If you’re brave you can view our photos. Warning: do not view when hungry!
This was our fourth day of skipping a run, since we woke up in Sete and it’s very congested and hilly with no good paths out. Plus, we took a nice long walk in the morning to the fish market, and then up to the Musee Paul Valery, where I went to his gravesite. That means I can write off my trip for poetry research right?? It was a nice morning, and we left town at about noon to head to our next spot, in Spain, Cadaques, which was about 2.5 hours away.
As soon as Isabelle my French tutor showed me the first picture of Cadaques, I knew I wanted to go there. It is a little seaside village with lots of artists, she said, and it has the home of Salvador Dali. So we headed out of Sete on the beach road, past the areas where I used to go sunning when I spent a summer at the Universite de Paul Valery in Montpellier in 1989. It was a cloudy and windy day, but we got our feet wet in the Mediterranean before heading off to the autoroute.
As we drove we spotted license plates, Italy, Fance, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, Romania, and, finally, a semi truck from Hungary. John joked that they were shipping in Vizslas. I can see why they would they are such sweeties! Just ask Autumn and Jeff, who are sleeping with our Vizslas in the bed as I type!
We got off the freeway at Figures, and passed the touristy beach towns that Isabelle had warned me about. The resort town of Roses looked just like Nueva Vallarta in Mexico, which is to say, it was to be skipped. To get to Cadaques one must brave a mountainous 2 lane 12 km road that then drops into an idyllic cove of white-washed buildings with red tiled roofs and blue shutters—it looks like Greek islands. Well worth the drive, and we were so happy we passed the resort towns as Isabelle had advised.
We headed straight for the beach where we had tapas right on the water. Some razor clams, gorgeous olives, and potatoes. Then we walked around for some sightseeing until John felt a nap coming on, and we returned to the hotel where he took a siesta and I wrote a little bit, catching up on a few days of the blog. When he woke up, we walked some more. There are tiny pathways with restaurants along either side, and we tucked into one and had some cervezas, and the waitress brought us some free octopus ceviche. Yum! It was pretty hilarious because they were playing the Spain show with Gwenyth Paltrow and Mario Batalli on TV. Isn’t that redundant? I thought. Finally, we found another seaside restaurant and had Tapas and Sangria again overlooking the water. It was so delightful, and we both commented how we would love to spend more time in this seaside village. Like maybe a year or two?
I’m taking wagers as to how much weight I have gained on the trip. What’s your guess? Day 11 of lots of eating and no access to my home gym or running coach Dean or swimming coach Julyann! We have run every day except for 3 (once because I forgot to set the alarm, once when the roads were way too steep, and once due to the tour), but we have been eating so differently than we do at home. Not poorly or massively. We always share dishes. But let’s say my shorts are a little tight in the seat. I’m guessing 5 pounds so far?
So I insisted that we start the morning with a 3 mile run. Not a ton of miles, since we don’t want to be totally wasted for the rest of the day. But the Chateau Barben happened to be 1.5 miles out, so we ran to it and back, then we skipped breakfast.
We headed towards Les Baux, which was touted as one of the most beautiful Medieval rampart cities. It was a lovely drive through the foothills of the Alpinnes mountains. We went through several cute small towns. At Les Baux, we paid the requisite however much it cost to park. At this point we are hemorrhaging Euros, so who keeps track? Every little thing costs about 5 Euros—crossing a bridge, parking the car, going through a tunnel. I’ll add it up when I get home.
We walked up to the town, and it did have gorgeous views, but John said, “I’m a little toured out” and I had to agree. We looked at some of the sights, then hit the road for St Remy de Provence, where Van Gogh fell in love with a whore and went mad. That should cheer anyone up!
In St Remy we walked around a bit and ate our first meal of the day at 1 pm—John had a lovely Steak Tartare and I had a Tagliotelli Carbonara. When John ordered his meal, the server looked at me and said, in French, “Does he know that’s raw meat?” “Oui.” I said. They must have had some people turn it away. The meal was so delicious that we were immediately ready for a nap! But we had an hour drive to Sete to our hotel. John is a real trooper with the driving. He’s doing such a good job. We hopped down to the fishing village of Sete, to our hotel in the middle of town. Our room overlooked the harbor where we watched the boats go back and forth for a moment, then we fell fast asleep. When we woke up we were ready for a tour. We walked along the Quai, where there was a boat-jousting fight that was fun to see. Soon we chose a restaurant and had a light dinner of shellfish and calamari. Then it was back to bed again.
So when we decided we wanted to see the tour, my French tutor Isabelle called a recommended hotel near the Tour stage we wanted to see and asked for availability. The person who answered the phone laughed at her. Literally. That’s when we knew we would have to drive to see it, no matter what. The hotel we found near Salon de Provence was about an hour away, but even so, the 3 Italian men at the table next to us at dinner were clearly going to see the Tour also. So we did not do so badly. Plus, we went out early, caught a coffee and a tarte in Salon, then followed the route to Mormoiron, the site of the 50 K sprint mark on the deciding stage.
As we got closer to the town, we started seeing signs that said “Le Tour de France,” and we started seeing cars with bikes, and folks with bikes. We even saw our 3 Italian men from the night before pedaling along the route. We could see Mt Ventoux in the distance, the imposing presence of the last big climb. As we entered the town, there were people parked all along the route—it was like tailgating. They had tables and chairs and books and cards and televisions. We parked at a nearby soccer field, and started walking in to town. We had only 4 hours to wait for the riders.
We walked around, bought a baguette, and found a spot in the shade next to a nice French couple who had obviously done this routine before—they had blankets to hang over the barricade, and they had a whole picnic lunch in a cooler. I asked them where they lived and they said very nearby, but that this was the best place for them to watch the action. Soon the masses started arriving, jockeying for spots, and we staked ours out right near the sprint line. A Norwegian family took up right across the course, and started early on with the “Thor Heshovd” theme that would become the day’s cheer. A few people asked me if I was Norwegian too. One man, when I told him I was American, didn’t really get it. I guess that’s a far way to come—farther than Norway surely.
Soon the Caravan started—it’s like a parade with all the team sponsors throwing junk into the crowd. John caught a bottle of Vittel, which we drank. I caught a packet of laundry soap, which I gave to the little French lady behind me because, I told her, it would be too hard to take it all the way aux Etats-Unis. It was fun screaming at the cars as they went by. Plus, we had an extra distraction—a fire on Mt. Ventoux precipitated the need for airborne water drops and massive fire trucks to pass over the route. So at one point the trucks came rolling up the course on their way to fight the fire, and we saw the water planes above, up to 10 at a time, back and forth to fight the fire.
I always thought we would hear the Tour helicopters before we saw the riders, but it wasn’t so. Our area was heavily shaded, so I imagine the helicopters bi-passed town. We heard the police bikes first, then the crowd, then passed the breakaway group! It happened to fast I’m not even certain if we saw Thor Heshovd or not, but the Norwegians were still cheering. That’s a hearty bunch. There was an extended French family next to us, and grandpa told the kids, “C’est finis!” or, “It’s finished!” and they huffed with disappointment, then laughed when they realized the joke.
Then we waited for what felt like an hour, but it was really only about 3 minutes. Then the “maillot jaune” group arrived—with Lance passing an arm’s length in front of me! It was so fast I had to play it back on video to actually appreciate it. You cna see the video here. That was a lot of work for a little bit of excitement. But well worth it. We hurried back to the car and hopped in, braved the traffic, and made it back to a little brasserie in Mazan to have a beer and watch the finish. On the way there, we listened on the radio as the commentators talked about the “little Schleck” and the “big Schleck” making their various plays. I translated for John as much as I could—they were talking kind of fast.
So all in all it was a thrilling day. We stopped briefly in Avignon and took a walk through the walled city. Then we had a lovely pizza & salad (our Nello’s fix) in Salon de Provence, before going back to the hotel and falling straight to sleep.
If yesterday was Trish’s bad today, today was Trish’s good day. We woke up without an alarm (thank heavens) and drove to Cassis, a town on the Mediterranean that looks a lot like La Jolla. When we first started driving we were both a little ruffled and nervous, but we parked in Cassis and all was fine. I even taught John a little trick for parallel parking on a hill with a stick shift—slowly releasing the emergency brake as you engage the reverse gear. Not sure if Dad taught me that, or if he would be horrified that I would do that to a vehicle. Anyhow, the technique served me well parking my Toyota on the hilly streets of Cincinnati, and it allowed John to take the last spot available in Cassis.
So Cassis was delightful. We walked around enjoying the boats, the little restaurants, the beach, and the market. We bought some sausage and cheese from a Corsican merchant whose family lives in Phoenix and who has visited there several times. He was so nice. And his cheese was so good. We bought some tapenade, some bread, and some nectarines, and planned to have a lovely picnic in our next stop: Aix-en-Provence.
Soon we drove to Aix, parked, and started wandering around. I had always heard about how beautiful it was there but I never did make it there when I lived in France, so we were very happy to be there. We were hungry, so we had our picnic on a bench in front of the fountain. We were both on the bench when a woman came to ask if she could sit with us. So we scooted a bit to make room. At some point during the meal, she noticed that I did not have a napkin, so she gave me one. I thanked her and we started chatting. She was from Marrakesh, Morocco, so I told her we have a good friend who is from Morocco, Lachen—a very fast runner and a pediatric psych nurse. She told me she was a professor in Marrakesh and she was in town to teach a one month course in finance. We had such a lovely chat.
We talked about economics, and politics, (thanks for your patience John while I spoke French!) and she then took my hand. She gave me her ring! A beautiful silver ring with an orange stone. And we promised to write to each other. It was such a nice contrast to the events of the previous evening.
Then John and I made our way to the Musee Garnet, where there was an art exhibit highlighting the influences of Cezanne on Picasso. It was one of the most interesting exhibits we have seen. There were several Cezanne paintings, then Picasso paintings on the same theme. Cezanne’s father was a hat maker, so he had so many very literally portraits of a man in a hat with a pipe. Then you would see Picasso’s take on the theme—a man with a hat and a pipe but drawn with severe lines and angles. I loved seeing Picasso’s early studies in perspective—it was very clear how long it took for him to develop his angular style. I especially enjoyed Picasso’s paintings of his Dalmatian in front of the china cabinet in his chateau in Provence.
So we were on kind of a high note after seeing that exhibit. We wandered through the beautiful streets of Aix, then decided it was time to get to the hotel. We had chosen a tiny Inn on a quiet back road—a good contrast to Marseille. We needed to get as close to possible to the Tour, because tomorrow we would spend all day waiting to see the split-second passing of the cyclists.
We arrived in La Barben to a beautiful little Inn with a shaded patio. We checked into our room and took a nap. When we woke up we went down for dinner and had a lovely dinner of Red Mullet, Rabbit, Cheeses, and raspberry cake. A much better day by far.
Trish’s bad day. It started early, with me feeling very sad. I have been having days like this since my mom died—simply weeping. On this vacation everywhere I look there are families, and I keep hearing the words mommy, and daughter, and it makes me feel overwhelmed with the idea of my own mother being gone. I’m sure it’s hard for anyone. People have said everything there is to say—all the right things. But my mom’s death brought up some long-buried sorrow, and it won’t go away soon. So I was a little weepy already over breakfast, and John was his usual wonderful self trying to calm my nerves. We had 500 km to drive from Beynac to Marseille, and I was not looking forward to it. Plus we had such a lovely time with the Hinckleys that it was really hard to leave.
So we set off with the GPS and promptly got ourselves a little lost. Nothing Samantha said matched the signs in front of us. We were trying to get to Rocamador, which John wanted to see instead of taking the main freeway. Samantha kept insisting we go one way, but the signs suggested something else. So after about a 10 km detour, we were back on track and did find the hilly, swervy country roads that led us to the unique town of Rocamador. It was a truly beautiful town nestled into a canyon.
We continued driving, about 4 more hours. It makes me a little punchy driving that long. So we stopped in Arles to stretch our legs and we saw a beautiful Roman coliseum that I visited 20 years ago when I passed through town when I spent a summer session at Universite de Paul Valery.
Finally we approached Marseille, after such a long and tiring drive. We got to the place I had rented, and it was more rustic than had been promised. Immediately I wanted to leave, but John suggested we try to stick it out since we would not be there long. We went into Marseille’s Vieux Port and toured around and ate some dinner. We noted that the area seemed less posh than some we had been in. On the drive home, just after dark, we passed through a beautiful intersection with four ornate and stately buildings forming a square. I wanted to take a picture, but John admonished that I should not open my car windows. It was indicative of how we felt in Marseille.
Then, next thing we knew, we were at the next stop light and my car door flew open. I did not understand what was happening until I heard John screaming “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Suddenly, in my lap was the helmet of a motorbiker who had seen our Spain license plates and decided he wanted my GPS and purse. John and I had thought all along that the car had auto locks—I swear they had locked by themselves before, though now I know they had not.
So when my car door opened, there in my lap was the helmet of a motorbiker who had his grimy paws on my body and on my purse, which was lodged in between the seat and center console. John continued to scream while he also did a masterful job of clenching the motorbiker’s helmet. John held the motorbiker while I proceed to beat him with my fists and kick him with my knees, both me and John screaming at the tops of our lungs. There were plenty of people all over the street and no one budged. Finally the biker broke free, but then he tried coming in the back door. The light changed, and we were able to drive away.
We have traveled all over the world and nothing like this has ever happened to us. I guess it’s a good lesson, and we are moving on now. We are leaving Marseille for a smaller town.
This morning we needed to be down to the dock at 9 am in order to catch the shuttle for the canoeing. So John and I got up early and went for a quick run, then we had a lovely Beynac breakfast, which consists of white peach, cherries, goat cheese, and a croissant. I could get used to this. At 9 we presented ourselves at the parking lot for the shuttle, and we waited about 15 minutes for the driver, who was on country time. The shuttle took us up stream where we put in our canoes. The Hinckleys were doing 15 km with the kids, and John and I were doing 22 km. So we said goodbye at the first stop, and headed off to Cersac, where the bus driver took our picture and put us in the river.
The first few km were very quiet and calm and we saw many birdies and fishies and enjoyed the green trees. Soon we paddled up to our first Chateau of the trip, which was the Chateau de Monfort. We had a beautiful view as we floated by. Next we came to another medieval town, La Roque-Gageac, where we pulled off and ate a picnic lunch of bread, cheese, and curry chicken legs left over from dinner the night before. We walked around the beautiful town built into a side of a cliff.
Soon we passed Marqueyssac and Chateau de Castelnaud, which we had toured the previous day. It was fun to see them from the water. We passed one more castle before we approached Beynac, which was even more impressive from the river. We really enjoyed seeing it from the water. We found the Hinckleys on the beach and John caught some fish for Justin.
When we got home, it was time for a serious nap. We did that, then walked down to the restaurant La Tornelle for a dinner of fish soup, duck leg, and walnut cake. When we got home, the adults watched a movie while Justin played World of Warcraft and Emma enjoyed sitting on laps. What a beautiful day, and how sad we are that we have to leave tomorrow. Thanks again for inviting us to France Kirk and Corinne. It was so lovely to spend time with you and the house and region were so beautiful.
Yesterday’s trip to Marqueyssac was a real highlight of the trip. We ended up walking for miles through the beautiful manicured grounds of this ancient estate. The gardens and house were perched on the top of a long ridge, affording views of the castles and small towns all around. The estate dates to the 17th century, but it was fully restored in 1997, designed for walking with panoramic views of the Dordogne River and the chalky cliffs of the valley. When we returned home we cooked our duck sausages and served them with lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, and goat cheese. We watched the first half of Ratatouille and fell to sleep.
It was my job to set the alarm, and I flubbed it, so instead of getting up at 7:30 to run, John and I slept until 9. I guess we needed that. So John walked down to get a croissant to share, and we ate it with strawberries, peaches, goat cheese, and coffee for breakfast. Then we walked down to the river to reserve our canoe trip for tomorrow. That will be a fun float with lots of pretty views. I’m really looking forward to it, and it will be a nice way to spend our last day in the Dordogne Valley.
After we returned, it was time for a very special journey. Within an hour’s drive of Beynac is one of the most celebrated restaurants in rural France: La Recreation. Featured in Michael S. Sanders’ book From Here, You Can’t See Paris, the chef owners from Toulouse have renovated an old school house and from there they serve gourmet 5 course meals made from local ingredients. John and I read the book to understand the flavors of the region, and to whet our appetites for one of our most exciting meals in France.
So we hopped into the Golf and told Samantha “Les Arques.” She began ordering us left and right on the tiniest of country roads. “In 200 meters, turn left on D570” and etcetera. I tried switching her to a different voice, a British one, but the new gal was so polite that we didn’t feel as compelled to move quickly. So we went back to Samantha, who loves ordering us around. One road bisected the narrow streets of the small town of Daglan, where we could nearly touch the houses on each side as we zipped between the town’s 40 or so buildings.
Soon we arrived in Les Arques and we wandered around to see the work of the visiting artists—the town doubles as an artists’ colony. We also viewed the church where there are several sculptures by the Russian sculptor Zadkine, whose work is sprinkled around the town. We saw a kitty and a Brittney Spaniel. We’re making a long list of dog breed spottings. John and I went to claim our 12:30 table at La Recre. We had a beautiful spot under the tiled roof. We waited for the Hinckleys to arrive (their GPS routed them a different way). Soon we were all together and we ordered lunch.
First course was a cold tomato soup, very delicious. Next, I had red mullet filets with artichokes and John had lobster ravioli. For the main course, I had salmon with a beautiful cream sauce and John had lamb baked in eggplant. The entrees came with a scallop-stuffed squash blossom, and a stuffed tomato. Next we had a cheese course—fresh local goat’s cheese with a splash of honey. And for dessert I had an apricot tart with the most flavorful apricot sauce, and John had walnut ice cream with chocolate sauce. We were stuffed and happy. We had lovely conversation with Noelle, the owner and star of the book, and with the waitress who had on a beautiful dress from a store in Barcelona that I will be visiting, at the recommendation of my French tutor Isabelle. I recognized the designer as soon as I saw the dress.
Something special happened at lunch too. Justin lost his tooth! It had been bothering him a lot, and he finally wiggled it free from his mouth. Sadly, it fell between the cracks of the floor and could not be recovered, but he wrote a letter to the tooth mouse (a French tradition) so we hope the mouse will bring him a Euro or two anyway.
We drove home and promptly took a nap. John went for a run, but I skipped it. My feet hurt! Now we are on the first terrace enjoying a beautiful view, and trying to work up the courage to ever eat again.
This morning John and I had a little jog along the Dordogne. We were just a little tired from our longer, hillier run the day before. So we strolled out into the fog, and ran towards the canoe put-in area. Then we went to the Patisserie and bought an apple tart. We had breakfast on the terrace again—forest strawberries, white peaches, goat cheese, and farm fresh eggs.
Then we walked down to the little market in Beynac—there were lots of nice artisanal cheeses and yummy fruits and vegetables. I bought a head of lettuce and some duck sausage for dinner tonight.
Then we drove only a few km to Castelnaud, where we saw a small medieval village and a large medieval castle. Justin especially liked the catapult display. And guess what we saw inside the castle? Wire-haired Vizslas! I have never seen one up close! The owners were Dutch, so I asked them lots of questions and they let me pet the sweeties. They were 5 years old, brother and sister. They looked just like Penny (skinny, with a white spot on the chest) and Rooster (a little heavier with yellow eyes) but with mustaches! So funny. And they were very friendly and playful just like our little ones.
For lunch, John and I stopped near the river and had a smoked salmon and white asparagus salad and roasted chicken with pommes frites. When we got home the Hinckleys had just arrived, and were eating goat cheese, wild boar sausage, fresh apricots, forest strawberries. and bread. John and I got into our swimsuits and we walked down to the river for a swim. The water was refreshing, quite brisk! And the current was strong. Later today we’re going to our second castle at Marqueyssac, and then we’ll make some dinner chez nous. I’m kind of tired out today! The weather was really beautiful and the sun was warm.
John and I started the day with what was supposed to be a little jog, but I saw a sign that said “Eglise du Cevenac” and I said “let’s go there.” The sign said 3 km, so that should be easy enough, right? Well, it turned out to be 3 miles (there really are too many English living here) and the last mile of it was straight uphill. But the setting could not have been more beautiful. It seemed like the Ohio back roads of my youth—dense forest, beautiful green fields, lily-pad ponds. We saw only 2 cars while we ran. It was cloudy and crisp. So up the hill we went. At a crossroads we saw two little farm houses, one with masses of potted plants, one with a cat on the windowsill.
Just about 400 yards up the hill, we saw an old paint horse in a pasture. He had a mop of blond hair over his eyes. I said hello, and John took our picture. He was, ahem, well fed, and I quite wished he could come with us if only for the exercise. But he was behind a fence, so John and I continued on our way up to the church. What a view! We could see for miles around—beautiful farms, country homes, and even a few chateaux. We toured around the little church, then headed back down hill. As we passed the horse he ran with me for a while on the other side of the fence. His workout for the day!
When we got back to the house, I did some Yoga on the lower terrace. What a wonderful view of the river, with fragrant roses and lavender surrounding me. When I came back inside John had prepared our breakfast—some croissants, strawberries, and local melon. We took it down to the upper terrace and had breakfast with le chat, who sat at the table like a person waiting to be fed.
When the Hinckleys rose, we headed to St. Cyprien to go to the market. It was huge! We bought wonderful olives, duck breast, more strawberries, zucchini, onion, potatoes, and a bottle of Irish beer from an Irish expat whose French accent made me laugh hard. The Hinckleys went home for lunch (Justin has food allergies so it’s easier for him to eat at home), and John and I stayed in town and ate at a café: a gorgeous salad with local walnuts, and a pizza with peppers, onions, and mushrooms.
When we returned home, we watched the Tour, then walked up to the castle. It’s a steep walk up cobbled footpaths, and it’s a major destination, so there are plenty of folks making the trek–some more able than others. But at the top is a beautiful castle and church. We toured around, and Emma and Justin showed off their own running skills, as we timed how long it took them to run from the entryway up to the church. John told them they had to run it 10 times and we would take the average. He takes the same approach to children that he does to our pups: Exercise them to fatigue!
We came home and made a lovely dinner and ate it in front of the window. This window makes us understand why so many French artists painted landscapes—you could imagine the view out the window being a large painting of a landscape hung on the wall of a home with no view. But this is a proper view, and I have to keep looking at it to believe that something so beautiful actually exists.
After dinner, the kids watched The Incredibles and the adults had some lovely conversation over the wine we bought out of the basement. Such a great day. Thanks again Hinckleys for inviting us to France.