One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Palais Idéal

Last weekend I was transported to another land- one where stone rose and entwined to create the history of the world molded and meshed into a fantastic structure. Or as I less eloquently told my dad, “it was a clusterfuck of the world in stone, and concrete, and shells”. Bienvenue to the Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval.

 

Building with stone is a common quality of the Drôme region. So it’s not surprising that an impressive stone structure could be built by a man from Drôme. But an entire palace built from a dream is something worth noting. Even artists like Picasso and Gaudi drew inspiration from this one man’s vision.

While I must admit that the palais was smaller than expected, it was no less impressive.

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Especially when you have the history. The history of one lone man with a vision, a dream, (maybe even a slight unraveling of the mind) who dedicated thirty-three years to build his ideal palace.. Continue reading

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Briançon and Hiking in a Winter Wonderland

Welcome to Briançon, a unique little city of medieval fortifications, strong history, hearty people, and stunning views, nestled in the French Alps. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it is apparently the highest city in the EU, and definitely one worth visiting if you have time in France.

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Getting there is a bit of a trek, especially in the winter time as the windy, icy roads, threaten to slide you off the side of the mountain. Just hold back any fear of heights or car sickness, and you’ll be fine.

But the destination is always worth the journey. Picturesque views don’t hurt either…

This was my third visit to the city, and I have to admit that the stressful drive was well worth the worry when I experienced the beautiful snow and sun on a special hike. Continue reading

Return to Avignon

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As soon as I stepped off the train in Avignon, a surge of flashbacks flooded my brain. Like the weirdest hybrid of sheep-meets-cricket noises I heard in the night. Or getting lost in a hellish loop of a drive through the vortex trapping maze of Orange. Or the time my friends and I almost slept on the streets, got murdered, and ultimately stayed up til three in the morning watching gay porn. Ok. So that might be a tad over-exaggerated. Except for that last part. That totally happened.

My second time in Avignon went much more smoothly than the first. I stayed in a lovely hostel (Pop Hostel) right in the center of town. I had time to enjoy the town, see its sights and feel summer. It’s great to feel summer- eating homemade passionfruit peach ice cream bars, earning more freckles, sitting in a park and soaking up the sun, spying on potential flashmobbers, unfolding people’s secrets (literally) and having an adult playdate- where you talk, picnic and day drink.

But let me talk about the first time because there’s a lesson here.

I first set foot in Avignon four years ago, as my friends and I stepped off the TGV and into the warm summer night filled with…bizarre guttural noises. Those sounds signaled the start of a strange evening. As we tried to get our bearings out of the labyrinth that was the TGV station (which we later learned was on the outskirts of Avignon), the guttural noises got louder and more nasal. Crickets? No. Too loud. Birds? No. Too bizarre. Suddenly the strange noises surrounded us and as we peered into the night, we noticed what looked to be the faint glimmer of water. As I cautiously creeped closer to the waters edge, a small figure moved. And another. Frogs! Frogs with the weirdest assed mating calls I had ever heard.

Happy to have identified the bizarre sounds, and know that potential murder #1 was out of the way, we trekked on into the night with only a print out of directions to our “close” hotel. Long story short- our hotel was not close. We got lost. We wandered through back alleys and parking lots. And we wondered how we could possible avoid potential murder #2 until we finally made it to our sketchy hotel (in the middle of fucking nowhere I might add)…and discovered we were locked out. Another long story short- several phone calls, some lock picking and gate jumping attempts, lots of exhaustion, despair and a resignation to sleep on the streets later, we miraculously managed to get a hold of some one and get in….to our shoebox of a room. Seriously. If you opened the bathroom door, you hit the bed. Correction- if you cracked open the door, you hit the bed.

Too exhausted and traumatized from having endured a long day that ended with surviving three potential murders, we decided to stay in our shoebox, watch some t.v. and venture out when we could see the light of day. We flipped through the 10 channels on our tiny télé, among them there was that lion movie with that 6th sense kid (which was even more annoying dubbed), some news, and…gay porn. At first we watched it out of awe that such a thing could exist within 10 channels, and then changed the channel out of awkward awareness that others were in the room.

But then it became a thing of it’s own, as we watched on in fascination of what kind of french soap opera gay porn drama plot line was unfolding before our eyes. And then all of the sudden it was three in the morning and we all looked at eachother with a “holy shit did we really just stay up until three in the morning watching gay porn even though it started off as a joke and then turned into a thing of its own, and now we have to get up early because we can’t justify sleeping in and missing our one day in Avignon because we actually stayed up until three in the morning watching gay porn” look. Or something like that.

Except we did sleep in. And we barely saw Avignon.

Moral of the story- if it’s an option, and especially if you’re visiting a small or old touristy town, stay in the center. Unless you wanna watch gay porn in a shoe box.

But Avignon really is beautiful. I’m happy I got a second chance to see it. It’s definitely worth a visit!

This is How I Imagined it- Southern France

Well I survived the train travel hell and made it to the beautiful Aix-en-Provence. We even squeezed in a day trip to Cassis (a small gem of a town with the best ice cream! I would like to explore longer/again). Southern France has been built up in my mind, but boy does it live up to it’s expectations (even when France is having freaky summer cold fronts).

I’ve been a bit behind in my life lately. Between moving out, moving in, birthdays, beaches and travelling (I know, la vie est dure- sooo hard), I haven’t been up to date on the whole self employment or blogging thing.

So, in an effort to keep posting, I figure why not let the pictures do the talking? Because this really is how I imagined it- rolling hills of wildflowers and vineyards, quaint towns, crisp wine and fresh food (especially olives), sandy beaches, sunny skies, and lots of smiles.

La vie est vraiment belle.

I’ve Missed The Wildflowers

Bike riding down dusty paths, exploring cobblestone tops of old castles, seeking warmth under the sand with my bare feet, and stopping to smell the wildflowers. Amazingly enough these are not memories from my childhood, but rather the foundation of my quarter century start.

I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 25th birthday in the South of France. The remaining assistants and I stayed in a big local house (thanks to airbnb) in the quaint, but difficult to pronounce, town of Villeneuve les Maguelone. Situated close to protected beaches and accessible to Montpellier, it was the perfect introduction to summer in the South (hoping to have a whole Southern France section of this blog later).

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The tiny town was quiet and not accustomed to seeing non-French tourists, which made for authentic experiences. The roads were bikeable and the old church by the beach was intimate with it’s vineyard, medical services, and sweet scents of jasmine wafting from the botanical garden. The beaches were not overcrowded, and the inhabitants moved slower through the small, interwoven streets and smiled more often than the non verbal Montbeliardans I’d become familiar with. It was a welcome change.

The area made it convenient for day trips to France’s 8th largest city and an old Medieval town- Montpellier and Aigues-Mortes. Though my time in Montpellier was short, it took only a small sliver time to make a big impression. I will definitely be returning.

Containing an old Medieval town within its walls and a colorful salt marsh just outside, Aigues-Mortes was unique to say the least. Winding through the old streets, observing with intrigue at the Medieval festival, and climbing through the castle brought back a rush of delightful freedom and a sense of wonder.

Wonderfully enough this trip entering adulthood sent me back to memories from my childhood. The warm weather, the smells of spring, and the simple pleasures of hearing waves rolling, or tasting hard-boiled eggs in a homemade sandwich were refreshing. And then there were the wildflowers. Oh how I missed the wildflowers. As we drove away from the Alps of Grenoble and the terrain became increasingly more flat and dry (reminding me more and more of Austin), I was surprised to feel my heart swell with childlike glee at the sight of wildflowers. I can’t believe it’s been years since I’ve seen them like that. Years since I’ve seen them in full bloom, taking over masses of earth, and tangling with each other in bursts of colorful confusion. No wonder the painters headed down South. Oh I’ve seen flowers. I might have been deprived of Spring in the spastic Boston weather, but I’ve still seen flowers. But there was something particularly breath taking about seeing the wildflowers- to see their color dominating fields, sides of roads, and cracks of walls. Or maybe it was because encapsulated in their passionate forms, they held pieces of home, of familiarity, of a time filled with innocence and memories of simple pleasures.

Or maybe they were just on my mind because of my Grandma’s quirkiness. During one phone conversation prior to the beach, she blurted, “The bluebonnets are blooming.” To which I responded, “Oh. That’s so nice. I miss the bluebonnets.” As images of their blue bodies floated through my mind and I realized just how much I missed them, my grandma interrupted with West Texan urgency, “No, no, no! That’s our code word.” “Our what?!” “Our code word. If anything happens. You say ‘The bluebonnets are blooming,’ and you’ll have a ticket home!” “Grandma. What would I need a code word for?” “I don’t know if something were to happen. If Antoine were to go bad or you were in a situation that required a code word.” As if I’m living in some hostile territory or dating some operative that could turn on me at any moment.

Needless to say that took the innocence out of the moment. My grandma is worth a blog post of her own- several for that matter. She is a character, a force to be reckoned with, and a whole lot of crazy who I completely admire.

Code words aside, it was nice to be reminded of simple things. It was nice to recharge with spring, with sun and especially with the wildflowers.