Wednesday, December 29, 2010

St Remy de Provence

We weren't in a hurry to leave for St Remy, Arles was like an old friend that required a longer goodbye. She still had a lot to reveal to us but the market was calling us and we needed to add some of its delights to the boot of our Citroen for our week in St Remy. As we walked the stalls of the market, my eyes were drawn to some of the architecture nearby. You can see the early Roman influence, the protectional fortifications of the city walls and then the more recent memorials to the soldiers and local residents that sacrificed their lives in WWII.
How fortunate are we to be born in Australia where our major conflicts were outside our boundaries. Our young men fought for King and Motherland elsewhere to seek adventure and to see the world.

St Remy lies north of Arles and east of Tarascon.
The Apilles mountains surround the town on the outskirts.

We arrived at St Remy and this cafe became our regular stopping off point most days. Occasionally  we would walk up from our villa after dinner to absorb the local atmosphere in the square with an espresso and a liqueur on the balmy nights. How good is that?
It was about mid-day when we finally arrived back at the car with our shopping bags full of produce. The drive to St Remy was easy and we were ahead of time giving us an opportunity to become familiar with our surroundings for the next week. We needed a vino and so we found a cafe/bar in the local square. A place that we would be come more familiar with over the next week. We rang Josianne, the lady whom would be our landlady. We also found our villa and I'm sure I saw Josianne or her husband Louis driving by in their Renault, or was it a Citroen van.

Sue looks from her kitchen window.

Looking down the street where we stayed.
 As you opened the door, you needed to carefully look up the street before
actually walking onto the street.
 St Remy attracted our attention as a place to stay due to its interesting history. It was where Van Gogh spent a year (1889-90) at the St Paul de Mausole Hospital. He produced up to 150 paintings, many of which you can see reproductions around the village at the points where he painted them.
Nostradamus was born in St Remy in 1503 - there is a small fountain and a bust of his image tucked away within the small streets in the old village.

Van Gogh spent his latter years at St Remy producing a major part of his most famous work here.

Starry Night by Vincent.

St Remy was the early home of Nostradamus - this portrait painted by his son.

The Nostradamus fountain.

St Remy has a few of the ancient Ports or entrances still existing.

Another feature we were to be amazed by was the Roman ruins of Glanum which were unearthed as recently as 1921. The settlement dates back before the first century BC.
With a population of 11,000, it was just the size that made the place comfortable. Not too small and certainly not too big. In a few days you became familiar with your surroundings.

Parts of Glanum that were always visible - the actual settlement is across the road in a lower lying area and wasn't discovered until 1921.
Eventually we met Josianne at the appointed time outside the villa. She was so full of life and enthusiasm to meet us. She showed us around the villa with a sense of pride and explained how things worked. Before leaving us to relax, she invited us to join her and her husband for drinks a few days on.

The small courtyard was a wonderful spot to end our days with a glass of wine.
It offered a windless area as the warm Provence sun was setting.

How could I not add a picture of a bike?
I found this hanging on a wall in a small lane way of St Remy.
I finally had an opportunity now to unpack my bike for the first time and reassemble it for my first ride. Either walking or riding a bike gives the best way to explore your surroundings. I prefer the bike and as you ride, you take in the smells, sounds and the local atmosphere that you can't experience in the car.

This would be our home for the next week - what would St Remy and the surrounding areas of Provence offer us? Visit next Wednesday.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Festive Weekend

There was a time when our children were so excited about Christmas that we were woken at some ungodly hour of the morning before sunrise - today we need to drag our 22 and 25 year old out of bed by playing loud (very) Christmas carols.
It was a hugely over indulgent Christmas this year starting with breakfast at our home with close relatives. Fresh fruit platters and ham, pate and fresh bread rolls were washed down with Champagne and orange juice under the filtered shade of the flowering Jacaranda tree in our backyard.

Fresh fruit for a sunny Christmas morning breakfast with family.

Talking to my Father under the shade of the Jacaranda.
 After sending them all home around 10ish, it was time to prepare for the lunch which was also at our home.
Nine of us sat around the extended dining room table with turkey, pork and the most delicious baking tray of roast vegetables smothered in gravy. Desert of course was the traditional pudding or a trifle (or both if you were up to it by then).

Pork and Turkey for Christmas lunch with family.
 By mid afternoon the chairs, couches and even the floor seemed to be littered with relining bodies suffering from an over indulgence of superb food and wine.

Plating up by my Sister in-law Jan while Bro in-law carves.
 An early night might have been the wise thing to do but "Back to the Future III" was on TV and I just needed to watch it one more time.

Boxing day allowed me to burn off a few calories with an early morning ride before getting organised to visit friends, Peter and Lawrence on the other side of town - they live in Croydon at the foothills of Mount Dandenong.
Lawrence owns a horse called Maz. Sue loves horses and pre-me she loved riding regularly. I thought she would enjoy meeting my cycling friends and their horse. Prior to visiting Maz, we were treated to a great BBQ of meat and grilled veggies, yum, yum. Yes, more food.................

Maz being pampered by Lawrence and Sue.

Maz - a very affectionate horse with a lovely personality and so gorgeous.
 Maz is agisted in the northern hill country of Wonga Park. Its an area that has fond memories for me in my early cycling days. The rolling hills and views over the valleys are magic and I've cycled many kms there as a teenager and my 20s something period. Kangas and wallabies still bound through the hills.
As much as the Bay area is where Sue and I love living, the hills are still very special to me.

It's been a very enjoyable two days of Christmas and Boxing day - hope yours was the same.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Today is Christmas day and our home is the gathering place for the family this year. Typically it will be warm and the BBQ will be in action, well the Weber actually which reminds me I need to start the coals going soon.

Usually being Saturday I would post an Australian song so here we have Jingle Bells Australian style and Olivier Newton John from 1966 sing "Christmas Down Under"and probably one of her first TV appearances.

Have a happy and safe festive season to all our readers. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Avignon and Arles

The TGV trip to Avignon this time was uneventful. We were on time with the short walk across the street to Gare de Lyon. We had seats in a quiet carriage which allowed us to enjoy some reading between glances out the window. The scenery changed as were travelled at 300 kph towards our return to the familiar south of France.

How comfortable is the TGV - such an easy way to travel between regional cities of France.
Why the Australian Government can't get their future vision together
and introduce this form of travel is beyond me!
It's a bit like their procrastination with fibre optic broadband.

Looming to the left of us was the giant of the south, Mount Ventoux and a little further on as we drew close to our destination was the Rhone snaking itself toward Arles.

The TGV slowed to the speed of a normal train as it arrived at Avignon and I was getting excited with the prospect of picking up our leased Citroen C4 from Jose. We met Jose under more stressful conditions in 2006. Jose is a very relaxed person. I would say not much fazes him. He drove us from the station into Avignon to pick up the C4. I filled the tank with Gazol and asked where was the best place to park when we return to spend a day in Avignon, “Why right here at my garage,” said Jose, “We are just opposite the city walls and the entrance.” What a generous man!
We waved goodbye as we left for a night in Arles.

For us, Arles was once again a stopping off point to somewhere else. In 2006 it was the overnight stay for Saint Chinian in the Languedoc, this time a stopover before our week in Saint Remy. Both Saint Remy and Arles claim ownership of Van Gogh.

We stayed a night in Arles at the Hotel Constantin just outside the old historic part of town.
 From the Arles website
The first recorded inhabitation in Arles was by Greek-Phoenicians in the 6th century BC - the town was originally called Theline. In the 1st century BC the region came under the legislation of the Romans. And it was in 102 BC, that Gaius Marius started to construct the Fossae Marianae, a canal that ran parallel to the river Rhône from Arelate (Roman Arles) to the sea. During this period Arles became one of the most prosperous towns in France through its trade as a commercial port.

We stayed at Hotel Constantin on Boulevard Craponne just outside the old town, only a short walk away from the morning market. We selected the hotel mainly due to free parking and the low cost. The hotel served its purpose very well (for one night) and the owners of the hotel were most helpful and assisted us with our bags. They were chatty and charming although the room was a bit like us – tired and a little ruffled around the edges.

The attraction of Arles to us is partly Van Gogh’s history and in particular the eight weeks that Gauguin stayed here with him. I actually preferred Gauguin’s work to Van Gogh’s and he certainly was more successful than Vincent during his own lifetime.

The Roman-Gallo ruins and the slow running Rhone beside Arles make it a must-see town with its small twisting streets. On our previous visit, we'd seen the Roman Amphitheatre and the Arena but decided another look was worth the effort. What we hadn't seen and we just happened to stumbled upon it, was the Museon Arlaten on Rue de la Republique.
It was established in 1896 by Frederick Mistral, Nobel prize winner in 1904. The museum is built around the most amazing remains of a Roman Forum and the main building has rooms displaying the life of the traditional folk people in Provence and specifically in and around Arles.

Statue of Frederick Mistral Nobel Prize Winner 1904 and the man who established Museon Arlaten.

Looking down upon the remains of a Roman Forum within Museon Arlaten.

A better view of the two eras of buildings.
Many of the Roman relics and statues are on display at the Museum.

Believed to be a life size bust of an aging Julius Caesar - it was discovered in the river bed of the Rhone among many other Roman artifacts and is now housed within one of the Arles Museums

Another place that fascinated us was a building no more that 50 metres from our hotel. It was deserted, overgrown with shrubs and trees. The roof was full of holes and it looked like the occasional homeless person may have taken refuge there. We were told that Arles has very little in the way of finances to restore and preserve its many treasures and this building on of those that had been neglected. It sits just outside the old town on Place Jose Reyes which is no more than a car park beside the building.

Just another interesting doorway in the many streets of Arles.

We decided dinner at a restaurant was what we needed and we booked in at the same place where we ate two years ago on Rue Doct Fanton. Back then it was a balmy Provence night and we ate al fresco. This time we ate inside, as it was a little cooler and wet.

Before moving on to Saint Remy de la Provence, Sue needed to stock up on some produce for our stay in the Villa that would be our home for the next week.
After the market it was time for a leisurely drive to Saint Remy less than an hour away. We were looking forward to finding our new home for the next week and also meeting our hosts, Josianne and Louie.

Next Wednesday starts our adventure of a week in Saint Remy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We're having a bit of a purple patch

A purple patch is a period of time when someone
 or something is successful and doing well.
Well, that's what our garden is doing at the moment - rain, sunshine, more rain and our garden is blooming. It's the best its been for years since the drought has broken. We have a Jacaranda tree that covers our back yard in an umbrella of purple blossom.
The Agapanthus are opening up to the warmth of summer and the lavender is creeping outside its normal boundaries.
It could be said that we are going through a purple patch.

The back yard invites us to what we hope will be many meals with friends on the new BBQ.

The wisteria continues to spread purple as well.
The Agapanthas guard the pathway.

The Agapanthus outside our bay window

There are other colours on our property -but maybe for another day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Song - Tina Arena

Tina Arena
I posted about Tina last Saturday and she is the first feature of Saturday Song.

She's an Australian Diva - she started on a TV show called Johnny Young's Young Talent Time.
Her family came out from Italy, well her father did and then married her mother by proxy while she was still at home in Sicily.
Tina is a most incredibly talented person who is well recieved in France - her life partner is French.
I have a few of her CDs but only recently have I discovered her history - watch this marvelous clip from our local program - Rock Wiz. If you follow the links you may find more duets from Australian artists, OR you can wait until I post more on Saturdays.

Our local ethnic station SBS broadcasts programs from all over Europe and Asia as well as local. They recently have produced an Australian series on "Who do you think you are" and last Sunday they featured Tina Arena. It was incredibly moving. If after watching Tina sing and you would like to know more about her ancestory (it explains a lot about who she and her family is) then go and get a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy the program, but have a box of tissues beside you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Funk Friday Foto

Tell me this isn't Funky
While on our recent bayside ride we met our 50s beach girl.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Flying Singapore this time we arrived at CDG and although we had less luggage this time, well clothes that is, I had a bike bag with my bike broken down into its most basic form. That's the way it would stay until we reached Saint Remy de Provence.

Returning to Paris had a familiar feeling - while waiting for Paris Transit to pick us up, this time we knew the drill. We weren't fazed by things that didn't happen as expected - we went with the flow and enjoyed the journey.

On arriving at our hotel, we were too early to take our room so we stored our luggage at the hotel and then decided to walk to the nearest cafe to absorb the Parisian lifestyle that we had come to appreciate two years ago.
As I write this, my mind takes me back to sitting in an outside table with Sue having our Petit dejeuner. Ahhh, we are back in Paris.
People were on the way to work. Overcoats, scarves and umbrellas tucked under arms. Bicycle commuters, cars, taxis, motorcycles and scooters buzzing by our cafe table as we sat in the crisp spring morning. The city was alive and here we were when thirty hours ago we stepped on a plane in Melbourne.

Blue Train Restaurant - why didn't we blow our Euros on a meal here before we left for Provence.

Across the road was Gare de Lyon and this time there would be no mistakes. We surveyed the station which brought back vivid memories of missing our train due to a late taxi arrival. We were told that there was an excellent restaurant (Blue Train) within the station but we were too tired and decided on a snack before putting our head on the pillow.

Paris in Spring - Sue enjoys a chilly but sunny spring morning at the Jardin des Plantes.

Jardin des Plantes is in the 5th Arrondissement on the left bank of the Seine - it covers 28 acres.

The Museum of National History stands at the end as people promenade in the gardens.

There were still a few late bloomers within the gardens - this tree is yet to enjoy spring.
 The next morning we wanted to just wander the streets and renew acquaintances with Paris. Leaving our hotel we took Boulevard Diderot and crossed the Pont d' Austerlitz to Jardin des Plantes. The gardens were our agenda - it was spring and the plants were beginning to bloom. We'd enjoyed Luxembourg Gardens on our previous visit in the autumn of 2006. These gardens were different but just as enjoyable, we must have spent a few hours there.

Hotel de Sens
From there we took a walk back across the Seine to the Marais, a bit of a favourite of ours. It was our first visit to Hotel de Sens, not our last. We've been back to say hello. It's one of the buildings that escaped Baron Hausmann's "New Paris".
Interesting Facts: from
* Built between 1475 and 1519, the medieval residence originally housed the archbishops of Sens, the order of bishops that Paris belonged to during the middle ages.
* The mixed architectural styles visible in the Hôtel de Sens show the transition that occured between medieval and Renaissance styles over the course of the hôtel's construction.
* Henri IV's ex-wife, Queen Margot, took up residence in 1605. Known for her eccentricity and lavish tastes, Queen Margot pursued many love affairs here. She is even rumored to have collected the hair of her lovers to fashion wigs from them.

What is Paris without visiting Notre Dame?

Two nights in Paris and the TGV takes us to Avignon to pick up our leased Citroen C4,
an upgrade from our C3 in 2006. We even renewed acquaintances with Jose who met us on the previous trip. More about Jose next week.

More next Wednesday - A night in Arles

Sunday, December 12, 2010


We've lived in Mentone for close on thirty years now. When we moved in we were in our 30s and the people across the road were the old folks (as we will be in the next decade) in the street. They made us feel very welcome.
Before they built there, they said the block of land was occupied by an old humpie, a makeshift house that a hermit lived in.
Our street runs off a main thoroughfare of three lanes either way. It also has a service road either side of the highway. I remember as a young fella that this service road was then a dirt track.
At one time the famous Beach Road where 1000s of cyclists train over the weekend was just a dirt, or sand track.
What am I trying to say here - well over the years, there's been a lot of changes in Mentone, some good and some not so good. We've lost a lot of great architecture in the cause of progress. The Mentone Theatre is gone, along with the skating rink. The old station signal box is no more.
We do however have some very nice cafe's, good coffee shops and some specialty food shops now. We had a hardware, timber yard where I purchased many of the renovation materials we needed for our new home. This business lost its customers as the huge Bunnings store moved into the area. It became a gym and now a multi-level complex of shops and apartments is being built. Things change.......

Todays post consists of photos of what Mentone used to look like over the years.

Mentone Post Office - no longer.

Mentone Theatre - no longer.

Mentone railway signal box - no longer.

Mentone Recreational Hall - no longer.

Mentone Skating Rink - no longer.

1951 and the Mentone Theatre is the very large building to the left. We live across the main highway and I can just pick out our house which was built in 1929. The original owners of our house most probably walked across the road to see the greats of the silver screen.

Possibly taken in the 50s, this is Mentone shopping village. The building in the background with the tower was originally the Mentone Coffee Palace, now Kilbreda Ladies College.
I love the old signs on the shops - Barnes honey, Robur tea and further down, the Herald newspaper outside the Mentone newsagency - The Hearald was the afternoon paper with The Sun being the morning newspaper. Both have joined to become one. At the time, Melbourne had three main newspapers, The other two were the Age and the Argus.

The Mentone Hotel is and always has been a unique landmark of our suburb. Several renovations has seen it survive the many Hotels on Beach Road that no longer exist or have been turned into apartments now.

A very early photo of Beach road when it was just a bush track

Mentone Beach 1929, the year our house was built. On the foreshore is the Mentone sea baths and just to the left is the impressive Mentone Hotel.
Wednesday's post - Two days in Paris