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

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