Saturday, April 24:  A Gite in Provence

Pat had scoped out the breakfast offerings in the west end of town on our bit of misdirection yesterday afternoon, so we walked that way in search of a morning meal, since we had passed on the 6 euro offering at the hotel. We tried a patiscierie and came away with two small quiches, a meringue ball for Robert, and two croissants (one stuffed with chocolate for David). All for the price of one breakfast at the hotel. We popped into a bar down the street for a couple of cappucinno’s, and paid another 6.20 euro. Never would have cost near that much in Italy! The bar visit was not a total disaster though, a young man playing pinball let the boys finish out his last few balls as he seemed to have to leave.

We ate our breakfast down in the harbor on the breakwater protecting the beach and then went for a walk around the adjacent castle. (Photo 65) All morning cyclists streamed through the main road along the shore on Bianchis, DeRosas and Looks. Even saw one Mondonico. Back at the hotel, the proprietor recommended a bookstore just up the road from the castle as a likely location for a road atlas of France. I found just what I wanted, and chatted some with the clerk. Also found the route out of town, since it would be impossible to duplicate our route inward.

The driving in France is more reminiscent of home than of Italy. The lanes seem wider, there’s a good shoulder, people use their signals (though I don’t so much anymore) and while there are still slow trucks, there are fewer of the very fast cars. It’s only necessary to check your rear-view mirror every now and then, not 50% of the time. But every now and then a handful of fast cars comes up on you suddenly. The exits are numbered! Still have to pay though. Pat commented, “I bet I could even drive here.” The streets, gates, fences and walls of the neighborhood off the main road remind Pat and I both of Trinidad.

Parts of today’s drive passed through very arid areas, but after a lunch/gas/toilet/cash stop at a huge service area, we entered Provence and things got greener, and the wind picked up. We arrived in Vaison-la-Romaine about 3 PM and drove directly to the address of our rental house. No route-finding difficulties all day! (Though I did have to abruptly cross two lanes of traffic to catch the right on-ramp in La Napoule.) We walked a few blocks into the center of town, struggled with the pay phone, and finally reached our contact, Veronique. Even though we were two hours early, she was ready to meet us back at the house.

We’d signed up for a “gite” (pronounced “sheeet”), a Saturday-to-Saturday vacation rental. Veronique showed us through the downstairs, while we’d thought we’d rented the upstairs. Then she said that we should pick two of the four bedrooms, and she’d select the linen to fit those beds. Pat got the straight story -- some acquaintance was living upstairs because of “trouble at her home” so we’d been upgraded to the downstairs.

So we’ve got loads of room here, a full kitchen, large living room, etc. There’s a garage, a stone back porch and a huge yard. It is a tad spartan, but very comfortable and reminds me of a super-sized version of the house we rented in Australia on my last sabbatical. Out the backside of the lot are the Roman ruins that are part of the reason this is a popular town. We’re withing walking distance of the city center with numerous restaurants and cafes and can walk to the river or the medieval city. The town also seems to have plenty of services, including a large supermarket that we patronized today, and mention of an Internet cafe. (Photo 67)

We’ve been on the go the past week, with this being our fifth bed in six nights. So a full week, with lots of space, full cooking facilities and not so many obligatory sights will make for a good time to recharge and regroup. I think we are all looking forward to it.

Afternoon snacks were aged biscotti from the Latinis, leftover chocolate cookies from our Monaco picnic, and we finally broke into the huge block of aged pecorino cheese that Giovanni Latini had also given us on departure. I made an excursion back into the city center and found the TI open, where I collected a regional brochure and a rough city map. My map got upgraded once I asked if the one on the wall was available and she produced the better-quality map from behind the counter. Its taken a while to sink in, but my new motto has become, “If you don’t ask for it, you aren’t going to get it.”

Rick’s dinner suggestion looked great, but not so for the younger set. So back to the central square where we took our chances with one of the cafes. A great set menu for the boys and a cheap set menu for us got us to sit down. The bargain held for the boys, but the fine print said ours wasn’t available on Saturday. We stayed anyway. The waiter seemed to enjoy our fledgling French and the boys enjoyed their meals. Pat had a trout she enjoyed eating and using for a comparative anatomy lesson with the boys. I had an order of sausage together with a plate of spaghetti carbonara. I’ve had this noodle-cream-egg-bacon dish four or five times now, but the French version has a twist. On top of my noodles sat the sauce, plus half an eggshell, containing an unbroken, raw, yolk. I was stymied, but Pat knew better and said, “Stir in the egg while the rest is still hot!” I did, and it was good.

Photo 65  La Napoule Breakfast
Photo 66  La Napoule Beach