This hotel (La Strade), or at least this room (#23) has the most poorly designed bathroom I've ever seen. The wash basin faucet is so high, it splashes on the floor; the only soap dispenser is on the other side of the shower "stall" divider (no shower curtain, of course -- c'est la France!) from the wash basin; the only power outlet is in the bathroom, above the sink, and is marked "shavers only"... Otherwise, the place is pretty nice. And it's one of the few places to have an english language channel (CNN, what else?).
Breakfast is pretty much the same as yesterday.
Au revoir, Cassis.
The next stop is in Aix en Provence. Aix (pronounced ehks) is the term for a hot spring. There are several towns in France that have the name Aix, which explains why you need to specify "en Provence". It's a rather large university town, with a total population on the order of 100k, of which 20k are students. The demographics of the bustling streets of both the new (18th century) and old quarters clearly demonstrate the university influence, as do the numerous advertisements for night clubs, live performances, art shows, etc.
Our Algerian-born local guide is Caroline, who shows us around a bit, and points out some of the architecture, much of which seems to date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The church (Église de Saint Esprit, I think) is an utter mishmash of architectures, starting with a baptismal font that dates from the early 5th century, and following with both romanesque and gothic styles -- all in a single church.
After her tour, Brigid and I head back to a couple of interesting sights we saw along the way. First, we check out some street musicians, so Brigid can purchase their CD recording. Then we stroll back to a market that happens to be underway. As usual, we're blown away by the incredible variety and quality of the produce. We pick up a half kilo of fresh figs to snack on, for only a few Euros. And we buy what looks like an asian pear, with a label "Canadian Gris". It turns out to be a very, VERY good apple. And we buy some Muscat grapes for Brigid to try. They are good, but not good enough to overcome the annoyance by their seeds.
I am most impressed by the olive and mushroom displays. Each contain something like a dozen varieties of each. In the U.S., you're doing well to see more than 3 or 4 kinds.
We then sit at a fountain to eat our figs. Phil and Joan stop by, and we invite them to join us. We introduce them to fresh figs, and explain how to eat them. They had purchased a quiche slice, and were looking for a place to share it.
Later, while Brigid is shopping in a linen store, I look at the menu in a place called Tarte Artour (or something like that), right across the alley. Several tart combinations catch my eye. When Brigid gets done with her shopping (without purchasing anything), we sit down inside the tarte place.
We order a €10.00 "menu" of salad and a slice; another slice for Brigid; and a €1.50 pitcher of hard cider.
Brigid's tarte slice turns out to be a quiche filled with onions, leek, and emmenthal cheese. It's deeeelicious! My slice is quiche with tomatoes and eggplant. It's delicious, too. And the cider still seems to have a flat, metallic finish to it. Total cost, €20.00.
We manage to make it to the bus with just 2 minutes to spare. Next stop is another one of those "Most beautiful villages in France," called Menerbe. Menerbe is very close to the site of Peter ("A Year in Provence") Maille's farmhouse. The church steeple is typical Provencal, i.e., it's an open design, constructed from wrought iron, with no enclosure. Interesting, but I wonder how long the bell will last without shelter from the elements.
The view from the "belvedere" (viewpoint) is impressive. It includes numerous vineyards and other agricultural fields, some mountain ranges (including the Luberons), and in the far distance, Mount Ventoux, a bald mountain on which a weather station is maintained.
Finally, the bus brings us to our destination for the day: the ochre village of Roussillon.
The town is really small. I kid around that the map is scale 1:1. There is a fancy restaurant with a menu that starts at €30.70. We plan to try Le Piquebaure, nearby the hotel. The Rick Steves France & Belgium book claims that it has menus starting from €20.00.
Kristen also points out a glacier (ice cream place) at which you can buy something like 2 dozen flavors, most of which are supposedly homemade. We end up sampling the chocolate and pistachio varieties, and they're both pretty good. Nevertheless, the pistachio ice cream we bought in Venice (4 years ago!) was much better than this.
We then have a wine-tasting in the hotel's outdoor patio, at which we learn that the Provence whites and rosés are not to our liking (too dry for us, though Kristen says they're still kind of sweet, as far as she is concerned). Okay, Château Neuf de Pape seems to be a superior wine, even to us -- but it's still not to our taste, though I think I could get used to it.
Time for dinner. We head to Le Piquebaure.
Well, I mean that we intend to head there. I misread the map, and we take a mile-long detour through the sunset-lit Provencal countryside. Beautiful, but Brig isn't pleased, though she's taking it well. Along the road, someone has posted a hand-made sign that looks interesting -- but I can't really make an adequate translation. I think it boils down to something like...
Ragan's Combe (whatever that means). A quiet corner. A very beautiful panoramic view, incomparable! A small corner of paradise! Farming is misery and galere(?). It's hell! The sun does not rise for everyone. Live freedom!
All I can figure is that we have a frustrated farmer (Ragan?) who hasn't decided whether he's a revolutionary or salesman...
Anyway, we eventually find the restaurant, at which a large contingent of our tour group are already seated.
The least expensive menu is now €28.00 -- quite a bump up from the info recorded in the guidebook!. We are pretty much committed, so onward:
Brigid starts with a mussel risotto. It's thick with tiny mussels. The rice is not quite cooked through-and-through, but Brigid insists that the texture would not be right if it were allowed to cook fully. I'm not so sure about that. I'm pretty sure I have enjoyed risotto with fully-cooked rice before.
My starter is a pumpkin soup. I've always liked pumpkin soup, and this one is no exception.
For the main course, Brigid chooses a piece of chicken, stuffed with tapenade. The veggie accompaniment seems to be some sort of bitter, white vegetable, and snow peas that have been prepared perfectly. The chicken is just wonderful, though Brig is enjoying eating the skin far too much to consider discarding it!
My main course is two lamb chops, accompanied by an eggplant cake and a few gnocchi. The lamb is perfectly done (quite pink), and laid atop an inconspicuous, very flavorful gravy. The gnocchi have a bit of grill-caramelization flavor, as does the eggplant cake. The eggplant cake is stuffed with something, but I can't tell what. Frankly, for me, the eggplant cake is the star of the meal.
I'm always squeamish about taking flash photos in a nice restaurant. I usually feel that it represents as much of an intrusion (if not moreso) than when someone uses a cell phone. That's why I'm in some pain when we take our photos of our food, or of the group from our tour. Nevertheless...
The cheese plate is pre-selected. We both ended up with a chive-encrusted cylinder of fresh goat cheese; a wedge of another goat cheese, this time encrusted with rosemary, a slice of something very like camembert, and some kind of a sheep cheese (I think). Brigid won't eat the goat cheeses, of course. I eat 'em all, with relish! I'm probably going to miss this, when we get home. I just don't think it can be healthy to eat this much cheese on a regular basis.
Pardon my brevity, but I'm fading out. Time to get some sleep. Bon nuit!