Wednesday, June 3, 2009
As I gathered my books last Friday afternoon my phone rang. I walked out of the classroom with a loud groan, Ryan had called to say he had to stay in France the whole weekend. This plus the days he'd been gone already plus more business travel the next week. Then he told me his boss' solution: fly me to France for the 3-day weekend, put us up in a hotel, and give us free reign of a rental car. I was on the verge of squealing. How jet set are we?
So I rushed home to book a flight, hotel (we got the last room in the last hotel in Nice I'm pretty sure), and throw all the stuff I could think of into a suitcase. I got to the airport by 5pm and touched down amongst the palm trees just after dark.
We have an aging copy of Rick Steves' France and I gave it a good scouring. During breakfast we decided on a tour of the villages of the Cotes du Rhone (this is Ryan's favorite wine after all). We wound through tiny villages and vineyards, up the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains (does Dentelles come from "Dents" meaning teeth? They kind of looked like teeth). We spent a lot of time getting lost and getting detoured due to a big bike race. But Ryan definitely enjoyed driving the snazzy rental too fast through the curvy roads.
We stopped for lunch in a tiny hillside village with only one cafe. The waitress declared serving lunch "impossible!" I think she assumed Americans= hurried tourists. She told us she could potentially put our orders into the kitchen but didn't know what time, if ever, we could be served. I thought maybe we should go elsewhere, but Ryan told her we weren't in a hurry. This turned out to be a good move, the food was both prompt and delicious. (Is this some kind of test to weed out picky tourists?) After lunch we finished a loop through the mountains, stopping for Chateaus and wine tasting.
The amazing thing about Provence is how effortless it is. In Germany most everything is new (thanks WW2), all the old-looking buildings are really replicas. But Provence looks like it was built a couple hundred years ago and then left to its own devices. All the wood is weathered, and vines creep up or hang down as if to reclaim the village back to the rich soil. Shop after shop displayed colored glass plates and patterned quilts that could have been discovered in someone's attic, and yet everything is so chic. This is what amazes me about the French. Its the same thing with the scarves French women casually drape around their necks-- it always looks effortlessly perfect.
We finished out the night in Arles, Van Gogh's home for many years. One thing I hadn't anticipated about Provence is how choc-a-block it is with Roman ruins. Arles is basically an old medieval town based around an ancient Roman arena and theatre. We spent the evening drinking "Van Gogh" wine and enjoying a menu of soup, lamb, and chocolate profiteroles. If there's one thing I've learned about Provence, it can only be truly appreciated at a snail's pace.