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Trip Report Trip Report: A Provence Sandwich

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    Paris to Provence to Paris; a TR from September 2-16, 2008

    We are 60 (JR) and 62 (DR) and have traveled to France and Italy several times. After a 2-year hiatus with health problems now resolved, we are both ready to travel again!

    We have never driven overseas, but this time made plans to do so in Provence. I posted a few questions pre-travel (about cars, asthma info and staying near Gare Montparnasse) and your advice was very much appreciated. Stu Dudley gets huge thanks for his amazing driving itineraries!

    American Express arranged our hotels (Mercure chain), flights and TGV tickets to Aix and back. As mentioned in other posts, we like the fallback security that using an agent affords.

    General observations: DC’s Dulles Airport, Air France Flights and France itself seemed to have fewer noticeably American tourists. Time year or economics?

    Loved having so many things to see or listen to on the planes, and having one’s own screen in the seat in front.

    The Hotel Aquabella in Aix was a wonderful place to stay with a pool and restaurant, although Aix was less convenient as a base without a car.

    Many of the bathrooms in cafés were on a lower level-people who can’t climb steps would have problems.


    Tuesday September 2, 2008

    We left oh so early as usual. No delays driving or parking. Can’t remember seeing Dulles parking lot so empty either. No delays at security either. Air France flight left on time. An Airbus with 2, 4, 2 layout and it was uneventful. We probably had some fitful sleep but mostly watched movies and read. “Sex and the City”, “Made of Honor” and “Bucket List” were what we had time for. Many movies, TV shows and songs available. Helped pass the time and kept people quiet!

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008
    70’s and cloudy in Paris!

    We have arrived on time (around 8:30) and our luggage pops right out. We must find a phone to call our ride (Paris Shuttle not due for 45 minutes per voucher) and we do and it’s there! No it’s not our van, but that driver calls and our guy comes barreling down the ramp. Van is full so we get a bit of a tour of Paris-but we are second off. First off were near Ste. Chappelle-nice-looking place.

    You can call lime green and purple “mod” if you want but that was the color scheme in our room. Nice views, no noise and, we will later find, the most comfortable beds we’ve ever been in. No bath or bidet but TV has speaker in bath. Our room keys are credit card sized/shaped and are parked in a wall unit turning on electricity. Very smart and green.

    By the time we are unpacked and semi-settled it is noon so off we go. “Brussel’s” at the end of the block promises Poulet and Frites for 9€ so we had that, a salad and a glass of Bordeaux. Chicken fell off the bone. We would find it on just about every other café in town! This felt like a very local place. It is always heartening when locals can be heard.

    Fortified we walk along Rue du Gaîté. It is a mix of porn shops (DH ponders the need for porn in Paris), restaurants of all flavors, regular theatres, book stores and even a dress shop. We are only about a block from the Montparnasse Tower. That will make a great marker as we stagger home! The first major cross street is Edgar Quinet and a full-fledged market is started to wind down. We check out the wares. Nice guy suggests we come back for Sunday’s as there is much art that day.

    As we continue along Gaîté, we pass many crêperies and restaurants. We find ourselves going toward Rue du Cherche-Midi and are happy to find that Petite Verdot restaurant is still there (but not to open until 7). We stopped at La Marine for coffee and cap, get metro carnet of tickets at a tabac. We stroll along Rue du Bac and peek into the Taxidermy/Gift shop that burned. At this point, we decide to visit the Rue de Dageurre as a Fodor’s poster said it was a good pedestrian-only street. Two blocks was more like it but it was neat and looked like a great place to live. We walked and ended up at Denfert Rochereau and a big bus area. We took a bus back to Cherche-Midi area with intention of eating at Petite Verdot but didn’t see anything on the outside menu that called out so we ate next door at the less fancy Le Bistrôt Landais.

    JR had goat cheese on toast appetizer (his big fave) and veal blanquette for dinner; DR had roasted duck breast with Roguefort sauce and we shared a carafe of Bordeaux. Waiter sweet young man (a student?). We meet J, an American expat (‘I came to visit my student daughter and Paris stabbed me in the heart.’) and decorative arts person, and chatted for a good long time. DR spots a “Figaro” and finds some possible exhibits to visit: Annie Leibovitz (Maison Europeanne de Photographie), Richard Avedon (Jeu de Paume) and Dageurreotypes at D’Orsay. We started to walk back and DR cried “Uncle” for any more! Back to room around 8 and we thought we both did really well for our first day.

    Thursday, Sept. 4
    Clear 60s

    Didn’t set alarm but up at 7 and down to breakfast by 9. Big room with the usual array of breads, cereals, slices of meat and cheese. A first is an egg bath. Fresh orange squeezer. Two big chafing dishes-one with sausage and rawish bacon and a second with the worst tasting scrambled eggs ever encountered overseas. Reconstituted eggs in Paris? Quel horreur! More business men than tourists seems like. Wheat problem be damned, DR had a pain chocolat. This would be a daily occurrence with no wheezing problems.

    Lots of papers in lobby but no tour brochures lead us to continue in our belief that this is not a big tourist hotel. Front desk called taxi and we are off to Pompidou Center for the first time. It has had too long a line or we’ve been too pooped to go before. Today we are early….so walk around the area and JR finds a great book with all the bus schedules. We will be seeing the bidding presentations of French Architect Dominique Perrault. Huge models built to scale with topography. Visuals were projected on the walls with chain maile curtains acting as visual separations. Some of the curtains went to the floor, others half way. It was pretty cool. My notes say rope and cannon ball and I think they were decorations-rope (standing straight up) draped around big black ball. Black leather bean bag cushions were covered with leather mesh. Very edgy and interesting.

    We looked at permanent collection but just for a bit as neither of us was in a contemporary mood. Place is huge and we both thought there is a lot of wasted space. Took escalator to rooftop café where wind was blowing stuff all over the place. Great views. Had cappacinos (“caps”), then continued our way to find the European Photography Museum. It is near Ile de Paris and in a bodacious old house. Saw the Leibovitzs and darned if an article about them isn’t in the “Vanity Fair” magazine waiting for us at home.

    We had seen a plethora of crêperies around Pompidou earlier and JR decides that’s what he wants so we retrace our steps. Well, we can’t find any of ‘em anymore! Did they change signs? We finally just started walking and ended up at L’Amazonial on 3 Rue St. Opportune. We’ve been trying to spot eateries with French folks and this one looks good. JR has Salad Femiere (assorted cheeses) and DR has Caesar with chicken and both went down well with a pichet of St. Emilion. Cap and coffee to finish.

    We stayed a while people watching and have decided that in Paris, anything goes fashion wise with the youngsters. Lots of girls wearing black boots-even if they had short summer dresses. Many baby doll-like shirts and dresses layered with tights, t-shirts and jackets. Darkish colors mostly. Women’s trousers often looked like harem pants. Skirts had varying and irregular lengths (sometimes in one skirt!). Hip hugger, sliding down butt jeans for young guys. Cargo pants. Glasses with heavy rectangular side frames are not faves of DR.

    We took the bus to Jeu de Paume to see the Avedon exhibit and there was a line. So we skipped over to the Orangerie where there was none and finally saw the mammoth Monets. Other works in basement were pretty good. Start walking along Seine and run out of steam so take a bus home. Stop at La Liberté for more wine (pichet of Bordeaux this time). See the cutest Yorkie in a plaid cap.

    We watch a tour bus disgorge a group of theatre-goers to our street. I forgot to write down what they saw. It wasn’t the porn show though! Back to the room, asleep at 7 and awake at midnight! Oops.

    Friday, Sept. 5th
    70’s Cloudy

    This a.m. we bus to Musée D’Orsay to see Daguerre’s works. Stopped by Gare Montparnasse where JR bought a “Cartier” (this is the same guy who asked for two “biscuits” to Rome in Italy!) of tickets. It is drizzling by the time we get in line (not terribly long thank heavens) for the museum. Everyone we ask tells us the wrong place for the photo exhibit. OK, DR is having problems with la bas! but we finally locate them. They are interesting but maybe not worth all the effort!

    We revisit the Impressionists-way less crowded this time-and the city under glass. JR lays down on the glass and pretends to fly over. Then we have lunch in the café behind the big outside clock. JR has a rocket salad and DR has quiche with zucchini and mushroom, coffees later. JR charms an English woman whose table is so close to us wait staff thinks we’re all together. We get into the rocket, arugula debate. Later searching says that rocket and arugula are not the same.

    Per Eyewitness, we take bus to Vavin stop and stroll along Rue Campagne-Premiere to see many artists’ ateliers. We both thought that Sculpteur de Cheveux was pictures of horses until we realized it was a hair shop! Walked and strolled lazily. It begins to drizzle again so we stop for wine (what else?) at Café des Arts. Lovely and friendly waitress so we linger and talk about the French Revolution and World War II. Memo to self: get Is Paris Burning? to read about the German general who didn’t burn Paris.

    Strolled back to our street and stop along a little side street to scope out 2 cute restaurants. We choose one (La Bernica) and decide we’ll rest before drinking more wine! We go back to room for rest then out again for our cute place. They say come back in ½ hour so we go back to La Libertine and see the Yorkie again. I ask owner about a picture and Yorkie is placed on JR’s lap. What a cutie! We get a carafe of Côte de Rhone for 10€ and continue our mellow watching of the world.

    The meal at La Bernica will be one of our good ones on this trip. Our meat/fish not quite as we asked but tasty. First, a nice gentleman discusses the menu with us and we choose the following:

    Starters:
    Cassoulette d’escargot
    Croustillant de Nagret Fumée au Chevre (eggplant)

    Plats:
    Tartare de Thon aux St. Jacques à la Coriande
    Steak de Gigot d’Agneau Mariné au Tyme

    Bottle of Cote le Cour

    Dessert:
    Coupe Gaîté (Cassis sorbet with citron vodka)
    Profiterôles au Chocolat (Got 3 because I didn’t eat all my meat!)
    Poire Williams Pear Liquor and Coffee

    Owner is Jean Pierre whose son lived in Richmond Virginia for some years but has returned to France for his children’s education and social/medical welfare. End of quote. JR realizes that we’ve been thinking the VAT was the added in tip. Hate to think of the folks we’ve undertipped! Also, the VAT isn’t added if one eats standing up rather than sitting! A nice end to Paris Part Une!

    Saturday, Sept. 6th
    64 and Partly Cloudy

    Up at 6 and 6:30 to catch the cab we’d ordered. The tap water in Paris is just great. DR realizes that her pores are closed and her hair is shiny! The train is on time and off we go. DR takes an hour nap and awakes to heavy rain, passing farms, rolling hills like PA, and white cows. Fences are hedges à la English countryside. Passed a big field of spent sunflowers-must have been cool in summer.

    We get a snack in the snack car (2 grand café crèmes, est un foccacia italiene, svp) and talk with French woman who attend pre-law in Aix and got her law degree in Chicago! She has family in DC. Train slows to a crawl (because of the rain?) so we are about ½ hour late. The Aix TGV is about 10 miles out of town. There are Navettes (busses-3, 70 € each) so we take one to Gare Routière in Aix and then taxi to hotel (13 €). Our room isn’t ready (it’s around 2:30) so we check our bags and go to the poolside restaurant, the Orangerie. Lots of folks who have been swimming or to the spa we guess are sitting around in white robes.

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    We both get salads (one Caesar, one artichoke) and wine and enjoy a sunny, breezy day. Tables have big yellow and white damask napkins. We kill an hour then retrieve our bags. Our room is very nice! Strange corner mirror-no full view possible. We unpack and head out first stopping by front desk to see what tours are available.

    With map in hand, we head for Cours Mirabeau via a street selling computer stuff. They don’t have DR’s kind of battery or memory card but show us where we can find them in Aix. We wend our way along ancient buildings and narrow streets to the main tourist street, Cours Mirabeau. There are a few cars on it but more at the end where the biggest fountain is (“Rotunda”). Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared for Aix had this street been the first thing we’d seen. Very touristy and a little seedy looking IMHO. We checked into the Tourist Bureau and found it mobbed and with 2 frazzled workers. We meet a woman and her daughter (from Scotland) who want to ask about a bus (can’t remember to where) but can’t speak any French so DR actually asks the questions for them. She was sooo proud. We found a couple of tour brochures and good Aix maps. JR spots an old law school building so we go off in that direction. Stop for melon and chocolate ice cream and they are good.

    We missed the law school but stumbled upon Place Richelme where the big markets are supposed to be. The entire square is filled with café tables! There’s a singer (and a good one at that), scads of people (we will learn the students are just back with their parents) and an overall atmosphere of what to us is French atmosphere! So we stop for wine at Ptt (not a typo) Café (2,50 €) and just chill out. A cute jitney called Diaboline goes by. Life is good.

    Work our way back to Rue des Cordeliers, a street of restaurants. We pass an art show closing up and one guy’s water color of Cassis looks nice. We chat a bit and he says he’ll be participating in another show tomorrow on the Cours Mirabeau. We stroll by the restaurants and end up (around 8 p.m.) at the last one, P’tit (again, not a typo!) Bistrôt, Entrecote (13,90 €) and Three cheese salad (14 €). OK meal but lovely server, who is a 5th year law student in Aix. We chatted a good bit and she brought us a free vodka and ananas syrup digestif. Very tasty! We talked about slang and she said a good French one is “the carrots are sliced”- Les carrottes sont cuites. School of Brutalism is in my notes but can’t remember to what it referred. We notice an underground parking lot and admire anyone who could navigate the narrow streets, let alone find the darned thing. We take the closest street going north and in a block, run right into the front of the spa by the hotel. We had no idea we were so close to homw. Pooped, we crash!

    Sunday, 7th Sept.
    Sunny 70s

    Breakfast at poolside Orangerie. Again the awful eggs but lots of other things. We stroll again (trying to take another route) to Cours Mirabeau to see the art exhibit. It is along the entire street on side opposite cafés. Still like the guy from last night’s work the best but it is too big to worry about packing. JR says “phfew!”. Cute little boy and girl are selling small oils and giving away candy. Other interesting work is by an artist who fashions easels, windows and open doors into her pieces. Very clever.

    We stop at Deux Garçons for lunch. Cezanne and Zola met here most days they say. We had 2 café crèmes and DR got a Croque Madame (a Croque Monsieur with eggs on top) to share. The deux garçons were waiters in the late 1700s who ended up buying the place. Historic. By the way, we are noticing that most of the red wines are slightly chilled. DR has been thoroughly teased about liking cool red wine so feels vindicated.

    We walked to end of Mirabeau and took a left to find the Flower Market and we did! JR stopped at ATM (these have been successfully used from trip’s onset). Just strolled and window-shopped. The flower market wasn’t large but it was very pretty. Either all roads lead to Richelme Place or it has become our Mass. Ave. (where we always end up in DC!). All of a sudden we are back and voila! all of the cafés have been replaced with giant food market. There are still some zucchinis with flowers-we still haven’t had that tempura-ed dish.

    Part of our walks entailed scoping out laundry mats. We found 2. The closest was a little older. We went back to the room and grabbed dirty clothes and tried closest one and it was empty. We took turns walking around the area/minding the clothes. It took a couple of hours with long drying time.

    Back to room, into bathing suits and furnished robes and slippers and we take to the pool! This is the first time we have ever gone swimming in an overseas pool. Can’t remember if it was this time or later, but a young woman was topless! She had a lovely top too! We both tried to look at her surreptitiously. The pool is heated by thermal springs (I think) and it was a very comfortable temperature. Air felt cool after.

    JR is still wanting a crêpe so we search the restaurant guide and find one on Place de St. Augustin. It’s only about a 10-minute walk to Patacrêpe. Being American we are earlier than the French folks so get a seat right away, however, we were heartened that we were given the French menu first! While we waited for our order we watched more students and their parents. A guy on a motor cycle went around and around the square. A few daring folks in cars negotiated the small, people-filled space. We noticed many people in shorts and jeans.

    Here’s what we had: One crêpe with comté, beaufort and emmental cheeses, ham, potatoes, crème fraîche and white wine sauce (9, 30 €) and one with ham, mushrooms, emmental cheese with béchamel sauce (8, 60 €). For dessert we shared “Aumoniere”, a crêpe filled with frangipani, baked pears, caramel ice cream, pear sorbet, chantilly cream and almonds (9, 10 €). We are full and ready for bed! The stroll back probably burned off 3 or 4 calories! Nice day.

    Monday, 8th September
    Sunny 70s, 88 in Marseille

    Up at 7:30 and 8 (we didn’t set the alarm); breakfast by the pool (how pleasant that is). We plan to go to Marseille and possibly Nîmes if the trains are good to us. Front desk points us to bus stop and we take #4 to Gare Routiere (buy tickets from driver) and find the Marseille bus (9,20 € each) and off we go. Lots of busses in Aix btw.

    The road to Marseille passes very green scenery that changes to industrial parks and then the houses of southern architecture (beige not white like Greece) and then apartments. We pass an Arc de Triomphe like in Paris! How cool. It takes about ½ hour to get there and we are left off at bus stop Nedelec Guesde. DR asked where the Gare was and got the ubiquitous “la bas!” which we decide is like the “It’s very near-less than a kilometer” so many people told us in Italy before we walked for 30+ minutes!

    This Gare really was la bas and we remember a learned lesson and followed people rather than the road signs (which take cars all around Robin Hood’s barn and one-way streets but aren’t the closest way to walk!) and it was just up a slight hill. We found it and it’s huge! Went to the ticket machine and started our Nîmes quest. Things were going great until we found out that our Visa no longer works in France ticket machines. It did 2 years ago so we are just a little pissed. We go to ticket guy and he says we now need a “cheep”. We buy Nîmes tickets for the next day (one way only) and look at billetier for times for Cassis for later today.


    We go to taxi stand and are leaving the Gare when the driver says, “You do realize it’s a 25 € flat rate to the Old Port.” No we did not! We take out our footmobiles and get out of the cab. Driver was very nice and said it was a new thing and that most people didn’t realize. Anyhow, I guess it took ½ hour and we got a little turned around. We can see Notre Dame de Garde way up on a hill looking over the water. We passed a big P.O. and thought we’d hop in for post card stamps but there was a long, long line. We pass the History Museum and it Garden of Vestiges (ruins) and find the main street, Canebiere and the Old Port. We walked right into the #60 bus (3, 40 €) that goes up the hills to Notre Dame de Garde.

    It takes another zig zagging half hour to reach the top! Can’t imagine walking this. It’s a beautiful little church with an amazing view. The church has many nautical pictures and boat mobiles. JR reads that hermit lived here first. Well, he’d have to be-who’d come up here? We walk around and take shots then wait about 15 minutes for the next bus. Talk with a couple from Ireland. She and JR compare ancestors.

    Back to Old Port and where there appears to be a semi circle of restaurants including McDonalds. We end up at La Brasserie. Nice couples from Marseille suggest squid and we go eeuuww. They then suggest the fish special “Daurade Royale Grillée” (17, 90 €) which looks less eeuuww to DR. JR gets Croustillants aux Trois Fromages (12,90 €). Wine is Vin de Pay de la Drome (10, 60 €). Everything is really delicious. Foursome on other side are mother and son from Texas with grandparents who are French. Son is going to Sorbonne but taking immersion French class in St. Tropez! Poor child.

    We have lingering lunch with lots of talk then find our way back to bus stop via Canebiere and one left turn onto Rue Ferreol. We pass interesting sculptures and architecture. Decide it’s too late to go to Cassis. We arrived in Aix around 4 and DR gave directions to a French guy. We took another taxi and this time it only cost 7 € as guy went right up the street to our hotel instead of going around a sort of ring road. We went to the pool until around 6.

    Dinner again on restaurant row at Chateau Calissanne. JR had omelette fromage and DR had Entrecôte over roquefort and frites. Nice Provençal wine. Dessert was tiramisu and strawberry sherbet-excellent! Forgot to write prices. Another pleasant day!

    Tuesday, Sept. 9
    84 and partly sunny

    Up at 5 and 5:30 to get to our Marseille train to Nîmes with the following time frame:
    5:45 a.m. Cab to Gare (10,50 €)
    6:05 a.m. Bus to Marseille (18,40 €)
    7:14 a.m. Train to Nîmes (41.40 €)

    Less than gas and car rental? DR got a little breathless as we hustled up the hill to the Gare but a short rest and a puff was sufficient to keep going. Caught the train with 10 or 15 minutes to spare. DR was happy to be in the lilac train once again! Train passes many apartment houses and some looked pretty shabby. Drowsed and awoke to a beautiful field with yellowing plants that looked just like Van Gogh colors. DR is appreciating his work more and more. Also, passed many turbo windmills (so smart with the Mistral winds, eh?). JR says they look like synchronized swimmers.

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    We pass the Arles station and see on the wall a drawing depicting Camargue’s symbols- Van Gogh, Cowboys, Horses, etc. We reach Nîmes on time and visit mighty nice toilets. These are “womanned” and cost .50 € which might explain why they are nice. Two young girls are counting their pennies when we arrive and still digging into purses as we leave!

    Thought we’d get tickets for Pont du Gard but Tourist Info is still closed. Train ticket lines is pretty long so we head on out to visit Nîmes. By the way, denim (de Nîmes) is from this town. We take a taxi to the Vieux Maison and it is pretty cool. Nîmes is larger than we thought but very attractive and with many tree-lined streets.

    We find the tourist info nearby and meet the loveliest woman who gives us all the bus info for Pont du Gard, Uzés and Orange and tells us exactly where to find the bus stop behind the Gare. She also gives us a Nîmes walking tour which we take. Since it’s only a little after 9 a.m., the streets are quiet. We pass a day care center and children are there already. We detour by the market and stop in a sweet little square (Place de les Halles) with lots of folks having coffee and reading papers.

    We had pain chocolat and briochette au sucre, juice and coffee breakfasts and talked with a nice couple from Britain. Wife took shot of us. Her hub was working in Nîmes for 6 months and loved it. Back to and through the big market (Les Halles). Saw piles of cheese-some so soft they looked like ice cream. We strolled and ended up at the huge arena with cafés encircling it.

    Worked our way back toward Canal and Jardin de la Fontaine via Victor Hugo Blvd. Many nice restaurants and businesses along this road. Lovely park and walkway. Believe the canal is fed from water at Pont du Garde. Head back to Gare for bus. Stop at book store that has stuff in English. DR finds a Robert Parker and Peter Mayle.

    A cautionary tale for train/bus travelers. We missed the 12:05 bus and the line for trains was way too long for us to make the Orange train (rats) so we decided to just go back to Aix. It took ½ hour in line to get our ticket. That “cheep” is really needed! We had some time to kill before the Aix train so we walked back out to nearby café-studded road and had some wine and beer. Back to Marseille and we double-checked train schedules for Cassis on Thursday. Price from Aix is almost double and takes longer so we’ll bus it to Marseille.

    Back to Patacrêpe where JR gets crepes that are cut like fettucini and served with basil and tomato. DR just has that same dessert! Yes, yes, we had wine! We get back to the room and find that desk clerk has come through and we are going on a tour of the Vaucluse region tomorrow at 9! Hot dogs we don’t have to rent a car!

    Wednesday, 10th Sept.
    Partly sunny 70s

    Up at 6:30 and 7:00, breakfast at 8 and we wait in lobby for our van. Our driver is YN and we are to be the only folks on the tour. What a luxury and how lucky that they didn’t cancel because of less than full van. We will drive to furthermost point, Fontaine de Vaucluse, and work our way back. Sounds like a good plan.

    We pass many fields grapes. YN says there is a machine that goes through and shakes the grapes off, leaving greenery intact. Wine made that way is not as good because even imperfect grapes can get included. The best wine is from hand-picked grapes. Such a job.

    We drive along the N7 passing through towns of Cinc Anna, Lain Besc, Village Taillades (where we will take a quick break) and under about ¼ mile of tree-canopied road along the way. YN says we are skirting the Petite Luberon. My notes say mountains are treveresse and I think that’s what our van did rather than go over the mountain. We see the 12th century St. Julien irrigation canal that still serves the area.

    YN says there are very strictly enforced speed limits now in France. Unfortunately, it has simply led to more unlicensed drivers who couldn’t afford to stop driving after they racked up too many points! Roads are narrow but enough for 2 small cars or one car and one van. Big busses are problems! YN, who also speaks Japanese (and taught French there for 10 years) say Japan is worse than France for driving. He also says that in Paris, any accident at Arc de Triomphe is automatically termed “No Fault” and both parties pay 50/50! Too much trouble otherwise!

    Vaucluse means closed valley and was so named by the Romans. Notes say that one must go to Ropion to find the Luberon entrance. We stop at the Fontaine Vaucluse first. The water is drinkable at the public fountain and it’s good. We have 45 minutes walk to the top of the walk to see the source of the spring. Shop and pass YN reading a paper and having a coffee and meet him on time.

    Off we go along a nifty 1-lane cornice. I can’t read my handwriting but we pass through a couple of little towns (whose residents are probably glad they didn’t make the big list!) and fields with dry stone walls until we see Gordes. We stop for pix (we’ll return for lunch) then go to the Abbaye de Senangue. It is now monastery with many fields of lavender. YN says field closest to monastery got trampled on by tourists pulling up souvenir lavender so monks plowed it all under and planted wheat. DR didn’t feel like doing the hill so JR went alone, YN picked some wild herbs and he and DR talk about plants of various colors she has seen. He thinks Garden Laurel that are poisonous. The word oleander pops up in DR’s mind and an internet site confirms it.

    Back to Gordes and and the three of us have lunch (included with price of tour) at Le Provençal. JR and YN get the fish and DR gets chicken basted with lavender/honey (a nice taste). We all get salads, meals come with rice or potatoes and ratatouille. Dessert is crème brulee, pêche sherbet with pears. Pretty good meal. Tourists and locals there.

    We vote to spend more time in Rousillon but get some time to stroll. Gordes is just beautiful. Very steep but picturesque narrow streets. Views almost as lovely as Tuscany and quite similar.

    The iron-laden hills give Rousillon its distinctive reddish hue. YN tells the story of the Lord of R. whose neglect of his wife (he like to hunt) caused her to dally with a Page. He finds out, kills the guy and feeds his heart to his unsuspecting wife. When he tells her, she loses her mind and jumps off the hill and goes splat, her blood causing the hills to turn red.

    We buy lavender ice cream (per YN’s advice) and get a good stroll through Rousillon. Very attractive town. We then drive to Bonnieux and really just stop and look and talk. YN says that Pierre Cardin has bought up much of nearby Lacoste and is planning to turn it into an artist’s sanctuary. Angelina and Brad have bought a castle (forget the town) for an outrageous sum. We passed a shepard’s borry-ancient stone hut. People now stop and sleep it off in em!

    We zig and zag down from Bonnieux. As we pass the spent Lavender fields, YN warns us that they are filled with vipers. Pickers wear thick boots and gloves. Final stop is Loumarin. YN says it’s now home of Peter Mayle. There is a big castle there but we opt for a walk through the town. Very sweet and not hilly. Guy playing guitar. Locals sitting around. Neat atmosphere. We walked up to the big church and back down and somehow got out to the A1. We hustle back and run into YN who shows us the little walk ways that sometimes go under stairs. Very neat. We also pass field with snail covered plants. YN claims that people eat them with tooth picks. Is he pulling our legs??

    Sadly, we go back to our hotel but on the way, talk about the tour to Cassis on Friday and decide to sign up for it. TB will be our guide. When we find out that YN has a room in Aix and his family (wife and 2 daughters) lives in Arles, we invite him in for a drink. He then buys us one and we talk a long time about our lives. He and his wife run a tiny suschi restaurant. Small businesses pay up to 70% tax! He really hustles to make a living. Being fluent in 3 languages helps. YN’s wife is C. and they met in Japan. A big utility (fusion?) company will be coming to the Aix area and YN is hopeful he can get a good job teaching French to Japanese and their children who will come here. Nice guy. DR gives her card and we are hoping to keep in touch.

    We eat at Prima Pasta that night on restaurant row. It was ok but not great. We both have pasta: JR penne with crème, tomatoes, mushrooms and pimentos; DR has farfalle with peas and shrimp. Nice touch is jazz combo (keyboard and bass) in the background. Many more students are here now. YN said he thought 70,000 of the 200,000 population are students. An excellent day!

    Thursday, Sept. 11
    Cloudy 70s

    First we take a cab to Cezanne’s atelier. It’s quite an up hill walk so DR is glad. Grounds are composed of shaded pathways with easels set up in different places. Also a cat, who sits on JR’s lap as we wait (only 10 minutes) for our turn to go in. Gift shop/ticket office in one room on the ground floor and, on next floor a 50m square room with north and south exposure windows and all of Cezanne’s equipment and props. Very interesting. C. sold his family home to build this and a smaller home up the hill. Also up the hill (la bas) is the spot where he painted the Mt. Victoire. We slowly strolled and it took about 30 minutes to get there. Neat views and nice gated homes along the way.

    We find a bus stop at the top but opt to walk back since we’ve already done the hard work! We ended up at Place de L’Archevêché where DR had one of her best meals. Diet lunch was a nice white fish and artichokes encased and baked in phyllo dough. Plate filled with green beans on one side and carrots and cauliflower on the other. Drizzled with something that looked like 1000-island dressing (13 €). Really excellent. JR had 4-cheese pizza (13,20 €). We order a carafe of wine and one of water. Had to ask several times about the water. After that, service was surly. JR says “nevermore” even though the food was so good. Our lunch took 2 hours so we decided to do one more laundry then sit by the pool.

    We noticed a lot of folks with sandwiches in one hand, going down the street or pedaling along on this trip. Also, not so many noticeably Americans.

    While doing laundry we ensconce ourselves in an outdoor café that wasn’t open the time before. DR decides to run down to the post office. They are serving #320 and her ticket is #335 so she runs back to café and hands off the ticket to JR. We spend some time counting euros for the driers and JR runs back and they are waiting on #336! So he’s ½ hour there but brings back stamps and we get the post cards ready. DR runs back and there are no slots so she has to wait in line again! This time it’s shorter but, my golly.

    We stop for wine for desk clerk and us, find some cookies and head on to pool. At dinner time, we shower and share some wine and cookies and fall right to sleep!

    Friday, 12th Sept.
    Coolish, thunderstorm in the night

    Cassis tour today! Wore jackets to breakfast and actually ate inside today. The eggs are more yellow today-but they taste worse!

    TB is our driver, “Bonjours! YN said to take good care of you two today!” We are with 3 women from Spain (Andalusia area) Grandmother, mother and daughter (who lives in Aix and works for Ryan Air). Mother understands English so she translates to Spanish to Grandmother. TB tells how the Greeks came through and didn’t tear down things and educated people. Another group also there and Celts built city walls 6-1 B.C. before Greeks. Romans ruled until 15th Century when Provence became independent. Just remember, this lesson is given with a very heavy French accent! More history as we pass Ste. de Baume mountain where San Maxima church has skull of Mary Magdalene. JR wonders what happened to the rest of her.

    As we start seeing the sea, the discussion switches to regattas and wind surfers (90 km/hour record set around here). Then we reach some hills called “Crown of Thorns” where, in Charlemagne’s time the white grapes of the region were grown. The salt in the soil gives flavor unique to these wines. Paternel is one of the best per TB. BTW, he too speaks several languages including Japanese.

    We reach Cassis-gorgeous views-and TB drops us with directions to portside where we meet him and get our tickets for the Calangue cruise. We will motor to two and see a third (the tallest) from the water and then from land. Neat cruise in a boat that probably carries 30 people. There are only we 5 and a family of 6. Cassis Harbor is very picturesque. We pass the cute sailing school, a naked man sunning himself and lovely homes along the water. The Calanques are used for rock-climbing training and the little inlets have extremely clear water. Med. Only flushes every 8 years so clear water is a pretty good feat.

    Back to Cassis and we have almost an hour to walk around. Cute little town and we are there on Market Day which adds to the flavor. We stroll and have grands café aux laits and the last croissant. We meet at agreed-upon spot and head up to the highest Calanque. Still haven’t gotten a good picture of terraced plantings but the road up has plenty. The views from top are stunning. TB says there is a hotel half on a fault below and it costs 1,000 € a night to risk being there! Other half is house next door. We talk about pastis on the way back. TB says order a Mauresque if you want something similar but not quite so potent! He leaves everyone at their hotels and we are glad we took this tour.

    Our last afternoon in Aix! We decide to eat a leisurely lunch, see the art museum (Musée Granet) and take our last stroll around this nice city. Lunch is at La Dolce Vita on the Place de L’Archevêché. The plat du jour is Osso Buco (12 €) and DR chooses that; JR had Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola (?€). Remembering our Italian we order un vino rosso di tavola Italiano! Everything was good.

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    We walked to Musée Granet passing some of the same streets on our past Sunday stroll but this time crossed over the Cour Mirabeau. Some nice buildings are around the museum. I saw a cool-looking girl with hair extensions down to her waist, a pierced nose and harem pants. We think the Provençals are shorter than Americans.

    Museum is nice. We missed the Cezannes but saw nice statues and much traditional French art. JR wants shot of Sortie man and we get it and battery needs changing. Guard (a young woman) no-no’s pix and follows us around for a good bit. Neither of us can remember what we saw but it was nice and much larger than we’d anticipated.

    We wander our way back and stop for strachietta and banane at Giovanni Gelateria. We watch as cars and pedestrians vie for the same narrow slots. We end up at Place Richelme as usual. It is transformed back into the café mode. The same singer is packing up and so will we! We stop for a last drink then shop at what looks like a branch of Fachon. I think we skipped dinner. Back to hotel to arrange for taxi and pack. Boooo-hoooo!

    Saturday, Sept. 13
    Sunny and very breezy

    Up at 5:30 and 6 and are too early for breakfast. DR checks email, JR got paper and we read. They had hard-boiled eggs today! A real treat after the awful scrambled ones. Wore jacket today. We decided that train travel was less easy from Aix but we loved being there. The student presence gives Aix a laid-back atmosphere we enjoyed. It would be a better base if you have a car. How to get the credit card with correct “cheep”?

    We arrive at TVG station early enough to catch the earlier train to Paris. Unfortunately, it would cost 100 € to make the changes so we pass. So we read and wait about an hour. Our train is on time and we are on upper level once again. JR gets caught behind a woman with 5 bags! Passing scrub (?) pines, sandy-looking soil. Then either almond or olive trees. Then a combo of industry and farmland with some beckoning towns. Finally lowish rolling hills. As we get about ½ hour out of Paris, the TGV becomes TG slow. We couldn’t understand why. Pope? Anyway, we are about ½ late into Gare Lyon.

    We go to Train Bleu restaurant (so glad DR can climb the stairs!). They kindly check our bags and put us in the lounge to wait. We pretend we are Rebecca Ryan and Dimitri and a cat walks by! How Italian! Got 6, 50 € vin rouge de la maison and waited about 20 minutes for our table. We had fries, snails and steak and wine followed by Expresso and grand café au lait (97, 10 €-gulp!):

    Coragon de filete de buez a la parrilla. Salsa bearnese, papa macaire, julias com mantequille
    Grane caracoles de Borgona en su caccara. Salade mista.

    Menu in Spanish and English. JR thinks that even the salt and pepper tastes better in France. We just took our time then cabbed (14 €) to hotel. Rats, we forgot to get tickets for Dijon.

    Our room is on different floor but the floor plan and garish color scheme are just the same. Bed still great. View is now towards a courtyard. We walk over to Gare Montparnasse and find that the trip to Dijon is over 200 €-much more than the online price. So we are bagging Dijon this trip. Rats. We checked fares to various places on our wish list and think they too are more than we’d planned. Guess we’ll have to just stay in Paris-quel domage! We start walking toward Luxembourg and it starts to drizzle so we stop at La Rotonde for une demi de la maison-a nice Cote du Rhone. As we continue our walk, we decide to eat dinner at Hemmingway’s haunt, La Closerie des Lilas. JR gets the wants for French Onion Soup. They don’t have it. We look OK enough to be let in without reservations. Closerie is a nice-looking place and we see the chic French people who have been missing from our Paris jaunts so far. JR gets a salad of red peppers, tomatoes and French dressing on a bed of Eggplant. A French neighbor asks him what it is and orders the same. Ah ha, we are leading the French! DR gets eggs mayonaise. By 8, many folks are coming in for dinner.

    Sunday 14th Sept.
    70s, Cloudy

    Up at 6 and 7 and find toaster pancakes added to the breakfast bar. We decide to go to Place des Vosges and work our way over to Eiffel Tower. We find a bus that gets there and we stroll. Cool building with mural showing a man reading the classics. His lamp is a woman with shade as head. A cat is there too. We are near the Archives but don’t go in. Not much is going on in Paris at the moment.

    We check out a Fodor’s recommended restaurant near Les Halles but it is not open. We get the brain storm to go to Citirama offices and see what cheap trips they had for this afternoon or tomorrow. Nothing we haven’t seen or isn’t too expensive. We cross the street to Le Carrousel brasserie where we have eaten on other trips pre- or post-Cityrama trips. JR gets his onion soup and a mushroom crepe. DR gets the roast chicken. Demi Cote du Rhone. We really like our waiter and he wants to practice his English. Customers get a “slug” for bathroom door-non-customers must pay .50 €.

    We decide to go to Decorative Arts Museum (nearby and not yet visited) and spend about 2 hours looking at the weird and the huge in furniture over several hundred years. Pretty neat place actually. Outside it has become sunny and high 70s and there is a nice bar in the U-shaped area in Louvre so we plop ourselves down. Many French families playing on the Tuileries area. We later realize we hadn’t checked-in. We didn’t understand what everyone was saying and why they were pointing. They didn’t make us leave because there was no line. Had coffee, water and beer. We had read that you should just ask for tap water. It’s free and safe. What we weren’t thinking was that many of the outside cafés weren’t hooked up to water. We often waited and waited for water not understanding the problem we were causing for the busy waiters who didn’t have enough English to ‘splain the sitchiation!

    We decide to go back to Luxembourg and wait until dark for Eiffel Tower. Our great bus book made that possible. There is a festival going on at Luxembourg. Being green and eating potatoes seemed to be the theme. Music, pony rides and tout Paris were there. We tried to find petanques players but couldn’t. DR starting to flag. Kept walking and ended up catching a bus only 2 stops from Montparnasse Tower. We decide to go up and have a drink. Neat view from the Bar. DR had a Kir vin blanc (cassis, mure?, framboise, peche) and martini with a lemon twist. Then a Manhattan and a Verre de Minervois Chateau Serame. Those drinks were as expensive as lunch (46, 50 €) but worth the view.
    We messed up again asking for water. Our waiter actually disappeared. His replacement was surly. We never got the water.

    Back to Brussel’s and JR got a 3 cheese pizza. DR dead and starting to feel a little flu-y so she went back to the room. We did speak with a newly-retired couple from Wisconsin who would be traveling for 28 days in France. How nice-but I’d miss my kitty and my “stuff” too much I think.

    Monday, Sept. 15
    64 and Sunny

    Up at 7 without an alarm. DR still feeling flu-y but not enough to stay in bed. After breakfast, we walked to the pedestrian area south of Gare Montparnasse. A very nice semi-circle development. Quiet and a surprise good shot of Eiffel Tower. We picked up the 92 bus for the Ètoile to take a final walk down the Champs Èlysées. It took about 30 minutes to get there. We decided to go an extra stop to get a good look at the traffic in that circle. Remember, no fault accidents no matter what. We passed a bus whose name is Harryfying Coach!

    JR bought a USA Today and we sat at Fouquet with coffees and croissants. Saw some funky girls, workmen and several white collar folk. We strolled then picked up a bus and got off at Place de la Concorde with the idea of walking along the Seine and maybe finding L’Avenue restaurant again. Passed through a park and finally made it to the Pont Alexandre Bridge where we see a wedding party. There’s a big antique show in a tent along the Seine but we don’t go in.

    Somehow we find the restaurant. Another guy is valeting cars but still backing out into 6 lanes of traffic. Amazing. DR kicks JR in the wallet and says, “We are eating here.” This, along with Train Bleu, was our big meal. Each had a glass of wine Margaux (18 €), JR Soupe de crevettes coco cotronelles (18 €), and DR Crispy duck (30 €), then JR got a plate of fromage (10 €). Sat next to a veddy fancy older lady with tight skin and her date who looked like a 25 year Louis Jourdan. They both order cokes normale and crab cakes! After they left, woman at other table asked waitress, “Was that ????” and I couldn’t hear the name but waitress said yes. It must have been someone famous. But which one??

    DR really getting tired so we cab back and she packs then takes a little nap and showers for our last dinner in Paris. Neither feels like going back to Eiffel Tower so at 6:30 we walk up our Street to #3 and see that Le Plomb du Cantal (Central France) is open. Staff are still eating but they beckon us in. We both had steaks Entrecôte and Pavé and a Clos de la Cure St. Emilion (64 € total). Food was ok. We walked back to hotel and had our first drink at their bar. JR had a Calvados and DR red wine.

    Tuesday, 16 Sept.
    Cloudy 70’s

    Up at 4:30 and 5:30 for 7:30 pickup which was a tad late because of the dump truck blocking the street! One person in van already and we go through a maze of streets to pick up a couple with piles of luggage. And off we race to Charles de Gaulle Aeroport (CDG). Driver very good and leaves everyone off at perfect check-in spots at about 8:45. Air France has check-in machines for us to use so all we do is hand those to baggage clerk and we’re on our way to security. Security line is long and winding. They are handing out plastic bags for people to place liquids (we have done this already being the seasoned travelers we are-HA). Shoes stay on and neither of us is stopped.

    At 9:50 we were getting on the tram to the gates. Guess we waited no longer than 30 minutes and guy comes out and yells, “If you’re going to Washington, you can get on the plane!”. It doesn’t take any longer than doing it by groups of rows either. This time there are 3 seats on the sides and we have aisle and window. We pray to the fat gods to keep their children away and they say ok and we get an empty middle seat! More movies to watch and more reasonably good food to eat. After drowsing, DR awakes to beautifully contoured plowing maybe over Pennsylvania. An easy trip home and no delays whatsoever in customs or getting luggage. We walk out to a waiting parking lot bus and are home in mid-afternoon.

    We’ll call this our easiest trip ever from glass of wine to glass of wine!


    Thanks again to all and sorry this is sooooo long! DR

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    This is a wonderful report.

    We also are Aix fans, dating to the days when our son was a student there. He and his wife returned for their honeymoon and took the kind of tours you took to other Provencal towns.

    Two points of clarification, please:

    1. What was your hotel in Paris? (We have had good luck with Mercure hotels).

    2. What are "footmobiles"?

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    Thanks islander and Julie for your kind words!

    1. What was your hotel in Paris? Mercure Montparnasse

    2. What are "footmobiles"?
    Sorry, my slang for walking.

    Ackislander, did you get in many Aix visits while you son was student? Really a lovely city, eh?

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    Sorry that "footmobiles" were not something one could strap on the feet to carry one through periods of too much walking about! Sort of mini-Segways were what I had in mind!

    In answer to your other question, we have been to Aix three times for a week or so, both spring and fall.
    We also like being around all the students, esp. all the cute girls! Well, maybe my wife is not so interested in them!

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    "Sorry that "footmobiles" were not something one could strap on the feet to carry one through periods of too much walking about!"

    Such a neat mind picture that gives me! Solar-powered would be good.

    A note about the restaurant L'Avenue. On a previous visit JR and I were strolling around the Ave. Montaigne when we see a car driving backwards into a sea of uncoming cars. "Hold on-this I've got to see" says JR. We are awed to see a tank-sized Valet moving cars to where ever he can find a space. People were leaving their cars (running!) almost in the middle of the street and trusting that he'd move them. It was balletic and we watched for almost 1/2 hour before deciding we'd better eat there. Roman Polanski (wearing jeans, slouchy blazer and neck scarf) comes out as we ask for seats with a view of the valet. JR orders snails and proceeds to tease our French neighbors a la Lucy Ricardo by placing the clamp on his nose. No one is certain about this strange man but are unfailingly polite as they educate him about the clamp! Tables are so close, we have no choice but to become best friends with a nice couple from Eng. and another gal from Israel with her NYC dad ("My daughter's very rich you know"). It was one of those quirky experiences that brings a smile every time it gets remembered. Not quite as good the second time but still fun!

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    This dropped out fast so I'm bringing back to the top just in case anyone except me is interested!
    BTW, it was our first trip to Aix and the Provencal towns mentioned and our 5th to Paris.
    Have been lurking and looking at the photo sites different folks have posted-trying to figure out what is the best (and cheapest!).
    Cheers, TD
    ;;)

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    Hi TD.

    Thanks for sharing.

    I've included some of your sites/sights for our upcoming trip to Provence.

    >JR realizes that we’ve been thinking the VAT was the added in tip. Hate to think of the folks we’ve undertipped! <

    There is VAT (a tax) and there is also a Service Charge of 15% included in the price.

    A 'tip' is a couple of Euro for exceptionally good service.

    ((I))

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    Thanks, All!

    What happened was that we had gotten used to the message "service compris" in that general area of the receipt and were lazy about actually reading the receipts! Hub always leaves a little something thank heavens!

    ((U)) Describes my heart not being in Italy and/or France now!

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    DT I Love your TR. And that line "My Daughter is rich" would be something I'd giggle over.

    I adored Nimes. Though we had to rush through the city faster than I preferred (there was going to be a protest and they were expecting over 5000 so we had to haul ass onto the bus) I had one of the best little lunches at a bakery not far from the Arena. I also bought my GB some cute outfits from a childrens clothing store near by. The clothing store was the only place on my trip that I encounter rude behavior. The salesladies wouldn't give me the time of day. I almost didn't buy a thing, but I couldn't pass up this cute little onesie with little french phrases stitched to it. My GB has grown out of them but I have them put away for the next GB. And if it's a boy, I'm gonna put them on him ;)

    The bakery where I ate was owned by a husband and wife. They were super sweet to me and the wife spoke English. So I was able to ask lots of questions about the lunch specials. And the Salad, Sandwich and Dessert combo was fantastic. And I had a delish hot cup of coffee.

    Glad your home safely. How is the Flu-ish traveler? Hope much better.

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    wonderful report. you hit all of my many favorite spots. there are tiny snails that you eat with a toothpick or even a common pin but not those you see on the weeds if they were striped in colors.

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    Thanks for kind words to all. Am working on posting more pix.

    Mamaw-Agree about Nimes-very nice city. The arena was impressive-better than Verona's? We watched a student protest in Montpellier in 2006-many young men in dresses and students with poorly-made signs passed by all of us in the cafes, but don't believe there were 5000! Really, make those clothes work! Sorry you had a snooty clerk. Your meal sounds wonderful. Thanks for kind words and health wishes-I'm ready to "boogie" now!

    cigalechanta-The snails were all white. How long would it take to consume them! It gives the cutest mind picture. :-d

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    Loved your report - was looking at your Italy photos as we are going in September but ended up falling in love with the Provence ones. My DH is looking for somewhere for a 3 month sabbatical and I think I just found it, Gordes lookes amazing - off to look for cheap accomodation for him. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    I only now tonight looked at your photos which I enjoyed. Lourmarin is one of my favorite villages and i'm glad you were not put off by Les Baux as so many jaded posters say forget it when it is a unique perche village.

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    When I read this the first time I hoped someday to visit Provence and that dream finally came true earlier this year. It's great to re-read your report and to relive my trip.

    I did not care much for the lavender ice cream in Roussillon, I thought it looked a lot better than it tasted but I'm glad I gave it a try. I also loved Gordes, what an incredible town. The only bad thing about visiting Provence is the sad, sinking feeling you get when it's time to go home.

    Great report, thanks.

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    Just getting to this now - what a great read, TDudette!

    I'm embarrassed to say I have not been to Provence in nearly 15 years! But your report reminded me of what a special place it is - need to go back for sure. Thank you.

    P.S. I laughed at the post office story. I think we probably all have some version of a funny (frustrating is probably a more accurate word, though) post office story.

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    Thanks, YankyGal. As popular as the area seems to be, I'm wondering how changed you'd find it after 15 years. We really enjoyed Aix and Montpellier as bases for travel in the area.

    This was DH's last trip where he felt well so it's doubly sweet to re-read it.

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