Tuesday, April 27:  Market Day, Mount Ventoux, Cotes du Rhone

We hit the “Sporting Bar” again for morning coffee, where Pat’s French got an admiring smile. Vaison-la-Romaine was granted market town status in the 1500’s by the Pope, and every Tuesday since there has been a market. The streets were packed, both in the square and on subsidiary streets a few blocks away. We walked down what turned out to be the food street, accepting samples as we went.

At the end of the street, we dropped in to the bike shop to see about bike rentals. There wasn’t much English spoken, but we got a price list, and took a look at their “city-bikes.” No coaster brakes for Robert and the fellow seemed to tell me they didn’t exist in France. They had no good suggestions for routes, but helmets were available. I showed him my photos of my bikes, and the daVinci tandem elicited a slight gasp. He was impressed with David and Robert’s personal two-day distance records (STP and San Juans overnight), converted to kilometers, on the Atala tandem. I asked about the road up Mt. Ventoux (not open all the way, yet), and then got down to business. Did they have any jerseys? Club, local, shop, or otherwise? He seemed confused by the question at first, but then lit up and went in the back. Last one! Tasteful color scheme, name of the shop and the name of the town. Probably a bit on the small size at XXL (European sizing), but it was as good as it was going to get. The shop specialized in Trek equipment, and we joked about the poster with Lance Armstrong leading up Mt. Ventoux. I asked why not a photo of Richard Verinque, and both he and the mechanic made derisive gestures. Then I asked about Jalabert (recently retired French champion) and I got another unpleasant reaction, I couldn’t decipher. All in good fun, though. Bought some souvenir Mt. Ventoux water bottles as an impulse buy at the counter, forgetting I’d have to get them home somehow.

Back on the street, we finished our circuit of the market, then popped into the TI to inquire about the advertised aquatic center in Nyon. Not open until late May, much to the boys’ disappointment. We set off for another tour of the market, not sampling now, but buying. Pat bought bread, after being cut in the line several times, then we fanned out and acquired a liter of apricot nectar, twenty local cookies (cherry and lemon), two bottles of local wine, small jar of olive spread (like pesto), fresh strawberries, a roasted chicken with onions and juice, and a hunk of cow cheese. We went home and had a bountiful Provencal lunch on the back porch. All for 50 Latini units and there were lots of leftovers. (Photo 74)

A quick post-lunch trip to check email, then into the car for some local touring. We began by tracing a route the TI suggested for cycling. Scenic, but the roads were too narrow, the traffic too fast (40-50 mph), and too steep in places for one unaccustomed to hand brakes (Robert). Nothing seemed to make much sense for a family bike ride.

Then we got onto the route for Mt. Ventoux, the “Giant of Provence.” This 2,000 meter mountain is a favorite for the Tour de France, in part for the barren landscape near the summit and the incongruous Air Force communications station. As the first large mountain north of the Mediterranean, it gets unusual weather and I think its one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, or something similar. With 12% grades the car worked hard to get up some of the ramps, but eventually we made it to the ski station where the road was closed.

Six kilometers by road remained to the summit, but there was a sign on the lodge indicating a hiking trail. Robert was game, Pat wasn’t and David had just sandals and shorts. Robert and I were given our release to see if the walk up was do-able. Along the route I alternated between thinking it was a reasonable hike or not. Cat tracks through the ski area (now devoid of snow) and scree up some of the ski runs. We met a couple coming down, and I pointed to my wrist (no watch there though) and to the top and looked questioning. He held up one finger for one hour, while she emphatically contradicted him and said half an hour. We had upper and lower bounds anyway. Eventually we gained the road and abandoned the scree for a longer route with better footing. After an hour’s vigorous hike (and some good father-son bonding) we reached the windswept top. (Photo 77)

Turned out the other side was the classic cycling route, and was open all the way to the top for cars. In any event it had been a good hike. I did miss out on seeing the cycling graffiti on the road surface and the Tom Simpson Memorial. (Simpson was a British cyclist who died on the Tour de France climb of Mt. Ventoux, twenty or thirty years ago, from exhaustion and/or a heart attack. Suspected to be an early victim of blood-doping drugs.) A middle-aged cyclist arrived at the top, his family right behind him in a support car. “Bravo! Bravo! Le Mountain!,” they shouted and we chimed in with a few bravo’s ourselves. We took photos and bought a few cookies, choosing from the forty varieties on offer at a roadside stand (paying dearly!) and then descended.

Our traveling companions were a bit miffed at being stranded for almost two hours with no books or anything else to do. However, they did enjoy a huge chocolate crepe at the lodge, and there was no denying the evidence still on David’s cheek. For the drive home, we followed 80% of Rick’s scenic tour through the vineyards of the Cotes du Rhone region, which was quite spectacular in the twilight as the sun was beginning to descend.

We refreshed our breakfast supplies at the supermarket, then visited cafe #3 on the north side of the square. A little cheaper, and a bit more variety. I had some interesting mystery meats for my appetizer, and three of us had spaghetti carbonara. 68 Latini units. It was a pleasant meal, marred only by the fact that everybody around us was smoking. Even on the terrace, it was enough to be annoying. Pat had great fun people-watching, especially when the fellow at the next table began making his point emphatically with the tip of his cheese knife flying around in his friend’s face as they smoked roll-your-own cigarettes.

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Photo 75  Mt. Ventoux Tower
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Photo 76  Robert on Mt. Ventoux

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Photo 77  Mt. Ventoux Summit