Under the Provencal Sun

Salut, tout le monde!  Adam and I are sitting in the little (wifi-equipped) cafe at our campground in Andance, a tiny town on the West bank of the Rhone River, just about 40 miles south of Lyon, looking out over the pool (no swim trunks allowed... only Speedos???), an orchard of apricot trees, and a hill with a vineyard in the background.  Pretty blissful!  We have spent the past four days enjoying the sunny weather, foods, and people of the Provence region of France, and tomorrow we will move north into the Rhone-Alpes region.  So, as I sit here sipping a very strange mocktail consisting of Perrier and bright green mint syrup (it tastes kinda like mouthwash), I will update you on what we've been doing these past few days!

Part One:  Monday, July 3rd
This was our rest day, which we spent enjoying Avignon.  What a glorious city!  If you have never had the luck to find yourself in Avignon, I can't recommend it highly enough.  History buffs / uber-Catholics among you may recall that the Papacy was briefly headquartered in Avignon, rather than Rome, for about a century in the 1300-1400s.  As such, it was turned into a magnificent limestone-walled city, complete with ramparts, towers, and a tremendous Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) overlooking it all.  Add that famous blazing Provencal sun, and you have an absolutely exquisite city to explore.  Adam and I enjoyed outdoor lunch in the main plaza, Place de L'Horloge, which allowed for some excellent people watching.  (One of our favorite games is:  Find the Americans!)  We then explored the Papal Palace, which had a modern art exhibit going on within its medieval walls -- a very interesting mix of old and new coexisting.  It was getting pretty hot by this point, so we cooled off in the wonderfully shady and misty park, Rocher des Doms, before going across the Pont d'Avignon (immortalized in a famous French children's song, for those of you who took elementary school French!)  Half of the bridge was swept away by a flood several hundred years ago and they never bothered to replace it, so now it just stretches halfway across the Rhone.  It was super interesting to learn about how it was built! We ended this splurge day with a splurge dinner at La Fourchette, known for having the best "daube avignonnaise" (a beef stew with onions, carrots, olives, and other Provencal flavors) in the city.  I had been craving daube for years, basically -- my French host dad, Henri-Jean, made it for me once during my study abroad and I had LOVED it -- so that was a pretty exciting way to end our rest day and get fueled up for the rides ahead!

Part Two:  The 4th of July!
Though today was Independence Day, we did not see a single American all day (and that has persisted to today).  It was certainly still a day to celebrate, however, because it was our first day spent almost entirely on protected bike paths (rather than country roads, as the ViaRhona typically is south of Avignon).  It was amazing to just cruise along without worrying about cars.  And what a path it was -- today really fulfilled all the hopes and dreams I had had while planning this trip:  of passing through small French towns, past beautiful farms, and around the river's twists and turns.  It was even better than I had imagined!  The path first took us through endless fields of farmland, bursting to the seams with sunflowers, apricots, peaches, apples, pears, zucchini, and all kinds of herbs, all with impossibly scenic French farmhouses and old stone walls throughout.  We also passed through at least three ridiculously adorable villages:  Roquemaure (where we had the best coffee eclair and lemon tart of our lives), Coderousse (where we did nothing but marvel at the cuteness), and Mornas (where we ate incredible pizza in an outdoor cafe under a medieval fortress and where I am almost certain that no American has been yet this year).  After lunch, however, it got WICKED hot, so we pedaled as hard as we could to get to our stopping point for the night:  a municipal campground in Chateauneuf-du-Rhone.  (Side note:  French municipal campgrounds are amazing!  They are clean, quiet, and friendly, and they cost us $10 for the whole night, and ours was right in the center of town.  Why doesn't the US have any of these??)  There, we met several friendly fellow bike tourers:  Brian, a Scotsman who is doing a month-long ride around Europe in celebration of his 65th birthday (amazing!) and a British couple from Manchester who were doing the ViaRhona in the opposite direction of us.  It was fun to exchange stories and advice!  We also cooked a rather gourmet dinner on our little Trangia campstove:  fish filets, fresh potatoes with parsley and garlic (all from a market in Avignon), and fresh greens.  Delicious!  We slept without the fly on our tent because it was still so hot, which meant that we could watch the stars from within our tent (eventually... since the sun doesn't set until WELL after 10 o'clock!  It's very disorienting when you are trying to go to bed early!)

Part Three:  Wednesday, July 5th
We thought YESTERDAY was hot... today, it got BRUTAL.  Fortunately, we had yet more gorgeous scenery and beautiful little towns to distract us, and we tried to start earlier so that we could beat the heat.  This mostly worked -- we got into Valence at around 2pm, a little later than we had wanted but definitely still nice and early!  Highlights of today's trail included riding RIGHT NEXT TO a giant nuclear power plant (like, we were about 20 feet from a cooling tower.  I don't think they let you get this close in the States!), riding over a one-person-wide suspension bridge from 100+ years ago into the medieval town of Rochemaure, the impressive limestone cliffs for which the Ardeche is famous, and long stretches of wooded pathways that made us realize just how much we appreciated TREES!  We pulled into Valence by riding over a large highway on a narrow sidewalk headed towards a huge industrial area, all of which was extremely hot and made me not very excited about Valence.  However, we magically emerged into a huge, verdant park topped with a lovely town square, and I realized that Valence would maybe be OK after all..

And it was!  We had an awesome lunch in this town square (mainly consisting of tons of cheese, as far as we both could tell, and endless bread bowls thanks to our understanding waiter, a fellow cyclist), then had an awesome nap in the gorgeous park (Parc Jouvet) in our new hammock (thanks, Barbara Ann!), then met our host for the night, Claire-Marie!  We found her through WarmShowers, an online hosting community (similar to Couchsurfing) targeted specifically to bike tourers. This was our first time staying with a WS host, and it was also Claire-Marie's first time hosting!  She was awesome -- incredibly friendly, generous, and helpful.  We washed off hours of sweat and sunscreen and then enjoyed a lovely dinner out on the town with her friend, Alicia.  Both of them were extremely kind, interesting, and also very good at speaking English (fortunately for Adam!).  We noticed that we had a lot of shared interests:  travel, energy policy, local foods, etc., and it was fascinating to hear their impressions of their new president, Macron.  And our meal was delicious, featuring the Valence delicacy of "ravioles"... kind of like tiny ravioli, filled with cheese and parsley.  Claire-Marie's apartment was huge, and her rooftop, where we hung our laundry to dry, had an amazing view of the city and the surrounding countryside!  We felt so lucky to have a comfortable place to sleep, and more importantly, two new friends!

Part Four:  Thursday, July 6th
After two days of riding in the extreme heat, we decided to give ourselves a break today and cut down our mileage (we've been doing about 40 miles per day so far), especially since it was supposed to get even harder today.  After fresh pastries from the patisserie downstairs from Claire-Marie's apartment (pistachio-chocolate and raspberry-coconut croissants... OMGOSH, amazing), we hit the road early and bid farewell to lovely Valence!  The Rhone is much narrower up here, and we enjoyed riding next to its bright teal twists and turns.  We finally gave in after passing our millionth apricot orchard and stole some to eat (they had already fallen on the ground anyways...), and we started riding past many hilltop vineyards.  Even after stopping for sandwiches in St. Villiers, we still made it to our campsite in Andance very early (too early, in fact... the owners were on their lunch break!)  It was amazing to spend the afternoon relaxing in the pool!  I just couldn't imagine biking any more in this heat.  Yet another meal of campfire pasta (sprinkled with local veggies and meat) will give us the energy for our push to Lyon tomorrow!

After completing the Provencal leg of our journey, I can't help but feel overwhelmed by how lucky we are to be here together.  So many of the beautiful places we've seen are spots that we would never have even noticed if we had whizzed by in a car on the autoroute, and places that most tours would overlook.  I feel like we are seeing the REAL France, just a little before tourist season really starts in full, free of Americans (ha!).  It has been a real joy to reflect on some of the things that made me first fall in love with France when I lived here 9 years ago:  their love of good, fresh, homecooked, LOCAL and SEASONAL foods; the ways in which they economize in daily life so they can more fully enjoy more important things (like vacation homes in the south of France, which everyone seems to have...), the coexistence of old and new and the respect for things that are old (rather than the American desire to have NEW things all the time), and their more relaxed approach to life.  I have also been enjoying practicing my French, and all the locals have been surprised to discover that I'm an American!  Adam has been learning a lot as we go along, although I am still the translator in most conversations.  Speaking of Adam, since this is our honeymoon, I just have to gush for a second about how amazingly supportive he has been throughout this entire journey.  There have certainly been some moments of struggle in between all the beauty and adventure (mostly caused by hunger and heat), and he patiently and selflessly approaches each of those moments with kindness and compassion.  It has been really fun to see our partnership develop into a bike touring team, each person playing different roles and taking on different responsibilities.  We are having more and more fun each day and living up every moment!

And now, onto my former French home of Lyon!  I can't wait to show Adam around my favorite haunts :-)  A bientot!














Comments

Where are we now?

Legend

  • Red = We're going to bike that
  • Purple = We're biking that now
  • Grey = We biked that!
  • Black = We decided not to go that way
  • Yellow = We took a train
  • Magenta = We took a plane

Popular posts from this blog

Brittany and Normandy: France's Northern Coast

The Past Four Days!

Close Encounters of the French Kind