France Chapter 1: The First Visit
Geoffrey’s Citroen now has a name: “Ales (pronounced Alice) the Cat”. Named for a village near here– Ales. And “Cat” –because her little diesel engine “purrs” like a cat.
It’s proper that Ales the Cat has a name. We are dependent on each other for the next few days. Besides, I’m growing quite found of her. Geoffrey was so right to have a luggage rack on Ales’ roof. She’s easy to find in a parking lot. Especially when I keep forgetting she’s silver.
The road trip
Ales and I started out early this morning on Van Gogh’s trail heading for St. Remy de Provence It was a beautiful, sunny day with light wind and temperatures in the high 70’s. Our planned stops along the way to St. Remy were the towns of Remoulins and Beaucaire.
I’m not certain why I chose to stop in Remoulins. However, I did find a cemetery to visit while i was passing through. I’ve seen cemeteries along my trip that looked interesting, so stopping in Remoulins gave me a chance to check one out. To me, it’s interesting to see how different cultures honor their ancestors. In Remoulin and other areas of Provence, the deceased are buried above ground in family plots. Most grave stones date back many centuries. Each grave in Remoulin is adorned with elaborate porcelain flower displays and family memorabilia.
Moving onto Beaucaire, the scenery definitely changed. The older part of town where tourist visit is centered around a busy canal. Marine traffic is active, mostly for pleasure boats, and cafes and restaurants cater to transients and locals. Often boats are moored in the marinas for winter for travelers touring the western Mediterranean.
Finding the way
1 If you’re wondering how I find my way around, it is relatively easy. I have a Michelin Atlas of France which I found in the apartment. I know the main ways in and out if Uzes. So with a couple of stops at petrol stations along the way to ask directions, I got along fine on this trip.
Note: Both petrol stations had female attendants. Neither spoke English. I simple pointed where I was going on the map and they totally understood what I wanted. They gave me perfect directions.
Not to be sexist, but a man giving directions would have described every landmark along the way. The females just drew straight lines from one turn to another. Simple.
2 Another guide for finding your way on the roadways is “round-abouts.”I’m not kidding, there are round-abouts every two miles or so along the highways. That means there are frequent directions on signs that point your way.
3 When you get into a city, there are clearly marked signs to follow. If you don’t see your destination on the sign, just keep going straight. Soon there will be a sign that says: Autres Directions. Follow that sign. It will lead you to the right road.
If all else fails, ask a woman.
St. Remy de Provence
St. Remy is advertised as the one place you must see if you want to experience Provence. Now that I’ve been there, I’m not too sure. I prefer Uzes.
Nostradamus was born in St. Remy and Doctor Albert Schweitzer was “hospitalized” here in 1917-18 when he wrote The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, part of his philosophical study of civilization.
Most importantly St. Remy is where the artist, Van Gogh, lived from 1889-90 in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean
Driving into St. Remy, an almost “spiritual” feeling came over me. There was something different about the countryside . It felt like a movie set.
The road into the city is lined with white-banded “plane” trees, like those leading out if Uzes. But they go on for miles and miles. Ancient stuccoed farm houses and buildings are close to the road with lush farmlands spreading deep behind them.
The historic district of St. Remy is set in a circle. Ales and I found a parking place in the public lot that was close to the entrance of town. After depositing almost $5 in the meter, I looked for the tourist office. Before I had gotten very far, the menu special at a charming cafe caught my eye– salmon. I stopped for Dejeuner.
Perfectly prepared salmon, risotto with tiny chunks of tomato and scallions, and a glass of rose totally satisfied my hunger.
I skipped the tourist office and took off to explore the shops. Of course.
Interestingly, I saw more Americans in St. Remy than anywhere else I’ve traveled in this area. I’m sure its because they’ve
read the publicity about St. Remy being “the place to be” in Provence.
There is definitely a unique atmosphere in St. Remy. It reeks with the flavor of “the rich and famous” and the richness flows through the shops and boutiques — too expensive for my budget.
Some of the architecture even looks rich– more “French” than “provincial” or “provençal.”
Art and architecture
Walking around St. Remy, there were so many times I reminded myself, “Van Gogh was here”, I could imagine how he was inspired. It inspired me.
In the footsteps of Van Gogh
The creme de la creme of my day was a tour of the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean, the monastery complex where Van Gogh was voluntarily committed from 1889-90. From here he produced two of his most notable works, “Starry nights” and his self portrait.
Taking the photos below, I was transported to Van Gogh’s day and time. I could imagine how he felt fortunate for all the beauty around him, in spite of his imprisonment.
The entrance, the buildings, the inside, Van Gogh’s Garden, the chapel, the view!
Van Gogh was released from the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausoleann in May 1890 and left for Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. He shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.
Fortunately his art lives on.