Over the past few weeks I have spent hours locked up in a hotel meeting room with my boss. We found lots of time to chat about our common love of travel. France has a place in her heart. With all of our conversations I decided to revisit my one trip to France for my Travel Tuesdays post this week.
This picture tells the tale of two vineyards which sit side-by-side in Bordeaux.
The land cannot help but tell the story. On the left, totally organic farming with soils full of life. On the right, chemical driven farming using Monsanto roundup, where the soils look parched and hard. Choose.
Woulr you rather drink wine made from the grapes grown in the left vineyard or the right?
When I see graffiti like this I often wonder what ever became of the folks who visited the site back in 1850. . . of course, it is unknown. Of course, me being me, and if I have the time, I make up a story in my mind.
By the way, this is the site where I spied that 163 year old graffiti.
The group had five hours of class so I had some free time. During the free time I wasn’t feeling all that ambitious – what with a combination of this darn cold and the jet lag. I was content just to wander Montpellier visiting some of the sites, relaxing in a tree canopied cafe, popping into interesting looking shops . . . just going with the flow.
There was a small market today and I have never been able to resist the call of a market in Europe! I’m always interested both in what is for sale as well as what people are buying. This market had the usual mix of fruit and veg, clothing, shoes, linens, bags, cheese, herbs, olives, dried fruits, spices, and meat. A bit of everything!
It’s funny how unihibited people can be in Europe – one older woman wanted to try a blouse on so she just stripped down to her bra and pulled the blouse on. No one looked, batted an eye, took a photo to tweet, nor called the cops. I can’t imagine that happening back home!
Mind you, she had likely been at the beach the day before exposing a whole lot more . . .
The fresh fruit and vegetables available looked amazing . . .
Of course, when I see something like this I want to buy them and head for a kitchen. Impossible in a hotel. SIGH
There was a bread and pastry guy selling wonderful looking things made with organic flour. Conscious of my quest to find the perfect croissant while in France I bought one for research purposes. I think I found what may be the best croissant I have ever eaten. It was brilliant! Crisp, buttery, flakey, airy . . .MMMM
The main square was busy today – I decided that the section which was full of trees looked more inviting that the section that was open to the sun. Il fait très chaud aujourd’hui et il avait l’air plus frais sous les arbres. Likely it was all in my head but perception is everything n’est pas?
Imagine my surprise when I noticed a group who appeared to be living in the trees! One of the market vendors wandered by with a cart of drinks, when he was under the tree houses an order was called out to him, he called back the cost, money was dropped down, followed by a basket in which he placed the order. The tree house version of the drive through.
As I headed back to the hotel I noticed this young one enjoying the fountain.
I have to tell you – it was all I could not to hop in the fountain myself!!!
You want a completely intact Roman temple from the 4th Century BC? No problem. You want a perfectly preserved Roman amphitheatre right in the centre of the city (so impressive it was used as the setting for the film, Gladiator)? Not only can Nîmes boast both those things, but it’s also just the right size for exploring on foot.
Smaller than Montpellier and Toulouse, you can easily get round Nîmes in a short period of time and enjoy the car-free centre of town which oozes charm at every turn.
Originally known as Nemausus, the town was a jewel in the Roman crown. The town was laid out in true Roman fashion following a grid pattern and had its drinking water supplied by a 50km long canal (comprising the Pont du Gard which we'll visit tomorrow).
Nîmes’s other major claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of denim, which originally meant “de Nîmes”, or “from Nîmes”. In the early 1900s the town’s merchants exported the cloth to the United States in order to make sails for ships, tarpaulins and workmen’s trousers. In 1870, a Bavarian immigrant by the name of Levi Strauss used this cloth to make trousers for the trailblazers opening up the Wild West – made in Genoa (hence, the origin of the word “jeans”) of “de Nîmes” cloth, one of the world’s best known garments was born. Now how is that for a wee bit o'trivia?
While we were in Nimes we saw the Maison Carré. Dedicated to Emperor Augustus, this Roman temple dates from the fourth or fifth Century BC and is one of the best preserved anywhere in the Roman world. Used over the centuries as horse stables, a meeting chamber and as an archive, today it houses a small museum and bookshop.
Another Roman remnant in Nimes is les Arènes. Inspired by the Coliseum in Rome with two stories of vaulted arches, this is one of the most intact amphitheatres to be found anywhere in the world today. It has seating capacity for an amazing 20,000 people over 34 tiers and is used for bull fights, pop concerts and sporting events.
Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit the Carré d’Art Nîmes’s museum of contemporary art sits proudly opposite the Maison Carré. Its glass and chrome façade are the work of British architect, Sir Norman Foster, as part of an ambitious plan by local worthies to regenerate the city. The building was stunning . . . one of the list of things to do when I return to this area.
On the way back to Montpellier the bus veered off of the highway and headed into the country . . . waaaaaay into the country on those lovely one-way roads that some called 'white roads' because your knuckles grip the steering wheel of your car so tightly they go white. Imagine that in a HUGE bus. Happily I was a passenger.
Our destination was Château d'Or et de Gueules. Grapes have been grown here for more than 100 years but the chateau has only been producing their own wine for 14 years. The name comes from the family crest of Diane de Puymorin, with its colours reflecting the personality of the wines she produces - gold ('Or' in French) to signify the depth and fullness of the southern sun and warmth, red ('Gueules' in old French) for the character, power and round.
What a treat it was to listed to Diane describe her winery and what makes the wines unique.
She described the soil and growing conditions that create this unique appellation and then took us into the cellar where we learned the production from initial press to bottling/corking/labelling. All of that was great information but we really were interested in tasting some amazing wines
Talk about happy AQ course participants! At ETFO we work hard and we play hard. The reward for 3 hours of classes this morning was a visit to Château d'Or et de Gueules. A fair trade if you ask me.
Diane also provided snacks - cheese, bread, and olives for us to nibble on while we tasted the 6 wines she had selected.
People liked the wines so much that there was a long line to purchase . . . rather than wait in line I popped out to see what I could see . .
Some were visiting the winery horses.
Others were wandering the vineyards themselves. Yes, there really are ETFO AQ participants standing in the vines in that shot!
There was still time and I wasn't interested in joining the bus driver who was watching Batman en Francais dans le autobus so I walked back down the lane to a beautiful field of sunflowers that we saw.
Ahhh . . .
Here is my favourite shot of the day. One of our participants has her one-year old son traveling with us - we have taken to baby Thomas - he has become the group's baby! No this is NOT Thomas' mother . . . love Thomas in one arm and the case of vin in the other! *smile*
It was a quiet group heading back to Montpellier. Between the jet lag, course work, end-of-year-teacher-exhaustion, wine, and walking we were exhausted!
Tomorrow the group was five hours of instruction and then free time to explore Montpellier some more.
If it weren't for the fact that you're heading someplace fabulous one would likely not make it through. Generally I'm just traveling with friends and family - I feel a bit of responsibility this time out since we have 15 teachers and their family/friends in our group.
That is likely why Charles de Gaulle was such a challenge yesterday. It's bad enough that I was exhausted after a long flight from Toronto with two chatty seat companions next to me (in fairness to them I was chatty with them to start - I blame cold medication for breaking my 'ignore those you're sitting with on a plane' rule) and the effects of this cold but to then heard 21 women and children through de Gaulle was hard work. There is no other word for it.
When we got to Montpellier we collectively looked rather bedraggled. I could use other words to describe us but it wouldn't be fair. Having be on the road for 15 hours and awake for the better part of 37 we were a titch rough around the edges.
We were to meet our guide, Annie, outside the luggage collection area. Of course she was no where to be found. I went outside the airport and found a large bus - 'surely that was ours?' . . . Annie was inside. She rushed out, gathered everyone up, and got our luggage and people loaded on the bus.
A shot while later we arrived at our hotel - the Mercure Montpellier Antigone. The hotel isn't one I would normally select for myself . . . it's a bit too modern and away from the historical centre for my tastes but it's very nice. They have a large. well-equipped conference room for the course sessions, the dinning room is great, and I'm loving the free wifi.
Christine asked the group working on their course to join her at 4:00 to start their lessons. I was a bit worried about how that would work but everyone showed up on time looking refreshed after their shower.
Class flew by and soon there was free time prior to our first group dinner. I had a choice - nap of wander. Those who know me know what won out.
Yes, I wandered, with my trusty camera in hand.
Montpellier, in spite of being the fasted growing city in France, really is special. My sense is that very few people outside France understand just what a fantastic city this is - certainly there were few tourists about yesterday. When I got to the historical centre yesterday I discovered broad boulevards lined with shady plane trees, a huge car-free central square laid out in the 1700s surrounded by elegant balustraded buildings, and even a vast triumphal arch.
To some extent it reminds me of Torino in Italy . . . without the Alps in the distance, the Savoy palaces, and all of those wonderful porticoes. In the historical centre I found elegant buildings with delicate metalwork on the balconies. . . . trees and flowers everywhere . . . fountains . . .
I'm reminded yet again that we just don't understand the concept of public spaces in North America. Sure, one sees glimmers of hope but they are more often than not an after thought rather than a valued part of the planning. I'm looking forward to hanging out in the main square and just watching the people enjoy the human interaction that happens in a well-laid out space.
At one point on my walk I heard some beautiful music. When I got closer I found this guy playing the harp . . .
I LOVE street musicians in Europe. The harp itself was a work of art. The music itself was brilliant. But the best part was the reaction of the crowd. . . young children danced about and you could see the adults relax when they got in range of the music as they rushed to and fro as adults often do on their mission.
I was a bit worried about finding the hotel again - setting out as I often do when I am first in a new city knowing where I wanted to go but having NO clue as to where I started from and where I needed to return! Happily I made it back to the right spot in time for a glass of the crisp rose wine the region is famous for before meeting the group dinner.
I can't believe that I took no photos of dinner!
It was a great meal in the hotel restaurant. We started with a salad of tomatoes, cured ham, and shaved cheese. The main course was roasted salmon on a bed of vegetables and rice. For dessert fresh raspberries on a cloud of lemon custard.
People were flagging by 9:00 so it was off to bed . . .
We left the snow behind and headed to California for a long weekend of fun. We shoppedm toured wineries, tasted olive oil, met up with good friends, and ate some wonderful food. I can't wait for slow bowl 2009.