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Schnauzer's 50th birthday solo trip to Provence- trip report

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Well the trip has come and gone already. It is always amazing how much time and effort goes into the planning and then suddenly it is all over and you are home again. Many thanks to everyone on this board who helped with ideas and suggestions.

I chose to celebrate my 50th (next month so still 49 for the minute!) by going to Provence to attend a French language school for two weeks. I also spent four days in Aix en Provence beforehand and 4 nights travelling around the Luberon etc after the course. I have written a fairly detailed report about the school on the education board, so won't repeat everything here as well.

I went from Australia via Bangkok to Paris and then to Marseilles and then to Aix. I travelled business class because for that distance in one hit it would be a nightmare travelling economy, anyway too old for the back of the bus now. This was a good decision as I arrived half decent. Door to door it was probably about 29 hours. Travelling alone in todays climate was also quite difficult, in the repect that you had no-one to turn to if you were unsure of anything. I did not enjoy the continual queuing for security even though I appreciate the reasons why. My heart seemed to be racing even though I was not doing anything wrong!! I arrived safe and sound and so did my bags so I was already ahead of the game.

I stayed in Aix en Provence at La Maison de Carlotta. This was a typical Provencal B & B in the heart of Aix on the rue Frederic Mistral, just off the Cours Mirabeau. I found Maison de Carlotta on the web and Kevin Widrow also gave me the thumbs up after speaking with Aline the owner. Cezanne's wife used to live here so there was some history attached. My room however was very small, it did have a king sized bed, a small table and chair but I could not open the wardrobe fully which was a bit annoying. Also I did not have any windows just a sky light. The bathroom was fine, small of course, but with a lovely big shower head. I was a bit disappointed in the room as I paid 105E a night. There was a little terrace opposite my room which was lovely to sit and read a book or write postcards and have breakfast etc. Aline also had another room which was 120E a night. I saw this room which was much much bigger with windows etc and if I had known I would have paid the extra to have had this room. Aline the owner was extremely friendly and helpful and her daughter is studying the piano for the conservatorium of music in Paris, she practiced occasiionally and this certainly added to the ambiance. The situation was fantastic and I think this is what you paid for. 50ft from the Cours Mirabeau. I would certainly recommend the larger room, the smaller, no.

I spent the first couple of days recovering from Jetlag and wandering around soaking in the atmosphere. The markets of course were great, some good stuff, mostly the produce with the usual tourist stuff added in, some great some very ordinary. Markets are the same everywhere eh? I just loved the feeling of Aix, very safe by myself.

On the Saturday I took a walk with a guide from the tourist office through the old part of town. There were only two other people so that was great. Learned quite a bit of history. In the afternoon I then took a tour again from the tourist office to Cassis. Really it was only a bus trip to Cassis and back again with time allowed for you to go on one of the boat trips to the Calenques which I did. I did the five Calenques trip which lasted one hour. This was probably enough, there was an 8 Calenques trip but unless you had all day there it probably wasn't worth it. Lovely scenery and very enjoyable. I was thinking about trying to get to Cassis from Marseilles airport on my last day but it didn't look too easy, anyway I was glad I did the trip from Aix. Cassis was very small and apart from restaurants along the front and a few shops there wasn't much else unless you went walking. Very pretty though, it reminded me of Cinque Terre. It was very busy and bustling and had a fun atmosphere.

I had dinner at Le Passage a restaurant recommended by many. I was a little disappointed in my meal of Veau Tagine. some of the meat was very tough and fatty. Lovely flavours but I didn't know if it was that I was by myself that I got last nights leftovers. The dessert of Minestrone de fruits rouges and sorbet was lovely. The restaurant had a lovely atmosphere and the service was good. Another night I had dinner at a restaurant called Le Refuge in the Forum des Cardeurs. I loved this forum as it contained heaps of different types of restaurants and you could just wander from one to the other before making your final choice. I had the duck with red fruit and baked potatoes and tarte tartin for dessert. Both courses were great, however it was only when I received the bill that they told me they didn't take credit cards, fortunately I had the cash but would have preferred to have know before I ordered.

I really enjoyed Aix and loved walking to the Pavillon Vendome which is situated in lovely gardens. I bought terrine, cheese and a roll and fruit at the market and took myself for a picnic in the Parc Jordan. Quite pleasant but not like the grand parks of Paris. On the last day I witnessed the Fete de Calisson, which are the traditional sweetmeats of Aix. Everyone was dressed in traditional costume and dances were held in the Place de quatre Dolphins. A special treat for me.

I will continue with a short report of the school and my last four days in the Luberon a little later. Schnauzer

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    Please don't delay too long! Really looking forward to hearing about the Luberon portion of your trip.

    And Bon Anniversaire! My 50th is coming up in November and my husband is taking me on a 5-night trip to Provence and the Lyon area....the actual gift is dinner at Maison Troisgros.

    Maybe we enjoy another fifty wonderful years (at least).

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    Very interesting report. Looking forward to the french course you took. I, also, took a solo trip to Provence a few years back and loved it. Stayed in Avignon and took day trips to the towns you mentions. Bought provential talblecloths and napkins that I use for Thanksgiving each year. Looking forward to go back. Thanks Johanna

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    I had wanted my report to be full of funny and witty musings but alas it is not! This is the first time that I have travelled totally on my own since being married 22 years ago. I was so looking forward to the "peace and quiet" being allowed to do exactly just what I wanted, just when I wanted to do it. The experience was very interesting, I actually felt quite rudderless and lonely. Not pining for my husband or my very difficult teenage son, just very much alone. I have travelled to France many times before so it wasn't as if it was completely alien to me. I speak a bit of the language so felt comfortable there also. Maybe I had anticipated just a bit too much as to how wonderful it was going to be and the reality was quite different. I loved Aix but maybe it was just too small to spend four days. This came about due to flight constraints, the world cup was on and the flights were already filling even though I booked nearly a year beforehand. I had terrible trouble sleeping for the whole three weeks, if fact did not sleep through the night once! This probably did not help with the feeling anxious during the day. I was cursing myself for feeling so "flat" - trying to talk up this wonderful opportunity that I had. My report is reflecting I think a little of how I felt. Sorry. I did not think to check out the solo travel tales at Fodor's as I didn't for one moment think I would need any tips. I will try and up the mood a bit, if anyone is still reading this!!!

    The Language School: I booked into Crea Langue near Moustiers Ste Marie for a two week intensif language course. Actually they had an even more intense one but I chose the lessons in the morning and activities in the afternoon course. The standard of teaching was absolutely great, they used every method of teaching possible, the teachers were wonderful and the group of 20 students also worked very well together. The ages varied mostly from late 30's to 70's. At nearly 50 I fitted right in the middle and felt very comfortable.

    I tried just a little too hard to impress, in order that I wasn't put into the lowest group and ended up in the highest group. I struggled in this group for three days with two other people, a german lady, french being her third language and a swiss gent also with french being his third language. They both had really strong german accents and I struggled to firstly get through their accents before I could even try and decipher the french. I found myself shutting down occasionally as I didn't feel comfortable in this group. Eventually they dropped me down a level where I felt much better. However three of the first five days were sort of lost. If I had been able to sleep occasionally I may have been able to cope a bit better. I was very emotional all the time which is not really me and I think they thought they had a right nut case on their hands. I know I am just about 50 but did the menopause have to arrive in France just as I did??

    The food was sensational, two three course meals a day cooked with fruit and veges straight from their orchards and greenhouses. Miss Piggy of course could not refuse anything and at the end of two weeks the pants were just a bit more snug!

    The activties in the afternoon were very varied, I canoed down the Gorge Verdon, visited the L'Occitane factory (the only one in the world), visited old towns, went mountain bike riding etc. I really enjoyed these afternoons as the atmosphere was very relaxed and I found it much easier to speak. The rules were that you had to speak French all day everyday. For the most part we all did but occasionally out of earshot a few words of english or german etc were heard. The school is not for the budget conscious as it was pretty expensive but also very good. I really like the whole concept and the atmosphere at the Monastery was so friendly there wasn't one person who did not fit in.

    I have written a more detailed report on the educational travel section if anyone is interested in finding out more.

    Will do the Luberon part of the trip next. Happy birthday adlmllr, enjoy your time in Provence.
    Schnauzer

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    Ah, it must be a middle-age thing -- I had been hoping to spend a week or so in France by myself, as well, as a volunteer on La Sabranenque village restoration project. Unfortunately the dates didn't line up properly for me, but my husband and I were just saying that perhaps we should have posptoned our "dinner" trip until the spring so I could spend a week on the project first. It's in the village of Saint Victor la Coste, east of Uzes and west of the Rhone.

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    Bookmarking to continue readng your adventure. I am traveling in April to celebrate my big 5-0. Which we are lovingly referring to as the big 30 + 20 in my house. Please continue!

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    I'm enjoying your report, so please keep going! I've taken lots of solo trips to France, and love doing it. I love doing everything MY way, and seeing what I want to see, etc. etc. I've thought about taking a French language course for a couple of weeks like you did, but always seem to change my mind about that, as I hate to take the time away from other pursuits (seeing the sights!). Maybe someday.

    Anyway, I think you gave yourself a lovely 50th birthday present!

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    We're planning a trip to Provence next year and I'm very much enjoying your report. The info about Cassis is very useful as we plan to do a day trip from St. Remy.

    Looking forward to hearing about your experience in the Luberon.

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    Hey schnauzer -

    I can really relate to how you felt during your trip. Looking forward to it and then feeling "flat." Totally, what my life has been like in the last few months. And the NOT sleeping thing - aaarrrghhh!! That alone is enough to drive one insane.

    So don't be too hard on yourself for not being "over the top" in love with your trip just yet. Wait a few weeks or months and the trip will mellow in your mind and be exactly what you wanted it to be.

    So big KUDOS to you, girl for taking on this trip when you did. I really admire you for it. I've done a couple short trips to England by myself, but this was before I lost my mind. Thinking about doing it now is too much effort.

    Hang in there, honey - looking forward to reading more. Don't ya just love France??

    CY

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    Happy Birthday, Shnauzer,
    Moustiers and Cassis are two of the places I really like. A wonderful book to read (about Aix) is written by MFK Fisher,
    Two Towns in Provence (Aix and Marseille)
    Another by her, The Boss Dog.
    I think she really captures the spirit of Aix.

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    Thanks Cigalechanta for the birthday wishes and the book suggestions. I have been following your report also, we were there at the same time. I had made contact with Kaydee regarding the GTG but as circumstances happened we didn't make it, it would have been lovely to have met you all. If I had been totally solo at this stage I certainly would have made the effort but my friend, naturally, wasn't that keen not really having a clue what I was talking about "Fodors get together"

    The Luberon experience:

    Crea Langues dropped me off at Marseilles airport where I was meeting my friend Denise who was flying in from Scotland. I only had a half hour to wait for her plane so that was excellent timing. I decided to get our hire car organised at Hertz and everything went very smoothly there. Denise arrived and we headed north. I suggested we headed straight for St. Remy as I had heard so much about this town. It was one of the places we had considered staying. Just before St. Remy proper we stopped at Glanum the Roman site. It was a free day with free parking, better and better. Very interesting and well worth a look. It was very hot and Denise who had just come from very cold Glencoe was in need to sustinance and liquid. We decided to head into St.Remy central. We arrived very easily and I immediately liked the town. I hadn't realised it was as big as it was, not too big, just the right size! I immediately decided I liked St. Remy and felt a pang of disappointment that we weren't actually staying there.

    We had lunch at the first cafe we came to as it was now 2.00pm. We both had a duck salad and a long cool drink. Nothing too flash but pleasant enough. We wandered around and at a tea shop, (there seems to be heaps of tea shops in France) which also sold ice creams I suddenly remembered I had to try Lavender ice cream. yup, they had some and at great expense 2E for one tiny scoop we got to try this Provencal delight. Actually it was quite different and I probably wouldn't put it on my list of "have to eat that again". hmmm. Finished wandering around and used the disgusting public toilets next to the tourist info centre. Why are public toilets so disgusting - for the most part - in France? It can't be that hard to have some reasonably clean, can it?

    Headed off to Le Thor, near to Isle sur la Sorgue where we were staying. We had great difficutly trying to cross the river and every road just led us round in circles. We did not want to take the freeway style roads, and after driving in circles for an hour we finally found the right way. Very frustrating and un France like I thought. My memory had been that the roads were usually clearly marked. Hah, not this time. A little hot and bothered we arrived in Le Thor. Now, normally I am detail personified but for some strange reason I had presumed, uncorrectly that Le Thor was a one street town and the B and B would just jump out at us. I had no detail map as to where the Mas de la Marteliere actually was. Tricky... we found some young girls in the town square and here was the opportunity I had been looking for to practice my newly found French skills. They didn't actually know themselves but told us to wait whilst they ran off to the Tabac to ask. Fortunately the Tabac lady knew of the B & B and the young girl rattled off the directions to me, grottoes, church, roundabout, straight ahead, little road on the left. Yup, got all of that, yay off we went. Sure enough she was spot on as was my French and we found ourselves driving up some tiny roadway, never in a million years would we have found it. The road was actually a couple of kms out of Le Thor itself.

    The Mas was a very welcoming sight, beautiful traditional farmhouse, pale green shutters and lovely outside eating area. Bliss, even the pool looked inviting but the jug of water and the glasses won the day. gulp, gulp. I had found this B & B on the internet and was not disappointed. The couple who run it were delightful and friendly. It had probably about 5/6 rooms. There were 4 Belgium couples staying as well as us. Our room La Suzette was very big, lots of wardrobe and hanging space and shelves. Lovely large, clean bathroom, fluffy towels and great shower. Me first!!! I thought the beds were great, you could have two singles or a King. Much softer than the Monastery but Denise thought maybe a bit too soft.

    We had booked in for dinner as they also did table d'hote. We had a beautiful tradtional provencal meal of four courses. Terrine to start, beef stew, cheese course and tart tartin. You can also buy bottles of wine and reasonable prices, which we did. We ate outside all together (with the Belgs) who could of course speak any number of languages fluently. Makes you spew!!!! Off to bed after a long day.

    The web page for the Mas is www.la-marteliere.com

    Talking of bed it is late here is Oz so I will leave day 2 for tomorrow night.

    For Connecticutyankee, I don't know whether to feel better or worse after your post!!! Thanks for consoling with me, but you mean I will lose my mind as well??? Mind you I am sleeping a bit better now I am at home and not worrying whether I am impressing anyone with my french!!

    Until tomorrow, schnauzer

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    "Thanks Cigalechanta for the birthday wishes and the book suggestions. I have been following your report also, we were there at the same time."

    I have been watching for Cigale's trip report but have not seen anything. Where did you find it?

    I celebrated my 60th birthday last summer in Provence and then Paris and had a most wonderful time! I was with 6 girlfriends and we saw alot in our 8 days. That was my second trip to the Luberon/Vaucluse area and can't wait for the next!!!

    Thanks for the trip report -- love them!

    Enjoying!

    joy/luvparee

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    Ah, ma petite schnauzer! I did not mean to depress you.

    I've been struggling with several health issues lately that, combined, are really kicking my a**.

    I must say, though, that a book I'm reading called "Menopause and the Mind" is making me feel a bit more normal.

    Anyway, I love your report of France. Thanks for the Mas website link, too. I don't think we'll be seeing France again for a while but it sure looks nice.

    Can't wait to hear more.

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    Neo Patrick, I think you have hit the problem on the head!! That is why I felt so blinking flat, I am so blinking old!!!! Never thought of that. Thanks for the laugh.

    Luvparee, Cigale's trip report is under a title Cigale goes to france and comes back wingless.(or something similar) Just click on her name and scroll down you will find it easily.

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    Schnauzer, I'm glad this thread has come back up to the top. I've been visiting my father for the last week and I suspect I've missed many good posts.

    Your comment about feeling rudderless and lonely while there by yourself: I've made two solo trips to Paris and am about to make another trip by myself to northern France. While usually happy and energetic, I have had a couple of days of feeling exactly as you did--a bit lonely and a bit adrift. Luckily it didn't last long.

    The language school sounds wonderful, and wise choice about booking business class for such a long journey.

    Looking forward to more ...

    Anselm

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    Luberon Day 2:

    Up for a lovely breakfast. I had been used to the bread roll and jam style brekkie and it was lovely to actually have some cereal and yoghurt. Lovely fresh figs and plums were also served with danish and croisants. The day was starting to feel very warm even at 9.30am.

    We had decided to visit the markets at Isle sur la Sorgue as it was Sunday. Our hostess advised us to park at the Gare which we did easily and walked the few yards into town proper. The markets were in full swing, the stalls went on and on. I had my eye on a tablecloth, they looked so pretty with all the beautiful colours displayed. I had to do the 'research' first before making an executive decision. Up and down we went, stall after stall. I found a really cute jacket at one stall which immediately grabbed my attention due to the gorgeous fabric, too difficult to describe but needless to say I handed over beaucoup de euros and it was mine.

    We decided to have a bite to eat and a drink as it was now pretty hot, nothing ordinary just a ham and cheese baguette. As we were finishing our lunch I noticed the stall nearby starting to pack up. Yikes, my tablecloth - we hot footed it back to nearly the start of the markets where we had seen the first lot of cloths, fortunately he was still there with them all displayed. Now decision time. I of course hummed and haaaed over several, which to choose? A small crowd (5) of ladies had now gathered to witness the decision making. Bets were on that I wouldn't actually buy one, my friend assured them that I had done nothing but talk of this cloth and yes I would buy. Finally I chose a beautiful cerise pink cloth with blue trim and yellow bits! My kitchen is blue and yellow but I just love cerise. Besides I already had the blue and yellow cloth already back home. I handed over the money and the ladies dispersed happy with seeing the outcome. After telling my husband this story he commented that this should tell me something about my lack of decision making. hmmm.

    Purchases made we then wandered around the town looking at the lovely old mossy water wheels. We sat on a park bench by the riverside like a couple of old biddies. So peaceful, the only thing missing was the ice cream cone. We looked in some of the antique shops but my suitcase just couldn't fit an antique sideboard.

    We found the "bridge" restaurant, the restaurant featured in the guidebooks, ie with the tables on a bridge over the river and as lunch had long passed there was plenty of room. We decided to have a cup of tea sitting on the bridge. Very relaxing watching the water flow by.

    Back to the car and then onto Fontaine de Vaucluse. We had thought about canoeing up there and biking back, however Denise could not ride a bike and we couldn't find the canoe hire place. So that put an end to that, until of course we were walking to the car and there it was! Too late though to teach my friend to cycle.

    It was quite late, after 5.00pm when we arrived in Fontaine but still quite crowded. We walked slowly up to the source,stopping first to watch the young men jumping off the weir to the encouragement of the young ladies. A quick look in the paper mill museum and then to the source. The water wasn't flowing but we climbed over the barrier, along with everyone else to look at the pond where the action all begins.

    It was getting on by this time so we headed by to the Mas, showered and then went back into Isle sur la Sorgue for dinner at L'Oustau, recommended by our hosts and some guidebooks. It is a little way out of town but we found it easily. We ate on the terrace and had a very pleasant meal. We both had the fish terrine, I had the rabbit and Denise had the duck. No dessert tonight. Very lovely meal, I would recommend this restaurant certainly. Back to bed.

    Day 3:

    Up a little later than hoped as we have a long day of village visiting today. Breakfast taken and off we went. We drove to Gordes and stopped just beforehand as instructed by my guidebook to get the best view of the village. It was amazing seeing the whole village perched on this hillside. I am glad we stopped as it truly was the best vantage point. We did drive in to the village but didn't stop as we had decided to spend more time in Rousillon. Reaching Rousillon we parked in the carpark for 2E all day and went for a long wander around. The ochre cliffs are amazing, such colour and shapes. The village had a very welcoming atmosphere, lots of fabulous photo opportunities. We walked to the top and back down to the main square for a drink. We saw lots of people walking around with baguette style lunches so decided to follow suit. I really like this village, but there was more to discover elsewhere. BAck in the car and off to Saturnin les Alps. The countryside changed as we drove in this direction, more spread out and flatter. Some lovely old farmhouses on the way. Tried to see if I could spot Kevin's but couldn't. Parked in the village and went for a walk. Everything was deathly quiet, it was a Monday so don't know if this made a difference. Nothing was open but we had a good walk though all the little side streets. We decided that the residents like the colour purple in Saturnin as so many shutters were painted in this colour. After our walk we drove through very pretty country to Rustrel and then ducked south to Saignon.

    The local kids were at playtime at the school and just as we parked and got out of the car the football came flying over the fence to my feet. I did a quick flashy throw sending it back to the boys. This then started a game of kicking it over the fence to the dopey tourist who keeps throwing back to us. After several goes at this I finally blew the whistle and we headed into the village. Very, very cute. A gorgeous central fountain with a couple of great looking hotels and b & bs in the same square. We walked to the fort which was constructed out of stone, but quarried into the rock not the rock making the fort. If that makes sense. Again we wandered around the little streets and stopped at Auberge du Presbytere a hotel in the square for a drink.

    I need to stop now as it is very late here and I am falling asleep, will continue tomorrow.

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    Hello Schnauzer,

    I am enjoying your trip report. My attention was drawn to it especially by what you think of as its "flaw". Or, as you say "flat" and not full of "funny and witty musings". This quality is refreshing and adds a significent depth to your lovely journal.

    Should you visit Paris alone, I recommend this rather obscure (?) book, True Pleasures by Lucinda Holdforth---fabulous for a woman alone in Paris who loves Paris and history. I have travelled alone all my life.

    Since I am new to Fodor's, I am still trying to find the Education Forum where you talk about your course in detail...no luck yet.

    Your gift to yourself has become a gift to us. CopperandJade.

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    auberge du Presbytere is one of my favorite places. Across is one of the oldest Lavoirs that I like taking photos of. The hotel gets its goat chees from Gianni in Silvergues, goat frm where we stayed on year. In Saignon we stayed at Une Chambre avec View.

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    Part two-day two in the Luberon:
    We drove from Saignon through Boux, blink and you have missed it. In the direction to Bonnieux the scenery is magnificent on the left hand side. Even though I have never been there it made me think of Mt. Rushmore with the faces. There were no faces but similar rock formations, a big stretch of the imagination but hey that's me. Truly fantastic cliffs. We parked in Bonnieux and walked to the top of the hill to the old church. Magestic old Cedar trees framed a lovely view. We just wandered around trying to find an ice cream place with the genuine gelato not the commercial stuff but no luck. Bonnieux appeared to be a decent size with several restaurants and shops, more going on than many of the smaller villages. However, I thought it was a little colourless after Saturnin and Saignon with their brightly painted shutters. I can see why people would want to stay here because of the facilities but I do like "pretty".

    We then arrived in Lacoste. My guide book had commented that Bonnieux was better from a distance, I wasn't quite sure what that meant - keep well away - perhaps? The sun was starting to sink and the view of Bonnieux in the fading light was just beautiful, it was bathed in a warm golden glow. Now I understood what was meant! We wanted to have a photo taken with the two of us and a lovely couple were also loitering around the view point, I spoke in my best french to ask if they would oblige, "We're english they said and of course we will take your photo if you take ours!". We got chatting and they told us they were staying in Goult which they suggested we went and saw. This was to be our last stop and off we went. What a fabulous find, a most gorgeous village, pretty, colourful, shops, restaurants and couple of great village squares, the perfect spot. Not much accommodation though. There was a windmill at the top of the village on the hill and as time was pressing I decided to try and drive as close to it as possible. The road became more and more narrow and just when I was starting to think I was going to get stuck Denise jumped out of the car to see what lay around the corner, well blow me, a huge car park!! Yay. We parked and then walked all around the village. Again houses built into the stone, very interesting. There was a cooking school which looked like it was worth a bit of further research. Next holiday perhaps? I really liked Goult and would recommend a visit. Apparently the few days prior to our visit there had been a festival and it was hopping.

    We rescued the car and as we were driving down the road we came across the couple from Lacoste who asked us to visit their B & B but time was getting very late and we had booked again at our B & B for dinner. Regretfully we said goodbye and zoomed down the main road back to Le Thor.

    Dinner was again lovely, baby duck (sorry baby duck)and a clafoutis along with cheese and a starter I have forgotten. However the storms hit and we had to rush inside half way through dinner. The thunderstorm had spectacular lightening and Denise was impressed as in Glencoe they may have the norhern lights but they don't have lightening like this.

    Day three:
    Packed up and left the Mas.
    Up and off to Avignon. We parked on the outskirts easily enough but probably a bit far away from the action. Les Italies car park near the uni. It was a 15 mins walk into the centre. We of course went straight to the Pont to have a look, quite interesting to think it stretched so far. We looked at the outside of the Pope's Palace and found the garden behind and looked at the view. To be honest I didn't really warm to Avignon, Denise didn't want to look at the shops and there didn't appear to be much else to look at. I am sure there is, but not in my guide book! and as we were wanting to get to the Pont du Gard and south we needed to move along and not wander around too much. We had a quick lunch near the city walls and back to the car. We drove around the city walls to head in the direction of the Pont du Gard. I thought Avignon looked better from the outside, if you do not have much time I would suggest just driving slowly around the whole city, it looked more interesting from the other side of the walls! Sorry Avignon lovers.

    We found the Pont du Gard and were blown away by the beauty of the whole place. We walked across and actually the views were better from the right side. I don't know how far away the parking would be on that side but I would suggest unless you need to see the museum to park on this side. We did a couple of the walking tracks and took some great shots. In the middle of summer it would be fabulous to go swimming in the river. Take your cossies.

    Denise had read about a lovely drive from Uzes to Nimes. The road ducks off just before Uzes. It certainly was very pretty driving through the magnificent avenues of trees with the vineyards on either side. The stuff of postcards, suddenly you are now in rocky formations a complete change. We hit Nimes and only saw one sign post to Montelimar, not the direction we needed. After an hour of driving around Nimes in rush hour traffic looking for a sign, any sign, please to Arles we finally found our road. Please why don't they signpost in cities properly. In the countryside fantastic signage, when you need it in towns, non existent, expect of course to the places you dont' need. arrrrrg...

    We needed to head south as were staying in Chateauneuf Les Martigues, nearish to the airport. My guidebook had suggested this drive to the south, not quite the Camargue but on the outskirts, it was a dull as dishwater, nothing to see, NOTHING, finally the wind farms came into view and then the oil refineries, oh joy. What a waste of time, well we certainly saw the various sides to Provence. A long journey and now the Mistral had decided to hit. Wow, I have read about the Mistral but didn't imagine it was really like they say it is, very, very, strong winds, the little pine trees on the side of the roads were at 45 degree angles and the sudden cold, wow.

    I was exhausted from such a long drive and we eventually found our B & B called Villa Souleiado - www.villasouleiado.com the room was lovely, really part of a self contained flat, separate bathroom and separate toilet also a fully equiped kitchen. It was already gone 7.00 and I was in need of food and drink. The mistral is now absolutely howling outside but we brave the elements and go to Carry Le Rouet about 6kms away for dinner. We dined at Le Terrasse and had a great 21E set menu. Duck terrine to start followed by salmon in a nut cream sauce with veges and then creme caramel for dessert. yum.

    This was our final evening together so it was nice to have a meal out. Very cold and dark, back to the B & B for a very early start. Well for us anyway.

    I had a dreadful nights sleep worrying about the lack of road signs to the airport. Denise had to be there by 8.15am. We had chosen this accommodation as we didn't want to spend the last evening together at an airport hotel eating airport food. Initially we had some signs directing us to the airport and then they disappeared at the critical moment. finally we could see the airport to our left but no joke there was not one sign actually leading off the main road to the airport itself. The airport started to fade into the distance and the freeway to Lyon and Marseilles was looming in our faces, what to do. Help, my nightmares had come true!! We ducked off some little side road to an industrial area and found a petrol station, it was now past the time we should have been at the airport. I try and get directions but my french is failing in my panic and now of course no-one speaks english. Everywhere else, every other day everyone speaks english, here and now of course not!!! A lady in her car comes to pay for her petrol, no of course she doesn't speak english either just tells me to follow the signs to the airport, great what *(*U*&^^& signs! She sees my look of abject horror and says suivez moi. No need to ask twice, she very, very, very kindly leads us all the way to the airport. Oh boy, what a nightmare, they obviously think that people living in the suburbs close by to the airport know how to get there. Shame about the poor tourist twit. I drop Denise off and return the car to Hertz.

    Nearly finished but it is again very late here so will finish the last day tomorrow. schnauzer

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    Continuing on from yesterday:

    Dropped Denise off at the airport and returned the car to Hertz. Caught the shuttle to the Best Western at the airport itself. I had read many reviews on this hotel and my hopes were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised and it appeared much better than the reviews. The front desk very kindly rang around and found me a cleaned room. It was only 9.00am in the morning and it was great to drop my bags make a cup of tea and change as the weather was warming up.

    Orginally I had thought about going to Marseilles for the day but on the journey to the airport after Crea Langue the teacher had instilled quite a fear into me. Go, she had said it is lovely, but.... take off all jewellery, don't look like a tourist, wear dark glasses and don't look at the buildings as if you are interested, don't wear a good handbag etc etc. hmmm, not sure about this. Anyway after the stressful dropping of Denise I decided I didn't need any more stress and chose to return to Aix by bus for one last day. I know I had done Aix to death but felt comfortable and familiar with it. I did go to Cezanne's studio which quite frankly for 5E to see one room with a few props seemed rather a lot. I managed to find a couple of last minute gift items and a couple of books in french for me to practice upon returning home.

    I had lunch again in the Forum Cardeurs and wandered around one last time and had my final Cassis gelato. Caught the bus back to the airport and then the shuttle to the hotel. It is close enough to walk but they advised me against it because of the traffic. Packed my bags and then had an omlette dinner in the restaurant at the hotel which was fine. Needed to be up at the crack of dawn to catch the 8.00am flight to Paris. Had plenty of time in Paris, bought some duty free perfume and a bottle of Cassis, not thinking duh.. of course they took it off me just before boarding the plane in Bangkok. I went through several security checkpoints without any trouble but it was not to be and I was very upset, mostly with myself and the fact that it was a really good bottle of the stuff. boo hoo.

    Arrived in Sydney 30 odd hours later, hubby waiting and finally had a good nights sleep in my own bed.

    On reflection I know I had a good time and certainly with the telling the experience gets better each time!! I would certainly do the course again without hesitation but I don't think I would undertake such a long and arduous journey by myself. Go with hubby or someone else and perhaps do separate things but the journey oh boy from Australia it is huge. I would stop in Paris next time for a few days to recover, I think there is more to do and see there (of course) and then catch the TGV to Aix just in time for the course. Now I know the lie of the land and how things work at Crea Langue, they do wait for you if the train is late!!!

    Thanks everyone who has followed this long histoire. I loved hearing your comments and encouragement. Schnauzer

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    I have enjoyed this, schnauzer. It brings back great memories of that hill-side drive from Saignon to Bonnieux. And that view from Lacoste? We rented a house in Lacoste in 2000 and looked every morning and evening across that beautiful valley to Bonnieux. I can still remember the farms and orchards in the valley between the two towns.

    About the signs--or lack of signs-- in Nîmes: you may already know this, but for the benefit of anyone else in that situation, look for the names of major destinations on green road signs. Follow them and you'll get to a road leading out of the city.

    Anselm

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    Anslem, you are right about the signs. Just pick a sign or the sign if there is only one and follow that. All seems to be revealed afterwards!! At the time you think, "that can't be right" but it often is. Nimes for an hour during rush hour wasn't much fun.
    Glad you have enjoyed the long recount of my trip. That view to Bonnieux, marvellous eh?

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    hi, schnauzer,

    lovely report - thanks for taking so much trouble to record your trip for us all to enjoy.

    i so sympathise with your rudderless feelings- Every so often i have to go away on business for a few days, and I really look forward to being able to suit myself, peace and quiet, etc - and within about 30 minutes of checking into my hotel, I'm bored and wanting to be home with the family.

    It happens every time. I never learn.

    Some of us just aren't cut out to be solo travellers.

    regards, ann

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