Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jilian's birthday party at our house in Sablet

I mentioned in several posts, that we were the happy beneficiaries of a visit this summer from daughter Stephanie, husband Earl, and grandchildren Dylan, Madison and Jilian. This followed on the heels of a visit a year earlier of daughter Tricia, husband Alvin and grandchildren Avery and Caedon.

One of the fun coincidences of the visit was that the 3rd birthday of little Jilian occurred while we were in Sablet together. So we planned a special meal and invited friends Bruno and Sylvie, the owners of Café des Sports, to come celebrate with us.

Granddaughter Jilian on her birthday

Grandchildren Madison, Jilian, and Dylan in Sablet

Jilian blows out the candles on her lemon tart

Sylvie and Bruno

Jilian and her mom Stephanie

Jilian loved being the center of attention and was all smiles throughout the evening. Her happiness is infectious and we enjoyed a special evening with our wonderful friends and family.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fishing at the Lake of Sablet

This summer, daughter Stephanie and family spent several weeks visiting us in Sablet. Her husband Earl and son Dylan love to fish together and hoped to fish while they were in Provence. Since I don't fish, I didn't know where to go, whether or not permits are required or where to get tackle and bait.

Sablet from the road to Séguret

I know a lot about Sablet and the Northern Vaucluse, but didn't have a clue about fishing. A couple days after we arrived, it was granddaughter Jilian's third birthday and friends Bruno and Sylvie, the owners of the Café des Sports, came to celebrate with us. They arrived with packages for all three kids including a rod and reel, and tackle box for Dylan.

Sign for Sablet

We have learned over the years that Bruno is a fountain of information about the area and he knew fishing permits are sold at the Vaison-la-Romaine Tourist Office, where to get live bait, and surprisingly, that there is a lake in Sablet where you can fish. Who knew?

Lake of Sablet

The Lake of Sablet, also known as the Etang des Jardins, is located between Sablet and Rasteau off the D69. The lake is divided into two parts and has a surface area of almost 14 acres. The depth ranges from 6 to 9 feet.

Lake of Sablet

Several sites devoted to fishing on the web indicate the Lake of Sablet is populated with Black Bass, Perch and Trout.

Grandson Dylan fishing at the Lake of Sablet

Earl, Dylan and I got to the Lake early in the morning and we watched as Dylan cast from the shore at several places around the lake. We hadn't picked up worms yet so Dylan baited his hook with grasshoppers he caught in tall grass. He had several bites on grasshoppers but none on the hook so we went home empty handed.

Grandson Dylan

Dylan didn't catch anything that day but he did catch 3 good size fish in the Ouvèze River a couple days later below the Roman bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine. Dylan would be happy to fish every day so next time he comes back to Sablet, I am sure we will return to the Lake of Sablet to try our luck again.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sunflower fields are special places of beauty in Provence, worth seeking out!

Friday, July 21, and we were on the road to find a good vantage point to watch the Tour de France near Lauris. As we drove toward the town of Orange to get on the A-7 autoroute, we came upon a huge field of sunflowers. There is nothing Shirley likes more than sunflowers, except maybe a field of purple lavender or red poppies, so we stopped for photos.

You may not be aware that despite the fact that you find postcards, photos and paintings of sunflowers all over Provence, they are actually native to the Americas. Sunflowers seeds were brought to Europe by Spaniards in the 16th century where sunflower oil became a widespread cooking ingredient.

Sunflowers, tournesol in French, have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds from which oil is extracted.

Sunflower

Sunflowers generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to the end of July with harvest occurring at the beginning of August.

Sunflower field near Violès

When we come upon a beautiful field of flowers (sunflowers, lavender or red poppies) that are in peak season and facing the road, it is mandatory that we stop and Shirley and whoever is traveling with us run into the field and pose for pictures.

Daughter Stephanie and Shirley

A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact, mature sunflowers typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do change their orientation from east to west during the course of a day; once mature the movements stop.

Sunflower field near Violès

You may not know that the Jerusalem artichoke also called sunchoke and topinambour, is a type of sunflower. It is cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable and delicious roasted or in soup.

More of the sunflower field near Violès

It's hard not to fall in love with a field of sunflowers: they give off a sense of happiness, like suns shining on a perfect summer day.

Sunflower field near Violès

I have read that the most beautiful sunflower fields in the world are in Tuscany. I have not seen those fields but until I do, I will continue to believe there are none more beautiful than the sunflower fields of Provence.

The family

If you are in Provence during July, make sure you stop and get a picture or two of yourself in one of the sunflower fields you will surely pass by. For me, I continue to look for a place where sunflowers and lavender grow next to each other so I can take one of those only on a postcard shots to share with you.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A visit to Avignon and the Jardin des Doms during the Festival of Avignon

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored

The historic center of Avignon radiates from Place de l'Horloge. Here, you will find the City Hall built between 1845 and 1851 on top of a former cardinal's palace. The old fortified tower of the cardinal's palace was retained and transformed into a belfry in the 15th century with clock and bellstriker. Next to it, the municipal theater, also from the 19th century, houses the Avignon opera and, at the top of the square, the "Belle Époque" style carrousel seen below.

"Belle Epoque" Carrousel

When we go to Avignon, we try to park at the Hotel Mercure garage because the stairs exit close to the Popes' Palace. Right next to the stairway, is the Hôtel des Monnaies (mint), the earliest private Baroque monument in Avignon. It sits opposite the main entrance to the Popes' Palace. It was built in 1619 by the Vice-Legate Jean-François de Bagni, and is dedicated to Paul V, the then reigning Pope. In 1860, it became the Conservatoire National de Musique. It was used as such up to 2007.

Hôtel des Monnaies

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the 19th century gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII (1334) is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral. During the 14th century this became the world’s most important church, home to seven different popes.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

Next to the Opera-Theatre on Place de l'Horloge (translated as "Clock Place") is the neo-classical town hall known as the Hôtel de Ville. As I told you earlier, only the 14th century clock tower remains from the original structure. The Gothic clock tower seen below, which gave the square its name, was incorporated later into the construction of the Hôtel de Ville.

14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville is in the background

Street performers in front of the Popes' Palace

We had come to Avignon that morning primarily so Shirley and Stephanie could hit the stores. Since I didn't think the grandkids would enjoy that very much, Earl and I with kids in tow, headed for the Jardin des Doms.

A gentle five-minute stroll up a small hill from the cathedral, the Jardin des Doms offers a welcome refuge from Avignon's heat and bustle on a summer's day as well as panoramic views of the historical city, the Rhône River, Saint Bénézet Bridge, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, Mont Ventoux and the surrounding countryside. It was fully landscaped as a public park in the 19th century.

View from Jardin des Doms to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon

The seven acre park is beautifully landscaped with shrubs and trees, statues of local notables and built around a pond which is home to ducks and geese. There are lots of benches, a picnic area and children's playgrounds.

Granddaughter Madison pulls Jilian in a pony cart, in the Jardin des Doms

Grandson Dylan in front of bust of Paul Sain, a French Painter born in Avignon

Fort Saint-André is a medieval fortress across the Rhône River from the Jardin des Doms that I told you about here in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, dating from the first half of the 14th century.

Fort Saint André across the Rhône River in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon

Many of you know the French children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" (On the bridge of Avignon), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet Bridge over the Rhône River that we visited here.

The bridge was constructed between 1177 and 1185 with 22 arches and was 980 yards long. It was destroyed by Louis VIII of France during the siege of Avignon in 1226. It was rebuilt beginning in 1234. The bridge was only 16 feet wide, including the parapets at the sides. The arches were liable to collapse when the river flooded.

The bridge fell into disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 the bridge was missing four arches and finally a catastrophic flood in 1669 swept away much of the structure. Since then, the surviving arches have successively collapsed or been demolished and only four arches remain.

View of Saint Bénézet Bridge from the Jardin des Doms

Madison and Dylan enjoy a teeter-totter in the Jardin des Doms

Rocher des Doms

In 1309 Avignon, still part of the Kingdom of Arles, was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence at the time of the Council of Vienne and, from March 9, 1309 until January 13, 1377, Avignon rather than Rome was the seat of the Papacy. In all seven popes resided in Avignon.

The Campane Tower seen below is part of the Pope's Palace and served as a storeroom for arms and precious objects and housing for the night watchman and some members of the Pope's close entourage.

Palace of the Pope's Campane Tower

As we leave the Jardin des Doms to return to Place de l'Horloge, we retrace our steps down a little zigzag ramp and cross over in front of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral.

Side view of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral with the Campane Tower behind

Granddaughter Madison with the backdrop of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

Statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

A side view of a statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of theater and performing arts founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more Bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

Street performers

The 2017 Avignon Festival took place from July 6 to 26. Over 40 different plays are performed in more than twenty venues, from small, 150-seat chapels to the 2000-seat legendary Honor Courtyard in the Palace of the Popes. As you walk around Avignon, you see flyers promoting one of the plays or musical acts everywhere you go.

Promoting a show

We didn't realize that groups go around to the various squares where there are restaurants including Place du Cloître St Pierre where we were having lunch at Crêperie La Flourdiliz, promoting their upcoming programs.

We were happily surprised that one of the groups that came by to promote their show was Quatuor Leonis with our friend Guillaume Antonini. It would have been fun to attend their show, but it didn't start until 22h30 and that was way too late for our group.

Quatuor Leonis promoting their show

A theater group promoting their show

Street performer

Since we were with the grandkids, we dined at Crêperie La Flourdiliz, a Brettone crêperie near the Pope's Palace rather than one of the places we go regularly since we didn't think the grandkids would enjoy sitting through a multi-course meal. We were perfectly positioned to see the various acts come through the square and promote their shows.

The family dining at Crêperie La Flourdiliz while watching the various acts perform

Whether in Avignon with or without kids, Jardin des Doms is worthwhile to include on your visit to Avignon. Have you been to Jardin des Doms, please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A visit with friends to the amazing Roman Pont du Gard

Our favorite Roman ruin in the South of France is the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River in the Gard Department of Languedoc-Roussillon about 60 km (37 miles) from our home in Sablet, between Remoulins and Uzès.

The Pont du Gard is part of the 50 km (31 mile) Nîmes aqueduct constructed by the Romans in the 1st century between 41 and 54 AD to bring fresh water from a spring near Uzès, the Fontaine d'Eure, to the Roman city of Nîmes where it was distributed to fountains, baths and private homes around the city.

When we go, we park in the lot on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank which is the main entry and parking lot. The main visitor center is on this side, where you walk through to access the Pont du Gard. There is a small charge for parking and they have recently instituted a fee for visiting the Pont du Gard.

The visitors' center is where the ticket machines and information center are located. Here too are restrooms, snack bar, souvenir shops, book store and audio-guides for your visit (available in several languages).

It is a short walk from the visitors' center to the Pont du Gard. If you go, make sure you check out the construction, enjoy the view up or down the river valley, wander across to the far side, explore down along the river and climb up the steps to the upper trail where you have great views of the bridge and surrounding area.

View of Pont du Gard as you arrive from Visitor's Center

As you walk out to the Pont du Gard, make sure to look for the ancient olive tree on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank along the path to the Pont du Gard from the Visitor Center. The sign by the tree says it was born in 908 and lived in Spain till 1985 when the Counsel General of the Gard adopted the tree and planted it here in 1988

Ancient olive tree along path to Pont du Gard from Left Bank Visitor's Center

The Gardon River seen below gives its name to the Gard Department. Several of its tributaries are also called Gardon. The Gardon is 133 km long and flows into the Rhône River at Beaucaire, from where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

View south down the Gardon River from Pont du Gard

After the Roman Empire collapsed and the aqueduct fell into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact, due to the importance of its secondary function, as a toll bridge. For centuries the local lords and bishops were responsible for its upkeep, in exchange for the right to levy tolls on travelers crossing the river.

Pedestrian roadway at the base of the Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard was built of soft-yellow limestone blocks taken from nearby Estel quarry that borders the Gardon river's left bank and assembled largely without mortar or clamps. The stones, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, were cut to perfectly fit together eliminating the need for mortar. The cut stone was lifted into place with a human-powered treadmill providing the power for the winch.

Pont du Gard from the upper trail

The straight-line distance between Nîmes and the water source is only about 20 km (12 mi). However due to uneven terrain, the mostly underground aqueduct takes a long, winding route measuring around 50 km (31 mi). The Romans had to build a bridge with a channel to allow water to flow across the Gardon River to successfully complete the aqueduct.

Channel on top of Pont du Gard that carried water across the Gardon River

The Aqueduct of Nîmes had the capacity to carry 35,000 cubic meters of water a day from the spring which was the source of fresh water for the city of Nîmes. It took nearly 27 hours for the water to get from the spring to Nîmes.

Some sections of the channel are tunneled through solid rock as you can see below. In all, 35 km (22 mi) of the aqueduct was constructed below the ground.

The entrance to the underground channel after the water crossed the Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard has three tiers of arches; the bottom row has 6 arches of 22 m (72 ft) height; the middle row has 11 arches 20 m (66 ft) height; and the upper row has 35 (originally 47) arches of 7 m (23 ft) height. The width of the bridge varies from 9 m (30 ft) at the bottom to 3 m (9.8 ft) at the top. It has a length of 274 m (899 ft) and stands at a height of 48.8 m (160 ft).

View of Pont du Gard from upper trail

As I told you here, an excellent way to view the Pont du Gard from a completely different perspective is from a canoe on the Gardon River on a hot summer day. There are several canoe companies around Collias that will provide shuttle transport to your point of departure and from your point of arrival.

Shirley and neighbors at the Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is open all year round, though the restaurant and some indoor areas close for part of the winter. You can stay there after dark (exact closing times vary depending on the season), when the bridge is illuminated in summer.

View north up the Gardon River from the Pont du Gard with the 19th century watermill in the distance

Despite having been to the Pont du Gard quite a few times, Shirley and I are amazed anew each time by the sheer size of the bridge and how the Romans were able to design and build it without much more than math and manpower. It is believed to have taken about fifteen years to build, employing between 800 and 1,000 workers.

If you are in the area, we think this is one of the sites you must visit. Let us know what you think.