Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pictures from Van Gogh Day

Van Gogh for a Day

Woke up to a crystal clear day – perfect for another Market and the former home of Van Gogh – Arles. I took the train (18 minutes as opposed to 70 on the bus) and arrived to find the Wednesday market in full swing. This market may actually win the prize for best all around market – not only was the food magnificent (with about three bio stands), and the largest peppers I have ever seen, but also the non-food items were for real people. There were plenty of made-in-China goods, which I have come to accept are appealing to the French, just as they are to Americans, because they are cheap. There were also true bargains to be had – a rummage sale where prices ranged from 1.50 to 10 Euros per item, which was like heaven for this bargain-hunter. There were exotic foods, spices and other goods catering to Arles’ North African population. The market was vast, and full of people – locals mostly. I saw very few tourists.
At the end of the market I made my way around to the various Roman ruins Arles has to offer – an ancient amphitheater currently undergoing restoration, and an arena - coliseum style like the one in Nimes. These Roman remains seemed less commercial and glossy than the ones in Nimes. The amphitheater particularly felt like you were at an archeological site. I wandered through the beautiful cobbled streets of the old town. I don’t know what it is about Arles – something about the light maybe – but I wanted to take pictures at every turn. It has a good vibe – a good size, funky, yet old and magnificent at the same time. I could see why Van Gogh, or anyone for that matter, would want to spend some extended time there.
I stopped in for a brief peek into the Van Gogh Foundation which does not have any Van Gogh paintings. Fortunatey this had been made clear in all the literature I had read so I had no expectations. I browsed and bought a couple of postcards, then returned to my meandering and picture taking.
I had my first wheat in France, a baguette rubbed with fresh garlic made into a sandwich with chevre, tomatoes, basil, avocado, olives and fresh olive oil, all wrapped in paper for 4 Euros at the fab and funky Fad Oli: Restaurant and Huiles d’Olive. Fad Oli is just two steps up a side street off the square – Place du Forum - where Van Gogh’s Yellow Café was painted and where there is now a café of the same name.
Around the corner from the square and Fad Oli is one of the La Vie Claire health food stores at 3 rue du Docteur Fanton. La Vie is closed for lunch, so if you want to buy picnic food there make sure you arrive sometime between 8:30-12:15, or eat late when they reopen at 2:30-7. Otherwise, go to the non-organic, but local and yummy Fad Oli or one of the other cafes in the Place du Forum or surrounding side streets. Or, if you are there on a Wednesday or Sunday, you can buy picnic goodies at the market but plan to arrive well before noon when all the stalls close up.
I happily crisscrossed through the myriad of tiny streets with my camera in hand constantly. I found my church on one of the side streets of Arles – Our Lady of French Buses, or Notre Dame du Les Buses Francais (see photo).
Once back from my very wonderful day in Arles I did my laundry at the local Lavarie which is the winter haven for many alcoholic bums. I made like a French person, said, “Bonjour” and went about my business.
A wonderful day, and I am full of the color and spirit of Arles.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Roman Day, but no Italians

I headed to the world famous Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard, midday, and after my other escapades was watching for the right bus stop carefully. Fortunately there were a number of people with the same destination and the bus driver very kindly turned around and announced that it was the Pont du Gard stop when he realized none of us were disembarking – good thing as who would have guessed that this world-famous site rates an unmarked bus lane on a highway rotary. We all got off and looked around: no signs, no maps, no arrows – you have to love the French. An Australian couple and myself started walking towards the direction we suspected was the right one and the Koreans followed. Sure enough, down the side road there was a huge sign saying “Site Pont du Gard”. I might further add that since it is off-season, you can take a bus to Pont du Gard from Avignon, but not really back since the only bus returning leaves 20 minutes after you arrive which even the Avignon bus station attendant said was too short an interval since it is a 10-15 walk from the bus “stop” to the Pont du Gard. So my itinerary was Avignon to Pont du Gard, then Pont du Gard to Nimes, returning to Avignon from Nimes where there is regular bus and train service to Avignon. There was only one bus from Pont du Gard to Nimes today, but it left more time to tour the site than the bus back to Avignon.
Pont du Gard has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It originally spanned over 1000 feet, but some of the arches are gone so it is a little shorter now, but still quite impressive. Standing about 150 feet high, the bridge was part of an aqueduct that brought water from a spring in Uzes to Nimes about 30 miles away. According to the tourist information, the bridge, completed in AD 52, took 1000 men and 50,000 tons of stone to build it (
I could tell by the expansive parking lot and walkways that the tourist area around Pont du Gard had been designed for a sea of summer tourists. I could not only imagine the crowds, but also the beating heat. Other than the limited bus schedule, and the gift shops being closed (no great loss), the off-season is a perfect time to visit the monument. There were so few visitors it was down right serene. I was able to hike up a stone-stepped path and meet no one heading up or down. Down by the emerald green water there was only one couple taking in the sun and magnitude of the site.
The cool thing about the site – besides seeing first hand the staggering brilliance of the Roman architects and builders – is that a newer section of the bridge has been built to match the old one, so you can walk across the bridge right next to the ancient aqueduct, getting great views and a close up of the original.
Nervous about the French bus system, I curtailed my visit and walked back to the bus “stop” so I would be there in case the bus came early. I read and reread my information, and had especially asked the Avignon bus-information attendant if I picked up the bus to Nimes at the same place that the Avignon bus dropped me off and she assured me that indeed it was the same stop. The bus was not early, but I was nervous about the stop. There was a schedule inside a glass box with condensation on it, making it hard to read, but it did indeed give the schedule to Nimes that I held in my hand. Somehow I was still nervous. The road signs made me think that the bus would not be coming in the direction of this bus stop. I looked across the road, and sure enough here was a bus with its electronic sign saying “Nimes” stopping not only across the highway, but on the other side of the rotary. I basically stopped traffic and ran across the highway, waving my arms frantically at the bus, knowing that if it didn’t stop I would be stranded on this highway until tomorrow. Thankfully, the bus driver was a kind soul, and he stopped in the middle of the road to let me on. Honestly! How hard would it be for the French bus system to put a sign on the bus stop? Especially the Pont du Gard bus stop!
There and then I decided I would take the train from Nimes to Avignon, not the bus.
It was a short ride to Nimes, a major Roman city in the day. Nimes has two very well preserved Roman buildings. The Arena, which holds 24,000 people, was built in the 1st century for gladiator events. It has been partially restored so that it can be used for present-day bull-fights. The Maison Carree Temple is one of most intact buildings from the Roman Empire and dates to something like AD 4. History oozes from all these sites with deeply worn stone steps and weather beaten walls.
I toured Nimes quickly and took the train back to Avignon – not only did they announce the station stops, but it took half the time of the bus and cost half the price.
At 8pm I made my way to the old Avignon theater in the large square below the Palais du Popes. It was a one-night run of the opera La Boheme, which seemed appropriate to see while in France. My 20 Euro ticket got me a seat in the bleachers way at the top of the theater. The seats in this section are not numbered and are just carpeted steps, so it is first come, first choice, which makes a huge difference since at least two thirds of the seats have very limited views of the stage. I had arrived as soon as the doors had opened so from my seat I could see over half of the stage. There was camaraderie amongst those of us with limited views, as we craned our necks and backs to see the action – a great French experience. Bon Soir from Avignon.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Market Hopping

It seems hard to believe I have been in France only just over a week. In this time I have gone to eight markets. The clear winners are the two Sunday markets – the food and flower market in Nice; and the combination food, artisan, brocante, and miscellany market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
I had heard and read that the Saturday market in Apt was large and great – well large it was, but not so great. Apt is a small city with a fairly limited old part that is not particularly remarkable, certainly not next to the likes of Avignon and Lourmarin. I suspect that in-season, the market has more to offer, but this time of year there was food, but only one tiny bio stand, and all the rest was filled with one stall after another selling plastic and polyester products not made in France. By combing every turn and back street, I did turn up one man selling herbs, essential oils and hydrosols from “sauvage” herbs (wild grown) – he was lovely but looked a little “sauvage” himself. I also found lavender honey being sold by a local beekeeper. That was the total sum of the really local products stalls. Since I had woken up at 5:30 to catch the bus to Apt for the market I was slightly disappointed. (The first picture on this post is Avignon in the morning, not the night!)
During Lavender season (June-August), Apt is the jumping off point for many of the “lavender routes” which run through the area highlighting lavender farms and distilleries. Alas, I was there on a frosty January morning – no beautiful lavender walks to be had.
All was not lost. The other sites I was looking for in Apt – of interest to painters and color enthusiasts - were two stores that sell natural ochre from the nearby famous ochre deposits in Roussillon, Rustrel and Gargas.
The Society of the Ochres of France is up the street about a third of a mile from the tourist office (526 av. Victor Hugo –, but alas they are closed Saturday mornings in the winter which even the woman at the tourist office did not realize until I told her when I returned to find out if the other store was open and where I might find it. She kindly called Ets. Chauvin, on Route de Viton, ( before I walked the 1km to find it. I was delighted that they were indeed open. Ets Chauvin is a small, funky warehouse-style store with sacks of natural and synthetic powdered colors lining the walls and displays. The woman was very nice, but did not speak English. I wanted the sampler of local, natural ochres which I managed to convey with my charade skills.
After walking non-stop for four hours in the frosty morning, I was happy to board the bus back to Avignon.
Since the Apt market had been a disappointment, I almost bagged my plans to head to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for the Sunday morning market, assuming I would just see more of the same. Fortunately for this market lover, I decided to go anyway since nothing else would be going on in Avignon on Sunday morning. The bus left at a more reasonable time – 9:30 - and it was a much warmer day. The bus route was different than my last two excursions to Apt and Lourmarin, it took a northeasterly route through a clearly more wealthy area – the towns of Chateauneaf du Gadagne and Le Thor – dramatic old stone villages with Plane-Tree lined roads and even some speed bumps.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was beautiful – the old part of the village is surrounded by a little river hence the “Isle” part of the name. The market is held on both sides of the river with bridges crossing between the two sides about every 150 feet. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known for their year round antiques, second hand (brocantes) stores and market and they don’t disappoint.
The goods were all of a much higher quality than any I had seen in prior markets and all at fair prices for what they were selling. I did succumb and buy an old blue and white enamel house number sign since they had my number. I later learned that I had gotten a very good deal on it since they have become trendy in the UK and sell for quite a bit there.
I strolled happily for hours with the many others – local and foreign – enjoying all there was to see. Besides the quality brocantes, there were actually products made in France at this market as well as plentiful food. There were two stalls selling clothing made in Nepal with unusual clothing designs and providing good conditions for the Nepalese workers.
People were in cheery moods and the market was quite busy, so walking was more of a shuffle than a stride. The downside to any of these markets is that there are beggars and people trying to get you to give them money for their dogs. Pickpockets are also alive and well. I was stunned by how quiet people can be. I was sitting by the river eating my sautéed vegetables from one of the vendors and as I was turning to get up, I was startled by a young man who had sat down close to me, whom I had not heard or sensed at all. I checked my pockets as I walked away – thankfully I have a lot of zippered pockets in my jacket which are very handy. So as not to call attention to myself I have tended to take pictures with my pocket camera instead of my larger SLR, which screams tourist.
The bus driver between Avigon and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue had on a radio station playing an eclectic selection of tunes from Bob Marley, Beatles, Bluegrass, French contemporary, and really bad English-spoken bubble gum music – the French seem to love that – what is with that?
After regrouping at my Hotel I went out to do what everyone else was doing on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Avignon – walking through the park. Old and young were out taking in the day, flowers were blooming and the cafes in the square were bustling.
French women live up to their reputation – even the not incredibly beautiful ones are beautiful – how do they do that? Is it the water or the wine? The only small consolation I took was that since all the French women are so beautiful, no one will hassle unglamorous old me schlepping around in my winter overcoat looking 15 pounds heavier than I am because of my full pockets, and with two pairs of glasses on – one pair on my eyes, the other sitting on my forehead ready to read something at a moments notice. Really – I am surprised no one has offered me money yet. ☺

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Magic of Lourmarin

I started what would be an almost perfect day unwrapping my Banon cheese. This is divine stuff – like brie, but no bite. I had this with the last of my rose-smoked salmon on my moist sans-gluten bread – pure heaven.
I got on the bus to Lourmarin - where I need to point out for the rest of the story – I held the bus schedule up to the bus driver so there could be no confusion that I was going to Lourmarin and paid for my ticket (you buy your tickets on the buses here). The bus made stops in a number of cute and interesting villages. I looked at my watch and knew we must be approaching Lourmarin. Sure enough – I saw the road sign and the bus turned and headed up a hill, which I presumed was into Lourmarin as the street sign said the name of one of the streets I was to look for. I disembarked and the driver gave me a broad smile and waved. I looked around for the tourist information office to get a map. I started following the signs but they seemed to be sending me much farther than what I had understood would be the case. I found myself in a maze of tiny streets and by some miracle arrived at the tourist office. A friendly woman greeted me and I asked for a map. She said, “For here?” and I said, “Yes, for Lourmarin.” A perplexed look crossed her face and she said, “This is Lauris.” Well you can imagine that the “merde” was next!
I had gotten off at the wrong damn village and the bus driver must have chuckled about this the rest of his day. I was trying to get to Lourmarin for their morning market which closes at 1pm and then meet some friends who run a B&B there for lunch. It was now 11:40. The taxi would take 10 minutes to arrive if I was lucky and set me back 12 euros. I decided to hoof the 5km to Lourmarin.
The woman was a little surprised by my choice but showed me on the map which road to take to the main road to Lourmarin and off I went. I tried not to be too cranky about this unexpected hike and instead enjoy the sunny morning as sweat poured down my torso.
I arrived in Lourmarin and found the market with about 20 minutes to spare. I bought incredible, freshly made tapenade, and an olive marmalade – out of this world (the vendor was offering me samples of every delectable item he had.)
I wound my way through the exquisite old stone village and found my friends – just as they were giving up on me.
We ate a delicious lunch of Aoli – a traditional Provencal dish with cooked vegetables and fish served with fresh garlic mayonnaise - some local red wine, and lots of talking as I had not had a full conversation with anyone since I left Switzerland.
After lunch I toured the beautiful and very special Les Olivettes Bed and Breakfast villa with individual apartments. For pictures see the website: . Les Olivettes is within walking distance of the village center, but is across the main road and has lovely grounds filled with gardens and olive trees – hence the name. In fact, you can come for your stay during olive harvest time and help pick the olives. Les Olivettes is not a budget accommodation, but rather a reasonably priced luxury accommodation, beautifully appointed.
My generous hosts then took me on a tour of two smaller, but equally magnificent nearby villages – Cucuron and Vangines – both filled with old stone buildings and much charm. On the drive back to Avignon we took the road through the Luberon, passing the Chateau Canorgue (Rte de Pont Julien, Bonnieux, Vaucluse), an organic and biodynamic vineyard.
A # 10 of a day even with getting off in the wrong town.

A little more Avignon

The cumulative travel effects hit me Thursday and I was tired all day, but that did not curtail my expeditions. I went to the daily morning covered Les Halles market which has one Bio stall crammed with an assortment of local and organic products. I found two more tiny health food stores and walked to the larger Biocoop (5 Rte de Lyon)which is beyond the old city gate by the university. This was a full-on health food store with everything you could want.
I had a picnic lunch in the Place de Pie which is full of cafés, but I sat on a cement stump and ate my sans-gluten bread with bio goat cheese and bio smoked salmon (smoked with Roses) one of the most incredible taste sensations I have ever had. I have noticed a lot of organic salmon here – far more than on the east coast of the United States. The stores here all close at lunch for nourishment and rest – the only things open are the cafes and restaurants. So after my lunch I made like a French-person and had a lie-down back at the hotel.
The sun had warmed things up so once rested I went out to the Palais des Papes – Avignon’s largest tourist attraction – an impressive fortress dating from when the Pope fled Italy and took up residence here in the 14th century. This was followed by a walk through the adjacent park – the highest spot in Avignon – and down to a café for a decaf espresso.
I stopped by Vincent’s for another delicious Italian bio orange and a bit more Avignon history. I saw the old synagogue where the Jews being persecuted in France were offered protection by the pope – there’s a story (see Parting Thoughts 2/1/08 post). Then I ended up walking what seemed like miles to the last health food store I would try to conquer in Avignon– Eco de la Terre – another full-service health food store.

More Avignon Discoveries

My further wanderings in Avignon have turned up all sorts of delights. The Shakespeare Bookstore ( 155, rue de la Carreterie) by the Avignon University is filled with used English-language books – great if you are in a pinch for a travel guide, or any kind of reading from thriller to philosophy.

I discovered Vincent – the friendly owner of Le Fruitier de Saint Agricol (27 rue Saint Agricol). You can see their wonderful array of local and bio foods at: . This was serendipitous. I had just stopped because I noticed his enticing oranges were marked “bio”. Little did I realize what I would find inside - organic and local products of the highest quality. Vincent offered me tastes of various delectable products and lots of information about Avignon and the production of his offerings. He even had heard of Vermont (a rarity here as most people wonder what state it is in) since he had friends who lived in Quebec for a while and vacationed in Vermont. I purchased not only the orange I came in for but also locally made macaroons, organic sheep yogurt flavored with lemon, and a round of the famous Banon cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves. I promised Vincent I would be back for more.
As I walked back to the hostel, people were starting to head home from work, many on foot and bikes, most with fresh baguettes in hand. French women ride their bikes in their high heels – it is fantastic!

Moving Backward - Missed Nice

I realized that with all the excitement in Marseille I forgot to finish my entries for Nice. When I arrived in Nice I was not smitten with it but after three days I was in love with it. After my first day of wonderful doings, I woke on Monday and went to the health food store right around the corner from the Nice hostel, one of the French La Vie Claire stores, which had a large selection of gluten-free foods including palmiers, a favorite pastry of mine since childhood and one I was regretting not being able to eat while in France. Well I got my chance thanks to the Valpiform company and their sans-gluten mini palmiers. I also purchased bio sheep’s milk yogurt with chestnuts (delicious) .
I went in search of the Bio & Cie vegetarian and bio restaurant– see picture – and ate a large salad there for lunch later in the day. Bio & Cie is small with about 12 little tables, but was plenty busy.
I wandered through the antiques market and saw a few fun and wonderful things, but most were priced out of my range. See picture of Chantelle and notice lamp placement ☺
Then took a bus to the Chagall Museum – a MUST for any Chagall lover – and for that matter anyone. Breathtaking, huge paintings depicting scenes from the bible, as well as some of his earlier, smaller paintings are spread out through the airy and light museum dedicated to Chagall’s work. I would post the photographs that I was allowed to take, but web posting is not allowed so you will have go to Nice yourself to experience this glory.

After lunch I took a regional bus to Grasse – perfume center of the world. Grasse itself is not much to write home about. I did go to both the Molinard and Fragonard Perfume exhibits. Fragonard’s is extensive with an array of perfume artifacts dating back to ancient Egypt, the Orient, and Europe – worthwhile for any one interested in the history of scent and the origins of the perfume industry – which up until World War II was based on natural plants as the sources for perfumes.

My last day in Nice I found a larger health food store – Biocoop – another French chain of health food stores – located where the “real” people live. I bought a heart shaped mini wheel of bio sheep cheese “Coeur de Brebis Bio” to eat for lunch on the beach. On my way, I checked out the Marche de Puces – the second-hand market. This was my only real disappointment in Nice. It is in a makeshift covered building with a handful of stalls. Most of the vendors had been at the larger, outdoor antiques market on Monday – and these were not the vendors with the best stuff – to me it was overpriced and under-quality – no bargains to be had for sure.
My last hours in Nice were spent on the rocky Nice beach. The water was especially turquoise – see picture – and there were many beach worshippers enjoying the sun and water. I ate my French picnic and savored the moment. Then onto Marseille having no clue what was in store for me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marseille - There and Gone

Well I went to Marseille and left.
The metro and buses are clean. The Gare St Charles train station is virtually glistening. The city is huge - France's second largest - but without the charm of Paris. In its favor it has a very diverse population.
The hostel however, was gruesome - definitely not recommended. It is not in the city - it is a 10 minute metro ride to a 10 minute bus ride plus a short walk that seems long if you are toting any luggage. The cinder block structure is relatively clean, but very dark and grim. The group bathrooms leave something to be desired. The extremely competent, but overworked woman who works evenings was on duty by herself so everything took longer or required waiting thirty minutes. There is no wifi and the internet is cumbersome - it took a while for her to connect one of the two decrepit computers to the internet. She told me the owner wasn't interested in getting wifi (I think maybe he is just too cheap). She then designated me an id and password which was only for the one time use. You pay when you are finished, which was pretty quickly since typing was excruciating. I had to think way too hard and type so slowly since just about every letter is in a different place on the French keyboard.
The room was small, but adequate - enough beds for four, but only three of us. There was one young French woman and an older French woman with white hair - although she was probably my age. When I first arrived she was typing furiously, copying a hand written magnum opus that took her hours of particularly noisy keyboarding. When she was done with that - completed while I was on the internet - I returned to find the Apple blaring the worst English-language pop music. I don't know in what country or planet she found this selection but truly the most pathetic lyrics and bad bubble gum music I have ever heard. She thought it was wonderful. I don't know what the young French girl thought - she was reading and seemed to be ignoring everything. When I tuned in the computer was singing, “ Come to the Butterfly lounge… big girls you are beautiful, big girls you are beautiful, big girls you are….” get the idea?
I was so tired I could barely move from hauling my two back-packs all afternoon. I crawled into bed while she played the delightful music until about 10:30. I put my eye mask on and my arm over my face and practiced giving into the whole experience. She finally turned out the light - the young French girl had long ago put her arm over her head- and I thought we were good for the night.
Somebody had other ideas. Somewhere by my head a late night construction project started, or dance lessons, or a washing machine knocking against a wall - I will never know. The loud beating went on and on, then stopped and I thought ahhh, relief, only to have it start again. As if this weren't enough, the acoustics of the cinder block made the noise travel throughout the hostel, so even though its location was in a quiet suburb of Marseille, it was far noisier than the in-town Nice hostel (which was amazingly quiet in the bedrooms). There was hooting and hollering, loud footsteps, showers, and at some point a scream that sounded like a woman was being murdered (lovely) and then after a pause, laughter. Some joke.
As I am working on diving into the full experience, bed number two with the other middle aged woman was harrumphing, heavy sighing, grunting and her noise actually woke me up more times than all the other as I was able to put my New Yorker skills to work for me - that is after contemplating three times whether I should get up and complain to the overworked girl at the desk. I thought better of this once I realized that all complaining would get me was out of bed and my horizontal position - there was nothing she was going to be able to do. The pounding, and did I mention constant water trickling noise and toilet flushing (I think we were right underneath the 2nd floor bathrooms) went on until the wee hours of the night and I dozed in and out for most of it except hearing the loud whispered complaints of my roommate. The night was short as at 6:30 or so the young French girl got up. She was quiet as these things go, but in the hostel rooms every noise is amplified- the crinkle of plastic, zippers and Velcro are all especially loud.
Having already made up my mind to vacate this morning, I got up, used the marginal facilities - the toilet I used had a make-shift flush mechanism - a large piece of wire to pull - and went to use the internet to line up my next accommodations. Well, the young man at the desk didn't know how to do that, could I come back later?....getting more frustrated by the minute…then another young man who can set up the internet (talk about unnecessary complicated systems) came along and wouldn't you know it - he didn't really know how to set up the internet. He pulled out a loose-leaf binder with the instructions - well then they asked me for my passport! To use their crummy computers for 5 minutes of internet time for a total of maybe 1 euro. I had left everything in my room to quickly email about accommodations. I just said, “No, forget it” - how hard can it be to write one email!
The Nice hostel was like the George V compared to this! They had free wifi if you had your own computer, and if not, an inexpensive and simple system to use their computers. Ah Merde!
I had already packed my bags, so was back out in a flash to check out (the hostels keep your hostel member card when you check in as some sort of security deposit). Well now they couldn't find my card. What was my name? What room had I been in? Was it a paper or plastic card? Can you say I-N-C-O-M-P-E-T-E-N-T? I was ready to run, not walk to the bus. I had no idea where I would sleep, but only knew it would not be there. I was not offered a refund on the rest of my stay and decided to not even ask as that might have taken the rest of the day to sort out. I figured I would email in the evening when at least the competent woman would be on duty.
Whew. Now the bus and metro into the train station. I put my heavy large pack into a storage locker - thank god they had them - and purchased a ticket to Avignon. The truth is I had only chosen Marseille as a base camp to explore Provence. I never had an interest in Marseille per se, but it was the only hostel open this time of year in the area. Once I realized how far from the train the hostel was, it made more sense for me to make my base in the heart of Provence - not to mention the above mentioned short-comings of the hostel.
With just under two hours before my train, I took the metro two stops to the Vieux Port - the old port. Here the fish market was just getting started - talk about fresh - fish never have smelled so good and the boats were pulled up behind the vendor stalls. Some of the fish were so fresh they were still jumping!
From here I went to the tourist information office and got myself a map, and walked up the main boulevard. I had hoped to find the Arab markets I had read about, but there was no activity this morning. I wandered through a few back streets, found the rue des Arts - full of small artists studios/ateliers then made my way back to the metro. At the train station I went out the upper entrance for a full view of the city - quite impressive, and felt that was all I needed of Marseille.
Now I am happy to report that I found a darling little stone Hotel du Parc on a backstreet in Avignon with a private room and double bed. The shared bath in the hallway is like the Taj compared to last night and I have a large window looking into a little garden. Needless to say I cried when I walked in - too perfect and squeaking by in terms of budget.
Avignon (one of the gates into the walled city in photo above) is a delight and I have spent the afternoon wandering the back streets and finding the natural restaurants and health food stores. I had a plentiful and delicious lunch at the Kafezen Bio mini café (16 rue Henri Fabre) - a large bowl of soup (almost too much to finish) and a large salad made with organic and vegetarian ingredients for 6 euros. Next I stumbled onto a crammed-full art store with the most darling French owners - we played charades about some pastel crayons in the window.
Next I found the beautiful Terre de Saveurs - a natural foods restaurant that I will try for lunch before I leave. I am now happily at a great little cyber café where I can use my own computer - relief.
Off to explore some more before I return to my sweet, sweet room. Au revoir for now.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nice France and Palm Trees!

January 20, 2008
Nice France
“Wow” might sum it up. After sleeping fairly well on the top bunk in a cramped room with six other women in the downtown Nice Youth hostel, I woke up to a blue-sky day. I walked down the main drag, which is fairly grungy in my book with a "red light" district, MacDonalds (yes even here) and other chain stores all closed for Sunday. Thankfully, I arrived shortly at the glorious Mediterranean and the famous Palm tree-lined, Promenade Des Anglais – a 4 mile paved walkway along the beach and sea. The Promenade was fairly busy – really hate to imagine what it is like here in the summer – I highly recommend this time of year if you are thinking of exploring Nice. I walked down to the mostly stone beach and found a few gaggles of men and women, some of whom had taken their morning constitutional and been swimming in the turquoise sea.
A friend of mine told me that when she was here 30 years ago it smelled so horrid that there were ships off shore spraying perfume. Not so this time - no stink and no boat propelled perfume. Have just realized that the fabulous pictures I took were taken without a card in the camera – first and last time I make that mistake. I do have some with my little camera – but unfortunately not the wonderful older man and woman showering after their swims!
That’s what comes of getting flustered. This morning I was dealing with packing everything up on my top bunk and leaving my laptop at the desk – there are no lockers here except for something big enough for your passport, so if you come this way don’t bring anything valuable that is bigger than your wallet.
I sat on the beach for a while and drank in the melodious French language and laughter, the swimmers, the sailboats and the sun - not too hot – must have been around 55-60º. The swimmers got dressed and donned their coats – one was even wearing a beret – how perfect can you get?
I forced myself to get up as all I had at the hostel was some diluted orange juice. The free breakfasts are not gluten-free, in fact they are gluten-rich, so I was pretty hungry.
I crossed into the old city and to my joy walked right into the huge Sunday market at Place Pierre Gautier with wall to wall people and vendors.
The market was full of the most beautiful food I have ever seen – piles of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, cheeses, flowers, fruits and vegetables – as well as full of French people doing their Sunday shopping. I was able to find the Bio/Organic stands quickly and bought two handfuls of fresh mixed greens and a bunch of carrots. Another vendor sold me a little cake of goat cheese covered with herbs. Another still sold me the best sun-dried tomatoes soaked in herbs and garlic I have ever had – so divine – she said “for salade”, well I have been eating them straight all day, alternating them with the tiny, herbed, black olives I bought at the same stand.
While munching on all these delicacies, I walked through the old city with very narrow streets and shops covering every inch. No lie - there were accordion street players and an Edif Piaf-like street singer. And now the hostel is playing the French National anthem on the radio – I feel like I have just walked into a film! Where are you Humprhey Bogart?!
After some more Alpes Maritimes local and bio food, I hiked up the many stairs to the top of “Castle Hill” with fabulous views, but no castle. Here I took more photos that the world will never see.
Then I hopped a bus to the Musee Matisse – a beautiful orange stucco building in a public park filled with olive trees and men playing serious boules (see the following website for a great explanation of the game:
The Museum has a great collection of Matisse’s work from different periods in his life and work – a lovely spectrum and not overwhelming.
After this I was totally exhausted and bee-lined back to the hostel to make a meal with the remains of my markets finds and what food I had at the hostel from Switzerland.
Tomorrow I hope for the Chagall Museum and some other fun finds including the health food stores I found using the information in my Go Lightly Guide to Traveling Naturally in France – so happy it works ☺

Switzerland - A week at the Paracelsus Clinic

Switzerland was a delight as usual. I walked miles and miles everyday – up and down – like the goats and sheep. Many hours a day this week were spent doing tests or treatments at the Paracelsus Biological Medicine Clinic in Lustmuhle Switzerland, about one and a half hours east of Zurich.
This is my fourth time at the clinic so I am very used to the routine. I had an intravenous infusion everyday – either an alkalizing mixture filled with vitamins, minerals and various natural, homeopathic remedies, or an ozone infusion which is cleansing to the blood and also has natural remedies. I also did a type of detoxifying body work called MRT for Matrix Regeneration Therapy, a tissue cleansing treatment done on the back that is sort of like Chinese cupping, but with some added features. I also did one of the oxygen therapies they offer. Usually I ride a stationary bicycle while breathing oxygen. This is energizing and makes me feel the closest I probably ever will to Lance Armstrong since I do not get tired or muscle fatigued with the oxygen. This time, I did a passive oxygen therapy, new to me, that involves just sitting for twelve minutes breathing in oxygen that is charged with negative and positive ions, based on research by a Dr. Engler who found this to be very helpful in oxygenating the body. I received injections with various natural remedies for my thyroid, adrenals, and had a number of tests to check hormones, heavy metals, infections, and general health.
I met lovely people – about eleven other Americans were there while I was, one of whom I knew from a previous trip and the others became fast friends as everyone bonded discussing treatments, doctors, and health issues, not to mention life in Switzerland.
I was the most familiar with the area since I have been there before, so I went off in the afternoons, either walking, or to the nearby small city of St. Gallen.
The beauty of Switzerland is that it is like being in Vermont except with the most efficient public transportation probably on the planet. From the clinic, I could walk down the hill – less than five minutes - to a train stop and take the train, arriving in St. Gallen in about eight minutes.
I have my favorite haunts in St. Gallen including the Brockenhuas (German for second-hand store) where I bought two luxurious, silky cotton, Swiss made duvet covers for about $7 each, knowing that new they cost between $200-300 each!
I know every health food store in the city – of which there are five, not including the two major supermarkets which also sell organic and natural products. I enjoyed going to all of them, buying delicious Swiss sheep’s milk yogurt, a little fair trade dark chocolate with a hazelnut filling to die for, some goat cheese and gluten-free bread made with corn and buckwheat, as well as some Italian oranges.
Some great things I found this trip:
• The first Licensed Organic Trout Farm in Switzerland - Mia’s Bio-Forellenzucht, Haupstrasse (Main Street) 62, Niederteufen; Tel: 079-655-8370 (Niederteufen
is really a neighborhood of Teufen and is between the Paracelsus Clinic and the town center of Teufen.)
• I learned from an American friend who has lived in Switzerland for six years that when you say “I am so Full” after eating, in Swiss German this means you are drunk! ☺ I learned this when I said it while out to lunch with my friend and the waitress laughed so hard – I didn’t know why until my friend broke the news to me.
• I met a woman who does nature photography – her photos can be viewed at:
I met another woman who works with animal sanctuaries around the world and has adopted two elephants! Explore a couple of the groups she works with at: and
I discovered Australian chocolate truffles made without gluten or milk –
At the Zurich main train station you can BORROW bicycles for free with a 20 CHF deposit and identification, preferably a passport. Velogate, as it is called is located across from Track (or Gleis in German) 18 at Museumstrasse.
Thankfully I continued to see apothecaries and pharmacies selling natural homeopathic and herbal remedies alongside conventional pharmaceutical products.
A busy, productive week and now I am blissfully on the train from St. Gallen to Geneve, then onto Nice France!