Monday, August 7, 2017

Castles, lavender, and a concert in Provence

Way back in November, David bought tickets for a concert at the Théâtre Antique d'Orange. Orange is a small town near Avignon. We decided to make a weekend of it and also do some more sightseeing in the area.

Our first stop was Les Baux-de-Provence. Our GPS liked to pronounce it 'The BOO of Provence' instead of Baux (sounds like bo). That resulted in David learning a new slang word. Now he won't stop calling me his boo hahaha.

It should have been 2 hours away from Cannes, but it ended up being more like 3 after a bad accident caused traffic to completely stop on the highway for 45 minutes. A car flipped over and burst into flames inside a tunnel!!

Thankfully we made it safely to our destination, but things stopped going well the second we got out of the car. It has typically been in the mid to high 80s in Cannes, which is HOT when you don't have air-conditioning. However, that's nothing compared to the 105 degrees we felt when we stepped out the car in Les Baux.

Silly me, I honestly thought it would be cooler in Provence since it's a few hours north of where we live. Nope. I guess we have the sea breeze to thank for keeping it cooler in Cannes.

We still persevered and walked into town from the parking lot. This town has officially been named one of the 'most beautiful villages of France.' The awful weather made it harder to enjoy, but I was still happy to see the quaint little village and amazing views.

View of Les Baux de Provence

It might have been a mistake, but we also paid to go explore the castle ruins. It was definitely impressive but unfortunately we didn't last too long. 

Castle ruins in Les Baux de Provence

The last straw for us was climbing up a tall tower for the view. We never recovered after that and had to start making our way back to the car before we DIED. We bought water bottles at the exit and both finished ours before reaching the car. I honestly don't know how I made it through 8 hour field trips in heat like that during my Jerusalem study abroad days. Probably because back in 2013 I was still in my youth.

View of fields from Les Baux de Provence
                             The view that almost killed us.
After about an hour of happily blasting the AC in the car, we reached Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This town is surrounded by vineyards and is famous for its wine. We weren't really up for more walking, but we did get out to snap a picture of this castle. The Château des Fines Roches is both a winery and a very fancy hotel.

Chateau des Fines Roches in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Our own, much less cool hotel, was about 10 minutes away. After checking in we headed to Orange to pick up our tickets. With almost 3 hours to kill before the concert, we had one mission: find a restaurant with air-conditioning. 

It was harder than it sounds. The vast majority of restaurants in southern France are open-air. Everyone except for us seems to love eating outside. Even when we finally found a place with an indoor section, several people CHOSE to sit outside on the terrace. Crazies.

Although classical music is not really my thing, I enjoyed the concert of Holst's 'The Planets.' Sitting in an ancient Roman theater made it more exciting for me. They also projected NASA images of space during the show.

Before heading out on Saturday morning, we stopped to see the Triumphal Arch in Orange. This was also built by the Romans during the period of Caesar Augustus!

Arc de Triomphe d'Orange

David had to comment that the French medieval castle in Les Baux was crumbling while the Roman theater and arch that were built 12 centuries earlier are still going strong. I think that's his dad's Italian pride coming out. 

If you read my last post, you know that I've been on a quest to see the lavender fields of Provence. We tried last week in Valensole but we were too late. I scoured the internet and found a town called Sault that has a higher altitude, and therefore has lavender that blooms later in the season.

Sault, France

It was a beautiful hour-long drive in the mountains, and we were rewarded at the end. I finally got to see my lavender. There were swarms of bees but I still managed to get some pictures. And it smelled great! 

La Ferme aux Lavandes in Sault, France

Dancing in the Sault lavender fields

Sault, France

As were were driving, I was convinced at first this was snow on top of the mountain! As we got closer I was proved wrong- it's just dirt.

Mount Ventoux en été

Our next stop was the Abbaye de Sénanque, about an hour south. It is a 12-century abbey surrounded by lavender. It wasn't nearly as in bloom or purple as Sault, but it was still a beautiful setting.

Abbaye de Sénanque in August

Abbaye de Sénanque

Before making our way home we drove through a town called Gordes. If we'd had better weather we probably would have walked around, but it was still nice to get a feel for it and stop for a picture.

View of Gordes

Despite the heat, we both loved our weekend- me for the sightseeing, and David for his concert.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Colorful Weekend

Hallelujah! We had one weekend of July that wasn't HOT!!!

I'm really not a fan of how France has not embraced air-conditioning. We've both had a hard time sleeping this month because of how hot our apartment is. 

We spent this weekend up in the mountains with David's parents. And of course, they don't have air-conditioning either... but at least where they live it cools off really nicely at night. 

The downside of going to Gap is that David usually has a lot of errands to catch up on that he can only do there- which leaves me a poor little orphan who has to amuse herself.

On the agenda this week was getting some vaccinations so that David can be deemed sanitary enough to immigrate to America. What cracked me up was that in France, you can't just go to the doctor and get your shots. That would be too simple! France is much more creative than that. He had to go see the doctor, get a prescription for the shots he needed, leave, go the pharmacy, pick up the vaccinations himself, bring them back to the doctor's office, and finally get his shots. As you can imagine, that took the whole morning.

I decided to venture out and walk to town while he was busy with that. Gap has a big market on Saturday mornings that is fun- although crowded, to explore. I was excited when I saw the cute umbrellas and flags hanging overhead! Get ready for a picture overload.

Purely by accident, I stumbled into a shoe store and walked away with these pretties. I think I'm in love. Yep, I still have the same sense of style as my 4 year old self and I love anything sparkly. 

They were 80% off, so I didn't feel too guilty. 

After lunch, I went with David and his mom to swim in a lake! I've always refused to swim in lakes because they gross me out, but I've seen the Lac de Serre-Ponçon before and it looks beautiful and clean. And we can't swim in Gap's community pool because David doesn't have a Speedo. Seriously. He only has trunks and they are forbidden hahahahaha.

The reasoning? The French are convinced that trunks are unsanitary due to the idea that people could wear them around all day and not just when they go to the pool. But who does that? It makes me eye-roll so hard.

Anyways, halfway to the lake we hit a major tourist traffic jam and decided to turn back when the GPS predicted it would take over an hour to get there -when it should have been 15 minutes away. Darn tourists (saying that doesn't really work because I've basically been a full-time tourist for years now).

We ended up just going for a walk around Charance instead. This is the mountain that overlooks Gap. There's a nice trail around a little lake- sadly, not a swimmable one.

We did dip our feet in a freezing cold stream. That was as close to swimming as we got.

Sunday afternoon, we started the trek back to Cannes. I've been dying to see the famous Provence lavender fields, so we made a slight detour to try and make that happen.

Oh, but first David had to make time to play the piano while he was home. One of his favorite things to do! I don't know why I took this picture, but it makes me laugh.

We drove through Valensole, but sadly we were just a week too late. The scenery was still beautiful, so I can almost imagine what it would look like if these fields were purple. We are going back to Provence next weekend, so there's a small chance we might come across some fields still in bloom. If not, good thing my in-laws live nearby! We'll just have to plan a visit someday during lavender season.

These gorgeous sunflower fields were my consolation prize! There were several throughout our drive.

I also made David stop for a picture of the town center of Valensole- I love these typical Provence houses.

All in all it turned out to be a very picturesque weekend- glad I brought my camera along!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My favorite season in France

I'll give you a hint... it comes not only once, but twice a year! And it's called les soldes! 

Les soldes Galeries Lafayette à Nice

'Soldes' is French for 'sales.' Twice a year, the whole country of France is on sale. That's barely even an exaggeration. The French government fixes dates for nationwide sales in winter and summer (each lasting 5 weeks). Things start out at about 30-50% off, and the prices gradually get better and better!

It's no secret that I love shopping and fashion in France, so this is a very enjoyable time of the year for me. It seems pretty bizarre that the government chooses when stores put things on sale- but it might just be the most fun consequence of socialism there ever was. 

I'm not familiar with the in-depth laws, but stores are allowed to have sales at other times during the year. However, I believe they are restricted and regulated.

A few weeks ago we drove by what looked like a BRAND new, 21st century American mall near Nice. On a cloudy Saturday (not optimal beach weather), I convinced David to go take advantage of prices I could actually afford.

Polygone Riviera is an open-air mall built in 2015. Do you know how rare it is to go somewhere built in 2015 in Europe? They tend to build things to last a long time over here.

I love me some medieval buildings, but it also made me so happy to be somewhere that felt so shiny and New World. Can you say air-conditioning?

Polygone Riviera

David went to go hang out at FNAC (basically the French equivalent of Barnes n' Noble). He managed to keep himself entertained browsing the music and books long enough for me to hit up 3 stores. Not too shabby, especially considering that one of those stores was Zara, where I always take my sweet time.

Since it was Saturday, during the soldes, AND during peak tourist season in this area, most stores were a complete zoo. I almost got Black Friday vibes.

The next week I took the train to Nice to stop by one more of my favorite stores. Despite the 90 degrees humid weather, I still enjoyed my walk through Vieux Nice- hadn't made it there since February!

Bell tower in Vieux Nice

Colorful buildings in Vieux Nice

French flag on the streets of Vieux Nice

They were busy setting up a patriotic stage in Place Masséna for the French president Macron to use 2 days later on July 14th (the French national holiday, in case you weren't aware). After hanging out with Trump on the Champs-Elysées, Macron came to Nice for a ceremony honoring the victims of the awful attack there last year. 

I suppose this post wouldn't be complete without showing off a few of my purchases. I wasn't able to track down pics online or take them myself of everything, but here's a taste :)

Everything in these pictures combined (shirt, 2 necklaces, skirt, 2 pairs of shoes) cost under 40 euros.

All I have left to say is Vive la France!

Mairie de Cannes 14 Juillet
The Cannes town hall decked out for July 14th

Monday, July 10, 2017

Not an illegal alien.

Last week was my first trip to France's second biggest city... Marseille! 

A lot of French people stereotype Marseille as being dirty and full of crime. David has certainly never had an interest in going there. I, however, have been interested in checking it out for a while so I could form my own opinion.

I FINALLY (after 9 months of living in France) received a letter scheduling my immigration appointment to validate my long-stay visa. We debated if it was even worth it at this point, but ultimately decided that I should in order to be completely legal, have health insurance, and be allowed to work (just in case).

Early Thursday morning, I took a 2 hour train ride to Marseille. I only had limited time to sightsee, so I took a taxi directly to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde from the train station. 

Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille

This church sits on a hill overlooking the city. I was pretty pleased that I took a taxi since it was 90 degrees and humid, and that hill was steep.

View of the Vieux Port in Marseille

I knew the views would be amazing, but the inside of the church was a pleasant surprise!

Interior of Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille

Ceiling of Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille

My favorite part of the view was being able to see the Château d'If, of Count of Monte Cristo fame.

View of Chateau d'If in Marseille

I decided to walk down the hill and hope that just by going downhill and following other tourists, I would end up at the Vieux Port. My plan worked, with one small hiccup. The walk down was mostly just a sloped sidewalk, but there were also random stairs at uneven intervals. Of course I had to miss one, fall flat on my face, and skin my knee like a toddler. 

The Vieux Port is the center of Marseille and was a nice place to walk around for a while. I saw a few places I wouldn't mind coming back to someday and exploring more.

Vieux Port of Marseille

Ferris wheel in Vieux Port of Marseille

After a light lunch (okay, it wasn't actually a lunch... it was a nutella crepe, let's be honest), I hopped on the metro to get to the immigration office. Sightseeing time was over.

I've gone through the French immigration process once before during my teaching internship, so I knew to get there early. They give you an appointment time, but they give the same appointment time to 30 other people. I got there at 1:00 for my 1:30 appointment. Since it's France, they completely close the building down for a nice leisurely lunch.

I was the first one in line outside. I talked to some Canadians who were shocked that I wasn't one of them based on my accent. Those beautiful nasal vowels. #stillgotit

By the time they let us in at 1:30, I was surrounded by a crowd of people from all over the world who were in the same boat as me. The process was a bit different from a few years ago because this time I'm the spouse of a French citizen, and have the right to renew this visa indefinitely. 

So with a group of about 20 people who also have the right to stay in France on a more permanent basis, we started off the afternoon with a written French test. Basically, if you don't have at least a basic level of French, you're required to take (free) French classes.

It was fun to hear where everyone else was from. There was several people from Morocco and Algeria, a couple from Armenia, a handful of people from China, and others. An older lady from Kazakhstan struck up a conversation with me and kept me entertained while we were waiting. She was confused at how long the French process took because apparently in Kazakhstan... anyone and just cross the border and move right in!

The written test was very simple and I got 100%. The next step was an oral interview to make sure we could speak French, and also to give us information about settling in. I was surprised at how nice my interviewer was (not usually a trait of immigration/government officials). She was so complimentary about my French and even said she wished I lived in Marseille so she could hire me to teach her kids English. She gave me tips on finding a job, getting a French driver's license (which I won't be doing- I've seen how they drive here), and explained how to sign up for social security.

After a long wait, the medical checkup began. First up was a lung x-ray to check for tuberculosis. Has anyone ever met someone in the western world that contracted tuberculosis in the 21st century?? Last year for both of my jobs in the U.S. I also had to be tested for this. I find it pretty amusing that I've been tested for TB three times in the last year when I've never heard of any friend of friend of friend ever catching this, but what do I know.

The next steps were meeting with a doctor and then a nurse. They did basic things like checking my blood pressure, blood sugar, and vaccination records. I was very happy to finally get the official stamp in my passport and get out of there. The whole process took 4 hours. Most of that was waiting time and not actually doing anything.

As far as Marseille goes, I found all the stereotypes I've heard about it to be untrue. Everything I saw seemed clean and safe for such a big city. So don't be afraid to visit! I would happily go back.

It feels good to not be an illegal alien any longer... even though we'll likely only be staying in France for another 3-4 months. Better late than never!