Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum, Saint-Rémy, once home to Van Gogh

Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum, Saint-Rémy, once home to Van Gogh

Wed 8 Oct - Travelling to Lyon

I had to leave my little home away from home this morning and felt quite sad about it. I drove to Moreton in Marsh to catch the train to Paddington with a detour via a service station. The First Great Western train was on time and the trip very smooth. In fact we are pulling into Paddington now and the conductor just announced (bragged) that the train is early!!! We've travelled through Slough and I missed it thank heavens. It's a grim place for sure. Slough rhymes with cow and is pronounced with a strong nasal accent. From the seat of a train it looks as bad as it sounds.

Now I'm aboard the Heathrow express. Off we go! This will be my first test in England with an e-ticket scan. Result! It scanned perfectly even at A5 size.

I'll be early for my flight to Lyon but I should be able to upload some photos to the blog. Whether I can publish is another matter. Free wifi over here is iffy even in the BA lounge where you'd think it would be fine.

My flight arrived into Lyon a little early and this too was proudly announced by the pilot. I'm staying at the NH Lyon Hotel for the night. It's an airport hotel and I was imagining it would be utilitarian but instead it's very modern and sophisticated. Complimentary tea and coffee isn't always provided in European hotels but here I even have an espresso machine. I'm so impressed I'll have to get up early just to make myself a special coffee. They have also provided a complimentary bottle of water and I could have brought Daisy because they will allow small pets.

Thur 9 Oct - Arriving in Avignon

I'm on the TGV to Avignon which is the fast train service and where the announcements are not bi-lingual!

I can see from the carriage window that tagging is a problem here in France too.

A few of you have expressed positive comments regarding what you perceive as my confidence in traveling alone and driving in a strange place. Thanks for the compliment but I'm not quite as confident as you might think. A lot of planning went into my itinerary, nearly all which was done by Paul. He loves doing itineraries and he loves technology. He relishes setting up my communications and he tracks my every movement using smart phone apps. He can look at an app and know where I am right now. He knows if my plane is on time or running late. He keeps an eye on me and we speak everyday. If we have good wifi we have a video call. He does all this because he's also a nice person and he has more confidence in me than I perhaps do. He's not quite so au fait with my limitations.

Right now my limits are being stretched. My tummy is rumbling ominously and I'm booked for a special dinner tonight in my hotel. I'm going to have to defer it to tomorrow night.

I find it quite a challenge when I can't verbally communicate because of a language difference. That's probably why I enjoyed Helsinki. Everyone starts to speak fluent English the minute you say "hello" in response to their "hi hi".

Lunch today was an example of the language barrier. We worked it out in the end but when I went to pay neither my Travelcard nor Visa card would work. This is a worry because I'm relying on both and don't have a lot a Euro on me. On top of these niggles, iiNet my ISP, has encountered a problem and I can't receive emails and of course I'm waiting on one.

As for driving, I took it slowly in England and avoided the A roads at first. Once I got used to the car I started to drive them to save time but everyone overtook me as I was driving slowly. By the end of my time there I was enjoying the manual shift and driving like a rally driver. I doubt I will ever drive in Europe or America where it's left hand drive because I have a hard enough time being a pedestrian and not getting run over.

So, while I'm managing to get where I'm supposed to be and sorting out issues when they arise I'm not necessarily sailing through without a care. To be honest I'm relieved most of the guests in this hotel are Americans for the simple reason I can comprehend them. The good news is, a purchase this afternoon was accepted using Amex and I found an ATM which enabled me to withdraw €100. My tummy settled and I bought a gelato and asked for it en Française. I have to confess un petit pot de citron et mangue was pretty easy to say since all the items were labelled.

As is more usual, my hotel here doesn't provide tea and coffee but they have given me four bottles of water so that's something.

A postscript to this entry added on 12th October is that Joyce who is with the French Escapade tour here in France is travelling alone because she wanted to do something by herself. She usually travels with her husband but wanted simply to go by herself for once. She says she's quite stressed a lot of the time worrying about connections, working out how ATMs work and so on. We both feel relieved to know that we aren't alone in feeling on edge some of the time. So to those of you at home who feel you couldn't possibly manage alone, yes you could. You'd just need to be prepared to be a little less relaxed at times and you'd need a support team at home.

Today's photos

Fri 10 Oct - In Avignon

Another thing that affects confidence is getting a good night's sleep. I slept like a log last night and had enormously enjoyable day as a consequence. I woke early and was in the dining room having brekkie by about 7.30.

The big thing in Avignon is to see Le Pont. It was on my to do list but first I headed down a few side alleys and laneways to see some of the old city. Fortunately I have a good sense of direction so I wandered about and found my way to Les Halles the big market place. It's undercover these days but was very interesting.

While I meandered through the streets I came upon a shop with some black jeans. I wear only black jeans so of course I had to try them on. The sales assistant had very little English. I had marginally more French but we muddled through and I bought a pair of 7/8 length black jeans with a zipper detail on the pockets. They could well throw the finally tuned packing system into disarray but they fit me perfectly.

After doing that I did visit Pont Saint Bénezet as its properly known. The walk to the bridge passed many souvenir shops selling lavender products and textiles in the Les Olivades style. Some were genuine Les Olivades but I assume a lot weren't. Lavender and textiles are two prominent traditional industries here.

The Bridge is only a remnant of the original structure. Four arches are left out of twenty two. It was largely washed away by the Rhône River which is wide and fast moving and subject to flooding. In fact the area is on red alert for tomorrow because a lot of heavy rain is expected. It is possible to go onto the bridge but I thought I'd rather view it from along the bank. I had to cross a busy road to do so but I got a good look at it and spent about 40 minutes sketching part of it. Then it was time for me to dash.

I had booked a tour of Secrets of the Palais des Papes. I grabbed some lunch of ham and cheese crepes, dropped my bag at the hotel and whizzed around the corner to the Palais. There were five of us on the tour with an English speaking guide – two Americans and three Aussies. It was a fabulous tour. The guide knew her stuff and spoke excellent colloquial English. She was able to tell us the history of why the popes ended up in Avignon and also about the building itself. We were taken behind the scenes to see areas of the Palais that a general walk through doesn't access.

The Palais is huge and impersonal. The rooms are not scaled for warmth and coziness. Like Hailes Abbey only about twenty priestly types lived there although there were many support staff who worked there during the day. We learned all sorts of interesting stuff like the fact that one of the King Louis bathed only four times in twenty years. Can you imagine!!!!! It was the belief in those days that too much washing was bad for your health. The same view was held at Hailes Abbey. Today we are finding out that too much cleanliness is a bad thing but we also know hygiene is vital. We climbed to the top of one of the towers up dimly lit and narrow spiral staircases. That was a bit nerve wracking but the view was well worth it. Descending was even more nerve wracking because the lighting was dim and as we passed a slit window we were in our own shadow.

Tonight I had my special dinner. This included smoked eel which was quite nice, grouse which wasn't and a yummy desert involving quinces which I was told were from the garden. I was the only guest at dinner for most of the time until another woman arrived. With only two of us we received excellent service. Now it's time for bed. It's not raining yet.

Today's photos

Sat 11 Oct - Avignon to Lagnes

This morning I packed my bag and checked out of my hotel at midday. Such a civilised time. I had three hours before I need to make my way to the TGV station Sortie Sud or South Door to join my tour group. I decided to go for another meandering walk through the old city. After that I returned to the hotel where my bags were being held by concierge. I sat and worked on this blog until my taxi arrived.

It was pretty easy to find the rest of the group at the station, then Jackie arrived and we set off to our home for the week, Sous l'Olivier, in the district of Lagnes.  It is a farm dating from the 1950s which has been converted into a B&B. After each being assigned a room we dashed about checking each other's which was a good way to break the ice and help us to learn and remember names.

After that excitement we had a drink on the terrace and Jackie briefed us on the week's activities. Dinner was next and it turned out to be a four course feast. I asked Jackie why, if French women ate this much, they didn't get fat. The answer was that they would only eat like that once a week, probably on a Sunday, or if they were having guests. The second part of the answer was that they didn't snack and they ate meals at the table.

We had unpasteurised brie as the third course and it was incredibly delicious. Most of us only had a small portion because we were full. I led the move to retire and everyone followed suit. I came back to my "woman" cave and had a fairly respectable night's rest.

As I mentioned we are in a converted farm. My room is separate from the main building. I think I'm in a former small animal bale or perhaps an old shed. I have French doors that open onto the lawn with a view of the mountains behind that. My floor is what looks to be the original stone and it's quite uneven to walk on.

Today's photos

Sun 12 Oct - Isle sur Le Sorgue et Roussillon

Our day started with a stop (I had to say that) in the town of Isle sur La Sorgue which means Island on the Sorgue. The river runs through the town and there is a small island in the middle which is linked by a series of bridges.

It's not an especially attractive town in terms of the architecture but every Sunday there is a market. There are fruit and vegetable stalls, others selling marzipan and cheeses and leather belts and Provençal products such as the ubiquitous "torchons" or tea towels, olive oil and lavender products such as soap.

There is also an antique market selling the usual array of silverware, ceramic bits and pieces and general tatt. I bought a small blue leather shoulder bag with many pockets and a cotton centrepiece for my dining table. There was the nicest "stuff" shop I've seen in a while where I coveted a fair bit of the merchandise especially some lovely Murano pieces.

In the afternoon we were meant to visit the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard but it was closed due to the wet weather which so far is leaving us alone. Instead, we visited Roussillon which is a mountain top village located on the richest vein of ochre in the world.

Roussillon is very pretty. The paint used on the houses is tinted with the various colours found in the ochre. They range in colour from pale cream, to yellow, soft pinky oranges and a deep purple red. This all looks most attractive against the trees of the forest. The town like most medieval ones is built on a hill, originally to provide protection.

We returned to Sous l'Olivier for yet another four course feast. Tonight was a special occasion; namely my birthday. I received a card which everyone had signed with lovely messages and a set of coasters decorated with Van Gogh paintings. Everyone sang happy birthday and I was presented with a cake with sparklers and candles. They didn't over do the number of candles.

Today's photos

Mon 13 Oct - Pedagogic farm and Châteauneuf-du-Pape

This morning we visited an organic farm which is also an educational centre. The woman who runs it is so full of enthusiasm for her project she talks and talks and talks. The only thing is, she doesn't speak a word of English. Jackie translated for us but at times we heard Jackie saying whoa! whoa! to try to get madame to slow down a bit.

We were given some baskets and set off into the garden where our hostess went twenty to the dozen explaining all the while about this herb and that vegetable. We were instructed to pick this and that vegetable for the ratatouille we would be cooking for our lunch. We worked pretty well as a team chopping and peeling even though the knives were blunt. Eventually I found a sharpening iron and gave each blade a bit of a tune up so that we could get on with the job more efficiently.

After we had prepared the veggies, madame and Jill, one of the girls on the tour, did the cooking while the rest of us went to see the animals. We were all a bit upset because there was a baby lamb who had been found on the road side by the police and brought to the farm. The poor little thing was running about among the sheep looking for its mum. It looked pretty skinny but it was being bottle fed by the farmhands.

We ate our lunch outside under some trees. The ratatouille was served with rice from the Camargue region further south and some bread. It all tasted pretty darn good.

After lunch we headed for Chateau Neuf du Pape which is the famous wine region within the larger wine region of Côtes du Rhône. I was disappointed to hear it only became famous in the 1980s when an American food writer "discovered" it after which prices soared.

We didn't visit an actual vineyard but we had a wine tasting at one of the town wineries. I can't rave about the wine because just as in the Hunter Valley we were offered such young wine it tasted very acidic. We were shown how to hold the glass (always by the stem), sniff the wine and look for its "legs" on the side of the glass — all the usual rigmarole that goes with wine connoisseurship.

Today's photos

Tue 14 Oct - Safari in the Camargue and afternoon by the sea

The Rhône River flows south to the Mediterranean. As it nears the coast it becomes a huge delta which is known as the Camargue. This is the home of the famous small wild black cattle and white horses and also flamingos who migrate here from Africa. It is flat marshy country in which rice is grown in alternate years to address salinity problems that have arisen due to man's presence and agricultural practices.

We were there to see the bulls (and cows) and to watch a demonstration of herding by Camargue cowboys on their lovely white steeds. The bulls are raised for sport. The game goes like this; the bull's horns are decorated with three tiny decorations and the human competitor has to retrieve these decorations in order to win. The bulls are raised wild so when they are put into the ring they go berserk trying to get out and also away from the men chasing them around the arena.

Naturally the competitors are at high risk of injury from the bulls' horns and their only escape is to hurdle the arena wall. If the competitor gets the decorations he wins the purse. If not the owner of the bull gets it.

Apart from the stress of being trapped and running around for 15 minutes the bulls are not hurt in any way. After one competition they are rested for around three months. The actual herding of the bulls is done by cowboys on the white Camargue horses. The horses are born brown but turn white in adulthood.

In the afternoon we drove to Saint Maries de la Mer. This is a rather uninspiring little seaside town whose claim to fame is its church which contains a black Madonna. Each year gypsies make a pilgrimage to the town and hold a festival around the black Madonna. The church itself is quite interesting but I'm a little churched out.

Today's photos

Wed 15 Oct - St Rémy de Provence et les Baux de Provence

This morning we headed to St Remy. The first stop was the town market. I enjoy markets but European ones are special in their own way. I love seeing the vast array of cheeses and salami and other foods set out in a way we can't do in Australia because of the heat and the need to refrigerate.

I really needed a pee and that posed a small problem because I could see a public toilet but only men seemed to be using it. I didn't want to go into a men's pissoir by mistake. Eventually I asked a woman if she spoke English. She didn't. So I pointed to the toilet and she replied that yes it was toilet. "Pour hommes?" said I. "Non!" said she. "Pour hommes et femmes?" "Oui, oui". Thank heavens a few ungrammatical words got me an answer.

After spending some time at the market we went to a psychiatric hospital. Not because we were going mad due to having distended tummies but because it is the same hospital that Van Gogh had admitted himself to when he was ill. It is still a mental hospital today, caring for women and using art therapy to help them heal. It was extremely moving to know that I was standing looking at the very same olive trees Van Gogh painted during his stay in 1889/90. I didn't even photograph them. I just wanted to be in the moment with the olive trees. It's called asylum or monastery  Saint-Paul-de-Mausole.

In the afternoon we visited the village of les Baux de Provence. This is another pretty old town on a rocky outcrop. The surrounding mountainous countryside is quite spectacular. We didn't have long here and although there is a ruined castle I didn't visit it, preferring instead to roam the laneways. These old towns are pretty but life there could be pretty brutal from what I heard. Being up high, a preferred way to be rid of intruders was to throw them off the mountain.

Jackie had promised us a treat after the visit to les Baux so we walked back to the car which was parked quite a distance away. When we got to the car park we got to the surprise as well. We had arrived at Carrières de Lumières. There used to be a huge quarry here and someone had the brilliant idea to turn it into an art space by polishing all the stone walls and making the ground suitable for walking on.

Well… What to say? Inside was a massive, huge, big, wondrous light show of art works by Klimt and the Viennese school of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Art works by Klimt and others of the period were screened onto the walls and floors of the quarry which is now enclosed. This art spectacle is in a vast enclosed quarry and the images were everywhere. Behind us, in front of us, to the side of us. The acoustics were excellent and a wonderful soundtrack accompanied the light show which lasted for 45 minutes. It was breathtaking.

Tonight we were all relieved dinner was to be out at a crêperie in a nearby town. Conversations have been along the lines of "I feel so relieved", "at last", "I'm not like this at home". You get my drift. While the food at our accommodation is delicious it's a bit too much for everyone's tummy especially if we are having four courses two or more nights running. Dinner at the crêperie called Ty'Ca was fun. The crêpes were delivered in short order and then we had a story telling competition with lots of laughs.

This group is very cohesive and everyone seems to get along. It's a group of interesting, interested women who are all keen to engage with each other, and the wider world. We have been asked a couple of times where our husbands are. The French are quite surprised to see a group of women travelling without men.

Today's photos

Thur 16 Oct - Déjeuner sous les oliviers

Everyone was in high spirits this morning as we headed out to see a nearby olive grove. We were met by the owner, M. Jeannons. I was standing listening to him describe the processes involved and quietly thinking to myself that he was an attractive man when Jeanine, who was standing next to me, was moved to comment that he was cute!

He explained that this year's crop of olives had been afflicted by the larvae of flies due to the cooler than usual weather. Each year the flies lay their eggs on the olives. Under normal circumstances the hot sun kills the eggs on the fruit before they can do any damage. This year however temperatures were cooler and the eggs developed into larvae which then wormed their way out of the olives to start the cycle all over again. Apparently this doesn't affect the ability to harvest the oil but it means yields are lower and the fruit itself looks spotted.

After spending some time in amongst the plants we moved into the processing area to see the olive grinding equipment and then to browse the shop which was well stocked with olive oil, olive oil soap, condiments, honey and other tasteful nicknacks. One cute feature of the grove was the soccer playing doggie who seemed to belong to one of the workers. The dog was beside him/herself to have so many people to play ball with. What was so engaging was that after chasing the ball the dog would dribble it back with one paw then the other as if it was playing soccer.

In the morning, before we left Sous l'Olivier, the weather had been cool and overcast but by the time we were ready to leave the olive grove it had turned into a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day. M. Jeannons offered to set up a table under the trees for us if we wished to have a picnic. We all jumped at the idea and headed into town to the supermarket to buy some provisions. A simple, delicious lunch was purchased and we headed back to the olive grove for our déjeuner sous les oliviers. This impromptu meal was perhaps one of the most pleasant we shared together. There was something very special about sitting under the olive trees in an olive grove in Provence on a beautiful blue sky day. We were a little quieter and more mellow than usual.

That afternoon some of the group headed into Avignon while the rest of us returned to Sous l'Olivier either to lounge by the pool or in my case to catch up on this blog. When the others returned from Avignon we had a quick meal of left overs and takeaways (take out) and then played a game around the large dining table. It's too complicated to explain the game. You had to be there. Suffice it to say there was much merriment and the belief that "it's often the quiet ones…" was reinforced.

Today's photos

Fri 17 Oct - Lavender and a castle

We had a delightfully civilised late start this morning. The tour has been pretty full on especially earlier in the week when we faced some long drives to reach our destination for the day.

Provence is well known for its lavender and typical tourism posters show fields of lavender growing profusely in serried rows. (How's that for a bit of flowery prose?) This morning we visited the lavender museum and shop of one of the local growers, Chateau du Bois. We were shown a film about lavender growing and given a lesson on the different types of lavender found in Provence. There are two types; the fine or genuine lavender and a hybrid called Lavendin. The former, we were told, is the genuine article full of medicinal properties while the latter is produced commercially for soap, disinfectant and industrial purposes. Proper lavender only grows above a certain altitude, we were told, and anything else is the hybrid Lavendin.

A quick look at Wikipedia would indicate this is a fairly blatant bending of the truth. There are apparently 26 species of lavender and they grow in all sorts of habitats around the Mediterranean. In fact the fine French lavender grown by Chateau du Bois would seem to be native to Spain from high in the Pyrenees. It was their hard sell that compelled me to do further research.

This afternoon we drove to the off the beaten tourist path village of Oppède le Vieux. This little village is an absolute delight because it is as yet un-developed and therefore unspoilt. Initially it seems to be an unassuming place. However, for a small out of the way settlement it has a big and violent history. Above the town there is a castle ruin. Just below the castle is a Catholic Church and below that many derelict houses where trees and vines have taken root. Below these the village is more intact and in places being restored.

The reason for the houses being derelict is because a new town was built nearby and the inhabitants left the old town for the new. Although they had moved they retained ownership of their old homes. However they were required to pay tax on any second home unless it was devoid of a roof. The solution was to use the roofing materials from the old house on their new house in new Oppède.

In Roman times the town was used as a staging post for the legions as they passed through the area. Later on the town became part of the struggle to oust the "Anti-Pope". The Popes had originally fled Italy for Avignon to avoid being assassinated. They stayed in Avignon for around 79 years then returned to Italy. As is often the case there was much political intrigue amongst the differing factions which resulted in two men claiming to be pope, one in Italy and one in France. Italy was having none of that nonsense so troops were sent to seek and destroy the French claimant. In response he fled to the castle at Oppède le Vieux where along with about 20 others he lived under siege for some years. The castle proved to be impenetrable so he survived and eventually disappeared it is thought to Spain.

Later the village was the target of a massacre by Catholics against the French Protestants. This village is tiny, yet 800 Protestants were killed. The church was seized, torn down and replaced by the Catholic Church that is there today.

If all that wasn't enough, the town was used by the Resistance in World War II.

We decided to lunch in one of the two restaurants in town before heading up to look at the castle ruin. The way to the castle is via a steep, winding, cobbled path and the view at the top is well worth the walk. The castle is closed to the public because it's on the edge of a sheer cliff and is dangerous because of that and its state of decay. The castle is being restored, not to its former glory but as a significant historic relic. It was our luck that one of the volunteers was there that day and he invited us in to have a look at the safe parts of the site. It's an amazing place and from the inside it was self evident as to why the Anti-Pope survived the siege. In simple terms all access dictated a single file approach. It wasn't possible for any troops to storm the barricades.

The castle had its own garden and animals as well as a sophisticated set of cisterns and wells so, apart from the fact the people with murderous intent were snooping about, life there would have been reasonably comfortable.

Tonight was our farewell dinner. It was also Jo's and Jeannine's 13th anniversary. Everyone had signed a card for them. We congratulated them on their anniversary and toasted their future together. Yet again we enjoyed another of Julian's feasts. I think he realised he was giving us a bit too much because tonight's fare was marginally less in quantity. Marginally!

After dinner we presented Jackie and Marie with cards we had all signed. Dear Marie was quite overwhelmed with emotion. As we all had to be up early the next morning to catch our trains we didn't linger too late at the table.

Today's photos

Sat 18 Oct - Homeward bound

We left Sous l'Olivier just before 9.00am and drove to the the TGV Station in Avignon from where (whence?) all but three of us were leaving. The TGV station is a confusing place if you don't speak fluent French so Jackie saw everyone to their trains. As a farewell gesture Cindy played the station piano and was well applauded by both our group and some bystanders.

After saying our goodbyes Jackie, Marie and The Two Js dropped me off at the Avignon Novotel Centre where I had a room for the day. I was facing a seven hour wait until my train to Lyon followed by a three hour wait at the airport for my flight. It made sense to take a room so I could rest up and that's what I did. I took a walk for 45 minutes which included a quick reconnaissance of the station, had some lunch at the hotel and hunkered down until it was time to leave.

I caught the train without incident although managed to sit in the wrong coach and had to move when the rightful owner of my seat got on at Montélimar. Upon arrival arrival in Lyon I was looking forward to settling into the Emirates lounge to await my flight. Trouble was Emirates doesn't have a lounge at Lyon. They use the Lyon airport lounge and it was a stinker, comparatively speaking.

The flight was a tad late but not too bad. I settled into my seat, had half my dinner and thankfully fell asleep for about three hours. At Dubai the airport is being expanded so we didn't disembark via an air bridge. Instead we were dropped onto the tarmac, a twelve minute bus ride from the terminal. I eventually found myself inside the terminal suffering a severe case of consternation. My ticket said I was departing from Terminal One but I couldn't see any signage to direct me to Terminal One. Nor could I see my flight on an indicator board. Nor could I see an information officer. Eventually I saw an Emirates lounge and asked directions. It turns out I was in Terminal One but the terminal is comprised of three concourses. I was in concourse C and needed to be in Concourse A which is a brisk ten minute walk and short train ride away. Thank heavens I had three hours to kill. If I'd been trying to connect with less time than that I probably would have burst into tears.

Happily the Emirates lounge at Dubai is heavenly. I made my self some bread, cheese and ham á la Jackie and Marie and some coffee. Then I settled in until it was time to fly home. The flight was on time, the doors were armed and then we had to wait on the tarmac for 90 minutes because of some convoluted air traffic control issue. When we eventually took off I was too tired to have any food which is a shame because the Qantas food is quite good. I slept and watched a movie and slept some more and watched another movie. I was getting hungry so I had the healthy option snack of two boxes of Boxer Crisps and a beer.

Home at last

The plane landed in Sydney at just after 7.00am. Thirteen hours is a long time to be in an aeroplane when you are already very tired to begin with. Because we were a little late my transfer home coincided with Monday morning peak hour. I got home, went to bed and slept like a log for eight hours.

PS It's now the morning of Thursday 23rd October and I'm still not sure if I've recovered. I have some hay fever symptoms and I did something to my leg on the flight so that bending my right knee is painful and darn near impossible.

CONCLUSION All in all I had an interesting and enjoyable trip. My time in the Cotswolds was heavenly. It's so pretty there and I was very lucky to have dear little Green Cottage as my base. I had a great week on tour with French Escapade. Jackie and Marie looked after me and the rest of the group as they safely drove us around Provence. My new American friends were heaps of fun. As a group we were unusually cohesive. We ate, we drank, we played silly games and fell about laughing.

There were thirteen of us. Jackie, from Belgium, Marie a French woman, one Aussie, (little ole me) and ten Americans from all over the USA. We comprised 5 lesbians and 8 straight gals, some of us married, some single, some mothers and grandmothers and some not. Outsiders looking on thought we were a group of friends traveling together. They didn't realise we'd only just met. They also wanted to know, even though it's the 21st century, where our husbands were!

"It's very nice to go travelling ... ", as the song says, but it was good to get home to Daisy and Paul, who had both been missing me, after a whole month away.

Thanks to all who made the trip so enjoyable and interesting, especially Joan in London and Jackie and Sandy in Spain.

And a patriotic plug for Qantas, which despite Alan Joyce was definitely the best of the three airlines I experienced, for both comfort and service.

And one more commercial endorsement - Paul and I were able to talk every day, usually video calls on FaceTime, with lots of messaging in between times. We were pleasantly surprised at the extent of free wifi in Europe, but communications with home were also made easy and quite inexpensive by the global roaming sim card I had in my iPhone. Australians travelling overseas, especially to the UK and Europe, should have a look at (PS since then, however, we have found Vodafone’s $5 roaming to be unbeatable)

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In