BEYOND RYE: Toujours Provence and Paris
The pleasures of travel are worth the retelling, and many places are worth a revisiting. So it was that two years after taking our grown children and their spouses to Paris, we took our friends.
By Robin Jovanovich
The pleasures of travel are worth the retelling, and many places are worth a revisiting. So it was that two years after taking our grown children and their spouses to Paris, we took our friends. Luckily, they like to walk — for kilometers —, spend time in every sort of museum, walk into buildings that are not on top 10 lists, and will even wait for us at a café in le Marais for 40 minutes, while my history-loving husband goes back to check on something of vital importance about the French Revolution at the Carnavalet Museum.
Our trip started in Provence, where in late October, the tourists are mostly gone but the poppies are still in bloom and the promise of lavender still permeates the landscape. Our travel agent found us a charming hotel in Avignon, which was our base. We would have been content to just sit on the terrace of the L’Hôtel d’Europe if so much beauty and history hadn’t beckoned nearby and just beyond the next vine-covered hillside.
In four days, we ate like gourmands and behaved like English tourists, wandering around La Musée Calvet and its archaeological annex, Musée Lapidaire; marveling at the Pont d’Avignon, the medieval bridge that was built, destroyed in a flood, and never rebuilt; walking for miles to see the 12th century Cistercian monastery, Senanque Abbey, just outside Gordes (which was closed, but we admired the gardens from both directions) — Gordes by the way is known for its small limestone huts called bories. Our consolation was finding ourselves at the restaurant where Marion Cotillard gave Russell Crowe a reason to stay in “A Good Year.”
When we grew tired of learning about when Avignon was the seat of the papacy, we just walked. I convinced the group that the Gardens at the Saint-André Abbey weren’t as far as they looked on the map. Mon amie, Katie Brown, is a landscape gardener, so she was more than willing. There were many grumblings from notres maris during the first hour of the trek. But we happened upon the one restaurant that wasn’t closed and we were soon toasting the owners, Kim and Marie-Claude. If you find yourself in or around Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, find your way to L’Olivier Rouge, where the flavors of Tunisia and Provence mix as fluidly as do the colors in a Matisse painting. And the couple recommended a restaurant near our hotel, La Fourchette, where we ate the best meal of the trip.
We took the train to Arles, to walk in the footsteps of van Gogh, who after settling there in 1888 painted The Yellow House, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and some 200 other treasured works. What we came upon, at first, was not the glories of post-Impressionism but the realities of many small French towns today — young malcontent men standing idly on corners. But a few streets away lay a Roman amphitheater built around 90AD and a Roman theater built at the end of the first century BC. We could only imagine the thousands of spectators who had filled the seats, the gladiators who’d fought.
While we strolled past a number of glorious churches, we soon found ourselves at peace and wonderment at Le Cloître Saint-Trophime, imagining the monastic life while combing the galleries and climbing the many stairs.
Our heads filled with medieval history and natural splendor, we took the TGV to Paris for more starry nights and museum-filled days.
Having just been to the newest section of the High Line on Manhattan’s West Side, it was only natural that the landscape gardener among us wanted to be sure to stroll the Promenade Plantée, the inspiration for the High Line.
In between we spent time in museums we’d enjoyed before — L’Orangerie, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Cognacq-Jay — and discovered one none of us had ever visited — Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where an exhibit of contemporary Korean craft, design, and fashion was delighting crowds.
With so few days and so many extraordinary streets, bridges, and parks to traverse, we nearly missed seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. (And it was there that I discovered you could take black-and-white photos with an iPhone!) The men raised their eyebrows when we proposed we walk there from the Right Bank and then on to the restaurant, which was on the other side of the Latin Quarter. “It should only take two hours,” I estimated. They said they’d meet us at the restaurant. My map-reading skills are not highly regarded on this side of the Atlantic, so I thank my friend Katie for staying the course and hailing a taxi when it was obvious we’d be an hour late if we continued following my roundabout route in St. Germain.
Two weeks after we returned, the lights were turned off at the Eiffel Tower the night of the terrorist attacks. May the light of love and peace burn brightly in Paris for the rest of our days.