Lost in Provence

It was a vacation where getting lost became a daily occurrence for our five-some on a ten day tour de Provence. We got lost on our cycling route even with a Garmin GPS strapped to our handlebars. Very little, in fact, went to plan during most of the trip. For example, the Cyclomundo guidebook listed our tour as a level three, with five being the most difficult. On many of the 6-18% grade climbs, I pedaled up, heart and lungs heaving in my chest, I pondered the tribulation a level four or five would have held. I distinctly remember reading the tour overview, stating the average at about 25 -30 miles a day. Our very first day on bikes, our French guide Stephane said, “Dis ees a long day.” 38 miles is a long way and we made it longer… and three of our five and had done no training.

I might have considered this a sign early on. As Stephane rolled my bike toward me after swapping pedals out, I read the name on the main frame to be Merde, which is the French word for shit. Theresa thought the same inspecting her own bike. On closer review, the brand name was Merida! Thank goodness, we were not riding shit bikes all over the Provençal countryside. However, Randee’s bike had a temper most of the way and kept throwing its chain between sprockets in defiance of shifting gears. We missed lunch on day one, due to our tardy start. Day two easily trumped our first. Andrea took a grisly fall on the downhill of the Col de Espinouse, leaving an oozing wound on her left butt cheek that required “emergency care,” ironically in a town called Brasse D’Asse. You just can’t make that up! Our rest day, was an “easy ride” but only because of its short distance, certainly not because it was flat. We pushed Ginger too far on day four when we had to start up the “Beast” just outside Moustiers. Later that day she admitted casually, “I only thought about doing training rides. I ride airplanes and eat out a lot,” she added.

Even beyond cycling, we ran out of money and had to make emergency withdrawals when our B & B hostess in Manosque informed they only accepted cash. One day, there were no trains available from Cassis to Marseille, so we took out a “small loan” for a cab ride to the train station. In Avignon, we got lost on ancient Roman roads while bumping luggage over cobblestones. And, traveling back to Paris for our final stop, we boarded the SNCF transfer train to Avignon’s TGV station at Voie E, per the digital display. A stranger (an angel of mercy) walked on and asked where we were heading, informing us the train we were on was going to Marseille! He directed us to board the train on line C instead. St. Christopher, the saint of travel, had clearly sent him to help us.

With all the getting lost and unexpected turns and twists, we can still enthusiastically report it was a glorious, time-bending ten days where mountain vistas and rows of blooming herbs melted the pain in our thighs. Slow-cooked, cherished meals with chilled bottles of rosé, held conversations shared with friends that turned any angst to smiles and laughter. Even Andrea forgot about her aching ass during many an epic meal. The tastes transformed our evenings into moments that lasted for hours until we met our pillows each night. Each of our hosts, were gracious and full of zest in a region that sees the sun 300 days a year. There was Faience and golden cliffs in Moustiers, papal lore in Avignon, rows of cheese and honey at Le Digne marché (market), Les Calanques along the sea, Les Gorges Du Verdon to inspire awe at heights, seafood delights at La Soleiade Bed and Breakfast, a 17th century farm bunkhouse… all while Mount Ventoux and the Alps peeked at us from a distance. When you go to Provence and the south of France, I’d suggest you try and get lost too!

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