10/08/2019 - 10/08/2019
We arrived in Marseilles and made it quickly through the airport, getting a SIM on the way out. We got to the car rental place (Hertz/Dollar) and tried to get our car. We were 45 minutes earlier than what the reservation was for, so they wouldn't give it to us and told us to come back later. Another family had the same problem. I find that so ridiculous as the cars were clearly ready. Meanwhile, you have customers sitting grumpily in your business, getting angrier and angrier, as their vacation gets off to a less-than-pleasant start. The others even had a bunch of disruptive kids who weren't making things pleasant for the other customers.
We finally got our car and took off, only to get stuck in rush hour traffic. It would have been much nicer to have been able to beat some of it and not sit for 10 minutes on the same 1km on-ramp, but I wasn't driving at this point, so I didn't mind as much as I otherwise might have.
We passed the port of Marseilles, filled with mega cruise ships, cargo ships, and dockyards. Cranes waited, ready to lift cargo onto trains. We also saw a few sailboats and big yachts, although they were in the minority.
We passed through a bunch of tunnels and managed to get far enough away from the major traffic jams, even though we were still in the city. We took the opportunity to stop for food.
We got super lucky and were able to find everything we were looking for on the same block.
First, we stopped at the fromagerie and used my standard question: what's your favorite cheese? We got the cheese recommended by the lady behind the counter, a comte (since I liked it so much last time I was in France), and a smoked ball, as well as some meat she recommended.
Next, we popped into a boulangerie where they sold bread by weight. We picked out some kind of olive loaf, which they sliced for us right there, and some other kind of bread. But for both, we didn't have to get a whole huge loaf, we just told her where to cut and got just enough for the day.
Last, we found a small supermarket where we stocked up on veggies, drinks, jam, and paper goods. We were set!
Anxiously awaiting our picnic, we drove to Calanques National Park. The road through the park twisted and turned, and only had enough room for one car at a time most of the way. We fortunately didn't have anybody coming at us in a car in the other direction or somebody would have had to back up and find a spot to let the other pass. Even passing a bicyclist going the same way as us was a bit treacherous and wasn't always possible.
We found a parking lot near the end of the long road and spotted a spot on some rocks with a nice view of the mountains. Hungrily, we unpacked our picnic, and sat down to eat.
The cheese the lady at the fromagerie selected was so French! It was soft and even runny a bit inside, with a buttery texture. But the flavor was strong like stinky feet. However, there was no aftertaste that interfered with everything else. I wish I had gotten the name of it from her! The comte was less sharp and tasted a bit more of Swiss than the last ones I got in Paris, but it went perfectly with the olive bread. The other bread was crispy crunchy on the outside but fluffy chewy on the inside. It went perfectly with this eggplant-in-a-jar we had, as well as the fig jam. (Although the jam itself was less figgy and more sugary than I would have liked.)
Pleased with our picnic, we sat a bit to digest and absorb the serenity. Even though we had a view of the parking lot, we really weren't exposed to a lot of noise. Only one car arrived the whole time we ate. And we only saw 4 people total- 2 sets of mountain climbers that quietly organized their gear for whatever facet they were planning on taking on.
The mountains looked like they were huge rocks that had been eroded away over time and then started sprouting typical shrubby Mediterranean flora. They looked perfect for rock climbing.
With full bellies, we wandered into the little town.
The town seemed to be seasonal. Small boats filled the little bay, probably in because tourist season is over. There seemed to be a few restaurants and guest houses, but they were also closed. A few people sat in their front porches or watered their gardens, but we saw no other obvious tourists as we walked down the super-narrow streets. The quietness added to the quaintness.
We continued on our way, driving through some beautiful scenery. The rolling hills were dotted with farms, and forests added to the greenery. It was a great day for such a beautiful drive.
As we made our way towards Senanque Abbey (our goal) we saw an amazing fortress/castle town sticking right out the side of a hill, almost as if it was carved from the hill itself. It looked interesting, so we stopped to see what it was.
The town of Gordes is dominated by a castle, but has plenty of cobblestone streets and other cute old buildings to see. We didn't go in the castle since it's not really a museum about the area. (They did have some modern art display, but it didn't look too interesting.) We wandered the town a bit and headed back to the parking lot. On the way, I told my guy that I was proud of him for not buying the fancy soaps at the souvenir shop. He stopped in his tracks.
"What soaps?" He asked.
Oops. I had thought he saw them as he spent several minutes looking at the jars of local honey that were on the same table, 3 inches from the soaps.
We turned back to go to the souvenir shop.
As he smelled all the soaps, some lady came up and asked her husband if he wanted to get some. He declined. I jokingly offered her to trade guys, but she declined, so I was stuck at the souvenir shop as my guy spent an agonizingly long time deciding what scents to get. The one thing I was happy to get was a small jar of local honey. They came in a wide range of colors, from almost white to almost black and I'm excited to see how it tastes. (Update from later: it tastes like honey, but maybe extra floral.)
Senanque Abbey was only a few minutes away, but when we got there, the first thing my guy wanted to do was check out the souvenir shop. Again, they had soaps, but fortunately only lavender as that is what the abbey is famous for growing. They also had lavender perfume, tea, ointment, lip balm, and who knows what else.
We walked around the outside and some parts of the building that were generally open, but didn't end up taking the tour of the rooms. It was expensive, in French, and we would have had to wait 30 mins before it started. I think it was probably interesting, just not enough to be worth the time and price at this point. The outside of the abbey was pretty though.
Our next stop was Avignon. We took a very scenic route to get there and found convenient parking right by the pope's palace.
I love the Vatican and was super-excited to see this pope's palace. From the outside, it looks more like a fort or stone castle than a palace, reflecting the needs when it was built. It sits within city walls that look to be from a similar era.
We got a discount to enter because some rooms were closed, but we didn't realize that almost half of them were closed! (And the discount was certainly not half.)
In each room that we were able to see, we entered and pressed the appropriate button on our "histopad," a 1-app tablet. The tablet would tell us a bit about the room via audio, and we could scan around the room on the screen to see what it would have been like when the popes lived here. The issue was that the rooms were numbered on the room, but not on the pad, and it was sometimes hard to tell which was the right room to choose.
It didn't help that it required a LOT of imagination to see what was shown on the pad. This palace has been stripped. It's completely bare of all of the tapestries and paintings and furniture and everything. It's mostly bare stone walls, with the occasional faded mural remnants. Even the windows didn't quite align always with what the pad showed.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but I felt this palace left a lot to be desired. It's not even half as good as some of the German castles we went to earlier this year.
We walked the main street near the palace a bit and stumbled upon a free museum that was some other palace. This other "palace" was much more modern and had some interesting decorations. It wasn't as old and historic as the pope's palace, but it was more worth the price.
Since most of the restaurants seemed a bit touristy, we decided to get out of town for dinner and eat closer to our hotel.
While my phone had cell service, I didn't have internet for some reason, so we just blindly picked a place listed as open on my offline google map. It was in a little town just off the highway that had 3 restaurants. Two didn't have a single vegetarian item on the menu. The third was pizza.
It was some of the worst pizza I've ever had. The sauce was completely tasteless. The cheese was tasteless. The crust was some sort of weird crackery crust that had a texture close to stale bread. The only thing of value were the toppings- artichokes, eggplants, and some other veggies that at least added some flavor. This was not what I expected of France.
The other thing I'm finding here that's unexpected is a bit pleasant. The stereotype is that French people won't speak English, even if they know it. I'm finding that not entirely true. We always start by asking English. In the event someone says no, I ask for Spanish, and then Hebrew in the off chance that the person speaks one of those. Then, the person typically finds someone else who works there who speaks some English and we do get some customer service in English. I wonder if it's because they're more tolerant of people who speak multiple languages, understanding that you can't speak everything, or if we would have gotten the English speaker even if they thought we were stereotypically "dumb Americans" who only spoke one. Regardless, we've been doing ok with the language thing so far and almost always got service in English.