Back to France

October 14. I took advantage of being in my friends’ warm cozy apartment in Munich.  I slept in, had a nice chat with Jennifer, and headed to Schloss Nymphenburg and the gardens around noon.  The leaves were ablaze with yellows and reds, while workers drained ponds and rescued stranded catfish to a cast of curious onlookers.  After a brisk walk, I headed to Starnberg and the pretty Starnbergersee.  It was a Saturday, and the lakeshore was very crowded.  I headed up into the hills, to a schloss and church, and used google translate to read signs about the history of town.  There was a beach I’d visited before, and I headed there before returning to the Durhams.  Ralph made a great meal, then I headed out for Die nächste „Lange Nacht der Münchner Museen, or the Long Night of Munich Museum which occurs once a year on the second Saturday in October from 7 p.m. – 2 a.m. Around 90 Munich museums, collections, galleries and churches have an open invitation to experience art and culture, science, and technology presented in a unique variety of exhibitions, guided tours, concerts, and special projects.  The Long Night Ticket costs 15 € and is valid for admission to all participating venues and for the MVG Shuttle Buses.

I arrived about 8:30pm at the Deutsches Museum, an incredible collection featuring biotech, computer science, electrical and engineering, navigation and other technologies.   I couldn’t pull myself away, and spent 4 hours there.  Then I walked to the Volksbad, the first baths made available to the general public in Europe.  A tour of the Art Deco interior was being conducted by a physics professor.  He was kind enough to give me a private tour in English at 1:45am.  Needless to say I slept in the next day.

October 15.  I slept till 11:30am, awoken from a dead sleep thanks to the church bells clamoring for my attention. Jennifer and I had a chance to talk, and I found out the story of how her parents ended up at Stanford.  I did a few emails and left around 2pm for Muncher Freiland, the heart of anti-Nazi movement in Munich where the Bohemian artists lived, including Paul Klee.  The house exteriors here had many Art Deco elements, and I had fun gazing at the details and ornaments.  From there I headed to the Angel of Peace in the Munich suburb of Bogenhausen. The architects were Heinrich Düll, Georg Pezold, and Max Heilmaier.  The sculpture is part of the Maximilian Park and is at the eastern end of a line of sight forming Prinzregentenstrasse.  I like the surrounding neighborhood, which I’d discovered earlier this summer while visiting the Durhams.  The homes are grand and ostentatious, and the avenues large and tree-lined.  I returned back to the apartment and had a nice chat with Ralph and Jennifer before turning in.  It was to be my last night with them.

October 16. I woke late, packed, and left around 11am.  I like having a clean car while traveling and was thrilled to find a car wash nearby. I had planned to drive through Switzerland but changed my mind as the weather had gotten cold and the roads would be dicey.  Instead I drove through Kempten and Frieburg to Lac du Bouget, where I’d been a few months prior.  I walked along the esplanade in the chill night air, then headed to McDonald’s to work on my blog and do email.  The wifi was almost nonexistent, but I was able to call my mom and we talked.  It was good to hear her voice.  I often don’t talk to anyone for weeks at a time, and had made a commitment to at least leave her a voice mail once a week letting her know that I was okay.

October 17. I made the mistake of sleeping in a turnout on a steep windy road, where traffic continued nonstop through the night. At 5 am, sleepless, I headed to the tiny village of Bordeau du Lac, where I parked under an apple tree in a field next to the road and slept for 4 hours.  I awoke with a start and walked around the small town and down to the port.  I decided to head to Grenoble, where I walked for an hour through the city center and out by the garden near the oldest part of town on the river.  I took photos of the city gates and walls on other side of river, then headed to Aix-en-Provence. I arrived with an hour of daylight, walked around old town, then talked to my mom, who knew Aix and reminisced about the tree-lined boulevards.  I really like Aix.  I met a lovely couple.  The man was a courier for an art exhibit which he highly recommended I attend.  I saw the school that Emile Zola and Paul Cezanne attended.  I drove off in search of wifi (McDonald’s is sadly the only reliable source in most countries).  Unfortunately, I wasted time going from one McDonald’s to another, which were either too small or closed, finally found one and worked for a bit, then drove toward Les Moulins and parked for the night by the city’s cardboard recycling.

October 18.  I awoke to the strong smell of old red wine which had soaked into the cardboard I had the luck of parking next to the night before.  I drove past a lovely stone aqueduct built in the 1800s to Maussane, where I was lucky enough to hit a market day.  As usual, the streets were blocked off, allowing only pedestrians and bikes to make their way to the cheese, bread, vegetable, and meat vendors.  To be back in France. I love the decadence of this foodie culture.  From there I headed to Les Baux, where I walked around the old city on the hill.  It was late in the tourist season, and there were few tourists.  From there, I made my way to St Remy, where I had a long conversation with a woman who had moved here from Corsica who had voted for Marie Le Penne.  She said that the people in this part of the world are cold and isolated, particularly compared to her home region of Bretagne, where people share.  She thinks it is due in part to the fact that in St. Remy, most people are very rich, and isolation often follows those with money.   From there I drove to Uzes, one of my favorite places in Provence, and enjoyed the beauty of the town in the night sky. I asked Silvia Sweidan for guidance, asked her about her substantial weight loss and her upcoming book, and slept in the valley below the town.

October 19. I awoke and had a nice stroll in the narrow valley marked by a sycamore lined stream.  Swans floated down the water, and a rambunctious dog tried to tackle me at breakneck speed.  I headed to town for a latte and wifi.  I picked a place called Terroirs, a very nice and expensive place, but horrible coffee. I was excited to find the sandwich place still open and ordered a lovely tapenade, egg, and cheese on a sourdough baguette. It was the best ever.  I headed to Nîmes’ Jardins de la Fontaine. When the Romans arrived in Nîmes, they discovered a town built by the Gauls and which was centred around the sacred spring. They named it Nemausus after the God of Rivers. In the 18th century, the first civic gardens of France were laid out here, designed by Jacques-Philippe Mareschal, the military engineer of King Louis XV, who was in charge of the fortification of the Languedoc province.  Mareschal’s design included many ancient features and was an enlightened ideal of town planning.  This extraordinary garden was intended to be a central part of a spacious city, designed with the communal good in mind. That Jardins de la Fontaine continues to be so important to the people of Nîmes today and is one of the city’s sightseeing attractions bears testament to the success of Mareschal’s design.

From there I circumambulated the town, exploring a few churches I hadn’t seen before.  They had finished the paving project which had been in full swing the summer before, and the resulting job was beautiful and much easier to traverse.  Mid-afternoon, I departed for Carcassonne, arriving at 6:30pm.  Walking across the bridge from the new town toward the city on the hill,  I was stunned to see what looked like a large rat making its way through the dense waters of the Aud.  I found out that it was a nutria.  As I walked up the hill to the walled city, rain began to fall hard, until I was pelted and had to take shelter under an archway just inside the walled city.  Tourists had retired for the evening, and I felt lucky to watch darkening clouds move across the sky. I explored the labyrinthine streets, struck by the mystery of the place.  I found my way out of two different gates, and finally descended to the Lower Town, where a wine festival was in full swing.

A woman was bent over a huge cauldron, stirring a sticky mass which I found out was made of cooked potatoes and cheese.  It had been a peasant dish, a substantial, cheap food which did the job of keeping the farmers fed.  Now it was considered a luxury, and people lined up to pay a pretty penny for a tub of the gooey substance.  I asked the woman about it and she gave me a sample.  There was a funny fife and drum band covered in a string of LEDs and playing at the event.  The people in this part of the country seem friendlier than other parts of France. At the base of the Pyrenees, Occitane culture had reigned for centuries, and the few Cathars who had succeeded in surviving the reign of King Phillip of France lived in secret hilltop forts.  On the way back to my car, I called my friend Tom and read information signs about important sites in town.  I headed out of town, and found a place to camp in a vineyard near Chateaurenard.

October 20. I woke and headed to Toulouse, where I dropped off my bags at 11am with the same family I’d couchsurfed with when I’d first arrived in May.  At noon I left for the Pyrenees.  I was starving as all my food had gone bad, and was amazed to find an automatic bread dispenser in a small town in the foothills. I bought some deli items at a market, then headed through Baigniers du Luxon to Val d’Aran.  What a beautiful place!  I drove to Naut Aran, a high village in the mountains, and walked along a camino toward a Refugio.  I wondered whether my Dutch friend Roel had gone this way on his pilgrimmage to Santiago de Compostella. Nature was beautiful here.  There were red berries on small bushes, and the recent rains had washed the sky clean and darkened the soil.  Everything was in sharp relief. I didn’t want to leave this place.  On my way back I stopped in Barbazon, where there had been ancient thermes and later a casino.  I had to return the car by 7:30 pm to the Citroen dealer at the Toulouse-Blagnac International Airport.  I almost didn’t make it because of road work in the mountains, and ended up driving a different route back. I wanted to vacuum the car ahead of time but the guy said it was okay.  I gave him a bottle of wine and took the tram to the Palais de Justice, then walked around Toulouse and got back by 10pm. I was wiped out, but satisfied.

October 21.  I met my friend Eric, with whom I’d stayed in Cordes Sur Ciel earlier that summer, at 10 am at the Palace du Capitole.  We met his friends who sell cheese at the outdoor bio market, and another friend who sells home-baked bread.  Eric is incredibly careful about what he puts into his mouth and only eats organic. He told me that the best chocolate could be procured from a chocolaterie that sold it in sheets (I bought some seasoned with chili).  It seemed to be about the price of gold per pound.  I’d hoped to find a good place for a latte, but ended up having a horrible one.  He wanted to show me the crypt of St. Sernin, but both the crypt and nave were closed for lunch.  We went to Saveurs Bio, an all organic restaurant, and had an incredible meal.  We loaded up the cold plate, then ate way too salty fish with potatoes.

We were full by the time dessert came in the form of fond au chocolate et fromage blanc and raspberry coulee. We asked whether we could take it with us, and proudly carried our containers back to St Sernin, then to La Garronne, where he told me some of the history of Toulouse. He’d lived in town for many years.  Eric is a history buff and loves explaining things, albeit in French to neophytes like me.  We got along famously. We walked along the water front, crossed the bridge to the old water tower, then took the metro to the observatory and cemetery at the edge of town.  From there we walked back to town.  He wanted to stop in a cafe.  I didn’t want to drink in a bar. We finally found a chocolaterie by the cathedral, and had amazing hot chocolate piquant.  I bought some truffles to take home, and we walked to the royal gardens which were closed for renovation, then to the canal du midi and looked at the huge boats, which they cut in half to get onto the canal.  I didn’t want to say goodbye, as we’d become good friends. I bid him farewell and told him I hoped to visit him the following May.

October 22.  I didn’t sleep well, as I was worried about paying $200 for a third checked bag. It took me 2 hours to pack.  Renaud needed the house to write in the afternoon, and I talked with his son Japhet who showed me his French horn and carvings.  Somehow, I managed to cram everything into my backpack and the large suitcase I had just purchased. Happy with my success, I left the house at 2pm, but was unable to walk my usual route due to a marathon.  Instead, I made my way to the Convent de Jacobins, where I learned the sad history of the Dominicans who led the inquisition against the Cathars, then to another church, listened to a tour guide, then on to the gardens.  It was a Sunday and the park was full of people. It was raining hard, and I stood under a tree and watched kids and dogs scamper through the drops.  On the other side of the park, I watched as people danced on a gazebo to jazz and be bop, swing dancing with gusto.  From there I walked to the Monument de Combatants, to the canal for a pita and falafel, to the cathedral, and back home to write.

October 23.  Renaud’s family was leaving for Italy, so I bid them farewell and dragged my suitcases down the stairs to the waiting Uber driver.  What a nightmare!  I think I damaged my rotator cuff during that schlep. We made our way to an apartment building about a mile from the airport, very far from the center of town, and I waited for the lovely woman who owned the AirBnB rental.  She was from Sao Paolo, Brazil, and we had the chance to talk that morning before I headed back to town.  She designs and sells clothes on ebay, and has been able to make enough money to survive this way.  I made my way back into town and enjoyed my last day in Toulouse.  I had an early flight, so got home by 7pm and met the other woman who was sharing the room.  I decided to drag the mattress into the adjoining bedroom, where I slept in relative quiet.  We had a nice chat, and I fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of missing planes.

October 24.  I had difficulty reaching the Uber driver who had said he’d give me a ride the day before, so I called another driver.  I got to the airport with plenty of time, enjoyed the ride with the driver, who was from Algiers, and settled into life in the airport.  I wrote notes about the last 3 weeks of my trip while waiting for the plane and en route.  I needed to get thoughts to paper before I forgot everything.  I would turn them into a blog later.  Looking back at all my adventures, I could safely say that I’d had a good trip.


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