Friday, May 2, 2008

A Week in Provence

In case you noticed a break in my blogging pattern, we've been out of town and just returned from eight days in Provence. We left a cool gray Paris, hopped on the TGV (the high-speed train) and emerged to sun and bright blue skies in Marseille. Just what the doctor ordered.

Thanks to our friends in Marseille whom we met in Washington when our first borns were babies, we had an all around great vacation. Although their apartment building, designed by Le Corbusier in 1952, is impressive, they had no room for visitors, instead putting us up at their parents' villa in Cassis, a seaside village just 25 minutes away. What's not to love about an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean with charming hosts anxious for you to sample their Provençal favorites? We drank the white from Cassis and Tavel, the rosé from Avignon; ate pisaladiere, the pizza made with onion confit, anchovies, and olives, as well as lamb and merguez sausage off the grill; and walked through the vineyards and gardens.

I think what really worked was striking the right balance between exploring and simply relaxing. We saw Cezanne's studio and his view of Mt. Sainte Victoire in Aix-en-Provence (not to mention eating some of the best strawberries ever); hiked and picnicked in the Calanques, fantastic chalky cliffs between Cassis and Marseille; and followed Van Gogh's footsteps in Arles. One day we went back in time to the 14th century to see where the popes lived during the time of unrest in Rome and the subsequent schism of the Catholic church, only to be thrust further back to the Greek and Roman eras when we visited the ruins of the town of Glanum. But I also had time to read A Year in Provence and the seventh Harry Potter book.

"Sur le pont d'Avignon" The bridge from the song you probably played on the recorder at some point. Here's one of the things that I love about France. This bridge has been out of commission since something like 1630, unable to withstand the strong currents of the Rhône. I mean, it goes out into the middle of the river and just stops. And yet, it's still standing in there. In the U.S., they would have torn it down after 10 years and put up a Starbucks.

The view of the Mediterranean from our host's villa in Cassis.

Yes, we even tried our hand at a little game of boule.

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