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13 July, 2014

Day 10: Castles and Heat Stroke

Today we had one plan, and it was not a big one. In the interest of slowing things down, planning one thing a day is a good way to create space. Unless that one thing is climbing K2, but I promise we weren't doing that. 

The plan for the day was to go to a place called Les Baux-de-Provence. This is an old castle on a hilltop that was very important for a very long time, until finally, the powers-that-be destroyed it beyond repair because its residents were feisty folks who kept stirring up conflict through the centuries. It's another example of how it's easy to look back and think "Why did they destroy something of such historical value?!" But, of course, it's easy to have a rosy perspective looking back on the distant past, and it's also easy to think this was some extremely precious structure when, in reality, it was one of thousands like it (all or most of which have been destroyed). If you've got a problem with some people, and they're creating chaos, sometimes you need to destroy some historical shit. I guess that's the entire history of mankind, including, if you believe the fables, God himself, deciding to send Noah off with his ark, while he destroyed all. I suppose he probably sent Noah a text message to let him know the flood would be coming.

But I digress.

We started the day by visiting two bakeries. One was a little closer to our apartment (meaning, 2 minute walk instead of 4 minute walk). We bought a sandwich, a brioche, and a tomato tort (or tart). The first two items were for the daytime needs. The latter was for dinner. It looked like a deep-dish pizza, covered in sliced tomatoes. It looked too good not to buy. We then stopped at our usual morning stop, to see our new "friend" (friend = someone you've greeted 3 times). There, we got some small baguettes and coffee, and ate it at a table outside.

Then, back to the apartment to drop off the tort, or tart. I can't remember if it's a tart or a tort. At any rate, we placed it on the counter and departed for Les Baux. I don't remember much about the drive. We may have taken the highway, with a small toll for a portion of it. Or maybe that was the next day when we went to Nimes. In either case, the toll booths were no longer the scary situation they were 4 days earlier. Things become familiar very quickly. That's the most amazing thing about living things is that we all adapt.

So we drove to Les Baux, which was rather easy to find. When we got close, the road started winding up a hill toward the town. Parking was a little confusing, because it was unclear if payment was required every day, or just some days, and the system seemed to involve paying at a machine and getting the receipt to put in the car. That's a pretty standard protocol, but it felt just a little bit different because the machines were not located all over the place. To get the receipt we had to walk like 5 minutes back down the hill from where we parked. Being a tourist town, there were other people who were confused as well.

I think we'd read from Rick Steves that the town was "take it or leave it" and that one could go right through it to get to the castle at the top of the town. We wandered a little bit, and it was certainly quaint, but it was indeed very touristy, with shops and restaurants catered to tourism (as in, needlessly overpriced for what they were). We breezed through as suggested, and got to the top, where there was an entry fee to see the castle and the surrounding grounds.

The day was beginning to get hot, and was incredibly bright. For some reason, I was very sensitive to the light that day, but also had been finding my sunglasses to be causing me to get headaches, so I was a bit "off" and low-energy, to top things. As soon as we got into the paid portion of the visit, it was a very exposed hilltop location. Hardly any shade to be found. There was an interesting cemetery just past the entry gate. Then there were a few ruins, including the largest, which was the castle itself. We had a map with an audio tour, and sort of followed the audio tour, though we had decided to interrupt this shortly after our arrival for the purpose of "The Catapult Demonstration." This was put on by a small gang of actors posing as medieval soldiers, engaging in a humorous display and demonstration. There were many jokes, and much slapstick, along with a fairly extensive explanation of the history and functionality of the various catapults. All of this was gibberish to us, since it was entirely in French (the nerve of those bastards, right?). But it was still sort of funny, in the slapstick way. The demonstrations of the catapults were rather impressive. The largest one that they demonstrated was capable of launching a BIG ROCK a VERY LONG DISTANCE. We were impressed. It was accurate enough that the actor who was standing a hundred or so meters in the distance had to jump out of the way after it was launched to avoid being hit.

After the demonstrations, we wandered around the ruins of the village, listening to the audio descriptions of various artifacts, most of which were quite interesting, from a historical perspective. Then we approached the castle ruin, at the very top of the hill. It was very badly ruined, but there was still a lot of structure left to it. The audio recording continued to be our friend, telling us a lot about how people lived, and what the various rooms were used for. We ascended steep, rough stone steps to get to the castle lookout, which was very high on the hill, and also overlooked the entire surrounding valley. I considered it a reasonable feat of overcoming my fear of heights that I was up there at all.

It was worth it, all in all.

After we finished the sights in the paid area, we wandered back through the town and found some steps on a side path, in the shade, where we could sit and eat the food we'd brought with us. The sandwiches were extremely good, and we both wished we had twice as much food as there was (well, I don't know about her, but speaking for myself, I could have eaten three sandwiches).

After that, we drove back to town (St. Remy) and wandered around a few shops. I can't recall for certain, but I think one of the shops I visited was a nice jewelry store while she was in a clothing store across the way. I immediately decided I wanted to buy her something in this store because everything looked to like it could have been made locally, and it was getting close to our "one year anniversary" so I decided that when she joined me, I'd ask her to pick out her favorite thing. It turned out to be a light-colored jade stone, in a silver ring. It's really nice. And it was made in Provence (though not in St. Remy).

We then went back to the apartment, rested for abit, and awakened to eat our tort/tart dinner. I'm almost certain it's a tort.

In the evening, after it had cooled off, we went for a walk, saw a village cat, which we said hello to, had some gelato, and then retired to the apartment to be lazy and relax some more. 

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