Travel

Chateauneuf du Pape

We could not drive through the village of Chateauneuf du Pape without stopping for a wine tasting of their world-renown wines. While the village itself is very small, there are many wine farms and tasting ‘caves’ (cellar) in and around the village.

We tried to use the local version of the Platter’s wine guide, but without any success. So we parked in the village and walked into two caves at random. In France, you do not taste wine according to a varietals, but rather according to a vintage. Each farm in an area makes basically the same blend of wine, according to a set of very complicated appellation rules’. This means that when tasting, you will not taste a cabernet or a shiraz, but rather a 2001 or 2002.

The first cave turned out to be the local tourist centre, and while the wines very good, I did have a sense of ‘shunting the tourists through’ without much attention.

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Our experience at the second was very different. The proprietor did not speak any English, and we spoke very bad French, but this did not seem to be a problem to any of us. We had a lovely tasting of some superb wines. We learned all about the ageing process, what goes into the blends, and even ended up discussing the use of sulphar in the wine – all in French! This was with much gesturing and scribbling on paper. It was a fantastic tasting, and we even managed to buy some non-appellation wines at a really good price.

While the wines we tasted were really fantastic, the good French wines are very expensive, even in France. The cheaper Chateauneuf du Pape wines started at about 20 euros, which is about R160. For R160 you can get some really fantastic wines.

Of interest is that in France the farms pay tax on the wine depending on how many capsules are used. So when you taste wine there are no capsules on the bottles. These are only added when you buy the wine. Hence the farm does not pay tax on wine used for tastings.

Orange

Cds 2005 07 02 09 30 17 OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP X450 D535Z C370ZToday we went to visit the historical town of Orange, home to many Roman relics. Orange gets its name from the German House of Nassau, the House of Orange which ruled since the 12 century. It was ceded to France in 1713.

Of particular interest to us was the Theatre Antique, a Roman theatre which was probably built during the reign of Augustus Caesar (27 BC – AD 14).

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This theatre, which is still in use today, contains the only remaining Roman complete stage wall in the world. It is about 103m wide and 37m high. The theatre is built in a semi-circle, with many tiers of raised seating looking down at the stage. Tickets for the shows cost several hundred euros. Of interest is the statue of Caesar that you can see in the photo. The head is removable, so it could be easily modified to suit the Caesar that was currently ruling without having to build an entire new status.

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Orange also contains its own Arc de Triomphe (The Triumphant Arc), which was built 100’s of years before the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Built around 20 BC, it commemorates Julias Caeser’s victories during the Gallic Wars.

Lavender in Provence

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Today, we went to the villiage of Sault, the lavender capital of Provence. What looked like a 50km drive on the map turned out to be a drive along the smallest and most bendy road I have ever been on. I think that our average speed must have been about 5 km/h. However, when we arrived at hilltop town of Sault, the view made it all worthwhile. There was field after field of purple lavender bushes, all alive with the buzzing of thousands of bees, busy pollinating the bushes. You could see all the way down the Luberon valley, and to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. This is some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen.

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Although it can get quite frustrating driving down the narrow roads, constantly being slowed down by blind corners, roundabouts and tractors, it is a really pretty, laid back part of the world. I very quickly learned that since you are going nowhere quickly, there is no point in rushing. Rather slow down, enjoy the view and arrive when you do.

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On the way to Sault, we made two stops. The first was at the lavender museum in Coustellet, where they have a short video showing the growing and harvesting of the lavender. They also have many exhibits detailing the distillation process. There are loads of old copper stills, very reminiscent of the whiskey stills in Scotland. I was staggered to hear how much lavender is required to obtain the oil. You need about 300 kg of lavender to make 1kg of essential oil.

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The second stop was at a wine shop (also in Coustellet), where we wanted to stock up on wine. This shop had a very interesting feature. There were about six petrol pump hoses in the shop, which were used to fill your own containers with the local vin ordinaire. They just measured off the wine and charged by the litre.

We were really thirsty and asked for a bottle of water. We were a bit startled to be presented with a wine bottle filled with water. So it was a rather interesting site seeing Craig and Lois driving down the road, drinking straight from a wine bottle. I am glad we did not have to explain that to a traffic officer.

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Both lavender, and lavandin grow in France. Lavender only grows between 600 and 1500m. It is cultivated for the pure oil, which contains medicinal properties. Lavandin grown almost anywhere, is far more hardy and prolific than lavender. It is mainly used for cosmetics, however it has no medicinal properties.

The Pape Palance

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The Pape Palace is the Palace that was built when the Pope moved his court to Avignon from Rome in 1305 (more correctly – he fled a corrupt court in Rome). It is an enormous building, looking down onto a large square, which is surrounded by cafes and street musicians. The palace is still used today, now as both a function venue (there are several very large halls, filled with tapestries from the time), and also as an amphitheatre (one of the squares has had raised seating and a stage added). A wonderful self-guided walk takes you through the palace, where you can view the halls, paintings and tapestries from Medieval France.

Jim Morrison’s Grave

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His grave is in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the largest and oldest cemetery in Paris. He shares the ground with several illustrious people, including Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. The crypts (many of them shared by families) almost looked like small houses, rather that a resting place for the dead. While many were very old, several were from just a few years ago. The graveyard is full of labyrinthine paths, criss-crossing on their meandering routes. I had a distinct Ann-Rice feeling in the graveyard.

What I also found interesting is that there were a large variety of graves from different Churches, including Christian, Jewish and a few Chinese graves.

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It was quite a walk to find Jim Morrison’s grave, especially because I got so lost that I had to stop and buy a map. So when I eventually found it, I didn’t just pause for to contemplate, I also had to pause for breath. I have never seen a pop star’s grave before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It looked exactly like all the other graves, except that it was covered with bunches of fresh flowers – suggestive of a regular stream of visitors. I was surprised to be the only person there. I also expected graffiti, but there was none.

My reflective moment was shattered when a group of tourists arrived (“there he is!”), and went to gawk and slobber at his grave (Ok so I was also a tourist, but you can at least show some sense of decorum in a graveyard). So I decided that it was time to say goodbye and move on.

Farewell Jim

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