Sunday, May 30, 2010

Van Gogh & Chateau

Thursday the 20th was committed to visiting the Chateau at Tarascon and the walk documenting Vincent Van Gogh's paintings during his residence in St Remy. Tarascon and St Remy are south and west of Avignon and the drive was very active - lots of cars on the road. We stopped in St Remy before the noon lunch hour (actually 2 to 2-1/2 hours for the French) to pickup the map of the Van Gogh walk, then on to Tarascon.

So, Provence...sun, lavender, grapes, cherries and LOTS of wind! The mistrals have been blowing us all over the place and this day I think was the worst. With Tarascon pressed up to the edge of the Rhone river, the winds scream their way down it and land right at the Chateau which sits on a rocky islet beside the Rhone. The winds were so strong they almost blew Helen over! I was leaning hard into the wind myself to keep upright, poor Helen didn't have a chance.

The Chateau was an amazing edifice. Built early on (11th century as I recall) it went through a variety of structural/fortification changes. But the current structure was started in the 1400's by Louis II which was ultimately completed by his sons. A huge place built for protection it's 3-4 stories tall with the roof actually constructed to be used as a terrace as well as a place to defend...apparently Louis liked to party. Louis by the way is pronounced like Louie.

One claims to fame of this chateau are the "privies". The king had the privies built in his and the queen's chambers which to allow the "waste" to drop to the river. The privy holes are still there and believe me you'd better be wide enough not to fall through given that their rooms were on the 3rd & 4th floors! In addition, they would have been a bit breezy we pondered if the mistrals were strong enough, might things been returned and fortunately for the queen her privy was not on the same side as her husband as here rooms were a floor below...ick!

The Chateau during the 18th century became a prison. On the walls in many areas are carvings made by those who found themselves incarcerated in the chateau. Even more interesting was that the carvings are not only in French, but Greek and Spanish. Indicating the wars or skirmishes that were occurring during it’s use.

After we were whisked back to our car with the help of the mistral, we headed back to St. Remy. I've been to St Remy a couple of times but had never visited the sanitarium in which Van Gogh resided. It was a lovely visit. Van Gogh’s room was quite small but the view out the window was lovely and he painted or sketched the scene often. Then we went on to the walk through the various locations where or near where VG painted some of his most memorable works. If you haven’t done the walk, it’s worth the time. While it is a hike from St Remy to the sanitarium, the walk back is easy and punctuated by the easels describing the pics that were painted there or near there. Handily they are in both French and English – yay! Another interesting observation on the walk and that is referenced on the easels is that the areas has changed quite a bit since the 19th century when Van Gogh painted his works. The fields and field hands are missing and filled now with homes. Sad really, but it’s the same in all areas – city expansion vs agriculture.

Along the walk back we ran into the loveliest little Brittany spaniel. She was in her yard but just as friendly as can be. And since Paul & Helen own a Brittany, we’ve kept a special eye out for sightings of these French bred dogs. And she was a sweetie.

While we were in St Remy we found loads of German students visiting St Remy and we kept trying to avoid them – didn’t work. However, we did stop and have a citron pressé which I’d been wanting. Love those drinks – they bring you a glass with freshly squeezed lemon juice, a bottle of water and sugar from which you devise a lemonade as tart or as sweet as you wish…believe me…it starts out very tart no matter what you do and generally ends up sweeter than you want…but on a warm/hot Provencal day…oh there is nothing better...well, other than a glass of rosé bien sur. We also came upon Nostradamus’ house which we’d tried to find on a previous visit – got a pic confirming we’d found it and it was real. I know this will be a comfort to our friends Suzie & Kim!

When we got back to the car we found an accident being handled by the tallest French woman (policewoman) I’ve ever seen…easily a candidate for the WNBA! As for the accident, in typical French manner, the woman that had hit the parked RV plead her case to the Police woman, who took a look, shrugged her shoulders and everyone took off. Which will leave the poor owner of the RV wondering what might have happened…just cracked us all up, but also we were very glad it wasn’t our car!

Back to Apt to find where the Italian trottoria that we all love but especially Paul. And since he was leaving the next day, he got to choose dinner. Picked up cepes lasagna and some of the best breadsticks I’ve ever eaten.


cepes lasasgne

White asparagus

Salad w/coeur de boeuf tomatoes

Bread sticks


2008 Chateau Husson Cotes-du-Rhone

2007 Domaine Charvin Cotes-du-Rhone

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Simple Meal

Wednesday the 19th (my Sister's birthday - happy b'day again Sis!) was a slower day. We hung out in Apt getting a little wash done (yes, undies). Paul, Helen and Betty headed for a walk around Apt to stretch their legs. I stayed to try to catch up on my travel journal (the handwritten one). While they were gone I hung out the wash to dry, dishes were done and rooms were tidied. They stopped at the Leclerc (a large grocery chain in France) and purchased provisions for the dinner we were hosting that evening for Jinny and Alexander.

I haven't really talked much about the foods we've eaten, but this dinner might give you an idea.


Confit du porc, rice crackers & Nyons olives

Francois Chidaine Montlouis 2004 Les Tuffeaux


Lamb chops from M.Malavard boucherie
White Asparagus - chilled
Haricot Verte (small French green beans)
Green salad with special vinegrette

Domaine de la Pigeade Rhone Classique 2004

Chevre (goat) - two types Frais & Cremeaux
Cantal (a tomme style one aged 6mos the other 8 -10 mos)

Domaine Tour des chenes Lirac 2006 Les Chene


Pear and Citron Tarts

Domaine de la Pigeade Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2009

Lots of food and lots of, we are not starving. (Don't worry Lynne we are walking - a lot!)

North to Nyons

NOTE to one and all - apparently I was an idiot while packing and failed to bring the correct cables to download the pics from our cameras let alone to charge my phone...sigh. So, pictures will be forthcoming after our return home. Phone calls will also have to wait until I can get home and charge the device.

On Monday the 17th we took off north through Beaumes de Venise, Vacqueyras and Gigondas and, yes before you ask, I did taste pretty much everything anywhere it was open. However, given that I still had almost a case of wine from the Loire trip in 2004 sitting in Alexander's cave, new purchases other than those that will be consumed here, haven't been made. It was a beautiful drive - field after field of vines...some barely starting to have leaves and others with tiny baby grapes already showing.

One of the stops in Beaumes de Venise was at Domaine de la Pigeade. A lovely young woman was minding the cave and after our various attempts to massacre French, she revealed a very excellent skill in English with an American accent! Most of the French speak some English, but with British accents. She'd traveled the US for over 2 years. Bought three bottles of wine - red, rose and a muscat. Quite tasty...oh and also a bottle of their olive oil and balsamic vinegar which we've been enjoying too...our salads have been very happy with the addition.

On we went through Vacqueyras and Gigondas...wines so good you want to cry! And they cost half of what they do at depressed that I can't bring more. The countryside between these areas are just filled with vineyards. The vines are old, big and twisted. The soil is not dark, but rather blushed with the ochres and limestone that one finds throughout Provence. The vines struggle for water although this year has been wet in Provence - everything is green and lush and I suspect the vines aren't working too hard yet. However, soon they will have to work for replenishment...the temps have begun to rise.

On the way north to our B&B outside Villedieu, we stopped at a few local wineries and wine cooperatives., so, but of course some was purchased. Majority of my wine purchases have been rose...ah, provencal is good.

Tried to check in at our B&B but nobody answered. So off to Villedieu to call them to find out when we could check in...not till around 4P so we had a lot of time to waste. Headed to Nyons to checkout the olives. Olives from Nyons are the "very best" and given our penchant for the little noir (black) and verte (green) goodies we had to try them. Tasted in a couple of places including their olive cooperative...bought a bunch as well as some olive oil to bring home.

Back to check in at Les Mas de Grateloup (the B&B). Very lovely place centered between Vaison les Romaines and Nyons. Built in the 17th century, it has been updated and the rooms are lovely, rustic but comfortable. If you are interested in the area and don't mind being in the country then this is a great place to use as a home base.

The next morning we headed to Vaison les Romaines for their market. I had thought that the Apt market was the largest I'd ever seen, but I think Vaison les Romaines may have it beat. Beautiful city - the largest collection of Roman ruins in any town in France. The market wound itself throughout it all. You couldn't turn without a new smell - roasting duck, chicken or quail - fresh fish stalls - honey - fresh melons - breads - croissants - and lots and lots and lots of white oh my. But while the food had my attention, there were other products available - clothes, kitchen equipment, shoes, provencal materials - you name it, it was there.

The rest of Tuesday was spent driving back to Apt. Stopped in Venasque a lovely town with incredible views over the surrounding valleys. As we headed home we ran into a winery that we'd discovered 11 years ago. While the grandmother wasn't there we enjoyed fractured discussions with the granddaughter who now seemed to run the tasting room. Chapelle St. Heyries will always hold a special place in our hearts and palates.

We did finally get to Apt and were met by Jinny who provided us with cepes lasagna, asparagus & ham lasagna as well as bread, olives and cheese. We encouraged her to join us and we happily consumed the wines from Chapelle St Heyries, the food and soon were heading to bed sated and happy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Provence - better late than never

Bonjour tous les monde!

I sit here in the middle of a Provencal town listening to cuckoos and pigeons, a dog barking, and the murmur of people preparing to return to school and work. The sun is beating down and the winds gently move the air bringing with it all the smells one hopes to find in this land - lavender, verveine, green growing things, flowers of all types, baking bread, food in preparation. My friends have left for a walk and I've finally a moment to catch up.

It's been a whirlwind five/six days. Flights were late, but time was made up in flights somehow such that all connections - plane and train - were met. Our seats on the train from Paris to Avignon were on the observation (second level) and it was amazing again to see and understand just what an agricultural country this is. Wheat, grains for making canola oils, orchards of olive, cherry and almonds, and of course grapevines all dotted the landscape as we traveled south. I was tired, but couldn't bring myself to fall asleep until the last hour or so of the ride because it was just too lovely to miss. But after so many hours without sleep, I finally succumbed.

We arrived in Avignon's TGV station, got our car and headed to Apt - known by the Romans as Apt Julia and in which part of the original Roman Road is still used. When we arrived at what we believed to be our home base we were greated by our hostess (Paul & Betty sister Jinny) who looked out the window, wished us a Bienvenue and told us not to unpack the car. After all we'd been through over the last 24 - 30 hours, another surprise was not something we were looking forward to finding. It seems she had been having work done on her apartment and, as is common with French workers, the work was not yet done and would not be until Tuesday...sigh. Now what we all wonder. However, she did have a plan, we all retired to her Frenchman's lovely home outside Apt. He was a designer of furniture in Paris and had retired to the countryside. His place was very nice, but we were completely cut off from everything - no phone, internet, nada. As you can imagine, this put a bit of a crimp in our ability to let family and friends know we'd arrived as well as arrived safely, let alone let me keep an eye on the business.

The stay at Alexander's was very pleasant and he was a fine host. However, he spoke no English and we, well speak very little French and what we do speak certainly wasn't good, but we tried. We ate and drank our fill every single day...cepes lasagna, canneloni, lamb targine, white asparagus, couscous, paella, quail, rhubarb yogurt, cheese, bread, olives, it's been gluttonous time...and fabulous.

We've been to two markets - the one in Apt and one in Vaison-les-Romaines. As expected I was transported with all the sights, sounds and smells. spices, cheeses, breads, strawberries, tomatoes, olives...oh my stars! Of course, I've bought the place out amazing how quickly money disappears even with the dollar strengthening against the Euro.

More to come as this is just was just the beginning. Lots has been done, but thought I'd better get this loaded as I'm being bombarded with "where's the blog update" queries. On the side bar I'll be listing the wines consumed by date for your drooling best to all. More to come I promise!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vacation...Provence Here I Come

Yes, it's true - I'm finally getting/taking a vacation. Off to Provence for a couple of weeks. YAY!

I've always documented my travels over the years. Most of the time I have sent email updates to one and all. This year I'm going to reinvigorate this blog by using it to document the trip. In addition, it will provide a centralized location for people to read about my travels...or not. Some emails in the past turned out quite long and it made reading them time consuming for my erstwhile Travel Journal email group. We'll see how this works.

I will send an email to my Travel Journal folks to give them the link to this blog and let them know when new posts have been loaded. And I will post notifications on Facebook as well - that should cover pretty much everyone. I hope you will bookmark this location and come back and visit. Both to get updates on the trip and wine and food related things when I get back.

While the trip begins this Thursday, things have been hectic, due primarily to the Icelandic volcano. Many European flights have been impacted. The winds keep changing ... and they have all decided to head south - seriously impacting flights in and out of France and Spain. Of course, all subsequent reservations on connecting flights and the TGV are all at risk.

Dealing with getting current projects stabilized and the business settled for my absence has also been concerning. However, that always seems to be the case. Decided to bring the laptop with me to keep my comfort zone happy. Check in, make sure all is well, then off to eat great food and drink lovely wines.

I keep trying to not let everything worry me, but...well, sigh. Back to getting the business ready for my absence and time to start ironing clothes and the packing... updates will begin probably Saturday after the Farmer's Market in Apt (largest in Provence). Looking forward