September 7, 2011

Le Continent: Installment One

Bonjour! I bet you all thought I’d come to my death in the Pyrenees, eh? Or via mafia in Marsailles? Pas de veritie. I am well and happy, but have been sans wifi for several days now. Conversely I’ve been constantly with my camera, and there’s been no end to the picture-taking since Belgium, so I have much to share with you. Probably in various installments.

So here we go.


BELGIQUE!! My great grandfather traveled to New York from Gent at the turn of the 20th century, where he eventually met my crazy Missourian great grandmother, femme de five husbands. I have always wanted to visit the country for this reason, but never had a true picture in my head, beyond what I’d imagined. I always thought it to look sort of like Provencal France, which in turn I thought to look like the opening scene from Beauty and the Beast. Such was true of Provencal France, much to my delight, but Belgium looked much more like how I’ve always pictured Germany. Full of beautiful architecture such as this:








If the picturesque setting wasn’t enough to secure a fondness for my homeland-of-sorts, it seemed to stand for everything I love...

1) Bicycles
This was my view from the train on our way through Gent:


Those are all bicycles! I’m pretty sure they outnumbered the cars. Everyone was riding them around the city, and in Brugge they didn’t even worry about locking them up -- I guess since everybody has one anyway!

They made for some cute au pair pics:


2) Horses



If bikes aren’t really your thing, you can get through town via horse-drawn carriage. Hell yeah.

3) Waffles (of course)


Mom and I didn’t get to enjoy our waffles until the end of our trip, and this one proved too crispy for our liking, so we had to buy a second one on our way out of town. The latter was much more like a doughnut -- very delicious and strangely cheaper!!

4) Chocolate

And boy was there chocolate.

The boxes are edible too!!
 


 


All with awesome names!





These were an unexpected delight:



And these:


I always knew love and chocolate were paired in my mind for a reason.

4) Beer

Okay, now before you start puffing air at me for hypocrisy of beer-love, let me remind you that before I left the USA I did profess a fondness for three kinds of beer: one, something I got at Finn Macool’s that starts with an H and has lemon in it; two, Ruby beer from Oregon, flavored with raspberry; and Trippel from Trader Joe’s -- a BELGIAN beer. I found the best of all worlds here in Brugge, being well supplied with local ales and famous bier framboise (raspberry ale). Both were delicious, and I am now happy to say that, given the right selection, I will happily nurse a good bottle o’beer.

5) Lace


Pretty, pretty! I would love to have a Belgium wedding with raspberry beer, a chocolate-covered waffle cake (they can do that, right?), and the most ridiculous lacy gown imaginable. Look at me going all cultural, world.

And Hannah Harris, before I get married, since I still have my life partner life to live with you until then, we might have to swap this for the charm of Portland for a spell:


Blue door you, green door me.


And so I’ve fallen in love with Belgium. The two nights we stayed in our hotel simply weren’t enough -- not for all that beer, chocolate, wafel, and unfairly underrated food.


Such was Brugge.

The morning of the 3rd we boarded a train for Avignon, France. We enjoyed an array of goodies purchased the night before at a Belgium supermarket -- cheese, bread, olive spread... even some wine!

A note on trains: they’re very easy to fall asleep on. It’s no wonder people are always getting robbed on them and missing their connections. I guess it’s cause you sort of rock back and forth on the tracks, making the whole thing like a cradle, but even on a full night’s sleep I was dozing in and out like the grandma I am at heart.

On my way off the train I was almost a stowaway to Marseilles. It took a long time to get out of our compartment, as we had a whole orchestra with us, and I just barely made it through as the doors closed. Whee! It’s a good thing I managed the leap, because spending four days here has reminded me how rusty my French has become. Dad, too, has been laughing his way through things. Our waiter in Cordes had a laugh over his dessert order: “une tarte de pomme de terre” (potatoes) instead of “tarte au pomme” (apples). Mom just gestures wildly and repeats everything in English, as if the third time it will magically become French. It’s been a wild trip.

Avignon was just a pass-through for the Brow tour de France, and all we really did here was have dinner and breakfast. The adjustment to warmer weather was gladly welcomed with a much-needed leg shave and fishing my Ray-Bans out from their lonely residence in the bottom of my backpack. Even 8:00pm called for little more than a scarf with my silk dress.

I’ve been reading A Tale of Two Cities and on our walk to supper I was delighted to see “L’Hotel de Ville,” as mentioned in the DeFarge portion of the novel. I know there’s a “Village Hotel” in every village (the one in the book was in Saint Antoine, anyway), but I was excited nonetheless.



We also saw the stunning Palais de Pape (Pope’s palace), just off the market square:


But much of the city was less aesthetically-pleasing...

This was in the middle of the street!

Cruising (or bumping and jolting) forth in our rental car along l’Autoroute, we headed south toward Arles the next morning. This was another pass-thru, and we really didn’t see much of city itself. Instead, we spent the day traveling to Maxine and Grimaud, closer to the coast.

I became the minority the minute we hit the beach.


I barely tan normally -- I usually burn before I’m able to bronze beyond my shoulders. Scotland and Seattle haven’t really helped my situation. The people on this beach made me look like an albino, and I sort of felt like the mouth-popped marshmallow that was never to see the embers of life’s campfire.



In the 100 feet or so of beach we strolled I came face to face with many perfectly bronzed breasts. Someday when I am not with my parents and hopefully not so white I will happily join in this mermaid fanfare. For now, I exposed as little blinding skin as possible.

In Grimaud I had my first taste of the picturesque scenery Disney instilled in me at an early age:




I’ve also completely fallen in love with shutters. And how could you not when they’re this cute??



That’s all for tonight, folks. My keyboard-snappin’ joints are tired... I’ll update you on Cordres, the unanticipated jewel of our French journey, as soon as time permits. It might be a while, since I hear the hostel I'm staying in for the next 10 days only has wifi available for £1 per 20 mins. What a draaaaag.

A bientot! A teut a leure! Ciao!

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