"Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."
~ Kurt Vonnegut
I had an unusual travel suggestion just last week. My friend Lucie, who I know from India, guides tour buses of Czech bike riders on holidays in France. We agreed to meet for at least a day, and she said, "Maybe you can come on a bike ride with the group." Hmmm, that doesn't seem likely, but maybe. I realized soon after I arrived at the Monster Campground from Hell that I was the only non-Czech, and few people in the group spoke more than a few words of English. After the one hour introduction meeting, 100% in Czech, I had the privilege of trying to introduce myself using a few words of Czech. Sweating. Bullets.
I was sure I wouldn't be with the group for long, and said so. To my delight and surprise - I loved it, and stayed the whole week. We would take the bus (with bikes on a trailer) to cities or villages, mostly in the Provence area, walk around town, ride our bikes to a pickup point, swim in the rivers and the sea. What's not to like? People were really friendly, the bike rides were easy but spectacular, and I was reminded of how much I don't know about how the world works or what I'll like. The world looks more friendly right now, and my heart is more open. And Czech people rock.
I've put off writing in part because I want to write next about a challenging topic: "Love and Longing." So far, I only have the title sorted. The rest of it won't be so easy. Next time!
Too much love,
p.s. All these photos are with my little Canon S90, which only works at full wide-angle. My big camera, the Canon 7D is in England being repaired as we speak.
Oh, this Pont du Gard bridge, 160 feet tall, blows me away. It was built by the Romans in the 1st century A.D., and is still standing, largely as it did when it was built. It was part of a 31-mile aqueduct carrying water from a spring to Nimes. It carried an astonishing 44 million gallons of water per day, while dropping a mere 56 feet over 31 miles, and only one inch in the span you see here. Spectacular.
LovelyLucie, my own personal guide and translator. She speaks fluent English, fluent French, and also works as a professional Korean translator. She would explain the day's itinerary to the group on the bus, all in Czech, while I listened to music on headphones. Then I'd follow her around like a puppy cuz I had no idea where we were going, how long it would take, or how to get there. Perfect!
Lucie suggested some lines in Czech, and I wrote how it sounds to me. I had to avoid saying, "Ahoy matey!", cuz that's what comes to mind.
Someone is a frickin' genius. This former bauxite mine, beautiful as it is, becomes the three-dimensional canvas on which images, with music, are projected. It's now called "Carrières de Lumières," and shows an amazing program called "Gauguin - Van Gogh, painters of colour." The term "bauxite," by the way, comes from the nearby village of Le Baux.
This is one of the entrances to the mine.
These video images and sounds of waterfalls were surprisingly lifelike.
One short film featured nature and astronomical scenes.
More Roman ruins. This is another ancient aqueduct.
Google Street? What does that mean?
Considering how little time I spend in a church, and my very cynical views about the dynamics of organized religions, I'm surprised by how much I'm moved by the worshippers and their whole-hearted wonder and awe that brings them, for centuries, into these beautiful places.
Lucie has a little one-on-one time with God.
This is the Camargue area of France, where the giant Rhone river empties into the Mediterranean. Ten percent of the world's flamingoes live here.
This is the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where legend has it that the three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe, came for a visit after finding Jesus tomb empty. It's become a major pilgrimage site.
Dark-skinned Saint Sarah, patron saint of the gypsies, is represented in the statue on the left. There is an annual gypsy gathering in May that should be quite a scene. I'd love to go.
Candles in the crypt of Saint Sarah.
In southern France when buildings get old they just get more beautiful. Check out old buildings where you live and see if that's true there as well.
Inside a vintner's shop/warehouse.
A candy store in Nimes.
This is the "base camp" where the bike tour was based. We had some amazing, intense storms come through that week. I'm down to one bike since Jen left - and now I've given this bike to Lucie.
I've seen a lot of caves and wasn't so interested in another one. But after a walk through a narrow passage led to this massive cavern, it was overwhelming. To the lower left you can just make out the staircase. The room is HUGE.
A stalactite, illuminated from behind.
This beautiful village is Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert.
A different view from inside the town walls.
This guy is SO French, I want to hug him. But I'm not sure he'd get it. Someone explained to me that France isn't a hugging country - it's a kiss-on-the-cheek country. In fact, the French word "embrasser" means to kiss, even though it's essentially the same word as our "embrace" in English.
The stadium in Arles, built by the Romans in the 1st century, which held about 20,000 people. Gladiator fights in France! Who knew.
In medieval times the stadium was converted into a fortified village. Imagine trying to restore an ancient building like this. Restore it to what?
The front door the Church of St. Trophime in Arles.
The famous cafe where Van Gogh painted his famous what's-it-called-again painting. Yeah, that one.
Central Montpellier at sunset.
A, um, church in Montpellier.
Another impressive Roman ruin - this is the Maison Carrée in Nimes, built in 16 B.C. My sources at Wikipedia tell me it's "one of the best preserved temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire."
The symbol for Roman rule in Nimes was this crocodile, with a rope or chain around its neck. It was a reference to Rome's conquering of Egypt, symbolized by the tethering of this beast of the Nile.