is that he is a Christ symbol.

I don't remember what room this was, but I like these photos!

This was the dining hall.  Yes, many of the rooms were enormous. The wood ceiling is impressive, though it was built only recently, during the 1990's, I think.

Interesting effects though these stained glass windows:

Here are a couple of exterior shots:

 For some reason I never took a picture of the exterior from the front, so here is one from Wikipedia.  The guide book calls it "the largest surviving Gothic palace in Europe".

The tour ends at the back of the Palais, and this is where the "Back streets of Avignon" tour from (again) Rick Steve's guide book begins.  These are some rocky roads!:

The tour continued onto more normal, but still interesting streets.  I stopped and had a yummy meat pie along the way, and then came to the colorful Rue des Teinturiers (street of the dyers; the area used to be a textile producing center).  It had a little canal running alongside it, and an old water wheel (not pictured):

And many of the barriers placed to keep cars out of the pedestrian area had been carved in interesting ways (including a lion!):

So that's Avignon!  The next day I took the train to Arles, which will be the subject of my next post.