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  • Day12

    On Our Bikes at Last

    September 1, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    Although it has been wonderful to spend a restful week recovering from our long flight from Australia, the real reason we cam to France was to cycle, not to rest. For the next 5 weeks that is what we will be doing almost every day. Of course it is neither fun (or very smart) to cycle in extremely hot weather. When I planned this trip I was counting on the fact that the start of September would herald the end of the long hot days of the Provencal summer. It almost worked.

    The local weather experts had been predicting that today would be the final of the almost endless sequence of hot days. From tomorrow onwards they are promising that the temperatures will hover around the mid 20s - absolutely perfect for riding. Unfortunately our first day on the bikes would also be the final day in the mid 30s. It was going to be a challenge, but that is what the life of a cyclist is all about.

    Maggie and I awoke at 6 am to the impatient sound of my phone alarm. Our first night in the confines of our cabin had been a bit of a challenge. It is not easy to sort your gear in a room the size of a small shoebox. It was one of those rooms where you had to go outside into the corridor in order to change your mind, let alone turn around to face the other way.

    The secret of survival is to find a place for everything and then pack away everything you will not be using. It is also a huge test of how well you really get along with your roomate. After all, there is absolutely no place to hide. You even have to take turns in taking a deep breath. Such is life on a river barge.

    After donning our cycling gear and enjoying a lovely breakfast, we each packed our lunch of baguettes, meat and salad. The bikes were unloaded unto the quai, ready for us to get them set up for each rider. Our cycling guy is a retired Dutchman called Arie. He is a 66 year old who has enjoyed a multifaceted career as a lawyer, journalist and diplomat. He now spends 10 weeks a year leading cycling groups in different parts of Europe.

    Arie began with a briefing explaining how the system of pointing the directions at each road junction would work. We then assembled outside for the obligatory group photo. Finally we headed off along the Rhone - our ride had begun.

    The early parts of the ride were along lovely, shaded pathways. The traffic was almost non existent and the temperature was comfortable. It was the perfect way for us to regain our cycling legs. We quickly found that the bikes were ideal for this type of riding. I was intrigued with the infinitely variable gearing. I had never ridden a bike like this before and it was absolutely amazing.

    The first 15 km or so was mostly flat and then we hit the hills. Arie explained that every other cycling group avoided this section, but they had heard that the Ghostriders were no ordinary group and thought that we would enjoy the challenge. They were partly correct. The seven riders on ebikes certainly had fun, myself - not so much.

    As the road headed up to the skies the ebike riders sailed past with huge smiles on their faces. The rest of us suffered in the hot sun. Soon I was off the bike and walking (and so was just about everyone else). In spite of this, we were all having huge fun. This was what we had come so far to do. Life can not get any better than this.

    At Pujaut we stopped to enjoy our baguettes and have a coffee. The afternoon tea stop was at the even more delightful town of Villeneuve les Avignon. This place was the home of the cardinals when the Popes were ruling from Avignon. The narrow streets and stone buildings were breathtakingly beautiful, as were the cakes from the boulangerie. It was a shame that the iced coffee was dreadful, but maybe you can't have everything.

    We completed the day's ride by about 4 pm and discovered that the group of American riders on our sister boat had only ridden about half the distance we had. That was the icing on a most delicious first day. Australians One - Americans - zero.
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  • Day11

    A Roman Sendoff from Caumont

    August 31, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Our week long stay in Caumont has all too quickly drawn to a close. It only seems such a short time ago that all we crowded into the taxi for our ride from Avignon. Now our week has flown by and it is time to bid farewell to this funny little community that has been our temporary home in Provence. Unfortunately the run of scorching weather has shown no sign of abating and that has somewhat restricted what we could actually do while we were here.

    On this, our final morning, we decided to forego our daily walk and just meet at the coffee shop instead. We had been aware that the village was planning to conduct its first ever Roman festival and we all wanted to see just what happened. While we enjoyed our coffees, the villagers gradually emerged from their homes dressed in a varied assortment of togas, bedsheets and improvised armour. It was a bit like a primary school pantomime, but we were really touched at the simple way they were enjoying themselves in such a harmless and unsophisticated way.

    At first they seemed a little reticent to emerge. I suspect each person was waiting to see if anyone actually turned up, before they potentially made a fool of themselves. Gradually the trickle of people became a stream as the assembly was swollen by whole family groups. Some had really gone overboard with their efforts, producing elaborate costumes, swords, helmets and such. One small guy came bedecked with a red beard, sword and shield. I thought they he looked like he had stepped straight out of the Lord of the Rings as he looked more like a hobbit than a fearsome Roman soldier.

    The real highlight of the morning came when a few horses were added into the mix. Two of these had been dressed in Roman type trappings and the proud riders were happy to ride back and forth. Apart from the cigarette hanging from the mouth of one of the riders, they could have almost looked genuine. It was an incredible finish to our stay in this town and we would have liked to stayed longer. Unfortunately we had to pack up and be ready for our taxi to take us back to Avignon.

    When we returned to the house we found that our landlady had already arrived and was busy toting up our bill. By the time she calculated the final total it was evident that a few more “extras” must have been added. We could have been upset, but we had really had such a great time here that it was just not worth fussing about the details.

    Our taxi arrived only ten minutes later than it was ordered and the driver somehow managed to crush all our luggage into the rear compartment, without resorting to crushing Gordon’s knee caps. About 30 minutes later we were back in Avignon and unloading our luggage onto the L’Estello. Although it was too early for us to board, they were happy for us to drop our luggage and return later in the afternoon. We asked the taxi driver to take us into the centre of the city so that we could have some lunch.

    We found ourselves back at the same café that we had eaten at when we were in Avignon a week earlier. Since we were right outside the Hotel de Ville we were entertained by a regular succession of newly married couples emerging from their civil ceremonies. A group of African drummers and ululating women made sure that the newlyweds were met with a noisy welcome. It was another fascinating insight into the local culture.

    As other team members joined us in the city the group grew steadily and by 5.30 pm we were ready to make our way to the boat. To our enormous relief we discovered that the boat was extremely well air conditioned and it was deliciously cool inside. It was the first time we had felt comfortably cool since leaving Australia. Not so welcome was the diminutive size of our cabins. Apart from Carol and Sam’s luxurious room, the rest of us were allocated rooms about the size of small dog kennels. It will be an interesting time, but that is all part of the challenge. We also found that there will be three Americans sharing the boat with 17 Ghostriders. We could only imagine how difficult that will be for them.

    Tomorrow morning we finally begin our cycling. We can’t wait to get underway.
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  • Day8

    In Search of the Durance

    August 28, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Following our previous successes with early morning starts, we decided to once again head off at 7 am. This really is the very best time of the day for any sort of physical activity, and the cooler air at that time of the day is delightful.

    Our walk first took us to the cemetery that we had explored the previous day. The entire region of Provence is liberally dotted with Roman ruins, and Caumont Sur Durance is no exception. We had previously noted a couple of signs pointing to the “Jardin Romaine”, so this morning we thought they might be worthy of further exploration. As it turned out we were standing right in front of them. Even more surprising was the fact that, even at this time of the morning, the gates were unlocked.

    We then spent 30 minutes or so wandering the sprawling ruins of what was obviously an impressive garden in Roman times. The main feature was a huge tiled pool, extending maybe 60 metres or more in length. Even after 2000 years you could still see the amazing handiwork of the tilers who must have laid millions of tiny tiles over the full length of the pool. It was also possible to see traces of the original frescoes that must have covered the sides of the pool.

    There was one other major feature of the town that we had not yet seen – the Durance River. Although the name of the town translates to “Caumont on the Durance”, a more accurate name would have been “Caumont somewhere in the vicinity of the Durance”.
    We have seen no sight of the river anywhere near the town, but knew it must be somewhere around. Since water mostly travels downhill, we decided to follow a small stream to see where it led. I confidently told the group that it must lead us unerringly to the river and so, off we went.

    We found a lovely shaded Chemin (path) that followed the stream. Unfortunately the water in the stream looked quite putrid, inspiring me to suggest that maybe this was the town’s sewer. “Maybe all it will take us to is the town’s sewer treatment plant”, I added. At that time it was meant to be a joke.

    Along the way we were barked at furiously by large dogs which seemed to be a feature of every home. Fortunately the fences were high and the dogs could only snarl and growl at us through the wire. After walking for about 2 km, the path started to degenerate into a bit of a bush bash. A group of French council workers were busy cutting back some of the undergrowth that had blocked the way. We bade them a friendly “Bonjour” and continued fighting our way through the brambles, stinging nettles and briars. I began to feel like Burke and Wills, trying to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria. One prominent facility that we did succeed in reaching was the local sewer works. My earlier prediction had proven uncannily accurate.

    The path finally led us under a large bridge and into a dangerous pile of large rocks. This was getting quite ridiculous and there was still no sign of the Durance. Risking life and limb, some of us clambered over the rocks, but the others had already had enough and turned back to the town. The reduced group did eventually catch a glimpse of the mighty Durance, but it was on the other side of a very busy highway and there was no easy way to get across. Besides it was time for coffee ! We headed back to the town. Sometimes the explorer’s lot is not an easy one.

    Soon after 9 am we were all gathered outside our new favourite coffee shop, eating chocolate croissants and drinking coffee. Thanks to the magic of modern technology and the wizardry of What’s App, we invited David to join us at the table. Of course he was still thousands of miles away in Melbourne, nursing the ailing cat and its ever growing list of severe injuries (all of these cruelly inflicted by a person or persons called David). We propped the phone in the middle of the table and showed David how much we were enjoying ourselves. I suggested that he should take the cat on a nice holiday, just to apologise for what he had done to it. My friendly suggestion was met with muted silence.

    By the time we returned to the house, according to the GPS we had walked around 7 km. It was time for a rest. The remainder of the day was spent in much less active pastimes – mostly talking, doing crosswords, playing “Who Am I ?”, eating – and an afternoon siesta. It’s a tough life.

    In the cool of the evening we walked to Gael and Gerry’s penthouse and had a wonderful dinner out on their terrace. It was a magical experience to be able to enjoy a meal surrounded by the rolling hillsides of Provence. As the daylight faded, the scene progressively became dominated by the gentle sepia coloured streetlights of the township. It was picture postcard perfect and none of us will ever forget the evening we dined al fresco in Caumont.
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  • Day4

    A Hot Time in Avignon

    August 24, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    There is no doubt that it has been a hot summer in Provence and it is not showing any signs of ending any time soon. The forecast is for a never ending succession of temperatures in the mid 30s – not exactly ideal conditions for a group of elderly Australians who have freshly arrived from the middle of a bleak Melbourne winter.

    At least our hotel room was very nicely air conditioned, allowing us to enjoy a very comfortable night’s rest. We arrived at breakfast just as a large group of lanky (and obviously very hungry) teenagers had devoured everything in sight. They had even used up all the crockery. For a while I thought I would have to eat off my breakfast tray, but managed to persuade the serving girl to bring out some extra plates. Catastrophe averted. Breakfast saved.

    We had previously decided to spend the morning exploring the city before the temperature soared too high. It did not take long for us to realise that we were too late. Even by 10 am the heat was almost overwhelming. Our group staggered down the main street while the women took every available opportunity to stop and take pictures, mostly of inane things like doorknobs and cracked windows. The men found a sign promising “Roman Ruins” and slowly walked in that direction. When we got there the ruins turned out to be rather underwhelming, leaving us wondering why we had wasted the energy. We could have just sat in the shade instead.

    We continued to walk past the very imposing Palais des Papes and even managed to climb to the highest point in the city. Although it gave a panoramic view down to the Rhone River and the famous Pont d’Avignon, we were all too hot and bothered to take much notice of it. We did what any intelligent person would do in similar circumstances – sat in the shade and had lunch at a lovely little restaurant by an ornamental pond.

    For the next seven nights our home will be the small village of Caumont Sur Durance. Our initial plan had been to spend a week pretending we were genuine French people. After searching the internet we thought that Caumont looked like a typical village and then looked for a suitable house to rent for the week. There were five of us who would be sharing the place, so it needed to have sufficient space for us all. Maggie conducted some research and found a likely looking place (at least the pictures looked good), so we made the booking. We had arranged to be at the property by 4 pm, but had no idea how we were going to get from Avignon to Caumont.

    Since we had had such a good experience with the mini bus taxi the previous day, I asked the hotel to organise a similar bus to take us all to Caumont. Although it arrived on time, we soon found that it was not really quite big enough to hold all of us AND our luggage. What followed next was a period of prolonged pushing and shoving by the driver as he tried vainly to cram all our bags into the rear. After many unsuccessful attempts to shut the rear door, we told him to pile the extra cases on top of Gordon instead. So that’s what he did.

    With no less than seven of us jammed inside and with Gordon helplessly pinned under a huge suitcase, we set off on the next stage of our adventure. The map had promised that Caumont was only around 10 km from Avignon, however it really seemed like much further than that, especially for Gordon who had lost all sensation below his belly button.

    We finally arrived at the small hamlet and went in search of our rented house. The entire town is a crumbling collection of old stone houses with tiled roofs. The meandering streets were only barely wide enough for a small vehicle and we initially felt like we were lost in a giant maze. At least we knew that our house was near the church, so we used that for a landmark.

    We were happy to tumble out of the minibus. Gordon was the happiest of all as he worked hard to restore some circulation to his lower legs. We went in search of number 11, Rue Mademoiselle de Perverts (or something like that) and started knocking loudly on the door. A few minutes later it was opened by an elderly Frenchwoman who proceeded to talk nonstop for the next twenty minutes, telling us all the things that were forbidden in her house. Of course we could not understand more than about 4 words of what she was saying. We just wanted to find our rooms and have a rest.

    The house itself is spread haphazardly over about 7 different levels, with rooms branching off in completely random order. The owner had added to this confusion by over decorating it with a profusion of mismatched odds and ends, all of which were eagerly waiting to be either broken or tripped over. She seemed very surprised that we had not brought our own sheets and towels with us from Australia. “If you want me to supply them, you will have to pay for them”, was the message. We also found that we would have to pay for everything else – soap, toilet rolls, gas, detergent, electricity, cleaning, etc, etc. Nothing was provided for free. But it would be our responsibility to water the pot plants. When the landlady finally left, we made ourselves at home by promptly breaking two glasses and almost breaking several other items. I also made an impression on myself by walking into one of the low wooden beams as I was walking down the stairs. I certainly won’t do that again.

    Maggie and I found ourselves in a room on the ground floor. Although it had its own toilet, it was certainly impossible to take a seat and close the door at the same time. Even getting into the toilet required the skills of a consummate contortionist. Once inside you were kept company by a massive collection of starfish and other marine memorabilia. It was going to be an interesting seven days, but that was the aim of this part of the trip. We knew it would be challenging and interesting at the same time. The heat also added an extra degree of difficulty as there was no air-conditioning. We also found that the biggest challenge of all was that the house had no Internet connection.

    I should have mentioned that Gael and Gerry had also learned that we had booked a house in Caumont and thought that it sounded like a good idea. They found another rental home nearby. For the next week there will be seven Australians wandering this place. I wondered if the town would survive.

    We had been assured by several different locals (including our landlady), that there were no cafes in the town, however Google stated otherwise. It showed that there were several within easy walking distance. Can you guess which source of information was correct ? The locals or Google ? If you said the locals, you would be wrong. After the heat of the day had subsided, we went on a walk around the town and found that there were indeed several eateries, a boulangerie and a supermarket. Perhaps the locals had never explored past their own front doors. Strange but true.

    We found a tiny pizza shop that was obviously doing a brisk trade and ordered three pizzas for dinner. An hour later they were ready. At 8 Euros each they were excellent value and were so big that we could only eat about half of them. They would have been even easier to eat if they had been cut into slices. We did not know if the lack of cutting was an oversight or a peculiar feature of this region.

    After the frenetic pace of the past few days it will be lovely to spend tomorrow doing almost nothing.
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  • Day9

    Feeling At Home in Provence

    August 29, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    It is amazing what a difference a few days can make. When we firsr arrived in Caumont, just five ago, the tangled web of narrow medieval alleyways looked close to imprenetrable. It felt like we had been dropped right into the middle of a giant maze.

    Over the past few days the village has become progressively more familiar to us. Using the central elevated Church of the White Penitents as our landmark, we can now confidently wander the entire town, withoput any danger of becoming lost. Even the faces of the locals are becoming familiar. Each time we walk the alleyways, our wanderings are punctuated by numerous "Bonjours". We are even starting to feel that the locals are starting to accept us as aa non threatening addition to their way of life.

    We have now established a daily routine. Each morning we set out at 7 am for our morning walk. This is well before the cauldron is turned up and the heat makes any sort of activity almost impossible. We walk for around 2 hours, before returning to the centre of the village. The first stop is the TABAC (General Store), where we buy our baguettes and pains chocolates (choclate croissants). We then walk the short distance to our favourite coffee shop (actually the only coffee shop) and settle down for at least an hour of coffee drinking and croissant eating. It would not be hard to get used to this way of life, in fact it's takern us less than a week and we are already feeling at home.

    After our daily sojourn at the coffee shop, all we have to do is walk back up the hill to our house, find our favourite arm chair and settle down for a quiet sit in front of the fan. In the afternoon it is customary to rest the eyelids for an hour or two. There is a very good reason why the siesta is an integral part of life in this region of Europe.

    When the sun is low in the western sky, it is time to make our way further up the hill to Gael and Gerry's penthouse. There we can enjoy the airconditioning, the high speed internet and the lovely outdoor terrace. Life does not get much simpler (or better) than this. It has proven to be a wonderful way to start our adventure and I am sure that we will all be a little sad when the time comes for us to hand back the keys and bid Au Revoir to the little town of Caumont Sur Durance.
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  • Day10

    A Fireworks Fuelled Friday Finale

    August 30, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    When the weather forecast promised us yet another day in the mid 30s we knew that any active pursuits would be done in the early morning. After almost a week in this region, we have learned that the stifling heat of the afternoon is only suitable for resting and/or sleeping. Carol seems to have perfected this to a point where she now spends almost the entire day fast asleep, waking only for long enough to eat a chocolate croissant or two.

    We knew that this would be our final early morning walk so we looked for a route that we had not yet explored. From Gael and Gerry’s elevated terrace we had previously seen that there was a large new housing development on the outskirts of the town and we thought that this would be an interesting place to explore. Not only did we find an extensive development site with dozens of nearly completed homes, but we also discovered a brand new school as well. It is clear that there are major plans underway for this town.

    Along the way we met a couple of elderly Frenchmen who were walking their little dogs along the stream. We stopped for a chat and a pat of the dogs’ heads. One of the little creatures seemed tempted to follow us, but eventually turned back and caught up with its owner.

    After walking for a couple of hours we made our way back to the Tabac for our morning baguettes and chocolate croissants. This has already become a cherished tradition for us and we could see no reason why it should change. We then settled in at our favoured table outside the coffee shop for our morning coffees. We almost feel like we are well on the way to becoming locals.

    By 9.30 am the heat was already beginning to build up. It was time to return to the relative sanctuary of our house. There we stayed for rest of the morning and entire afternoon. Carol led the Ghostrider sleeping team on an extended afternoon siesta and finally emerged about 6 pm. She entered the lounge room, yawned loudly and then said “I need another rest, I am tired”. If Australia ever enters the Olympic sleeping competition, Carol would certainly be the captain and coach.

    By 7 pm it was time to make our way back up to Gael and Gerry’s for our final dinner in Caumont. Although it was still warm, the gentle breeze makes it a perfect place to enjoy an al fresco meal together. Later in the evening we became conscious of some explosions in the distance. To our delight we saw that they were coming from a fireworks display, far away in the south. We had no idea of what the celebration was for, but we convinced ourselves that it probably to welcome the Ghostriders to Provence. Whatever the reason for the fireworks, it was certainly a memorable ending to an incredible week that we had shared together.

    Tomorrow we will pack our bags and say goodbye to the village that has been our home for the past week. It will be time to return to Avignon to join the rest of the team for the first part of our cycling adventure. It is also fitting that tomorrow morning the town will be holding a Roman festival, complete with parades, displays and Roman themed activities. It promises to be a dramatic way to end our stay.
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  • Day5

    A Cricket Catastrophe in Caumont

    August 25, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    Today was our first full day of our stay in Caumont. Being a Sunday it was also the day in which nothing is open. It was just as well that we had found our way to the Supermarket yesterday. That gave us a chance to stock up on supplies and to ensure that we would not starve before the shops reopened on Monday.

    After a long hot night the group slowly started to stir at around 7.30 am. A glance out the window showed what we already knew was going to happen – it was going to be yet another scorching and cloudless day in Provence. After a leisurely breakfast we spent some time just chatting and making plans for the next few days. Gael and Gerry had already invited us to visit their accommodation, so that we could compare the two houses.

    They arrived at our house in time for a shared lunch, before leading us up the hill to their place. As soon as we walked in the door we could see (and feel) the stark contrast between the two houses. Firstly their place was almost new and ultra modern. It was also cool, delightfully cool, due to the very efficient air conditioning.

    Because it was at the top of the hill it also had panoramic views out over the surrounding rolling hills of Provence. We also discovered that the elevated position meant that Maggie could actually get a mobile phone connection for the first time since leaving Avignon. But the greatest wonder of all was that this place was also fitted out with high speed Internet and wifi. Everyone immediately produced their electronic devices and proceeded to catch up for lost time on the net.

    I suppose we could have happily stayed there all day, but we had to pretend that we were keen to get back to our own place. The mid afternoons are the hottest time of the day and the burning sun seemed to be bouncing off every surface as we struggled our way back down the hill. I had already decided that I would spend the rest of the afternoon listening to the coverage of the Third Ashes Test. The game was poised at a very interesting stage, although Australia was clearly in the better position. No one seriously gave English a chance of pulling off such an unlikely win.

    It was only as the afternoon wore on that it became clear that the result was not as guaranteed as we might have believed. As Stokes belted his way to a century and kept going, we could feel that the momentum had shifted away from Australia. Although the result was a shock to us, it is certain that this match will go down in history as one of the most remarkable ever played.

    While the rest of the group went out to dinner at the best restaurant in time (actually the only restaurant in town), Maggie and I decided to stay at home and enjoy a bowl of cereal instead. We will have plenty of opportunity to sample the fine French cuisine over the next two months and we did not want to peak too early.
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  • Day6

    An Early Start to the Day

    August 26, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Planning a week long stay in Provence in August was always going to be something of a risk. Although you can plan most aspects of a trip, there is one important factor that we have absolutely no control whatsoever. I have learnt from my previous experiences in Europe that the weather can throw up a complete range of conditions – from scorching heat to freezing cold. Before this trip is over I expect that we will have the opportunity to experience them all.

    According to the laws of long term averages, September is usually the best time for active activities (such as cycling). In France, as in much of Europe, August is regarded as the holiday month – the time when many shops and businesses close for their summer vacations. It is also often the hottest time of the year. Since we had already timed the start of our cycling for the beginning of September, we had no choice over the dates for any additional time in Provence. It would have to be late August.

    As it turned out we happened to arrive right at the end of a prolonged extremely hot summer. In many parts of Europe new records had been set with temperatures soaring into the 40s. Although we had been hoping that the worst of the summer might have passed before we arrived, this was not to be the case. Provence in particular had suffered from an unbroken succession of hot and rainless days. Gardens were dying while the locals sought refuge inside their stone walled houses. Since we had just arrived from the depths of a very cold Melbourne winter, the shock has been enough to leave us wilting. Although we tried to do a little exploring of the village, the relentless sun soon sent us returning to the relative cool of our home. For that reason we decided that the only way we were going to be able to wander the town would be to do it in the very early morning, right on sunrise.

    At 7 am the air was still pleasantly cool and fresh. It was delightful to be able to walk up and down the steeply sloping streets without breaking out in a lather of sweat. When we first arrived here, just two days ago, the place seemed to be a complete mystery of tangled alleyways, now we were able to navigate our way about with relative ease. It certainly helped that the we always had the towering steeple of the ancient church to guide us home.

    During our walk we noticed that there was a nearby rocky hill that dominated the village. We decided that it would be worth climbing to the top before sunrise the following day so that we could watch the sun rise over the Vaucluse Plateau. In the distance the towering silhouette of Mont Ventoux dominated the landscape. This is the mountain that breaks the spirit of many a Tour de France rider and was also the place that the English cyclist Tom Simpson breathed his last. The combination of the thin air and a lethal cocktail of performance enhancing drugs was more than his body could take.

    Our walk eventually took us to the familiar sight of the local supermarket, where we set about emptying their shelves of just about everything in sight. I thought that we might need to recruit a team of Sherpas to help transport it back to the house, but somehow we managed to do it unaided. We even managed to get the precious baguettes back home without flattening them too much.

    Back in the cool of the house breakfast somehow blended into lunch. The baguettes were stuffed with cold meat and ham and washed down with a little cider. A truly French tradition. After lunch the temperature outside was probably hot enough to melt iron. We decided to stay indoors and partake in some serious talking instead. The challenge was for each person to share something that they had never told anybody else. This always makes for interesting conversation. Carol took the opportunity to reveal some incredibly dark secrets of David’s. It was just as well that David was back at home in Australia, performing medical experiments on their poor cat, and had idea of what was being revealed on the other side of the world.

    While on the subject of the cat, apparently the resultant vet bills were of such incredible magnitude (and growing by the day) that David would have actually saved a huge pile of money by joining us in France and leaving the poor beast with a professional housesitter instead.

    Gael and Gerry decided to invite the rest of the time to join them in their air conditioned penthouse for dinner. It gave them an opportunity to simultaneously show off their residence and Gerry’s culinary skills at the same time. I must admit that the pasta was delicious and it was a lovely way to end the day. We were even able to stand on their huge terrace and admire the views. Way below us the lights were just starting to come on and the slightest suggestion of a cool breeze made the spectacle even more beautiful. I guess that is why we made the decision to spend the week this way.
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  • Day3

    The City of the Popes

    August 23, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    After the gruelling flight from Melbourne, it was glorious to finally lie horizontal, even if it was only for a few short hours. The Ibis Budget Roissy is hardly a luxury hotel, but it certainly was a welcome refuge, albeit if only temporary.

    By 6 am I was wide awake and gazing out the window at the slowly lightening sky. It looked like we would be in for another warm and cloudless day in Paris and the advance weather forecasts were promising that it would only get hotter in the week ahead.
    The breakfast at the Ibis was surprisingly good for a budget hotel, but maybe that was because the price of the breakfast was almost as much as the price for the room. After savouring my first French baguettes of the trip I returned to the room to “pack” my bag. How could the contents have swollen so much since I left Melbourne ? That was a mystery I would have to solve some other time, I was happy to just cram everything back in, and then give thanks when the zipper finally closed.

    Our original plan was to catch the shuttle back to the airport, then catch another complex sequence of trains to get us to Gare de Lyon station in Paris. It not only sounded very complicated, it was also going to take nearly two hours and cost over 10 Euros per person. There had to be a better way, and there was. When I asked the concierge about the price of a personal mini bus to take us direct to the station, he replied that it would cost about 60 Euros. When we divided that cost between 5 people, it actually worked out cheaper than the horrible alternative.

    By 9 am we were all comfortably seated in the luxury mini bus and speeding our way towards central Paris. Not only was this the perfect means of travel, but it also meant that we arrived in plenty of time to sit outside the magnificent Gare de Lyon Station and enjoy a coffee while we watched the Parisians go about their business. We had about 90 minutes before we needed to board our train and somehow I managed to spend about half of that time looking for the toilets in the station. When I eventually found them I figured that I had walked about halfway back from Paris to the airport. The relief that I experienced at the end also cost me 90 cents.

    Unfortunately Gordon and Sue had made a “small error” in their hotel bookings and had managed to find themselves in the “wrong” Ibis hotel at the airport. Considering that there are Ibis hotels on just about every street corner, it is not too hard to get them mixed up. This also meant that they could not join us in the luxury mini bus and therefore had to take the longer and much more expensive train option instead. They finally arrived at the Gare de Lyon with only a few minutes to spare. In the meantime the rest of us had enjoyed a lovely time soaking up the atmosphere and savouring our coffees.

    The high speed train from Paris to Avignon takes a little over 3 hours and spends much of that time silently moving along at between 250 to 300 kph. We sat in the comfortable first class seats and watched the beautiful French countryside fly by outside the window.

    The train pulled into the impressive Avignon Centre Gare at around 3.30 pm. We stepped out of the air conditioned carriage into a blazing 34C. It was quite a contrast to the Melbourne winter we had left about 48 hours earlier. Fortunately I had skilfully booked another Ibis Hotel just next door to the station, so we only had a short walk to transport our luggage.

    It was only when we went to check in that we discovered that Gordon and Sue had once again somehow managed to book the “wrong” Ibis. That would not have been so bad if it had not been on the other side of the city. We last saw them forlornly dragging their bags out into the sun for the long walk to the “other Ibis”.

    Later in the afternoon our group met together for a walk through the lovely historic old city centre of Avignon. The history of this place is extraordinary and between 1309 and 1376 it was actually the seat of power for the entire Catholic Church. It is still referred to as the “City of the Popes” and the huge Palace of the Popes dominates the centre of the city.

    Maggie and I had briefly visited this city in an earlier trip, but had very little time to look around. We had enjoyed a delightful al fresco meal near the Hotel de Ville and looked for the same place to introduce it to the rest of the group. Once the sun had lowered in the sky, the temperature moderated and it was a perfect ending to another eventful day.

    Although the few hours of sleep I had enjoyed the previous evening had rejuvenated me a little, by this time my batteries were quickly starting to run down and I was glad to be able to return to our hotel for some more sleep. Tomorrow we will have more time to explore Avignon, before we head out of town to a small nearby village called Caumont Sur Durance. That will be our home for the next 7 days.
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  • Day7

    Sunrise Over Caumont

    August 27, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    It’s amazing what a difference a few hours sleep and a few degrees lower temperature can make. Yesterday we all made the significant discovery that the best time to explore the city was in the wee small hours of the morning, well before the sun rises high in the sky and the place starts to feel like the inside of a pizza oven.

    Buoyed by our early morning foray of yesterday, we made the decision to rise even earlier and head off well before dawn. At 6 am we were underway. The air was still deliciously cool and the evening stars were still twinkling overhead as we walked through the narrow stone alleyways, past the familiar Chapelle de Penitents Blancs and towards the nearby rocky mountain that we had seen the previous day.

    The only problem was that, in the pre dawn gloom, we had difficulty seeing where we were going. I was just hoping that we would be able to successfully avoid planting our feet right on top of one of the many dog turds we had seen in the walkways. While I think we avoided the canine booby traps, finding the path to the top of the mountain proved a more difficult task. After a few tentative attempts, we eventually managed to find something that could have been a path. Or then again, it might not. It was hard to tell, since the entire side of the hill was covered in a type of rocky scree that would have made it very easy to slip and fall. We also had the added difficulty of having to make our way through patches of prickly briar, that scratched our legs at regular intervals.

    By some miracle of navigation and good fortune, we somehow all made it to the summit without suffering a catastrophe. From the top of the mountain we could look down to the village and identify the now familiar landmarks of the large central church, the cemetery and the supermarket. Further in the distance we could see the rugged outlines of the Alpilles, the towering shadow of Mont Ventoux and the closer Vaucluse Plateau.

    We gathered and waited for the sun to finally rise behind the Vaucluse. The sky lightened ever so slowly and the light from the (still obscured) sun illuminated the nearby clouds making them look like molten lava pouring forth from some huge distant volcano. It was certainly a highlight of the trip so far.

    After watching the sun finally make its appearance above the horizon, we carefully made our way back down to the cemetery and to the second large church in the village. It was somewhat fascinating to see the way that the graves were covered in a plethora of small plaques and statues, many of them bearing photos of the deceased.

    By 9 am we found ourselves back in the centre of the village and headed to the Boulangerie to buy some fresh baguettes. To our horror the sign informed us that the shop would be closed until September 2nd. This was yet another reminder that August is the holiday season in France. To our relief there was a “Baguette Plan B” – the local TABAC across the road was acting as a temporary baguette supplier while the regular baker was closed. I am not sure where they were coming from, but the baguettes were still warm when we bought them – and they certainly were delicious. It would have been a crime to wait till we got back to the house before we ate them, so we started to attack them straight away.

    What transpired next was a very pleasant hour spent outside the nearest coffee shop, drinking coffee, eating baguettes and croissants, and happily chatting. The cooler weather had brought out the locals and the entire town was buzzing with life that we had not seen since we had arrived last Saturday. It was agreed that this was a ritual that we must repeat each day for the remainder of our stay.

    After the time at the coffee shop it was time to return to the house to sit out the hottest part of the day. Most of the group decided that an afternoon siesta would be a good idea. In this sort of climate it makes eminent good sense. Gael and Gerry joined us for dinner and by 9 pm it was time to call it a day. It had easily been the most enjoyable day we had had so far, but we were conscious that our time in Provence was passing rapidly.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Département du Vaucluse, Departement du Vaucluse, Vaucluse

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