The road, variants

Old sycamore lined lane

The road dominated our sight-seeing today, in a good way. We had rain most of the day, never hard, but always greying the skies. Indoors, viewing the world through windows, whether stationary or in motion, fitted our temperaments and the weather this day.

Our main tourist-goal was to check out the old harbor at Marseille. We found it wet, bleak, and grim. There’s a massive street-modification project underway, which channeled traffic in odd ways, and added immensely to the lack of appeal. From signs and evidence, we estimate that they’re planning to move vehicles elsewhere (underground? for travel and parking both?) and open the margins of the boat basin to pedestrians. When finished, this will considerably upgrade the area. However, we suspect the looming old hotels will still face the water, shutters akimbo, resembling dowagers who can’t afford to upgrade their appearance.

We did Marseille in a drive-by, and didn’t feel bad about it. The Guru even found a parking place—a legal one—just down the block from Sbux, and happily returned to the car with his large coffee, black.

If the road in Marseille was incommodious, we also found a long, inviting east-west stretch east of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence that was lined with sycamores, and just stunning.

We also visited the end of the road, on the east side of the mouth of the Rhône, down below Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône.

End of road port st louie

Had we an umbrella (not parasol in this weather!), we may well have ventured out, as these folks did.

Regarding food pictures, I’ll do something with them…later. For now, I’ll run down our evening meal and you’ll have to use your imagination based only on words. Same garbanzo-bean appetizer (very garlicy); a pumpkin cream soup with a phenomenally complex back-beat attained from multiple vegetables perhaps simmered in the cream—not sure how this is achieved (our chef is fearless with cream); roasted vegetables with braised (not sure) fowl pieces (some kind of chicken? other fowl? not sure) laced together with one of those reduced beef broths that take days of roasting of bones, etc. to create; Tarte Tatin dense with the loveliest apples over a tender crust. Yes, yum.

Fun in Fréjus

Frejus maquette N down

Diorama of Roman-period buildings in what is now Fréjus, known then as Forum Julii. Note the amphitheater (43.43438,6.72883), locally called the Arènes, and theater (43.43695,6.73811)—both survive. I’m standing on the “north” side, so you may consider this view “upside down.”

Frejus church tower market

As is common in these parts, the medieval town of Fréjus is atop the Roman town. Here, though, archaeologists have had more of a chance than normal to delve into the Roman remains. Check out the boat basin (43.43122,6.74033), the economic hub of the community. It was silted in within centuries after the Romans faded from France, but, since it’s still low-lying, is now mostly open land, and almost perfectly bisected by a RR grade. A portion of a city gate/wall survives at the edge of it.

We enjoyed the hustle-bustle of market day, and I certainly wished I had a kitchen to retire to, and could justify buying the fine fish, cauliflower, fruits, and more that vendors offered in enticing displays on the west side of the church—but not in the plaza to the south (don’t know why).

Frejus perfume containers museum

We very much enjoyed the small, high-quality archaeological museum, tucked around the north side of the church. These elegant perfume bottles testify to the fine-points of the Roman toilette, if you could afford such.

I consider Fréjus a lucky stop for us. We left our morning B&B in rain, drove in rain, but Fréjus was clear and even sunny. After we got back on the highway, we went through more rain. Lucky us, it was clear and sunny again by the time we got to our “new” B&B, where we’ll be for days. And nights.

We’re indulging here, and have paid for half-board, which means we go to dinner, four courses, just downstairs. Wine extra (duh!). Tonight: beef carpaccio with shaved parmesan, fresh basil and petit salade; fruits de mer (steamed or simply cooked fish, five kinds, one prawn) with lemon couscous served in a cream sauce that couldn’t be topped; fromage assortment; and sherbet trio (melon, red we couldn’t figure out, third I never figured out—all delicate and delicious) in a baked bowl made from two squares of filo, making a crunchy complement to the sherbet and two raspberries.

Romans were skinny, and more

La Turbie Roman road

I am standing in the path of the Roman road that lead west from Rome skirting the coast of the Mediterranean. I think I read that this was the highest place along that route, which eventually went all the way to Spain. I am standing here (43.74522,7.40151), shooting south toward the gate that is some kind of post-medieval retread, and I suspect there was no gate here in Roman times. Anyway, just south of that gate is a 1930s reconstruction of a c. 6 BC piss-mark monument that has many names today. It celebrated the conquering by Augustus of many indigenous peoples living in the zone that today spans the French-Italian border in the southern Alps (a border which moved even in modern times). In case any subjects considered rebellion or otherwise forgot their place, this structure loomed above them at every turn, reminding them who the bosses were. The reconstruction dates to the 1930s. The original was robbed for building stones certainly during medieval times and probably before. The Roman stamp faded and the rebels could reassert themselves….

Monaco central from above

Standing here (43.74547,7.40345), on the end of a promenade the locals call the rondo, with carefully tended tiny plots of lawn and shrubbery and a rock noting that the Mayor of La Turbie made Prince Rainier an honorary citizen not too long ago, we looked down on the heart of Monaco.

Between us and the harbor, and just above the water, is the part of town where the famed casino is (we didn’t bet a penny, euro, or any other currency). That peninsula jutting out framing the other side of the harbor is the old part of town, Monaco-Ville, where the Prince’s Palace is (it’s the higher roof, of course). Since this is a politically independent place, I’d rather expect the top royal would be a king/queen, but, as you’re probably aware, that’s not the case. I’m sure the reason for this is noted somewhere, but I have either missed it or haven’t retained it.

After gazing out to sea for quite a while, and enjoying the breeze, we walked back to the car through the narrow winding streets, partly on the old Roman route, then drove down into Monaco, notching a third country on our belt for the trip so far (France, Switzerland, and…).

We, being mere colonials, had the idea that we could loop around Monaco-Ville, but a police-security guy was posted to deflect tourist cars from doing so. We opted not to walk there, either, and headed toward Nice on the basse corniche, the lower of the three along the stretch between Monaco and Nice.

In Nice, we skipped the Terra Amata site and museum (yes, very famous and Late Paleolithic, but), and did wander the Gallo-Romaine museum/ruins of Roman Cemenelum (more info here, on the dot-fr page; let Google translate help you), confusingly called Cimiez in all the off-site signage. The exposed zone has two bath complexes (different dates), sections of streets, and so on (check 43.71893,7.27610 in satellite view).

Fun day!

Lacet day

Entrevaux drawbridge lady marketbags
Lacet sign alpes roadside

Carrying her loaded market bags, this local lady is headed…I dunno, to visit her sister? She’s crossing the bridge from the medieval section of Entrevaux to newer occupations across this defensible walkway. Note that right before the towers is a drawbridge (squint), of strong oak planks. I don’t know how often it is raised these days….

In these parts, a lacet is a shoelace. In this context, lacet means hairpin turns. I traveled (with the Guru driving) along more lacets today than any other day in my life. Please note that although we saw the highest road in Europe, we didn’t embark upon it (let alone traverse it). The roads we did traverse were plenty high and serpentine. Grazed the treeline, saw evidence of storms that came through about two days ago, but no trees across our path (whew!).

Thanks, readers! I’m heartened that you request MORE photos. The last B&B we stayed at had…limited internet service, so what I did post was a stretch. Today, well, I’m just plain tired. The upshot is, teeeheee, I get to show you more photos when I see you next!

Unending—vistas, labor, history

Gorge Verdon W end view NWish

Today’s number one goal was to view the Gorge Verdon. Cancel that. Today’s number one goal was to have fun!

Guru on patio by haute eglise

And we did. We drove the south road along the gorge, and, despite changeable light, we did enjoy some terrific views.

Then we stopped at Moustiers, known for poterie, specifically faïence, and other crafts. However much we enjoyed the narrow alleys winding among the buildings, it didn’t take long for us to get overdosed on the kitsch and hyper-tourism.

Back at our B&B, we enjoyed tea/coffee and a fresh pear tart on the patio. The view from our room looks right at this little country chapel. Long ago, our hostess told us, eighty families called this narrow ridge nose home. And this was their chapel; that’s an almond tree to the right of the door. Our room and the building it is in were in ruins by the 1970s, when our hostess and her husband bought the place. They’re still remodeling the grounds.

On the road, nature and nurture

Sern Lake Geneva from N vistaview

We came south through the Jura, and made a turn, and voila!, we could see Lake Geneva and the snow-capped Alps beyond. Fortunately (for everyone’s safety), the road engineers provided a pull-off at that spot!

Town of shutters Provence north

As happened yesterday, we began the morning with rain that visited us in fits and starts, then faded by mid-afternoon. By then, we were back in France, working our way south toward Sisteron and beyond. This is one of the towns we came through, with many shutters closed, but plenty open. The color schemes are variable, like this. Some country villages were more drab (less painted), with dabs of color provided by farm machinery and signage.

Lightness of being

Late afternoon sidelight rural France NE

We saw the light today. The grey light. The between-light. The bright light.

Grey skies blanketed the land, with rain and wind in Paris (and, we discovered later, across a wide area) as the Metro & RER took us back to CDG to corral our new steed, Clio Renault—a silver beastie, Euro-scale.

As we motored south, (after a stop at a huge upscale mall, Bay 3, to extend our data plan for the iPad so we can do our not-patented blue-dot navigation), the spitting rain lifted, and we drove into partly cloudy, then bright sun. The brilliance lit up the valley we were in so remarkably, it was like we had paid extra for the perfect timing.

Grapes green on vine Champagne

Much of our post-Paris-metro route was through small towns. One had a plaque we got enough of a glance to read that Jeanne d’Arc had been there in 1426 (if I remember correctly). It might have been this one, but I don’t think so.

Ponder this: we drove through Champagne (and did not get wet), and we dined in Dole (and ate no bananas).

One thing I have to mention because it so…surprised me, was for the first part of our post-Paris route, the rolling hills were so gently sloped, just shockingly gently. Then, as we got into Champagne, the hills were steeper, with the soil clogged with limestone chunks. They’re picking grapes now, but I think much of the crop there still has to ripen. Just terribly special to come through there at harvest-time….

Port de Plaisance

Paris canal colorful boat smoking women

Canal beneath Pont Morland (48.84694,2.36578); every person on this boat (that we saw) was a women, and every one seemed to be a heavy smoker.

Following the Seine upstream for a bit, we discovered a canal! With a lock! And a boat going up into…the Bassin de l’Arsenal, where pleasure boats (that are not very tall) moor. It is the modified waterway that used to bring Seine water to the moat around the Bastille.

Sparkle for five mins on the hour

Tour eiffel night sparkle all

Our advance team advised us to catch the sparkle, and we are so glad we did! The sparkle is from the extra bluish lights; the golden lights are the standard lighting.

The grass where we lounged the other day has been fenced off—we assume for a recovery period after the summer crowds. However, the front two sections had been…accessed, so we did sit on the grass again, the better for upward gazing.

Hillcrest buildings

Saint Pierre de Montmartre interior classic shot

After our first visit to Montmartre, this is the church we look for to actually enter, the Église Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, the little church.

Okay, since you probably associate Montmartre with a different Catholic architectural wonder, here’s the big place (the basilica).

Sacre coeur south variable light

The other large building up here is ignored by most, skirted, and otherwise overlooked. Of course, it’s designed to disappear into the landscape, which is quite a feat considering its bulk and proximity to the two churches. It is the Réservoir du Montmartre—yes, a hilltop water storage facility.

If you’re wondering, we came up streets and steps from the northeast, and came down the “front.” Didn’t see Amélie.

Montmartres three largest buildings

Montmartre’s three largest buildings from GoogleMaps satellite view.