Thursday, June 5, 2008

Day 116 – I finally reach Provence

After a good cup of coffee (I bought a little propane stove and the basics for cooking) I headed for Arles, and had a good morning there exploring the beautiful narrow streets, the Roman amphitheater, and the Roman colosseum. Much to my surprise I found that the French in this part of the country are passionate about la fiesta taurina (the bullfights), and the colosseum is nowadays in use as the bullfight ring.

My next stop was Avignon, which is a big city with a famous historic downtown. The only problem is that in the whole freaking city there is not a single parking place! It reminded me why I don’t do tourism in cities, so with tears in my eyes I had to forego the visit to the papal palace in Avignon, and escaped toward my ultimate goal: The Luberon region at the heart of Provence.

I got to Cavaillon around noon, and I knew I had found the true France. It is a pleasant little village where people still have time to enjoy life, shopping at a leisurely pace, or sitting in front of a little café to drink a pastis. I got all sorts of good info at the Tourist Info office, had a nice lunch with a beer and a baguette avec saucisson, and headed for the small town of Maubec to find a camping spot. I got there only to find out that the office did not open until 5 pm (the French take the lunch hour very seriously). Rats, what to do? Go for a walk, I thought. And go for a walk I did, and in no time I was immersed in the fragrance and beauty of Provence. Mind you, it is not spectacular country, but it has a charming mix of beautiful homes, vineyards, olive and cherry orchards, the Petit Luberon “mountains”, and haphazard country roads. Indeed, all you have ever heard about Provence is true. It is a land blessed by God.

We are having a little of a “mistral”, the cold wind that blows from the east, so it is kind of fresh here (perfect field-mapping weather as I like to remind my students). Here is a hypothesis in the same level as global warming for you: locals believe that the mistral, which brings cold weather from Siberia, has become more common in recent years because Central Europe is becoming flatter, and thus offers less resistance to the wind. As far as wild-ass theories go it has just about as much standing as other I have heard in scientific circles lately.

My walk took me, past beautiful vineyards and stretches of the Luberon forest, to the medieval ghost town of Oppède le Vieux. The town is perched on a high cliff of the Petit Luberon folded limestone mountain, and grew over the years from a small castle during the Middle Ages to a boisterous city during the 17th century, when it was abandoned in favor of a better location down in the valley. It is a little creepy hiking through the deserted ruins, but you get magnificent views of the Luberon Valley.

To continue on a theme, tonight I dined on Tartiflett (probably a mistake because it was nowhere as good as that of Café du Soleil), and Terrine de Sanglier (this is the same “sanglier” that my hero Obelix is so fond of hunting).

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