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Back to the Med! Avignon and western Provence part II

Tuesday's market was in Vaison-la-Romaine, not far from the area we had covered the previous day. This pretty town spans both banks of the river Ouvèze, and contains some well-preserved Roman ruins. The market was in the modern town on the northern bank and sprawled down several side streets so that even after two hours we weren't sure we had seen everything.
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We crossed an ancient bridge to the old town, known as the Cité Médiévale, where we were greeted with the familiar sight of a steep cobblestone road heading uphill. We pressed ahead but were stopped short of the hilltop château and its vaunted views as the road turned into a rocky dirt path that would have been decidedly unfriendly to our strollers. Instead we elected to have a very good lunch on the outdoor patio of La Fête en Provence.
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The road took us all the way to the top of the hill at our next stop, Venasque, which spared us from having to use all our newly-acquired calories to push the strollers. The kids arose from their naps just in time to blow off some energy at a pretty playground just outside the walls of the old town. Inside the walls, there were only a few streets to explore. The ancient houses were draped in vines and wisteria. We found a small cafe in the central square where we enjoyed some of the local specialty, cherry juice.
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Our last stop of the day before dinner was Gordes, the town we had fallen short of two days earlier. Most of Gordes spills down a hillside and the old town is filled with staircases, so the strollers limited the amount of exploration we could accomplish. We satisfied ourselves by walking around the imposing 16th century castle and a few side streets. On the way out of town was a roadside vantage point with a great view of the town.
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I mulled over dinner choices for a while, mainly using TripAdvisor, and eventually settled on Le Carré d'Herbes back in L'Isle sur la Sorgue. We enjoyed revisiting the lovely river town in the quiet late afternoon without the mobs of market shoppers, and the dinner was one of the ten best of our trip.
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We got turned around leaving the restaurant in the darkness and had to walk three quarters of the way around the island to find the Iceberg. It was late once we got back and I decided to look for a parking spot outside our building. Surprisingly, I found one that was just large enough for the van and a friendly guy on the street helped me back in. Unfortunately during one of the many switches between going forward and reversing into the spot, I stepped on the wrong pedal and backed the Iceberg into the corner of a metal barricade. I was rewarded with the loud crack of a plastic brake light housing. Once parked, I inspected the damage and convinced myself that the rental company might not notice the crack when I dropped off the van. As I carried Ian across the street he pointed at the van and exclaimed in a horrified voice "Look! Broken!" In spite of the sour ending, our fourth day in the Avignon area had been a solid success.

The next day we headed west across the Rhone and back into Languedoc. The Wednesday market in the medieval town of Uzès occupied a spacious central square, which made it easier to navigate with the strollers. It was one of the better markets we had been to for cheese and fruits, as well as gourmet delicacies. There were also plenty of sidewalk cafes, and we were able to self-cater a late breakfast from the market with drinks at a cafe.
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Uzès was a pleasant town to explore as well, with smooth cobblestone streets winding between ancient buildings of beige sandstone. Outside of the town's castle, Le Duché, Cleo suddenly announced she had to pee. Not seeing any cafes or other obvious bathroom locations nearby, Mei Ling took Cleo behind a parked car. Cleo doesn't control her bladder very well yet. The proprietress of a flower shop overheard us discussing the plan and came over to take us to task for letting Cleo pee in the street. Then she made a big show of coming out with a bucket of water and pouring it over Cleo's little puddle, ignoring three or four large piles of dog feces on the way.
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Unfortunately, the highly-recommended medieval garden was closed at the time we were in Uzès. Here's a beautifully written article about the city I came across while doing my research.

We moved on to another small village with a long name, La Roque-sur-Cèze. We wisely chose to forgo the strollers and climbed the irregular cobblestones up to the top of the rocky hill the town is perched on. We absorbed the atmosphere and views and then polished off our remaining purchases from the Uzès market at the bank of the Cèze.
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After the picnic we took a fifteen minute walk down a dirt path to Les Cascades du Sautadet, a small area of shallow rapids and dipping pools in the Cèze. The waters have a reputation for being dangerous, so swimming was out of the question. I was so nervous about the kids slipping into one of the many cracks between the rocks I could barely snap a couple of quick pictures.
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We doubled back to the river Gardon, southeast of Uzès, to explore the enormous Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. It's a very touristy spot, with a large visitor center and parking lot set about a fifteen minute walk from the aqueduct itself. The reward for the kids was the chance to wade in the river and toss pebbles in every direction.
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We played around at Pont du Gard for quite a while, so by the time we had changed the kids and gotten back to the car it was already time for dinner. I'd planned to see some of the Roman ruins at Nîmes but by the time we arrived it was dark and we decided to just go ahead and eat. The food at the restaurant we chose was decent but nothing special. At one point I had to lunge for one of the kids who was about to do something unspeakable and my hand slapped Mei Ling's glass, which splattered red wine onto the matte beige wall next to us. Fortunately we saved the glass from falling and the waitress didn't seem to notice the interesting new design on the wall. It was another long day and late night for us in the Avignon area.

Posted by zzlangerhans 18:25 Archived in France Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Avignon and western Provence part I

Our goal for our stay in Avignon was to visit a different farmer's market every day of the week and to explore as many of the surrounding small towns as we could. That meant getting up every day at seven and getting on the road by nine, since the Provence markets generally close around one in the afternoon and are often losing steam by noon. Saturday morning we took a quick spin through Avignon's own weekly farmer's market but found it rather sparse, so we soon got on the road to the famous Saturday market in Arles.
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The Arles market lived up to its reputation, boasting stalls laden with fresh vegetables, various types of meats and sausages, and cheeses along a lengthy street in the center of town. We betrayed our inexperience by dawdling too long at the beginning. By the time we reached the second half of the market, the vendors were already starting to pack up. Nevertheless, it was a great introduction to the farmer's markets of Provence.
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We'd managed to consume enough snacks and samples at the market to keep the wolves of hunger at bay, so when we passed a small playground on the way into the old town we allowed the kids to have a little fun. We ended up having a little fun ourselves as well.
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The most famous sight in Arles' old town is the well-preserved two thousand-year-old amphitheatre, which is still used for bullfights and dramatic performances. The rest of the old town was pleasant enough but we didn't find anything that caused us to regret not having made Arles an overnight destination.
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From Arles, we continued southward into the Camargue. This unique wetland is full of activities like boat rides and horseback trails for normal travelers, but I had struggled to find a way to experience it with the three little ones. Eventually I settled on the Parc Ornithologique du Pont De Gau, a large bird sanctuary, and it proved to be a good choice. We enjoyed walking the trails and looking at the huge flocks of flamingos that call the park their home.
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The coastal village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital of the Camargue, and one of the few places there large enough to call itself a town. The population swells from 2500 to 50000 in the summer (thanks Wikipedia), but the streets seemed far short of capacity on this gusty April evening. This was our first experience coming face to face with the icy Mistral, and it was memorable. When the wind picked up, we felt like chunks of playdough being rolled by giant hands. We learned quickly to keep both hands on the strollers, or the Mistral would have taken our kids for a long unaccompanied ride down the main avenue. Despite the windy chill, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer had plenty of stores and restaurants open for business and we picked up some jams and sausage for breakfast the next morning. We were fortunate to squeeze into the only available table at the Lonely Planet recommendation Ô Pica Pica, where we had another of our best meals of the trip. Fresh sea urchin, whelks, and grilled fish right at the shore where it was caught. It doesn't get much better than that.
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It was long after nightfall when we got back to Avignon. I struggled to navigate the narrow Les Halles garage adjacent to our building without ripping the sides of the Iceberg, and decided that parking in the outdoor lot outside the walls was worth the walk.

Sunday morning we rose early again, fed the kids, and made the half hour drive to L'Isle sur la Sorgue. The lots dedicated to the weekly market were already full so we spent another twenty minutes on side streets attempting to find a parking spot that wouldn't be likely to get the Iceberg booted or towed. The town gets its name from its location on an island formed by a split in the river Sorgue. The old town and the market are on the island, although over the years the town has expanded and the vast majority of inhabitants live outside the island. L'Isle sur la Sorgue is a fixture on the tourist circuit because of numerous preserved water wheels as well as an enormous number of antique dealers. The market was naturally crowded but had an excellent variety of produce and crafts. We bought a cantaloupe that the vendor kindly sliced for us so the kids could eat it messily as we progressed through the stalls. One highlight was a large seafood stall where we bought and ate violets, a species of sea squirt with a leathery shell. The vendor cut the shells for us so we could eat the bright orange meat, which had a strong taste of iodine.
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Back in the Iceberg, we had a bad moment when I found myself unable to move the vehicle in any direction. It felt as though the wheels were caught on some huge obstruction but despite examining the van from every angle I couldn't see anything touching any wheel. I was actually considering calling for roadside assistance when I realized that the automatic parking brake hadn't disengaged because I hadn't fastened my seatbelt. I sheepishly pulled onto the road and we continued eastward to Saignon. Saignon was our first town in Parc Luberon, a large, natural area in the Provence hinterland filled with ancient, well-preserved villages. We didn't spend much time in Saignon since the medieval town was small and we couldn't take the kids up to the main attraction, the Rocher de Bellevue. No one seems to know what role this tall, layered rock with stone fortifications played in the ancient town. In the end I left Mei Ling with the kids and climbed the steep stairs up the rock to the flat crest, from which I had great views of the surrounding valley.
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Our next stop was Ménerbes, a town made famous by the books of Peter Mayle. We hadn't read the books, so we were just there for its reputation as a pretty medieval town. Mei Ling was enchanted by the purple wisteria flowers that seemed to hang from every eave. At the top of the hill we found Maison de la Truffe et du Vin, an interesting establishment that is part restaurant, part gourmet store, part tasting room. A lush, manicured garden in the back overlooked the valley. We bought a couple of Ice Bags, sturdy collapsible bags that could be filled with ice and water to keep wine chilled at a picnic.
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Having departed Ménerbes, we found ourselves close to La Forêt des Cèdres. This unusual little forest is composed almost entirely of cedar trees that grew from seeds brought back by a local who had traveled to Moroccco. The quiet paths provided a restful counterpoint to the strenuous climbs in Saignon and Ménerbes.
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I had hoped to make it to Gordes but it was getting late and it seemed more prudent to ensure a dinner reservation, given that I was unsure how many restaurants would be open on a Sunday in shoulder season. I was surprised to get a table at a well-regarded farmhouse restaurant outside of Gordes. The small dining room seemed very formal and the hosts' eyes seemed to widen as we brought in the kids and Spenser's stroller. The kids were a little rambunctious although manageable during the meal and in the end had befriended the hosts and the diners at the other occupied table in the restaurant. I wish I could say the meal matched the setting but unfortunately it was forgettable. However, we returned to Avignon with a feeling of success thanks to the market and the three towns we had been able to visit.
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Based on my research the best Monday market was in Bédoin, forty minutes northeast. By this time, a lot of the produce was starting to look familiar and we even recognized some of the vendors from Arles and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The crafts at Bédoin were more impressive, especially some brightly colored pottery from the neighboring hamlet of Crestet.
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There didn't seem to be anything in Bédoin to justify roaming around outside the market so we headed west to Gigondas, a small village in the Côtes du Rhône best known for red wine. We started off in the sunny central square, where we tasted a few wines at the local Caveau.
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As usual, seeing the rest of the town required climbing a steep hill. We were rewarded at the top by a solitary church, a small vineyard, and the requisite beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
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We moved on to another nearby wine town, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We didn't spend very long here as the town was less bucolic than the others and the afternoon had become chilly.
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We were very close to our base in Avignon at this point and decided to head home. We tried to do some strolling around Avignon but the sharp wind took the fun out of it, so we called around and eventually found a restaurant that was open on a Monday. Dinner was good but not memorable enough to record the name of the restaurant. Fortunately we'd already taken care of the parking so we only had to walk a couple of blocks through the gusty evening.

Posted by zzlangerhans 22:17 Archived in France Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Languedoc outward bound: Albi

Our next destination in France was Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, a tiny village two hours to the north of Toulouse in the Causses du Quercy Natural Park with a reputation as one of the most beautiful towns in the region. We parked at the small lot above the village and walked down the road overlooking the village on the cliff and the River Lot far below.
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Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is designated as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, of which there are less than 200. This means that it is small and scenic, but also attracts a lot of tourists and has its own little industry of gourmet food and souvenir shops.
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Overlooking the town are the ruins of the old Chateau, from which there are views of the town from one side and of the valley and river from the other.
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Despite the abundance of tourists and apparent absence of villagers except for store and restaurant proprietors, there was no denying the beauty of the village and the setting.
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We took a meandering route back south through the French countryside, so by the time we arrived in the fortified hill town of Cordes sur Ciel it was beginning to get dark and all the day tourists had already departed. This allowed us to see the town in a more natural state, but also conveyed a somewhat sad and ghostly quality to the surroundings. The top of the hill afforded a beautiful view over the French countryside.
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I had one of those classic uneasy vacation moments coming down the other side of the town where I wasn't sure I would recognize the street where I'd parked the car. My iPhone GPS wasn't connecting well which didn't help. Fortunately we got to a spot I found familiar before Mei Ling noticed my growing nervousness. It was too late to make our last planned stop in the ancient wine town of Gaillac, but I didn't regret dawdling in Toulouse all morning. Gaillac wouldn't be the last town we had to scrub from our itinerary.

Albi was just a short drive from Cordes-sur-Ciel, so we were able to get there in time to drop off our bags at our Airbnb and find a restaurant for dinner. We were fortunate to be turned down at our first choice because our backup, Lou Sicret, turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip. The restaurant specialized in hearty dishes of the Languedoc countryside, most notably cassoulet. This thick stew of white beans is the signature dish of Languedoc, and different towns are known for the specific meats that get mixed into the casserole. The version at Lou Sicret contained the old standbys of duck confit, sliced sausage, and pork belly. For our tired bodies and empty stomachs it was manna. We complemented the cassoulet with grilled squid, copious pommes frites and vegetables, and a hearty Languedoc red in the restaurant's atmospheric back garden.
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The next morning, we explored the cobblestoned old town of Albi, eventually arriving at the fortress-like brick cathedral that the city is famous for.
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From the cathedral we proceeded to the covered market, a cavernous structure that was surprisingly subdued at 11 in the morning. We lunched on oysters and duck hearts at a small bistro inside the market and topped them off with delicious fruit pies. Despite a sense we hadn't given Albi its full due in a 16 hour visit, we packed up and set a course northward to Conques.
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I'd come up with the plan to visit Conques after reading about it on someone else's blog. It didn't look that far out of our way on the map, but due to the one lane roads, slow vehicles, and numerous towns we had to pass through it took us more than an hour and a half to get there from Albi. However, the drive took us through some lush Languedoc countryside and forest. Conques is a lovely hillside village with the yellow limestone Abbey of St. Foy as its centerpiece. It seemed like everything in the town was shades of yellow and brown, which contrasted beautifully against the green valley that surrounded us.
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It was already getting late when we left Conques but I stubbornly clung to my plan to stop off in Rodez, a larger city with a famous cathedral. We got a look at the cathedral and the neighboring Catholic church but between struggles with traffic and finding a place to park in the center, we burned another hour and a half in Rodez. It was after seven and it would take us three and a half hours to reach Avignon by my planned route via the Millau Viaduct. I sent an apologetic message about our late arrival to our Airbnb hosts and we set off again.
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We had to burn rubber once we got on the highway in order to make it to the Viaduct before darkness fell. The Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in Europe and arguably one of the most beautiful modern bridges in the world. It was dusky and raining when we reached it, and the highway itself doesn't provide a good vantage point to photograph the bridge. I included a professional photo ripped from the web to complement our weak effort.
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After the Viaduct it grew dark quickly and for another two hours we plowed through the darkness and rain to Avignon. We couldn't enjoy the beautifully-illuminated old city on arrival due to the usual difficulty of navigating the old town and locating parking. Our hosts graciously helped us hoist our bags and kids to the fourth floor apartment despite the late hour, and Mei Ling took the kids to eat at the Chinese restaurant across the street while I found a stable parking spot just outside the old town. We eventually collapsed into bed about midnight, grateful that we wouldn't have to uproot ourselves for another week.

Posted by zzlangerhans 12:29 Archived in France Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Languedoc outward bound: Toulouse

Our departure from Andorra proved to be as easy as our entrance had been. There was no border control, but some stern-looking French soldiers with guns flagged us down as we entered the country. I'm pretty sure it was the minivan that got their attention. They asked me a few questions, and fortunately my French was adequate to understand and answer them so we got waved on without too much delay. It was less than six months since the Bataclan, so I wasn't surprised to see some extra border security. We stopped briefly in Ax-les-Thermes so I could get some food for Mei Ling and the kids, since lunch hadn't worked out as planned. I decided to hold out until our first real stop, Foix.

Foix was a pleasant introduction to France. It was a small, relatively quiet town with a pedestrian center and a hilltop château. We had a lunch of savory croustades and then found an Orange store where I got a French SIM card while the kids took a playground break. We were somewhat relieved to learn that the Château de Foix was closed on Tuesday, relieving us of the obligation to climb the formidable staircase up the hill. We settled for photos and got back on the road to Toulouse.===
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As we drove into Toulouse, I was immediately struck by the greenness and energy of the city. There seemed to be parks and tree-lined squares everywhere I looked. Our apartment was tucked deep into the old town, and once we left the main boulevard it seemed like we were navigating endless small roundabouts and squares, all of them dotted with outdoor cafes and full of pedestrians. We eventually located our Airbnb at the end of a narrow alley and unloaded the bags and the kids into a charming second floor (first floor for Europeans) apartment. The building and hallways looked like they hadn't been touched in a hundred years, but the interior was very modern if a little cramped. Fortunately our host offered to help me park the Iceberg, which as it turned out would save our vacation from disaster.

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Although the garage was just a short distance away, actually getting there required another long navigation through the maze of alleys and roundabouts. We finally arrived at the underground garage and I drove down the spiral entrance when my new copilot suddenly told me to stop. He wasn't sure the Iceberg would clear the roof of the garage. It looked fairly high to me and we decided he would get out and watch as I inched the van forward. As I started to advance towards the entrance, an attendant rushed out and waved his hands frantically at me. No way. I was still unsure that the van wouldn't meet the 1.8m limit but at that point there was no choice. Our host walked backwards behind the van and guided me as I reversed back up the spiral. Eventually I extracted the Iceberg from the garage entry and we reversed course through the maze and ultimately found another garage with a 1.9m limit. Our host jumped out again and watched me gingerly enter the garage, clearing the 1.9m roof with only a couple of inches to spare. There's no doubt in my mind that if he hadn't been with me I would have slammed the van into the roof of the first garage, ruining our stay in Toulouse and possibly our whole vacation. Fortunately, we wouldn't need the Iceberg again until we left Toulouse.

The parking Odyssey had kept me away from the family for well over an hour, but fortunately the kids hadn't torn up the apartment by the time I returned. There was a ladder to a loft that we had to block off with furniture so Ian wouldn't try to climb it, but otherwise the place was more than adequate for our needs. Once we were able to unpack a little and extract everyone from the apartment, it was too late to do anything but head to dinner. It was starting to drizzle as we left and this progressed to a steady rain. Fortunately we had the plastic covers for the gondola stroller to keep the kids dry. I had a few popular restaurants picked out for dinner but it quickly became apparent we weren't going to get in to any of the top choices in the center of town, which were packed despite it being Tuesday. As our options dwindled and the rain strengthened to a downpour, it became apparent that dinner had become an issue of sustenance more than gastronomy and we would have to eat at the first restaurant we found with room to accommodate us. We shortly passed a restaurant that was nearly empty, which turned out to be Auberge du Tranchoir. Despite our foreboding about the lack of patrons on such a busy restaurant night, the meal turned out to be much more decent than we had a right to expect. We also got our first taste of what would turn out to be our favorite local wine appellation, Minervois.

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By the next morning the rain clouds had completely cleared and we were ready to explore Toulouse. I had no appetite whatsoever to retrieve the Iceberg from the garage so I made a list of every conceivably interesting place in the center of town and geared up for a long day of walking. Naturally, our first stop was the city produce market Les Halles, It was a beautiful market with a dizzying array of cheeses, meats, and pastries. We bought some oysters at the seafood stall and slurped them down at the bar a few yards away with glasses of cold white wine.

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There were no real restaurants downstairs, but fortunately I knew from my research that there were some on the second floor known for cooking fresh food from the market. We took the freight elevator at the back and found a long hallway full of restaurants with open kitchens and great menus. After much deliberation we made our choice and had a delicious meal of magret de canard and grilled seafood and of course a bottle of red wine. All the wine so early in the day was a little much for Mei Ling whose face soon matched the color of her glass, but the experience was well worth it.

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===We set out for fresh air and relaxation at the Jardin Japonais, passing by the lovely Romanesque Basilique Saint-Sernin without venturing inside.
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The Jardin Japonais is a large park of which the actual Japanese Garden is only a small part. It is a beautiful and well-kept green space with lush grass, tall trees, and brightly-colored flowers everywhere. The Japanese section was immaculate and peaceful. It was one of the most beautiful parks I've seen anywhere in the world.
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After walking around the gardens, we found a great playground for the kids and an ice cream stand nearby.
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From the Jardin Japonais we headed southward past the university, first encountering the end of Canal de Brienne as it emptied into the River Garonne and then the river itself. The boulevards along the river were lined with the classic Toulouse apartment buildings with immaculate facades and wrought iron balconies. The Garonne was wide and peaceful, with the famed Pont Neuf bridge a solid link between the two banks.
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In the interest of saving time, we didn't cross to the opposite side but instead followed some narrow streets back inland to the Couvent des Jacobins, where the manicured courtyard with tall poplars was worth the small price of admission.
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From the Couvent we traveled south again through picturesque streets to central Toulouse's other large green space, the Jardin des Plantes. This was another beautiful park with a duck pond and some carousel rides for the kids.
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I could see from Google Maps that there was another green space at the north end of Jardin des Plantes called Grand Rond which wasn't mentioned in my guidebook. This turned out to be another good-sized park in the center of an enormous, impassable traffic circle. Fortunately there were pedestrian bridges arching over the road connecting the Grand Rond to the Jardin des Plantes and yet another park with a duck pond called Jardin Royal.
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The sun was starting to go down and our bellies were rumbling. Fortunately we were close to my chosen dinner destination Chez Navarre, which was highly recommend by Lonely Planet for local Gascon cuisine. We weren't that impressed by the food but at least we were able to eat peacefully in the mostly empty restaurant. Afterwards we snapped a couple of pictures at the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne and then headed back to the central pedestrian zone. where we searched fruitlessly for a place to buy diapers for an hour before calling it a night.
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We'd managed to see pretty much everything in central Toulouse during one full day of walking, so our only goal for our last morning was to eat at the other major market in the center, Marché des Carmes. The market was less showy than Les Halles but the produce and and meats still looked delicious.
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We asked one of the vendors to recommend a restaurant at the market for lunch, and his choice provided us with a pleasant repast of market food including the usual magret.
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We slowly made our way back to the Iceberg in its garage, pausing frequently to take pictures that would keep our memories fresh of our new favorite city in France.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 16:21 Archived in France Comments (0)

Back to the Med! Catalunya, Languedoc, and Provence

Catalunya, Languedoc, and Provence April - May 2016

Having proven in Panama that we could manage the three kids on an international trip without any other adult help, I was determined to get two of my dream European road trips accomplished this year. That meant starting in April in a more southerly location to avoid the risk of uncomfortably cold weather. The obvious choice was Provence, since it had the additional advantage of an extensive tourist infrastructure that would reduce the stress of traveling with all the kids.

When I first thought of going to Provence, I had planned to rent a villa for the entire trip. I figured we would base ourselves in one location, submerge ourselves in the local culture, and take a few two or three day trips to further cities. Then I realized we wouldn't be able to fly directly from Miami to anywhere in Provence, but we certainly could fly direct to Barcelona. That was no problem, since Barcelona is one of my favorite cities and Mei Ling had never been there. We'd rent a car in Barcelona and drive to Provence. But then how could I miss the opportunity to visit Andorra, adding another country to everyone's resume? And of course from Andorra, we could practically roll down the Pyrenees into Toulouse. Once I started researching Toulouse and Languedoc I found out about Albi, and Cordes sur Ciel, and the Pont du Gard. I quickly realized we wouldn't make it to my chosen Provencale pied-à-terre of Avignon for at least a week. That left the question of how to return. I had thought of flying back from Nice, or even Lyons, but it would mean a stopover and also left the problem of returning the rental car in a different country from where we had picked it up.

In the end, I devised an itinerary that would begin and end in Barcelona, without retracing any ground. The first leg would be inland from Barcelona to Toulouse to Avignon and ultimately Nice, and then returning to Barcelona along the coast through Marseille, Montpellier and Perpignan. The advantage of leaving the coastal leg to the end would be the additional warmth of May. Of course, all the time on the road would shrink our stay in Avignon from a month to a week. And that's how "Let's chill out for a month in a villa in Provence and go to farmers markets and cook for ourselves" became a 1000 mile road trip from Barcelona to Monaco and back, visiting more than fifty cities along the way.

Posted by zzlangerhans 11:20 Archived in France Comments (0)

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