crystal's capers

one girl's international adventures

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Bon Voyage

The past week involved a pregnancy milestone: 20 weeks, or the halfway point! Because of this, Riccardo and I decided we shouldn't venture too far away for our summer holiday this year. So we got cheap hour-and-a-half flights to Carcassonne, in the South of France!

We didn't arrive into Carcassonne until about 6pm on Sunday, so considering we had a 3 hour drive ahead of us, we picked up our rental car and hit the road. We arrived at the gite we rented after dark, and were warmly welcomed. We can whole-heartedly recommend Gite du Mas de Font Dame: it was comfortable, clean, spacious, quiet and close to many attractions. Not to mention it offers use of a private pool!

Monday was our first full day in France, and after all our hard work both in our jobs and around the house, we were eager to start things off slowly. We found the local Carrefour supermarket, stocked up on groceries for the remainder of the vacation, and then spent the rest of the day by the pool. The weather was consistently fabulous during our stay: it was sunny and around 33 degrees every day!

Tuesday we drove to Avignon, which was about 30 kms away. Avignon is famous for its bridge, which, as commemorated in the french nursery rhyme, fell down. There is also a large church there; I think Riccardo said that this was the base of a controversial second Pope at one time in history. Maybe he'll comment to explain all that in a little more detail... I thought Avignon was a little too touristy considering what it had to offer. I wasn't overly impressed.

From Avignon, we drove about 15 kms north to Orange. Riccardo's sister, Sylvia, recommended this town because it features an ancient Roman amphitheatre. The amphitheatre is the only one in the world with an intact back wall. We didn't pay to enter the theatre, but rather took La Petite Train tour of the town, which included a drive up the mountainside where we could view the theatre scenically from above. I highly recommend this - especially for those who are pregnant or mobility-challenged.

Wednesday was market day in Uzes. Our gite was located just outside the village of Blauzac, which is roughly halfway between Nimes and Uzes in the Languedoc-Roussillon province of France (bordering Provence / the Cote d'Azur; together these two provinces make up the 'South of France'). So we drove to Uzes, which was about 15 minutes away and recommended hugely over Nimes (which is a much bigger, dirtier, scruffier city as far as I could see), and meandered through the city centre. In the Place de Herbes we found a medium-sized market, which I found slightly overwhelming, considering my lack of French. I did manage to buy some strawberries and a huge handful of green beans. If we had more luggage space, this also would have been a great place to buy homemade perfumes, soaps, preserves, etc. Lovely! To finish our afternoon, we stopped in a cafe boarding the square for cappuccinos, and then headed back to our pool.

Thursday I convinced Riccardo to take me to Marseilles. He wasn't very enthusiastic about this at first, as Marseilles is quite far away (about 2 hours drive into Provence) and is known to be a huge city. Since it was top of my list, however, he agreed. Actually, Marseilles was beautiful. We visited the Old Port, which is like a marina to hundreds of sailboats. The port is surrounded by tons of cafes and restaurants and overlooked by a magnificent cathedral on the mountainside. Already knowing the value of La Petite Train, we journeyed up the hill to view the church and overlook the Old Port - spectacular views! After a late lunch, we looked into going our the tiny island of If, which was formerly a high security prison, famous for incarcerating the Count of Monte Cristo. Unfortunately it was quite expensive and we missed the last sailing, so that didn't work out.

Friday we stayed close to base again, traveling about 15 minutes to the famous, Pont du Gard. The Pont du Gard is a massive, 2,000 year old Roman aqueduct. Since it's a World Heritage Site, the grounds were immaculately kept. In addition to a fantastic (air conditioned) museum, and a couple restaurants, one could swim or kayak under the Pont in the fresh water river, or hike up the sides of the valley for a range of majestic views. A great day trip! By night, apparently there is a light show on the Pont and occasionally live music as well. I highly recommend visiting the Pont.

Saturday Riccardo and I spent the whole day by the pool, knowing that all the tourist traps would be even more chaotic than during the week. In the evening we walked the 2.5 kms or so into the village of Blauzac and dined at the only restaurant in town. What a great walk through the vineyards under the huge French sky.

Sunday I chose to go to the beach: the Mediterranean!! We drove about an hour to Saintes Maries sur la Mer, a small tourist town in the heart of the Camargue, a wetland region in the South known for its small white horses, large black bulls, rice paddies and flamingos. We saw them all, and I got my first experience swimming in the Med, which was lovely, clean and refreshing. Before we left, we had to experience some fresh seafood (Riccardo loved the garlic-butter-covered mini-mussels) and have ice cream cones while walking down the pier.

Monday we drove back to Carcassonne in order to finally enjoy La Cite, which was the reason for our trip to the South. Riccardo has read a book called 'Carcassonne', has the board game, and is somewhat obsessed with the Medieval city; I knew, when propositioning him with ideas for our summer holiday, that including a visit to Carcassonne would seal the deal! La Cite is a lovely walled-in, fully-restored Medieval city with tons of picture-perfect views. It was, admittedly, very touristy, and access to the castle itself was very expensive, but it was a great way to spend an afternoon. To finish off the day, Riccardo suggested we veer about 20 kms off-course to the coastal town of Sete. Sete is situated on a small mountain overlooking the sea, and is known for being a large fishing port. It wasn't nearly as touristy as some of the other places we visited. While there, we happily enjoyed another seafood dinner along the Grand Canal and noticed a boat tour company directly across from our restaurant. After dinner, we hopped on-board for a very inexpensive sunset cruise. What a wonderful end to our time in France!

Finally, on Tuesday, to ensure we were properly rested to return to England, and that we soaked up the sunshine we were certain to never see again upon our arrival back home, we spent the day by the pool. We finished off the last of our immense watermelon, packed, tidied the gite and savoured our last hours.

After saying our goodbyes to the gite owners, Christine and Alain Boschi and wishing them the best of luck with their soon-to-arrive baby (their third!), we headed back to Carcassonne on Wednesday morning to catch our flight home. Of course, upon picking up our car at the airport we were promptly greeted with a downpour of good ole British rain!

Ah, holidays! :D

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