Saturday, May 28, 2011


Unfortunately, we were there too early to see this.
I have heard before that the Texas Hill Country has a lot in common with Provence.  Now I have witnessed it for myself, and I think the resemblance is growing stronger all the time.  Of course, we don't have a fortified city with a pope's palace at it's heart, as they do here in Avignon, but we do have a similar climate, the same limestone hills and rivers, and we have both built many of our structures using that limestone and those river rocks.

Looks a lot like my new shower floor, non?
The Hill Country has a growing passion for local food, which has led to a plethora of farmers' markets in the area, and many wonderful restaurants that take pride in using local ingredients. 

We got the best cherries from this place!
Like the people of Provence, we also enjoy live music while dining out of doors, though it is more likely to be guitar, fiddle and mandolin or banjo, than accordion and violin.

And, don't forget our lavender fields and rosemary.  But wait, there's more!  Have you heard about Le Mistral?

D. almost lost her hat to Le Mistral!
Le Mistral is a northern wind that can blow through Provence at any time of the year, can last for a week or more, and can drive people absoluetly mad.  On the other hand, it is also responsible for those intense blue, cloudless skies that Van Gough was obsessed with painting.  We awakened to a mini-mistral yesterday morning as we were heading out for a walking tour of the city, and my first thought was "Wow, feels like home!"  We were all quite relieved when we made it inside the protection of the city walls.  I wonder if I could convince John to begin work on a fortification around our property?  Not only would it cut down on the wind problems, it might even help with the deer!


Today we went to another of those famous French indoor markets, or les halles -- this one in Avignon.  It being a Saturday, entire families were out shopping together.  The first stop for many was at the small cafe in the back, where they tossed back a few fresh oysters (for breakfast?).

My favorite sight of the morning was three little boys around four or five years old, each on a little skateboard/scooter thingy, who were shopping the stalls with their papa.  When they came to the stall that sold whole chickens, heads and feet still on, the butcher grabbed one out of the case and made it dance around on the counter for their entertainment. 

Next he yanked a handful of feathers from the chicken's tuft, and let them rain down on the boys.  Finally he grabbed the chicken by it's head and started whirling it around overhead, like a lasso. 

You should have heard the boys squeal!  Is it any wonder that they'd rather go food-shopping with Papa than stay home and watch cartoons?

Friday, May 27, 2011


This morning we landed in Arles, another town built upon Roman ruins.  It is also the spot where Van Gough spent more than a year in a hospital, trying to get a grip on what may have been a combination of epilepsy and being bipolar.  Creatively, it was one of the most productive periods of his life.

Scattered about town you will see reproductions of some of his paintings juxtaposed against the scene he had depicted in them.  One shows a crowd of people watching a bullfight in the colliseum.

Our tour guide pointed out to us that it was very clear from this painting that Van Gough was not really interested in the bullfight or in the colliseum.  What fascinated him were the people and the colors.  It hit me then that that is my passion as well!  Sooo, why then have I been filling my camera up with all these photos of buildings and monuments?

 From that moment on, I focused my camera on people and color.  The result?  Mmwa!  Tres, tres bien!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


We visited a couple of towns, Vienne and Arles, which were built up, layer upon layer, from roman ruins.

White stone from Roman ruins used as the foundation of a church built centuries later.  Can you see the Roman writing on the one at the bottom?
In Vienne, instead of leveling the temple, they just added to it and turned it into a church, which is why it is so well preserved.  They are now restoring it to its original state.

Both towns have colliseums and amphitheatres that are still in use today. 

In addition, there are streets filled with houses representing just about every century.  These very same historic buildings might have a Starbucks or a Subway sandwich shop on their ground floor.  I found it to be somewhat surreal, but it got me to thinkin'. 

When I was in school, stories about the Romans seemed about as real as our lessons in Greek mythology.  But just imagine, if you were a kid growing up in Vienne or Arles --  a kid who walked past an honest-to-goodness temple or amphitheatre each day on the way to school --  how very different your perspective might be!


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


We finally set sail (or whatever you call it, when it's a boat without a sail) on Monday, around 6:00 pm, then went into dinner around 7:00.  Dinner is served in several courses: you choose from several different starters;  there's always a soup if you wish; there's two or three main courses to choose from (or if you have a hearty appetite, like our new friend Jack, you can order one of each!); there is a cheese plate; and last but not least, there are a couple of desserts to choose from, with coffee or tea.  Oh yeah, and wine is included at no extra charge (which is a recent development, I'm told).  The portions are European sized, not American super-sized, and the meals always take at least two hours, which is really nice if you are sharing a table with interesting people.  However, by the time we finished dinner that first night, it was too late to really see anything outside.

We docked somewhere around midnight, then took off again the next morning.  Everyone went up on the sun deck after breakfast, and I just don't have the words to describe the beauty and serenity of river travel.  The water is smooth as glass, and since most towns had their beginnings close to water, there is much to see along the way!  They shooed us off after a while though, because some of the bridges we were to pass under are so low that there is only a few inches clearance, and they didn't want anyone to be decapitated.  I was worried about the captain's wheelhouse, but found out he can lower the whole thing below deck when necessary.  Later they let us come up again,  so we could watch as they maneuvered through one of the twelve locks we would pass through before reaching the Mediterranean.  And now, we are in Lyon!

Roman theatres, secret passageways, wonderful food, two rivers coming together in the heart of town, a gorgeous basilica perched atop a hill that overlooks it all, a hilarious local guide who helped us to understand the French psyche ("it's complicated")...what's not to love?  This morning we have an early presentation about the silk industry here in Lyon, then I'm off to the covered market for a bit of fromage- and saucisson-tasting with our chef!
One of many hidden passageways connecting one street to another,  which were quite an asset to the resistance during the war.

Lyon, where the Soane and the Rhone come together.

The final stage of a  silk-screened scarf depicting Lyon.

Monday, May 23, 2011


The guide who escorted us from Paris to Chalon-sur-Soane
We are on the boat at last! (but not yet in motion)  We got here yesterday afternoon, after a brief stop for a little tour of Dijon where, of course, I had to buy mustard.

Our boat, the Amadeus Symphony
This morning we drove to Beaune, the heart of the Burgundy wine region, to do a bit of tasting, and to visit Hotel Dieu -- a very elegant hospital where nuns have, for centuries (right up until the 60s, I think) cared for the poor. It was originally built and funded by a very wealthy couple who wanted to ensure their passage into heaven.  Upon her death, the wife's vineyards -- some of the best in France -- went to the cloister.  Now, every November they auction off some of the wine, and the funds earned continue to pay for health care and a nursing home for the indigent, where they are served very good wine!

In a couple of hours we will finally get underway.  Right now I'm sitting in the ship's lounge, enjoying a French afternoon tea.  So far, this is what I've found:

MOST YUMMY: Pave du Canard (duck) with little roasted potatoes and a green peppercorn sauce (must find a recipe for that sauce -- I sopped up every drop!)

MOST UNUSUAL: A fois gras creme brule.  Can't say that I'm a fan of liver and honey, though my oldest sister would've loved it.

MOST STARTLING: Hearing a ripple of commotion run through the dining room last night, glancing up at the huge windows that faced onto the quay, and finding that two young inebriated frenchmen had dropped their drawers and were mooning us all!  Quite the bon voyage, non?

A Bon Voyage toast with the Captain