Monday in Avignon
Today we drove to Les Baux de Provence, which is a very picturesque medieval village at a fortified rocky site in the Alpilles.
The Alpilles, or little Alps, are “one of the absolute “musts” in Provence, embodying the harmony of sublime landscapes, a still untamed natural environment and proudly preserved traditions. It conveys an image of deepest Provence, the authentic Provence with its style and refinement. This is the Provence of St Rémy de Provence and Baux de Provence… This is the land of the authors Alphonse Daudet and Frédéric Mistral, and also the land of Van Gogh who lived in St Rémy and who was inspired by its light, its sunflowers and its famous cypress trees.
The landscape here is magnificent: little mountains covered in scrubland, pine and oak forests, and fields of olive trees stretch as far as the eye can see. Here and there you will glimpse avenues of cypresses, leading to superb renovated country houses or ancient drystone farmhouses.”
The Grimaldi family (Monaco) owned this land before they gave it to the King of France, the buildings, and houses in the valley- and still come to the area and have held weddings there.
We climbed the steep cobblestone streets to the church, built in the 12th and 16th centuries. We also went into the Musée des Santons.
Santons are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region of southeastern France. Santons derived from the idea of the Provencal inhabitants on their way to the Nativity with their humble, local offerings. There are hundreds of different clay figurines that depict the colorful people, traditional trades, activities and costumes of Provence. They are charming. You can see some at http://www.beyond.fr/themes/santon.html
Then we went to Glanum to see two Roman monuments of the 1st century BC: a mausoleum (empty) and a triumphal arch still retain much of the statuary and decorative embellishments after these thousands of years. Just amazing.
While we were there, Dominique provided us with small square anise and caramel butter cookies and Pastis, which is an anise-flavored spirit and aperitif from France, typically containing less than 100 g/l sugar and from 40–45% ABV (alcohol by volume). The Pastis is diluted with water because it is so strong. I had a few drops with a half glass of water and could taste the anise.
Off then to Saint-Remy-de-Provence, where a boulevard encircles the old city, to find some lunch. My compatriots had different buckwheat crepes filled cheese and ham, or cheese and vegetables, or cheese and…… I had a fruit salad that was lovely. We sat under spreading chestnut trees with a nice breeze. And no meal is complete with my friends without having ice cream, or glace. There have been places to purchase glace all over every place we’ve visited
With an incredible assortment of flavors. I’ve had lemon, mint chocolate chip, and most frequently raspberry sherbet that is delicious.
Our next visit was to Carrieres de Lumieres, which is a former limestone quarry with art-based multimedia shows, projecting images of famous paintings set to music. This program projected Marc Chagall’s work on walls, ceilings and floors. At times, it was dizzy making, but it was always colorful and moving as it showed the progression of his paintings. The different periods of his work were emphasized with different music that ranged from Carmen to Janis Joplin, Count Basie to Russian and Israeli tunes. This lasted about 30-40 minutes.
There was also a much shorter program evoking impressions of Alice in Wonderland.
It was an extraordinary multimedia experience. You can read more about it at http://carrieres-lumieres.com/en/home
We weren’t done with our day. We went to St Paul de Mausole’s mental hospital where Van Gogh was voluntarily confined for ten years (after he cut off part of his ear). We saw the chapel, the cloisters, his work room and his bedroom, as well as many of his paintings. I also roamed the outside gardens and was excited when I saw a small iris garden. I was sure I had discovered his inspiration for his beautiful irises painting! Then I walked further and found that there was an entire field of irises (just leaves showing now).
By the time we got back to Avignon, I was exhausted. We also had to pack up, because tomorrow at 8 am we start a new adventure on our way to Nice.
I’m enjoying my roommate, Mary, as well as many of the others in the group. It’s different, slow paced, very low key, but enjoyable none the less.