The Grand Canyon of Europe and other discoveries

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
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Flag of France  , Provence,
Saturday, August 28, 2010

OK, so I've got a lot to catch up on. Sorry the last couple days have been really busy.  I’m still settling in plus several big trips.  On Thursday the 26th we went and saw the Pavilion Noir.  It is a large modern structure devoted entirely to dance.  They have several professional companies, varying in style from modern to classical.  They have lots of rehearsal space, multiple large studios and one large underground theatre.  It was so cool to see so much money and space devoted to the arts.  I really wish our government would do the same. 

Afterwards I went grocery shopping for the first time.  The grocery stores here are so cool.  Almost all of the cereals have chocolate in them, sweet!  There is an entire isle (both sides) of yogurt.   And another is devoted entirely to chocolate, cookies and chocolate cookies.  On the healthier side there are lots of juices, meats, fish and every kind of cheese you could want.  There was an average produce section, but that’s understandable.  Why would you buy your produce from a grocery store when there are fresh markets every day?  I could have bought so much stuff here but I’m trying to keep my food budget to the lower end.  Plus I’m not exactly sure how the food situation with my Madame is going to work.  So until that is figured out I’m trying to buy as little as possible.  They have these really nifty little hand baskets to put the groceries in.  At first I was carrying mine around but then I saw how the locals used theirs.  There is this little nifty handle that collapses into the basket and you pull it out and then use it to drag around the basket behind you.  Brilliant!  So I bought some frozen lasagna, top ramen (the directions were in French, which shows you who buys it lol), milk and of course some Orangina.  Milk here is not refrigerated while it’s in the store.  Weird huh?  As I understand it, because French milk isn’t filled with all the chemicals and hormones that it is in America they simply bottle it immediately after taking it from the cow, and you only refrigerate it after you open it at home.  I love how healthy everything is here.  I do think it is funny that the water is more expensive than the wine.  But you can get water free at any of the hundreds of fountains, so no worries there.

Friday I did some more aimless wandering.  I found what I think were some authentic Roman ruins.  They seemed to have been turned into somewhat of a park, but I’m not sure.  The gate was locked but the fence was easy to jump.  So I did.  I took some pictures, so anyone with an eye for archeology, (aka Dad), take a look and let me know if you think this is real.  Along the way I saw severl street performers.  Nothing new, I just don’t think I’ve mentioned them before.  But Aix is full of them.  The streets are constantly filled with music.  It’s amazing, some are due to a music festival, (Music Dans la Rue), but most are just random musicians everything from singers to string ensembles.  Anyways, for those of you that have been keeping up I passed a park of sorts a couple days ago that appears to have been made right after the revolution to provide vaccinations for the people.  It was closed before but this time when I wandered by the gates were open so I went in and got some better pictures of the statues inside.  I’m guessing that they all had something to do with old legends having to do with medicine and health or something based on some of the content of the statues, but keeping with tradition don’t have any labels or titles.  That night they took us out to a very nice restaurant.  The food was delicious and I drank far too much wine.  At the end some of the students broke out a guitar and did a little performance of some American songs that did, (I admit) make me a little nostalgic for home.

Then this Saturday we left at 9:00 for a trip to the Gorges do Verdun.  The Gorges are apparently the largest canyon in Europe.  We stopped at a little village and grabbed food for a picnic at the market.  I also bought a cheap pair of board shorts from a vendor at the market (I left mine in CA by accident).  Then proceeded to the Lac de Ste. Croix.  After having a delicious lunch on the shore of the lake, consisting of a baguette with goat cheese, (fromage de chevre), organic grape juice and an almond tart (all fresh from the market), several of us put on our swimsuits and went swimming in the lake.  It was a bit cold due to the strong breeze but very refreshing.  Afterwards we all loaded back onto the bus and rode up into the canyon.  It was breathtaking.  I wish we could have seen more of it.  I was excited when our program director said we were going for a hike, but very disappointed when I discovered that he was joking in an attempt to scare a pair of girls.  Needless to say they were not disappointed at all that they were not going to be subjected to a hike in what is apparently the grand canyon of Europe, I was devastated.

After stopping for some photos we headed back down the canyon and to the village of Moustiers-Ste-Marie.  Another cute old medieval village in a country full of them, this one is notable for several reasons.  Between the two large cliffs that are the backdrop of this town is suspended a man-sized gilded star.  According to legend it was placed there by a knight fulfilling a religious vow upon his return from the Crusades.  Up innumerable steep and slippery steps (slippery because the marble has been worn smooth by thousands of pilgrims over the centuries) we climbed up to a little chapel, Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, perched way up in the ravine between the two cliffs.  Apparently several miracles have happened in and around the chapel, and there are several well worn trails that go seemingly to nowhere but little caves and such.  Perhaps where people used to go and pray or where some of the said miracles are supposed to have occurred?  No idea but they did have some spectacular views.  Along the path up to the church were some ancient oratories and the 12 Stations of the Cross.  I was told that when I got to the top that it is tradition to make a wish inside the chapel and it supposed to come true.  By the time I got to the top it was easy to see why the climb is worthy of a wish.  Check out the pictures to see how steep this climb was.

After leaving this village we stopped at a lavender farm, where a cute French lady with some effort explained to us how her family farm worked.  She explained the difference between lavender and lavendaine, (a hybrid that produces more essential oil than lavender) and how the process of growing the lavender and extracting the essential oil works.  Unfortunately the harvest was a couple weeks ago so we didn’t get to see the purple fields that are in all the books and postcards.  Afterwards we all climbed back on the bus and headed back to Aix, where I promptly went straight to sleep.
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