Sunday, 31 July 2011

Seeing Red

In Roussillon, of course!   Everything here is red - houses, roofs, bricks, even the drink glasses and place mats - well, some of them.  The locals have great colour sense and sure knew how to bring out the red in the town.  The natural ochre deposits found in the clay in the village is the source of all this redness.  Apparently there was intense mining activity in the 18th century with the demand for the red pigment, but in the 1930's the mines were closed to prevent degradation of the sites.  Tourism is now the main industry, and why are we not surprised.

Now if it weren't 100 degrees and the sun so burning hot, we should have walked over to this cliff and looked back onto the town.  It would have been a spectacular shot, but I only discovered that after I came back.  To see the village from the other side, go to this site:

The town is pretty amazing!

Look at the stunning palette of colours - a painter's delight!

Even the lemon seemed to have a reddish tinge!  This was the best lemon sorbet we ever had.  The sorbet must have been scooped into the lemon before the whole thing was frozen.  The perfect dessert for a 100 degree day!  I sure could have used one today!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Castle on the Rocks

It's hard to tell which side the castle was on, it blended right into the rocks in a very strategic location at the top of a steep hill.  But look at the lady on the bicycle!  She seemed hardly deterred by the steep grade - she didn't even look like she was exerting herself!   And she was not a young woman.  This is the road to the 10th century castle atop the town of Les Baux.  It is a grand fortress built out of the rocks.  You can see from the photos below it is often hard to see where the fortress began and where the rocks ended.  

The town was well-protected behind the castle.

I could almost picture the knights in shining armour...

The spectacular panorama from the high fortress wall -  you can see the vineyards and the orchards with the Alpilles, the mountain range in Provence in the distance.

Some not-so-medieval knights demonstrating on the medieval siege machines

I love the many levels the castle is on - until I have to climb them!  But it has many courtyards, towers, underground passages, even a medieval hospital - really quite a fun place.

It would make quite an amazing play castle, don't you think?  Magical!  This has got to be my favourite castle.

And a serious chapel underneath the rocks...

This is the view from one of the highest points on the castle wall - it was quite a sheer climb, but worth it.

We arrived at the end of a very hot day so by the time we left, the town was deserted.

The setting sun highlighted the white bauxite in the surrounding mountain sides.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Van Gogh's Asylum

The wonderful St. Remy market was just a road stop for us - our real destination was St. Paul's Hospital just south of the town.  Van Gogh checked himself into the mental hospital and stayed there for almost a year.  Here is the statue of Van Gogh pathetically clutching his sunflowers in the garden.

St. Paul's was a monastery before it became an asylum.  The splendid romanesque cloisters surrounded this beautiful courtyard.

Here are some young visitors enjoying each other's company, oblivious to the gorgeous architecture -

Van Gogh's bedroom in the hospital and below that, the view from his window.  He had painted both the room and the view.

The view of the hospital and chapel from the lilac fields.  The gardens and the fields around the hospital all looked familiar because they had all been painted by Van Gogh - this was one of the more prolific periods in his life.

Here's the painting

Here's the landscape in front of the hospital grounds

One thing we noticed while we were in Provence - there were many mountains and natural landscapes - we were actually right in a vast national park.  But while the French promoted art avidly everywhere, there was very little promotion of hiking and other outdoor activities.  Not once did we come across any literature in the tourist offices promoting hiking trails.  This was in sharp contrast to our last trip in New Zealand where we were bombarded by suggestions for tramping everywhere.  One almost felt guilty if one didn't hike.  Here, it's the art...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cezanne's Studio

Aix-en-Provence is Cezanne territory.  His studio was just outside the centre of town, a short walk from the church of St. Sauveur except it was a hot sunny day so it felt much farther for us.  No photos were allowed in the studio but here is the staircase leading up to it, in itself quite striking.

The studio was one large room, the width of the house, with one large window facing north and several windows facing south.  The large wall to wall window was quite unusual in a house from that period but clearly perfect for a studio.   There were little original furniture but we were told we can pull out some of the drawers of an old cabinet to see some of his old photos and sketches.  It was all quite interesting but there was probably enough content for a 15 minute visit.  Still, if it were a pilgrimage, one would say it was an honour to be treading on the same ground as the great artist and to be in the same room where he created his many famous paintings.

Here is the outside of the house

and the garden, which I actually found more captivating because of the fascinating play of light coming through the tree canopy onto the many intersecting pathways at varying grade levels.   You can see below that there are a million possibilities for Cezanne paintings in that garden and I almost saw more of Cezanne in the garden than in the studio.  I had great fun with the camera here - adjusting the light meter,  the polaroid filter, focusing on different areas, then checking for effects.  We must have spent more than an hour just in the garden.  Love it!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

St. Jacob's & Elora

That's St. Jacob's & Elora, in Ontario, for a change.   This was usually our route when we go to the music festival in Elora but this year, we decided to skip the concerts and just take our time at the markets and the shops without having to worry about making it to a concert or play.  

I love the cultural food mix, Egyptian Cuisine next to Mennonite, bagels next to pita and apple strudel.   Not to mention souvlaki, tandoori, fried rice...

I would have loved to take home some of these flowers, but they would have perished in the sweltering heat today.

On the way from St. Jacob's to Elora, we encountered a nice surprise - the covered bridge in Woolwich, also known as the "Kissing Brige" (for obvious reasons).  It is the last covered bridge in Ontario.  Built in1881, it has been around for more than 100 years.  We've gone from St. Jacob's to Elora many times before but this is the first time we came across the bridge - all thanks to the GPS, as usual taking us through unknown fields in search of the shortest route!

We visited my favourite shop in Elora, the Mermaid, an antique store that's on the site of what used to be the Elora Observer, built in 1869.   The biggest attraction for me used to be its colour divided cases of clip on and screw back earrings and I must have bought more than half of my stash here.  It no longer has the huge collection of earrings but has diversified into some quite eclectic handcrafted jewelry.  I never fail to find something I like here.

Can't resist this one -