When in Rome?

Being in the south of France puts history at your step. I must admit history was never my forte.  I’ve had a lot to learn. For example, the Medieval period and Middle Ages are exchangeable terms in European history. This time period refers to the end of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the Renassaince, around AD 500 – 1500. Prior to this time, the Roman Empire encompassed all of Southern Europe and more. So, it’s actually no great surprise to see so much evidence of the Roman influence along with Medieval buildings in this area of France. And that’s my history lesson for today.

Some of the main strongholds of Rome are cities within an easy drive from Pierrelatte. Places such as the Pont du Gard aqueduct, Orange,  Vaison la Romaine, and Avignon. I’ll share a bit about some of the villages and sites around here.

Pont du Gard is a well preserved Roman aqueduct built around 19 BC. It is believed to have provided 9,000,000 gallons of water a day to Nimes, one of the largest cities of the time. Imagine that!  
The river also flows under the aqueduct. It is possible to have access to all three levels of the bridge, if you get to the site in time for the tour. I missed it! The last group came through as I rushed to the top.

 Maybe I shouldn’t have taken time for a picture. You can access the site on both sides of the river. The top tier tour started on the side opposite from where we were.

   
Some people rent kayaks to get another perspective on this magnificent site. Our view from the lowest tier was still outstanding.

Looking out from the bridge. 

   
Looking directly up.

 When we left Pierrelatte it was cold and windy. When we arrived at Pont du Gard, it was warm, no wind, we stripped off scarves and sweaters. We had no idea it would be a good day for a swim on the beach opposite. 

Another amazing site from the Roman Empire is in the village of Orange. As you enter this city, you are ‘greeted’ by a Roman arch that looks like the ‘Arc de Triomph’ in Paris. The Orange arch is said to have inspired Napolein’s Arc de Triomph in Paris. This arch in Orange was erected in 19 AD. 

   
    
 
The carvings on the facade represent victories of the emporer, on the sea and land, and are meant to make would be invaders think twice before attempting a military invasion.

Another relic of Rome in Orange is the theatre. This structure was built early in the first century AD. It’s the best preserved Roman theatre in Europe and the only one with it’s acoustic wall still standing. Theatre was one of the ways of spreading the Roman culture to the colonies of the empire, keeping the locals entertained and happy. Everyone went to the theatre. Of course your seat was based on your social status. Sometimes performances lasted a full day. 

The theatre was closed for long periods beginning in AD 391 and used for military operations, housing for townspeople and even a prison. During the 19th century efforts to recover the theatre began. These have continued and the theatre is still in use today.

 Entering the Orange Roman Theatre.
Statue of Caesar on the acoustic wall.
    
Seats are hard and cold! The theatre can seat 10,000.

 

Vaison la Romaine is a village split in two by the Ouveze River. A Roman bridge connects the newer area of the village, which is home to a large Roman ruin site, to the old hilltop area of the village. The original Roman town was as large as the village of today. Much of today’s village has been built atop the Roman ruins. 

The ruins in Vaison la Romaine are home to another ancient Roman theatre which seats 6,000 compared to the 10,000 capacity of the Orange theatre. Vaison la Romaine’s theatre is also lacking the acoustic wall. However, as in Orange, the theatre is still in use today.

Headed to the theatre.

   
Up the hill and through the tunnel.

    
Approaching the entrance.

    
 
View from the top. Take your seat.

   
 Ruins of the acoustic wall.

The Roman Bridge connecting to the hill-top village is a 55 foot Roman arch built in the first century. This bridge has survived floods that have wiped out newer construction.

   
 Both of these pictures are from the old hill-top village side of the bridge.

Doug took a break as I hiked up through the old village. As in most old walled, medieval villages the cobbled streets are very narrow. At the top of the hill was the Chateau Comtal. This was once the home of a prince-bishop who had the hilltop chateau built here in the 12th century to escape an attack by the Count of Toulouse. The townspeople followed and built homes within the wall under the chateau for protection. It’s quiet and picturesque.

   
    
    
    
Chateau on the hill-top. Last 100 yards was walking on this rocky surface.

 Views from the top.

  

Yes, vineyards are everywhere.

 A French woman offered to take my picture at the top. Here’s to hilltop experiences.   

 
Well friends, my iPad needs to be charged so I’ll leave you for now.

   

It seems every French village has an Office of Tourism.

   
  

  
Bonne journée.


Sur la Pont, d’Avignon…

L’on y danse

L’on y danse

Sur la Pont, d’Avignon

L’on y danse,  tout en rond

 Last weekend we took the train to Avignon. It’s the place with the unfinished bridge pictured above that the children’s song was written about. If you’d like to hear it, check it out on YouTube, the Avignon song. I’m sure it will be familiar to you. The bridge once had 22 arches, now it has four due to continual flooding of the Rhone River.

All week I’ve been thinking of how I can share our experiences without boring you with our personal photos and blah, blah, blah. How to keep the blog from being as boring as watching someone else’s home movies?


Here’s an idea, show more of this hunk. Doug is looking quite French in the Jardin du Rocher des Dome. It’s been interesting, three times this past week we’ve been stopped and asked for directions, in French of course. Hmm, do you suppose we truly do look French? Of course our response is ‘je ne parle pas francais.’

I’ve mentioned that the French make a point of looking nice when they leave the house. As opposed to this time of year in the states, many French women are still wearing white. Very interesting…

Avignon is not only known for the song about the unfinished bridge. It was also the Franco Vaticano or the home of the Roman Catholic Papacy for 94 years (1309-1403). This is when wine became prominent in Provence, i.e. Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A favorite appellation of Doug’s.

A tasting room in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Clos des Papes.
  
Remains of the country Chateau of the Popes.

  

In Avignon Doug humored me as we visited the Musee du Petit Palais which houses many, many, many pieces of religious artwork from the Medieval era. After our walk through the pictures of Saints et al, we wound around the old city in the little tourist train flanked by women from Spain.

Palais du Papes

The next day we toured the Palais du Papes, the largest Gothic building in Western Europe, then through the Jardin du Rocher des Dome to the Pont (bridge) d’Avignon and a walking tour of the backstreets of Avignon. It was a 16,000+ step day if you’re counting. Some scenes below.

Entrance to the old, walled city of Avignon. Train station is right through the pillars.

.
  

Water wheels are still functioning in the city canals.
  

The train ride from Pierrelatte to Avignon was good. Much faster than what we rode from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. This was a forty minute ride. The people in the ticket booths spoke enough English to make buying our tickets a breeze.

A couple other noticings about France. Smoking is alive and well here. People aren’t allowed to smoke inside public places, however, most of the time during the day everyone sits outside. Sidewalk cafes are abundant. The French sit for hours at theses sidewalk cafes. We took a break and Doug had a glass of wine, I had a cafe for 2.8 euros or $3.15. Old rock is played everywhere. If you’re in a cafe/restaurant in one of these old buildings, bathrooms are tiny. Usually the wash area is shared between men and women. Sometimes toilettes are also shared. Even if they aren’t, the toilette space is so small there is no place to put a purse, rarely is there a hook on the back of a door. I have to always remember to leave it behind. Otherwise I’m juggling a bag and trying to pull my pants down then up. Yup, a real challenge in the provided space. And I’m short. Imagine!

Pedestrian exit from the city wall.

Chapel of the Black Penitents. The confraternities of Penitents were from the South of France. We live half a block from the Chapel of the white penitents. The primary role of the black penitents was to assist convicts in their final hours and provide for their burial. We also saw the Chapel of the Grey Penitents in Avignon.



St Pierre (Peter) Church.


Close up of the carvings on one door.


Interior of the St Pierre Church.

View from the top of the Palace of the Popes.


Views from the Garden du Rocher des Dome looking across the Rhone.


My mantra for this year is “I am here.” Yes, I am here. This travel life can become lonely if you begin to focus on what you may be missing back where you’ve come from. It’s important to be present and remember I am here. We’ve been ‘here’ for just a month now and as we talk about what we still would like to see and do, it’s hard to imagine there will be enough time. Today, I am here.

I am here at the Friday Pierrelatte market. It’s cold here. I broke down and bought a sweater at the market. Now to find room in my bags for one more thing…
I am here with beautiful golden pomegranates


And lovely scallops. Fish too.


I am here taking off for a morning walk.


We are here at Le Douglas Grill having lunch.

  
We spent time this week planning our next adventure. It’s getting cold here as it is for all of you in the states. With the wind it’s coat, hat, scarf and glove cold. Our time in Pierrelatte ends October 31. Then we’re off to spend a couple weeks farther south in France. We’ll see our former exchange student, Stella, in Saint Remy, where she will be vacationing and climbing in the Luberon. Then on to the French Riviera hoping to find a bit warmer temperatures. Maybe we’ll see some rich and famous.

After the Riviera we’ve planned a week in Paris. Our HomeAway is in the center of the city. The only catch to our plans is we are waiting to hear back from French Immigration to finish up our VISA paperwork. Hopefully that will happen between now and November 17.

November 17 we’re off to Lisbon then on to the Algarve. This is the coastal area in the south of Portugal. It won’t be swimming weather but sunny in the high 60’s. That’s as good as we can get without heading to the Canary Islands. Although that might not be a bad idea. We have a small apartment in Faro for two months. That should give us time to explore Portugal and southern Spain. This cold weather is just not fun anymore.

Well friends, I’ll leave you with a few more shots from Avignon.


  Friend, I never knew you had a modern art collection.
  
The cathedral outside the Palace of the Popes. Not currently in use.

I am here, in my theatre pose. Eyes open or closed?

This is the day the Lord has made,

Give thanks

Rejoice

Be glad

Be here.

Can you imagine…

Can you imagine a time when shops and stores all closed on Sunday? If you’re under 60, I would venture to guess you’ve not had this experience in the U.S. 

Welcome to the villages of Provence. Prior to our arrival we were warned that coming in on a Saturday, late afternoon, it would be wise to stop at the grocery to prepare for Sunday, when shops are closed. At the very least, shop Sunday morning since some shops will still be open, but only half the day. Restaurants are also closed. Needless to say, we were forewarned and prepared. What did catch us off guard was that most shops are also closed Monday’s, or at least the first half of the day.

It’s time to share a bit more of the lifestyle in rural France. Other than our typical days that I’m about to share, we do some sight-seeing a couple times a week. Of course we’ve been here only two weeks, however, it appears there’s plenty to see to keep us busy for the month. 

Last week we visited the city of Orange where there’s a medieval Roman arch and theatre. Also we visited the Pont du Garde, a famous Roman aqueduct. Both of these are for future posts. Last week was our first wine tasting trip. It was a busy week. 

We’re trying out the French cookbooks here in the house. Most days we eat at home. We start our days with a walk. I think we’ve covered most of Pierrelatte. We found a man-made lake and recreation area on the outskirts of town called Lake Pignedore. There’s a gravel and asphalt path for walking, biking, running or skating. The gravel path is a touch longer.  We usually do two loops, one of each, about 3.5 miles. There are other villagers out enjoying the area also.

  

Barefoot runner at the lake on the gravel. The rest of us were in long pants, jackets and hats!

   The Mistral (heavy wind) has shaped the growth of these trees.

 Skate park at the recreation area.
   Playground

 Sandy beach

In  warm weather people come here to swim, picnic, rent paddle boats and kayake. Even now with the cool winds we’ve seen people out picnicing and kids playing on the playground. Almost every time we come to walk there will be someone out windsurfing.

   
 Paddle boats and kayakes on the left. The year-round snack bar on the right.

In the center of Pierrelatte, about a block from our house is ‘the Rock’.

Legend has it that the giant, Gargantua, weary from his wandering through France, had sat down for a moment on Mount Ventoux to gather his breath and rid his boot of a troublesome pebble that had been causing him great pain. This little stone fell from the giant’s boot onto the middle of a vast plain, and became Petralatta – Peirrelatte.

Since then, the rock was used as the base for a castle and a quarry. The quarry caused a split in the rock which meant the rock could no longer protect the town from the Mistral. Eventually a concrete wall was built between the two remaining pieces of the rock. Today the area at the base of the rock is used as a venue for shows and other activities. The Rock is about two blocks from us and along with the church steeple and clock tower, a landmark.

  

The Pierrelatte Rock.

One of the reasons the church bells don’t sound as loud as I’d expect is that most of the time the ‘bells’ are coming from the clock tower in the center of town. Not from the church right next door here.
  
The Clock Tower strikes every hour and half hour.

On the block down from us is La Chapelle Des Penitents or the Penitents Chapel. This is the oldest preserved religious monument in Pierrelatte. Originally constructed in the 12th century it served as a meeting place for the White Penitents as well as the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity. The White Penitents were a Roman Catholic congregation who wore white and were responsible for caring for the sick, burying the dead and providing dowries for poor girls. The chapel was abandoned in the 19th century by the Penitents and restored by the town council in 1960. It is now used for shows and activities.

  

La Chapelle Des Penitents 
 
Staircase to venues held under The Rock.

Also in our Ville Centre is a windmill. This was constructed in 1839 by a local baker. It was actually in operation for about 12 years until the baker’s death. It was fully restored in 2011, however, we haven’t seen it operate.

  
Pierrelatte Windmill

Speaking of bakers. Ulysses is our go-to bakery two blocks behind our house. Although you have to go around buildings so it’s about four blocks walk. Considering what you’re going to the bakery for it’s good to walk a bit. They have great brownies!

I think I’ve mentioned the way pedestrian traffic is really accounted for in France. Even in the main supermarket parking area there are paths noted for pedestrians. You would hope this would keep people from walking down the center of the parking lot and blocking your entrance/exit. Hmm, not so much.

  
Pedestrian walkways in the supermarket 

In Pierrelate we also have a Crocodile Farm, a Coulours Of The Forge where they make knives, blades, candelabra, and decorative grilles among other things as well as The Perfumes Of Grasse, a perfumery! What Pierrelatte is most known for is it’s nuclear power plant, Tricastin, which is also the name for the black truffle found in this area.

  
In the foreground is a field of dead sunflowers (see them in their glory in August). In the background are the two cooling towers for the nuclear power plant. There is also a huge use of wind power here in Provence as well as fields of solar power panels.

Today was for housekeeping. I did the usual vacuuming, dusting, toilet cleaning. We have a small washing machine so I also did a load of laundry. It takes more time to get laundry done because the machine is an average sized front-loader. More than that, everything must be hung to dry in the sun room. Even though the washer does a great job of wringing out excess water, towels take time! It was a calm day, even a bit overcast so no sun or wind to speed along the drying. The weather is changing. Last Saturday we had a big rain. It started dumping big drops on us as we entered our door after walking. I wonder how low it will take to dry laundry in winter. 

We also wash all dishes by hand usually twice a day so this takes time. And, we have to spend time planning our next destination. 

  
Side view of our house. The third floor windows are the sunroom. Today you would see a couple towels hanging there.

For dinner tonight Doug is making Toulouse Sausage with Lentils and I made Ratatouille. Second round of Sausage and Lentils with a different sausage this time. It was great the first time. First time for Ratatouille. We shall see. Of course I can always throw together a salad.

I hope you now have a picture of our days in France. Not all that much different from a retired couple elsewhere who don’t have yard work. Of course we keep up with reading and even watch the news from CNN, often with anchors who have British accents. There’s also quite a cache of videos here. Tomorrow we’ll be off to visit another village, chocolate maker and wine tasting. It’s a hard life but…

   
Our property manager, Jim and his wife, Yolaine.

 
Au revoir from Pierrelatte.