Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Week in Provence

With Cecil finally back on the road and in ship shape, I thought it wise this time to be a little more cautious about leaving. Abandoning my plans for Espagne we instead took a short trip to Narbonne where we kipped in an industrial zone, frequently checking for any problems of a mechanical or electrical nature.

There were none.

An old friend from England called and we arranged for him to fly into Avignon where I would collect him and we would take a three-day tour of the region, after which I would continue alone in my usual style.

Sur le Pont

We checked into a very plush campsite a short walk from the city centre.My friend entered the Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace), where Catholic popes and anti-popes resided in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries... I've done my fill of museums and abbeys and the like by now and couldn't justify the entrance fee, so I settled for a driving tour of the city.

The famous bridge of Avignon
The Sea is pink and it's snowing

This wasn't the effect of LSD but rather the effect of the natural salt marshes in the national park 'The Camargue'. As we drove into the area, we first noticed the bizarre stretch of bright pink waters. Apparently this is caused by algae who are compelled to live in very salty waters and who contain high levels of carotene. Of course its these algae who are eaten by shrimp, making them pink, and in turn eaten by flamingoes.

I was even more surprised, however, to see banks of snow along the side of the road. It was somewhere around thirty degrees celcius! The wind blew across the plains and the 'snow' flakes were thrust across our path. It was then that we realised they were salt flakes that had been blown from the surface of the sea and gathered naturally. So cool!

The salt gathers up on the rocks. The medieval city of Aigues-Mortes in the background.
I took a boat trip through the canals and saw a demonstration of 'gardians', who herd black bulls from their position atop white horses. Unfortunately there was also a gaggle of teenagers on the trip who'd clearly been forced to attend on a school trip, so I couldn't hear much of what the French cowboys had to say.

Chasing Bulls
The area is also famous for its 'Flamant Rose' (pink flamingoes) but, although I saw many from my position on the boat, they were all too distant to really photograph. Still, they were amusing to watch with their long skinny legs and stark pink wings.

Nothing like family

After dropping my friend off, I drove straight to my Aunt's house for a visit. We took a ride in her convertible to the Coustellet market and joined some friends of hers in the Poisonnerie there for oysters and wine. I'd never tried an oyster before so I had to be trained in the technique. It tasted rather like I'd imagine that pink sea tasting if you stuck your tongue into it.

My grandmother very kindly put me up at her house down the road and I went for an afternoon to visit one of my cousins and meet her baby boy for the first time. I also met her new boyfriend who was something of a VW enthusiast and a collector of spare parts. He turned up with a brand new pair of eyelids for Cecil and fitted them on the spot! You can see from his face how much he likes them.

A cheeky look for Cecil
Finally we all gathered at a fabulous outdoor venue in Gordes to watch my other cousin play guitar in his band... this was his final performance with the guys before he moves to Marseille for university so there was quite an emotional atmosphere... and a doting mother recording every second of it on her iPhone.

An astonishingly talented guy - I'm so proud of my cousin!
It's not quite over yet

Although I've taken this opportunity to update you, there's one more chapter left in Provence. Today I'm driving East to visit a winemaker who I met in Japan back in March. And then who knows? That's the beauty of being free!


  1. So glad to hear that Cecil is much better now and you are able to continue on your trip. Your post today has made me smile with memories flooding back from my family holidays in the Camargue when I was a kid :-) That's where I first sampled oysters too! Great washed down with a glass of pinot ;-) Enjoy my lovely xx

  2. Just a thought - didn't occur to me before - those eyelids of Cecil's are illegal now. Probably won't matter in France, but be careful in Germany or back in the UK. Quite apart from the legality, I wouldn't have them on mine, as they would do serious injury if someone got in the way of them.