Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Orange, France : Sampling Provence

What comes to mind when Provence is mentioned?  Before this trip I would have said a climate like that of where we grew up in Southern California -- mild, dry, and lots of sunshine.  We took a few days to travel up one river valley, over a pass, and down another valley to find out if our preconceptions were true.  And we confirmed that, yes, the skies can be a brilliant blue day after day.  But it also rains and the wind can blow, really hard, just like at home.
Artichokes and chateaus, an unexpected Provence combination.

Crossing the Durance under a brilliant blue sky.
We followed the Durance river valley east from St Remy under brilliant blue skies.  We traveled minor roads through small agricultural towns.  Lots of peach and olive trees and vineyards.  By afternoon the winds were blowing enough to get our attention and get John’s allergies flaring.  We later learned we experienced a taste of the mistral winds, a weather phenomenon that affects Southern France and especially Provence.  The day we crossed over the Luberon range it was the opposite -- damp, cloudy, cold, which makes for disappointing pictures. 
Looking east as we cross the Luberon range on a gray day.

Sunset at our campsite next to a wheat field as the clouds clear.

These bell towers are open to allow the mistral winds to pass through.
We continued west towards Apt and then to Avignon.  This area gets a great number of visitors, and it is what most people think of Provence.  Lavender fields, olive orchards, vineyard after vineyard, wine tasting until you can’t legally drive anymore.  We saw the emerald pools and filled our water bottles at the spring of Fontaine de Vaulcluse.  We did not partake of the temptations of ice cream and souvenirs on the half-mile walk up to the spring, where water flows out of the mountainside.  And we timed our arrive into Apt on the day of their huge weekly market that wound up and down the streets of the old town, succumbing to those temptations and feeding ourselves with an alarming number of calories from the many food stalls.
The streets of Apt are crowed with vendors, shoppers and street musicians on Saturdays.

The French love their flowers, like these on sale at the market in Apt.

Provence olives!

Fresh garlic at the market in Apt.

Hedge trimming taken to the next level.

Vineyards everywhere as we go from Apt  to Avignon.

Just another Provence hilltop town.

These limestone walls went for miles, and red poppies are everywhere, too.

the emerald waters of the Fontaine de Vaulcluse.
One more day and we were in Avignon on the Rhone river.  For 100 years in the 14th century this was the place the popes lived.  There were nine popes that ruled in that period, and they built a palace, a fortress really.  And for a fee you can walk through the various buildings that are now bare, devoid of the opulence that must have existed during that time.  The structures that comprise the palace evolved over time, each pope adding on or reconstructing portions of the complex.  My favorite room was the treasury, where the gold was stored in vaults in the floor with lids that could only be lifted with pulleys.  To me that was the power center of the place.
The view of Avignon at sunset from our campground across the Rhone.

View of the Pont Saint-Bénézet and the Rhone from the gardens of the Palais des Papes.

Backside of the gilded statue of the Palais de Popes.

Palace or fortress?  You decide...

This was the kitchen.

Massive wood doors in the chapelle.

Another view of the mish-mash of buildings of the palace.
Our small tour of Provence ended in Orange, just north of Avignon.  The town itself is nothing special, other than the massive and well-preserved remains of a Roman theater, the best in Europe.  Others like it were dismantled and the stones reused for other purposes, but King Louis XIV like the looks of this one and saved it in the 17th century.  Performances are still staged there, and one of the exhibits showed film clips from what was described as “Europe’s Woodstock” in the 1970‘s with Frank Zappa doing his thing on that ancient semi-circular stage.  The acoustics of the venue are excellent, and were demonstrated to us while we stood at the very top tier of the seats.  A group of German students in front of the stage and sang a portion of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which carried clearly up to where we stood.

Too big for one picture....
...so I took two!

Corridor around the perimeter of the seating area of the theater.

The impressive Triumphal Arch of Orange on the way out of town.
We left Orange to return to the Rhone, leaving Provence with our preconceptions replaced with memories.
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Joe Blommer said...

We need a chateau in Castroville, CA, then CA will be just like France! Or maybe France is trying to be like CA by growing artichokes...

I love those hand pan hang drums. I want one!

Once again you're bringing me back to 1979 cycling in Provence.


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