A True Provençal Experience in Eygalières

The next stop after Les-Baux-de-Provence on our Provence adventure was Eygalières.   Bruno had mentioned to take the small roads, direction Destet.   Our GPS didn’t recognize Egalières, or Destet, so we pulled out a map of Provence that he loaned us and did it old school.

During the drive, we saw some lovely Alpilles countryside.

Driving through the Alpilles countryside.   Very arid.  It looks like Italy and Greece. 

Jagged rocks in Provence

Vineyards abound.

Olive groves. Who knew France had a big olive oil production?  I sure didn’t until this trip. 

 

We parked the car and decided to head up the hill to check out the view.

 

Starting our climb.

The top afforded clear views of the Alpilles range

Remains of a church

After our hike, we walked down into the small little town.  There were three restaurants open as well as a bustling grocery, even though it was a French holiday, Bastille Day.

Restaurants ready for Bastille Day celebrations

We settled upon Café de la Place.   We ordered planchas – smoked salmon & goat cheese for me and cheese & meat for Gabe.   This was truly a local place.  We didn’t hear one word of English in this town.  Good thing our French is getting better!

It was fun watching all the townspeople come in and greet each other.  Our waitress knew every single person who walked up.  Poor thing couldn’t get much done for all the double cheek kissing she had to do with the passing friends.

We counted the number of baguettes that passed.   Everyone was out and about doing their shopping.   And typically, a person would have 3-4 baguettes tied in a bundle.    This is another common sight in France – lots of baguettes being purchased.

Le Café du Place was a nice choice for lunch

As we left, we drove past Chapelle Saint Sixte.

We really appreciated the recommendation from Bruno.   We were the only tourists in town and it was nice to get to see a true glimpse of small town life.

If you are traveling to Eygalières, make sure to pack a good map!!

Gratitude Friday: My first glimpse of the lavender

Once Bruno found out we were into wine, he recommended we stop by Valdition as they were having a Fête de Rosé.    Valdition is located in the Alpilles area, near Orgon and St. Rémy.   They specialize in both wine and olive production.

When we parked, we found the jackpot…wine and lavender in the same place!    I had been on a hunt for lavender and we found it.   Thus, this week’s gratitude post.

Gardens at Valdition

I had planned the trip pretty much entirely to see the lavender in season.  In Provence, the high season for the beautiful crop is the end of June/July.   It is typically harvested in July/August.  I had read that seeing it was truly remarkable and a must-do once in your life.    Thus, we had planned our trip to Provence in mid-July, at the peak.

Gabe preferred the old car sighting to the lavender sighting.  I am also grateful he is a patient husband.

There are over 39 varieties of lavender.   It grows in North Africa, the Mediterranean and India.  However, Provence accounts for 80% of the worlds lavender needs.

What would the world’s lavender needs be?

One of my favorite uses is for essential oils.  It is renown for its healing and medicinal properties.   In fact, I applied lavender essential oil at least three times a day when healing from foot surgery.    Also, it can be used for calming / relaxing, such as if you have sleep difficulty like me.   Or even for headaches when applied at the pulse point.

Beyond oil, it can be used to make soap, perfume, cosmetics and potpourris.

Sometimes it can be infused in dishes or used in tea!

The rows of lavender at Valdition

Lavender is farmed in rows in Provence.   I found it fun to run through them.

Hanging out in the fields

Up close

 

The smells are amazing!

Did you know that lavender bunches can repel bugs?   So next time you are having a gathering outside, try the nice smell of lavender.

It must not repel snails.  They were having as much fun as me out there.

After our lavender photo shooting, we did partake in the Fête de Rosé.   We bought three bottles of white wine and a bottle of rosé to enjoy back in Geneva.  I considered it our commission for using their fields for our photography.

Valdition
Route d’Eygalières
13660 Orgon – France
http://www.valdition.com/en/le-domaine/

We were grateful we found a field in this area as lavender production isn’t as common in the Les Alpilles.     I also feel lucky as I found out later that vipers like to live in the shade of the lavender.   Glad I didn’t get bitten.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Les-Baux-de-Provence

On Saturday morning, I woke up with high hopes for lavender sightings.   However, my new laissez-faire attitude with trip planning (“let it be”….just book hotel, do research on the way) had a flaw….we were a little too far South for the purple crop.   Oops.

Bruno, our innkeeper, recommended we stay around the area for Saturday and hit the lavender on our way home back to Geneva, since we’d need to pass by it to get home.   Gabe said he could visibly see me getting anxious as he listed all the little non-lavender producing hill towns we could see near Saint Rémy.   Anyhow, we decided to start with some of his recommendations, the first being Les Baux de Provence, and see how the day progressed from there.   It was just a ten minute drive south of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, so we headed off.

As we approached, we could see the settlement high on the mountaintop.   The range in this area of Provence is called Les Alpilles, or mini Alps.   Les-Baux-de-Provence sits on the top of one of these rock spurs.  On a clear day, it is said you can see all the way to the Carmargue, the mouth of the Rhone.

Approaching Les-Baux-de-Provence

The town was really beautiful and we got there early enough to beat the tour buses.  Apparently, they start coming in after 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning.

The architecture reflected the different civilizations that ruled over the town

The history of life on the rock dates back to 6000 B.C.    During the Middle Ages, the kingdom was quite powerful.   However, the Baux lords’ reign ended in the 1400’s and the town was ruled by the Grimaldis, of Monaco, from then on.   Actually, while we were there, the town was hosting a Princess Grace photo exhibition.

If you are interesting in learning more about the history of Les Baux de Provence, Schwingen in Switzerland has an excellent post entitled We Didn’t Know the Valley of Hell Was So Beautiful.  They also visited the castle, which we did not do, so you can get tips from their visit as well.

Streets of Les Baux

Morning skies over Les Baux

Walls of Les Baux

A few of the valley

Les Baux was built directly into the rock

A lovely square in Les Baux

A downward view of the streets

Gabe at the gate

Les Baux is worth a stop – make sure you hit it early to beat the crowds.

Le Quatorze Juillet: Bastille Day

As I mentioned, when we booked our trip to Provence, it didn’t occur to us that it was the Bastille Day holiday weekend.    Bastille Day is known as La Fête Nationale.  The equivalent would be our 4th of July Independence Day.

I am sure Paris it must have been nuts, but it ended up being a nice time to visit Provence and the countryside for us.   It’s always fun to see how another culture celebrates.

As we mentioned yesterday on the blog, we witnessed lively music & the running of the bull (singular) in the town square on Friday night, the eve of the holiday.   Saturday night, we had heard there would be fireworks for le quatorze.  Since we missed them living in Geneva for the 4th of July, we looked forward to celebrating with the French for their Independence.

For the evening of le quatorze juillet, we strolled around town a little bit and then had a divine dinner at La Maison Jaune.

St. Rémy in the early evening

Our table on the terrace at La Maison Jaune.  We could hear the music in the square that prefaced the fireworks. 

We concluded dinner with perfect timing at 10:00pm, the time the fireworks were due to start.   We had a general concept of where to walk to view them display, but ended up bumping into a walking parade so we just joined in.  We figured it would be simple enough to find them that way!

Everyone was dressed in their red, white and blue.   The children were dressed adorably, proudly holding their paper lanterns.   Paper lanterns are quite commonly carried for European holidays.  We saw our first last year on la premiere aout, Switzerland’s Independence Day.

We strolled along with the crowd, enjoying watching the celebrations:

When we reached the stadium / park, it was just in time for the commencement of the feu d’artifice (fireworks in French).   We found a nice spot on the edge of the sidewalk and enjoyed.   The show blasted in conjunction with Whitney Houston music, which we found to be a very entertaining addition.     All in all, it was a very nice fireworks show.   Not as big as Geneva’s hour long Fête de Genève production, but a very nice showing for a small town such as Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Fireworks for Bastille Day

This is now the third “Independence Day” we have seen!!   We are grateful for the experience to have witnessed it.

A belated Joyeux Bastille Day to all our French readers !

St. Rémy and the Running of the Bull

We have just returned from a lovely trip to Provence.   Don’t tell Italy but the South of France is quickly climbing up my all-time favorites list.    As you recall, we traveled to Provence & Cote d’Azur back in April with Gabe’s parents.   However, this time, it was one of our honey funds – a long weekend “honeymoon” that people had given us for our wedding present.

Little did we know that the weekend we selected was actually a French holiday.  Saturday, July 14th was Bastille Day.   This ended up being a plus as we got to experience another culture’s way of celebration.  What’s not to love about that?

We arrived into Saint-Rémy-de-Provence around 9:45pm after a four hour drive from Geneva.  Gabe unfortunately had to work a little bit when we got there but I occupied myself with exploring the grounds of our lovely little B & B, La Maison de Françoise.

Around 11:00, we headed into the town square to grab a drink and check out the nightlife.

Streets of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

The city was quite romantic at night

We passed a view nice cafés, but decided to continue to walk along  to get our bearings with the size  & layout of the town.    It became easy to select which way to go as we heard music playing.  We eagerly walked towards it to find out what was happening.

We noticed some barricades between where the music was and where we had approached the square.   Hmmm.   Some people were even sitting on the side of the barricades.   Perhaps a parade had just happened?    Some people walked through them so we followed, squeezing through the gaps.

Hmm. What are the bars for?

A lively band was playing fun music in the square.    It was fun to watch the expressions as they created the melodies for all the townspeople. They were certainly very much into their performance and delighting the crowd.

The band was a fun surprise.

After listening to the music, I noticed that the streets had cleared a bit.   A loudspeaker announced something in French that I interpreted as “stand back”.   Gabe laughed at me and said I was being silly but I pointed to everyone who was lined up behind bars.   We only saw a few teenage guys lingering in the streets.  Maybe troublemakers?

We moved back behind bars and then I noticed this sign:

Our second clue.

Wait….were the barricades for…bulls?

I was excited.  I had always wanted to see the running of the bulls!!   I was imagining the scenes I’d seen from Spanish photographs of bulls stampeding around the streets and people running.

Sure enough, they came over the loudspeaker again (this time I was able to translate better) and announced that everyone should get behind bars.  The few teenage guys continued to stand in the street, looking macho.

The same band, whom had ascended into a conveniently located flat-bad truck, continued their music, safely out of range.  Revelers strategically selected their photo positions.   And, Moms put their pack-n-plays on the roofs of concession stands:

At least the kid was safe on top of the concession stand

We awaited the appearance of the bull…

Gabe says I don’t look pleased in this photo. I was just ready for the bulls…

And then……………

……………………….one bull.

Yup, just one.

He ran around town while the guys taunted him.   We kept waiting for more to be released and something else to occur, but it never happened.

This will go down as the day we saw the running of the bull.  Singular.

For the video, check out:

Other St. Rémy recommendations:

We loved La Maison de Francoise, our little B & B.   More to come on the blog about this lovely little estate.

Dinner at La Maison Jaune was fabulous – provençal cooking with fresh organic fruits and vegetables

The parade on Bastille Day was quite cute.  Check out tomorrow’s post for more.

The disappearing act….Mont Blanc

One of my favorite pastimes is taking photos of Mont Blanc from Geneva.   It only shows 10% of the time so because of the cloud cover.

Here are a few of the times that I have “captured” it:

Taken in October 2011 at a photo group session at Château de Penthes

Taken while painting the left bank. You have to look hard to spot it.

Taken from the window of my foot surgeons exam office, March 2012. Now I know where my money is going…the view!

Taken on a train around Nyon in June 2012

Taken from a train near Versoix Switzerland in June 2012

My best photo yet…taken from a boat outside Nyon in June 2012

After I got the last boat photo, I think I’ll retire for awhile at Mt Blanc photo hunting.   My conclusion is it is much easier to capture this magnificent mountain from the Nyon area as there is a more direct & clear view.

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog – Route Blanche and the Mt Blanc Tunnel

The Swiss Watch Blog – Gratitude Friday: Witnessing Something Truly Majestic

Schwingen in Switzerland – Mt. Blanc – the Tallest Mountain in the Alps 

The Swiss Watch Blog – In Winter Wonder with Pascal and Giselle

Just how expensive is Switzerland?

Someone recently asked me “how expensive is Switzerland?”.   Well, an article this year named Zurich as the #1 most expensive city in the world.  Geneva ranked at #3.  Just to put it in perspective, New York City is 47th.

I thought I would showcase some examples.

You think US gas is expensive?  I see all your Facebook posts.  Well, it costs us over 125 francs (150 USD) to fill our car up.

462 CHF = 500 USD.   Our yearly TV tax.  Nope, this doesn’t include cable.  Just for the privilege of watching TV or signing up to pay 100 CHF / month more in basic cable.  You don’t even have to have a TV to get taxed….it covers radio too.

Getting your hair done. Gabe pays 85 francs for a men’s cut. This is like 93 USD. One time, he accidentally got a senior stylist and it was over 105 francs. I have a friend who got highlights at the same salon – 350 francs!!!

When people leave their paper & cardboard on the curb, they put it in a Louis Vitton bag.

Drink menu at a bar near our house, prices around 17-19 CHF.  Add 10% for the price of the Swiss franc, and you are spending a cool 20 spot for one drink.

12.70 CHF = about 14 USD for a Medium Value Meal at McDonalds.

The average window sign in Geneva.  These prices are not unusual on Rue du Rhone: Dress 2230 CHF, Bag 1280 CHF, Scarf 330 CHF, Ties 220 or 180 CHF, Shirt 1500 CHF and Pants 1330 CHF.

One of my favorite sources for expensive deals is Glocals, which is like our Living Social or Groupon.

I know these little Roombas are expensive in the US, but I think its only 200 USD. Here, half off, they are 400 CHF!!

What a deal!!! Half off: Only 69 francs (75 USD) for a mani / pedi!!! I used to pay 25 or 30 USD for both, full price.   Let’s just say I have also never paid to have my nails done here.

How do we live in such a city?  

Here, we only eat out once a week.   Back in the States, we ate out 5-8 times a week between lunch and dinners.   However, the average meal out at a low to mid-range restaurant with a glass of wine costs 80 CHF.  A nice place is 200 CHF.     So, thus the cut-back.

We eat less meat. It’s 3-4 times the prices of the US.  So we have more vegetarian meals.

We don’t buy any clothes here.   The extent of our purchases are a H & M furry hat for me when it was -20 degrees and a pair of boxers that were half off for Gabe.

We don’t buy “stuff”.  The desire is less great here (both their less commercialized way of life and the fact we don’t understand all the ads), but we make due with what we have.  We never go out just to shop or pick up something because it looks cool.

Pretty much, we spend all our disposable income on groceries and travel.  All in all, we don’t actually mind this change in lifestyle.  It will be interesting to see how this changes or stays the same when we return home.

Gratitude Friday: Lots of Profits

In physical therapy this week, my physio asked if I was going to the pool or beach that evening.  I replied I had lots to do.  Ironing.  Laundry.  Grocery shopping. Some marketing work.  To which he responded, “Il fait beau…profitez!”

The verb profiter in French sounds like it would mean profit.  My American perception immediately associated it with money / business.   However, the French tend to use it like “Enjoy” “Benefit” or “Thrive”.   Which is in fact, a better definition of a profit.

I love crossing things off my to-do list.  So doing things spontaneously can be challenging.  But, I was inspired and started thinking about where’d I’d go jump in the lake.

Unfortunately, the stormy skies rolled in which prevented a dip that night.   However, I took his advice to heart and decided I would profiter that week.    At the women’s club welcome coffee on Wednesday, I announced I’d like to see the sunflowers up close.  We had gotten a glimpse of them on the train to Montreux. Miles of them. And they looked marvelous to behold up-close.   A friend replied, “Ooo. I have wanted to do that as well.  I’ll drive”.   And that was that.   We were set to profiter of this glorious Geneva summer.

We set off at 7:30 from Geneva armed with my iPhone map but no real plan.  We had asked around to find the best place for sunflowers but our initial recommendation for Collonge Bellerive didn’t yield any yellow quite yet.   In driving out to Jussy though, we were overwhelmed with beautiful fields, dozens and dozens.  The best was across the street from Château du Crest, a winery we’ve been too a few times.   We tried to head back to Geneva twice but got deviated by even better fields & vantage points.

Here is evidence of our profiting :

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So, I ask you….how do you plan to profiter this week-end?    Bon weekend, everyone!

*If you decide to go take photos of any sunflowers or any crop, it is wise to wear long pants.  Just take it from me.  My legs didn’t profit too much after traipsing through the fields 🙂

Bella Burano, Mediocre Murano

When I return to a city I’ve been before, I like to try to do some completely new activities to keep it fresh.    For our trip to Venice, I researched the possibility of taking an excursion to the neighboring islands, Burano & Murano.

Image courtesy of Christopher’s Expat Adventure

It is nice that the 48 hour vaporetti pass we bought enabled us to take the boats out to the islands for free.   Line 12 goes to Burano, and there are 3 vaporetti that go to Murano, Line 3, 4.1 and 4.2.

We decided to start in Burano.  Burano is known for it’s lace-making and colorful buildings.  It was about an hour trip from Ferrovia Station in Venice, which was right beside our hotel of choice, Boscolo Bellini.   We were both hot messes when we docked in Burano, since the temperatures were in the low 90s with 90% humidity.

It was worth it though.   I soon forgot it was hot as we kept uncovering more colors.  There were lots of audible gasps from me.  Gabe commented that if my aunt A had come, there would have been ten times the number of gasps.

In fact, tvery alleyway was adorned with a bright splash.  Check out the slide show below to see a sampling of the colors:

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In Burano, we stopped at an adorable restaurant, Riva Rosa, for a delicious fresh sea bream lunch.  They grill the whole fish, along with vegetables, and filet it for you table side.  The service was very good and we were happy with our selection.    It was perfect way to recuperate from the temperatures for a bit.

After lunch, we continued to Murano, which is known for glass.  We were both exhausted and hot after a half hour, so it didn’t get the same attention from us that Burano got.  Which could be a function of doing it second, but honestly, the Murano glass shops seem to blend together after while.

One benefit of visiting the islands, is that aside from the crowded vaporetti, these places were less crowded than the streets of Venice.  Venice can make me claustrophobic with its hoards of tourists.   Not that I am suggesting Murano or Burano aren’t frequented by the tourists….it just seems to be more peaceful* than centre city Venice.

We did happen to get one shot in Murano with a piece of art in a main square

We started a new habit of buying a small thing for our home from the places we travel so that we can remember the trips we did during our time in Europe.   We ended up with a beautiful Burano lace piece that is used for serving bread, as well as 6 Murano cocktail glasses (one of which is orange/maroon — Hokie colored!!).    We hope to have you over some day to enjoy them with us.

 

*If you go to Venice, please make sure to try to visit the quiet neighborhoods off the beaten path.  They are much more quaint and you can get a feel for how the Venetians live on a day to day basis.  There are also lots of shady alley ways that can provide some relief from Italy’s scorching summer sun too.

 

We witnessed a world record

When we were in Venice, I wanted to show everyone St. Marks Square.  When R and I went back in 2007, we loved sitting in the square at night, listening to dueling orchestras and enjoying a $20 ice cream.

So, we headed to St. Marks on a vaporetti (bus  / boat ) from our hotel.    Vaporettis are great direct and affordable transportation in Venice.  They also allow you to see the canals.   But in the summer, they can be hot and crowded.  We were in need of some refreshment immediately after docking, so we had a round of drinks across from Doges Palace before heading towards the area.

Me with a Bellini. Gabe & Solid with Spritz’s. Twin with water.

However, when we approached St. Mark’s, all we saw was orange.

Aperol set-up in St. Marks Square

Aperol was hosting “The biggest Spritz toast” in St. Marks Square.  You could simply just walk up, get a free tee-shirt, and join in with free Spritz’s.  We were tempted.  But it looked crowded.  That is how you know you are getting old…turning down free Spritz’s because of not wanting to be in a crowd.

Revelers waiting for their Spritz

A Spritz is 3 parts Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), 2 parts Aperol, and 1 part club soda.   They are usually served with an orange slice.  Sometimes, they are served with a yummy olive too.    This mainly happens in Italy.

Gabe always orders a Spritz for an aperitif when we go out to our favorite Italian place in Geneva, Luigia.

Announcing the world record

The moment everyone was waiting on (or not really waiting on, some people had empty glasses by then)

Cue: launch the confetti canons

The sky was all orange confetti

Congrats, Spritz, on your world record.