A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Beginning a Week in Provence: Welcome to Cavaillon

by Ben

sunny 15 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Cavaillon:7th Century Chapel At top of Bluff

Cavaillon:7th Century Chapel At top of Bluff

Unfortunatley for us we could not secure the apartment we booked in Provence unless we agreed to arrive by 11:00 am as this was the only time on the weekend that the agent was available to let us in. This meant we had to get on the road around seven this morning. The kids did great with getting up on time and starting off in the dark before anyone else in the village of Salisgne (where we stayed near Carcassonne) had started to stir.

I had decided the night before not to totally alienate my children (they weren't already alienated by the 7:00 am departure you ask?!) and accept the fact that I would need to take some toll roads rather than require the kids to be out the door by 5:30 am. I was feeling pretty good as we drove down the highway watching the sunrise on a cloudless morning while listening with Hannah to a CBC podcast (Abby was catching up on beauty sleep). That blissful state evaporated for a short time when we came to the end of our second toll road a couple of hours later.

Cavaillon:Catus along the walk up the bluff

Cavaillon:Catus along the walk up the bluff

All the toll booths we have encountered in France are fully automated and on today's journey nearly all of them were exclusively credit card payment. That was not a real concern since I had paid numerous tolls already using my North American cards. I slipped my toll ticket into the machine to see what the damage was. The last 50 kilometers had cost me just over five euros. I slipped in my credit card and it was immediately spit out. It was rejected. I inserted my second card and it was rejected as well. Fortunately, it was early in the morning and no one had slipped in behind me so I thought I would just back up and go to the one automated booth available where I could pay by cash--not a good idea. I backed up a few feet and realized that I needed my ticket for the next booth. I pulled forward again to see if I could retrieve it. The machine was not only not going to give it back, but it wasn't even going to acknowldege that I had even given it a ticket--oh great! Fortunately there is a button you can push by which you can talk to a live operator located somewhere in France. My French was not up to the challenge when someone finally did answer. Hannah leaned over and started to translate for her helpless father. The first question Hannah was asked was where she came from, to which she naturally answered Canada: an answer the attendant was neither expecting or knew what do with (it was quite funny actually). The information she really wanted was regarding where we had entered the toll road.This is where it got a bit complicated. I know we came from Carcassone and had gone through Narbonne, but then we exited our first toll road and travelled some distance before entering the next toll road. I had no recollection of what the originating city or direction was (it could have been any city up to a a couple of hundred kilometers back). The person on the help line kept on firing city names at me to which I kept replying Narbonne. She finally decided we had come from Marsailles which meant a cool 22 euros. At about this time a car pulled up behind us and the agitated driver started yelling that I just needed to put in my ticket and credit card. Meanwhile the online attendant said she would send a real live person to our location. The driver behind us continued to yell at us and despite us motioning for him to try one of the other half a dozen empty booths he stayed hoping his angst would somehow make our credit card machine work.

Cavaillon: Top of Bluff Overlooking Town

Cavaillon: Top of Bluff Overlooking Town

If you need to know, I was no longer at a place of inner harmony. The kids were quite aware of this even though I wasn't congnizant that I was givng them a tutorial in some colourful language that I had stowed away in my deep subconscious for such an occassion. Oh well, my kids have known for quite a while now that the elementary school teacher-librarian persona never fit their dad.

Eventually the driver behind us gave up in disgust, leaving us with one last tirade punctuated by a honk and chirping of tire rubber as he backed out of our toll line. A few minutes later a person did actually show up. We ended up with the same list of questions and a puzzled look to why we would be reluctanct to pay 20 euros. She finally pulled open the toll machine and retrieved our ticket and understood the problem in an instant. I provided the cash (unbenownest to me, I was spending some of the coinage associated with Abby's birthday present--but Abby can speak of that later). It was with great relief that we finally got moving again. It became clear why I had budgeted an hour or so of buffer time to make our 11:00 am rendez-vous.

The rest of the trip was made entertaining by our portable GPS (you may recall our car's build in GPS is on the fritz) which seemed to be suffering from short term memory loss as it would forget to tell us about a roundabout and then mention it a little later, only to stop to recalculate again. Fortunately the beautiful landscape, brillaint blue sky and sunshine more than compensated for the several u-turns required.

Finding our apartment in the small town of Cavaillon was a breeze and Isabelle, the rental agent, was there when we arrived. The apartment was exactly as we had viewed on the Internet--it will be a wonderful home. We are in the centre of the old village and only a few hundred meters from a bluff that abruptly rises 180 meters above the town. After we settled in we walked up the stone steps built in the 15th century to reach the seventh century chapel at the top. The weather was warm and the view fantastic.

Cavaillon:Bluff Overlooking Town

Cavaillon:Bluff Overlooking Town

We picked up some bread on the way home and decided to relax. Since our change of life circumstance over the past several days the kids have developed an affinity for nostalgic activities of earlier years. They came across a French monopoly board and the game brought back memories of playing with their grandpa, so we sat down and played a game (as in the good ole days Hannah won handily--Grandpa taught her well). After dinner we looked through the DVD collection available in our apartment and watched Catch Me If You Can, a movie that the kids had never seen and is one of my favourites.

We were happy to Skype with Muriel this evening even though it meant getting to bed a little late. It was quite a bit later for me, as I had gifts to wrap for Abby's birthday and a whole whack of balloons to blow up and hang in preparation for the next day's twofold celebrations.

A little extra

I had added a little video a few days back about driving the through the Pyrenees that you may have missed. Always look for links in the blog in the form of coloured words. Here is another little clip from that day.

Posted by KZFamily 08:45 Archived in France Tagged provence cavaillon Comments (5)

Exploding Pigs (in Carcassonne)

by Abby

overcast 12 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Carcassonne: Dame Carcas

Carcassonne: Dame Carcas

Today the three of us went to check out the old town of Carcassonne. It was a very cold and windy day, all of us were bundled in our coats and sweaters, and even Hannah debated on buying a hat. On the walk to the actual cite that we were interested in seeing we passed a very busy market, and stopped for a short look around. Most of the people we saw at first were selling food, but later we came across another market that sold mostly clothing and blankets. We had a short look around, but then decided that we should start our way to the castle. At the entrance gates we saw a very strange bust of a women, which in my opinion, wasn't a flattering representation of her..no matter how ugly she might have been. We later read the legend about her and the name for Carcassone.

The legend behind the name was the town had been under siege for 5 years, and the King was killed, leaving his wife, Dame Carcas, alone. The army's plan was to surround the city and let the people starve, which would make attacking the city much easier. Their plan was working well and famine was claiming the lives of the last defenders. Alone, Dame Carcas kept watch and fired arrows from a crossbow at the army, hoping to trick them into believing that many defenders still remained. The only thing that did remain in the city was a small pig, and a very small portion of wheat. Dame Carcas stuffed the pig with the remaining wheat and threw it from the ramparts. The pig's belly burst open when it hit the ground and the soldiers saw that it was stuffed with wheat. They decided to give up their siege realizing that it was useless to continue trying to starve them when they had enough to feed precious wheat to their pigs. But before the army disappeared, Dame Carcas summoned back Charlemagne (who led the army) to make peace. She then had the trumpets sounded ("Carcas sonne" translates into Carcas is sounding), and the Emperor doubled back and received her allegiance.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

We got some information at the tourist office, but unfortunately it wasn't that helpful. But one thing we did find out was that everywhere in the castle was free to roam, other than the museum and inner wall, which you had to pay to see. Before heading to the outer wall, my dad treated us to some crepes, made right before our eyes. Hannah and I each got a Nutella one, while my dad tried out a Grand Marnier crepe... which he said was a good choice because it made him all warm inside. The outer wall was my favourite part of the day, despite the windy weather. We were able to see the city as well as the pretty stonework that made up the wall. We also got to see a lot of pigeons. I didn't even mind having to scale the wall to get around a pillar, or having to jump down from the wall when we found a dead end. It was interesting to see the place that had been the inspiration for one of our favourite board games, Carcassonne.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

After the outer wall we walked around the inside a little more, stopping occasionally to check out a shop located in the walled city. In the end we decided it was worth €8.50 (Hannah and I were free) to see the inner wall and small museum. We enjoyed the short movie which we watched and read (it was in French..but there was English subtitles), as well as the walk around the inner wall, which was unfortunately colder than our previous walk. But braving the wind we had a great viewpoint of the city..and even got to walk the whole thing back again when our path was blocked at the end of the circuit.

We left at around three, having spent about four and a half hours in the medieval city. We then found our way to the nearest grocery store, the Intermarche. We bought food to last us up until my birthday, which was nice because we don't have to worry about shopping for a few days now. I was able to pick out my birthday cake (a very classy chocolate coffee cake) as well as the other meals for my special day.

When we got home my dad made a fabulous dinner of potatoes, steak and Caesar salad, which we all enjoyed very much. Then we ate the remains of one of Mom's Christmas present, a (mostly empty) box of Lindor chocolates.

We plan to go to bed early tonight, as we have to get up much sooner than we usually do. Tomorrow we have a three hour drive ahead of us, and we have to be at our destination by eleven..which means we have to leave at around seven to allow time for wrong turns. But at least we get to have lunch at a house instead of on the road..which also means we have a little more choice than cheese and crackers. I'm quite looking forward to the pizza.

Posted by KZFamily 11:49 Archived in France Tagged france crêpes carcassonne Comments (7)

Back to France

by Ben

sunny 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We said goodbye to Spain today and returned to France. In honor of our imminent return I decided to make French toast for breakfast-well that was my official line. In reality I had to get rid of five eggs, left over milk, stale bread and icing sugar left over from making shortbread before we left. The kids seems to appreciate the sentiment anyway.

I discovered the GPS in our car was no longer working, or at least the input interface doesn't work but fortunately I had packed along our own portable GPS so we were back in business after some delay caused by trying to troubleshoot the problem. I am constantly being stretched to take such problems in stride and I think I am making progess but you might want to check with the kids. All of this travel is developing a lot of character.

I wasn't really wanting to part with too much more cash for tolls so I investigated what alternate routes we could take instead of shelling out 40 euros to drive some wide featureless roadway. Instead of heading along the coast we could cross the Pyrenees. It was unclear if such a trip would be very snowy but we loved our encounter with this range of mountains when we were in the Lourdes area so we decided to give it a go.

Pyrenees

Pyrenees

Our new route was a couple of hours longer than the original but was well worth the time (for me at least, the kids slept through most of it). We climbed from sea level to 2000 meters over a long and windy climb through mostly uninhabitated countryside. When we reached the summit we saw a ski resort in the distance but no skiers due to the lack of snow; another sign of climate change. We descended into a beautiful inhabited mountain valley (mountain valley is an oxymoron Hannah points out) only to have to climb out again. Unbenownst to us we had crossed over into France possibly when we crossed the summit. The whole trip was in sunshine on a road that often didn't qualify as a two lane road. Our journey over the next ridge of mountains was even more beautiful as we followed a river our entire way through the range which involved a good number of narrow gorges that have been chiselled out just enough to let some traffic through. I have a grainy video clip that illustrates a bit of what we encountered.

I have added an additional clip since people liked the first: More Pyrenees Driving

We have now settled down in a very small village 20 minutes from Carcassonne which we will visit tomorrow. It is a beautifully wood heated cozy refuge that was established by a British couple six years ago. We will sleep in comfort tonight.

Just in case you have not been using the zoom feature on the map on the top of our blog here is a close up of our tour of the Iberian Peninsula. You will need to change the zoom or move the map to see our more northern travels. We have travelled about 5500 kilometers by car so far.

Posted by KZFamily 13:21 Archived in France Tagged pyrenees carcassonne Comments (5)

Barcelona: Parc Guell

By Hannah

sunny 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Barcelona: Parc Guell

Barcelona: Parc Guell

Today we went to visit Park Güell. We took the very handy metro in order to get there. The subway station is yet another useful thing that is located conveniently close to our apartment. The weather was on our side, and we spent the next few hours walking around in the warm sunshine. The park was originally commissioned to Antonio Gaudi as a housing complex. However, only two lots were ever bought, and it was eventually opened as a public park in 1926. It's a whimsical place, with mosaics and spirals and curving staircases and balconies. There were quite a few vendors, artists, and musicians around. It's a good place for them, too, as the park was full to bursting with visitors. We had a tough time seeing some of the art because there were so many people. It was still beautiful though, even with some of it under restoration. When we took a break, we got to listen to music and chatter in all sorts of languages. The view from the top of the park was incredible. We were able to point out different buildings we'd seen and visited, such as the Sagrada Familia Basilica and Torre Agbar.

Barcelona: Parc Guell-View From

Barcelona: Parc Guell-View From

After we'd seen our fill, we headed back home on the metro to do a bit of grocery shopping and other chores in preparation for our travel day tomorrow. Abby and I also baked some more, making our favourite famous Tollhouse cookies. This was a little easier said than done, as we had no measuring utensils and were missing two ingredients, but we still managed to pull it off. The batches got steadily better as we went along. Dinner was chorizo sausages, salad and focaccia bread with olive oil and vinegar. The latter was Abby's idea and very easy to pull off, as the supermarket sells ready-to-bake focaccia loaves. This along with the rich sausages made for quite the delicious meal. After supper, we readied our bags and wound down the evening by watching and episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot on Netflix. We also got to talk to our mom (hi there) over Skype, and get an update on things back home. Tomorrow we'll be heading to Carcassonne, or at least near there, and will be leaving Spain behind. I hope to come back someday soon. It's an amazing country, and we have had our fair share of interesting and worthwhile experiences here.

Barcelona: Parc Guell

Barcelona: Parc Guell

Posted by KZFamily 12:58 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona park spain gaudi guell Comments (1)

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