Home again

We arrived into a dark and foggy morning here in Auckland and 5c temperatures. Lovely to be back and especially on a day that gradually put on its best dress for us: sunny, blue, no wind.

Naturally, I went to bed.

The homeward journey was greatly improved (for me) by an upgrade to business class for the first 12 hour leg of journey. I made full use of the lounge at Heathrow:

And wiled away a few hours there while Helen roamed the terminal and sat in departure lounge. Business class meant the unheard of delight of being able to lie down in some comfort- and I managed to sleep for much of this leg.

At LA we actually had to change planes which meant not only did we have to go through the interminable immigration process (we were transit passengers!) but we had to retrieve our bags and put them on another Air New Zealand flight. I won’t complain though – the man ahead of us at the check-in desk was none other than Sheriff Longmire from the excellent series on Netflix- i missed greeting him, sadly.

After another less comfortable 12 hours we arrived home early this morning. I’m pretty spaced out and feel like I’m walking in a daze. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Last full day in Ireland and a trip into the country

I’m starting with the last bit which was the best: meeting this gregarious and voluble butcher – Isaac Lett by name.

More on that later.

We set off on the Graylines coach for a day’s jaunt around Wicklow and Glendalough. Some 30 years ago my friend Cathy and I had stayed in a hostel nearby and I remember the stone tower clearly.

It was a full bus and the driver a chatty Englishman called Richie. He kept up a lively monologue and in betweentimes played Irish ballads. Helen and I have decided we don’t like ballads.

We wound up to Enniskerry through narrow winding roads, overhung by trees and hugging the hedgerows.

It looked a bit like Scotland at times.

At one point we were shown a trickle of water that would prove to be the start of the mighty river Liffey:

Then stopped to view the ‘Guiness Lake’ – a wonderful dark peaty lake in green surrounds.

As the sun lifted the mists away it was lovely to see.

On we rumbled from the highest town in Ireland down towards Glendalough – where an ancient monkish city is now a tourist attraction complete with visitor’s centre and carpark. (Unlike 30 yrs ago).

We wandered from the ruins to a boardwalk that circles the lake. Very pretty – and busy with walks – all around here.

I returned and paid to view the exhibits inside.

We pushed on down to Avoca – and stopped at Tinnahinch for a late pub lunch – ham steak and pineapple for me, cottage pie for Helen.

On the way back to the bus a butcher came out of his shop to chat – very funny and friendly. Who would have guessed he’d been a bikie in the past! He even knew and revered the notorious Hell’s Angels in NZ. He insisted on the photos and forgave us for flooding the UK market with NZ lamb. Although he’d never stock it himself of course.

What a great trip!

Nearly the end of the adventure – second-to-last day in Dublin

Yesterday was Sunday in the middle of the long weekend here, so the place is throbbing with people. We set off by DART – the local train – to the coast at Howth. On board with us were families all bound for what we thought was the beach. You can tell the Dubliners here – they’re the ones in sleeveless summer dresses or skimpy tops.

Anyhoo, at Howth we disembarked to find most people went straight off to one of many seafood restaurants. By the time we reached the end of the pier only a scattering of others joined us.

We walked back and went on around to a tiny low-tide beach where a few children shivered in knee-deep water as their parents watched from further back.

I think we missed a much nicer beach over a set of stairs on other side of train tracks.

That evening we were entertained soundly at the Brazen Head – the oldest pub in Dublin.

What we were after was traditional music so were a tad disappointed it was not. Tonight we’re heading out to find it.

This morning we have walked miles! To St Stephens Green after coffee at Bewley’s:

St Stephens Green is a great patch of lush park in the heart of city:

Then off to find U2’s old pub. We went by tram

And saw a hilarious yellow viking boat bus complete with horned tourists on the way.

No pub left out by Windmill Lane but some great dights.

Home to rest and now out to find music!

Dublin!

Short post to say we did a bit of traveling today and finally ended up at this cosy b&b in Dublin – arriving at 7pm. Before we could say Jack O’Shannesay our gregarious landlady swept us off in her car, along with two German guests, dropping us in the heart of the city. This could account for our slightly stunned looks.

Anyhoo, we’ve stumbled around Temple Bar area through seething masses of partying and excited ‘young’ people (I never thought I’d be different myself) and finally ended up having dinner at a contemporary deli cum food hall.

We realised we were finally eating when the French were – at what to our body clocks was 9.15pm. Then after failing to secure a bus we’ve taxied home, had a great cup of hot tea, and at 11.15pm (French time) are in our respective beds.

Tomorrow is another day.

31 May Glanum and our last full day 1 June spent searching for lavender

Yesterday we stayed in St Remy and drove up to the extensive and amazing ruins of the ancient Hellenistic and Roman city of Glanum. I have never felt such a sense of walking in the ancients’ footsteps as I did following the Via Appia up here.

It is all so very THERE still – from columns to drains to homes with little steps.

Afterward we purchased items from the Italian deli and ate them under overcast skies at our hotel patio.

In the evening we had cocktails and dinner at a different restaurant – my beef tartare in burger very good.

Today was the first gloriously blue day in a week and we set off hoping to find the lavender in bloom surrounding the Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque. Of course it was not, but it was a beautiful sight nevertheless.

We followed our noses up the hills and to our utter delight found a town we’d not heard about that ticked all the boxes: Venasque! A hilltop fortified walled town with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

Even better, we found balcony seats at a delightful cafe where we had great coffee and lunch.

I even had to try lavender ice cream (delish) to make up for missing the real flowers earlier.

We ambled through town loving the whole experience.

On our way out and through surrounding fields I turned to the side and lo and behold LAVENDER! A miracle!

We felt very much as if it was OUR day!

We are back relaxing and preparing to pack after a refreshing swim in the pool. Glad we are leaving on such an up note. What a wonderful time we’ve had in Provence!

Wednesday was a trip to Cassis and my first glimpse of the Mediterranean

To market to market to buy a fine horse! Markets everywhere – we left St Remy which had their weekly market in full swing, to travel 2 hours south west to the coastal town of Cassis. The motorways were fast but a bit knuckle-clenching, and we discovered the toll booths and spent some panicked moments interpreting instructions in french. After a wrong turn that delayed us 30 mins we were finally gliding downhill into another lively market at Cassis.

Thunder sounded overhead and the rain poured down and we made our way in to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

Afterwards, in clearing skies, we lined up and boarded a boat for a two-hour trip out to view the Calanques. Sooo worth doing!

By this time the sun was beating down on us and we applied sun lotion and glasses and spent the next two-hours in awe of the limestone cliffs listening to an unintelligible commentary which was full of interesting facts, I’m sure.

Lots of caves, coves and deep emerald or indigo water.

We made it back to port just as the skies became overcast and after some shopping headed up the steep slope out, Helen driving. At one point a campervan coming down swung right over into our lane and had Helen’s reflexes not been quick we’d have been hit. As it was we drew shakily out of the verge where we’d been forced and on up the hill.

This is where the boat went – ignore the road line – you can see Marseille around the corner.

We got food from supermarket and relaxed at the hotel after a very exciting day.

A down day and then the Luberon

Yesterday rained which gave us the perfect excuse to take it easy. We made our way in to St Remy and wandered separately then met for lunch. It’s a common practise here to close up the shops between 1 and 3pm for a long leisurely lunch. Then dinner at 8pm.

The afternoon was spent reading.

Today we had our European breakfast here and then drove off to investigate the high bowl of hills and fertile plain called the Luberon.

The first of the three quaint hill towns we visited was Roussillon. A RED rock town high on some wonderful cliffs.

We had a coffee – still haven’t found one anything like the kiwi ‘flat white’. Then we set off for nearby Gordes – the cream clay town.

It, too, was up a hill – and to my horror I found myself following instructions through the heart of a country market. I had to drive through here:

Once we parked and in the market on foot it was wonderful. Purchased another top and we bought a sausage chopped into a bread stick and enjoyed it on seat in the shade:

It was pretty hot by now. Winding down through the valley we found cute little Goult – up another hill – parked and walked around.

There was no one in the streets – the shutters were closed. ALL the townsfolk must have been clustered in the one lively restaurant doing a roaring trade under umbrellas by the parking lot. I found I was required to drive between the buildings and could have touched the houses on either side as I negotiated out of town.

We’re having beer in the lounge area of our hotel now and preparing to go into St Remy to Cafe de la Place for a casual dinner.

Bon appetite!

Two wheels instead of four

We set off a little later today – weather overcast – deciding to do a cycle around the local roads. As we prepared to set off it became apparent that some sort of parade was about to circle the town. Streets were cut off, police were dotted at intervals around. I asked one policeman and managed to gather it involved horses. We also saw some beautiful traditional costumes being worn. Took these two on their way to the start:

We’d rented ebikes for half a day but spent the first hour of that waiting to see what would show up. It was worth it.

Just after 11 sis and I set off to do a flattish circular route that lasts 2.5 hours. The thing is, it’s pretty hard to follow instructions in English-is-a-second language. And we’re already disoriented. Still – as this Map-MyRide shows (and thank the Lord for THAT) all the hairy little lines heading away were corrected.

We managed a 40 km ride and even stopped for lunch in a village in the foothills. It was a great bit of exercise and a good way to see the countryside.

The rain even held off! Had a swim upon our return and have taken it easy since. (Crepes at a wee family restaurant for dinner).

Abbaye de Montmajour and some more Vincent at Arles

The good times keep rolling on. Today it was raining when we sat eating our breakfast and contemplated the things to do today. Decided to continue our appreciation of Van Gogh’s genius by visiting some of his paintings at Arles. On the way we stopped off at this old – mostly Medieval – abbey. Notable for its ‘dug into stone’ graves.

The chapel inside was beautifully adept at making our voices roll around – it must have been glorious when the monks all sang together here.

Outside there were wide views towards Arles and the flat plains between.

It was only another ten minute drive to Arles where we parked and found a coffee. These streets are every bit as winding and intriguing as Avignon but poorer somehow. I really liked them.

Here we found an authentic market selling vegies, food, meats etc to the locals: it felt less tourist-focussed. We bought some items for a picnic lunch and proceeded on to the Van Gogh museum/gallery. Very glorious to be able to absorb some of his paintings up close:

We made our way to the banks of the Rhone and dangled our legs over eating our lunch and appreciating the millenia that man has done just this in this very spot. So many ancient Roman ruins everywhere!

We have driven back and swum in the pool. Bliss.

A fountain out of a mountain and Van Gogh

Yesterday was spent driving to the delightful wee town of Isle sur Sorgue. I had to negotiate a tight knot in the roads leading to the town and drove around the roundabout a few times. Once there though, the emerald green river flows through the town in canals and we continued through the village, going uphill to find the source of the water at Vaucluse. We parked in a leafy carpark and followed the wide waters of the river uphill past a waterwheel that pounds pulp for the papermill.

There are covered stalls along this wide pathway – both of us happy in the knowledge that we had beaten the main rush of tourists. At the top of the path is a deep, still pool of emerald clear water sitting at the base of a pink wall of rocky mountainside.

I cannot describe the serene minutes we spent here, in mesmerised contemplation of the water rushing from the spring downhill. We could see it oozing out of other spots as we descended.

All in all, one of my favourite spots on this whole trip.

When we reached the little town of Vaucluse we had a cool drink overlooking the waters.

Then a bit of shopping and we got back in the car to go down to Isle sur Sorgue and lunch. What a charming antiques town it proved to be too. No antique shops open but plenty of street stalls and charming back streets.

Eventually we stopped at a riverside table and enjoyed a lunch special of asian origin which was very tasty.

Upon leaving town we wound through tiny country lanes barely wide enough for the car. Came back to relax by pool and eat bought deli items for dinner.

Today – Friday 25 May – was ‘discover Vincent van Gogh Day”. This town we are staying in (St Remy) is where he spent some time, particularly at a hospital for his mental disorders. There is a museum in the heart of the old town which gives a short outline of the artist and his influences. We started there, picking up a map to continue a journey up the hill to the sanatorium where he stayed. All the way along were paintings in noticeboards with quotes from his letters beside them.

It was a lovely walk uphill and so good to see the influences on his paintings right at hand.

We shared the path with many school children on assignment. Soon the stately entrance to the hospital opened up before us.

Inside were many posters of his work. A rather melancholy statue of him stands at the entrance clutching sunflowers.

Best of all, his room which he mentioned in his letters to his brother, and the view he must have stared out from so often.

It was not too bad a spot to spend some time.

Walking out to face a long downhill progression to the car, we noted the immense Roman ruins over the road. These will have to wait for another day!

Helen and I lunched in St Remy at a sweet little bistro which featured a chatty parrot.

We have both swum in the hotel pool and feel a pleasant sense of having used the hours well.