11 July, 2014

Day 8: more perfect days of wandering

Today was a sleep-late-day. I am not sure what that meant, maybe 10am? We got ourselves up, with the plan being to go nowhere beyond St. Remy this day. We had traveled so far yesterday that it felt like the right thing to do today. There would be much exploring of Provence, but to start, we needed a day of recuperation.

We wandered out of the apartment, looking for a place for breakfast. There are really only 8-10 small roads in the circle that comprises the center of town. We didn't really have a destination in mind, but sort of took a wrongish turn from where we thought we were headed, and that landed us at a small bakery, which I guess, it turns out, is a chain, called Festival Des Pain. Who knows if the locals consider this to be like going to Starbucks? I don't know. It was a small bakery, and they had pastries in the window that looked delicious. We went in, and ordered two coffees, and a Sacristain Amandes, which is a Provencal specialty. We ate it so quickly, we ordered another one, and they weren't small. It was exciting to be in France, and be eating pastry, and sitting outside at a table in a village. The girl who worked there was nice to us. Though she didn't speak English, she was patient with our French, and we ended up visiting her there nearly every day of our time in St. Remy. The older woman who worked in the afternoon was not as nice, but she wasn't exactly mean, either. Just one of those situations where, when it's clear that I don't understand her, her response was to say the same thing, only louder. It's funny, because I bet that's exactly what I have done a million times to people who don't speak English, in the past. I'd like to think I am more considerate now, but who knows. It is interesting being nearly unable to communicate in a country. I have a hard time imagining how my accent sounds, how poor my words translate, and how impatient some people might be with me. In America, we'd probably think "Why can't they f**king learn English?!" And I imagine there will be some in France, who will think, at the very least, "If he's going to come *visit* France, maybe learn a little more French?!" But I could be wrong, and it's also the case that there are much higher expectations universally about people's proficiency in English than any other language. We have a distinct advantage. I am sure a lot of that is owed to the British Empire, but it would have to be the American Economy that is responsible for the ubiquity across the entire globe of people speaking at least a small amount of English. I sure do wish I learned my high school French better than I did, but I am glad I learned it at all, because it has proven quite valuable to me on this trip. I didn't think I had all that much French, but my ability to hack my way through in French has been far more significant than in either Italy or Germany. It's difficult to tell, in some cases, because the latter two countries will usually switch to English for you almost immediately. Only in France did I have the opportunity to struggle through in a few situations (and even then, in tourist-centric places, they'll usually switch).

After eating our fill of Sacristain, we wandered to the Tourism Information center, to double check that our parking space was legitimate, which it was. And that was really all we needed for information purposes. We decided, rather impromptu, that our next plan would be to wander up the road about a half mile, to the ancient Roman ruins of Glanum. We weren't sure how this going to be, but it seemed worth a peek. On the way, we saw the mental hospital where Van Gogh stayed. We walked around the outer grounds, and saw some olive trees that he had painted. It was moderately inspiring, but not enough for us to want to pay money to go inside the mental hospital, which is still in operation, but has tours of some parts of it. Meh.

We wandered on to Glanum. It appeared we could get there through a backroads path, and we wandered though a kind of woodsy area, only to discover that the Glanum is, of course, fenced in, because they're going to charge you money to visit. Duh. There were some other trails in the area that one could have hypothetically hiked on, but they were closed this time of year due to risk of forest fires.
So we retraced our steps back to the main road, and entered the Glanum the correct way. On the way there, we came across a donkey in a pasture, and that made Allie quite pleased. There were many photos taken, and she even insisted on petting the donkey, which ended with me insisting that she stop, because the donkey kept trying to bite her. She tried to reassure me that he was friendly, but I don't really want to have to go to an emergency room in St. Remy-de-Provence for stitches and a rabies shot, trying to explain to them, in French, that we were bitten by a donkey. But she was probably right. After all, she has actually lived near donkeys, whereas I have only seen them on television.

After the donkey incident, we made our way to the Glanum, which had something of a Tourist Information center of its own. It wasn't cheap to get in. I think either 8 or 10 Euro, but this turned out to be very much worth it. The Glanum ruins are in varies degrees of ruin, though, mostly, pretty ruined. There are some parts that have been partially restored, but it's still pretty ruined. But there are placards with information scattered around the site that explain what they know these buildings to have been before their ruin. And, most interestingly, they have a good understanding of how the site varied from the pre-Roman, to Roman, to later times (I can't recall the proper terms for these eras). Sometimes, entire structures would be demolished, or built on top of, as bigger needs came into play. For example, what used to be some important person's house, eventually, during Roman times, was consumed by the construction of the Forum. The diagrams used really neat color coding to show you the parts of the ruins that were from each stage of history. We spent probably 2 hours there, even though it was really hot, and felt like we could have spent even longer.

After that, we walked across the street to a place where there's a big arch (Arc de Triomph) and some other statue. They're sort of standing by themselves in a field, and it's confusing as to why they're over here, alone, while Glanum is contiguously across the road. But, it turns out, if you do your reading, that at the height of the Roman Empire, Glanum had become a far larger city, and these two things were actually part of the larger city. I am curious what happened to all the other structures, and how these two things stood, and also curious if they were restored, since it seems like we are often slightly misled about what is original and what has been rebuilt.

So much of what existed in Roman times is gone. It seems so unfortunate now, since the few things that remain are so amazing. And when I hear stories about things being demolished in battle, or out of disuse, or for repurposing, it makes me realize that, perhaps, the times we live in are not all that different from the past.

After looking at the rest of the Roman stuff, and making a sort of feeble effort to understand the long descriptions written in French, about the arch and the statue, we walked back to town. It was hot. when we got back, Allie wanted to pop into a small clothing shop just to see what they had, so I walked across the way to another small shop which had some jewelry in it. I could tell immediately that it was nice stuff that she'd like, so when she came over to meet me, we found something that she really liked, and that became her 1 year anniversary gift, since I'd been woefully delinquent in providing said gift (though nobody was really complaining to me about it, honestly).

We probably stopped in a couple of other shops before wandering back to the apartment. We had decided today would be a mellow day, and we also decided that perhaps we would have dinner at the apartment tonight instead of going out. So we found our way to the local grocery store, which was decent, and looked around for a long time, before deciding to buy some pasta, tomato sauce, some good bread, some cheese, some wine. The combination was intended to be for dinner and perhaps for lunch the next day. For wine, we decided (I mean, I decided, since I am the crazy one) that it would be fun to do a head-to-head Rose of Provence comparison. So we got one "Bordeaux" and one "Rhone" Rose. Not sure if this is the general trend, but in this case, the Rhone grapes (mainly Grenache) made a much better Rose than the Bordeaux grapes (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, in this case).

We did some laundry, which required us figuring out how to use the odd machine. We did not successfully figure out how to add the soap, but figured a good rinse was better than nothing. Perhaps that's why I developed a rash during the trip!

We spent some time reading the travel books and mapping out a potential agenda for the coming days. After reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading the materials we had, we kind of decided that we wanted to visit Arles, Les Baux-de-Provence, Nimes, and Pont-du-Gard, and possibly Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The latter was my add-on to the list of otherwise agreed upon places. And we were open to the possibility that the plan might change from one day to the next.

I think we may have gone on a short walk after dinner where Allie was looking for bubble bath. But there was none to be found, and she must have settled for unbubble bath. I did yoga, while she took her bubbleless bath, and then we relaxed, drank more of the Rose, and eventually I spent a little time writing until we went to sleep.

It was the point in the trip where the clock started slowing down. I think we knew it would. There was something about the start of the trip, in Florence, that was still coming off the work trip, and the novelty of being on vacation. Then Cinque Terre had the element of trying to see as much as possible in each day. This was the first time that we knew we had a good long stay ahead in one place.

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