After relaxing for awhile Sunday afternoon, the three of us (my wife, my sister, and I) headed out in search of dinner. We chose Tapas Café on Cours Mirabeau, a very busy boulevard packed with people, in spite of the fact that so many places are closed on Sunday. We shared plates of octopus, asparagus, salad, mussels, and bread, along with wine. It was excellent.
We got back to the hotel in time for a quick (hour and a half) French lesson, which left me almost as poor with the language as I started, but it was fun. Then, it was off to bed, in an unsuccessful attempt to get several hours sleep.
On Monday after a breakfast of truffles and eggs and croissants and fresh squeezed orange juice, we prepared for a day on the road. The coach picked us up and we drove through beautiful countryside with rolling hills and mountainous terrain. The trip took us by and through lots of great vineyards, beautiful trees, lovely birds, and brilliant scenery all around. Our first stop was Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a twelfth century Romanesque monastery that is still active today and is famous for its breath-taking lavender fields and production of honey. The monastery is a beautiful collection of stone buildings; neither the church nor the adjoining cloister have decoration but are powerful in their un encumbered solemnity, with messages that encourage thought and reflection.
After we left the monastery, the coach, driven by a very nice guy named Noel, took us to an absolutely enchanting village, Roussillon. Roussillon , “red village,” is so named for the rich red pigments in the quarries nearby. The coach dropped us at a point on the edge of the village and we all went our own way to explore. Janine and Libba and I had a nice lunch at a restaurant called Nina, nestled on the side of a mountain. A few others from our group sat nearby and we chatted over our meal. Fortified with food and wine, we went off to explore the village, which clings to the side of a mountain; it’s streets wind and dip in wild gyrations, revealing vistas of unimaginable beauty. It is filled with shops: pottery, clothing, leather, ice cream, restaurants, you name it. A church tucked away in a corner of the village beckons passers-by to peer inside for a moment of silent contemplation, away from the hustle and bustle of tourism and commerce. We capped our visit with ice cream cones, then boarded the coach and left for Lourmarin, the stomping ground of Peter Mayle. Though a quaint village, I preferred Roussillon. More sidewalk cafe people-watching, with wine, and then we headed back to the coach. On the way, we encountered a small group of donkeys that willingly approached us, close enough for good photos.
Back at the hotel, we rested for awhile, then joined the group for a short walk to a dive bar and betting parlor, where our tour leader introduced us to pastis. Then, more walking, this time to a restaurant called La Brocherie, where we had a hearty vegetable soup, lamb chops, and potatoes, accompanied, of course, by ample wine. During dinner, we enjoyed conversations with representatives of the British American Institute, who will host an educational conversation on Thursday. The representatives included French, American, and German delegates, who were delightful conversationalists.
Back at the hotel, we had nightcaps with our tour leader and a couple of other members of our entourage before turning in around midnight.
I awoke before 5 again, unable to adjust to jet lag. After a quick shower, Janine and I went down for breakfast. Bacon, croissants, pain perdu (French toast), cheese, and nice rich espresso (tea for Janine). Today, we’re off to view the landscapes that inspired Paul Cézanne, see his studio, visit a place that served a short time as Pablo Picasso’s home and the place of his burial. More later, after the real experience!