Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Friday, October 24, 2008

les vacances scolaire

It is already time for the first school holiday. As I may have already explained, France has a very sane school calendar with about 2 weeks off every quarter, or every 8 weeks. This results in a summer break of 2 months instead of 3 as in the States. I know as a teacher, I stay fresher with more frequent breaks, and would happily trade our schedule for France's. As would Irie who also loves going to school 2 days on, Weds. off, 2 more days on. She doesn't mind the longer days (that go until 4:30) and calls Weds. her mini-weekend.

Anyway, we leave early tomorrow morning, catching a train to Montpellier. There the Locaboat company will pick us up (Maggie included) and take us to our boat. We will get a lesson concerning all the details of living on a boat for a week, and then we're off! There is no "barging" allowed at night so every night we must find a place to tie up. This can be in a city's port or we can simply tie up along the canal somewhere. Our trip takes us from Lattes (near Montpellier), through the Camargue which is more like a large salty lake divided from the Mediterranean by barrier islands, then into the Canal du Midi to the town of Argens. Here is our circuit. There is a nice photo gallery lower on the page, and there is also a well-done video that gives us a good idea of what we'll experience, which includes passing through 16 locks. Of course, we will post our own pictures and video upon our safe return.

Our last night on the boat is Halloween, which has grown into a popular event here in France, so Irie is bringing a costume, and will trick-or-treat in Argens. That is the plan at least. After we return the penichette, we are off to Sète for 2 nights where we will celebrate Lisa's birthday. Lisa has wanted to do a barge trip like this one for years - long before we ever dreamed of spending a year in France - so this is her birthday present. Bon Anniversaire Honey!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Le Marché Dimanche

The Sunday Market is one of our favorite events of each week here in Fréjus. They have a small market near the boules courts on Tues. and Fri. to replenish fruits and veggies including a few other stalls of stuff, however, these are small potatoes (pun intended) in comparison to the assault on the senses that is the Sunday Market. It runs along the promenade right next to the Sea so on top of all the shopping possibilities, we can see the water, watch the boats, walk in the sand, or even on a hot day, go for a swim. Besides the fruit and veggie stands, there are stalls of olives and provençal herbs,
stalls of provencal fabrics,
stalls of cheese,
meats, fruit de mer (seafood), olive oils, wine and honey, bakery items, clothing (though not of the best quality or styles we would choose), soaps, scarves, flowers, shoes, leather goods, kitchen gear, etc. It is a treasure trove for items we forgot from home, shopping for Lisa's upcoming birthday, something we need for the apt., or just pleasing Irie with something special like the pink rabbit fur scarf she talked us into. However, best of all for the nose and taste buds are the stalls of prepared foods! As I mentioned in a previous post, we make it a habit to buy our lunch at the market, whether we eat it on the beach or, as the weather cools, at home. Each week I've been trying to buy something different to get a taste of the various vendors and the quality of what they cook. Seafood paella, roasted chicken (or any other kind of meat) with potatoes, couscous poulet (chicken), pizza, or sandwiches and other bakery items are some of the delectable choices. My only fear as fall turns to winter (though the weather here is still fantastic with temps in the upper 60s to lower 70s) is will it continue year-round? We sure hope so.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

St. Tropez

Last Sunday we borrowed our friend Michelle’s car (in exchange for my giving her cooking lessons), and took a little road trip west on the coast to St. Tropez. Other than our 8-hour bus trip to Monaco, and the 2-day trip Lisa and I took to Nice, we have been pretty homebound since we arrived in Fréjus. Also, in both cases we weren’t responsible for driving so it’s been awhile since I spent much time behind the wheel of a car. My parents were still here so the 5 of us were packed into this typically-European small car, but the 1-hour drive to St. Tropez followed the coast so we rarely lost sight of the Mediterranean, traffic was light, and thus it was a relaxed journey. Once in St. Tropez, finding parking was a bit of a challenge (and quite honestly is the thing I like least about driving in Europe), but we found a parking garage, and were off on foot to explore the ever-popular town.

Trying to find Old Town and the port/harbor area we immediately stumbled upon the boules courts where they were obviously having a tournament of some kind. A big trophy stood on the temporary riser which otherwise was filled with cases of champagne, of which at least half had already been consumed. Good times were being had! Stumbling through narrow streets we followed our noses (think fish and seaweed) to the Harbor where there was yet another big crowd. Turns out they were having a big Porsche rally. We grabbed ice cream cones (the ice cream in Europe is always top notch with loads of flavorful choices) and headed in the opposite direction following the waterfront. The Harbor is fairly quaint, not large, a combination of fishing boats, sailboats, and expensive yachts, and lined with restaurants, small shops and art boutiques. As one walks away from the harbor you will find old ramparts and small beaches with views across St. Tropez Bay towards St. Maxime and the coast we had driven to get here.

Lisa and I stopped here on our last trip to France in 1996, and from our memories the town has become a lot more run-down since then. For such a famous town, and one with high real estate prices, we were surprised at how many waterfront properties were in need of repairs and paint, and a couple even looked completely empty and uninhabitable. We did find the Old Town charming with it’s narrow passageways, small squares, and flower bedecked homes.
The small in-town beaches are not remarkable in any way - no soft sand, no real access for swimming, and a bit dirty. But Irie had fun playing “shipwreck” on the rocks and the water was clear enough to see some small fish and jellyfish. We noticed the old Fort up on the hill so we left my parents seaside to sit and rest while we traipsed up the hill to explore. The views were spectacular on this sunny warm day, and while we never actually went inside, the three of us had fun encircling the outside. Upon showing Irie the moat and the weapon slits we asked what she thought the slits were for and she replied: “flowers?” Oh to be a kid again!

The town’s name comes from an early, semi-legendary martyr named Saint Torpes. The legend states that he was beheaded at Pisa during the reign of Nero, and that his body was placed in a rotten boat with a rooster and a dog who would thusly consume his body to survive. The boat landed at the present-day location of the town with his body still intact. During WWII it was one of the central landing sites for the Allied invasion of southern France leading to its liberation. In the 1950’s, Brigitte Bardot made it the tourist mecca it now is with her films here.

After about 3 hours, we were ready to head back, only to inch along at a snail’s pace. Everyone else decided to leave at 5 pm also, and being only one main road east or west, there was nowhere else to go. Oh well, it’s nice not being in a hurry, and there are worse places to be stuck in traffic. The route takes us past lots of nice-looking beaches and quaint Mediterranean towns. Having also biked in the opposite direction past our neighbor-town of St. Raphael to beautiful small sand-lined bays with clear calm water I would recommend such stops over St. Tropez. But one has to go, to know, and so voilà, there it is.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Une autre semaine à Fréjus

We haven't posted for over a week...where does the time go? We've been in Fréjus 6 weeks already as hot summer beach days have turned into the mild pleasant days of autumn. Our adopted city has gone from bustling vacation resort with packed beaches to a quiet town living at regular speed. Some of the beachfront restaurants and boardwalk shops have shuttered for the season, yet most remain open. The beaches are never empty, the retired regulars hang out along the fence near the municipal nautical club which is still very active, and everyday, groups of kids are being taught here how to sail, windsurf and kayak.

We have developed our own regular schedules. Irie has begun to blossom, giving us a kiss and a wave as she heads into her brave new world every morning at 8:30 and again every afternoon at 1:30. We continue to laugh at the crazy crowd of parents who crowd the school gate at the departure times, looking for their little students to appear. Meanwhile Irie knows we'll stand back toward the street where it's less crowded so she comes bounding out with hugs and smiles. On Weds., when there is no school, she usually sits in on my french lesson in the morning (since it's with her french teacher from the school) and in the afternoon she has her piano lesson.

Lisa has quickly developed a tight little group of friends who take her hula class, do an arts and crafts class together, and regularly converse in french and english to the benefit of both. I meet with my own new friend, Florent, on Monday mornings at the local cafe. He speaks better english than I do french, but we both understand the other's language well enough that the conversation can flow easily enough. He is planning a 3-week trip next August that will take them from Seattle to San Diego (with a possible stop at our cabin on Diamond Lake) so that immediately gave us something to discuss. He is also a skiier and I do believe we'll end up on the slopes together this winter. Lisa and I both also take french on Tuesday mornings. Lisa will be starting a more advanced class in another location, which is the right thing for her to do, however, I admit to a little sadness about it. As husband and wife who, at home in our normal routines have our own professions and schedules, sharing time in a stimulating educational setting was a reminder of the learning environment in which we met so many years ago, and I enjoyed it immensely!

We have also had the not-so-regular events that make the time fly by. Our apartment complex held an "end of season" picnic last Saturday which was very fun. It met all the preconceived notions of a long french lunch with multiple courses being served, wine flowing freely, and conversation ranging over the gamut of topics. As the new Americans staying for a year, we were met with much interest and questions, and it was a pleasure to make contacts with our neighbors.

Also, my parents are here after their own huge 35-day tour of 15 European countries. They are staying for 10 days then still have 4 days in Paris after they leave here on Tues. morning. We are trying to keep them busy and fed while maintaining sanity in our small apt. I am most grateful to them for taking care of Irie while letting Lisa and I take a much-needed getaway to Nice. We stayed in a charming hotel minutes walk from the famous rock beaches of Nice, as well as near old-town with the typically-European narrow pedestrian streets lined with restaurants and shops. The dinner our first night, at La Zucca Magica (The Magic Pumpkin), was the best meal I've had since the Queen Mary2 cruise. It's a 4-course vegetarian meal plus dessert and based on the confiance du chef, in other words, every patron is eating the same thing and you don't know what exactly you are eating until it arrives at your table. It was an exceptionally delicious evening!

We see the parents off on Tuesday morning, finish two weeks of school, and it will already be the end of the first quarter...so off on our first vacation. We have rented a peniche, or houseboat, and will spend a week cruising the Camargue and the Canal du Midi due west along the Mediterranean. We will spend Lisa's birthday in Sète, and upon our return, her dear friend Athena will be joining us for 10 days. C'est la vie en France.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Monaco

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we took a bus trip to Monaco this past Sunday. It was put on by the Vous Accueil association and the tickets cost 25€ for us and 10€ for Irie. We were dropped off at the "top" of Monaco (Monaco is a "principality" that is all of .75 square miles, built into the side of a mountain that descends into the sea) at the Jardin Exotique where we started our day. The Grotte (cave) was also in, or rather under, the garden and was used in prehistoric times by different groups of people including the Neanderthals. The Grotte has some nice formations (see pics above) but I was most struck with the difference in how they protect such an edifice. In the U.S., for instance at the Oregon Caves very near our home, they talk of the micro-climate, the unique organisms, and the absolute rules of not touching anything. In The Grotte, we were ducking and weaving through stalagtites and stalagmites and everything seemed very "loose." We, of course, didn't touch anything, but honestly we could have probably carved "Rick ♥'s Lisa" into a formation if we had so desired. Then again, the tour leader was speaking in French so what do I really know?

Monaco is a constitutional monarchy of about 33,000 people. The head of state is Prince Albert II who came to power when his father, Prince Rainer, died in 2005. Many of you will be familiar with Prince Rainer as the husband of Princess Grace, ie. the actress Grace Kelly who died tragically here in a car accident in 1982 (we were glad we didn't have to drive these streets!). Princes Rainer and Albert are, respectively, the 25th and 26th ruling Princes of the Grimaldi family which came to power in 1297 and has ruled ever since. Many are also somewhat familiar with the Monaco Grand Prix, which is considered the most difficult Formula One race on the circuit, and the Monte Carlo Casino (the trinket shops are full of memorabilia of both). Our bus went by the large gardens in front of the Casino, but we didn't even get close enough to take a picture. When we were both in Europe as college students in 1985 we met up in Nice and tried to get into the Casino that day, but wearing shorts and tennis shoes we were laughed away from the entrance. Now we just don't have any interest.

After touring the très impressionnant Jardin (which Lisa described as the ultimate rooftop terrace garden overlooking the entire country) and The Grotte, we took the city bus which wound down through Monte Carlo then back up to Le Rocher (The Rock) where the Palais, Cathédrale, and the Aquarium/Musée Oceanography sit. The building towers impressively on a bluff high above the sea, Jacques Cousteau was it's director for many years, and Irie loved it! We then wound our way through the typically European narrow streets browsing the stores and finding some tasty wood-fired pizza for lunch. The Palais was not nearly as impressive as Versailles, but hey it's not France, it's only surrounded by France, and speaks French, though they do have their own language, Monégasgue. It was a delightful day with the family. Monaco is a very picturesque place, and I learned much more about the place than when I came through as a college student...imagine that!