Friday, February 29, 2008
Bayeux is an ancient town in the Normandy region of northern France filled with old stone houses and walls. Founded 2000 years ago, it has many buildings still standing from 1,000-1500 ad including a large cathedral from 1077. Home to the famous Bayeux tapestry, a wool-in-linen embroidered masterpiece spanning over 200 feet, the tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror’s (Duke of Normandy) conquest of England in 1066. The tapestry museum is well worth the 7 euro entry fee which includes a great audio guide.
Bayeux somehow managed to escape damage from both the Hundred Years’ war, as well as World War II even though it is only a few miles from the d-day beaches lining the Normandy coast. Museums, tours and cemeteries commemorating World War II surround the area, as well as Omaha, Utah, Juno and Gold Beaches. In Bayeux there is Le Memorial Des Reporters, a joint effort between Bayeux and the organization Reporters Without Borders, honoring freedom of the press and journalists from around the world that have lost their lives covering wars since 1944, including a single headstone for the famous war photographer Robert Capa who took extraordinary photographs of the D-day landing – standing alongside the troops as they came off the boats.
Historically known for its lace-making, ceramics, and its apple products, Bayeux boasts many local artisans carrying on the traditions of lace-making, embroidery, porcelain and ceramic making, woodworking, stone sculpture and even a small umbrella company. Local apple products are abundant here including Calvados, an apple liquor, as well as cider, jelly, juice and other goodies. Apple products made from local orchards surrounding Bayeux can be found at Cave Cidrocle Lecornu, Place Charles de Gaulle close to the cathedral, open April through September from 10-7:30; October through March just in the evenings 5- 7:30pm (www.lecornu.fr).
Bikes can be rented year round at the Le Verger de L’Aure, impasse de L’Islet, conveniently located across from the Bayeux Tourist office; Tel: 02 31 92 8916; open 8am-8:30 pm year round. A booklet detailing 19 walking or biking trails around Bayeux is available at the tourist office for 7euros. The Jardin Public de Bayeux, in the northwestern corner of the town, has 400 trees including an old weeping Beech listed as an historical monument (www.mairie-bayeux.fr). In the summer, you can spend over two hours walking through Le Labyrinthe de Bayeux in Mosles a few miles northwest of town (www.labyrinthe-bayeux.com).
Bayeux has seven, second-hand and antique stores selling things from traditional antiques to World War II artifacts, which locals still dig up on the nearby cliffs and beaches. Lovely, English speaking Patricia Cowling runs a tiny store, Brocante de Jolies Choses, filled with treasures on rue Larcher across the street from the post office ( 7 Bis rue Larcher; Tel: 06 25 71 2463).
While there are no health food stores in Bayeux, there are in surrounding towns, accessible if you have a car. Fresh produce, cheeses and bakeries are abundant and the Bayeux market, known for its excellent produce and products, is held on Saturday mornings in Place Saint Patrice. A smaller market is on Wednesday mornings on rue Saint Jean.
The local youth hostel in the heart of the old Bayeux Village is right across from the park Place Charles de Gaulle. It is in a historical building comprised of some old and more recently renovated sections. My room had a large French window overlooking an old walkway and terrace, an old stone wall and beyond, trees filled with singing birds. The wood and bamboo furnishings were comfortable and the beds were made with the traditional rolled duvets. The hostel, while quiet except for the lovely bird sounds, was pretty empty this time of year. Since the walls are thin, I can imagine a not so contemplative mood when the rooms are full, the windows open, and there is late summer night partying. The Hostel is part of the Hostelling International Network, www.fuaj.org and is called Family Home, 39 rue du General de Dais, Bayeux, Tel: 02 31 92 1522; Fax: 02 31 92 5572 (they have no email or web page – you must book by fax or post) Beds are 19 euros/night.
There are tour buses to the various D-day beaches that run in the range of 45 euros, but you can take local buses for a fraction of the cost. From Bayeux village you can take the #70 bus to the American Cemetery and monument at Omaha beach, a thirty-minute bus ride, for 2 euros one way. In the winter there is only one bus each way, but in the summer there are more options.
Omaha beach is impressive: a large beautiful beach, that doesn’t look like a battleground, but rather a resort beach. It is a protected area and the cemetery and monuments sit high above on a plateau. The acres of white crosses and stars of David in the cemetery emphasize the magnitude of what happened on June 6 and 7 1944. The beach was not what I expected. I imagined a grittier scene, with scattered wreckage and rocky shores. Instead I found a pristine beach with seashells, golden sand, dramatic clouds and an aura of significance.
I find Europe to be comforting, like an old woman who has seen everything: the land and many buildings here have born witness to wars, floods, earthquakes, different political regimes, different religious beliefs, and yet here it still is, for better or worse, a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit and the earth from whence we come.
Ahh Paris. What can I say? I am one of the multitudes that loves Paris, with its low skyline, the old magnificent buildings, abundant sidewalk cafes - a city brimming with juicy history. There are health food stores, vegetarian restaurants, good coffee, and wonderful treasures to be seen and had.
Velib is the citywide cheap bike-rental system similar to Bicing in Barcelona. Velib stations were plentiful!
• Bio Saint Germain, supermarche Bio – lovely, bright store filled with bio food at 30 Blvd St Germain, Paris, Tel: 44 07 3484; www.biosaintgermain.com
• Phyto Bar, 47 Blvd St Germain, Paris, Tel: 44 07 3699 is a restaurant serving organic food with a sister health food store next door. They offer an array of fresh squeezed juices –the grapefruit/kiwi is an especially refreshing combination. I also recommend the seaweed “caviar” made with a variety of greens from the sea.
• Naturalia is a chain of health food stores, with 25 throughout Paris plus 3 stores dedicated to natural beauty products – www.naturalia.fr.
A truly unique experience is a visit to the Grand Mosque in Paris, built by the French government in the early 1900s as thanks to the North African Moslems that helped defend France. The mosque itself is beautiful in its simplicity with tiled and whitewashed walls and gardens. On one side is a beautiful restaurant and tea room with indoor and out door seating. The outdoor seating is like stepping into another world with blue and white tiled tables amongst trees, plants and birds. I recommend the infusion menthe (mint tea), which is made with a handful of fresh mint leaves in a clear glass of hot water. La Mosquee, 39 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Paris – restaurant, Salon de The, Souk (gift store), Hammam (steam and hot baths with massage); Tel: 43 31 38 14; http://www.la-mosquee.com. Across the street you can walk through the Jardins de Plantes, the first public garden in Paris which is filled with medicinal and decorative plants.
For inexpensive clothing check out the “fripe” (that is second-hand store), Eileen, 53 rue Monge, within walking distance of the Mosque. It is a tiny, crammed-with-rummage store with clothes piled high and spilling onto the floor, but good prices and a definite adventure. I found a fabulous French jacket there and some shirts – I was looking for “made in France” and I found it at affordable prices ranging from .50¢-25 euros and up.
Barcelona definitely has a beat and vibe different from Valencia and Madrid. I found it to be the most full of tourists, less subdued for sure than Valencia, but also light and airy, which may be a factor of being on the sea. Barcelona is in the province of Catalonia, which has an independent and proud history. The native language is Catalan, but Spanish is also spoken. Signs and menus are usually in both.
Barcelona’s dominant tourist attractions are the buildings designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi who lived from 1852 to 1926. His buildings are beautiful with many elements drawn from nature and with many similarities to Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) inspired architecture. In fact they were contemporaries and died within a year of each other.
Health food stores and restaurants are plentiful, and the huge La Boqueria market, just off the La Rambla, is not to be missed – open in the mornings everyday but Sunday. In the back is an organic and vegetarian take-out deli whose motto is “Organic is orgasmic.” Also available at many of the stalls are fresh squeezed fruit juices - kiwi, coconut, mango, pineapple and many more. Cheese stalls are also plentiful – look for the many options of “obeja” (sheep) and “cabra” (goat) cheeses. You can find the 10 Veritas Health Food store locations around Barcelona at: http://www.ecoveritas.es. Other health food stores can be located at the very useful website for vegetarian foods in Barcelona: http://www.sincarne.net/barcelona-health-food-shops.htm
Barcelona is in general a biker friendly city, with many bike lanes and promenades. The inexpensive citywide bike rental system, Bicing, is visible and used by many people.
And I can't forget the Magic Fountains! A color, light and water show put to music - better than fireworks in my opinion - done in the evenings - only Fridays and Saturdays in the winter, but every night in the summer - a must see if you are in Barcelona.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Windmills are plentiful in Spain (and also in parts of France). I felt like a child at Christmas every time I saw a row of them out of my train window. The people around me surely thought I was "loco" as I would leap up for no apparent reason, camera in hand and dash for the between-the-cars space for the best picture taking position, trying to capture the fabulous display of humans and nature working arm-in-arm as it were.
These pictures suffer from being taken from moving trains, but they convey the idea.
Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, is part way down the Mediterranean coast of Spain and is surrounded by acres of orange and olive groves. Clean and regal, Valencia is larger than I imagined, but has a busy yet relaxed quality. People walk and bike a lot, as well as take advantage of the new and fairly sparkling tram and metro.
I stayed at a youth hostel in the center of the old city: Center Valencia, c/ Samaniego 18; Tel: 963 914 915; www.center-valencia.com .The hostel was one of the nicer ones I have frequented. The rooms were clean and in my 4-women room with two bunk beds we had our own shower and toilet – a luxury by hostel standards. Another luxury was that in addition to the four computers in the common area, there was WiFi throughout the hostel so I could use my own computer in the comfort of my room. The only downside was that the last two nights I was there a large high school group checked in and were up partying until 4:30 am both nights – groan! But my Romanian roommates were a delight and we had fun sharing our daily adventures.
Spaniards love outdoor cafes and restaurants so the city was full of these and I saw only two Starbucks in Valencia. Oranges were plentiful, cheap and some of the best I have ever eaten. Fresh orange juice is served in many cafes and a local specialty is “Aqua de Valencia,” made with orange juice, white wine and water.
Valencia has huge, beautiful public beaches, which I highly recommend. I went everyday for long beach walks along the turquoise sea, combing for sea glass, shells, and sea ceramics, Spain’s special version of sea glass, since ceramics are such a large industry in Spain. True to rumors, Spanish women were walking and sunbathing topless, irregardless of their shape or size, without so much as a second glance from anyone except me.
I found health food stores throughout Valencia, although the mother lode was the J. Navarro Terra Verde Store in the old part of city not far from the train station. It is large and beautiful, the closest you will find to a Whole Foods-type store, with a particularly large selection of gluten-free products including baked-goods. They have produce, beauty products, bulk foods, cold and frozen, an extensive cheese selection, basically anything you could want - www.terraverda.com.
There are tiny health food stores sprinkled throughout the city. Out by the university is Ecorganic ecomercat, Avda Blasco Ibanez 66, Tel: 963 892 003; www.ecorganicweb.com . This store is not huge, but has a good selection and variety of food including gluten-free, goat/sheep cheese and yogurt, bio produce, a tiny bit of bio meat, plenty of dry goods, body care, and more. Open: 9:30-8:30; Tel: 96 389 2003. The closest Metro is Aragon. Out of the metro, walk up a few blocks and take a right onto Avenue Blasco Ibanez.
A small store in the north part of the old city not far from the youth hostel is the Herboristeria del Carmen, c/ Roteros 13; Tel: 963 923 315, Open Mon-Fri 9:30-2/5-8, Sat 10-2. They have a small array of products including delicious bio oranges and bio-saffron – a Spanish delicacy and great souvenir.
By chance I found a small second hand clothing store where I bought an authentic Spanish black, felt, Zorro hat for 2 euros! Marropa (ropa de 2a mano), c/ Pza Cisneros 5, around the corner from the little Herboristeria above and the youth hostel. Open Mon-Fri 10-1:30/ 5-8.
Spain is not known for being vegetarian – in fact pigs are very big here – literally and figuratively, but Valencia does have a few very good vegetarian restaurants, two of which I scoped out:
La Tastaolletes, c/ Salvador Giner 6; Open Tues-Sat 2-4 (lunch) and Mon-Sat 9pm-midnight (dinner) closed Sundays and Monday until dinner. Tapas range from 4.50-9, Salada 8-9.50, and entrée 10-11. I ate an ample, delicious and unusual Seaweed salad here and had a glass of house vino tinto (red wine), for a total of 11 euros one evening at 9:30 – early by Spanish standards, but late by mine.
Espai Visor café and gallery, Corretgeria 40; 3 course meal is a prix fixe of 18 Euros, Open Tues- Sat 5-9 café and gallery, restaurant 9pm-11:30 pm. The restaurant part is small – about 5-6 tables, but the menu is fabulous. Similarly, the gallery space is small, but lovely.
Valencia is full of small stores brimming with goods. I was disappointed to learn that the comfortable and funky Camper shoes, sold worldwide, are no longer made in Spain, but China, which saved me being tempted to buy a pair while here. Traditional Spanish espadrilles were not so abundant in Valencia (see Madrid entry later).
I found a store in the old city not far from the Espai Visor restaurant called Namo Buddha, selling beautiful, authentic and some rare items from Nepal and Tibet, run by a lovely Spanish man named Pablo and his Nepali wife, Goma. Namo Buddha, c/Danzas 3, Valencia; Tel: 96 391 6509; email@example.com; www.namobuddha.phpnet.us.
Friday, February 1, 2008
I found France to be a wonderful mixture of gritty, dirty, delightful, friendly, full of divine sights, scents and tastes. It is a country full of senses – lovers kissing in the parks by the score, many people looking as if they have smoked far too many cigarettes and had plenty to drink, a country of strong traditions coupled with non-conformists, delightful smells and foul odors, and lots of dog merde on the streets. Hygiene is not a strong suit, and yet this is part of what makes it all so, well, French.
Slow, local, and fresh foods are intrinsic to the French Culture – not a fad or trend. Some of the most delicious food can be found here. I am told that children start to be taught about nutrition in the first grade where they learn not about food pyramids, but tastes and quality. Stores close for a 1 to 3-hour lunch break, and people take this time to share a meal and recharge. Sundays stores are closed completely, so this makes for excellent down time (that is the idea after all). Monday mornings are virtually dead, even most of the cafes are closed.
Hard to believe, but wine consumption is down in France and some of the smaller vineyards are struggling. I was told that teens are drinking soda and beer instead of wine, and at the nightclubs they drink hard liquor instead of wine. Fathers have historically been in charge of instructing their children in the ways of wine and since the divorce rate has climbed, this tradition has been diminishing. Also France has cracked down on drinking and driving, curtailing wine drinking at lunch. All of these factors have greatly affected the wine industry forcing France to take some drastic steps including taking 400,000 hectares of vineyards out of production, making France now second to Italy in worldwide wine production. All of this said, there seemed to be a bounty of French wine available.
While I observed many differences, I observed far more similarities: men stand and watch construction sites, parents love their children, people want to enjoy life and be at peace in the world, people complain about taxes and the government, laugh and cry, starve and feast.
On a quiet Monday morning when all else was closed I stopped at the old synagogue at Place Jerusalem in Avignon. A sweet Rabbi greeted me at the door and showed me in to the rather small synagogue, lit from above by the rotunda, unusual for a synagogue. On one of the walls was a list of the Avignon Jews sent to Aushwitz. My eyes immediately welled up with tears, but fortunately for me the thickly accented Rabbi did not notice. How would I explain my CMS (Constant Menopausal Syndrome) to him? He was very gracious and the visit only took minutes. It revived my recurring thoughts about World War II, its current implications in these European countries I am visiting and how it informs each culture. Here was the old synagogue where Jews being persecuted in France, thought to be the cause of the Black Plague in the mid 1300s, were offered protection by the Pope. Six hundred years later, with the protection of the Pope long gone, descendants of protected Jews were sent to Aushwitz from here in the madness of World War II. How do we reconcile our tormented history and our inhumanity to ourselves? The rabbi said, “Shalom” as we parted, and I thought of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Being Peace, wishing we could all be more peace, so that we could breathe it into the world. Wishing we could love and accept ourselves, as well as others.
Shalom. Love Yourself and pass it on.
My angel Francois was the Avignon Wine Tour man who just happened on this sunny last day of January to be offering a special tour to Roussillon instead of one of his usual wine tours, and just happened to be at the Tourist Office when I was there inquiring about how I could possibly get to the ochre hills of Roussillon. Francois had one other taker for his special tour, a woman on vacation from Taiwan who spoke some English. I had noticed in every tour information flyer that the minimum number of people was two and I had thought this was just an economic decision on the tour operator’s part, but Francois explained that the laws are strict about taxis versus tour guides and you must have a taxi license to carry only one person, and have a tour guide license for two or more people.
Cameras at the ready, we set off for our tour – first stop was the village of Gordes (see pictures in this post), a beautiful, old, stone, hill village used in the shooting of the film, A Good Year. The second stop was my grail – Roussillon – site of the world’s largest ochre deposits – and the third and last stop was Menerbes, another stone hill village, famous for truffles and wine.
Gordes was pretty well shut up for the winter, but we could still see its magnificence and capture some views including the trademark blue shutters of Provence, which Francois explained repels flies and bees, but not mosquitos.
Roussillon is a photographer’s heaven, especially in the late afternoon when we were there. The deep blue of the sky juxtaposed with the red and orange buildings was magnificent. Francois let me and my tour compatriot loose with our cameras, waiting very patiently for us while we circled the village stopping every two feet to take yet another picture.
The village of Roussillon, filled with various shades of red and orange houses, sits on Mont Rouge and was the center of ochre production until World War II. At the bottom of the village there are walking paths through the ochre cliffs – le sentier des ocres – which are only open during the weekends this time of year (in high season they are open all week), but we could sneak a peek of some of the cliffs and get some pictures. Roussillon is unique in the world and this was surely a peak experience – not to be missed, and I was so glad I did not have to miss it, thanks to my angel.
Fortunately for me, and as it turns out – for Francois and my tour mate - I had done my homework for my Traveling Naturally Guide to France, so I knew there was also a Conservatory of Ochre. Francois was most agreeable and we went looking for it with the map I had from the back of a brochure. We found it about 3km down the road from the village and it was open! The first building in the complex has an extensive bookstore and is where classes are held year round in painting and special ochre applications.
Below and behind the bookstore is the L’ancienne usine Mathieu – a series of museum displays of an old ochre processing factory. We had missed the scheduled guided tour, but were free to explore on our own. Another building in the complex houses the pigment and art supply store – a painter and artist's dream land. Walls lined with jars of natural and synthetic pigments made a colorful and inspiring display. Neither Francois nor my tour mate were painters or had any knowledge about ochre other than the house exteriors we had just toured, so they admired the array of colors and delighted at this discovery.
The conservatory ships the natural powdered pigments to artists and artist supply stores around the world. I got two little bags of the natural ochre and some pastels of the same. The colors range from muted yellows to reds and browns. I confirmed with the salesperson that ochre is no longer mined at Roussillon. The sole remaining ochre mine is in a neighboring village, Gargas.
Ochre is stunning as I hope some of the pictures will illustrate. It has also been used for millennia. Some of the earliest known cave art was drawn with charcoal and ochre and the Australian Aborigines have used it in their art forever. Much of their new art is painted with synthetic ochre colors. I have read that they use the natural ochre for the work that they keep as they consider natural ochre to be sacred, which it surely is.
After our high of Roussillon, we continued to our final village stop, Menerbes. On the way we passed countless vineyards, olive and fruit groves, and some patches of grey lavender, resting until June. We drove through the village of Lacoste, known for its castle that was once owned by the Marquis de Sade and is now owned by Pierre Cardin.
Menerbes is another beautiful, stone hill town. Francois knew it well as it is a regular stop on his wine tours. Menerbes, like Gordes, was pretty well closed up for the season, but the views from the top of the village were magnificent, and we got to peek at the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin for truffle and wine connoisseurs.
The car was pretty quiet on the return drive to Avignon, each of us absorbing the wonder of the afternoon, and the joy of the experience. It was an absolutely perfect final day to a glorious ten days in Provence. I look forward to a return trip when the lavender is blooming, my other grail that I knew could not be realized in this season.
Au revoir Provence.
Conservatoire des Ocres et Pigments Appliqués: www.okhra.com
Angel Francois is available at: www.avignon-wine-tour.com. He is extremely informative, courteous, flexible and good-natured and not pushy or overbearing at all – really the perfect combination for a tour guide. If you are traveling to Avignon or any of the nearby towns I highly recommend a tour with Francois. His wine tours motto is, “You drink, I drive” – how perfect is that.
My last day of adventuring in the Avignon area began in the most delightful way. I had an appointment at the Kan Day Spa, a bit of a hidden treasure, in a small storefront I found one day when I was out exploring. Their flyer offered a variety of options at affordable prices and since I hadn’t been able to do anything but sponge bath (my hotel room is sans shower) for over a week I thought I would take advantage of the Hammam (steam bath) and spa (Jacuzzi) combination package offered with a short massage. Not only did I get squeaky clean, but I had one of the best body care experiences of my life. The beauty was really in the simplicity of it all.
The Hammam is downstairs, in the rear of a beautiful treatment room with bathroom, Hammam and attached shower for alternating the Hammam with cool showers, the spa (Jacuzzi) and a massage table. The Hammam is the heat, and the effects of alternating the steam room with the cool shower provide excellent stimulation for the circulation and lymph systems.
Let me tell you that this is not for the modest as, remember, we are in France. I was directed (all in French) into the bathroom where I was to emerge with only a disposable thong, shower cap, and pair of slippers – no towels, no robes – just me in my middle-aged glory and the very scanty disposables merely there for some hint of hygiene, certainly not for hiding anything. From there I went into the Hammam which was a completely tiled, large sauna-sized room with two levels of tiled benches to lie or sit on. The steam was augmented with some aromatherapy and was not too hot, but hot enough. The adjacent shower was a step through the glass door, where I could adjust the water temperature from cold to warm. I went back and forth a few times, and while showering, used the exfoliating scrub available. After about 20-30 minutes of this alternating treatment, my therapist checked on me and prepared the Jacuzzi. I was given a hand-towel to dry myself enough to walk across the floor and get into the spa.
The Jacuzzi spa part of the therapy is not for heat like a hot tub, but rather more for the relaxing and massaging effects of the jets. The water is at a comfortable 35ºC (95ºF) so you stay warm but don’t overheat. I was in the spa for about 30 minutes – I think it was two 15-minute timed sessions as she came and checked on me and turned it on a second time. My darling little French therapist had dimmed the lights and the spa was really a pre-massage. I thought – how clever they are, letting the Hammam and the spa do so much of the work for them! By the time I emerged from the Jacuzzi I was very relaxed and used the same hand-towel to mop off a little, again merely to get me across to the massage table which had a towel on it.
I was instructed to lie down on my stomach. My therapist dried me off some more with another towel and then asked me if I wanted scented or unscented oil (all in French). She let me sniff the three scented options and I chose the Jasmine. She then slathered me with the oil – no sheet or towel over me – just me and my thong. She did a simple and yet wonderful Esalen-style massage (a northern California massage spa known for its naked massages with long, sweeping massaging), first along the left side of my body, and then the right, with a bit extra on my back, but it was feet to neck for about twenty minutes. I have never been so relaxed during a massage.
And it was fine when it was over as well – no longing for it to continue. I was satiated. I slowly rose and went to get dressed while my therapist made me a cup of green tea. I was there a total of almost one hour and 45 minutes, and the whole thing was 65 Euros – a deal by any standards.
I went out into the sun of the day – now almost noon – and sat in the main square with sun at my face and relished the deep, warm, satisfied feeling. I hadn’t eaten much, but wasn’t even hungry. I wrote a little and watched the teens come out for their lunch break. A man was teaching his young daughter to ride a bike in the square and she was squealing with delight. I savored it all. Finally, the cement I was sitting on got the better of me and I moved on to find delicious Provence pears at the bio market.
The thought of leaving Provence without seeing the orange-red ochre hills in the town of Roussillon was bothering me, but there were no buses or trains to Roussillon and renting a car was ridiculously expensive – 125 euros a day for the smallest car on the planet (that’s almost $190 a day with the exchange rate!). I headed to the Tourist Office to see if they had any other suggestions of how to get to the rouge hills. This is where I found my angel Francois. I will describe this adventure in another post.
K•an Day Spa, rue Favart, Avignon in old part; Tel: 0490 85 2692, www.kan-spa.fr; Open Mon-Sat 10-7pm.