Provence and Burgundy, Days in France

A single post about my travels, and I’ve already pissed off a German. My favorite part of said German’s reaction was this – “You are a dumb ass brat who doesnt understand art, culture and history as you claim in your about page.” – because I claim no such thing on my About page. Apparently, Bertha read my likes and determined me learned and cultured.

Which is nice.

Anyway, let’s see who I can piss off in France.

Midway through our European road trip, we settled at our base in Aix-en-Provence. The getting-there was special, and it deserves a mention. Driving miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers) along E80, the mountains would close in on us and then open up into yawning chasms with towns tucked into the coastal cliff sides, tiered from sea to sky, as the Earth gave way, leaving nothing but the road on which we crossed and the precipitous drop to the green, green valley below.

The first morning in Provence, I woke with the fixings of a headache, but still we went promptly into Arles, where the parking garage spaces are narrower than Van Gogh’s late-life grasp on reality. In an effort to thwart a sun-induced full-on headache, and to protect my pasty, highly-flammable skin, I was in full gear – from floppy hat to sun gloves.

It was as I was trying to be creative with shutter speed and get a nighttime-esque photo of the cafe featured in Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night in full daylight that the lost-Kardashian cafe hostess called out to me.

“Madam?” she said.

“Yes?” I responded, as I had already discovered responding “Oui” gave people the false impression my French is considerably better than it is, and would often set them to speaking it at me as I stared blankly into my own inadequacy.

Regardless of my admission of ignorance, she rapid-fired French anyway.

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I don’t speak French.”

At which point she glanced at her tall, studly reinforcement I hadn’t yet noticed, and tossed him the baton.

“Espanol?” he said.

“No, sorry,” I replied.

“English only,” he stated.

“Sorry,” I felt the need to say again.

But, you see, we did not need a shared language, the lost-Kardashian, the studly waiter, and I. With gestures and a French-Spanish-English hybrid that was lovely in its own frustrating way, I quite got the gist. And the gist was that I was wearing too many clothes.

Then, the lost-Kardashian informed me, in French, of every piece of clothing I should take off, which included my pants. I’m not sure what she thought I was wearing beneath them, but I chose to keep them on.

Then, finally, “No sol?”

‘Yes!’ said my comfort zone. ‘That makes considerably more sense.’

“I burn,” I said, which, unsurprisingly, left them staring in confusion at me.

“Fire?” I tried. Nothing.

“Rouge!” I finally shouted.

“Ah,” the lost-Kardashian said with a nod and a smile that indicated she either thought I was a goofy American or that “rouge” has some slang meaning I don’t know.

Later, I ate raw beef and finally collected on that migraine.

It was the air quality, it was discovered the following morning when, twenty steps out of the hotel, the headache-demon reemerged. Now, this was a very important moment of the trip, because this was the moment I became ‘Spaghetti Western Riley’ for the remainder of our time in Europe. Before we left, we had bought these multi-purpose UV things, and one of those was perfect for turning me into an old-school bank robber.

Full-day two in Provence, I looked criminally awesome as we walked into Aix-en-Provence and along Cours Mirabeau. A crepe and gelato may well have been had.

Later that day, we went to Avignon.

Plain and simple, Avignon is a fantasy. A beautifully-preserved, reverent place, bursting with new life, but retaining a deep sense of history you could feel with each step. Riding along the Rhone, the city seemed to rise out of the water, its papal palace and famed bridge set against distant Mont Ventoux.

And they fed me French onion soup. In France.

On our way out the last day, it was back roads to Les Baux. Due to poorly Google directions (and an abiding hatred for GPS), we did some off-roading and then I got directions from someone in 80-percent French. Miraculously, we ended up where we were going. Which was a very special place. This place – Carrières de Lumières – where we saw moving art in a quarry.

Heading back to the car, I picked wild blackberries and ate them without worrying about the 80 pesticides regularly used in the U.S. that are banned in Europe.

Heading back to the main road, we took a turn too quick at one of Europe’s beloved roundabouts and accidentally landed at a pastry shop. After telling the woman working there that I spoke sad, incomprehensible French, I smiled and pointed and came away with a box of treats that were promptly devoured.

There was this strawberry thing with fresh cream. I just can’t…

On the return trip to Germany a few days later, we enjoyed rush hour in Lyon. Actually enjoyed it. Because being dead-stopped in traffic was a perfect excuse to gawk around at some truly awe-inspiring scenery.

That night, we stayed in Dijon.

The following morning, we went into the old town for a couple of hours, but ended up lingering a couple more. Because Dijon felt like the kind of place one could spend an afternoon. Or a lifetime.

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