Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nice Flowers


Extra large carrots
The day before Cindy left for California, we did a whirlwind last-ditch tour of some final sites including the Nice flower market where color is the order of the day.  The temperature had plummeted, announcing the arrival (finally) of autumn and winter.  We were prepared, however, and weren't any the worse for wear while enjoying the fares.
Colorful radishes

The flower market sells more than
flowers.  The carrots and the radishes are just as colorful as the tulips.

The grapes and strawberries were nicely juxtaposed with the fall vegetables of cabbage, cauliflower and squash.

And since we miss our sweet bichon, our white dog radar is mighty acute.  These four really didn't have any interest in the the richness of the colors or the freshness of the produce.  They were only interested in the opportunity for doggie socializing. 
Visiting bichons
Why we waited so long to check out the Nice market is beyond me, and surely the warmer weather would be more welcoming.  But there's a lot to be said for "off season."  And since we arrived early enough, the crowds were very manageable and we could enjoy the market the way it should be.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Papal Palace

"Sur le pont d'Avignon. . ."
The Papal Palace
Years ago on our first visit to Avignon, I ended up driving across the main plaza between restaurants and their outside seating.  The waiters had to pull the menu boards out of the way for me to pass.  I was mortified at my faux pas though the waiters seemed unfazed.  This time, we didn’t even enter the old city in the car but rather parked outside the wall and walked in.  Much better plan.

Avignon secured a position on the map and in the travel books with the relocation of the papal court in the 14th century.  The papacy stayed for about 100 years when the pope (Gregory XI) was persuaded to return to Rome.  When that pope died in Italy, an Italian pope replaced him.  The French cardinals returned to Avignon and elected a French pope, Clement VII, which resulted in a nasty division over control of the catholic church and its riches.  Peace was made with the election of Martin V in 1417, and Avignon remained the property of the church until the French revolution in 1791.  

Sano di Pietro mid-1400s

Giovanni di Paolo mid-1400s

Bartolomeo Caporali mid-1400s

Taddeo di Bartolo 1362
At the Musée du Petit Palais, we saw stunning exhibit of Italian art created at the time the popes were ensconced in Avignon.  The pieces were arranged in chronological order, which made the distinctions among the styles much easier to understand.  The pictures I admired enough to add here are all from the mid-1400s.  I have a thing for the Virgin Mary--despite my Humanist leanings.

Phil and I had a coffee at the little café in an open courtyard.  Soon after the coffee arrived at our table, we were forced to move inside as the skies opened up threatening to dilute our coffee.  The deluge didn't last long, we finished our coffee and returned to where we had left the exhibit and to catch up to Cindy.

Hôtel de Ville
The weather changed enough to enjoy lunch outside--probably in about the same spot I barreled through years ago--under a broad umbrella.  The rain was on a brief holiday, so we were cozy.  The restaurant was located on the plaza that sports the neo-classical Belle Epoque Hôtel de Ville (city hall).  The  Hôtel de Ville was built in the 19th century as a replacement to an older building. The 14th century Gothic clock tower (Tour de l'Horloge) remains from the original structure and was incorporated into the construction of the Hôtel de Ville.

Cleaning the Duke
The Papal Palace might have been a repeat of our previous visit but surprised us with some new room configurations and presentations. Each visitor enjoyed a self-paced audio tour--something new.  The rooms themselves were more well appointed and individual pieces and explanations seemed more complete and understandable.  See the photo of the clean duke--Louis II de Bourbon and his dog and the painstaking cleaning of the remainder of the statuary by this friendly and chatty fellow.  
The Grand Tinel is a room used for grand feasts, including the coronation of a new pope or appointment of a cardinal.  "Tinel" is derived from the Latin word for barrel or cask.  In 1342 Clement VI received 3,000 guests to enjoy a repast including a jaw-dropping amount of food.  

The Grand Tinel
The meal included (warning here to you vegetarian readers) 1,023 sheep, 18 cattle, 101 calves, 914 kids, 60 pigs, 10,471 hens, 1,446 geese, 300 pike, 46,856 cheese and 50,000 tarts.  Did I say "jaw dropping?"  I wonder what they enjoyed with their aperitifs. . .

Before leaving the Palace, we made our way up to get a bird's-eye view of the Virgin Mary atop the cathedral.

Leaving the Papal Palace
Welcome by the trompe l'oeil
The exit from the Papal Palace is a narrow and somewhat claustrophobic path carved out of rock, which opens onto a trompe l'oeil of windows with characters resembling historical figures. 

October is a better month to make a visit as some say that Avignon is the most frequently-visited monument in France; and most of those visitors make an appearance in the summer.  Unless Clement's ghost sets out a feast for you, perhaps you should consider a cooler season.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Salon-de-Provence is the second largest producer of pure soap in France.  We drove there with the idea that we would go to their market on what I read as Thursday but must have been Wednesday.  So instead we visited the Tourist Bureau and learned about the Musée de Savon de Marseille Marius Fabre.  The factory has been in business, first in Marius Fabre's back shed and then in a larger facility, since 1900 making soap primarily from olive oil. 

Stamped soap
Soap drying
At the factory tour, we saw how the olive oil and soda wash are mixed together and heated in large vats.  After further attention, they pour it into deep squares, which are then cut into smaller squares and dried.  They are then cut again and pressed with the molds that identify the soap as "Savon de Marseille" and continue to dry on shelves.   

Our 400 grams
Now I understand what is meant when the soap says "pur" or "pure."  It all smelled so good, it was hard not to purchase many bars; but we settled on a 400 gram cube to use while here--and surely to take home with us as well.  

Tomorrow we leave for Nice to deliver Cindy to the airport on Monday morning for her return to California.  On the way, we'll show her some of the coastal areas between Marseille and Nice.  Then we'll have two extra days to show her Nice and its sights--Biot, Eze, Vielle Nice, the Matisse Museum and others.  The weather is threatening, but we will soldier on--and enjoy it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Route des Crêtes

Bandol stretching up from the harbor
Bandol is a popular wine-growing area of France.  The harbor is full of boats—sail- and motor-powered and some for fishing for profit.  We’ve visited Bandol in the past and enjoyed it.  On a good day, the view is sparkling.  On a bad weather day, it may not be worth the trip.  This time, the sky was cloudy and rain was promised, but when the sky began to brighten, we decided to head to the sea.   We drove through Cavaillon to the Péage (toll road) to take advantage of the fastest route to Bandol. 

Bandol Merry-Go-Round
We arrived to find a market, which in retrospect, we could have avoided.  But we parked at the marina and walked back along the sidewalk to find a suitable place to eat.  Lunch was not our best, but we were sated for further walking.  We explored the quai admiring the boats, the merry-go-round, and the wonderful view of the bay. 

Then to La Ciotat along a route that was both coastal and inland.  Not too far.  On one end of La Ciotat’s bay, the port with huge cranes that can load and off-load shipping materials.  It seems an unlikely place for such large pieces of machinery, but otherwise, La Ciotat has a lovely beach and restaurants along the bay.    

Looking down toward Cassis

Quayside in Cassis

From La Ciotat, we drove along the red cliffs of Cap Canaille on le Route des Crêtes, a road that clung to the side of the mountain striking fear into the hearts of both passengers and driver.  Cassis and La Ciotat were both Greek colonies and later Roman towns where they built their villas.  They’re located are on opposite sides of a peninsula—Cassis on the Marseille side and La Ciotat on the Bandol side.  There were guard rails here and there, but in no great number.  In several spots, approaching a car from the other direction, I simply stopped and waited.  I am confident that when the Greeks traveled that road, they weren’t zooming along in a 110 horsepower steel vehicle on rubber wheels.  The drive was dicey and while the views were stunning, the end couldn’t have come quickly enough for me. 

Rte. des Crete behind
Cassis has been a draw to artists and vacationers alike.  Sea urchins are the local specialty, and the whole array of Mediterranean seafood is available at restaurants and at the local fish market.  Cassis was a trading port until its fleet was destroyed by the Germans in WW II.  There are three beaches, including a very nice beach where the town center meets the sea.  Parking is a challenge, but it's the MEDITERRANEAN, for crying out loud!!!