Monday, June 26th, 2017

Lasting memories made on trip to Europe

AtRandom

by MARTHA TOWNS

The joy of renting a car while you are abroad comes as you travel down an unfamiliar road and happen upon a sight that very nearly brings you to a stop.

Finding Gordes in France was such a sight; a medieval town built on a hillside seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. We had lunch there on a sunny day and walked up and down on the cobblestones. No hidden treasure this — there were many hotels, one of which had a Sisley (read expensive) spa. The village of Fontaine de Vaucluse was a happy surprise because we thought the spring there was just a drive-by. Instead it was a rushing river, the sound of which permeated the little town tucked deep in a valley. We walked upriver as far as we could and found an ancient paper mill, still working and still producing beautiful papers.

Baux de Provence was another delight. Baux (pronounced “beau”) is where the red mineral bauxite was discovered which is used to make aluminum. The quarry there produced the most beautiful white limestone which was evident everywhere and used to build the medieval town up the mountain. The old quarry has been turned into a sound and light venue called Carrieres et Lumieres. I thought it was an art gallery because there was a Gustav Klimt show but how wrong I was. Instead we found ourselves in an enormous cave with walls and walls of limestone on which were shown pictures from cameras in the ceiling. The sound and visuals were almost overwhelming. The art was magnificent and so was the music. I loved the changing patterns on the floor; once all red poppies and then a mosaic.

In search of the real lavender we found the Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque, an ancient monastery deep in yet another valley, surrounded by lavender fields. It was deeply quiet there and we were very nearly the only visitors. I wasn’t even disappointed not to see the lavender blooming because all the plants were so perfectly groomed and the rows so neat, I could imagine what it would look like.

You will remember that we have a volleyball-playing granddaughter. After the University of Tennessee, Leslie accepted a contract to play professionally in Istres, France, a small city quite near Marseille. She was the reason for our trip to Europe, which included visits to London, Paris and Barcelona, with nine days in Provence to see Leslie’s last two games.

She had a long list of places to take us that she hadn’t seen and so we got to share her company in between practice sessions (for her). We started in Marseille where I discovered a passion for mussels, charmingly called moules in French. We saw the bridge in Avignon and Arles, the town where Van Gogh did much of his painting and where we clambered around the medieval amphitheater which is being restored. Our time in Aix was way too short.

There was a lot of climbing. I wish I had counted the stairs up to the Cathedral Notre Dame de Garde in Marseille. It was quite a hike but the view was incredible as was the wind that day. It seemed we were climbing something everyday but that was a good thing. It counteracted all those moules and chocolate croissants to say nothing of the wine and the brie sandwiches we had at one of Leslie’s games. Bread and cheese are staples in France and I loved seeing people buying their fresh baguettes every morning

The pace of life in the countryside in Europe is so appealing. After a few days you begin to wonder why we live in such a rush. I was ready to come home but I already miss that feeling that there’s really no hurry.

Oh, did I mention they were way ahead of us in daffodils and flowering trees. Would you believe camellias in London?

 

 

 

 

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