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Trip Report BeNeFrance - A Detailed Journey from the North Sea to the Mediterranean

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AMSTERDAM, ANTWERP, PROVENCE, PARIS & STRASBOURG
October 6 – 22, 2009


First of all, this is a year late, but I would like to thank the many members of the Fodor's Community who helped in the planning of our journey, particularly the Francophiles, whose advice was well heeded. It was their insistence about renting a car in Provence which really made our whole trip come together. Thank you to everyone for sharing your wisdom and insights. And now, I would like to share my journey with all of you.

BACKGROUND: After four years of dreaming and planning, my husband, B.J., our friend, Roger, and I embarked on a 17 day, 15 night journey from the North Sea (well, we really didn't get to the North Sea, but we were close) to the Mediterranean, riding the high speed rail lines, while chasing the ghost of van Gogh, and paying homage to the ancient art of plumbing… something for everyone on the trip.

B.J. and I have travelled several times to Europe, but this was Roger’s first trip, so we let him set the itinerary. His three requests were to, “visit a coffeeshop in Amsterdam, eat bouillabaisse in Marseille, and ride really fast trains.” That leaves a lot of real estate in between to be explored. What to choose from, where to go? This is the itinerary that we ended up with:

Day 1 – Tues, Travel Williamsport, PA to Philadelphia to Amsterdam
Day 2 – Wed, Amsterdam, Hotel Nadia
Day 3 – Thurs, Amsterdam, Hotel Nadia
Day 4 – Fri, Train to Antwerp, Hotel Postiljon
Day 5 – Sat, Train to Brussels, TGV to Avignon; pick up car, St. Remy, Hotel du Soleil
Day 6 – Sun, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorge, Gordes, the Luberon, St. Remy, Hotel du Soleil
Day 7 – Mon, Nimes, Pont du Gard, Uzes, St Remy, Hotel du Soleil
Day 8 – Tues, Les Baux, Millau Viaduct, St. Remy, Hotel du Soleil
Day 9 – Wed, St Remy, Arles, return car, Hotel Le Regence
Day 10 – Thurs, Train to Marseille; eat bouillabaisse, Hotel Kyriad Vieux Port
Day 11 – Fri, TGV to Paris, Hotel Tourisme
Day 12 – Sat, Paris, Hotel Tourisme
Day 13 – Sun, TGV to Strasbourg, TGV to Paris, Hotel Tourisme
Day 14 – Mon, Thalys to Amsterdam, Houseboat BK48
Day 15 – Tues, Amsterdam, Houseboat BK48
Day 16 – Wed, Amsterdam, Houseboat BK48
Day 17 – Travel Schiphol to Philadelphia

www.nadia.nl
www.hotelpostiljon.be
www.hotelsoleil.com
www.hotel-regence.com
www.hotel-kyriad-vieux-port-marseille.federal-hotel.com
www.hotel-paris-tourism.com
www.houseboathotel.nl

Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 1 – Tuesday: TRAVEL

    We usually fly out of JFK or Newark when we travel to Europe, but for this trip we found tickets from our regional airport in Williamsport, PA to Philadelphia to Schiphol, Amsterdam (and return) on US Airways for $542.13 (less $325.00 in Chase reward points = $217.13). So instead of a harrowing 3 ½ hour journey down Interstate 80 and around NYC to get to the airport, we enjoyed a 35 minute car ride through the countryside, having to pause along the way for a flock of wild turkeys to get off the road. It was definitely a less stressful start to our journey.

    Our friend, Phyllis, dropped us at the Williamsport Lycoming County Airport in the morning, where we boarded a de Havilland Dash 8 for our 55 minute flight to Philadelphia, which I really enjoyed. We flew just east of our home town, over the mountain range with the large wind farm, past the Limerick power plant, and Valley Forge, and finally into Philadelphia. It was really cool to see these landmarks from a different perspective. We landed just after 1:00 pm.

    After a five hour layover, and beer and sandwiches at Jack Duggans Restaurant in the Philadelphia Airport terminal, we started boarding our plane to Amsterdam. We flew a Boeing 757, with a 3 seat-aisle-3 seat configuration, the three of us sharing 3 seats together. The flight was only partially full, so we were able to spread out, with Roger getting his own set of 3 seats to stretch out on.

    Then we had to wait for 20 planes stacked up in front of us before we could take off. We were finally in the air again around 7:00 pm. It was an uneventful flight, except for the guy in front of me who kept passing the smelliest gas. Dinner was chicken or pasta, beer and wine was available for an extra charge, as were the earphones for the movie and music. The blanket was a piece of polyester that wasn’t even worth removing from its plastic bag. (US Airways suck) Sleep was sporadic, usually interrupted by the pungent wafting air.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 2 – Wednesday: AMSTERDAM

    It was 8:00 am and misting when we touched down at Schiphol, so our first view of the Netherlands was obscured by clouds. We quickly made our way through customs and baggage claim, tapped the money machine, and then stopped at the NS Railway counter to activate our rail pass (BeNeLux/France 5-day pass), and buy our train tickets into Amsterdam. We went down the escalator to the train platform where we boarded the next train to Centraal Station. Within 25 minutes we were schlepping our luggage onto tram #13, exiting at the Westermarkt, just down the road from the Hotel Nadia (Raadhuisstraat 51).

    We rang the doorbell of the hotel, the door buzzed open, and there in front of us… was the steepest and tallest set of steps – 37, in fact, two flights, just to get to the reception area, with our luggage. Before we could begin hoisting our bags onto our bodies to make the climb, a kind voice instructed us to leave the luggage downstairs, and they would send someone to bring it up for us. So the first 37 steps weren’t really that bad, after all. After our ascent to the reception area, we were offered a complimentary drink (water, soda, juice, coffee or tea) as we processed the paperwork for our stay. Pretty soon a young man appeared at the top of the stairs, loaded to the hilt with most of our luggage. We felt humbled by his youth.

    Since our rooms weren’t ready yet, we left our luggage in the care of the young man, while we traversed back down the 37 steps, and on to conquer Amsterdam. Our first stop would be on Roger’s to-do list, a visit to the BlueBird Coffeeshop (Sint Antoniesbreestraat 71), which was a brisk walk across town.

    Since this was Roger’s first experience in a coffeeshop, we decided to let him make the selection from the menu. His eyes were wide as he read through the various names, such as Blue Cheese, White Widow, Northern Lights, G-13, Kali Mist, Laughing Buddha, etc.. Luckily, there were samples attached to the notebook-size menu so he could see what was being offered. He wanted to try a little of everything (of course), but settled for Lemon Haze and Zero-Zero hash. He made his purchase, and then we settled into some seats along the counter, and proceeded to get over our jet lag.

    As we were enjoying our refreshments, I noticed a young woman and man come in and take a table near us. The woman was wearing a T-Shirt with Easton written on it, so I asked if she was from the home of Crayola Crayons. She was! Easton, Pennsylvania is not far from my home town. It sure is a small world!!

    It was raining when we left the BlueBird, so we quickly scurried across town, and back to our hotel to pick up some rain gear. Back up the 37 steps to reception. Our room wasn’t ready yet, but we could go up and get our gear from our luggage. Go up?!? Yes, two more flights of stairs, another 36 steps, to room #412.

    The room was typically small, with a double bed, but there was enough area to store our luggage and still have room for my husband to pace. There was a built-in counter desk with two chairs, and shelves which contained a television, mini-fridge, and a coffee/tea service. A closet at the other end of the room had a built-in safe. The bathroom was small, particularly the shower, but had the necessaries. The room was clean and nicely decorated. There were heavy black-out curtains on the windows which helped with the street light.

    But the best part of the room was the little covered balcony off the front of the hotel, on the Raadhuisstraat, overlooking the Westerkerk and the Keizergracht, with an excellent view of the Homomonument. We had to climb through the window/door to reach the balcony, and it was large enough to accommodate three chairs (perfect, since there were three of us travelling together). We would spend a lot of enjoyable moments here, watching the city go by.

    Back in the misting rain, we walked up the Kalverstraat to the Amsterdam Historical Museum (Kalverstraat 92 or NZ Voorburgwal 357, Museumkaart), where we purchased a National Museumkaart for Euro 39.95 each, and proceeded to tour through the museum. Several rooms into the tour we realized we were thirsty, and decided to leave to look for something to drink. Since we had the Museumkaart, we could return later and finish our visit.

    By now it had stopped raining, so we wandered around, eventually making our way over to the Red Light District, so Roger could see some of the old architecture during the daylight (he works in construction). We ended up at the Amstelkring (OZ Voorburgwal 40, Museumkaart), which is a perfect example of a creative use of space. From the outside of the building you would never know that a three-story church was hidden in the attic of this canal house. More importantly, though, the Amstelkring is a lesson in Dutch tolerance. And oddly, for us, we had another “Small World”/”Twilight Zone” moment, chatting with the museum clerk. It turns out that his girlfriend is from…. Easton, PA… of all places!! What is it about today, with chicks from Easton?!?

    It was now 14:00, and our rooms would be ready, so we headed back to the hotel and back up the 73 steps to Room 412. Roger had a single room just down the hallway from us, which was convenient. We were delighted when we opened the door and found a vase of fresh cut flowers brightening up our room on such a dreary, gray day in Amsterdam. The hospitality at the Hotel Nadia was first rate.

    After a quick nap, a shower and some people watching from our balcony, we went out in quest of something to eat. This was our 6th time to Amsterdam (Roger’s first), and each time we visit we enjoy eating Chinese food at Nam Kee (Zeedijk 111-113). I usually order Teppen Noodles with Chicken and Vegetables, which is served sizzling on a hot plate. Tonight would be no different, except when my dinner was served, it wasn’t sizzling. There was no snapping & popping. In fact, it was kind of bland. It certainly wasn’t the same meal that I have enjoyed eating there on many occasions. We left Nam Kee, vowing never to return. We would have to find a new favorite Chinese place to eat in Amsterdam.

    It was raining again after dinner, so we walked down the road, past the Nieuwmarkt and the Waag, to the BlueBird again, for some desert. It was too wet to enjoy walking around town at night, so we did a grocery supply run (beer, chips, snacks, etc) at the Albert Hein Market on the Waterlooplein, then caught tram #14 back to our hotel. This time, I was beginning to feel the burn in my legs from the 73-step climb. The three of us spent the rest of the evening, sheltered from the rain on our balcony, as we watched the traffic pass by on the road and the canal in front of us. The boats, the trams, the cars, the scooters, the bikes, the people. It was like a well choreographed dance.

    We finally collapsed into bed from exhaustion around 22:00.

    http://www.amsterdam.info/museums/museumkaart
    http://en.ahm.nl (AMS Historical Museum)
    http://www.opsolder.nl (Amstelkring)
    http://www.namkee.nl/eng.html

    Robyn :)>-

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    Hi yk - Thanks for the reply. Life has been so hectic since last October, but I'm finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Now let's see if I can get ths trip report done. I've always admired you for getting your reports done so quickly. I'm still reading your latest, with rk. I think I last left you somewhere around the Bodensee.

    Hey Cath - More to come...

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 3 – Thursday: AMSTERDAM

    We were up and ready for breakfast by 8:30 am, which was located in the Breakfast Room on the reception level. It was nicely decorated, with a small outside terrace in the corner of the room, overlooking a great view of the Westerkerk and the Keizergracht. Breakfast consisted of cheese, breads, rolls, jams and spreads, coffee/tea, juice, yogurt.

    We paid our hotel bill with cash (you get a 6% discount), and then headed out for a walkabout of the Jordaan area. We walked past the Anne Frank House, but didn’t go in because it’s not covered by the Museumkaart (we’ve been there several times previously). As we were wandering some of the side streets, we stumbled upon the Paradox coffeeshop, which was just opening for business, so we stopped inside for some quick refreshments. We then spent the rest of the morning just wandering around the streets and canals, enjoying the views, taking lots of pictures, and dodging fietsers.

    By 11:45 we had made our way to the Café de Vergulde Gaper (Prinsenstraat 30) where we had a noon GTG planned with hetismij, and DeborahAnn and her husband, Ron. The café was virtually empty, so we were able to grab a large table at the back of the restaurant. Pretty soon, the rest of the group arrived, and we spent the next 2 ½ hours meeting new friends, laughing and sharing travel stories, while enjoying a nice lunch and libations.

    By 14:30 we were parting ways, with DeborahAnn and Ron heading off to Haarlem, hetismij returning to her home in the Netherlands, and the three of us heading back to our hotel, with a quick stop at the Grey Area coffeeshop along the way.

    After a short respite at the hotel, we took the tram to the Leidseplein and Boom Chicago, to book a boat tour with the St. Nicolas Boat Club, only to find out the tours have been shut down for legal reasons. Darn! We were all looking forward to a boat ride when we return to Amsterdam in 11 days. Not to waste the trip to the Leidseplein, we each bought a beer and found a seat at an outdoor table, and just soaked up the atmosphere of the city.

    Afterwards, we walked up and down the streets around the Leidseplein, checking out the many different types of restaurants. Since it was too early to consider eating dinner, we popped into the Rokerij coffeeshop, only to find it buzzing with activity. There was a camera crew set up inside, filming a young woman. Everyone was speaking Dutch, so we never did find out what exactly was going on.

    We proceeded with our walkabout through the Bloemenmarkt to the Muntplein, past the Rembrandtplein and over to the Seven Bridges. Since we were in Amsterdam on a Thursday evening we had to participate in the weekly residential event of strolling down the Kalverstraat, window shopping and people watching. I was surprised how crowded it was, for October, but then this was one of the first days that it hadn’t rained in Amsterdam for a week.

    We ended back at our hotel where we rested and re-grouped before heading out to dinner. Earlier in the day, we had passed a restaurant on the Leidseplein that was offering all-you-can-eat-ribs and frites, which had caught the guys’ eyes, so back on the tram we went in search of this particular restaurant, which turned out to be the Sportscafe B.V. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of places to eat, but we were here, and we were hungry, and by now I had ribs on the brain. As it turned out, the food wasn’t that bad, there was plenty of it, and we all walked out of the restaurant feeling pretty sated.

    After dinner, and a quick stop at the Dolphins coffeeshop, we strolled down the Keizergracht, admiring the wonderful old architecture and the lights of Amsterdam. We arrived back at our hotel, where we finally fell into bed after 23:00, exhausted after another wonderful day in Amsterdam.


    http://www.goodfoodgroup.nl/gaper.html#
    http://www.amsterdamboatclub.com/
    http://www.satellitesportscafe.nl

    Robyn :)>-

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    Hi Robyn - I'm enjoying your report sp far and looking forward to hearing how the rest of your trip went.
    It was good meeting up with you all.

    A couple of days after we were at the Vergulde Gaper The Boss was there, at our table, enjoying a quiet drink with just his manager. No bodyguards. Until some spotty youth recognised him that is. Apparently he was very generous and happy to have a couple of photos taken, but asked spotty youth to stop telling all his friends he was there, as he wanted some down time.
    Spotty youth thankfully agreed, and left him in peace. The photos and story of the encounter were on a TV programme later in the year.

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    Hi Robyn,

    I'm still enjoying this. Originally, DH & I were thinking of visiting Amsterdam this Fall. However, we have to put that on hold as I wasn't able to find acceptable airfares. So, in a sense, I'm "visiting" Amsterdam through your trip report. :)

    I'm sorry to hear Nam Kee was no good anymore. I had a pretty decent bowl of noodle soup there in the past.

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    Arrrggh! Gasman on the plane-maybe he was trying for a move up. If there were enough complaints, it might have worked.

    After all the steps in your Amsterdam hotel, a boat sounds pretty good.

    Keep it coming, please!

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    DAY 4 – Friday: ANTWERP… and AMSTERDAM, again (huh?)

    We were up early, had breakfast, and packed for our travel day south to Antwerp, Belgium. We really enjoyed our stay at the Nadia, and left there, hoping to return again in the future (watch out what you wish for).

    By 9:00 am we were settled into our seats on the train and heading across the Dutch countryside, towards Belgium. Although it wasn’t a high-speed train, Roger was thrilled to be riding the rails. We were all thrilled, just to be on vacation in Europe! However, about an hour into the two hour trip we had an “OH SH*T!!!” moment. Roger realized that his passport pouch, containing his passport, extra credit card, driver’s license, and some money, was still in the room safe at the Hotel Nadia!!!

    Luckily, Roger was carrying a cell phone, so he immediately called the Nadia so they could retrieve the pouch and contents from the room safe. They offered to have it expressed to us, but that wasn’t going to work. It was Friday, the beginning of the weekend, and we needed Rogers “papers” so we could rent a car tomorrow to get us to our hotel in Provence. We needed to retrieve the passport pouch today! After discussing several options, we decided to proceed on to Antwerp, where we could check the train schedules back to Amsterdam. Luckily, we were travelling with a Eurail pass, so it wouldn’t cost any additional money to return to Amsterdam, then back to Antwerp, again. The only stipulation was we had to all travel the journey again, together.

    By 11:00 am we were arriving at the most splendid Antwerpen Centraal train station. B.J. & I have travelled through many train stations in Europe, and we both think that the Antwerp station has got to be the most magnificent one that we’ve had the pleasure to visit. It certainly is an architectural masterpiece. We checked the train schedules and confirmed that we could spend the afternoon in Antwerp visiting the museums, and then head back to Amsterdam to grab the passport. Instead of enjoying good Belgian beer in an old bar, we would spend the evening on the train.

    We figured out the tram system in Antwerp (after having to get off because we were heading in the wrong direction), and arrived at the Melkmarkt. From there it was an easy walk to the Hotel Postiljon (walk towards the church tower), where we checked into Room #11. It was a nice room with a sink and shower ensuite, and a shared toilet down the hall. This was our first time booking a room with a shared toilet, so it would be interesting to see how our middle-of-the-night pee breaks would go. The hotel sits right across the street from the Liebfrauenkathedrale, so after freshening up a bit we walked across the road to check out the Peter Paul Rubens paintings.

    Peter Paul Rubens has a very special place in my heart and history, as it was his art that I was first introduced to as a child of 6-8 years old. I was particularly drawn to his paintings of Rubenesque women, because they looked like my mom. He helped me to see the beauty of my rotund mother, instead of being embarrassed by her weight. So it was important for me to pay homage to Mr. Rubens.

    The Kathedrale had a special exhibition mounted, REUNION - From Quinten Metsijs to Peter Paul Rubens: Masterpieces from the Royal Museum Reunited in the Cathedral. We spent about an hour viewing the wonderful paintings, and taking in the majesty of the building.

    Afterwards, we strolled through the Grote Markt, checking out the Brabofontein and admiring the Stadhuis with the many colored flags flapping in the wind. We walked through the historic Vlaeykensgang, which is just off the Oude Koornmarkt, and ended up on the Groenplaats. We grabbed some lunch from a Belgian equivalent of a Subway sandwich shop, the Delifrance, and sat outside on the plaza while watching the pedestrians shuffling about.

    We finally made our way to the Rubenshuis. I was surprised at the largeness of his house. He certainly was not a “starving artist”. In fact, he was quite wealthy, which is reflected in his living quarters, studio and gardens. We enjoyed the tour of the house, and B.J. was thrilled that the guard let him ring the ancient door bell on the front of the house (literally, a bell that rings).

    Since our ticket to the Rubenshuis also included entrance to the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, we quickly scooted over there, primarily to see “Mad Meg” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

    On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Frietkotmuseum (French Fry Museum) which was a poor excuse for a glorified French fry stand. The woman behind the counter was quite mean, yelling at the customer in front of us because the customer put sweet & sour sauce on some chicken nuggets. Apparently you have to pay extra for the sauces, including ketchup, although I didn’t really observe any signs saying so. The counter person was just rude, and kind of made us nervous to deal with her. It was like an episode of Seinfeld, only it was the French Fry Nazi… “No sauce for you!”

    We picked up our heavier coats from the hotel, jumped on the tram for the train station, where we checked the train schedules once again. We were back on the rails by 18:00, headed north to Amsterdam. Upon arrival back in town, we quickly made our way to the Hotel Nadia, where Roger retrieved his passport pouch, with contents intact. Everything was going according to plan; so much so, that we even had enough time for a quick visit at the Grasshopper coffeeshop (WARNING: total rip-off, do NOT visit) before catching the 21:54 back to Antwerp, the last train of the evening.

    We arrived back at Amsterdam Centraal Station (déjà vu), with 20 minutes to spare. We checked the departure board in the main hall, but couldn’t find the 21:54 to Antwerp listed anywhere. Now that's odd! So we walked down to track 13-A, where the train was supposed to depart from, but again, we couldn’t find any train to Antwerp! Okay, what the h*ll is going on?!?! That's when we noticed a train on track 14 which was going to den Haag, so we jumped on that, thinking it would at least get us further south, and maybe we could catch a train to Antwerp from there. Or should we?? On second thought, maybe it would be better to be stuck in Amsterdam than den Haag, so off the train we jumped, just in the nick of time.

    Okay, where did we go wrong?? To try to figure out what happened, we looked on the boards with the International train schedules, which are posted in various places throughout the station. It was then I realized that the little letters, Ma – Di – Wo – Do – Vr, under the train schedule were the days of the week in Dutch, and, worse yet, there was no Vr under the 21:54. And since it's Friday, that means there is no 21:54 back to Antwerp! The last train leaving was at 20:54!!! We are now officially stuck in Amsterdam. We checked with the Information Lady at the station and she confirmed what we had figured out. Apparently, they close the tracks earlier on a Friday evening to allow cargo trains to run the route. She also told us the first train out in the morning would be at 5:54am.

    Now here’s our dilemma: Other than being stuck in Amsterdam, with no hotel, no luggage, not even a comb between the three of us, tomorrow morning we need to be on the 9:03 leaving from Antwerp to Brussels, where we catch our reserved TGV train to Avignon, then we pick up our reserved rental car to drive to our hotel in St. Remy. Of course, we have to stop in Antwerp first, to pick up our luggage, which is now sitting lonely in our paid for, but unused hotel room. Yes! I think we can pull it off. We’re going to have to.

    Now, where to stay!? Hang out in the train station for the night? I don’t think so! Since Roger already had the Hotel Nadia’s phone number on his cell phone, we dialed them up and explained our situation. Lucky for us, they could offer us a triple room (on a Friday!) for the night, so back to the Nadia we went. Little did we realize when we left this morning, and talked about one day returning to the hotel, it would happen so soon!

    Even though it was close to 23:00 by the time we got to the hotel, we were graciously greeted by Osam, the manager. They put us in a triple on the first floor (yeah! Only 17 steps.) When the staff delivered a fresh bouquet of colorful flowers, it made the room feel so comfortable and warm, and really helped to drain a lot of the stress out of me, kind of like I was home again, safe and sound.

    I sent the boys back to the train station to double-check the train schedule for tomorrow morning (and make sure there’s no important abbreviations we should be looking for), and to hunt down something for dinner. They returned with some unappetizing pre-packaged sandwiches from Albert Hein, and a couple of bottles of beer. Not quite the Belgian evening we had been looking forward to. In fact, we didn’t even have Belgian beer! But it had been quite the adventure, and we were safe and warm, and asleep by midnight. Now let’s see if we can pull off this crazy schedule tomorrow….


    http://www.dekathedraal.be/en/
    http://www.delifrance.com/
    http://www.rubenshuis.be/
    http://museum.antwerpen.be/mayervandenbergh/

    Robyn :)>-

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    Oh Robyn, you stoners get in so much trouble. (Kidding, kidding!) I am enjoying your report and wish you had done it before I visited Amsterdam last June...

    I love Rubens too and what you said about your mother choked me up a bit.

    Can't wait to read more. And very much hoping there will be a photo link at some point.

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    I love your report! I could feel my stomach churn when I read your discovery of the missing passport! Oh S**T moment for sure! Maybe even an Oh f**** moment....
    Please continue with your alarming adventure!!

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    Thanks, everyone, for reading along. I promise, there's more to come. It just might be slow going though, what with life getting in the way of living (weekends are good for writing, workdays suck).

    Leely2 - This was actually our first trip with a digital camera (I don't know why I waited so long!) so I would love to share my photos. I'm just not sure how to go about doing it; which online program to use. Any suggestions?

    Stay tuned everyone...

    Robyn :)>-

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    Those Alice B. Toklas brownies do wonders for your memory! Just kidding, been there, done that. Maybe that explains a few things.

    Really enjoying your trip report, warts and all.

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    Sheesh!! You visit a couple of coffeeshops, and you get a reputation. :S-

    In Roger's defense, this was his first time travelling with a passport pouch, which he put in the hidden safe in his hotel room 3 days earlier, and completely forgot about. While the events where a bit stressful while they were happening, it's now turned into a great travel moment. Of all cities to be stuck in, Amsterdam was the perfect one for the three of us!

    hetismij - Your name comes up in coversation between the three of us from time to time. We all had a great time at our GTG and hope to do so again this April 2011. Mark your calendar now for some day between the 13th-21st.

    The adventure continues tonight, after work.

    Robyn :)>-

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    oh, Robyn, what a catastrophe.

    i do hope it wasn't terminal.

    your tale of woe reminds me of the time that we stopped off for a coffee on the french side of the pyrenees before driving across the border into Spain, which was the otehr side of a very long and precipitous pass up the mountain, and an equally long and scarey one on the way down.

    where we got to the border and produced our passports - or in DH's case not, as he had left his in his jacket on the back of the chair in the cafe.

    in silence we turned the car round and drove all the way back up the pass and all the way down again to the cafe, where we found DH's passport and jacket exactly where he had left them.

    and in silence we drove all the way back to the border crossing. I think we only started talking to each other again the next day.

    were there any recriminations on your parts? I think we have to know.

    we have now taken to putting a notice saying "PASSPORTS" somewhere prominent on our last night, or secretting them in a pocket in our luggage if that looks safe.

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    DAY 5 – Saturday: ANTWERP, BRUSSELS, AVIGNON, ST. REMY

    I guess the title says it all….

    We had a wake-up call for 5:00 am. Amazingly, I slept pretty well last night. We put on our pants, socks and shoes, and shortly after saw the taxi pull up in front of the hotel to take us to Centraal Station. Since the trams don’t start running until 6:00, Osam arranged for a taxi to get us to the station on time.

    We arrived early, which was good, because the 5:54 on track 13-A had been changed to the 5:45 on track 4. We looked like the mangiest trio, with our crumpled clothes, uncombed hair, and zombie-like faces as we boarded the train and settled into one of the “quiet” compartments. We were using the second day of our Eurail pass for train travel. We certainly weren’t anticipating all this extra travel on the pass, but it certainly did pay off (kind of).

    We arrived back in Antwerp around 8:00 am, and quickly took the tram back to the hotel, where we only had enough time to grab our luggage from the room we never slept in, check out, then back to the train station via the tram. I got a bit nervous when we found ourselves sitting at a traffic light on the tram, with only 12 minutes to go.

    I was so relieved when we finally boarded the 9:03 to Brussels, and we were back on schedule again. We did a quick change in Brussels to the Midi station, and then hopped on the 10:21 TGV headed towards Avignon. We had brunch on the train consisting of sandwiches (ugghh) and a bottle of wine.

    We arrived at the Avignon TGV station at 14:39, and promptly stopped at the local newsstand to buy our Michelin maps (#339 Gard, Hérault & #340 Bouches-du-Rhône, Var). Roger had brought his Garmin GPS from home to use, but he couldn’t get it to work while we were on the train, so we bought the maps as back-ups. We picked up our rental car, a Ford C-Max, and we were on our way to St. Remy. Or were we? We somehow took a wrong turn and ended up on a dead-end dirt road to nowhere. Once we got turned around though, we found the drive to St. Remy to be very easy. The signage was very clear, and we really liked travelling down the roads with the round-abouts – no stopping at wasteful stop signs.

    We arrived at the Hotel Du Soleil, and B.J. and I checked in to room #1. Roger was again conveniently down the hall from us. We were so happy to take a shower, put on clean underwear, comb our hair, and lay down for a nap. As tired as we were, though, we were even more hungrier. We had to go out in search of food… something other than a sandwich. Our last 3 meals have been sandwiches.

    It was an easy walk from the hotel to the center of St. Remy. Since it was later in the day, most of the shops were already closed up, so there was an eerie abandoned feel to the town, as we did two loops around and through the medieval streets, checking restaurant menus, before we finally settled on La Gousse d’Ail. Roger ordered eggplant, B.J. had roast duck, and I had pasta, although the boys had to help me eat my meal. I think I was too tired and drained from the events of the last 24 hours to have an appetite, although my stomach was growling.

    It was a beautiful, warm evening in Provence, so after dinner we took a slow stroll through town and around the block from our hotel. There were several signs along our route that showed various van Gogh paintings and the spot where the actual visualization occurred that inspired the painting. It was very interesting to make the comparisons. Some spots have drastically changed over time, while other spots have remained somewhat the same. Back at the hotel, we were so glad and exhausted when our heads finally hit the pillows.

    http://www.la-goussedail.com/

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 6 – Sunday: L’ISLE SUR LA SORGUE, GORDES, THE LUBERON

    B.J. & I were up early after a good night’s sleep. Roger slept in a bit; knocked out from the head cold medicine he bought at the pharmacy last night. Breakfast was not included in the room cost, and the price they were asking seemed awful high for the food they were offering, so we opted to wait to eat breakfast elsewhere.

    By 9:00, and armed with our trusty Michelin map, we were on the road in our C-Max, heading to L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue, for the Sunday morning market. The drive along the D-99 out of St. Remy was beautiful, with large sycamore trees lining the road, cypress trees dotting the landscape and the craggy hills of the Alpilles forming the horizon to the right.

    The roads were crowded all around L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue, however we were lucky to find a parking spot not too far from the Sunday Market. Looking in all directions was a splendid explosion of colors, from the fabric vendors, to the vegetable/fruit vendors, to the spice and olive vendors, all hawking their wares, along with the typical clothing and handy-dandy tool vendors you find at most markets. After a bit of shopping, we stopped at a little café for some coffee/tea, and to do some people watching. We left the market loaded down with all kinds of fruit, cheese and nuts for breakfast, a new shirt for B.J. and a large bag of saffron for Roger.

    We drove through Fontaine de Vaucluse and took the back way over to La Village des Bories, stopping at La Foret along the way for a quick hike and some wonderful scenic views. As soon as we turned off the D-2 we saw the huge parking lot for des Bories, so we parked our car in the near empty lot, and started walking towards the Village. However, partway down the road, we got a weird feeling about leaving the car in the isolated lot, so B.J. hiked back to retrieve the C-Max, while Roger and I meandered slowly on, passing a bories hut located right next to the road. So, of course, we had to go in and explore it, and ended up unexpectedly startling a young woman who was already in there checking it out. Pretty soon B.J. showed up, and we were on our way again. I’m glad he volunteered to go back for the car, because it was quite the distance to get to the other parking lot, which was located right next to the entrance.

    We had a great time exploring La Village des Bories, climbing in and out of the stone huts, and admiring the unique construction technique that makes up this ancient abandoned town. We all agreed it must have been cold living in those huts during the winter. After an hour or so, we piled into the car, heading back down the long and narrow road, eventually coming upon the young startled woman from earlier in the day, walking back to her car at the main parking lot. She accepted the offer of a ride from us, and we learned that she was from Colorado, on a 7-day journey through Provence, while she was living in Paris for three months to learn French. Lucky her!

    Our next stop on this picture perfect, blue sky, warm breeze day, was Gordes. Concerned about parking, we stopped at the first car lot (we could have parked closer) and hiked up to the town, which was built on top of a white rocky outcrop. Our first agenda was lunch. There were many restaurants to choose from, but we finally decided on the Le Jardin, Café Illy-Restaurant. We chose a seat on their outdoor terrace which overlooked the valley below, and ordered the special for the day. The entrée was chicken with roasted peppers and basil over pasta, and dessert was an incredibly delicious pistachio/walnut ice cream on a plate of raspberry sauce with dollops of whipped cream. YUM!

    After lunch we spent some time just wandering the steep and windy streets of Gordes, at times traversing the calades, the cobblestoned steps which are built into the roads. We walked past the foreboding Chateau de Gordes, and stopped for a look in the 12th century Roman church, dedicated to St. Fermin and the town’s assorted tradesmen.

    Most impressive, though, was the architecture, and how they built with what was available: a beige/white stone. The masons of Gordes carved out caves and rooms from the massive rock that the town is perched on, and used these square blocks to construct homes and buildings on and around the outcrop, with some structures just tumbling right out of the cliff side. At times you couldn’t tell where the rock stopped and the buildings began.

    The views over the valley were stunning, especially on such a gorgeous autumn afternoon. We could see the rose hue of Roussillon in the distance, which was our next destination. The drive was quick and easy, but we arrived just as everything was shutting down for the day. We ended up just driving through town, stopping for a few photos of the lovely pastel-colored homes and courtyards.

    The next town on our tour of the Luberon was Goult. We parked the car at a lot in town, and started walking uphill, in search of the windmill. The town, which was virtually empty, gave off an eerie medieval feel to it as we wandered the narrow streets and alleyways. Despite (what we thought was) our thorough search of the town, we could not locate the allusive windmill, so we decided to head back to the car. On our way, we passed the local community center, where we discovered most of the town folk enjoying the afternoon, engaging in competitions of boules. It was an unexpected pleasure to be temporary spectators to this local sporting event.

    We were able to communicate in a combination of English, French, and hand gestures with one of the local folk as to the location of the windmill, and he instructed us to get our car and drive up the road we had just wandered from, and then take the left hand road at the top of the hill, a road we thought was a driveway. So off we went again, this time in the car, up the narrow street, and made a left into the “driveway”, which was an even narrower, steeper road, barely wide enough to accommodate our C-Max. Pretty soon, we were at the top of the hill, and there in front of us was a most magnificent old stone windmill, silhouetted by the deep blue Provence sky. We walked a bit of the trail around the windmill, before heading back down the hill and on to or our next destination. The day was quickly slipping away.

    Our next stop was going to be Lacoste, but we lost sight of the road signs, so we decided to stop at Oppeede La Vieux instead, which wasn’t on our list of “hill villages” to visit, but turned out to be one of our favorite towns to explore. We parked in the car lot, which was located across the small valley from Oppeede, and which provided an excellent view of the mysteriously inviting ruins of this ancient Roman village. Oppeede La Vieux looked like it was a l-o-n-g way off, so the boys were a bit reluctant to make the hike across the valley and up the hill. But I was insistent, so off we went, following the easily marked trails. Along the way we stopped to enjoy one of the lookout points and the view behind us, of the village of Gordes clinging to the Vaucluse plateau, with Mont Ventoux in the background.

    Before long we were entering the inhabited part of Oppeede La Vieux, where residents reclaimed the ancient abandoned ruins and converted them into modern dwellings. As we climbed higher, the ruins were less inhabited, until we came to the old Roman Church of Notre Dame d’Alydon and remnants of the old castle perched at the top of the hill, with its sheer vertical drop to the valley below. We had such a great time exploring the ruins, particularly the boys who engaged in a spirited discussion of ancient building techniques (just how the hell did they get their building supplies all the way up here?).

    It was dusk by the time we made our way back to the car, for the drive to our hotel. As we approached St. Remy the sun was beginning to set, leaving a beautiful array of orange, red, yellow, and purple plastered across the sky, sort of like the colors of Roussillon. It had been a perfect day in Provence. The temperature was warm, particularly in the sun; the skies were blue; and there was an almost constant light breeze.

    After a short respite at our hotel, we walked into town and bought a pizza-to-go from the restaurant at the end of the block, Pizza Nostra. We enjoyed the rest of the evening, relaxing in the hotel courtyard, eating our pizza, nibbling on our fruit and cheese from this morning’s market, and sharing a delicious bottle of wine we purchased in Gordes.

    http://www.gordes-village.com/html/index.html
    http://www.theluberon.com/index.htm

    Robyn :)>-

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    Enjoying your report Robyn!

    You asked about photo sharing sites online...
    I like Photobucket.com because it's free, easy to use, people don't have to be 'friends' or members to see your photos and you can link to your photos from other sites as well.

    I also use Panoramio.com. Again it's free and if you add the latitude and longitude your pics might get selected and displayed on Google Earth.
    (They have a tool to let you do this easily)
    For a hack photographer like me it was quite a thrill to find some of my pics on Google earth! ;^)

    Rob

    PS regarding the non functioning Garmin... did forgetful Roger neglect to download European maps?
    LOL

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    kerouac - We found October to be a wonderful time to travel. The weather wasn't too hot, and there really weren't any crowds to speak of. We did have a little bit of "funky" weather (stay tuned), but that just added to the uniqueness of our trip. My main problem with October travel has been coming home and sliding right into the winter holidays, which doesn't give me any time to write my trip report!

    Rob - Thanks for the links to the photo sharing sites. I'm going to get B.J. to figure out the picture thing so I can keep writing my report. Maybe by the time I get it done we'll have pictures to add!

    Regarding the Garmin, Roger purchased the European maps package and had downloaded them, and had tested it before we left. I'm not quite sure what went wrong, and since I'm technically challenged all I heard was, "blah, blah, blah" while he was discussing it with B.J. I was content just using our old fashioned maps.

    annhig - Thanks for sharing your passport story. I'll be sure to pass it on to Roger. Since it was his screw-up, he paid for the hotel room in Amsterdam. Other than that, we all approached it as an adventure - no hard feelings at all. If he hadn't been forgetful, we wouldn't have such a great story to tell - "bragging" about getting stranded in Amsterdam. Needless to say, each time we changed hotels, we were sure to ask him if he had his passport. Believe me, he wasn't going to forget it again.

    Please say tuned for more to come...

    Robyn :)>-

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    arts - i love your description of your journey through Provence. It's an area I keep promising myself that we will do, but other things keep cropping up.

    I'm glad that Roger didn't suffer too much approbation. you clearly don't bear a grudge for as long as i do; DH has never been allowed to forget about forgetting that passport!

    keep it coming!

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    My apologies for the delay in posting the next segment of my trip report. It's been a rough week. My sister-friend's mom passed away (she was 95!), I came down with a nasty cold, and my washer died. Oh well, c'est la vie!

    Next up.. paying homage to the Roman plumbers.

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 7 – Monday: NIMES, PONT DU GARD, UZES

    After a good night’s sleep for all, we were on the road again by 8:45 am., on our quest to pay homage to the ancient plumbers. Roger’s cold was passing, thanks to the kick-ass French Actifed he’d been taking. Our first stop was the local wasseri in St. Remy, where we dropped off our laundry to be cleaned.

    We then drove west on the D-99 through Tarascon and Beaucaire to Nimes, where we found a convenient car park near the Arenas. We purchased the combination Nimes & Les Baux pass (€14,60), and opted for the audio tour through the Arenas. The tour was over informative and quite lengthy, so it was nice to be able to jump to the next segment when you had ingested enough information. It was cool to be able to roam through the corridors, and climb to the top row of seating for a great view of the city. It was amazing how sound the structure still is, after 2000 years of near constant use! In fact, on the arena floor they were setting up for a bullfight that evening (private event, closed to the public), so it was interesting to see how the structure of rails and boards fit perfectly together to create the actual bull ring (this is a no-kill bullring).

    The winds were beginning to pick up as we walked through the streets of the old city center. On the Place aux Herbes we were happy to find a café that had indoor seating available, and omelette’s on the menu. Roger & I ordered the recognizable cheese, ham & potato omelette, while B.J. felt more daring, and ordered an unknown-item omelette (unknown to us because it was written in French), which turned out to be cheese and cucumbers, an odd combination. The omelettes were barely edible, as the inside was uncooked and runny (Hello!! Salmonella!) Thank heavens a salad was served along with the eggs.

    After brunch we continued our walking tour, stopping at Cathedrale Notre Dame & Saint Castor for a look around the 11th century Roman church. We proceeded down the rue des Marchands, pausing to admire the architecture at #15 (Middle Ages) and #17 (Renaissance), then weaved our way around to the Place du Marche, adorned with the symbolic palm tree and crocodile fountain.

    From there we walked to the Maison de Cairre, which was in the middle of a restoration process. The left side, and part of the front, was covered in scaffolding, but the back and right side had been completed, and looked marvelous as it was glistening white in the sun. We went inside the building, which was covered by the Nimes/Les Baux pass, but had just missed the start of the film which is part of the tour. So we decided to come back later, if time allowed.

    Since this was “Honor the Plumbers Day”, of which B.J. is one, we had to visit the Castellum, which was the ancient Roman distribution source for the water that flowed from the town of Uzes, through the Pont du Gard, for feeding the wells in Nimes. Afterwards, we hiked up the nicely manicured paths of Mount Cavalier, to the Tour Magne (c. 15 B.C., covered by pass) where we ascended the tower for an amazing, but very windy, view of Nimes and the surrounding countryside. There was a very informative exhibition mounted in the Tour Magne which explained the original layout and fortification walls of the ancient city.

    We descended the tower, and Mount Cavalier by way of the Jardin de la Fontaine, the 18th century formal gardens that were constructed on the sight of the original spring which brought the original settlers to the area. We had a wonderful time meandering through the gardens, admiring the tropical and colorful plants, the hidden coves and winding stairways, the bubbling bodies of water, the statuary, and the ruins of the Temple of Diana. It was another beautiful day in the south of France. The temperature was warm, and the sky was a deep blue, not a cloud to be found, but the wind was constantly blowing. Could this be the Mistral Winds which we had read about?

    It was mid afternoon, and time for us to leave Nimes, so we scurried back to the car, glad to escape the blowing winds. Our ultimate homage to the plumbers would be a visit to the Pont du Gard. Unfortunately, we got turned around leaving Nimes and ended up on the A-9 towards Barcelona, a destination I’ve always wanted to visit, but not on this trip. This error meant we wouldn’t have enough time for the museum at the Pont du Gard, but luckily the park itself was open until dusk.

    The three of us were blown away when we first laid eyes on this magnificent structure. It truly is a remarkable fete of engineering. The water flowing on the aqueduct had to be carried 50 km from Uzes, at an altitude of 72 meters, through forested, hilly terrain, to Nimes, at an altitude of 60 meters. That’s a long way for such a short pitch (12 meters over 50 km), the result being a mean gradient of 25-34 cm/km (about 0.03%). I know, I know… lots of numbers. But think about how difficult it was to calculate and build this amazing aqueduct… while using Roman numerals?! :-?

    We climbed the hill on the right bank for a good view of the Pont du Gard, and then crossed the bridge to the left bank, where we hiked up another hill for an incredible view! The breeze from the constant wind blowing was now beginning to cool, and B.J. and Roger’s knees were burning from all the walking and climbing we had done today. Plus, I had a blister on my left foot from a tiny speck of stone that got stuck in my shoe during yesterday’s walk, so the ball of my foot was stinging with every other step I took. We were happy explorers, but sore and windswept, as we made our way back to our car.

    Our plan was to have dinner in Uzes, but by the time we arrived around 18:30, the town was pretty much shut down. There were hardly any stores open, let alone restaurants. We hobbled around the old city, admiring the tile work on the palace roof, and the artfully carved massive wooden doors adorning several dwellings. The sun was setting against the stone buildings, leaving a yellow hue which looked like they were on fire. It was a beautiful sight, but our eyes kept drying from the blowing wind.

    We retreated to the warmth and comfort of our car, our trusty C-Max, and then proceeded back to our hotel in St. Remy. We stopped along the way, in Beaucaire, at a McDonald’s for dinner. Okay, before anybody squawks, it was a different kind of dining experience. We had the option of ordering a bottle of beer (1664) with our value-combo meal, instead of a soda! Now that’s something you will probably NEVER see in the US.

    We were back at the Hotel du Soleil by 21:00, where the three of us spent the rest of the evening sitting in our room, drinking Roger’s bottle of Gordes wine, eating pistachios, cheese and grapes, and listening to the howling winds blowing outside.

    http://www.ot-nimes.fr/
    http://www.arenes-nimes.com/en/nimes/
    http://www.pontdugard.fr/index.php?langue=GB

    :)>-

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    I'm glad you enjoyed the Pont du Gard. It is certainly one of the most remarkable sites in France, and even though it is claimed that "nothing that really exists" is depicted on the euro banknotes, just take a look at the back of the 5-euro note.

    If you ever get a chance to return during the summer, it is a joy to go swimming in the Gardon while looking up at the Pont du Gard.

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    I had a van Gogh "moment" in Arles while sitting outside having coffee. The bar up the street looked so familiar but I couldn't figure out why until I realized it was from a vG's night painting of that bar. It gave me goosebumps.

    I "got" his colors from that experience.

    Enjoying your report a lot, thanks!

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    DAY 8 – Tuesday: LES BAUX, MILLAU VIADUCT

    It was confirmed this morning by the hotel concierge, “Yes, those are the Mistral Winds blowing.” This is a phenomenon that occurs when the cold wind from the Alps collide with the warm winds from the Mediterranean. When we asked the concierge how long the winds would last, he replied, “When they say 2 days, that means 3 to 5. When they say 3 days, that means 5 to 7.”

    Luckily the winds die down overnight, so it was clear and calm in the morning, when the boys drove over to the wasserei to pick up our laundry, only to find out it wouldn’t be done until noon.

    So we decided to spend the morning exploring Les Baux, which was conveniently located a few kilometers south of our hotel. By the time we made the short trip over the Alpilles, it was around 10:00, and the winds had begun to kick up again. We parked the car, and bundled in our winter coats and hats, we walked the winding streets through the town, up the hill to the chateau, or what was left of it. We used our Nimes/Les Baux pass to gain entrance, and started to explore the spectacular remains of an ancient citadel carved from the massive bauxite rock it sits upon.

    Of particular interest was the amazing display of life-size, working medieval war machines, including a catapult, couillard, belier, and trebuchet. A little background here: We actually had a working 8-foot trebuchet in our yard for a summer, made by our friend, Justin. It was great for launching soccer balls and pumpkins, and served as a model for five mini-portable trebuchets that my husband built for our same friend, which were used to launch flower petals at his wedding. So you can see why the fascination with the war machines. Unfortunately, the wind was now blowing so hard, I couldn’t keep my eyes moist enough to see, so I retreated to the little chapel on the grounds, the Chapelle St. Blaise, while the boys spent some time analyzing every weapon on display.

    We continued our exploration of the chateau ruins, at times feeling like we were going to be blown right off the top of the mountain into the valley below. We occasionally found respite from the winds when we were walking through the several rooms and passageways carved into the rock. There was signage along the paths which showed an artist’s depiction of what the chateau looked like before it was demolished by Louis XIII in the 17th century. It was all very fascinating, but hard to really appreciate when your face was literally being sandblasted. The years of Mistral Winds blowing through Lex Baux were very evident from the amount of pock marks found in the bauxite buildings. We stopped at the gift store on our way out, where the clerk said the average sustained wind speed today was recorded at 100 km/hr, with gusts up to 130!!!

    We exited the chateau and took a little side street which led to the local cemetery, where we spent some time wandering around, looking at the tombstones and graves. We realized we were hungry, so we found a little café right in the middle of town, Le Jardin des Delices, where we all ordered mushroom and cheese omelettes with a salad. It was very delicious, and gave us a chance to catch our breath and warm up.

    Afterwards we continued our meander through town, stopping for a quick look in the Penitents’ Chapel (c. 17th century), and then across the courtyard, St. Vincent’s Chapel (c.12th century). Since we were walking through winding, medieval streets surrounded by ancient buildings, we were somewhat sheltered from the wind

    We eventually made our way back to our car, and took the scenic route back to St. Remy, which snaked through the mountains and limestone quarries which helped to build Les Baux and the surroundings. We went straight to the wasserei to pick up our clothes, but had to wait another 15 minutes for them to open up after lunch, at 14:00. We finally retrieved our clean clothes, and we were off again, this time on a most anticipated journey across the Millau Viaduct.

    We took the high-speed, limited access roads around Arles and Montpellier, all the while passing electronic road signs warning drivers of the high winds. We occasionally saw things blowing across the road, and surmised it might have been garbage, small plants, or tiny cars. It was quite the experience, propelling down the highway while the wind kept bouncing us back and forth. But our trusty C-Max held his own against the mighty Mistral Winds.

    About two hours into the trip, as we were cruising down the A-75 autoroute, we started getting excited when we saw the signs, “Millau 30 km”, then, “Millau 20 km”. By the time we got to “Millau 10 km” we were all buzzing with glee. This was really going to happen. We were going to cross this modern engineering marvel of a bridge, nearly 900 feet in the air!!! Since we started planning our trip to the south of France, this is one of the sights that was most anticipated. Who would have thought, 5-10 years ago, when we had been following the construction of the Millau Viaduct, that we would actually NOW be crossing over the bridge?

    The winds were still blowing, although not near as fierce this far west, and the sky was blue with high wispy clouds. Roger was driving, B.J. was in the front seat with camera ready, and I was straddling the middle of the back seat as we approached the 3 km sign. We were like three kids in a candy store, giddy with joy. The road gently curved to the right, and suddenly, there in front of us, were the seven most magnificent sails floating above the Tarn Valley. It was spectacular; driving off the edge of the earth, onto a magnificent floating vessel in the sky. “WOW! Amazing! Did you see that? Holy sh*t! Look at the size of those masts! Oh my God! That was great!!!”

    It didn’t take long to cross the 1 ½ mile bridge, where we promptly exited the autoroute to the Millau Viaduct Visitor’s Center. We checked out the displays in their museum, including one of the conveyors used to push the bridge decks out onto the pylons. The conveyor usually operates as a demonstration, but unfortunately, today it was non-functional. We then hiked the path to the top of the hill, to the look-out point, for a great view of the bridge and the town of Millau nestled in the valley below.

    Back in our C-Max, we re-entered the autoroute for another kilometer, paid the Euro 6,00 toll for crossing the bridge, and then exited again, this time towards the town of Millau. We descended into the valley, eventually driving through Millau the town, and across the Tarn River, to the Millau Viaduct Information Center, which is sponsored by Eiffage, the engineering firm for the Viaduct. We toured through the free info center, watching the film, and taking in even more information about the bridge than we knew before. Since the Info Center is located under the bridge, by one of the pylons, we got to see it from a completely different perspective. Afterwards we drove around on some of the back roads that run under the bridge, taking time to get out of the car to admire the construction and take lots of pictures of concrete.

    Dusk was coming on quickly, as were our hunger pangs. We drove back into the town of Millau and found a restaurant, where we sat and enjoyed a relaxing dinner while we waited for the sun to set, and the lights to come on and illuminate the bridge. We made our way back up to the A75 autoroute, paid our toll, and drove across the bridge again. It looked really cool all lit up, but wasn’t nearly the same kind of rush as doing it during the daylight.

    By 22:30 we were pulling into our hotel in St. Remy, the Winds still blowing. It was a long day and a long drive to Millau, but well worth the effort and trip. The three of us had fulfilled a dream today. We were exhausted and elated at the same time, spending most of the drive “home” reliving our day's experiences.

    http://www.chateau-baux-provence.com/en/baux/
    http://www.leviaducdemillau.com/english/index.html

    :)>-

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    Robyn, it was a good start to my day to see your trip report this morning. The GTG with hetismij and the three of you certainly added to the fun of Amsterdam for Ron and me.

    We've been to many of the places you visited in Provence and I'm reliving them again through your well written report. The Millau Viaduct is also on our list as a must see, hopefully next year. I'm looking forward to the rest of your travel stories, it's a terrific read!! Deborah

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    I am enjoying your trip report.

    We were in France last October. Spent 2 weeks in Provence visiting many of the places you saw and then drove to Sarlat for a week. Maybe we passed you on a road! We didn't experience the Mistral, but had perfect weather for our entire trip. Which was a wonderful time of experiences and memories for us.

    By the way we too were blown away by The Pont de Gard but didn't get to drive the Millau Viaduct. You certainly did some big drives.

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    DeborahAnn - It was so nice to hear from you, and I'm glad you're enjoying my report. The three of us had a great time at our GTG with you, Ron & Barbara. I think it's kind of cool how people from different walks of life, who don't even know each other, can get together for an enjoyable afternoon, all in the name of travel. It was a pleasure to meet the three of you. We had a good time on the rest of our trip, particularly the south of France, despite the winds. When you go back to Provence, you really should take a ride across the Millau Viaduct. It's a beautiful bridge.

    kerouac - Thanks for continuing to read along. Isn't the viaduct just amazing? I thought the heighth of the road deck would be an issue for me, but I was surprised how safe I felt, even with the wind blowing. The bridge has those curved plexiglass side rails that help control the winds, but still allows you to see the valley below. Very clever design. I also thought it was an interesting experience to have vistied the Pont du Gard and the Millau Viaduct on consecutive days, and observe the different building techniques over the span of 2000 years. By the way, you'd be hard pressed to get me swimming anywhere, but it would be nice to canoe/kayak on the Gardon, if there's enough water.

    TDudette - Thanks for sharing your van Gogh moment. I kind of know what you mean by "getting" his colors, after spending April in Holland among the tulip fields. You can feel his inspiration (goosebumps).

    Leely2 - Those howling winds you experienced must have been the Mistral Winds. For the most part we also had sunny days, with blue skies, and that darned constant blowing wind.

    The weekend is coming, and so is the next installment. Thanks, everyone, for reading along...

    Robyn :)>-

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    Hi ausssie_10 - Thanks for your reply. Apparently, it was beautiful and warm in Provence until the three of us arrived. The Mistral Winds started the next day, on Sunday the 11th, and peaked on Tuesday-Thursday. There was some kind of freak snowstorm in Germany and Switzerland which caused the cold air to stir up the winds. Of course, it had to happen when we were there! Oh well. We just chalk it up to another interesting experience (translate: story to tell).

    Robyn :)>-

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    DAY 9 – Wednesday: ST. REMY, ST. ETIENNE DU GRES, FONTVIELLE, ARLES

    I awoke with the beginnings of a congested head, so I was glad Roger had some of the French Actifed left over from his bout with a cold. Wednesday is Market Day in St. Remy, so we spent our morning strolling through the streets, leaving our tourist Euros with many of the local vendors in exchange for breakfast, souvenirs, a tablecloth, and my obligatory piece of travel art, from the artist, Franck; a watercolor of Les Baux.

    We took our final walk from town back to our hotel, finished packing, and checked out. Overall, the Hotel du Soleil was a nice place to stay. The hotel complex, which is made up of several buildings, is secured behind a gate which closes in the evening. They offered free off-street parking and, had the Mistral Winds not invaded our visit, we could have enjoyed the pool in the courtyard. Just off of the reception area was a comfortably decorated sitting room with free internet connection. Our hotel room was nothing exceptional, however the windows were well sealed and blocked out the sound of the Winds.

    We drove 1-2 km. south to Les Antiques. Our plans were to spend the morning exploring Glanum and St. Paul’s Monastery, but the 10-15 minutes we spent looking at Les Antiques left us giddy and laughing from the blowing wind. We now realize what drove Vincent van Gogh crazy! It was the Mistral Winds!! (I’m sure the absinthe didn’t help any.)

    Totally windswept, we again found solace in our C-Max, and drove back for one final loop around St. Remy, and then west to St. Etienne du Gres. We’ve taken this route, the D-99, several times, in both directions, during our four day stay in Provence. There are huge, leaning sycamore trees lining the road, creating a canopy that you drive through. We now understand why and how all these magnificent trees are growing with a definite lean to the south; it’s from years of the Mistral Winds blowing!

    We arrived in St. Etienne du Gres, and followed the posted signs to Olivades, a provencal fabric outlet which dates to 1818, and uses the traditional methods of fabric printing which were established in 1648 in Marseille. I make quilts, so when I learned through the Fodor’s Forum that Olivades was close to St. Remy, I knew I had to squeeze it into our plans. The boys patiently waited while I perused their store filled with the colors of Provence. The front room had bolts of fabric that were lovely to look at, but I couldn’t afford. The back room had discounted bolts of material, but nothing that screamed out for me to take home. When the clerk realized I was looking for quilting material, she led me to prepackaged sets of 5 swatches, but I wasn’t thrilled with their selected color schemes. Finally, she opened a drawer filled with pre-cut and folded swatches and I was able to pick out 6 different fabrics at €7,00 each. I was thrilled with my acquirement, although I must confess the swatches still sit in my studio, waiting to be made into something.

    From Olivades, we continued south to Fontvielle, for a hike up the hill and a quick look at Daudet’s windmill. Afterwards, we stopped for a photo-op at the Abbey du Montmajour, before heading into Arles. It was Market Day in town, but we arrived just as they were shutting down for the day, which created a lot of traffic and caused us to miss our turn. We ended up driving all over the city, until we could get our bearings and finally found the Hotel Le Regence (5 rue Marius Jouveau), which is located across the street from the Rhone River. We conveniently snagged a parking spot directly across from the hotel.

    We were too early to check in, so we left our luggage with the clerk and went in search of lunch. Our hotel recommended Restaurant Le Don Camillo, which was a short walk north of the hotel. B.J. & Roger had the lunch special which was a burger in a pastry shell with fried potato cubes smothered in a delicious gravy. I had a ham, mushroom and cheese pizza for one, which was large enough to feed a small army (or feed me twice). With my left over pizza in hand, we were more than sated when we waddled out of Don Camillo’s and over to the train station, to purchase our tickets for tomorrow’s trip. We walked back to the hotel, retrieved our car, and then drove across town to the Eurocar rental agency, where we had to bid adieu to our trusty C-Max.

    From there we meandered through the blustery streets of Arles, stopping to view the Roman Arenes and the Roman Theatre, just from the outside. We reached the Place de la Republique just as a funeral was ending at the Eglise St-Trophime and the mourners were swarming out of the church. So there was still a strong odor of incense lingering in the air as we entered this wonderful Romanesque and Gothic bastion of religious art. My favorite were all the reliquaries, including Sts. Anne, Martha, Gene, Virgile, Hilarie, Antoine, Roche, and Desire, among many more un-named lost souls.

    It was now 16:00, so we decided to make our way back to the Hotel Regence, by way of the Hotel de Ville, the Place du Forum, and several sightings of van Gogh’s ghost. We checked into Room #3, which had two double beds with fancy wrought-iron backboards and furniture, and was nicely decorated in the Provence colors of yellow, green and maroon. Even though our room was on the side of the hotel, we had a small view of the Rhone where we could watch the river traffic.

    I took another one of Roger’s pills, and laid down for a nap. B.J. woke me at 18:00 so we could go out for dinner, but I was too tired and achy to get up and join the boys. So I sent them off in search of food, while I took another nap. I really wanted to go out and walk about, and enjoy the “Starry Night” of Arles, but I would have to suffice with my little sliver of the Rhone from our hotel window.

    The boys returned around 21:00, empty handed. Apparently Arles was completely shut down. They couldn’t find any grocery stores or restaurants (except for a few high priced ones), not even a McDonald’s that was open. They finally found a pizza joint, which is what they settled on for dinner, and I resorted to eating my left over army-size pizza from lunch. The three of us spent the rest of the evening sharing a bottle of Rhone Valley wine we bought at the grocery store in St. Remy, eating fresh strawberries and blackberries we bought at the morning market, and watching a football (soccer) match on TV between Italy and Cypress.

    http://franckaquarelwatercolor.free-h.net/
    http://www.lesolivades.fr/
    http://www.fontvieille-provence.com/
    http://montmajour.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/
    http://www.restaurant-doncamillo.com/
    http://www.tourisme.ville-arles.fr/us/index_us.php

    Robyn :)>-

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