France 2016 - Saturday, October 08 - Avignon by way of St. Paul De Vence, Aix en Provence, and Chateauneuf Du Pape

Day 9: Journey Through Picturesque Provence to Avignon

Visit the medieval village of St-Paul-de-Vence, perched high above the Riviera beaches.  A walk through its winding streets reveals elegant fountains, vine-covered stone walls and views of mountains and sea.  Continue to Aix-en-Provence to see the sumptuous mansions lining the Cours Mirabeau, before continuing to the pretty village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Enjoy a wonderful introduction to the famous wine, taste the difference for yourself and learn about the various grape varieties that are allowed in the final blend of the prestigious Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine.  Journey on to Avignon for the next three nights.  Hotel: Avignon Grand Hotel, Avignon.  Buffet Breakfast, Dinner.


There was a remarkably pretty sunset over the water at breakfast in Nice today.  Everyone got out their cameras to take pictures of the sun rising over the water.

After we let Nice on our way to our next destination, we stopped at another walled city, St-Paul-de-Vence.  It was yet another walled city, and which is now a super expensive artist community, a getaway in the mountains for the rich of Nice.  It was fine, but not especially any more remarkable than any other walled city.  By this point it was getting well and truly old, though each was supposed to have some claim to interest.  For this town in particular it was the cemetery at the top of it with Mark Chagal, some artist I’ve heard of but don’t care about and couldn’t pick a piece of his art out of a line up or now for that matter be entirely certain what media he worked in if pressed to answer the question.  It was here at the garish tomb studded cemetery, the kind in which it seems they’re worried about vampires rising from the dead, requiring them to put heavy stones over the bodies with big stone crosses, or little stone houses to house whole families of dead, that Joyce and I talked about burial.  

She likes my idea of being buried in a cardboard box with a tree planted over top of me, so I nourish the tree and have it serve as a living monument to me.  Both embalming and a heavy casket are ridiculous.  You’re dead.  Accept it.  Also, Neil degrasse Tyson clued me in that with cremation, through combustion, most of the energy of your matter is released into the atmosphere, when then largely bleeds out into space.  Therefore, I would prefer to rot in the ground, happily returning the matter of my body back to the earth from which it came.  That is of course, assuming that having my body shot out into the interstellar void and free of the sun’s gravity forever like the Voyager spacecrafts, to possibly be someday cloned by an advanced alien race eons from now, is not an option.  As for the more practical burial, I’ll have to find out where you can do this.  I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of it at some point so it must be a thing somewhere, though I also mused about starting the company myself, finding the land, getting permits and whatnot, and have that be the thing I do with my life.  The burial ceremony itself would be people actually planting the tree together and remembering the person.  Sounds nice to me, and that’s what I’d like.  Joyce agrees.

It was here that I gave up on finding perfectly matching bottle openers.  All I could find was a keychain bottle opener which I later discovered doesn’t even work, though more recently I got another one anyways.  After all I’m really not getting them to be useful tools.  

Walking the streets of the town we saw a guy with an electric street vacuum cleaner wandering around sucking up garbage.  It was funny to see, but also the kind of thing you’re surprised you’ve never seen before.

There were a lot of the plants growing over the old stone buildings.  I really like that look.  I want a stone house with vine-y plants growing all over the exterior for myself when I grow up.

There was this one sculpture in particular in one of the galleries which I found very moving.  It was a poor boy in a sort of sailor suit with a ragged luggage looking so incredibly sad and longing.  He looked like he was waiting for someone or something that had never and would never come.  I identified with it and I wished I could have it.

We also saw a figure of a red cow which was larger than me, complete with a giant head, gun, large pointy breast, and even a vagina even though it appeared to be wearing some sort of pants.  It was obviously some sort of long lost relative of the red man I had Joyce take a picture of me with while we were in Venice.

From there we went to Aix-en-Provence, which was… uneventful.  There was a large fountain in the middle of a roundabout where we were dropped off in front of a very out of place looking apple store.  We didn’t really do a lot of exploring; it was really a glorified lunch stop.  We walked up the restaurant row.  We were told that it was a big student town, and we sure did see a lot of students about.  It was curiously interesting and amusing to see groups of boys and girls do the triple cheek kiss one after another after another when a whole group met up together.  Sometimes it was the full kiss on the cheek, but usually it was more that they’d touch each other’s cheeks and make a kissing sound.  

Apparently all of the original courts of appeal in France were once in Aix, and now law is the primary faculty at the university there, and secondarily arts and language studies.  Pretty much everywhere we go Mark says is a university town, which makes sense given that university is free.  This is poo-pooed a lot, but the thing is that they still have to pay for their own room and board, and a third of them drop out in the first year, and another third in the second year.  It’s good I think that everyone at least has the chance to try though.  

It was in Aix that I accidentally ordered the 1664 Blanc, which was super fruity and I didn’t like at all.  We were at a place which claimed to be an Irish bar.  We finally settled on going there for lunch after we pottied and dashed at another restaurant (well Joyce did), and I had found a bottle opener at a gift shop store.  Joyce had a Guinness and enjoyed it far more than I did my beer.  I had a bruschetta pizza they called it, and it was good.  Mushroom and ham on a pretty crispy yet doughy bread.  I mused again about how here you’re given a knife and fork to eat pizza and it’s rarely cut for you, but in North America you’re some sort of barbarian if you eat it with a knife and fork.  

Afterwards, back in the main square by the large fountain and the out of place glass encased Apple store, I tried to use a toilet which was supposed to be self-cleaning, an oval shaped chamber which fully sprays itself down between uses.  I watched as other people before me put money into it.  It laughed at them indifferently and they finally gave up.  I immediately approached after they had left, plopped my fifty euro cents in, and it laughed at me as well.  I tried everything I could think of, but there were no buttons or coin return handles or anything, and eventually I gave up as well.  We met back up with the group and took off again on the coach.

After some more driving after leaving Aix-en-Provence, we were brought to a wine tasting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  This winery seemed much more industrial as opposed to the artisanal feel I got from Phillipe.  Phillipe foot stomped his wine and stored it in regular French oak barrels, while Châteauneuf-du-Pape had huge industrial (though still wood) barrels and I doubt anything was personally stomped.  We were explained wine tasting by a good man named Jean-Daniel.  He was very soft spoken and seemed like a sweet guy; Joyce said she just wanted to give him a hug.  He explained the super basics of wine tasting and I found that extremely helpful.  I’m getting more and more used to wine, and although I still don’t know if I’ll ever actually enjoy it, I appreciate knowing more about it and how those who appreciate it do and why.  

It’s like how since I’m a cook, I still want to know how to cook and use ingredients well even if I don’t like them myself; I still want to know about them and how they ARE enjoyed by those who enjoy them.  Apparently this region uses up to 18 varieties of grapes, but they are all blends based around the primary use of one particular variety.  Jena-Daniel taught us about legs and how in France they’re referred to as ‘tears’ because they’re romantics.  Joyce and I both agree that this is much better than legs.  We learned how to gently roll the wine around the glass without agitating it to look for the tears which spoke to the viscosity which showed the alcohol content.  We then took a deep smell, and then another after swirling and agitating it.  Since, a couple times I have done this I have actually been able to tell the difference in the smell before and after the agitation.  I was pleased to learn that I can pick out the different notes in the scent pretty effectively.  We were also told about the colour at the perimeter of red wine, when held against a white background.  I don’t really remember what we’re supposed to look for, but apparently this is a way to gauge the approximate age of a wine.  The wine was okay, though again I preferred the white to the red.  Of course my liking it is still just a comment on how badly it doesn’t taste as opposed to actually finding that it tastes good in any way.  Regardless, the more I drink, the more I learn about it, the more I have an appreciation for it all, and the more easily I can drink it.  So that was that.

After that we got into Avignon and had a dinner at the hotel.  We had some time between arriving at our hotel and what time dinner was, so I took the opportunity to go out alone in search of a grocery store for some more supplies, namely beer, Coke Light, and more of those cups of noodles.  I walked down the exterior of the city wall for a bit hoping to happen across one, but when I didn’t I looked in Google Maps on my phone for a nearby grocery store.  A Carre-Four conveniently showed up pretty nearby (a brand I’d learned to trust at this point), and I headed off there.  It was convenience store sized, Carre-Four apparently has these little ones as well as the giant full sized stores like the one I’d been in a couple days earlier.  I got two six packs of beer bottles, one 1664 the other Heineken, two one-point-five litre Coke Lights (they didn’t have caffeine free at this one), 2 cup of soups, and I found another garlic and herb ham wrapped bourson.  Score.  Got it all, put it in the Carre-Four fabric bag I’d remembered to bring with me this time (all bags are pay here), and although it was heavy, I figured it would be fine since I wasn’t going that far after all.  

I set the navigation on my phone back to our hotel, thinking it would show me how to get back there by a more direct route than I’d come.  However, when I neared my destination it became ever clearer that this was not the ‘Grand’ hotel I was looking for.  So now I was lost.  Great.  Although I turned out to be wrong, I believed that the hotel key card was totally blank.  In reality it just had the writing with the address and everything hidden given how I had slid it in my passport wallet.  I texted Joyce ‘So… I’m lost.’ and asked her to provide the address of the hotel.   By the time I’d heard back from her I’d already found the proper hotel in Google Maps (having double checked it was where it should be on the larger map) and headed there.  I passed another closer Carre-Four on the way back.  When I got home Joyce hugged me and was very happy to see me.  I was the hunter come home.  It seemed a much bigger deal to her that I’d gotten lost than it did to me.  I would have found my way home eventually, but having a world map in my pocket with an on foot navigation function allowed me to make it back in time for our dinner.

We had a goat cheese and cherry tomato tart (YOU’RE a… TARTE.), topped with spring mix which they call rocket.  Well, actually I’ve come to believe that rocket is one of the constituents of spring mix.  Anyways, it was really good, somewhat like the tart Joyce had had days earlier.  We then had filet of gilthead bream with ratatouille and basil cream sauce.  Very good.  The fish was very mild and the basil cream sauce was a nice soft flavor which complimented it quite nicely.  It was deboned though I got one bone, no big deal though.  It was also still skin on, also not a big deal though, since it came off so easily. 

At this dinner Ronald got us to sing again, but at least I knew the songs we sang this time.  New York, New York turned out pretty well given the general lack of enthusiasm towards the singing, and it was the second song we sung.  The first song we sung however, was All You Need is Love, and it was absolutely atrocious.  Everyone knew the chorus but were completely lost on the verses.  After that Ronald collected the songbooks.  I suspect there was an alarming attrition of people ‘forgetting’ or ‘losing’ their sheets.  

For dessert, oh man the desert.  AMAZING, like best of the trip amazing.  It was a sort of hard chocolate shell pyramid embedded with sugar over a thin brownie base, and inside were three different kinds of chocolate mousse, one white, one milk, and the third dark.  Quite simply the best dessert I had over there, possibly ever.

Also, my foot still hurts.  A lot.