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

The Mona Lisa (La Joconde)

Cds 2005 06 25 14 48 59 OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP X450 D535Z C370ZI was warned that the Mona Lisa is a bit of a disappointment, it is a lot smaller in real life than one expects, it is not as fine as expected, and the queues into the Louvre and to see her are really long. I have to say wrong on all accounts. I walked straight into the Louvre with a very short queue, and I was on my way to see the world’s most famous painting.

She was recently moved to a much more accessible room (still in the Denon wing) which is very well sign posted. I had a marvellous time walking through the museum, looking at many works, including van Gogh and de Vinci.

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I knew that the Mona Lisa was somebody there, but I was not quite sure where. So when I turned a corner and almost bumped into the painting, I was quite startled. There she was – looking directly at me. She is far more amazing in the flesh (so to speak), than any print I have seen of her. I felt drawn to her, like she wanted to tell me something, and I had great difficulty looking away. Whenever I managed to, I still found myself drawn back to her. This is a painting that should be seen, and has to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated for what it is. Visiting the Mona Lisa was a dream fulfilled.

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T found it odd that instead of walking around with guide books, many people were walking around with copies of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”. At least he is getting people more interesting in art and history. The inverted pyramid on the left is where (according to the book), The Holy Grail is hidden.

ps – The painting is not small, but is in fact 53 x 77 cm.

The Eiffel Tower

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The tower looked just like I expected, but then thinking about it, who should it not. The queues were long, but they did move quickly (you can miss the queues by walking up about 12 flights of stairs to the first level). We took the lift to the second level (my first double story lift). This was quite a scary experience, because the lift basically moves up the leg of the tower, so it moves at an angle. This means that you can see the ground fall away below you as you move. The second level platform is about 115 m high, with an incredible view. You can see from the Arc de Triomphe, across to the Louvre, over to Notra Damme, past the Invalides and finally up and down the river.

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Once we had adjusted to this height, it was time to move up. The top level is 276 m high, and this level is (not surprisingly) fully enclosed. It is quite a scary experience being at this height, bearing in mind that I was being held up by what is basically a Meccano toy. I thought that the view from the second level was good, but I had no idea. You are actually so high up that you start to see the ground below through the beginnings of the city air pollution. However I did still manage to see about ½ way back to Cape Town.

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The Eiffel tower was built in 1889 for the Paris World Fair. It was built by Gustave Eiffel, who also built the Status of Liberty in New York. Its total height is 320m, varying by about 15 cm, depending on the temperature. It weighs 7000 tons, and contains 2.5 million rivets.

If you visit, you really must go all the way to the top – it is worth the wait in the queues. I do have to conclude by saying that I was very glad to get my feed back on solid ground after the visit.

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