Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: France: Provence and the Côte D'Azur









Good long drive. I had to give up on the plan of going via Moissac and checking out the cathedral sculptures there, because I went out with Tracey to get a paint pen from the Citroen dealership and then had a coffee with her. That took me until after 12:30.

Map of the South of France


This hotel was damn near impossible! to find. There were no signs up, and the place looked like an abandoned building. There was a sign to an Ibis hotel a bit down the road so I went there and the receptionist assured me that there was a hotel there. So back I went. I found myself outside a gate with no signs and gave up and called them on the number that I'd got from the other hotel. They opened the gate. Once inside, the hotel is actually quite nice, but it took me a little while to calm down and appreciate it. The room is actually huge. Weirdly huge. There's room for 3 double beds in here. On the other hand, there is inadequate lighting in the main room.

Walked along the road into town to get some food. Very scruffy area.




Hotel room 

Oddly oversized. I will remark that the hallway area alone is larger than some places I've stayed in (I'm thinking of that awful room in the Taipei Backpackers) 







Walked into town to visit the Palais des Papes and the Pont d'Avignon. The actual old city within the walls is much better than the surrounding areas, and walking around there was actually a pleasure. I was tempted by some art books that I saw in a couple of second- hand bookshops on (I think) Rue des Teinturiers, but I couldn't really justify 45e for pretty ordinary books. Who wants to lug heavy things like that around anyway?


Map of Avignon old city

Enlarge it for detail. Note that the city walls are still complete. Not many are so well preserved. They owe their good condition to the ubiquitous Viollet-le-Duc who directed their restoration 


Had a nice lunch in the main square in Avignon , so I didn't need to try out the hotel restaurant. Also in the square was a little market mostly selling bric-a-brac and some art. There were a few interesting record collections full of what I suppose must have been mid- to late-XXth C French recording stars. They were completely unknown to me.


Life in Avignon

A busker working in Place Pié, adding to the pleasant ambience of this square. 


The forecourt and facade of the Palace are very nice. The facade, of course, is impressive - the tourist guff says the palace is the most magnificent of all gothic buildings - and it may well be; I can't think of any others that might compete with it. The forecourt was full of people doing all sorts of things. There were a couple of girls doing some modern dance type of routine in front of the palace in a roped off area. From what I can tell, that area is almost always available for people to book to do a little public performance. There was no request for money: it was just for their own amusement I think. Plenty of folks organizing their tour groups, others eating at a small covered restaurant. Families seemed to be treating it like a large playground for their kids. Quite unusual.


Palais des Papes

From the Place de Palais 


Wall decoration 

On the wall of the Place de Palais facing the Palace.


Plan of the Palace

The old palace is marked in black and the new in red. The building was begun in 1316 by John XXII. It wasn't finished until 1370. 


Flowers in the window

Just pretty. Nothing significant



A display of ceramic tiles from earlier parts of the palace. Taken individually they do seem pretty crude, but I'm sure they made a good effect when they were brighter and shinier and undamaged and part of a large pattern. (Like the overdone tiling in the Topkapi, for example.)



A ceramic bas relief  of what? Christ bearing his cross on the Via Dolorosa? But is that a cross? I should have read the signs.



The pope inspects his first orange.


Travelling north

Past the Palais and the church of Notre-Dame des Doms and the Rocher des Doms. There is a very lonely and overshadowed busker making the most of the acoustics in this narrow passage.



As you come out of that passage you see this buiding at the end which is painted with trompe l'oeil windows and inhabitants. It's an amusing thing for a city council to approve, I think.


Pont d'Avignon across the Rhône

Actually called the Pont St-Bénézet after the fellow whose idea it was to build it. The famous song which is learned by every school student of French is said to be 'about'  the crooks who lived under the bridge (like the troll in the 'Billy-goats Gruff' fairy story) rejoicing at the prospect of fresh victims walking overhead - so it really should be 'Sous le Pont d'Avignon.' 


It turned out I was a bit hungry in the evening after all the walking today, but rather than going to the restaurant - which was closed for some reason - I walked down the road to Dominos to get a pizza and a coke and ate sitting outside the place reading. Quite relaxing.







Drove out to NÎMES


just a few miles SW. Pretty easy driving around even in this new town, but I discovered that that is because today and tomorrow are public holidays down here. I found my way easily to the public parking of Les Arènes, but that might have been a mistake since it wound up costing me 14e for the day. That's a bit steep I thought. I unintentionally compensated for this by saving 5e in returning by the non toll road. That was a pleasant drive too. I still couldn't recognise the Main Street that I was supposed to turn on and took 4 goes to get it right - but, as it was a holiday, there was no stress involved.

Map of Nîmes old city

The little restaurant I ate at is on the Blvd de la Liberation/Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle, just a bit up from the Palais de Justice


Nîmes itself was a pleasant and well laid out town. I had a delicious galette in the main square (which was pretty empty) and then went to the amphitheatre. That was good. It's a pity that there is so much scaffolding and other modern additions in the place, but I suppose that's necessary if its going to be usable by today's citizens. They, apparently, do use it - unfortunately, they use it for bullfights. The AV display sanitised this a bit, but the bulls had clearly been tormented by picadors and I don't doubt that it would finish with a slaughter. I'm not interested enough to check that: bull-baiting is bad enough anyway.

The amphitheatre

The best surviving example of the classic Roman building. I think it's amazing that you can have an uninterrupted view of a 2000 year old structure like this from your restaurant table across the road. That gives you a real sense of the present past. 


The arena

Where the gladiators slaughtered each other for the amusement of the citizens of this great civilization 



For some reason, they remind me of the structure in the Star Trek episode 'The City on the Edge of Forever.' However, I don't think there's any connection


The audio guide I got was interesting, but just far, far too long. I listened to it as I walked about for an hour before giving up. After that I went to see the famous Maison Carrée. This is a well-preserved  classical temple famous for its perfect proportions and elegance. It now hosts visitors for a 3D sound and vision tracing the outline of the city's history through the stories of a few notable local heroes. We all had to wear glasses, but the thing was pretty effective. What I particularly remember was standing in the sun for 30 minutes in the queue to get in; and being poked and jostled repeatedly by a dopey old lady who would not respect my personal space even when I made it clear that she was annoying me.


Across a space and facing the Maison Carrée is the Carrée d'Art designed by Norman Foster. They say that it perfectly complements the classical architecture of the old building by reflecting its structural themes in the glass and metal construction of the modern. Ha ha. 'They' are full of it. It's just a Yale Box.


Maison Carrée

A perfect little temple. Jefferson was much taken with it when he was in France. He took it as the model for the Virginia State Capitol - of course, he replaced the ornate Corinthian order with a decent Ionic more appropriate to the simple republican virtues of the new country.


Then along the Quai des Fontaines to see the much less famous Tour Magné, a classical folly that came to be used as a guard and watch tower when the empire went into decline. There's also a story that a couple of centuries ago a local peasant had a dream that there was treasure buried in it. This led to something of a gold rush and the tower was very nearly destroyed by the dismantling and undermining that occurred in the search for this phantom hoard. It took a lot of work to make the building stable again, let alone safe enough for tourists to ascend to see the view - which is worth the climb.


I note in the displays that the town is named for the old goddess Nemoz, which I think shows a pretty strong conservatism in the name. I also read that as a Roman settlement it was called Colonia Nemausus and settled by soldiers who had served with Julius Caesar in Egypt. Hence the city's coat of arms shows a crocodile chained to a palm tree and the string 'COLNEM'. I think that sort of thing is fascinating.

Quai des Fontaines


Les Fontaines


Outside La Tour Magné


Inside La Tour Magné

Looking down onto the reception area from a landing on the steep and narrow spiral staircase.


Back in the hotel the restaurant was open and good, and I struck up a conversation with an American fellow and his Korean wife. The conversation was pleasant enough, but I really didn't take to him so much. I wonder why. Well, I guess we're not compelled to like everyone unless we positively have definite reasons to dislike them.








I gave up on the idea of visiting the Pont du Gard when I saw how long today's trip was going to be. This all went well until I actually got to Antibes , when the streets became a maze of curving, one- way, unsigned narrow tracks. I had to find a parking spot (illegal) and get out to find the street names and orient myself. Then it was a matter of driving in circles until I found the particular choices of turns that would get me out of this Bermuda Triangle of tourists. Then! I had to find a park near the hotel, which was absolutely not easy. What a chore. But, again, if there'd been more traffic t would have been even worse.

The hotel's quite close to the beach, but the beach is entirely developed. There are chairs and restaurant tables on almost every square inch of it. I can't say that I'm very impressed by the quality of the development, but I think I'm actually closer to Juan les Pins here, rather than Antibes proper, and it might be better on the other side of the cape. I'll check it out later. The walk around the shoreline impressed me mostly by the unattractiveness of the ladies: where are all the pretty girls that I see in the ads? Too many fat, old tourists I think.


Map of Juan-lesPins 

My hotel Trianon is marked







Walked about Antibes today. I was right that this is really Juan les Pins and a bit poorer. Antibes proper is much nicer, but also I think a good deal more expensive.

There wasn't really much of interest here except down on the waterfront, where there were the most impressive boats I'd ever seen. I made a list of some of them to investigate when I got back. They were the:

Sarafsa ( Georgetown )
Anastasia (")
Tatoosh (")
Katara ( Doha )

The last one was a ship by any reasonable definition. It's 125 metres. It was a long walk out to the Fort Carree and not much to see once I got there, but the return by straight line was quicker.

Pizza for dinner at the shop next door.


Map of Antibes

This is definitely where the wealth is. 


Parasols on the beach

It's actually attached to a restaurant, of course. 


Place de General de Gaulle



On the quay overlooking Port Vauban




Sterns of the superyachts

Mostly crewed by South Africans and people from the north of Britain to judege from the accents. 

I'm told that the owners prefer not to take on French crew because they are entitled to siestat time as soon as they get into French territorial waters. I'm not sure about that story.



  Mostly crewed by South Africans and people from the north of Britain to judege from the accents. 

I'm told that the owners prefer not to take on French crew because they are entitled to siestat time as soon as they get into French territorial waters. I'm not sure about that story.







Had a long chat with Angelo at breakfast. He's a South African guy who's here to get into the luxury yacht business - as an engineer if possible, but as a deckhand as an entree if necessary. The discussion ranged over many topics, but I once more wound up talking about positive psychology, philosophy of life, and the proper pursuit for a satisfactory human life. Is it just me or is this a topic that is much on people's minds at the moment?

Took the train to Nice and wandered about. Just the same as Antibes but a bit flasher. Prettier girls on the beach, bigger hotels, larger Old Town , same crowds. Not to my taste I'm afraid.

Hamburger and chips for dinner.


Map of Nice


Promenade des Anglais



They're raising money for some sort of medical charity. I think they're nurses. 









Took me most of the day to get here. I had a pleasant meal in the restaurant next door to the hotel. I accidentally ordered tripe sausages, and I expected to be revolted when they arrived; but no, they were good. Lyon's sausages are famous and they deserve to be if they can make tripe edible.


Map of Lyon

The hotel - one of those Premiere Classe thingummies - was about 3 km west of this map. Fourvière and the old city on the west bank of the Saône are where old Lugdunum was built.







Tried to do some sightseeing in the morning before I left, but it wasn't very successful. The Gallo-Roman museum was closed on Mondays (natch) and there wasn't much else I wanted to see. The cathedral was very nasty from the outside, and it seemed to have something going on inside so I was not happy to go in. Also, there's no damn parking within several kilometres of the old city. I was parked illegally and was worried about getting too far from the car lest it be towed in my absence.


Theatre seats

Perfectly standard Roman theatre. The thing is repaired for modern use as you ca tell from the nice square edges on the terraces.


Basilica Notre Dame

In Fourvière, near the theatre but just off the map.

Over the top and round the bend.


On the way north I stopped at VEZELAY


Map of Vézélay

Formerly a main stage on the pilgrimsage trail to Santiago de Compostella.



These were taking over a shopfront in the rue St Pierre leading up to the church



Left and right details of the tympanum


Plan of the Abbey Church

 Basilique de Ste Marie la Madeleine




View from the terrace

 The small town of St-Père

Eventually arrived at AUXERRE


Map of Auxerre Cetre-Ville

Hotel is just off the west edge of this map


Cathedral St Etienne

It's dedicated to my saint. I wish I liked it better. It looks a bit like a wedding cake.


More of those flowers


Place de l'Hotel de Ville. 

With the Tour de l'Horloge at right.




Boats on the Yonne river. 

There are a number of houseboats here, and I suspect several have come very long distances to this mooring. That's St Etienne in the background.






Left for PARIS.


Dropped the car at the airport. Put the bags in storage and took off for the city with the intention of visiting Versailles. Unfortunately, by the time I got out and checked times I was really too late. This will be one of my disappointments - like missing Ravenna in Italy or Jerash in Jordan or ... Anyway, went into town and wandered about, drank coffees, shopped at the riverbank book stalls. Then back to the airport to wait for the plane.


Love locks

I didn't notice this before, but along this bridge - I forget which one - there are these mementoes of undying love. Bit of a weird idea, I reckon....


Bridge of locks.

... but it seems to be a popular one.









What a tedious flight. And the most unpleasant customer service of the whole trip was the sour-faced girl serving coffee at Baiyuan airport.