The more we are driving south, the more France is shrinking, like a ripe grape, drying under a generous sun. The tall, proud mountains of Haute Savoie are melting into little tough hills, the long, fertile plains of the Loire are reduced to sandy carpets of lavander. The dignified manors with their high roofs covered in dark slates against the cold rain have morphed into quaint white washed houses, with peach colored roofs as an optimistic shield against the hot sun. The imposing gothic churches, with their double arches and massive colourful windows have been replaced by humane romane churches with lower, cosier single arches. The language has rippen here, it sounds rounder, richer like a southern wine, accentuated by strong, passionnated hands movements. Up north, queuing was a national sport, here it is arguing over not much, just to make a point, but with great energy. Strangely, as my memories are flowing back, I am still quite good at this...there is some french left in me yet...
We drove under a large, black stormy cloud out of our sweet Annecy and managed to stay at bay from it just long enough to enjoy a lovery site by the river and a weekly market in Die (not as bad when you pronounce it the french way, D.A.) in Drome Provencal. When the storm finally broke, we were already driving away toward the deep gorges and greedy campings of Ardeche. We stayed just long enough to enjoy a stunning landscape of rough hills and deep, dark rockcarving rivers and fled further south, to stay under a large blue sky in Uzes, in the sweet smelling, sweet sounding Provence. The camping had an inquisitive black cat who elected our camper as the best place to nap and played for hours with Maxim and Callum, who wanted to take him back to Australia... Once again we were just in time again for market day in the medieval small streets of Uzes, the largest and best market of south of France (according to the locals).
Ah, the french weekly markets...every town, large or small has to have one, under the rain or under the sun. It is a science in itself. As a tourist, you wander aimlessly from stall to stall to sample cooked local specialities, grab a few souvenirs and enough for a picnic. As a local you would make a bee line for your favorite stalls and there happily spend all the time needed to discuss the choice of a melon, the exact timing for a cheese or the best handfull of mushrooms...the quality of weekly family meals will depends on those essential decisions which cannot be made in a hurry. Food here is sacred, and it all starts at the market.
We went to the true heart of Provence and parked our van among hundred of others in a forest of platane trees in Avignon. Our camping was on an island on the mighty Rhone river, right in front of the city. In fact, it was such a large camping that we found a lost South Korean who had been pulling his wheeled suitcase around it for the last three hours.
If it wasn't for the French Jetsky championship happening right in front of us and for the whole weekend on the Rhone river, to Maxim and Callum's delight, we could have admired the elegant and history ladden towers of the city of Avignon from the coffee shop of this factory of a camping. But no, the clapping of the waves on the romantic river was drowned by the bee like sound of the jetskys and there were massively cool sponsor trucks parked in front of us. Luckily, it was Patrimoine Day on Sunday, so we got to walk (and even dance, like in the French song) on the famous Avignon bridge and explore the normally closed off chapelles of the Palais des Papes. We touched 800 years old stones and felt the tireless flow of History. On the way back from our cultural feast, we saw a guy zooming high up over the river on a powerfull waterjet skateboard. With centuries old Avignon as a backdrop, it was like a time clash between a frantic future and a ponderous past.
Saddly, we still haven't found the perfect place to eat frog legs, but we will continue our search further south, to the mythical gipsy gathering place of Saintes Maries de la Mer, embedded in the marshes of Camargue at the very edge of Provence.
To be followed.