Provence and more - part 2
|Nice - Aix-en-Provence - Gordes - Avignon - Les Beaux - Arles - Pont du Guard - Nimmes - Monpellier -|
|Sete - Les Camargues - Carcassone - Andorra - Barcelona - Costa Brava - Figueras - Narbonne -|
|Marseille - Saint-Tropez - Cannes - Grasse - Monte-Carlo - Saint Paul - Nice|
The trip to Andorra turned out to be longer than we planned - the road to Ax les Thermes which goes through a 2.4 km high pass looks way shorter on the map. Be that as it may, we missed the right road. It took us five hours to get to Andorra, but at least we got to see lots of breathtaking views of the Pyrenees, generously set up along our way.
For the first time we spent our night in a "respectable" hotel, and it was relatively cheap, although the four of us had to sleep in one room. It was in Santa Julia. Somehow, Julie didn't like us calling it (and her) Santa Hulia (in Russian, it sounds like a curse), but we explained to her that that's how they say it in Spanish. Later we found out that we were wrong: they speak Catalan in Andorra (and in Barcelona too), so it was Santa Julia with a "J" after all. We liked the little Andorra, although our friends had been rather critical about it. It is a very picturesque place in the mountains, the streets go through valleys, while the houses climb up the steep hills. But above all - an all-round Duty-Free! Very cheap alcohol drinks and electric appliances (I think that cosmetics were cheap too, you'd better ask my women company? about this). There is no point in visiting Andorra again (unless you're fond of skiing & shopping) but taking a look at it is certainly worth a visit, even if this means making a detour on the way from France to Spain.
Spain wasn't very kind to us: not only that it was raining, the road signs appeared to be intolerably confusing! I guess it was France who spoiled us with the good weather and excellent road signs. In Barcelona we ran into another obstacle, as we realized that the only way to park our car will cost us $30 per day and a half. But then finding a place to stay wasn't too hard to accomplish: we found a very clean and comfortable room in the heart of the city for $50. The hotel is located on a small street (you can see it on the picture), 50 meters from the main street, La Rambla (while the Internet had pointed to the vacancies in the most expensive hotels only). We were amazed by the city's large scale, after the small villages of France, and of course - Gaudi.... Words are too superfluous, you have to see it for yourself.
We discovered a very tourist friendly bus in Barcelona - the "Bus Turistic" - which circles around the city, and stops at points of interest. You can buy a one-day ticket and get off, take a walk, get on, wherever and whenever you like. At first we got off the bus to see all Gaudi creations, then we just kept riding - once you seize those open roof seats, you just don't want to get off.
One of the bus stops is at Park Guell, also designed by Gaudi - so naturally, there are lots of Gaudi-stuff, including the famous "lizard". By the way, it was in Spain that we had a hard time understanding the locals. Since they didn't want to speak neither English, nor French, we mostly used our hands and other bodyparts to understand each other. For example, we couldn't find the "lizard" until we figured out to buy a postcard featuring the famous animal and happily poking at it. Only then we were easily directed to the right place.
We stayed in Barcelona for two days, but as I see it we were only scouting: a future longer visit is inevitable. Geographically, Barcelona is closer to France than to any other attended part of Spain, and that's how it got stuck to our itinerary.
We continued our trip towards Costa Brava (the Mediterranian cost). We were supposed to meet Natasha's friend from Moscow who stayed there, but never found her. On the other hand, we got to see this Brava, which didn't impress us too much. We were missing this resort-atmosphere characteristic of the French Riviera (or even our own Eilat). Then we went on to Figueras (nearby the French-Spanish border) to observe "the biggest surrealistic object in the world", as the commercial flyer promised. It is the "Theater-museum Dali". You can laugh all you can, but this "object" is Surreallistic indeed (with a capital S). Dali had his fun creating it. The younger generation (which happens to be translating this text from Russian) enjoyed it the most.
We spent the night at the "Etap" hotel in Narbonne, and early in the morning left towards Sete. On our way we stumbled onto Le Canal du Midi, marked as a point of interest in Natasha's lists. As there was nothing remarkable - only junk and tin cans, we were amazed seeing Natasha running around with a camera and taking pictures. The funniest thing is that the pictures she took turned out afterwards to be of divine beauty. The magical power of art. In Sete we visited George Brassens' grave and museum. Naturally, we also had to listen to Brassens' song "A request to be burried on the beach of Sete", and then to another song about the Camargue.
Next, we went to look for this Camargue. The guides described something like a big estuary - water, swamps, reed... We didn't quite know what to expect (the book didn't have any pictures), and we were afraid we won't find it. All we knew about it, was somehow involved with big heards of bulls, guarded by heardsmen, rose flamingoes, horses of local breed and lots of mosquitoes. It was the latter two that we met indeed on our way. The mosquitoes took over our car, and Julie had to fight them all the way to Marseille.
The "Etap" hotel at Marseille is located downright in the old port. In the evening, we took a walk by foot at the old port to scan the area for cheap Bouillabaisse, which the guide commanded us to taste. It is a very special fish soup with all kinds of exotic stuff in it: crabs, lobsters, oisters etc. Apart from being exotic, it was delicious, but my "girls" didn't seem to be too fond of it. Natasha ordered spaghetti a la provencale and Julie, well, you could guess what she ordered (fries, of course). But then, the bouillabaisse came with profiteroles, which Natasha can't forget 'till this day. In the morning we climbed the Notre Dame de la Garde, which dominates the city, and has a great view on it. We witnessed a row of yachts sailing into the sea, and behind them Le Chateau d'If, where the Count of Monte Cristo had been imprisoned, among the blue waves of the Mediterranian. On our way from the city we found by chance a second-hand goods market, where I spent long and hard hours trying to drag out my female companions. Before that day I used to sing about the pubs of Marseille, but now, the only reason it will be remembered for is blouses. And we all wanted to stay.
Eventually, we continued our trip by the coastline - La Ciotat, Cassis, Toulon. The road was extremely beautiful, as it wound among green pine trees and cypresses, with the sea to the right... It was not so pleasant for the driver though: the continual turns were very exhausting, especially in the darkness. We dragged ourselves to St-Tropez, which welcomed us with traffic jams in the nasty weather. (It was very much like in a sad Guy Beart's song, which we were forced to listen to, "Tout finit a Saint-Tropez"). Nevertheless, we got charmed by the famous city, and decided to pay another visit to it from Cannes, if we had a chance. Yet the way to Cannes was so tiring, that our wish never came true. It's a pity, because lots of tempting things were promised to us by the guide books, including "a city of artistic circle celebrities", Musee de l'Annonciade (place Grammont) with a big collection of post-impressionists, and Maupassan, and painters...
It rained the next day. We waited a bit - it still rained. And so we went to Grasse, since we pictured it as grim as the weather, having read "The Parfumer", just before we left Israel. A very impressive book, written by Patrick Zuskind. It was under that impression, that Grasse managed to penetrate our souls, with its shabby houses, narrow streets, while the parfumery "museum-factory" of Fragonard with its distillation stills, beat them all.
After lunch we strolled along the gloomy Quai de Croissette in Cannes, trying to fit our palms into the stars' imprints (Demi Moore happened to be right for Julie). The next day, we went to put down our mark in Monaco, Villefranche sur Mer aka Monte Carlo, accompanied by the sad voice of Mouloudji, telling us of a poor gambler, whose only wish was to drown himself in the Mediterranian. Monte Carlo gave us a cold welcome: there weren't any free - or at least affordable! - parking places. The Casinos are open from 22 pm. till morning, and apart from that, there's nothing to do there. But then, the scenery on the way to Monte Carlo was astonishing - Eze, - I'm speachless. On the way back we gave Nice a quick visit, as we planned to go to Saint Paul de Vence (a small fashionable artistic village) and a museum called The Maeght Foundation (go ahead and try to pronounce it!). Saint Paul, one of many Bohemian nests along the Cote d'Azur, as prestigeous as the English promenade in Nice is swarmed with tourists. You can have your lunch (alas! we didn't) at "The Golden Dove" on the terrace among the originals of Picasso, Dufy, Modigliani, by which the artists payed for their meals in the restaurant. Sartre, Fitzgerald, Catherine Deneve, Sofie Lorraine, Greta Garbo used to dine here, and Yves Montand got married here... Chagall is burried at the local cemetery.
The Maeght museum is wonderful! The sculpture garden is in the open - the birds are singing, the trees are rustling, the fountains are splashing, and the sea can be seen from afar. There is also a closed exposition. And, my goodness, the collection is amazing - Braque, Giacometti, Leger, Matisse, Miro, Kandinsky.... The sculptures in the garden impressed us the most.
It was getting dark, and since we didn't have time to visit Saint Paul, we took an admiring look from far away. We decided not to take the coastline road, but to make a shortcut instead. Well, at least on the map it looked shorter... Who could have possibly guessed what it would turn into? Again, endless serpantine turns, annoyed drivers from behind... These mountain roads are very beautiful at daylight, but quite unbearable at night. We made it at a last gasp.
The next day the weather was beautiful. But then - ha-ha! - all the gas stations were out of gas, and so was our car. That's what you get for making fun of the sudden queues at the gas stations. By the time we figured out to ask what it was all about, it was already too late. There was supposed to be a strike, and therefore, no more gas. So we went only to Cannes, took a walk on the Croisette, and came back home to take a nap. We went to bed with a lousy feeling, wondering if we had enough gas to get to the airport on the next day.
When we woke up in the afternoon it turned out that the strike was over. Happy as we were, we went to Valorie to stroll through the dark streets and closed ceramic shops. O, well. What's most important, is that we made it to Nice on our last day after all. We left the car at the beginning of the English promenade, which spreads along the gulf. We walked to the Russian church, visited Chagall's museum (good), climbed the Chateau (from the mountain you can see the entire city, the semicircular gulf and the blue-blue sea) and then dragged ourselves back to the car. As they say in Hebrew, "We did the day".
The next day was our departure. It was a long and tiresome day... But all in all, we were more than pleased with our journey, and made a promise to come back to France, more then once, with God's help. Julie was told not to marry an American, but a Frenchman. That way we could visit France more often in the future.
Now we have lots of ideas for future trips. During our famous lunch in Carcasonne with our English friends, we were all excited about renting a house in Scotland all together. There was even a better idea - to rent a boat in order to sweep across English canals from South to North. It looks as if travelling this way has definitely come into fashion these days - you get to save money on renting a car and staying in hotels, and about the rest of the advantages you can learn from Jerome K. Jerome.
But in the meanwhile, a new job means a new life, and you can never know what will happen to my vacations, so... we'll see.