A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

VALLEY OF THE KINGS

LUXOR

sunny 45 °C

While staying with Bernie and Estralita in Scotland, we decided to find out what excursions were available, highly desirable and within our limited budget. A week later we found ourselves on the way to Egypt for a week-long cruise on the Nile. We decided this would be a wonderful way to celebrate our 30 years of Wedded Bliss! We had to fly from Manchester airport with Thomson Tours, which entailed a rather chilly, pre-dawn 4-hour drive getting there, and parking the van at the airport for the week. We stopped overnight on the way down with Jamie and Simon's godparents, Sue and Kev Bracchi, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We had a wonderful evening catching up with them and their lovely sons, Matthew and Michael. There's not much that beats old friends!

We arrived in Luxor in the afternoon, and were greeted by the intense desert heat - quite a shock to the system after frosty Scottish weather. It remained between 40-45 degrees all week! Luxor is the modern name for the ancient city of Thebes.
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We were greeted by a Thomson rep and escorted by coach through Luxor to our ship, the Crown Prince, which was berthed three abreast on the Nile. It was a relatively new experience being met and escorted everywhere, and we found it quite relaxing not to have to think too much for ourselves!
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The Crown Prince on a rare occasion when she was berthed alone

The Crown Prince on a rare occasion when she was berthed alone

After settling into our simple, but air-conditioned cabin, with a large picture window out onto the Nile, we met for an introductory talk, followed by a buffet dinner.

The next morning we set off early [to beat as much of the heat as possible] to visit the temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank. These houses are some of many in this area, which are being bought out and demolished to make way for archeological excavations, which are ongoing activities in these parts of Egypt.
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Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt 1503-1482 BC, and was one of the earliest and most famous female pharaohs. The temple is built on three terraces, with the upper one being right up against the limestone cliffs. We hopped onto a trolley bus to take us up the long approach.
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Our guide for the week was a fantastic erudite lady, Sahar, who has a Masters in Egyptology, and is in our opinion, a national treasure who should be cloned! She told us fascinating stories about the gods and pharaohs of ancient Egypt, as well as many insights into Egyptian culture and life today. Here she is showing us the remnant of a Myrrh tree, which Hatshepsut imported from the Land of Punt [Somalia], to provide shade on the terraces.
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In order to legitimise her powerful reign, she had herself depicted with the pharaoh's kilt and beard, as seen in these statues.
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After Hatshepsut's death, Tuthmosis III her step-son, became pharaoh. Perhaps fearing a challenge to his legitimacy as a successor, he immediately chiseled all images of Hatshepsut off temples, monuments and obelisks, consigning her remarkable reign to oblivion until its rediscovery by modern archaeologists.

In more recent history, tragedy struck in November 1997 when 58 tourists and four guards were killed by terrorists on the Middle Terrace. All the sites in Egypt are now heavily guarded with fences and security checkpoints, and there are Tourist Police with machine guns around every corner. Since that time there have been no further incidents, so it must be working, even though it is a bit eery.

Everywhere you go in Egypt people want tips for everything, and this man was no exception! He pointed out some murals and posed for pictures, then put his hand out. In spite of having to hand over constant tips, we enjoyed the quirky sense of humour of the Egyptians we met.
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Not sure whether this lovely head is that of Hatshepsut, or of Atum, the chief god

Not sure whether this lovely head is that of Hatshepsut, or of Atum, the chief god


Our first glimpse of hieroglyphics in the Middle Terrace

Our first glimpse of hieroglyphics in the Middle Terrace

The vulture-headed goddess Nekhbet carrying the Shen ring symbol of eternity in her claws. This mural is still displaying the original colours

The vulture-headed goddess Nekhbet carrying the Shen ring symbol of eternity in her claws. This mural is still displaying the original colours


Tuthmosis III offering wine to Sokaris, god of burials

Tuthmosis III offering wine to Sokaris, god of burials


This flying creature we found on many murals in the temples, and have yet to discover its relevance

This flying creature we found on many murals in the temples, and have yet to discover its relevance


IMG_3735.jpgThousands of graves of lesser mortals are scattered in the surrounding hills

Thousands of graves of lesser mortals are scattered in the surrounding hills

We then stopped at one of many alabaster factories to be found in the area.
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After welcoming us to his establishment, the owner with his 4 workers, put on a very comedic demonstration of how the vases are carved out of solid alabaster rock. His assistants sung in unison like well-rehearsed parrots, which we found hilarious! Such consummate showmen.
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The finished products are so thin they are translucent and highly prized. When Sahar told him about our anniversary, he presented us with a small scarab beetle each, which is really a good marketing tool to ensure that we buy [which we did!]. We just hope our delicate little green alabaster vase makes it home intact.

The next stop was at the famous Valley of the Kings. This valley is the one behind Hatshepsut's temple, and in fact her tomb was burrowed out beneath the mountain, and is aligned directly below her temple. The entrance to her tomb is in the Valley of the Kings, which means a feat of incredibly precise engineering. Tutankh-amen's tomb is the most famous tomb discovered in the valley, but the treasures it contained, we were to see later in the Egyptian Museum.
The entrance to the Valley, with the Valley stretching into the hills behind it.

The entrance to the Valley, with the Valley stretching into the hills behind it.

Unfortunately we had to leave our cameras on the bus, as photos were not allowed, so the following pictures are from postcards. We could choose three tombs to visit and explore. The first was that of Tausert and Setnakht. This large tomb was built by Queen Tausert in 1187BC for her own royal burial. For yet undiscovered reasons, Ramses lll decided to usurp the tomb and had his father Setnakht buried there. This is the decorated passage leading down to the first chamber.
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To get into the tomb of Tuthmosis lll, we had to climb up a steep scaffold stairway to the entrance, where a "guide" offered us a well-used piece of cardboard to use as a fan because he said it was hot inside. We declined the "fan" as it would have meant another tip, but found that it was indeed suffocatingly hot inside. We had to climb down a steep narrow tunnel and through several chambers before finding the main sarcophagus. The walls were covered in painted carvings with the stone sarcophagus in the middle. By the time we made our way out again, we found the outside air, even at 45 degrees, refreshing! How the workers digging and sifting on the site cope with the intense heat each day is a testimony to their endurance because the heat is truly incapacitating - so much so that one chap in our group fainted!
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The last tomb we chose was that of Ramses lX. He had also built the one next door with 150 burial chambers, for his many sons! On the roof of his burial chamber we found a beautiful painting of the goddess Nut, who is ruler of the sky, and who is displayed with her body in heaven and her feet and hands on earth.
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The colours are all original and their vibrancy is due to their protection from the elements.

The colours are all original and their vibrancy is due to their protection from the elements.

On the way back to the ship for lunch, we stopped briefly at the Collossi of Memnon, which are 20m tall and weigh 1000 tons each. Amenhotep lll built a mortuary temple in Thebes that was guarded by these two gigantic statues on the outer gates. Due to an earthquake in 27 BC, these statues became known for a bell-like tone that usually occurred in the morning due to rising temperatures and humidity, and visitors came from miles around to hear the music. Thus they were equated by the early Greek travelers with the figure of Memnon, the son of Aurora, whose mother Eos, was the goddess of dawn. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus, seeking to repair the statues in 199 AD, inadvertently silenced them forever.

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Later in the same week we heard that an important statue had just been unearthed in this vicinity. It is so exciting that archeological discoveries are still being made!

Posted by davidsandi 05:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

CORK AND KERRY

We were excited to spend the last 10 days in Cork city, as it was one of the few places in Ireland that we had not yet visited. Exploring the centre of town was like finally arriving in civilisation after weeks spent in the outback! This was partly due to it being a university city, but also due to it being a city renowned as a centre for art and culture. The centre of the old city is on an island in the river Lee, and has a village atmosphere.
Monument in the centre

Monument in the centre

The river Lee looking towards Shandon

The river Lee looking towards Shandon

The first five days were spent at Killarney Lodge B&B, which provided an excellent breakfast every morning, something David found very welcome on his return from his "red-eye" shifts. As the en suite toilets and showers had been installed in the bedrooms long after the building had been built, they are tiny, and one has to manoevre oneself under the basin to sit on the toilet. Even thinking of drying oneself after a shower, with the door closed, is physically impossible.
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We enjoyed the atmosphere and abundant variety of goods in the old English Market, which reminded us of the Biscuit Mill market back home in Woodstock, except that this one has been in existence since 1788. Parking in the city was mostly height restricted, but we found an open car park which cost €7.50 for 3 hours [what can one do except pay up!].
English Market in Cork City

English Market in Cork City

We felt like salmon for lunch, so bought 2 pieces and a frying pan [as our pots and pans had already been packed up] for less than the cost of a take-away. We drove up and down the river Lee looking for a scenic spot where we could cook and eat our lunch, with no luck. So we headed back to the B&B and cooked up our lunch in the van in the rather shabby car park area at the back of the building. Since it was raining we had to stay inside Mr Stubby, but a glass of wine, scrumptious fresh salmon, and a creamy salad made up for the lack of ambience!

David usually managed to get a few hours sleep on his shifts, which gave us time to enjoy the better part of the day. Having explored the sights in the city, we thought it would be good to visit a farmer's market advertised at Hosford Garden Centre, about 30 minutes drive away. We collapsed laughing when we discovered that the said farmer's market consisted of a nun selling crochet handiwork and about 5 other stalls. David tried to take a photo of the nun and her stall, but she refused [citing security reasons?]

David had one night shift in Newcastlewest [NCW], then a Caredoc meeting in Kilkenny, where we finally met some of the lovely Locumotion staff face-to-face, before returning to Cork City again for a further 3 "red-eye" shifts. As the weather was bright, we opted to make a big detour and visit West Cork and the Beara peninsula on the way to NCW.

We drove past Skibbereen and on to the pretty coastal town of Bantry, which nestles in the hills at the inlet to Bantry Bay.
IMG_3583.jpgIMG_3578.jpgDelightful olde world department store on the High street

Delightful olde world department store on the High street


An old water wheel

An old water wheel


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Looking out over Bantry Bay

Looking out over Bantry Bay

Driving on through Glengarriff onto the Beara Peninsula, we had stunning views over the bay.
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We were amazed to see large bushes of tiny red fuschias growing wild all over West Cork! They thrive well in the temperate climate, and are used in branding and marketing initiatives for the area.
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Castletownbere is a little town on an enclosed bay.
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We searched the town for fish & chips for lunch, but both shops were closed until 4pm.
Glorious hydrangeas

Glorious hydrangeas

This stairway was adorned with kitsch

This stairway was adorned with kitsch

Crossing the peninsula we could see Kenmare Bay as we descended to a pretty village called Eyeries.
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Unlike many of the drab grey cottahes in other parts of Ireland, the rows of cottages here were painted in gay colours.
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We love the Irish for SLOW!

We love the Irish for SLOW!

When we got back to Cork city we stayed at Brookfield Lodge, also near the University.
A fairy-tale tree in the garden

A fairy-tale tree in the garden

We visited the little Butter Museum, which displayed the history of the butter industry in Ireland. Nearby is the St Anne's church with the Shandon bells in the clock tower. The tower is locally known as the "four faced liar" because the four clocks always show different times.
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The tower is built of red and white stone [sandstone and limestone] which is mined in Cork and is reflected in the flag of Cork.
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On Saturday we drove to nearby Midleton for their annual Food Fair. Driving into the town, we saw no advertising or banners for the event and began to worry that we had the day wrong! Suddenly we got to the centre and found the roads closed off and hundreds of people milling about. We think we could teach the Irish something about better marketing! The market was good fun and we bought the most delicious stollen-like artisan loaf filled with dried apricots and raisins, which we hoped to find again, but no such luck yet.
Pizza acrobatics

Pizza acrobatics

A quaint version of a traditional Irish gig! Each mechanised puppet played a different instrument.

A quaint version of a traditional Irish gig! Each mechanised puppet played a different instrument.

Next day we explored St Finn Barre's cathedral. Finn Barre was the patron saint of Cork in 600 AD and the present cathedral was built in 1870 on the site of his grave. It contains beautiful carvings, floor mosaics and plenty of red marble from the region.
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We set off early the next day as we had a 7 hour drive up to Belfast to catch the ferry to Stranraer, Scotland. The 3 hour ferry trip was followed by a 3 hour drive along narrow, dark, wet roads, dodging "artics" and HGVs to arrive in Livingston by 10pm, thoroughly exhausted, but warmly welcomed by our dear friend Bernie who shooed us off to the most comfortable bed on the planet!

Posted by davidsandi 02:30 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

I OWE, I OWE, ITS OFF TO WORK WE GO

IRELAND

rain

Having bought a new laptop in Plymouth on our arrival by ferry, we had some software installed and set about restoring the backup from the external hard-drive. Alas our computer troubles were not over! We discovered that the backup, which had been professionally done by our computer man in Cape Town, inexplicably contained only about 5% of all our data. We now had to get used to the idea that all the work done on our stolen laptop for the previous 18 months had gone - besides screeds of Sandi's other data that was needed during our travels. But more was to come, when a week later in Ireland, we discovered that when they had loaded our new software, the new hard drive had became corrupted. After a few more hiccups, which we won't bore you with, and some indescribable to-and-froing between computer experts in RSA, Ireland and Microsoft, we finally have our new laptop working as it should.
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We spent the rest of our short time in Ebford packing crates to be shipped home, and stocking up on materials and equipment needed for Sandi's new workshops, scheduled for 2011 launch. The R&D work related to this venture continues unabated, which keeps Sandi busy, busy, busy.

Judy's dahlias were in full bloom, and we were sad to bid farewell to Rob and Judy's delightful cottage, which is to be demolished to make space for three new cottages on the property.
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We caught the ferry from Pembroke harbour to Rosslare, and spent the first week working in Toomevara. Our B&B was a grand old three storey house on a huge property, run by a young couple with a lot of very cute kids. We pondered how such a young couple could afford such an enormous property. For David’s birthday we went into nearby Nenagh and had some delicious seafood chowder.

David had 2 daytime shifts in Carlow on the weekend, and we opted to sleep in the van as it was warm enough.
The Liberty Tree built to commemorate the battle of Carlow in the 18th C.

The Liberty Tree built to commemorate the battle of Carlow in the 18th C.

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We then had 3 weeks in Monaghan, staying in the GP's home, so we relished the home comforts of our own cooking and wifi and Skybox TV.

We enjoyed following Must be the Music and X Factor series on BBC. While David travelled to Gorey and Letterkenny for weekend shifts, Sandi stayed at "home", trying to research and rewrite as much of the lost computer data as possible. On Sandi’s birthday she prepared a delicious meal, including a banana caramel flan - a favourite from her childhood. We both really appreciated e-mail and phone calls from home for our birthdays. Thanks again!
There is very little of merit to do or see in Monaghan; the most exciting event in the area is advertised below!
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A walk in Rossmore park is the only way to stretch one’s legs without breathing in exhaust fumes or being run over. It is an enormous forest estate, the paths of which are poorly signposted, and one could easily be lost for months.
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In Monaghan we really felt the bite of the new tax regulations, as the GP deducted 50% tax retrospectively to March, when David first worked in the practice, resulting in zero pay for the third week. Ouch - quite an unexpected shock!! Very disheartening to work a whole week for "nothing". David engaged an accountant in Monaghan to help claim back the maximum tax at the end of the year. So we're holding thumbs.

The speeding fine incurred in Cork in March also came back to bite us. We should have received an option to pay the fine of €80 by post, but only received a summons to appear in court in September! After many enquiries, we learned that there remained no option but to make written representation to the court, which resulted in a judgement of €140. Rather unfair considering our speed had only been 70km/hr, but sometimes one has to draw a line and move on!
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The Irish gardens are very pretty in summer with colourful begonias and geraniums. We were rather critical of the gardens in an earlier posting of this blog, and we apologise for that.
This pretty garden in Tipperary Town was full of huge sunflowers.

This pretty garden in Tipperary Town was full of huge sunflowers.

Finely manicured hedges and bushes are a national favourite, as almost every garden has some. Hanging baskets in public areas of towns and in front of pubs are charming.
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Spending a lot of time on the roads in Ireland provides its challenges. We often get stuck behind slow farm vehicles on the roads, and can't overtake for miles! When this happens we both tend to drift off on our own reveries, which makes best use of a frustrating situation.
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At filling stations, one longs for the friendly attendant who cleans your screen, checks the tyres, water and oil as well as filling up. David is tired of getting diesel and grimy smudges on his hands when filling up, and complains that it requires far too much effort to check the oil, water and tyres. Signage on the roads is generally inadequate, and speed restrictions very confusing.
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Some home visits were to addresses such as “House next to public toilet, Passage East” or “no 1 white wall” or “The Ruins, Post office square” which turned out not to be next to the post office at all, but where the post office used to be 200 years ago! Fortunately the driver of the medics car knows the area pretty well, but the same does not apply when David is doing house calls when working in a private practice.
The new motorways radiating out from Dublin are very good, but one finds very few services for fuel, rest or food along these roads. The other roads vary enormously in quality and have no rest stops at all, forcing one to drive for hours, before finding a garage that might allow one to use their loo. Often David resorts to African style and uses a bush!
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Although the Irish medical system is great in that it provides care for all its people and immigrants, a lot of equipment is thrown away instead of being recycled. The government can ill afford to be so wasteful in the current economic climate. The patients waste resources too, calling for attention at any hour e.g. David was woken at 3.30 am one night to attend to a man who had flatulence for the past 3 weeks! The patients have little reliance on common sense and are fearful of every fever. The doctors too are fearful of litigation and practise defensively. David's summation of the Irish system is "fearful, wasteful and defensive". Although 10% of David's income goes towards a PRSI tax, we cannot use the health services. A dental visit, which David recently had to resort to, made a significant dent in the Nye coffers - so we have an added incentive to stay as healthy as possible.

While Ireland is promoted as a classless society, there is a distinction between upper and lower classes. As a generalisation, the upper classes are educated, slim and often display the features of classic Irish beauty, invariably with easily understandable accents. The majority of people we have had dealings with [i.e. the rest, or the other class] are usually overweight, generally with coarse features, on social benefits, pregnant, mumble with a heavy accent that is often unintelligible, and rely on drinking for pleasure. Both classes may have material wealth, which means that this distinction is not evident by looking at people's cars or houses.
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One particular social observation, which tends to make our blood boil, is listening to those on benefits complain about their perceived raw deal. All we can think of is how hard our fellow African people have it, and how little they are expected to survive on - and how relative the Irish perceptions are. There is a really avaricious, materialistic mentality here among the younger generations, who have an attitude of entitlement, which is considered by older Irish folk as one of the dubious legacies of the Celtic Tiger boom years. It's been interesting to read that many of the Eastern European immigrants, who have been working here for a long time, are going back to their home countries because it's no longer economically viable to stay in Ireland. These critical observations aside, we have been struck by what a caring society this also is. The Irish do a great deal to help the unfortunate, like the Pakistan flood victims [lots of radio and TV appeals for citizens to send money to aid these poor folk], and others in need. It appears though that this altruism is generally forthcoming from the people, not the government, which is often the reality of grass-roots aid. So fair play to the Irish [wo]man in the street for their compassionate hearts.

While working in Waterford for a week, we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at la Boheme restaurant, where we had a very good meal, which was a real treat.
A celebratory vase of wine in our room, before din-dins

A celebratory vase of wine in our room, before din-dins

Posted by davidsandi 12:26 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

LAVENDER, OCHRE and SUNFLOWERS

sunny 38 °C

We travelled to Coustellet in southern Vaucluse to visit the excellent Lavender Museum. IMG_3359.jpgIMG_3357.jpg
Although small, the museum is crammed full of a variety of old copper stills and other interesting artifacts from the lavender industry. Sandi had a ball capturing the wonderful exhibits - wishing her ex aromatherapy students were there to experience the pleasure too.
IMG_3362.jpgIMG_3372.jpgAn itinerant still for distilling lavender as well as fruit alcohols, which travelled from farm to farm.

An itinerant still for distilling lavender as well as fruit alcohols, which travelled from farm to farm.

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IMG_3387.jpgThe steaming lavender biomass

The steaming lavender biomass

This rare still was hammered without any welds, and may have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant.

This rare still was hammered without any welds, and may have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant.

An ovoid or egg-shaped still.

An ovoid or egg-shaped still.

A still to produce lavender concentrate.

A still to produce lavender concentrate.


We were instructed in the difference between lavender and lavandin by a pretty French lass who spoke perfect English. True lavender historically grows in poor quality rocky soil, high on sunny mountain slopes at an altitude between 500m and 1500m. It has been prized and harvested for centuries for its high quality essential oil yield. Lavandula angustifolia

Lavandula angustifolia


Lavandin is a modern hybrid with more spectacular flowers and a bigger yield, and is cultivated in fields on lower slopes. The chemistry, aroma, application and prices differ, respectively.
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Nearby, perched high against les Monts de Vaucluse, we visited Gordes, rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. We browsed through some interesting ceramics on sale, then had our picnic lunch in the shade of an olive tree.
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IMG_3420.jpgLooking out across the Luberon Valley.

Looking out across the Luberon Valley.


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Dry stone walls are a feature in the Luberon region.
IMG_3424.jpgIMG_3441.jpgTypical farmhouse with the Vaucluse mountains in the distance.

Typical farmhouse with the Vaucluse mountains in the distance.

The next village on our route was the village of Rousillon, perched atop colourful cliffs. We had a steep walk up to the village itself, which was exhausting in the heat.
IMG_3449.jpgWe passed this interesting, old painted door on the way through the village.

We passed this interesting, old painted door on the way through the village.


The vermilion, yellow and red ochres are mined in open-air quarries. Even the colours of the houses reflect the warm colours of the ochre.
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Many shops sell the minature nativity clay figurines made in the time-honoured manner by the santonniers, which brought back childhood memories for David.
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Cicadas, which are plentiful, are the quintessential summer-sound of Provence. Their continuous rhythm is reminiscent of vuvuselas - or zillions of seriously fed-up buzzing and screeching goggas. Although one hears them constantly, one never sees them, except as souvenirs in the shops. At night, when their cacophony stops, the silence is suddenly exquisite - and as the sun rises higher in the heavens after dawn, one knows that their frenzied song heralds another day of rising heat.
IMG_3450.jpgDavid was scolded by the shop-owner for photographing his beautiful ceramic creations.

David was scolded by the shop-owner for photographing his beautiful ceramic creations.

Up till now, we had still not seen the fields of lavender for which Provence is renowned. We drove past orchards full of peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries, and farmstalls selling melons everywhere. As we meandered along twisting, hilly country roads heading back towards Carpentras, we started to see more and more fields of lavendin, as patches of hazy purple in the landscape.
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After a long day, our final stop was at Beaumes de Venise for a wine tasting occasion. About a dozen local vintners offered tastings of their Muscat, for which the area is famous. They were all delicious and we got back to the campsite quite tipsy! It was time for the monthly camp-site social; Paella Party! Leon, the manager, spent the whole day cooking paella in 2 of the largest paella pans we have ever seen! It was delicious, and we danced the evening away, encouraged by the French singer and guitarist.
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Friday was our last day, and we spent it in Carpentras at the huge weekly street market. The narrow streets were decked with hanging paintings, and the stalls extended throughout the centre of town, selling Provencale linens and other goods, foods, household wares, plants etc. Fabulous!
IMG_3475.jpgIMG_3476.jpgWe stopped for a coffee at a cafe next to this fountain.

We stopped for a coffee at a cafe next to this fountain.

Sadly, we had to pack up and leave early the next morning. We had 18 hours of driving to cross France from the SE up to our ferry port at Roscoff in the NE. We crossed the Rhône, passing many fields of sunflowers en route.
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Bales of hay, tree-lined lanes [plus luscious cherries and strident cicadas] will always bring back happy memories of France for us.
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We used the France Passion book to find an overnight stop halfway, on a farm next to this meadow of flowers.
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The last night was spent in Roscoff, where we treated ourselves to a last French meal in a cosy restaurant, before crossing the Channel to Plymouth the next day.
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First stop on UK soil - PCWorld Plymouth - and immediate replacement of a laptop so we could once again be in touch with our other world, since there were no English keyboards or software in Spain and France!

Posted by davidsandi 00:47 Archived in France Comments (0)

UNDER THE SPELL OF MONT VENTOUX

sunny 38 °C

Using the France Passion guide again, we made our way to Chateau Gleon, in the Corbieres wine region of Aude, for an overnight stop on the way to Provence.
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The proprietor, a kindly old Frenchman, allowed us to pick our fill of ripe figs and brought us ice - a welcome essential in the high heat. After petting his dogs, big black Diablo, and an ankle-nipping little 'un, we stepped into his cool "cave" for a wine-tasting. We sampled most of his delicious wines, and bought a couple of bottles for our continued journey, plus one to savour with our dinner. While chatting to him it emerged that there is an estate nearby called Comte Durban, and he had some specially etched tasting glasses depicting a recent celebration there, which he insisted we accept as a gift each. What a sweetie! David's is no more, but Sandi's glass has so far survived the rigours of campervan living. As the shadows grew longer we had our supper and spent the night overlooking the river and the old bridge. The next morning we returned his ice-bucket, together with a gift of Sandi's soap, which seemed to surprise, yet delight him, and bid him a fond au revoir.
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David discovered what he thought were giant thistles growing next to the bridge and came back to report the find to Sandi, who informed him that they are actually artichokes! Guess who gets teased whenever thistles appear?
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The next afternoon we arrived at our pre-booked campsite in the village of Aubignan, Vaucluse. In the near distance we could see the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux, which looks as if it is permanently capped with snow. It is actually an exposed outcrop of limestone.
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The campsite was quiet and unsophisticated, and hot, hot, hot - but sadly had no swimming pool. It is perfectly situated for exploring the surrounding area that makes up southern Provence. We befriended several campers from the UK and Cyprus, who return to this same site every year for the summer, year after year.
Dentelles (laces) de Montmirail

Dentelles (laces) de Montmirail

On Sunday we visited Avignon, the regional capital.
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The old city is still enclosed by the original city wall, and access is gained by walking or driving through one of the original city gates. It was an important city during the Middle Ages as it was the seat of the Papacy for many years, before it returned to Rome. Seven successive Popes ensured that the area became commercially successful, and the county only became part of France after the French Revolution. The Jewish community thrived here under the protection of the Papacy.
Palace of the Popes

Palace of the Popes


The famous bridge of St Bénezet, better known as the Pont d’Avignon, stretches part-way across the mighty Rhône river. David can still hear his mother singing to him as a baby:
"Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse. Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, tous en rond..."
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The centre of the old city was pulsating with visitors, buskers and students - a festival atmosphere of note - rather like the Grahamstown Fest. The students were passionately enacting parts of their stage-acts, trying to entice one to book for the whole show.
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We wandered around, enthralled by the sights and sounds, until midday when suddenly the streets emptied and everyone settled down for lunch in one of the many street restaurants. After perusing all the menus on display, we chose the most appealing one that suited our budget, and joined the crowd for a leisurely lunch.
Ornate architecture in the main street

Ornate architecture in the main street


An arborial busker

An arborial busker


A delightful statue of a baby elephant

A delightful statue of a baby elephant

A grand building opposite the Palace

A grand building opposite the Palace

This bronze by Christine Remy took Sandi's fancy

This bronze by Christine Remy took Sandi's fancy

A potter in the street

A potter in the street

The festival bustle and vibe was a good solace to our post-Granada emotions, as we could focus on something other than the robbery and our recent losses. The next two days were spent exploring some of the quaint villages in the region. Beaumes-de-Venise had a little street market with some interesting ceramics on sale. It took extreme self-control not to buy some, and if weight, size, and budget was not a consideration the van and our kitchen back home would have boasted a few choice pieces.
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The olive oil mill was unfortunately closing for lunch when we arrived, so we had a drink on the café terrace next door.
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By this time our St Paddy's Day emblem - a silicone gel shamrock on the inside of the windscreen had melted in the 50C heat!
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Many of the old villages are perched high up against the rocky outcrops as a means of defence in times gone by.
The village of la Roque Alric with the Dentelles in the background

The village of la Roque Alric with the Dentelles in the background


The castle of le Barroux commands a grand view over the valley

The castle of le Barroux commands a grand view over the valley


On the farmland, the typical farmhouse is called a mas. It is of a rectangular construction, usually around a courtyard, with a sloping tiled roof, and faces south to protect from the biting Mistral wind in winter.
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Many of the country lanes in France are lined with trees like this.
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All the farmstalls and orchards along the roads were full of the bounty of summer; cherries, nectarines, melons, apricots and figs. Sandi indulged her cherry passion to the full, gobbling them daily in Fantastic-Mr-Fox style! [Singi and other Roald Dahl aficionados will relate to this reference.]
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We came across cheerful ceramics in almost every village. These were in the old Roman town of Vaison-la-Romaine to the north.
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The old Roman bridge and a narrow alleyway in the same town.
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On Wednesday we travelled down to just north of Aix-en-Provence for lunch with our buddy, Paddy, and her friend Hilary with whom she was staying. Hilary lives in Scotland, but rents a top-floor apartment in a grand chateau in the countryside. We spent a wonderful day with them, and enjoyed a delicious Provençale lunch.
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Posted by davidsandi 00:45 Archived in France Comments (0)

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