A Travellerspoint blog

Caux: June 21

sunny 25 °C

The morning woke ahead of us in our comfortable lodging in the home of M&M (Mark & Michael) as I call it.

Breakfast was exactly like we saw on the internet, Alfie included, and our chatty hosts helped us plan the itinerary for the day. Except this time we were there:
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We were half an hour away from the Mediterranean so we reckoned we ought to slip down there. There were several sweeteners which made the choice easy. They had established a relationship with a local winemaker, an ex IBM executive, who produces a wine called "Vincent" amongst others at La Grangette. We didn't buy it but we tasted it upon our arrival. Quite tasty, fruity and nearly a full palate. We wanted to get a photo of the bottle and Karen and I sitting under the table at our lodgings just so we could say "we drank Vincent under the table" but he had thrown it out.

We also learned about Picpoul de pinet grapes and a couple of links are provided for the wine aficionados amongst you:

http://www.domainelagrangette.com/en_presentation.html
http://www.picpoul-de-pinet.com/english/le_vin.asp

A sign at La Grangette celebrating the 'cepage' or variety of grape:

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The flavour for us was not unlike that described in the notes on the site above. Then we citroened on to Marseillan, the home of Noilly Prat, a vermouth which is still being produced in the manner it was some 150 years ago. We decided to taste their products just to reassure ourselves they were still doing a good job. They were holding a degustation talk and tasting as we arrived so we joined in. Interesting, although we are slow learners we reckon we recognised several more words in the talk given in French of course. Encouraging!

Marseillan:

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Karen bought an apron at Noilly Prat and was delighted to be told she could work their now in her apron, French looking thing she is.

Well, Marseillan is on the lake between Sete and Agde and is only a hop skip and jump from the Mediterranean. So away we went and drove along the narrow stretch of land separating the lake from the ancient sea. Just out of Sete and acting upon the recommendation of M&M we stop at Villeroy and wandered barefoot onto the sand. We are not sure if this was genuine Mediterranean sand or sand bought in to supplement the beach; didn't really matter at the time because we figured they hadn't been supplementing the sea itself.

We decided to eat, unusual that, at L'Oala (I think the spelling is correct) which is a tented restaurant on the beach. We chilled out there for nearly two hours soaking up the sun and the view of the settled, glistening blue Mediterranean despite the strong off-shore wind. And, no vapour trails across the largely unclouded sky. After dragging ourselves away we wet our feet in the sea, fun. Mind you, our ancient Australian beaches have finer sand than this part of the Mediterranean.

Karen in the Mediterranean:

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Sea shell:

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We drove through Sete, a large fishing town with the town embracing the canal and the fishing boats. No need to stop as we were oyster hunting.

To prove we did, herewith:

At Bouzigues we planned to have fresh oysters with a glass of the picpoul de pinet. Damn those French. "Déjeuner est terminé."

We avoided an international incident and headed back being 4pm. Ee had decided to have a easy, layback night gathering our thoughts and thinking about Barcelona ahead. We were willing to take the risk of the local pizzeria. Much like a take away pizza back in Australia, but not before I caught the patisserie just as it was closing at 7:30 at night. The pizza, washed down with a chilled La Grangette cabernet franc was a kind of comfort food. Jack asked about a meat pie and sauce. We never thought about it and haven't see any. I wonder what our mate Heston Blumenthal would do with a meat pie?

One of the nice things about France is that the shops generally are open later after their siesta over lunch. Even small shops in small villages. The taste of his eclair and pomme tarte after pizza was not small however.

We had enjoyed a fun day and gently eased ourselves into a restful sleep.

Posted by lesnkaren 00:24 Archived in France Comments (0)

St Remy to Caux (the stonehouse): June 20

22 °C

Another perfect croissant breakfast.

We ambled away through breakfast, had a chat to John and Christine about their daughter and osteopathy in France and Australia (given our limited knowledge) and somewhat regretfully packed our things. We had decided to do a last-minute visit to St Remy and whilst we were there one of our rear tyres got screwed. Literally by a screw. It wasn't totally flat but as we were about to leave, a local Frenchman drew our attention to our half flat tire. His English was as limited as our French but fortunately the car manual was written in the same French he speaks. The French! Citroens do not carry a spare tire, they carry a compresser and a spray can of material which may help plug the leak if you're lucky but you still need the tire attended to the following day. Our tyre decided to become screwed on a Sunday.

With expectations quite low we found the number for Europcar assistance and fortunately the man inside my phone spoke adequate English. He said somebody was on their way and would be about 50 minutes. About 15 minutes later a Frenchman with heaps less English confirmed he was on the way and after going round the block he found us.

He had a tiny toolkit with some interesting gadgets. Finding the cause of the puncture he extricated it with a plunging poker kind of device. After examining the hole he initially thought it might be secure but poked and prodded in a way I never thought you could with car tyres. He sent this device further and further into the rubber and realised it needed sealing. With another device he threaded some orange gooey looking stuff into a small gap twisted round and forced and screwed its way into the tyre and then began to pull the device out.

Clever French tyre guy:

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Again after checking he declared it safe and now two days later we declare it a success. He impressed me so much I dug deep into my French and the dictionary on my iPhone and said "est-ce-que je dis, bravo?" intending to say "is it that i say bravo?" He paused, for a second looked quizzically at me and then smiled and raised his thumb in affirmation. I think I succeeded. So some two and a half hours later we headed south west-ish to the Stonehouse B&B in the town of Caux.

We met Michael and Mark, our hosts and our co-host their Catalan sheep dog, Alfie. Michael and Mark are an extremely chatty extrovert couple. Michael is the ex-yank who writes and does marketing and looks after the B&B. Mark is the brit who has a long history of involvement in corrections and training in Britain. We had much to chat about and in the process realised we must be quickly returning to work. They made us feel very welcome, gave us heaps of information which we used the following day.

Mark, Alfie and Michael:
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They also gave us a couple of suggestions for restaurants in the nearby town of Penezas. So around 7:30 we drove to 15 minute to town, went the wrong way and let Missy help us. We wandered a bit and found the restaurant, Le Palmiers, which is essentially a restaurant between three walls, no roof other than the shades they have placed there.

Les Palmiers is a courtyard; you might be able to see it here:
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We wandered in and found the waiter had little English. The waitress apparently is the once again girlfriend of an artist who works nearby. His is art showing in the restaurant. She was a delightfully extrovert waitress. When Karen ordered the pork and clarify it was indeed pork, the waitress spoken French rapidly saying 'cochon' and snorted like a pig. We fell for her immediately. I ordered tuna half cooked, Pave de Thon mi cuit; and Karen changed her mind and had veal of which the cut looked more like a thin steak. Some cuts are different in France and we think the meat is generally aged a little longer. Although we were blessed by episodes of perfection the previous night we very much enjoyed this food. I ordered a baba au rhum.

Karen smiling after our cochon entertainment:
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In this case the cake/donutty thing was presented under some slightly aerated cream and a central bottle with a pourer was placed on the table. We looked quizzically and our lovely waitress indicated we poured over the desert as much as we like. We found the rum had been stored with vanilla beans, a cinnamon stick and various spices including star anise to flavour the rum. We reckon it worked really well. Feeling a little tired we went without coffee and wandered home.

Our rhum inspiration (sorry for dark photo):
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A group of three women were eating next to us. One spoke English well, assumed we were British then when we declared we are Australian she was impressed then asked us why were we in Pezenas. Like so far off the beaten track. It was a real surprise for them. Anyway a good 10 minute chat was had and both tables concentrated on eating.

We reflected on the experience of French people here. We don't find them arrogant and the people we ran into like us tended to say the same. Although the cultures are a little different part we're pretty much all the same.

Another pleasant bonne nuit to you all.

Posted by lesnkaren 08:53 Archived in France Comments (1)

St Remy de Provence: June 19

Another perfect croissant for breakfast.
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Mas Shamrock:
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Cooler morning so far, little bit of high cloud cover. Wind is fresh and teasing me that it is the Mistral but I know better. I will come another time in Winter for that. I just learned that the name for the wind is tramotane.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia: The tramontane in France is a strong, dry cold wind from the north (on the Mediterranean) or from the northwest (in lower Languedoc, Roussillon, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. ).[2] It is similar to the mistral in its causes and effects, but it follows a different corridor; the tramontane accelerates as it passes between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, while the Mistral flows down the Rhone Valley between the Alps and the Massif Central. Check this sight for the tramotane clouds we did not see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tramontane

Luckily we eaves-dropped over breakfast so we altered our plans. We learned Les Baux de Provence is crowded with tourists, canned sardine style, most of the day. So we decided to go first to St Remy and I think Karen wandered and counted windows or something. I checked email, solved the planet's problems again for the umpteenth time but no-one listened again for the umpteenth time.

On Saturdays at St Remy artists line the boulevard which circles the historic township. We are told that numerous artists flock to St Remy for the market, many live and work there and as we walked around the Boulevard we could see a very wide variety of artistic styles and mediums and we thought perhaps they mix and exchange ideas and fantasised that it had the buzz and vigor of Paris in days past.

We were suckers for some more Gallo-Roman ruins. Check out the "wine smoking" room. We think it relates to preserving wine but still have to check it out.
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After an espresso and 'pression' (French for espresso and beer on tap) we drove back to Mas Shamrock for nanna's nap.

The nap worked for us both. We then readied our self to head off to Les Baux de Provence. The town is situated about halfway up a hill some 15 minutes south of St Remy. Above that is the chateaux and the old fortress. The town is very much intact like Sarlat and our host was right. When we arrived around 4:30 the hordes were thinning and those who prefer space were winning. There were some talented artists hawking their wares and others selling the usual trinkety trish-trash.

As with Gordes, our photos do not do justice to the vistas and the best of Les Baux de Provence. For that our memories will be the best.

Some views of Les Baux de Provence:
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Okay, it is time to come clean. We knew in advance we were in for a treat but we have been holding back telling you. The village of Les Baux de Provence and the surrounding views were like a pre-entree. We had decided to book a dinner at a two star Michelin restaurant. Please don't tell anyone. The restaurant is known as L'Oustau de Baumanièr in the Hotel of the same name I think. As we were driving there the Highett boy in me felt underdressed and unworthy. You know, like shogs on a rack. Thank goodness I had a beautiful woman on my arm. As we approached the restaurant through the arbor of honeysuckle our excitement rose as the ambience spoke well of the restaurant. We didn't feel quite as bad when we walked onto the terrace as a group of young trendy French people who had attended a wedding at Les Baux de Provence all beginning to get rowdier with alcohol as a group of young trendy Australian people would.

To my delight, when we were greeted by the maitre d', he pretended he did not see my shoes and I pretended to believe he respected me. This was reinforced by the fact that there were not seated in the furthest most invisible corner. I felt compelled to ask permission to take photos of the food (flash off) and our maitre d' at the end of the night encouraged a couple of shots I would not have thought of taking. If you ever been to a fancy restaurant you may be faced with making a choice of three or four courses from 20 plus. Our choice was fairly easy in the sense that we had 20 à la carte options and then the choice of vegetarian menu, and three fixed menus. We were seduced by the Les Ballard option given some detail in the listing.

Then you have to choose wine. There were 10 pages of wine listing some 3 wines on each page. We narrowed the choice dramatically wanting a 500 ml bottle. We narrowed it further by asking about regional wine and the sommelier immediately confirmed an option for us. We were beginning to feel more relaxed. This feeling deepened as a few other shogs on a rack rocked up. Certainly there were some trés chic guests and I suspect a couple of celebrities and some a little more moneyed than we were.

But we had hunger. This is something we would like to do once a year. More often would be detracting. The food and the ambience was exceptionally special, but so in other ways was a home-cooked meal with the Welsh's, the traditional farmhouse meals such as at the Goose Farm, and so on. Let me tease you no longer.

Included is a photo of the menu which Karen procured by charm alone.
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Unfortunately it does not reflect every item on our menu that we consumed. An amuse bouche of crisp baby salad leaves and pureed pea was perfect. By perfect I mean it could not be improved.
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The presentation on the red mullet (roget) was fun and impressive and the taste was superb. Like my previous at La Recreation the fish or the accompaniment had a smoky flavour.
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Our next course was a fish dish of Turbot. This is a fish I've not had before, not oily, with white meaty flesh and uniquely tasty. On the plate you can see some separate elements around the fish. Tasting them in turn made me wonder. The fish grabbed me immediately and then towards the end of this serving when the pushing and shoving and moving around with a knife and fork causes all the disparate elements to merge, the chef had thrown me to the floor, pinned me to count of 1, 2, 3. I was won, I was his. This dish really worked for me.
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We then had the pigeon and he nearly got me again but I was stronger this time. What really worked for me was the pigeon, cooked rare, merging really well with the soft turnip. The pigeon was gamey, we have never eaten pigeon before. Karen loved this dish immensely.
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Then the glass cart of cheese was wheeled in and the maitre d' insisted I take a photo. There seem to be 50 cheeses which he named, I was in awe and beginning to fall in love with him, or the cheese. We thought four would be a respectful choice of cheeses although he said we could have more. Without discussion Karen chose two I would've gone for: a local ash covered thin chevre, and a ripe soft cheese. I chose a Corsican sheep cheese, and a fresh goat curd with rosemary and two others unfortunately I now can not recall. Damn, and damn nice cheese.

Desert was a delicious event, a chocolate frappé with a confit of cassis (blackcurrant) which we suspect had a share of kirsch. For us the flavours merged perfectly. Another win!

Pastry, chocolate and another desert which tasted good, not perfect, but was perfect to watch.
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Or in motion:

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Back home through the honeysuckle then driving in the dark with the chateaux lit in lights.

Home, ever so replete and complete. Bonne Nuit.

Posted by lesnkaren 14:15 Archived in France Comments (1)

St Remy de Provence: June 18

St Remy de Provence: June 18

Been thinking about visual pollution in the sky. You may have noticed that in Paris the vapour trails of aircraft are far more frequent. Is this due to more aircraft, colder air temperature, higher altitudes for flight? I don't know yet but I do not they are not pretty. One can be admiring the natural formations of cirrus and more then find the sky punctuated by ten linear vapour trails. We have noticed fewer trails in the south.

Today we planned a busy day yet no more than about two and a half hours driving.

But first, breakky. Our host provides a simple breakky of bread, jam, croissant, coffee or tea and orange juice. For croissant connoisseurs the croissant was brilliant. First the look, well baked. Second the crisp noise as you break into it. Third the silky texture of a croissant made from real butter or whatever gave it silk. The multi grain bread had a delicious texture from its levain. As for coffee, we have offered our services.

Off to Gordes. The French have this scheme of beautiful villages: "des plus beaux villages de France" (most beautiful villages in France). Yes, Gordes is one of them perched on a hillside. Our photos do not do the village justice, you just have to be here so get your act together. It is old, much intact. These villages have their own population and are tourist oriented so many photos are contaminated with touristy trinkety type stores but there are a few gems amongst the stores. For example the vegie store had the best range of tomatoes I have ever seen.

Gordes:
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Les Villages des Boires was nearby and very interesting. It is built of dry stone construction, meaning no mortar is used, and they say not a lot is known of the origin of the original buildings and inhabitants. They were adapted and in use until the 19th century. It is fascinating to see how they were constructed. They were restored last century.

Village of Bories:

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We also discovered that the citroen car we rented can breath in and become narrower when it needs to. I have no other explanation for how we got through one of the laneways without scratching either mirror on the car.

On to Roussillon for the inner artist in us, also "un des plus beaux villages de France". You may have heard of the ochre hills which were and are a source of pigment for colour. Truly beautiful. Hopefully these photos do it some justice.

Roussillon:

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Also, while we were walking around the hills in the reserve Karen suggested a brief stop on a seat in dappled sunlight. I then noticed, with pride, a something 10 meters away through my sunglasses. It was one of the twenty six species of orchids in the park. Apologies for the photos, I should have removed my sunglasses to verify the focussing although there was a bit of a breeze.

Orchids:

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We decided upon lunch around 2:30 to find most places serving drinks but not food. Damn these French. Then one offered a beef carpaccio tentatively. Why would I have said no? So hot from our walk we settled into a cold beer and a carpaccio and, wait for it, a view!

Roussillon lunch and view:

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Why not we said to ourselves, let's fit in another "un des plus beaux villages de France", Bonnieux some 20 minutes away. Karen had heard of it. And she heard correctly. We didn't stay long but it had a charm and fewer tourists and fewer shops. She did expertly find an old postcard which will have a great use one day soon.

something about these old rooftops:

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We decided to ensure we made it to Fontaine de Vaucluse for sentimental reasons which is why we did not stay at Bonnieux for long. This place is the source of a beautiful spring with clear clear water and apparently a very deep source of water. Nestled and circled at the bottom of a grand limestone cliff the location is beautiful. Didn't pay much attention to the town. But as soon as you got deep enough into the canyon to exclude the sun the temperature dropped to a soothing coolness.

Due to the rains the water was surging and high. It is a beautiful meditative place and the clear watered river comes with its special blues.

At Fontaine du Vaucluse:

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the river in flow:

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By this time it was 7:00pm so we decided to eat at Le Cigalon in St Remy and then get home. We were given this restaurant as a recommendation by our hosts. Oh, were we mislead. We lost confidence for a while after this. We didn't pay attention to the warning signs. Silly us. We did notice it was fullish at 8pm; it seemed to be full of Frenchies; and the menu was not written in English so along with the recommendation we were lulled into false expectation based on the experiences of others. This time I think we were Hansel and Gretel.

We ignored the fact the waitresses were all dressed in tight mini skirts and slip on shoes, this would not pass OHS and reflected the calibre of the hirer. The dish we saw being served to many, the plat du jour, was full of bling. There was salt and pepper on the tables. The waiters and waitresss were rushing as there were not enough for the size of the restaurant and then after ordering a glass of red we were told it may be a little chilly.

Finally the food! It came to us saying "I am bling! Please take my photo!". I thought "no way honey!". There was this eggy thing. There was a glass of tomatoey saucey thing. There was lettuce dripping with a heavy handed dressing. The crunchy pappadam was over browned and flavourless. The steak was competent but uninspiring. The scallops were done well (probably an accident). The bread had a soft crust, can you believe this? My taste buds thought I was going mad. Enough we said, leaving some stuff on the plate we left. There was no point saying anything. These people can not be educated.

Karen suggested I get over it. I tried. She suggested it another few times. I tried. I am still trying. Even in France it is "mangeur prendre garde", "eater beware". Hmmph.

It was nonetheless a great day. Our Mr Welsh talks of these villages being "heartbreakingly beautiful". They often are.

We got over dinner enough to slip into a nightmare-less sleep. Bonne nuite.

Posted by lesnkaren 14:23 Archived in France Comments (2)

Beaumes-de-Venise to St Remy de Provence: June 17

Bonjour (said in a melodic tone).

Today is clean up and depart day. Got a journey of some 40 km ahead of us. While we waited for Mme Badaroux to check the house and return the bond we explored the back streets of town and climbed to a lower level of ruins than on the high ridge. It was interesting. We had no idea how many people get tucked into multi story apartments in winding narrow lane ways. We found some great views of the rooftops of the little town and then explored a bush track running on a smaller ridge between the main part of town and a vineyard and then the main ridge behind the town. It was a very pleasant trek.

Guess why French people drive small cars (it might be a bit hard to spot in this photo):

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Some rooftops:

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Video of backstreets:

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Funny thing you know, after having sweetbreads the other night I now have this compulsive urge to greet new people saying "gland to meet you".

A farewell coffee and pastry and we headed south. We accepted Missy's decision to go part of the way on a tolled motorway. For the heck of it I decided to detour left instead of right and went up 16km and back 16km and enjoyed double tolls. I am such a spontaneous thing. Karen shook her head again and I reckon she thought something like "the other left you ninny".

Anyway we got off the fast thing and wound our way to the famous St Remy. Some roads were a bit tight. Some of the roadside vegetation was bamboo or bamboo like, wonder why? Then we began to climb a little and our B&B was upon us in the outskirts of St Remy. Doing a trip with a Missy is certainly heaps easier than with a Map alone.

The B&B host, Christine was welcoming and chatty. She is French but has lived in Australia for while and many other places as well. Her hubby and co-host is named John Walsh, I kid you not. He is not so chatty. Their daughter is completing Osteopathy as well. Lots of coincidences.

The B&B passed the cleanliness test and the aesthetic test and guess guess guess what! I can stand under the shower, YEEHOO!

Here our pleasant first storey view to our outside breakfast room:

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The gardens are pleasant and beckoning but we decided to venture into town, check out the local office de tourisme and we are glad we did. She did not recommend a visit to a great macaroon place because she is not allowed to. Karen reckons they are the best she has tasted yet. Apparently the owners son, Remi, who is 18 years makes them. She was a proud mum. A bit more of a wander; a pastis for me and martini for Karen and then dinner.

Dinner at the hotel restaurant Auberge de la Reine Jeanne, was somewhere between regional home cooking and michelin. The venue was outside in a courtyard and very pleasing. The dogs of clients were well behaved and a cat entertained us by scratching against the small tree next to us.

The restaurant couldn't be michelin starred even if the food warranted it because the napkin had a hole in it. Gad! We did witness an exciting way of serving whole fish. It came out in a cage and then sticks of something were lit underneath scarring the fish for some 30 seconds. We forgot to ask what it was.

Holey napkin, a guaranteed fail:

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The food was tasty nonetheless and I got my monthly quota of fish and nutrients from marinated sardine and then iron and protein from by beouf aux morilles. Karen enjoyed her pork and tapenade followed by her peppered steak.

Choosing wine from a foreign menu can be tricky. We continued the theme of asking about local wine and the waitress was happy to recommend a 500 ml bottle of a 2005 red from Les Baux de Provence, some 10 kms away. It was great value for the price.

Oh, nearly forgot to tell you the news. On impulse I bought Karen a new car here, it is so cool, like her:

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Time to go home again. When we hit the clean sheets we were stonkered.

Bonne nu.....zzzzzzz

Posted by lesnkaren 13:50 Archived in France Comments (0)

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