Monthly Archives: April 2016

les Baux & St Rémy (4/26)

Here are some more pictures of Arles as we leave for today’s adventures.

Today we went to les Baux.  It’s an old hilltop top town perched on a promontory about 650 feet above the valley.  It is surrounded by rugged cliffs.  One section is said to have inspired Dante’s Inferno.  The limestone is carved by nature and man into dramatic cliffs and caves.  The valley below is filled with olive orchards and vineyards.  The area is rather famous for these.  The area was, for a couple of hundred years,  a center for the mining of bauxite used in the production of aluminum.  That industry is pretty much finished.

The town consists of two parts.  The lower town which is packed with shops, cafés and tourist knickknacks.  Above the town is the castle.  There is a large, over 1 acre, open space at one end and the castle itself at the other end.  The open area was carefully paved over and used as a collection area for  rainwater.  This water was guided into cisterns.  The only other source for water was down in the valley.  It had to be carried up to the castle and was vulnerable to being cutoff by attackers.  This open area is currently used to display siege engines used by medieval attackers to break down castle walls.  Several different kinds of siege engines were displayed.  Several times a day the largest (a trebuchet)  was loaded up and demonstrated.  The process took a good 30 minutes and the “boulder” was lobbed about 100 feet away.  Rather dramatic and very interesting to see it work.  During actual battle, it could be loaded and fired maybe 3 times an hour.  It was surprisingly accurate.

The castle itself was, as always, in partial ruins.  Still you could climb up to the top where the lord and ladies lived.  And get a spectacular view of the valley below.  Sometimes the climb up to the top floors was very steep and difficult.  I imagined that the ladies in their formal gowns seldom left these upper floors because of this difficult climb.  The lower floors housed the kitchens and servant’s quarters.  The guards were also in this area.  An attacking army would have had a difficult time getting past all the defenses to get to the lord.

Check out the wikipedia site   Les Baux

Our next destination was St Rémy with a stop at Glanum.

Glanum is a Roman market town.  It was only recently discovered and is still being excavated.  We didn’t actually go down to the town.  It was getting late.  But we did examine some ruins near the road.  There was a Roman arch which marked the entry into the town.  And a tower which was a memorial to the grandsons of Emperor Augustus Caesar.

Then on to St Rémy.  We arrived there rather late and so most of the tourist sites were closed.  Even the Tourist office was closed.  We wandered around the downtown area for a while.  Pretty standard old town but not particularly touristy.  In other words, it was a city of regular working people.  It was approaching 7pm so we found a marvelous little restaurant to eat at.  And then headed back to Arles.

la Camargue (4/25)

Today we are going to the Camargue.  This unique region is a vast delta formed by two branches of the Rhône river.  This wetland is home to wildlife that includes the famous black bulls, white horses and pink flamingos as well as a wide assortment of other birds and animals.  Because of the accumulation of centuries of silt, the salt marshes are frequently only six feet deep.  It has a world wide reputation as a regional National Park.  But first, we went to Aigues-Mortes.

This walled city built by Louis IX was a staging area for the crusades.  It was a port city.  Although it was rather far from the Mediterranean ships reached it via canals.  Now days, it is surrounded by flat marshes and is mostly a tourist destination.  For us, the draw was the wall that surrounded the city.  The top is wide and offers an excellent walk around the town.  You can view both the town with it’s several hundred years old houses and the outside landscape.  A nice place for a short visit.

Then on to the Camargue proper.  We did this area by car along 2 lane roads that ran next to the marshes.  This gave us an excellent opportunity to view wildlife.  As you can see from Tai’s pictures, there was lot’s to see.  The flamingos were quite spectacular.  And just the view out over these vast salt marshes was beautiful.

By early evening we headed back to Arles.  Dinner was tagines and couscous at a local Moroccan restaurant.  By that time, we were all quite tired.  Back to the hotel and bed.

Chasteuil to Arles (4/24)

Busy day in Chasteuil preparing to leave for ten days or so.  Both N&P had lots to do.  We (Tai mostly) helped where we could.  We hit the road about 3pm.  Our first stop was the Aix-en-Provence train station.  We needed to go to the rental car office to add Pascal to the authorized driver list.  It had to be done in person.  Then on to Arles.

The most notable aspect of the trip was the WIND.  Le Mistral.  As Pascal explained, it starts in the Alps and blows down the Rhône Valley gathering steam until it hits the Mediterranean.  The weather forecast for Monday is 15mph and Tuesday 25mph.  Driving in this kind of wind can be a bit of a challenge.

Anyway, we made it to our hotel in the old part of town.  After settling into our rooms, Pascal and I went to check a couple of restaurants.  They were all completely full.  Pascal was able to persuade one to let us have a table that was about finished.  So we went back and picked up Nancy & Tai.  We got back to the restaurant just as the table was available.  We were very lucky.  Nancy, Tai & I had the bull stew, Pascal had a piece of grilled bull.  Understand that one of the things the Camargue (where Arles is located) is famous for is their bulls.  They are a unique breed and have a long history of roaming free.  Rather than me trying to write about the region, please look it up.

Chasteuil day 2

A very quiet day.  Nancy and Pascal were busy taking care of business.  I continued to get this blog organized.  I think I’m getting it.  If anybody is looking at it, let me know what you think.  Tai spent the day just puttering around.  Did some gardening for Nancy.  She helped N&P organize the guest room with the new furniture they had purchased.  Talked about how to reorganize the living area.  She and Nancy visited with some friends in the village.  A pretty mundane day.

Chasteuil day 1

Today we are not going anywhere. So Tai & I  spent the morning just hanging out.  Well, I spent most of the time getting going on this blog.  Needed to figure out how to add pictures.  Nancy & Pascal left mid-morning to take care of some very important business.  More on that later.

About 11:30, Tai &  decided to take a hike up towards the plateau.  We really needed the exercise after traveling for two days.  The plateau is a large flat meadow about two miles away and about 1000 ft higher elevation.  We didn’t make it to the plateau.  We needed to keep going for another 30 minutes or so but we were tired.  We had been climbing for 1 1/2 hours.  Here are some of Tai’s pictures

We got back and obviously rested.

Nancy & Pascal returned about 5pm.  They were very excited.  Nancy had just signed the papers to purchase a house in Chasteuil and about 1.2 acres of land next to it.  The house is about 100 ft from the Gite and the land is right across the road from the Gite.  The piece of land is zoned for agricultural use.  The house is very old.  The basement dates from 16th century and it is the oldest house in the village.  The title calls it the Chateau.  The current owner has lived in it for about ten years.  He is one of these people who continually works on his house and land so it is in really fine condition.  New plumbing and electricity.  The interior has been beautifully restored and retains the original feel.

A short while later, they gave Nancy her first real look at the place.  They invited us to come.  We were blown away.  Here are a few pictures.

 

Day 0 – Nice to Chasteuil

Final leg of our journey here. After breakfast, I walked over to the airport to pick up our rental car. Took about 45 minutes even though I had pre-booked it. Back to the hotel to pick up Tai and the baggage. It took a good 30 minutes to get out of Nice. Even though we didn’t have to drive through town, and even with a GPS navigation system. I made one wrong turn and ended up going around in circles partly due to construction but mostly due to lots of traffic. Once we got on the right road, the drive to Comps-sur-Artuby was smooth. This is where the navigation system was a big help. There were a number of tricky turns.

Got to Comps about 10 minutes before Nancy & Pascal. We had arranged to meet at the Grand Hôtel Bain for lunch. This is a really old hotel. In fact, they are in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest hotel in France run by the same family. Almost 300 years. Don’t know about the rooms but the restaurant was very nice. We were about the only customers. There was one other table with six military men, some in fatigues. Turns out that the area around Comps is a huge military installation. It was so great to see N&P even though we saw them in Berkeley in February.

Had a good lunch then followed them to Chasteuil about 30 minutes away.

We moved into our room which is the same room we have stayed in for the last four trips. Sort of like home. Took a two hour nap.

There was one Gîte guest couple there. We didn’t have anything to do with them. The guests have their own areas. There was also another couple there, Muriel & Patrick. She was a very old friend. He spoke no english and her’s was limited. So conversation was either amongst them in French or us in English. N&P would translate most of what was said. It’s is very frustrating and embarrassing for me to have to rely on others to translate. Even though I took four years of French in High School and college, I cannot carry on a conversation. I pick up individual words but that’s all.

Muriel and Pascal made dinner of vegetable soup with cheeses and salamis. And then Tai and I went to bed. We were tired of course.

Travel to Nice

Well, we finally left home.  Our neighbor dropped us off at BART and we rode it to SFO.  I didn’t realize that the end of the BART line is actually at the International terminal.  How convenient. Security was quick and easy.

Our flight on Virgin Atlantic was only a little over half full so there was plenty of room for folks to move around and stretch out.  We moved our seats from Extra Leg Room to an exit row.  I normally don’t like that row because either the seats don’t recline or you have to store all of your stuff in the overhead bins or the entertainment system is too far away or …  But this one turned out to be quite nice.  The movie selection was impressive.  The evening meal was decent.  Frankly, I was impressed with Virgin Atlantic.  A slightly better experience than Delta or United or any of the other transatlantic flights I have been on.  We’ll see what the return flight is like.

Landed in London at Heathrow.  What a different story.  What a terrible airport.  We walked for what seemed like miles then had to take a bus and then walk some more.  We had to go through security again and that was a pain.  We had to throw away the water we had gotten at SFO.  Our carry-on luggage was re-examined and several items that were ok at SFO were given a more detailed examination.  A real pain.  Then the waiting area was drab and crowded.  Our boarding gate was not assigned until 25 minutes before boarding.  Then we had to rush to get there.  Not a welcoming experience.  I’m surprised that England doesn’t do something to improve an arriving passenger’s initial experience of England.  Not great.

The flight to Nice was uneventful on British Airways.

Got to our hotel  ( Campanile ) which was right across the street from the terminal.  We still took a shuttle to avoid having to drag our suitcases a couple of blocks.  The room was small but functional as befits the inexpensive price.  Had dinner in the hotel restaurant.  It was ok but not really great.  For instance, my vegetables were grossly overcooked mush.  Then too BED.

Long travel days are never fun anymore.  But we arrived in France safely.