Europe Travel Itinerary, 1999-2000:
This itinerary is intended to capture the day-to-day activities and impressions of our trip.
Click on the asterisks * next to the day to go to that entry.
Friday, August 6, 1999; Drive to Versailles: *
Saturday, August 7, 1999; Versailles: *
Sunday, August 8, 1999; Versailles & the Palace of the Sun King: *
Monday, August 9, 1999; Paris and the Louvre: *
Tuesday, August 10, 1999; Paris and the Sights: *
Wednesday, August 11, 1999; Versailles Gardens, the eclipse and driving South: *
Thursday, August 12, 1999; Drive toward Bordeaux: *
Friday, August 13, 1999; Drive toward Bordeaux: *
Saturday, August 14, 1999; Toulouse: *
Sunday, August 15, 1999; Toulouse: *
Monday, August 16, 1999; Toulouse & Carcassonne: *
Tuesday, August 17, 1999; Carcassonne: *
Wednesday, August 18, 1999; Carcassonne: *
Thursday, August 19, 1999; Drive to Montpelier and Carnon: *
Friday, August 20, 1999; Carnon on the Mediterranean: *
Saturday, August 21, 1999; Montpelier: *
Sunday, August 22, 1999; Nīmes: *
Monday, August 23, 1999; Nīmes: *
Tuesday, August 24, 1999; Avignon: *
Wednesday, August 25, 1999; Avignon: *
Thursday, August 26, 1999; Cannes: *
Friday, August 27, 1999; Nice: *
Saturday, August 28, 1999; Nice: *
Friday, August 6, 1999; Drive to Versailles:
Woke late, between 9 and 10 and got ourselves slowly together. Turned out we'd parked in the lanes for lorries where we should have parked where the cars were. We were fooled by the presence of caravans, which being towed really did need to park in the long lanes. Oh well.
The toilets were squats -- Kathleen was appalled and couldn't use them. We headed off to find a cash machine and our first adventure took us into the fair sized town of St. Omer. Parking was free (a relieving change from England) and Henry found his 4yr old vocabulary worked just fine getting a croissant and a toilet. We were sure some of the locals were laughing at us though. Probably the way we were dressed with our sun hats and backpacks.
After taking out 1000F, and paying 1.5F for Kathleen to go to the toilette, we went back to the van and got back on the freeway. In picking up the toll card, we realized we were going to pay a lot in tolls and decided to take the back roads.
Insert the backroads we took. Stopped for groceries at 6:30 and stopped for the night at 8. The day had been hot and muggy with a merciful breeze.
Saturday, August 7, 1999; Versailles:
Got on the road at 10, the day was beautiful with bright skies and cool air. Continued along the back roads snaking south. We followed the N1 to Beauvais where we switched to the D927. We followed that south through the Parc de Francais, Regional Vexin and on to Versailles.
Took us a good part of the day to get that far, being as the strange sounding French names aren't easy to recognize on signs and maps. We visited the Bureau de Tourisme and got maps of both the palace and Versailles. Decided to try to get a shower at the campground (and find out how much the stay there would cost us), then do the Palace of Versailles on Sunday and Paris on Monday.
Drove to the campground and it turned out the stay would be 110F without electricity and we felt it was just too steep, given how much our cash was disappearing. We asked the young women behind the counter if she spoke English. But I asked in French, so she asked me if I spoke French. I told her (in French) that my French was very bad. She said her English was worse, so I should ask in French. When I asked about showers only (no camping) she started answering in English and said we should try to go on into the showers, but if we saw a man with long hair and a mustache, we should ask him about paying. So we did as she suggested and had two wonderful showers gratis. Drove the van away and parked it in the free parking spaces on the Avenue de Paris and walked to the Quartier Notre-Dame and had a soul and stomach filling dinner of crepes, wine and coffee at A La Cōte Bretonne. (93F)
Moved the car to a spot near the campground (away from the street noise of the Avenue) and worked on a letter to a Romanian who we hope will find us a living situation in the Mare or Izei valleys in Maramures. Till 10pm a steady stream of people (mostly French, but some Spanish) passed our window going back to the campground. The van grew slowly more stuffy as we had to shut our curtains for privacy.
Turned in at midnight.
Sunday, August 8, 1999; Versailles & the Palace of the Sun King:
In the night it rained heavily and we woke to a beautiful cool day with brilliant fluffy clouds. Driving the van to the Avenue de Paris, we found a lovely spot in the shade and walked to a patisserie for two demi-baguettes and walked to the palace.
The palace of the Sun King is as grand as any and all descriptions of it. The lines are as long as the rooms are decorated. And the rooms are decorated to within an inch of Olympus. No square inch was not considered for decoration, and those inches which were spared the brush of an artist were left that way to accentuate the artwork that was placed nearby.
We had a scare at 3 when we lost each other. Henry left Kathleen to get a map of the King's state rooms, and she felt she needed to leave the Venus Salon because a tour group was coming in. For forty minutes we couldn't find each other amongst the endless throngs of people staring at the salons and the Hall of Mirrors. Finally we were reunited at the baggage check and got to see the place together.
We skipped the gardens because on weekends there's and extra charge. We plan to return on Tuesday or Wednesday, after we're done with Paris. We drove out of Versailles and found a parking space at a cul de sac in front of a sign that reads 'Versailles Forest.' We hope no one comes knocking in the middle of the night.
Monday, August 9, 1999; Paris and the Louvre:
No one did. It rained again in the night with the same result that the day dawned unexpectedly cool and beautiful. We drove back to town and sneaked into the campground for showers. Then we parked on the Avenue de Paris and walked to the train station where we caught an express to Montparnesse station in Paris for 58Fr round trip (pour nous deux).
Once in town we had to buy a phone card, get bus/metro tickets for our stay and get ourselves some maps showing where the busses ran (we met a Scottish couple on the train who recommended the busses because we'd be able to see more). All this took us till almost 2pm and we were starving because we'd planned to buy our lunch in town. We grabbed a cheese baguette sandwich off the street and headed off for the Louvre via the 94 bus.
We got off the bus at the Palais Royale, and realized we were still hungry and needed to get more food. We wandered about looking for affordable places and wished we'd had more near the train station (where it was 25% cheaper). Oh well. We stopped for some open faced toasted cheese sandwiches and a bottle of water (100Fr) at a café on the Seine.
At 3:30 we headed to the Louvre and walked along the long sides of the massive building. In the center court with the pyramids we found a line of legendary length that snaked out of the pyramid, over to one arm of the building, then back and fourth under the arched hallway. It started to rain as we approached and we realized we were staring an hour and a half wait straight in the face. Then Henry found a sign (small but in six languages) telling anyone who would listen that there was no line at the southeastern entrance. We boogied over there and ten minutes later we had our tickets but found the baggage check closed at 5pm (which was an hour at that point). So we headed back to the main pyramid entrance where the guard let us in without standing in line (because we had our tickets. Voila! We were in!.
The Louvre feels even more expansive on the inside than it does on the outside. We actually spent four hours inside and felt that we'd seen most of what we had interest for and more than we had stamina for. The Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, The Slaves by Micaelangelo, Psyche and Cupid, mosaics by Bottachelli, paintings by Titian, and rooms and rooms of Roman, Greek and Egyptian artifacts.
We finally left the museum at 8:30 and rode the bus back to the train where we were ferried home around 9:30. Riding the train we were in the company of many other tourists basing themselves at the campground in Versailles. We walked to our van and made the soup we'd left soaking in the morning. Decided to leave the van where it was on Avenue de Paris even though the traffic was noisy at night. It seems after 10:30pm the French use the roadways as their own personal race tracks. Got to sleep around midnight.
Tuesday, August 10, 1999; Paris and the Sights:
We went to the post office and the bakery in the morning. Packed bread, cheese, tomatoes and the warmed up stew from the night before for lunch. Managed to catch the 12:42 train to Paris under skies that looked as if they might let go and pour any minute. Caught the 96 bus to Notre Dame where we were expecting another difficult standing in line experience. The line did stretch across the street to the plaza, but it moved so fast we were inside before we had time to sneak any bread to quench our developing hunger.
Once past the doors it was like moving inside a can of sardines. For some reason they had scheduled tours in six languages all to start at 2:30. Of course the English tour was the most popular and they had two of them. The tour-guide was from Poland and spoke excellent English but she seemed self conscious leading the group and consequently it wasn't the most informative experience. The church is steeped in history, being begun in the 12th century, but it isn't as large or full of light as some of the others we'd seen (especially the one in Gent). This is in large part due to the fact that the builders weren't yet confident in the holding power of their flying buttresses.
After Notre Dame, we walked outside to the plaza in Le Cite and sheltered under some trees as the heavens delivered on their promise of rain. We were thankful for the hot soup and the dryness giving umbrella. All around us travelers huddled and kept dry as best they could.
We waited until the sky started to show small signs of clearing, then we walked to the Louvre, stopping occasionally to look at the animal stores. We walked through the Pyramid square at the Louvre and the two dozen people who were there made it seem deserted by comparison with the previous day. We started at the arches by the Louvre and walked the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arc de Triumph. We stopped at the tourism office to get a list of internet cafes and called 75% of them before we gave up on finding one that would let us connect our laptop to the internet.
Out on the street we ate our cheese and bread, then headed on to the Eiffel tower. We had meant to catch the bus but no bus came to the stop where we were at and so we walked it. As a result, we happened upon the unofficial Diana & Dodi monument. A statue of the liberty flame from the nineteenth century lies atop the tunnel where they died in the car crash (at the far end they didn't make it to). The monument's made of an eight foot tall gold flame atop a broad black marble base onto which people have stuck graveyard sympathy letters in every language and script imaginable. The flame is written on in magic marker and splashed with yellow and pink paint. The messages all have recent dates, as the action of the weather removes them, and perhaps the city cleans the monument as well. Flowers are left in holders which were originally built into the monument. More graffiti covers the concrete walls and the dates on these messages go right back to the day of the crash. We stopped and downloaded the camera and took many pictures, including the mourners and the curious passers bye. Behind the Diana monument we could see the tower, and after about 40 minutes, we went on.
The tower is as impressive as it's pictures. Looking up in the center is like looking up into the Hindenburg, or into an alien structure built by giants on some distant world. Kids crawled through the lines stretching out from the three towers that were open sending people up to the three different levels. They were burning their excess kid energy off as best they could confined to that defined, if not so small space.
Finally we caught the wrong bus back to the station. It would have been the right bus if it ran the whole route, but it only went part of the way at that hour (after 9pm) so we had to catch the Metro to the station and that used up the last of the ten pack of tickets we'd bought. Perfect.
At the station we discovered to our horror and anger that the Dragon Ladies who run the toilet consortium were gone and so nobody gets to relieve themselves. (We'd seen a kid peeing on the sidewalk by the Eiffel Tower -- that's what happens in a country where they look down on toilets for the public.) But on the good side, we found a pay phone with a RJ11 phone jack built in.
Jackpot! We quickly hooked up the laptop and downloaded e-mail and banking. Got to read them all on the train (which turned out to be a cushy seated express train) to Versailles. Stayed at our spot on the Avenue de Paris again. Turned in at almost exactly midnight.
Wednesday, August 11, 1999; Versailles Gardens, the eclipse and driving South:
Woke at 8am and confirmed what the guy at the Tourist office had said -- there were no more glasses for the eclipse to be bought. But it looked like the sky was going to be overcast anyway so we decided to do the Versailles gardens instead of driving north to where the eclipse would be total. We discovered over breakfast that the corner of our laptop had gotten smashed. It was still working but we were very distressed. Our best guess currently is that it got broken by one of the baggage checks -- probably in the Louvre where they didn't roll a cart over to us and let us drop the bags gently inside like they did at all the other sites. Yikes.
Even though the gardens look big on the map (the cross shaped lakes are distinct on our map of the Paris area) they seem much bigger in person. It took us almost till noon to get our groceries, pay for toilets, and walk to the toilets at the lakes. Kathleen bought a chocolate crepe and we sat down by the row boats and saw a surreal school of giant coy begging for food with their alien mouths just above the surface of the water. Then the sky started to clear and the crowds gathered for the eclipse.
Henry felt awful not having glasses and not having made us drive north to the land of the total eclipse, but we just hadn't thought we'd be in the area at all. But a generous French couple let us look at the progression from time to time, and it was chilling to see how dark the sky became as the moon blocked our most important star.
After the action, we walked to La Petit Trianon and saw the gardens of Marie Antionette. Again we were amazed at the scale of the place. By the time we returned to our van we were exhausted.
We managed to make it out of Versailles and stopped for a three hour nap until 6pm across the street from an amazing Chateau turned banquet restaurant near Voisins de Bretonneux. Afterwards we hooked up with the N10 and headed south, past the colossal cathedral at Chartres. We caught a shower at a roadside stop (almost cold) and found a parking spot at 9:30 just off the road for the night. Kathleen read and Henry worked on the website.
Thursday, August 12, 1999; Drive toward Bordeaux:
Woke around 9 and made ourselves Muesli. We cleaned our underwear and a couple of T-shirts in the sink and laid them up to dry. Then we tackled Henry's festering eye. The cyst had broken open again in the night and we stuck it and squeezed it to encourage more goo to come out. Gross business.
Finally we were ready for the road at 11:15 and continued south on N10. The weather was cool and humid, a welcome surprise from what we'd expected. Kathleen worked on cropping images while Henry drove. We stopped at a supermarket about 80km north of Tours and got groceries. Du pain, du Vin, et du Borsin. Had lunch in the parking lot and got back on the road at 2, Henry working on the website content and Kathleen driving.
We found an Intermarche with a sign for a Toys R Us, and since we knew the best deals on batteries could be had at the international toy store, we stopped. So we now think Intermarche means a mall, or collection of stores. This one was quite big and we shopped not only for batteries but for a few groceries at the "Continental," a combination supermarket and Wal Mart.
Back on the road we made it past Poitiers on the N10 and found a rest stop by the side of the road that is really a free campground. It has everything but showers and electricity hookups. We pulled the van under a quiet patch of trees and opened the door on the most pleasant evening breeze we could have imagined.
Stayed the night with Henry working on the Paris webpage and Kathleen reading The Covenant by James Michener. Went to bed at midnight.
Friday, August 13, 1999; Drive toward Bordeaux:
Friday the 13th, we woke around 9:30 and hung around the gorgeous campsite, cleaning the van and performing computer chores like backups and camera downloads. Listened to the short-wave radio with the door open and pleasant woody smells & sounds drifting in on still, cool air. The campground cleared out by 11 and we had the shady thirty acre place to ourselves.
Exercised, worked on backups, had lunch, washed our hair and filled up the water until 4pm. Then we were done with the beautiful camping space and got back on the road to Bordeaux. The weather continued to be wonderful with cool temperatures and partly cloudy skies. Taking the backroad (N10) saved us on tolls, and we believe on petrol since our mileage drops off horribly when we drive faster than 80km. But our average travel speed turns out to be about 50km with the many towns along the way. But on the balance, we enjoyed seeing the scenes in the tiny towns. In general the French towns seem to be low-key, collections of twisty, narrow roads and pinkish gray buildings which go straight up two or three stories from narrow sidewalks to pottery roofs.
We made it into Bordeaux around 7pm and sought out the airport. Sadly, there were none of the magic phones with telephone jacks. So we headed back into town to the train station and found the same lack there. Trying the hotels in the vicinity of the train station didn't improve matters, and no one seemed to know of any internet cafes in town. Our emotions reached a low that was akin to the low we felt around York. Though there was some nice night life around the train station, the traffic we'd met with was difficult, and the neighborhoods we'd driven through made us uncomfortable. So connecting that with our frustration over getting hooked up and we decided on the spot we didn't like Bordeaux all that much.
We retreated to the train station to try connecting with our coupler, but the double call restriction under IBM's server program and the fact that the phones won't take the tones through the receiver caused us to fail in hooking up altogether. One high spot was meeting a Buddhist monk from Cambodia who used the phone next to us. He's a globe-trotting monk who's been in France for three weeks and on his way to Rome for an interfaith conference on Peace.
We pushed on out of Bordeaux and got onto the A62 toward Toulouse where we stopped at the first rest stop for the night. Not nearly as appealing as the one we'd been at the night before, but it was a safe place to park and we fell to sleep immediately at 11pm.
Saturday, August 14, 1999; Toulouse:
Got off the A62 (a toll road) at exit 3 at St. Macaire Langon to buy petrol (the needle was in the red for the first time since we'd been in the van) and get onto the N113 (non-toll road).
Henry drove while Kathleen worked on e-mail. We stopped at two patisseries along the way to get croissant and bread. Again our speed ended up being about 50km and the weather was splendid. It took us till 4 in the afternoon before we reached Toulouse. We managed to get directly to the train station, but there we found no phones that would work. Again none of the phones would work for us, and we checked the bus station and a second train station nearby as well.
So we decided to drive into town and ask for internet cafes at the tourist office. Fortunately we managed to find a parking space at the Place A Bernard. From there we walked to the Basilique St. Sernin, a beautiful brick church with a unique octagonal, pointed belfry. Two blocks away we happened to find a Fax/Copier/Internet place and we got to get hooked up for forty minutes where we uploaded the pages from Warwick to Paris. A fellow named Glen helped us by trying to hook us up to one of his computers via a parallel cable; he suggested we get a com-port cable for future internet cafes. He spoke excellent English and we found out he's traveled the world through his father's passes from work.
When we were done our feelings were much restored (just like in York). We drove about looking for a way to get onto the Island de la Cite that Henry had seen on one of our maps. When we finally found it, we drove past the pools and the university and found a lovely parking lot under a bunch of trees by the kayak club of Toulouse. Pretty quickly we realized it was another Giant's Ring -- a gay meeting and hang out place with a few straight people thrown in to confuse the picture.
Henry messed around with the computer (which had stopped recognizing the CD burner for backups) and Kathleen read. We finally got to sleep around midnight, but there was so much activity from people driving up and stopping, then driving off again, that we didn't get very good sleep.
Sunday, August 15, 1999; Toulouse:
We slept poorly until 9:30. Woke slowly and had Muesli for breakfast. The parking lot kept a brisk business going in gay meetings. Finally, around noon, we got to doing a power to the university, and then when we returned we got on our bikes and headed into town.
The weather was humid, but not hot. We'd hoped to find the flea market happening outside the Basilica, but when we got there at 2pm, the last of the vendors was packing up his van. Bummed, we fled from the street cleaning machine (washing the sidewalk and street after the vendors) into the Basilica. It was an exceptional structure -- made of brick instead of stone which gave it a dry, warm feeling inside. For 20F we both visited the crypt and saw the beautiful stone carvings and relic cases.
We kept walking around town, seeking sights the Glen had recommended. We happened upon the Touluseian quarter where goods and foods from North Africa were on sale. At a local store we bought tomatoes, bread, fruit and water, then went back to the Basilica to eat them. From there we walked down to the river then over to Place des Jacobins where the cathedral seems uniquely empty on the inside, forming a space that calls one to want to fly up into it.
Finally we returned to our van and found that the nearby pool would be open on Monday. We drove around looking for more water, then returned to a different parking spot, still on the island but away from the forested parking lot. (We were feeling too conspicuous in the gay social scene.)
We listened to the BBC radio play 'Broken Glass' by Arthur Miller.
Monday, August 16, 1999; Toulouse & Carcassonne:
The spot we'd chosen turned out to be very noisy. One of the worst we'd picked so far. The parking lot was used as a shortcut by every local motorist who traveled that stretch of island. Consequently we slept in trying to recoup the sleep we didn't get. By 10:30 we were ready to go to the pool.
Toulouse's pool is a very grand affair. Three major pools service the people of the city, and we think they even use one of them in the winter, since one sign told us the usual entrance was moved during the summer to "L'entrance d'ete" (the summer entrance).
The smallest of the pools was the traditional type we're used to: blue paint, diving boards and swimming lanes. It was also the size of a very large pool back in the states. We spent most of our time there, doing lanes and reading our books and admiring the buff bodies on the men who swam there.
Then we made a briefer visit to the biggest of the three pools. It was about the size of a football field, protected by entrance moats where a person's feet are cleaned and one naturally obeys the 'chasseurs interdict' (shoes prohibited) signs. At one end of the pool is a two story volcanic rock sculpture. From the gazebo at the top, a circular waterfall spills down on swimmers that stand under it, pounding them until the only sensation they know is the falling water. The pool gets deeper from the long edges toward the center, and from the short end with the fountain toward the short end near the lane pool. At the waterfall a person walks out of the ankle-deep water, and at the far end (100meters away) the water is almost six feet deep (1.8m).
At 4pm we got in our car and headed onto route N113 toward Carcassonne. After about an hour and a half on the road, we started driving through the town of Carcassonne. Then the old medieval city appeared from behind a modern building. "Wow!" we gasped in unison. At once the walls and peaked towers evoke the archetype of medieval life.
Quickly we found ourselves a parking spot outside the Church of St. Gimer, and donned our pack for the short climb up to 'Le Cite.' The place was crammed with tourists and appealing shops. There were the strains of a theatre show wafting over walls near the basilica that sounded so inviting we would have gone were it not for the price and the fact the show was in French.
The medieval streets were convincing with their subtle unordered turns, their open sewer drains (now mercifully dry) and the pebble-stone building material. We actually became lost in the narrow routes and couldn't find our way back to the entrance for over a half hour.
When we returned to the outside of the city, we saw the evocative reddish lighting illuminating the walls all around. Then we found to our joy that there was a shadowed parking spot right next to a buttress for the church of St. Giles and we quickly snagged it for our van.
Tuesday, August 17, 1999; Carcassonne:
Woke at our usually leisure hour, around 9:30, and got some unhappy bread & croissant from the nearby patisserie. Shrugged it off as bad bread from an unhappy baker and studied up on infrared photography. We walked around the north side of the city, scouting sites and having lunch. We decided the parts to photograph were the western wall from the outside and a narrow street leading up to the western gate.
Returned to the van and loaded our cameras with infrared and spent the afternoon till 3 arloaded our camera bags with infrared film. Did infrared photography at the two spots we'd selected until late afternoon. Most of the time is taken up cursing 'scenery campers' who were enjoying themselves thoughtlessly in the middle of our frame.
We returned to the van around 5:30 and napped until 7. Then we walked back up the hill to La Cite (the medieval part of town) for Kathleen's birthday. The crepes and pizza were fantastic.
Returned to the van and heard the strains of the 'Medieval Spectacle' wafting over the walls from the Theatre. We wished again we had gone.
Wednesday, August 18, 1999; Carcassonne:
Went in for breakfast at the patisserie near the backside gate. Then we took the tour of the Carcassone Chalet, the inner castle and ramparts. Learned some about the history of the city and the reconstruction during the 19th century. Turns out the archetypal look was put in place by the architect Viollet le-Duc when he rescued the town from decreed destruction in 1844. He came from the north of France, so when he restored the towers, he made them round, pointy and slate roofed. But in the south the building style is square, usually unroofed, and when there is a roof it's made of corrugated tiles. But the effect he left in place still sent shivers up our spines when we saw new towers or profiles of the walls against the sky.
After the tour we retired for lunch in our van at 1pm. Read for a while then rode bikes to the lower city (la ville basse) to buy a replacement removable filter system (we figure we lost the one we bought in Dublin). The lower town seemed just like any other French town with a central square, expansive pedestrian areas and impatient shop owners. We returned to the city to take photos, use the restroom and visit the Basilique Saint Nazaire. We learned by listening in on a tour guide that the Basilique was used as a horse stable following the Revolution (when things of gaudy privilege were all suspect). Finally the light was again on the western walls of the city, and we went to the walking bridge Pont Vieux (which says it all: The Viewpoint Bridge) and snapped some shots of the city from a distance.
Got back to the van, packed up and headed eastwards on N113 just as the tower of the Church of St. Gimer were chiming 5pm.
At first Henry drove while Kathleen worked on images for the webpage, then Kathleen drove while Henry worked on the itinerary. We finally found a campsite along with two other big motor-homes beside an area of hard sand and stone. There were no toilets, so we hiked up out of sight and found the area of scrub where everyone else had the same idea. It's interesting how the toilet paper paps don't decay long after the turds are gone. The area was peppered with tiny white dabs of paper pulp, but there was only a single turd in evidence.
Thursday, August 19, 1999; Drive to Montpelier and Carnon:
Woke late, around 10am. The other vans were long gone, and the first day of heat had arrived. We had breakfast and then drove about two kilometers back to the town of Montagnac for camping gas. It was 90 francs which makes it more expensive than Britain. Interesting. We also started looking for a regulator that provides gas at 50 millibars, since we'd found out from Campenje that thats the pressure we need to make the fridge work properly. Unfortunately, they only had 28mb, which is what we have now
Drove our van onwards towards Montpelier and stopped at another camping place. They were closed for siesta, so we stayed across the street at a rest stop and bought two bags full of fresh fruit at the roadside stand there. After the camping store opened, we found the highest pressure they had was 37mb. Bummer.
Onward to Montpelier where we parked behind the train station and walked into the Place de la Comedie. They gave us directions to a cyber café which we tracked down. They agreed to let us hook up, so we said we'd go back the next day. At that point the city was beginning to have it's effect on us. The heat and the smells and the rude people at the office de tourisme left us wanting to get out.
So we looked on the map they'd given us at the tourist office and decided to seek cool sea breezes. We drove to Carnon and found exactly that. While the traffic was aggravating getting here, the township is reminiscent of Nags Head with families camped out for the day on the beach and for the night in their rented beachside houses. We walked on the beach under the hazy moonlight talking about our hopes for a book on Irish Megaliths. Then we stayed up till 12:30 working on lists and e-mails.
Friday, August 20, 1999; Carnon on the Mediterranean:
Turns out the Discotheque we parked in front of, thinking it wasn't open on weeknights, only got started around 12:30. The music's sub-sonic bass tones shook the sand on our van floor until about 6am in the morning. We laughed at how we'd managed to camp in such an amateurish spot after vanning around for almost four months.
Slept in till 10 and then worked on the computer for another two hours: e-mail and itinerary. The van began to heat up -- we could see our reprieve from hot weather was over. Getting out the trusty bikes, we cycled into town looking for toilets, lunch and whatever else we could find. The toilets we found turned out to be quite nice, not at all like the squat we'd used the night before. Then we had lunch in the marina that serves as the center of town. But the heat and the biking had sapped our energy, so we made our way back to the van and prepared for the sea.
We only had our rain umbrella to shelter us from the sun's incessant rays. We were tired and irritable, but we'd actually planned on going into the sea during the hot part of the day, and this was it. At about 3:30 we plunked our stuff down on the beach across from the discotheque and waded into the calmly lapping waters. They were cool and by the time we got to our chests we both had goose-bumps.
Kathleen got up the courage to take the top of her suit down to her waist and float topless in the green waters. We swam together for about fifteen minutes before we were cooled off enough to go back to shore. There we realized our tiny umbrella was casting a respectable enough shadow and we sat in the splendor of warmth after cold. While we waited for the sun and breeze to warm the water off our bodies, we admired the toned and tanned and mostly naked (often topless) bodies at play about the beach.
Henry napped while Kathleen read her book. At 6 we were ready to retire to the van and drive to town and the laundry mat. There we sampled some of the more disturbed life at Carnon -- a woman who almost broke in line to the dryer and proceeded to actually break the chair, and another elderly woman who spent a minute after placing each item of clothes in her wheeled carrier patting and mumbling to the cloth.
The time at the laundry was very successful -- we got our sheets and towels cleaned, Henry's charger recharged from red to full, and charged the computer while selecting images for the Toulouse and Carcassonne pages. We closed the place down at 9pm and retired to the beach road for a pasta dinner.
Desperate not to get sand in our newly cleaned sheets, we both stole showers from the two star campground. They were having a 'turn-up-the-volume' discotheque outdoors in the campground, complete with all the American disco favorites from the 80's. (Can you spell YMCA?) The showers cooled us off again after the heat up of the evening.
Finally we parked again on the road by the toilets and went to bed. At 4:15 we woke up fearful of the traffic noise and potential drunk drivers and drove down the island past the Discotheque (we heard the bass boom as we drove past) and camped on the side of the road behind a large protective bolder.
Saturday, August 21, 1999; Montpelier:
At 8:30 we couldn't sleep any more and rose to see the day. Two young couples were breaking down their beach camp fifty yards from our van and closer to the water a pair of homeless were adjusting their sleeping bags for another few minutes of sleep in the morning sun. Behind them all the sea spread dark, blue and empty of boat sails. A quick bowl of Muesli and a quick U-turn and we were on our way back to Montpelier.
Waylaid by a promising looking mall, we engaged in some major purchasing with a grocery/shaver bill of 313Francs. It was all stuff we know we're going to need sooner or later at good prices, so we stocked up. The rest of the trip back to Montpelier was quick and we snagged a marvelous spot in the middle of siesta hour (when no charge was required at the meter) right at the front door of a three star hotel on Avenue du Piree. Henry finished the web pages and Kathleen read from 1pm till 3:30. We moved the van across the street when the shade shifted from Hotel Shade to Tree Shade. Then we headed off to the cyber café at the Place de Millénaire and spent two hours uploading, downloading and researching books on-line. The sparse amount of research we were able to accomplish made us pine for the days of unlimited internet access back home. It made us realize what a disadvantage the Europeans are putting themselves at by not making internet access an easy reality for anyone. Or perhaps we are just griping, but in our hearts we feel they're missing the beauty of it when they charge by the minute.
Broke camp at the hotel and drove north-east on N113 toward Avignon. Stopped for water and a croissant snack before stopping just before Nīmes. Though the night is clear and cool with the breeze, we are forced to swelter in the van with the windows up to avoid the mosquitoes. We have Basmati rice and lentils with melted Gouda. Salty and tasty.
Kathleen reads more of her book while Henry catches up on e-mails and we both sweat out the night till sleep takes us around midnight.
Sunday, August 22, 1999; Nīmes:
Woke around 9 and decided to stay in Nīmes for the day so we could hit a camping store tomorrow to search for a new gas regulator for the fridge. Turns out to be a fortuitous delay, for once we cracked the book open on Nīmes, we found a treasure trove of ancient Roman buildings to explore.
Nīmes was only ten minutes drive. We parked by the coliseum in the center of town and were again awed by the greatness of the civilization that was Rome. Their 2,000 year old coliseum seats 20,000 and is still used weekly for concerts and bullfighting. And to think even the Roman's language is now a 'dead tongue.'
Nīmes itself is decidedly clean and fresh-smelling. The weather is sunny and warm and we rested in the coolness of the coliseum while downloading. We parked our van where it would be in shade in the afternoon, but as we sit here in the coliseum, we know our van is no refuge from the heat of the day.
After the coliseum, we looked for an English newspaper, but couldn't find any shops open, only restaurants. Kathleen took a brief nap while Henry read, then we walked to La Maison Carree, which was a temple built in 5 or 6 AD by the Romans to honor the adopted sons and grandsons of Augustus. The column capitols were surprisingly well preserved Corinthian specimens. Inside they had a single example of the painting work that used to be inside the temple, including small figures of satyrs and nymphs doing it.
We continued on to the 'Tour Magna' inside the garden of fountains. It was the tallest building around when it was built in around 15-16 BC by the Romans as both a lookout tower and as a warning to other peoples that the area was under Roman control. Even though it is missing it's top floor, because it's on the tallest hill around, the view from the tower of the tower is higher than anywhere within view.
On our way back to the van we came across an intense game of Bocce Ball. Two teams of two men were playing game after game and as we watched we learned the rules and something of the strategy. Each player has three steel balls about the size of croquet balls and they get to throw until they're out of balls. As far as we could tell there were no identifying features to the balls. One player starts out by tossing a small brown target ball onto the playing field. Then they draw a circle on the ground from where he tossed it, then the challenge is for the other team to end up with a ball closer to the target than their rivals. Each team needs to throw the balls until a ball their team has thrown is closest to the target. The two team members trade off throwing since each has a strength; the 'defender' is better at throwing close to the target, and the 'attacker' is better at knocking the opponents ball to kingdom come. We watched enthralled for about an hour. When we left, we clapped for the team that had just won a tight match, and one of the tight lipped players erupted into a smile and gave us the thumbs up.
Drove out of town and missed our parking spot from the night before. But we went off the road and found a spot of ground in a farmer's field next to a pile of dirt. Gave each other sponge baths, had pasta for dinner (again) and settled into listening to the second half of the BBC production of 'Broken Glass' by Arthur Miller. It's a great play, weaving together themes of fear, forgiveness, and personal identity. We wished it had a happy ending.
The night was cooler than the previous night, or maybe just not as muggy. When we turned on the dim lights we realized that in our excitement to get to sponge baths and dinner and our play, we'd left the fridge on battery power. Bummer. We ran the engine for a half hour to give the battery a wee bit of surface charge and we're going to hope for a better regulator tomorrow. One nice thing about running the engine is we can run the fan and pipe in some more cool air.
Monday, August 23, 1999; Nīmes:
Nīmes the second day was not the hit for us that it was on the first day. We woke early enough, around 9, but the day was already hot by the time we drove from our campsite. The first bad news was that Kathleen had gotten a bunch more nasty mosquito bites and they itched horribly. The second piece of bad news was that the camping supply store which we had waited to go to wasn't open on Monday mornings. So we stopped for gas and groceries and to check out the BricoMarche for screens. The groceries went OK, but the cream we bought for Kathleen's itches didn't seem to help at all. Then just as Henry was finding the second ingredient for putting screens on the van, the BricoMarche closed for siesta.
Since he'd determined that they had the screen we needed, we decided to wait around until the store opened again at 2:30. The day got hotter as the sun moved and we could find no shade. Then we realized we were out of money and the money machine in the mall wouldn't take our card. We had to drive through the shimmering air all the way back to Nīmes to find a working machine.
When we came back from Nīmes the camping van supply place didn't have the regulator we needed. They gave us directions to a better stocked place, but they didn't have it either. When we returned to the BricoMarche, they turned out not to have the final ingredient (Velcro) and neither did the InterMarche. So we settled on taping the screen to the side of the van and drove off for Avignon. Kathleen's itches were driving her crazy as the second tube of medicine was as ineffectual as the first.
In Avignon, it was still hot. We missed the Tourist Information office by 20 minutes, so we decided to walk up the Rue de la Republique to the eating district near the Palais des Papas. There we decided to use the rest of Kathleen's birthday money for a dinner to make us feel better. A nice seeming matre de offered us an English menu that included pizza and we sat down, feeling better at once.
But when the waiter brought our dinner, he dropped it off on the table and bolted. He'd brought us two pizzas when we'd only ordered one. When we called for him, he pointed to the matre de, who explained we had to buy two pizzas because they're were two of us. We'd carefully read the menu looking for such a requirement and had found none. We realized the waiter had known all along about our misconception but taken no measures to protect us. We were embarrassed and angry. So we swallowed a half pizza each and ordered a box. The matre de made no attempt to hide his amusement tinged with disdain. We left a 20 centimes piece heads down on the table.
After returning our leftover pizza to our van, we had at last a pleasant evening walking back through the tight medieval feeling streets, looking up at the massive Palais des Papas and listening to the leftover street musicians -- Germans singing in English. We saw a man doing spray paintings with an astral look on glossy paper. He was very good, but we didn't see him sell any of his paintings and we wished we'd seen him succeed.
Back at the van the air next to the city wall where we parked was still. So we drove across the river and found a spot next to a tower by a boat put-in. It was an ideal campsite, within easy bike ride of the city and always in shade.
Tuesday, August 24, 1999; Avignon:
We got up around 9 again. It wasn't as hot as the day before, and the precautions we'd taken against Kathleen receiving more bites (spray & screens) worked. She felt much better. The ride into town was easy enough. We got a map and discount card and the tourist office, followed by a bathroom visit and a pair of milk shakes at the McDonalds.
We met a retired couple celebrating their 50th anniversary in France and England, and they encouraged us to see the inside of the Palais des Papas. Unfortunately, we were disappointed. For 101F, we could have probably spent our money better elsewhere. But one never knows ahead of time. We learned that the Popes lived like opulent Royalty, having celebratory meals whose ingredient list sounded embarrassing (10,000 chickens for one feast). Sadly, the audio guides suffered from excerpts that were far too long-winded. We kept making the 'rotating the hand in the air to speed them up' sign to each other. Then we realized this is an international sign, because we saw other foreigners doing the same. They had an art exhibition going on inside one of the naves, but it wasn't that impressive either. We also realized once the tour was over, that all the treasures were taken back to the Holy Sea when the popes moved back. The high point of our tour was the view from the top of the New Palace over the city.
The other museum we wanted to see turned out to be closed on Tuesdays, so we decided to stay another day and go to the pool for the afternoon. When we drove to the island where the pool is located, Henry recognized it as the one where he got busted for wearing cutoffs almost fifteen years earlier.
This time he was wearing his brand new Speedo bathing suit, so he figured there'd be no problem. Wrongo! Busted again at the same point, trying to go up and dive off the diving board. Turns out it's not only cutoffs, but any shorts style bating suit. Remarkable! Last time he'd rented a suit, but this time he felt less embarrassed because he was already wearing a new suit. So we hung out by the poolside (having already swum our fill) and took the showers at 6:30 (the other major reason we had for going) and left to take up camping in the parking lot outside the pool. Guess he never will get to dive off the board at Avignon.
We camped for the night in the parking lot outside the pool. It was one of the most lovely spots we can remember, with the white walls of the Palais des Papas and the Pont du Avignon waving in the water like flags.
Wednesday, August 25, 1999; Avignon:
The day started off inauspiciously enough. In a moment of amorous enthusiasm, Kathleen grabbed Henry and pulled him into an embrace on the bench seat. Unfortunately, this would have meant crushing Henry's nose against the topside cabinet. So he jerked to avoid the cabinet and his shoulder crashed into Kathleen's face. Her glasses got mangled and her face got bruised where the nose pads are. Though the day seemed temperate, our temperatures got high.
We biked into town, expecting to have to pay for repairs. Just inside the first gateway, we found a tiny optical shop. We went in and were treated to the nicest Frenchman we've met so far. We tried out our basic French on him and he his basic English on us. He fixed Kathleen's glasses better than new for no charge and sent us on our way with a 'bon voyage,' a smile and a handshake.
We found the library, and though they couldn't help us find Pavone, the town in Italy where Kath's cousin lives, they let us hook up the laptop for a couple of hours, charge the battery and do e-mails. We had to hang in the library for a couple of hours because the Musee Angladon didn't open till 1pm. Henry bought a copy of The International Herald Tribune, Marseilles edition, for 10F and read it cover to cover. (It's an international daily put out by the Washington Post and the New York Times.)
For lunch we had ice cream.
Once the museum openened, we had the treat of seeing several Picassos, Cézannes, Degas, a Van Gogh, and La Blouse Rose by Amedeo Modigliani (that was the picture in the ad that got us to see that museum) who is one of Kathleen's favorite artists. The collector whose collection is on display there also had a number of oriental works including an amazing terra cotta medallian showing the Buddha from the Tang dynasty.
After the museum, we went back to the van (around 4), stole showers from the campground and drove to Villenueve. There we glimpsed the monastery and the fortress from the outside and wished we'd gone there instead of the Palais des Papas. The monastery lets playwrights stay in the old monks cells while they work on their writing.
We bought groceries, gas and a baguette and we began driving toward Cannes in earnest. Henry had made a doctor's appointment in Nice for Friday morning at 9:45, so we didn't want to be late.
We stopped at a nice rest stop off the A9 for the evening. Though the whole day had been temperate, the night in the van turned pretty warm. Even though we had the windows screened now, the air was still and the inside of the van got uncomfortably hot.
But all in all we felt we had a great day. We went $11 over budget, so who says money can't buy happiness.
Thursday, August 26, 1999; Cannes:
The day dawned mercifully overcast and cool. We got to a casual start staying in the van at the rest stop reading. Once we got underway the driving was beautiful as we drove through our first mountains since reaching the continent. Henry was behind the wheel and he didn't get to enjoy the scenery as much as he'd have liked because of the steep cliffs running right beside the road.
We made it to Cannes and after a nap in the parking lot of their InterMarche, we walked from the Plague du Midi all the way to the Martinez hotel on Promenade de la Croisette. We saw the rich looking walking down the same streets with Rough Guide teenagers and listened to the babble of tongues from middle eastern and European countries.
Looking out into the bay is like looking out into the pleasure horizon on some distant vacation world. We imagined what the scene would be like with the papparazzi in pursuit of all the glamorous stars of the day during the film festival.
Finally we drove to Nice and parked on the street in a neighborhood.
Friday, August 27, 1999; Nice:
Not a good nights sleep; it was hot, muggy and noisy all night. We woke at 8am to get searching for the doctor's office where Henry's appointment started at 9:45. The day was clear and warm already, and the streets were difficult to navigate. We drove toward the sea, hoping for a place to get directions, and stopped at the Hotel Negresco. They gave us a map and pointed the way. Turned out we were only a few blocks from the doctors office at 54 Rue Rossini. We found a parking spot on Rue Admiral de Grasse where it was only 8F per hour from 9-12 and from 2-6. There we parked the van and rested until the appointed hour.
Doctor Jean Wortman ran a one man show. When Henry sat in his office explaining his condition, Dr. Wortman answered the phone, took appointments, entered them into his computer and buzzed people in at the door. All without moving from his seat. (His computer was quite the spread complete with modem, scanner, and voice recognition typing software.) He agreed Henry's cyst needed to be drained, so he went in search of a referral who could take us that day. His regular referral doctor (in his Palm Pilot address book) was on vacation. So he Telnet into a local database and performed a search for Opthamologists in Nice. After two phone calls he'd succeeded in finding a doctor who would see us that afternoon. Total charge: 200F ($33). What a deal!
The doctor also gave Kathleen a prescription for an anti-inflammatory for her sciatic nerve. He did this for free which confirmed for us the impression he'd given us of a calm and caring health provider. Why can't all the French be like their doctors?
We had to wait around till 5pm, so we had lunch, bought Kathleen's prescription, worked on e-mail, and then headed out looking for an internet connection. That turned out to be a hateful experience. The French Riviera is not geared for the budget traveler. We tried to make our coupler work at the phone booths in the train station. The double-dial requirement that we have with the IBM Globalnet combined with the 'won't take the tones through the receiver' type payphones turns out to be a real problem for us. Out of 16 credits we had on our phone, we were able to get connected on the first dial twice, but we were unable to match the connection feat on the second dial, so we used up the calling card without getting any e-mail.
Our second try was to find an internet café. A computer store we passed gave us suggestions for where to look, so we followed them and on the way we found a discount phone call center. Just like the fantastic one in Cambridge -- we rejoiced. Only two francs per minute, so we got all set up. But just as the computer was about to finish booting up, the guy in charge saw we were using a computer and he said "no computers! Boss says not allowed."
We asked him why, but all he could say was "too much traffic." But he made it clear in body language that we were not to use the computer to connect to the internet.
The guy who was in the store as we left (who we think was the 'boss') explained to us as we walked "not allowed in all of France." It sounded suspiciously like the statement of the lifeguard at Avignon: "shorts are not allowed in all of France." We knew it wasn't true.
And so it went as we walked around town. The internet café said 'no.' The American Express office said 'no, can't use our phone to make a local call. It's not allowed.'
"But we'll pay!"
"It's not allowed."
Finally we found a polish women running a Web center. We knew she wasn't French immediately because she was so friendly. She allowed us to try in a booth, but there were no phone connections. The jacks that look like French phone connections she told us were actually network connections. She offered that we could come back when the boss was there and ask him. She also suggested that the reason we weren't getting any luck was because the French were scared someone would take advantage of them.
That is what we think the answer is. Despite the reputation that the French are into cutting edge things, we think that regards fashion, not technology. Everywhere we went, it seemed the people patronizing the web cafés and centers were mostly foreigners using hotmail to communicate home. (There was a well heeled American businessman at the Web Center who was having the same problem we were.) The 'can't do' mentality when it came to technology seemed pervasive, with the sole exception of Gene in Toulouse, and others along the way who were not originally French.
We ran out of time and had to walk back to the Opthamologist, whose name was Bernard Gharbi. His office was filled with beautiful French furniture, carpeting and artifacts. His office and his receptionist's were both air conditioned, but the waiting room was not. After we waited a while, he met with Henry and discussed his history. Then he gave him some drops to numb the eyelid and had him wait again. Kathleen went out to get the cash (800F, or $133) we needed to pay the doctor. Then Henry was escorted in again for the treatment.
A small line of instruments including two syringes, two tiny scalpels and a weird oval shaped clamp were laid out like modern equivalents of medieval torture instruments. The syringes were for a local anesthetic, but getting them injected was only the first painful step in the process. Then came that oval shaped clamp which went under the eyelid, and then got turned up to expose the underside of the lid to the knife. Henry couldn't see, but after waiting (because the doctor realized the anesthetic hadn't fully taken effect) he could hear the tiny 'snip, snips' as the knife cut out the offending cyst.
Even the doctor's immense aura of gentleness couldn't prevent the experience from being one of torture. But after only a few minutes, the teeth clenching was over, and a large patch closed out the light of the world (as Henry is totally blind in his left eye). The doctor's gentle hands handed Henry his hat and pack and led him to Kathleen.
Back on the street, we stopped for ice cream. A tri-cone with three flavors -- we both had the same -- coffee, pralene and nougat. Some of the best flavors to ever mingle in our mouths. Then on we went to the muggy van, slowly taking each step and bump in the pavement. Kathleen calling out the terrain to Henry so he would not trip.
For the evening, Kathleen had to take care of her blind husband. She got him set up with his radio and some water and then went back to the Web Center to try for our e-mail. There she was met by the very suspicious, but profit seeking, French owner. He was skeptical, but let her set the computer up (on his desk) and show him the local number. He verified the local number by calling it on his cell phone. Then he made a deal: 20F for 5 minutes, 40F for up to 10. Kathleen knew it was a rip-off but we needed to know if either her mother or Todd was going to be meeting us in Rome and if so when, so she agreed.
The man watched the computer dial, and then watched every move she made.
"You're suspicious!" she said, trying to win him over.
All he could do was nod.
But she got the e-mail and brought it back to the van to read to Henry. We found out Kathleen's mother was seriously considering coming, but Todd was not. So we knew we needed to find a phone the next day. We then decided to get pizza so we didn't have to cook in the stifling van. Kathleen walked the streets until she found a van serving pizza. It was a permanently parked, regular sized (for America) van complete with it's own pizza oven. Had to be a hot place to work. The greasy pizza was cheap, yummy, and very oily, just like the pizza on the streets back in New York.
We had wine, listened to the BBC and read until about 10 when we turned in.
Saturday, August 28, 1999; Nice:
Once again, we didn't have a good nights sleep. Friday night the party noise level was extreme. Sometime in the middle of the night the street cleaning machine came through and actually sprayed the van with jets of noisy water, as if we were on fire and they were putting us out.
In the morning, Kathleen led Henry back to the gentle Dr. Gharbi's office, where he was alone in his spacious quarters. He took off the patch, examined Henry's eye, seemed satisfied and prescribed some drops. He also showed us where inside the eyelid he'd cut out the cyst. We thanked him profusely and were back out on the street again after only 10 minutes.
We went walking looking for a cash machine, a toilet and a pharmacy to get Henry's drops. We also wanted to walk the pebble beach. But as the hot day wore on and we found finding both a cash machine and an open pharmacy difficult, we decided to forego the beach. We finally got on the road for Italy at 3pm.
We decided to take the Moyenne Corniche, one of the three roads that leads east from Nice along the French Riviera to Monaco. We stopped at the village of Eze and walked its medieval streets, feeling like a rich person's scaled down version of Carcassonne. They had an art opening which drew us in because of the painted mannequins. The artist, Jean Claude Peerrouiin of Nice, had his show at the Musée-Salle d'expositions and we liked his work. He would have signed a reproduction for us, but the lithographs he had were not the ones we liked.
The town was finally giving us a taste of cool weather and we walked every road we could that was open to the public. Tarrying over the small price for the Jardin Exotic, we decided to eat our last French Francs instead. So with that in mind, we got back in the van and drove toward Monaco. We stopped only to finish our post cards and a letter to Romania, so we could be sure to use up the French stamps we'd bought.
Monaco is an independent principality in France. All the laws of the country have to be approved by the King of Monaco before they have effect in the tiny kingdom. This arrangement is in perpetuity until the royal line dies out. There's no parking for our camper there, except possibly on the street and all of that was taken. So we weren't able to stop at the Monaco McDonalds or the Palais. We also were turned away (twice) from the road to the casino by uniformed police officers who won't allow motorbikes, campers or people dressed in anything less than eveningwear to proceed toward the playground of the rich.
Thoroughly discriminated against, we drove on toward Italy as the sky started to darken. We managed to sneak into an InterMarche at 7:45 as they were closing to snag a few groceries and spend our French cash down to almost nothing. Then we found a post box and were free at last from France.
Italy was only another two kilometers down the road. Of course they didn't check our passports or even look at us at the border. We turned north with unbelievable luck through an utterly confusing tangle of road ramps toward Cuneo and Tornino in search of a camp spot for the night. We started driving up the mountains, through long elaborate tunnels, much further than we'd intended because there weren't any stopping spots. We crossed back into France before we finally found a place by a roiling stream to stop for the night. It was cool and to the north we could see lightning. There were no street lights, so at last we knew we'd have a good night's sleep.
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