Friday, November 26, 2010

Honeymoon: Day 4

Friday, August 20, 6:40pm

We’ve just returned from a rather full day in which we managed to accomplish everything we set out to do, and without J getting grumpy!  To be fair to my dear husband, he is the one who has had to shoulder the better part of the grunt work, being the only one who can drive stick (and there’s no way we were going to get an automatic with its considerable expense), and who can speak French fluently.  I, on the other hand, must sit back, and trust him to get us where we need to be, and get us the things we need.  I was ruminating last night about how frustrating this is for me, as J was going on and on and on with the 2 clerks at the pizzeria, while I’m just standing there looking stupid.

Eventually, I grew weary of attempting to pick up the thrust of their conversation, as they were droning too fast.  I gave up, sat down, and waited for my report.  Despite the fact that they had a nearly three minute conversation, the snapshot J gave me was about 5 seconds.  Major frustration.  I feel so out of the loop.  But I suppose it’s a lesson in humility for me.  And it’s also great motivation to learn French!  I really hope to take some classes at the community college or something.

It’s not all frustration though.  For the first time today, I felt comfortable ordering my food (I got a very yummy crepe, which I’ve been craving for some time!)  It was at this point that I started to recognize that I generally can figure out what’s what when I read (I’m a visual learner, so this is no surprise . . . I read Spanish fluently!)  But I’m also starting to understand a little bit of what people are saying, especially in context.  Again, no surprise here.  The receptive language centers of the brain are highly developed, so people generally start to understand a language before they are able to speak it.  But I still really on my dear hubby to do nearly all the communicating, and he’s been doing a great job of it!  It’s so sexy to see that most people assume he’s good with the language.  It’s only after they see him speaking with me that they wonder whether or not they should start using their English.

Anyway, the day was jam-packed with cool things!  We set out to Suze la Rousse in search of their open market, which was disappointingly small.  Then we got some brunch (very nice chicken panini from a boulangerie/patisserie).  We wanted to visit the glorious Château Suze la Rousse, but it was closed - as has been our luck all along.  We cannot get used to this French time system!  It would be reopening in a couple of hours, so we walked through the massive campus, then through the town a bit - a very cute village marked by the typical ancient structures, and a few upgrades throughout to fit the modern inhabitants.

Next we went in search of a famed Stone Age village somewhere around Saint Paul Trois Chateaux in a village called Barry.  We, of course, got lost, but managed to glimpse a good vineyard we hoped to return to, and got some groceries along with the aforementioned crepes.  We eventually found our way up the mountain, to the village.  It was - in a word - EXQUISITE!  Not only did we get a good workout with a decent hike up through the various trails, but Jonathan also managed to get me to conquer my maternally-inherited anxiety, and do things I never would have done without him!  For example, the circular trails all pretty much led to the same place, but the way in which we started off was a bit too sinuous without much visual return for the work.  We decided to go the way which was marked "prohibited", due to rockslides.  There’s no way in God’s green earth that I would have ever done this on my own (or with anyone else as prone to precaution as I), but Jonathan - in an uncharacteristically brazen bucking of the law - had us go up that way.
The views were - as you can imagine - breathtaking, but what was most fascinating of all were the cave structures!  You can literally trace how man had lived in the region starting some 20,000 years ago in the Stone Age (with simple, carved out structures in the rock), to protohistoric villages built into the mountains!  And even within the villages, you see how they start off as less sophisticated dwellings, to more modern fixtures like hearths, and roofs, and churches.  Out of this world amazing!!

By the time we hiked back down, we figured there’d be no way there would be any vineyards open for wine tastings, but to our amazement, the place we had scouted earlier (the Chateau de Borie) was indeed open, and we tasted some delicious Cotes du Rhones!  And then we bought two.  Our plan is to go to a vineyard every day until we leave, and buy 2 wines: one for dinner later that night, and one to take home :)
Finally, we drove back through St. Paul Trois Chateau on our way home, and wondered whether the chateau was still open.  We arrived at the gift shop to purchase tickets, and asked whether we had enough time to tour the castle.  She stated we did, and we both wondered if we’d really get our money’s worth (7 Euro) with only 20 minutes left!  But we blazed through that place like California wildfire, and managed to git’er done!  It was actually a very lovely tour, complete with one of the most detailed, ornate courtyards in all of Provence, and we left feeling like we hadn’t wasted a single dime.

All in all, this has been a fantastic day!  We’re both bushed, so it’ll be nice to have a nice meal at home (mushroom ravioli with gorgonzola cream sauce - which we got from the grocery store earlier today) with a nice bottle of whine (one of the previously mentioned Cotes du Rhones).

Honeymoon: Day 3

Thursday,  August 19, 11:00 p.m.

It is now almost three days since our last entry. Our itinerary has been so packed that we return to our lodgings after a long day — still not quite adjusted to the time change — and collapse into bed. Tonight my (J) internal clock has me wide awake, and while I wait for the Benedryl to kick in, I thought I’d catch up on our log.  D is fast asleep upstairs.
We spent yesterday touring Chateau d’If and the isle of Frioul. After nagivating our way into the vieux port of Marseille (which was a challenge given all the construction) and finding parking (another challenge), we hopped on the first ferry to the two islands. Our first stop was Chateau d’If, the fortress made famous by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Christo). The site itself is fascinating for its legendary status, but there really isn’t a whole lot to the island or even the castle itself. There was sadly little information provided about what we were looking at, and most of the castle itself consisted of barren rooms, which we were unable to determine whether they had been prison cells or lodgings (if they were all cells, they were the best prison cells we’ve ever seen!)  BUT THE VIEWS from the top of the chateau were spectacular! Marseille is an amazing city, and the mist rising off the Mediterranean, obscuring some of the cliffs near the city, gave it a mystical air as if we were looking at some enchanted isle undiscovered by the outside world. Magnifique!

We then took the ferry to our second destination, the isle of Frioul. This was more inhabited (they even had a sad little hospital (mostly roofless) and fire station), and offered more exploration than the chateau. Darren and I braved the mountain and hiked in our sandals up to an old fortress at the top of the island. From there we took in breathtaking views of not only the tableau of Marseille, but also Chateau d’If against it. The ancient fort with its stone walls, looked like it had been repurposed at some point in the ‘70s, for there were the ruins of steel cable/cement columns marking the remains of more recent buildings in the fort. We thought it ironic and telling that the ancient stone seemed to have weathered time better than the more recent cement.  There was a gorgeous beach on Frioul, but as we had not brought our suits, we splashed around up to our knees a bit, then took the ferry back to Marseille.

Getting dinner was an adventure! We had decided to try out a place, Café des Epices, recommended by our Guide Michelin — a wedding present from some friends in France. We managed to find the place (not easy in itself), only to discover that it was closed. So we opened the guide again, found another place that sounded decent, and hiked halfway across town, only to discover that it (and most every other restaurant in France) did not open for dinner till 8:00. (It was then about 6:15 and we were starved.) We slipped into a grocery store to slake our hunger and thirst, walked back to Café des Epices to see if it was open closer to 8:00 (it wasn’t), and finally ate at what is probably one of the most touristy restaurants in Marseille, complete with street musicians playing La Vie en Rose on accordion above your table.  The food was fairly tasty though, and we had our first kir of the trip, along with a half bottle of wine.

This morning, Thursday, we tried to wake up earlier so as to get some good time at the beach before we left Marseille, but it seems the time change wasn’t done with us. So we dragged ourselves out of bed around 10:00, made a quick breakfast to use up some of the food we had bought, packed most of our bags, and took off for a few quick hours at L’Estaque once again.  It’s a small community just to the west of Marseille, and it goes down as one of our favorite spots in Marseille, simply because it’s sans tourists!The water was warmer than it had been on Tuesday, which made for great swimming, and our shortened visit meant we could do without sunscreen. A quick nap, broken by the laughing of children. (My favorite interruption was one young boy who proudly claimed, “Je crois que les dinosaures existent ici!” — I believe there are dinosaurs in existence here!) Back to the apartment, our bags loaded into our little Fiat rental, and we said goodbye to Marseille!

An hour and half up the Autoroute du Soleil, we found our new home for the week: the village of Rochegude, population (maybe) 1600. After locating our house, and knocking on the closed shutters, we were informed by the neighbors across the street that the house was fermée. I responded that we were renting the house for the week, so it could not be closed. The old gentleman leaning out the window said, “Je ne comprends pas,” so I again explained that we were renting the house for the week. His wife then leaned out and said that the cleaning lady was not there, at which point I again explained that we were expected. Finally, in a British accent, the woman asked, “Do you speak English?” After responding that we did, she retorted “Oh, thank God!” at which point we all laughed. The couple very kindly invited us in, offered us drinks, and let us use their phone to call the housekeeper, who met us around 5:00 and showed us around the house. In the meantime, we staked out the town a bit, and found our way to the only open establishment at that particular hour - a little bar called Café du Cours, where we got some ice cream bars to tide over the hunger, and a drink called the Monaco (beer + lemon + grenadine = yummy!!)

We returned to the house at 5pm to meet Ruth (the housekeeper).  It’s a beautiful little three-story place, on a quiet, one-way street. The house, they estimate, is 300-400 years old, and has the quiet, cool feel that the thick, stone walls provide. There are three bedrooms, and it would be a fantastic place to rent with a group of people, except for having only one bathroom.

We decided not to wait around on the French dinner schedule, and instead bought a pizza to go from the local pizzeria. We set up the cafe table and chairs on the front stoop of the house, opened our local, organic wine (which we bought in Marseille at the grocery store), a round of La vache qui rit and some jam, and set to work. It was a perfectly relaxing meal! Our British neighbors, Anne and Keith, came by later and invited us to dinner next Monday, which will be a real treat! They’re also giving plenty of helpful advice about where to find things, what to see, etc.!

Well, it is nearly midnight. I’m hoping the Benedryl will have taken effect by now. And, having just stopped typing to flush a scorpion down the toilet, I think I will leave the house to the lesser creatures and go to bed. Tomorrow it’s up early for the village market at Suze la Rousse!