Monday, June 23, 2014


For the last week my friend Dolly (from Bangkok) and I have been exploring the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.  Dolly studied French in a small town in this area and can still speak and understand the language, which is great, because I'm totally lost when it comes to communicating in this country.  I'm nervous about even trying to pronounce words in French, because they don't articulate many of the letters, especially at the end of words.  Why put the letters there if you're not going to use them?  In Italian and Spanish, you pronouce all the letters, for the most part, so you don't sound like an idiot as much of the time.  It was great to relax and just let Dolly do our communicating.  I reciprocated by doing all the cooking.

I think my favorite side trip was a day in Arles, where you can take a Van Gogh tour and see some of the sites he painted there.  There were 10 sites where you could view a reproduction of a painting and see the similarities and differences between then (1888-89) and now.  In some cases, the site was barely recognizable, like The Yellow House....then:


And in other cases, the scene was quite similar, as in The Garden at the Hospital in Arles:

Dolly and I are posing by one of Van Gogh's starry night paintings.

We saw a lot of artists in this park, some of whom seemed to be trying to emulate Van Gogh's style.

One of the sites was near the arena, and we had the best lunch of the week in a cafe there.  I wasn't sure what I was ordering, but this is a tartinette.  It's a toasted rectamgle of bread with tomato sauce, mushrooms and cheese topped with a fried egg.  Of course, there were a variety of toppings available.  Yummy.

It was fun to walk around this charming city in search of the 10 sites.  We found eight before heading east to see the lavender fields.  It's early in the season for lavender, but it was supposed to be in bloom at the lower levels of the region where it grows.  We stopped at an Office of Tourism at the beginning of "the lavender road" and picked up a map to guide us.  I have wanted to see these fields of beautiful lavender for a long time, and I was excited about driving through this area.  After miles of driving, this is the only lavender we saw along the road.

It was a very small field and I would have missed it, but Dolly's sharp eye caught a glimpse as we whizzed by.

The road took us to a hilltop town where we spotted a few small fields of lavender, which are at the left center, but we couldn't see how to get to them.  

It looked to us as if grapes were now the crop along this particular stretch of "the lavender road", and I wish the Office of Tourism would update their maps to save travelers like us from great disappointment.

On another day we visited the medieval city of Carcassone, which is on almost every list of "must see" sites in France.  It's pretty impressive from a distance.

But when you get inside, its streets are lined with tourist shops.  It would be better to go there after the shops close to get a better feel for what the old town might have been like.  We also drove on this day to Castelnaudary, the home of the famous French country dish, cassoulet.  The restaurant I had selected was, very unfortunately, closed for vacation, so we just asked around and were referred to a hotel restaurant.  The cassoulet was a real disappointment to both of us, but we ate some and went on our merry way.  Things don't always turn out as you hope they will.  It looks better than it tasted.  On second thought, it doesn't even look that good!

We drove to the seaside town of Sete on another day where we had lunch at a restaurant on the canal.

On our walk about town after lunch, we passed by this fishing boat where a horde of sea gulls were competing for the fishermen's discards from their morning catch.

On yet another day, we spent a few hours in Aigues-Mortes, the city from which the crusaders left several times.  There were some really nice shops there, and I finally replaced the reading glasses I gave to my friend Kadek in Bali.  This knight was modelling a pair of sunglasses.

On other days we went to local farmer's markets in town and nearby, walked or rode the tram around Montpellier, or just relaxed in our lovely apartment where we enjoyed this patio.

It was a lovely week with great weather and fantastic company.  Dolly and I are good travel mates.  We'll meet up again in Paris later this week.

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