Thursday, December 31, 2009

Encounter With a Friesian in Oppède Le Vieux

This just may be my favourite vignette of the entire trip.

We were just about to head out of Oppède Le Vieux when I noticed that my son and a few other people were looking at this man and his horse.

He had stopped to give his horse some water. I still have some interest in horses so I tried to determine what breed this might be. Maybe he was a young Percheron, the smallest of the draft breeds?
Feeling very drawn to this horse, I went up to his handler and said "Percheron?"  He replied with "Friesian". I had not heard of such a breed but I was determined to remember the name and look into it further when I got home.

As they proceeded on their walk the animal decided to check out the local cafe, no doubt looking to see if any of his buddies were in there. His owner was ahead of him and didn't immediately realize that the horse had walked over to the window. That's right, this horse was, other than for these couple of minutes, simply following his handler. No rope connected the two and it was the horses choice to go to the window. The small crowd of about 6 people was delighted!

Then off they went, like a dog following his owner, but with the Friesian still checking out the windows.

The gentleness and obvious character of this horse left me in awe. I think I want one.

A few interesting details about Friesians from Wikipedia:
"The Friesian is most often recognized by its black coat color, though color alone is not their only distinguishing characteristic. Friesian horses also have a long, thick mane and tail, often wavy, and "feathers"--long, silky hair on the lower legs, deliberately left untrimmed."

"The breed is known for a brisk, high-stepping trot. The Friesian is considered a willing, active, and energetic horse that is also gentle and docile. A Friesian tends to have great presence and to carry itself with elegance."

Ancestors of the modern Friesians were used in medieval times to carry knights to battle, but lighter breeds have been introduced into the bloodlines to produce a smaller lighter horse. The Friesian's average height is about 15.3 hands.

"Friesian horses are popular in both Europe and the United States, and are often used today for Dressage competition, pleasure riding, and driving. Friesian horses can do well in dressage competition due to the breed's movement, trainability, appearance, power, and body control."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oppède Le Vieux, Provence

I had read that the very small village of Oppède Le Vieux (another village on a rocky outcrop) was inhabited mainly by artists who were restoring the previously abandoned buildings. So after loving the art galleries of Roussillon, I was expecting even better in Oppède Le Vieux. I also thought I had read about an interesting walking tour that wound its way around the vineyards.

Well....I seemed to have been wrong on both counts, but it was still had a memorable visit! According to Wikipedia:

"The old village, build on a rocky hill, has narrow streets. In winter, the Petit Luberon starts casting its shadow early in the afternoon. Houses beyond the medieval ramparts are dark, humid and tricky to maintain.

In the 19th century, the inhabitants had enough and started to move down in the valley, dismantling the roof of their houses to stop paying property taxes.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Oppède-le-Vieux was a ghost village and a new community was officially established in the valley, with larger streets, cosier houses and farmers closer to their fields."

On the path to the town we passed by these two interesting plants. Does anyone know what they are?

We couldn't see any indication that artists lived in the village. Not so much as a single store to browse. So we hiked up to the castle, first through this lovely arch.

Tempting to explore, but I didn't want to infringe on the privacy of the locals.

Up at the castle, or should I say the remains of the castle, was this church that is still in very good shape, and I believe is still in use.

But the rest of the castle is crumbling. However it was very nice to explore the ruins without any tour groups. In fact, there were only a couple of other people there!

When I noticed this beautiful old door, I realized that I should be taking pictures of the doors and windows. So for the rest of the day I concentrated on taking pics of them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cheese Dept in a Grocery Store in Apt

Yes, the grocery stores are big, but it is the size of the cheese and wine sections that set them apart from grocers in North America.

First I sneaked a pic of this amazing display of roquefort cheeses. If you enlarge the picture you can see the prices. For the Roquefort they ranged from about 13 Euros (CDN$2.10 / kg) to 27 E ($4.40 / kg).

The reason I mention that I sneaked a pic is because when we were in Europe in '95 I was told by a security guard positioned at the front door, that I was NOT allowed to take any pictures. No problem this time. And no security guards to be seen.

This lady was a wonderful character and loved having her pic taken.

So of course I had to give equal camera time to others. She too was an exceptionally friendly lady. Looking at the sign hanging down, I expect this Emmental cheese was around 7 E a kilo, or $11 in our money ($5 / lb).

There was a lot of cheese in this LeClerc store in Apt, a town of only 11,000 people! At the other end was the cured meat.

How does one know which ham to choose? I think I can see 9 different kinds in this photo. They ranged in price from 10-26 E a kg, about the same range as the Roquefort cheeses.

More about wine in another post.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What is a Borie You Ask?

Near the Lavender Museum is the village of bories, which has been made into a museum site. We went down the rockwall-lined road to the site, which was a wonderful experience in itself.

When we arrived at the site but felt that nothing outside the site indicated that it would be worth it to visit, so we left. However I loved the rock walls and the apparent solution to where the extra rocks from the fields could be put:

I had seen bories scattered about the countryside, so we simply stopped to look at one for free.

What is a borie?

From Wikipedia:
"The word "Borie", of Provençal origin, comes from the Latin "boaria" - oxen stable -, signifying a type of shed. The hut has always been an institution in Provence. First popping up in fields to house the peasants' tools, it became, as time passed, the little country house, done up, often in quite a rudimentary manner, to spend Sundays and holidays. The borie also permetted shepherds to shelter their flocks. To build them, our ancestors gathered the stones from the calcareous surroundings. They were just lying there for the taking."

On to Gordes, which is supposed to be a popular stop for the tour buses. It is also supposed to be beautiful in the late afternoon light so based on the latter reason I decided we should go there. We drove through, but it just didn't seem different enough to us and the tour buses had caused a traffic jam in the small town. When we couldn't find free parking, we left without even stopping. At least that was the case until we saw this spectacular view of the town.

And this one of the valley below.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We're in Lavender Country!

Next stop was the lavender museum in the small town of Coustellet, which is about 40 km east of Avignon. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I had to wonder what could be of interest there...

The first thing you learn is that there are two types of lavender used in the perfume industry. Since I am very interested in plants, it immediately became interesting.

Neither of these are the ornamental lavenders we grow in our gardens. One is referred to as fine lavender and it is distilled and sold as a perfume, which is very expensive. It is very hardy and and grows from 800 mt (~2500') to 1400 mt (~4500') in altitude.

The other is a hybrid that was developed to produce more flowers and therefore more perfume. It has many branches whereas the ornamental one has more compact flowers and the flowers are on an unbranched stem.

(taken from the website of the Lavender Museum)

The hybrid lavender is referred to as lavandine. It grows in limestone soils, below 600 mt (~2000'). The perfume has a camphor smell, though you can still tell that it is lavender. It is used to scent things like wash detergent and is called an industrial perfume. It is no longer cultivated in France.

(one of the very early stills used to extract the essential oil)

Once in the actual museum we were handed an object about the same size as a walkie-talkie, which explained all the exhibits to us. They have them available in many languages. We simply pressed the button of the display and we got an excellent explanation. This made a huge difference to our enjoyment of the museum. The tour went at whatever pace you wanted it to and you didn't have to read anything.

A lovely watercolour poster about the production of the essential oil. It takes 130 kg of lavender flowers to make one kg of essential oil and 20 to 25 kg of essential oil is produced per hectare (2.5 acres).

Lavender blooms in June, July and early August and is harvested when in full bloom. The countryside is a patchwork of purple fields during bloom-time and many artists are inspired to paint the scene.

The boutique has beautiful (but expensive) products...lotions, massage oil, soaps, bubble bath, eau de toilette, shower gel, etc.

We truly enjoyed this museum!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Visiting the Area Around Apt - Roussillon

My plan had been to rent bicycles and bike around the area, but when they turned out to be about $27 a day ($54 for two of us), renting a car suddenly seemed like a good idea, at least for a few days. Yes, we hitch-hiked up to our rental, but we always found that we need to get out into the less inhabited part of the town before we could get a ride. So it was quite an effort to get the groceries home for the first couple of days.

So off we went, without much of a map. No worries, I had Rory to navigate. Or is navigating really his speciality? Luckily there are so many ways to get to any given town, unlike in our very sparsely populated country (Canada), that if you miss one turn here, there are about half a dozen more that you can take!

The first stop was Gargas. A very small town with these gorgeous lamp-posts. What a great way to set a town apart from the rest! They mine yellow ochre here, so I guess that is why the lamps are yellow.

They had also just finished pruning the beech (?) trees. We couldn't figure out why, especially as it was well before leaf-drop in early October. All I can think is that it was easier to prune with the leaves on, as they remain stuck to the branches and don't need to be raked up later. I hope they shredded the material. I am not sure that they are very progressive in that regard in Europe, as we found out at the lavendar museum.

We were almost at Roussillon, a town famous for its red earth which has been mined for pigment for paints. I was astonished to see the fields above.

This area has some outstanding colour!! This was in the countryside.

This was in the town. I wonder what was behind that door....

I loved the stone walls. This was unique in that there was no red here.

 Lots of red here! In the late afternoon the colours take on a purplish hue.

Rousillon has received the honour of being called one of the most beautiful villages in France.

I have had a life-long love of narrow streets.

"Conservatoire des Ocres et des Pigments Appliqués" - A museum dedicated to the pigments that have been mined here for centuries. Now synthetic pigments have taken over and very little mining is still done. However it is possible to buy the pigments, which I couldn't resist doing.

Roussillon has ochre mines nearby, where variations of red, yellow and brown are found. Below is some of equipment that was used in the mining process. For the workers, it meant a short life, as breathing in the dust was bad for the lungs.

 Below is an art installation, with textiles dyed with the pigments.

 Lovely countryside as we left Roussillon. Looks like olive trees.
The area was  lovely and the town was beautiful. And to think I almost crossed it off the list of places to visit!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Lovely Town of Apt, in Provence

From our hill-top village of Saignon we enjoyed walking down to the town (Apt) on a centuries-old path, through old olive groves with ancient stone walls. The walk back up was not quite so enjoyable, especially not with a load of groceries!

Apt has a population of about 11,000. The old section is a lovely maze of narrow streets, with many stores.

A boulangerie (bakery), which was as beautiful on the outside as it was on the inside.

The wonderful chicken below was made out of twigs. I am pleased to say that I can read the sign, which asks us not to touch it as it is fragile. I am (now) so glad that I had to take French in school. It sure made it easier to be in France, especially when not that many people there speak English.

Provence is famous for it textile patterns and colours.

Unless you walked into the very back of the store below, you wouldn't know what a beautiful experience was to be had there!! I tried many times to capture the beauty of the coloured liquid in these huge jars, but the fact that they were backlit made them difficult to capture with a photograph, but it was that very light which made them so beautiful to see in person.

The jars above contain shower gel, in many different fragrances. Below is liqueur, which really looked a lot better than this pic shows. The jars are about 20 litres (4-5 gallons). This was our favourite store in Apt.

The last trip to France I regretted not getting a pic of a lady carrying a baguette. It is difficult to get a good shot as the person carrying them is often in a hurry. This lady had stopped to chat with a friend. I have a feeling she knew I was taking her picture. Can you see my reflection of the glass? She must have been puzzled....

One thing I try to remember to do is to look up. There are so many interesting features on buildings. If you enlarge the picture below can you see why I took this shot?