A Travellerspoint blog

The legacy of the Languedoc

An outsider's musings about the philosophy, religion and collective psychology of a city after just one weekend's visit! Take it for what it's worth.

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In the year 1208 on, what I imagine was a hot July day in the Languedoc region of southwest France, 20,000 Cathars and Catholics were massacred in Béziers on the order of Pope Innocent III. Not long after, 10,000 more Cathars from the surrounding region who had sought refuge within the fortified walls of Carcassonne were also exterminated even while the Catholic viscount of Carcassonne, Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, attempted to protect them. It was one of the many dark chapters in the Church's (and France's) history. Pope Innocent III, when he wasn't encouraging the French nobles to take up the cross and make war on the holy land, was determined to root out the heretical Cathars. Owing to their belief in dualism in which they believed everything material and of the world was evil and everything spiritual was good, the Cathars opposed the crucifiction of Jesus because such an event would imply that Jesus was human, thus material, thus evil. Needless to say, their disagreement on this detail didn't placate Pope Innocent. In fact it only added to his desire to give strategic Languedoc lands to northern french nobels (Catholics who, unlike Trencaval, wouldn't sympthize with the Cathars). What followed has been dubbed the Albigensian crusades. Ironically, because the Cathars were a minority of people from the middle ages who didn't believe in war or capital punishment, many of their Catholic neighbors in Béziers and Carcassonne decided to take up arms and help fight against the Albigensian crusaders, led by a noble, Simon de Montfort's. In fact, it's very likely that many of the Cathars from Béziers would have fled to the more well protected fortified city of Carcassonne, leaving a majority of their Catholic neighbors behind in Béziers. It was for this reason that upon arriving, Simon de Montfort is said to have asked Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander, how to distinguish between Catholic and Cathar. Arnaud is reported to have replied, "Kill them all, God will know his own." In this way, it is very probable that the majority of people killed during the crusade in Bézier in 1208 were in fact Catholic.
I've begun my journal about my visit to the Languedoc region in France with this history lesson for a very simple reason: this is the way that it was begun for me. No matter which tourism website I looked at while planning my weekend trip to the eastern towns of Béziers and Carcassonne, this story was always the feature of the "History" section. (Subsequently, the mass cemetaries and museums about the Cathars, along with the medieval fortified city and UNESCO world heritage site, were then listed under "Attractions"). It was also the history lesson recounted to me by a friendly history buff and Béziers native who I met on the train my very first day. Later that evening it was the bedtime story that our hotel owners related to us (this time in English so I was able to catch some of those disturbing details that otherwise would have remained mercifully lost in translation). Then there was the guided tour of the castel and ramparts of the gorgeous medieval city in Carcassonne where we heard the same story.
"It is a moment in our history that can never be forgotten."
We laughed ironically at this comment, made rather off-handedly by our tour guide in her strong Occitane french accent. After 24 hours in the Languedoc, it was evident that no one had forgotten, that much was obvious.
In a country where I have too often succombed to my traveller's curiosity and peaked into the poubelles of recycled collective baggage, only to find myself staring fixedly, perversly at the waste of centuries of a fraught church and social history, I am surprised that modern Languedocians have recovered at all, much less forgotten. Not only did they play host to the Albigensien Crusade in the 13th Century, but as I was remined recently in my L'histoire de la France class, the Languedoc also held some of the principal Huegenot strongholds during the religious wars. That would explain the plaques. The ones I noticed on this very same trip honoring the 30, 50, 100, 1000 massacred Huegenots and Catholics from the 16th and 17th century. At first I passed them by, thinking they were more WWI and II memorials, for anyone who's travelled in Europe knows that these exist in abundance. Of course, there were plenty of those too in the Languedoc.
Yet I was confronted this weekend with another contradiction in French culture that I have come to expect after having lived here for several months. Not only were the people some of the warmest and friendliest that I have met in France (and I don't think I've met a single person who sits on the opposite end of that pole!), but they were also by far the most religious! As in, Catholic religious! Now I know there's a lot of history in between 1209 and even 1616 and 2008 that could have led to the fact that while in the rest of the country churches are generally museums or empty shells in the cityscape, aujourd'hui in Carcassonne every church is full to capacity (or near enough) come Sunday morning. What's more, not only were there more church-going folks in Carcasonne than anywhere else i've been in France, but the're were actually a fair few under the age of 70! My first day in Carcassonne as I was training from there to Béziers to meet Luke, I boarded with a young priest and about 60 young school boys between the ages of 8 and 18 who were headed to Lyon where, I concluded from their conversations, they were to attend a church conference and/or do some serivce work in the "big city."
Whether you're religious or not, as a traveller or an "étrangere" living in France, it's impossible to come here and not remark on the very unique relationship the French people, in general, have with the church. It's something that I can only imagine is deeply rooted in their history, a history that includes crusades, the use of religion as a political tool, the divine rights of kings, religious wars, Inquisition, a revolution and the guillotining of nobels who justified their abuses of power as rights bestowed upon them by God. Then add the grief resulting from two world wars and the subsequent questions concerning whether God could possibly exist admist such carnage, throw in the revolts of 1968, a heavy influx of immigrants of all other races and creeds, let simmer over a lively collective French culture that is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith which, at this point, most folks aren't too sure about anyways; let it stew for a few decades and you've got a Soupe à la France that has lost some of it's flavor from the addition of too many bitter ingredients. Having said that, they've also gained plenty of flavor from such a complicated history. The Languedocians perhaps moreso than the rest.
I admit, there's a lot about France that I don't understand. I'm a westerner and I can't figure out the mystery ingrediant in that occidental broth that has fed into my own cultural soup. How much more intricate will I find Indian or Chillean culture, for example, if I ever have the opportunity to visit these countries?
But perhaps i'm asking the wrong question. Perhaps it's wrong of me to ask how Carcassonnians could be so religious all while being so admittedly aware of their ancestor's bloody history, a bloody history often caused by the church. But afterall, isn't that the great mystery of faith? It comes with forgiveness and love. Folks from Carcassonne know as much as anyone, or perhaps more than most in France how easy it would be to abandon the church. They have two millenia worth of reasons. But then how could anyone ever recover from such a history if they didn't forgive it?
Unfortunately, I haven't yet had this conversation with a Carcassonnian. But now that I think about it, I wonder if that wouldn't be their response.
Of course, I could be completely wrong. Maybe they wake up every morning, look out their mornings and fall in love again with the valley in between the Black Mountains and the Pyrénées, the amber skeletons of the vineyards in december, the ingenuity of the canal of midi and the persistance of the river Aube in spite of it. Maybe they, like I, look out at their breath-taking landscape each day and say, "Voila! That, all of that is why I have to believe that there is something or someone greater than myself who created this."
And then they look up the hill and see what their noble and troubled ancestor's created: that completely intact medieval fortified city that was never once overtaken between the year 1208 and now... unless you include the camera-totting tour groups and the film crew for Kevin Kosner's Robin Hood. Even today there are still people living there in the city surrounded by ramparts, around 200 of em, all tucked away in the stone shells of the original medieval buildings. They no longer have to worry about men with swords and bow and arrows. Nowadays they dodge tourists like me shooting at their city from behind digital screens.
Carcassonnians have weathered a lot in 800 years and still managed to hold onto that which is most dear. The real question is how they'll hold up to this latest threat! My guess is that they'll forgive us too.
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The entrance and bridge to the fortified city. I'm pretty sure there's a scene from Robin Hood where he has to sneak past on this bridge. No? Have I made that up?
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From the ramparts looking out toward the Black mountains.
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A pair of dudes sword fighting. They were actually pretty good!
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From the river Aude on our long sunday morning walk through the beautiful vineyard-lined country roads and river-side paths of Carcassonne.
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Posted by ernielow 03:25 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Home, Chez-Moi

It's mid-November and the weather's starting to get a bit chilly, even down here in sunny Provence. The work load is starting to pick up so students are forced to spend more of there time indoors studying and less outside playing or traveling. Germs are hitching rides on that winter wind from the north, so folks are popping vitamine C tablets by the dozen and even some of the hard core cafe-drinkers are beginning to order tea instead and maybe even move their morning newspaper read indoors. I popped on my facebook account and read at least 6 miserable facebook statuses from friends studying abroad or just studying out of state. In other words, it's that awkward season in between fall break and Christmas when homesickness lurks around every corner in every foreign place in this not-like-home world.
Meanwhile, I'm writing a paper for my French language class where I have to define and give examples of "rite of passage" in French. How are these two events related, one might ask? Well aside from the fact that all the conditions are right for mopping and reflecting on life in general, I can't help but notice some similarities between living away from home and so many of the rites of passage I've noted for this paper. The shock of encountering death for the first time, the intense joy and at the same time feeling of separatness from that past life that may come with marriage, the uncertainty of retirement, the feeling of walking on clouds when one experience's her first love, and then the crushing blow of that first heartbreak; I'm pretty sure I've experienced all of those feelings in the three months that I've been living abroad.
What conclusion can I come to about this revelation? What advice for other folks going abroad? I'm not sure that I have either. If anything, being in a place where you haven't mastered the language can offer moments of quiet and reflection. Perhaps that's why I've found that, even moreso than before, I alway want to retreat to the hills, the country, the open spaces. Though the views are different from the Appalachains, the Provençal peaks, le Côte d'Azur, the Austrian and Italian Alps, they're all worlds within the same world. I recognize the Calanques and the Italian Alps, though I'd never before climbed them. While "les trucs d'homme" -- the language, the traffic, the beauracracy, the cultural differences, the foods -- may present themselves in the towns and cities, the countryside holds the same familiarity. We still speak the same language.
Since it's the season of "home," I'm sharing some images of special places that I've encountered. They fill me with exactly that feeling of being home and make me feel a little closer to my own.
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The first time I looked down and saw this beach in Portugal from atop a cliff, it literally took my breath away. Portugal does some amazing cliffs.
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We had two days in Munich, but did we stay in the city for both of them? Not a chance! On our second day we trained out to a little village which was the farthest stop on the city metro. There we walked through woods and over hills until we reached a 500 year old Monastery. This was our view. The walk through woods and sheep pastures alone was well worth the trip, but then to seal the deal we had the most amazing meal at the monastery's tavern, complete with giant pretzles, good beer and cheersing germans.
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Poppies along a ruined wall in Corinth, Greece. Poppies anywhere in the world are the flowers of remembrance; perhaps that's why I was so struck by the poppies in Greece.
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This picture could only be of the Calanques. There simply are not words to describe that color blue, or the chalky translucense of the rock along the cliffs. I spent a perfectly happy day with Frances walking the Calanques around the gorgeous coastal village of Cassis.
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Another image that needs no description: it's simply Shropshire. A lovely hike with Luke's family... lovely, that is, until we got to the top of Mount Caradoc and got caught in a wind storm. I'm sure I saw some of those very sam sheep tossed into the air like cotton balls.
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Saint Victoire from the west. Simply Provence. We walked the foothills underneath Victoire when France and I both had been feeling a bit homesick and moppy. It was the perfect cure, or at least, the perfect pick up. After seeing Mont St. Victoire and her countryside under such blue skies and sunshine, it was impossible to look at our own woes through anything but sunny eyes.
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A photo album of images of home from around the world wouldn't be complete without one of my real home: the people and the mountains.

Posted by ernielow 11:51 Comments (1)

Wouldn't it be Nice

My memories of Nice are a melange of sensations. It's impossible to recreate the trip by simply putting creative language to a timeline or imagery to a log book. How do you string together sounds, images, tastes, smells and textures that have no sequential order but that come foremost to the mind when remembering a place? No doubt this struggle has contributed most to my delayed report. How can I give a true representation of my experience of Le Côte d'Azur?
The truth is that when I remember the pebble beach that stretches along the entire harbor, outlined by the famous Promenade des Anglais, I think of the sound of the waves playing tug of war with the pebbles. I go to the markets in here Aix and I see a stand of brightly colored provençal fruit and I remember a similar stall of fruit at the Niçoise market, except that all of its bounty had been candied, it's sugared coats glimmering like sequins in the sun. I look back at pictures of that trip and I come across the one of Theresa, proprietress of the famous Socca stand at the market. Instantly, my mouth waters from the memory of the chick-pea based Niçoise specialty. Greeting us like a wave whenever we turned a corner onto another Italian-esque cobble stone street, the tell-tale smells of fruits de mer hinted that it wouldn't be long until we'd get our longed for Niçoise salad: Avocado, tomato, spinach, smoked salmon, squid, prawns and anchovies. Now when my limbs and joints ache after a particularly long day of walking around town, I remember my numb feet, my overworked knees and my completely sore cheek muscles from smiling to much after walking seven miles along the coastline from the cliff-top Village of Eze all the way back to Nice on our final day. And then I remember the beautiful sleep on the bus ride back; the whimsical dreams of a noisey school of pebbles swimming under me as I drifted in a perfectly blue sea.
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Our first time exploring the city was Friday night after dinning at a restaurant that specialized in Niçoise fruits de mer. We reckoned that we'd gotten a pretty authentic resto and Niçoise salad as it was in a somewhat more "lived in" area of Nice in between our hostel and the main center of the city. Also, we'd received the recommendation from the proprietor of a Brasserie where we'd taken a glass of rosé earlier. Whether it was truly authentique or not, it was delicious. We decided to walk off our big meal and head into the city. I just liked the mix of modern neon blue lights framing and old train bridge that was covered in ivy.
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Comme habitude, we began our day Saturday morning at the market. The open air markets at Nice are understandably extensive as it is a big city and a big tourist attraction. We thought we did well, though, to buy the produce for our lunch picnic at a market further away from the center of town that we passed every day on our long walk from the hostel. It was cheaper that way and we could enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the big Nice market without being tempted to spend too much money. We did splurge for important things, though, like fresh pain, fromage and, of course, Socca from Theresa's world famous Socca stand. This eccentric madam was a force to be reckoned with. We'd read about her in particular in Clare's travel book, which warned against trying the famous Niçoise speciality from anyone but Theresa. We were not disappointed. Socca is essentially a thin, buttery crèpe made from a chick pea flour base and cooked on a wide cast-iron planque. I'm sure you can eat it with tapenada or anything really, but we just snacked on it plain while sitting by the beach. Tastey!
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After our trip to the market and our snack on the beach, Clare and I climbed up to the cliff-top garden that offers panoramic views of the city. It was up there while taking in breath-taking views of perfectly blue water, soaring mountains and the lovely white city accented by steeples and palm trees, that we decided that Nice was one of our favorite European cities, if not the favorite. "Better than Greece?" Clare tested me, knowing my weakness for that piece of heaven on the other side of the Med. "Close," I replied. While Greece will always have my heart, I wouldn't turn my nose up at a return visit to Nice either!
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There is something so picturesque about sail boats on the sea. Nice perfects this image wth the dozens of graceful white sails dotting the perfectly blue canvas backdrop. When the weather's fine in Nice, two groups of folks seem to flock the area: sailors and rollerbladders. The one disappointment about our weekend was that we failed to rent rollerblades for an evening of wheeling along the Promenade des Anglais with the other promenaders. But as it was we'd only get in the way of the professional bladders who entertained the crowds with their stunts and impressive obstacle course routes.
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As for the the town of Nice itself, the Vieille Ville or Old Town is the historic section of town where most of the tourists flock, though rightly so. It's lovely with plenty of winding cobble stone streets, brightly colored old buildings and squares that center around dolphin fountains and glaciers on every corner. Perhaps the most endearing quality about Old Nice, though, is the laundry. It seems as though I learned how to find Nice on a map of France and was then given the same basic lesson about the capital of le Côte d'Azur for every French class I've taken beginning at age 12. It's the center of french vacation land and the favorite celebrity destination. With these images engrained in my mind, I came to Nice expecting to see fashionable people riding around on Vespas and gated seaside communities. It's true, we saw a fair few of both these things, especially on our walk from Eze to Nice, but Nice itself is still very lived in. The casinos and fancy hotels are a comfortable distance from the Old Town and nowhere near the actually residential neighborhoods. But even in the center of the Old Town we'd look up and the see not the glamorous laundry of the rich and famous, but the ordinary bed sheets, stained baby clothes and well-worn underwear which could've belonged to any old Jack. Or Jacque, rather. It's good to know that such a paradise as Nice could also be a home.... you know, just in case we decide to go back.

Posted by ernielow 11:41 Archived in France Comments (0)

To go or not to go

Interrupting immersion when the waters just get too deep

I'm sure that International Studies Advisors all follow the same script when instructing students on what to expect on their year abroad. Ironically, that same script could have been written for a scuba diving instructor or first time swimmers teacher giving a lecture entitled "What to do if..." Really now, who decided it was a good idea to use drowning language to describe a year abroad in a foreign country?? What's with all this talk about "immersion?" It seems like every time I've vented about a particularly trying moment I'm met with helpful advice like: "you either sink or swim," "you'll feel overwhelmed but don't get taken over by the undertoe," "your emotions will follow a wave-like cycle, with it's fair share of crests and troughs," or, the subject of this blog, "you might feel like you have to take a break, come up for air: DON'T GIVE IN, you could be swimming in the wrong direction from where you need to be." And what's embarrassing is that I can remember giving my own international friends and AFS sisters similar nuggets of wisdom. I quess it's easy using such terrifying analogies when you're the one safely sunbathing and drinking coronas on familiar shores.
Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic with the drowning analogy, but the coincidence really is uncanny. The truth is, though, that being immersed in a new culture and, most especially, a new language can feel like you're flailing and paddling just to stay afloat. I'd seen the handout/poster/slide a fair few times before coming to France: The one that looks like a wave and is encased in a grid labeled by the months that a student would be abroad. Normally around holidays exchange students are bound to feel down. That's the trough part of the wave. But then they'll experience a surge that is usually triggered by a small success or a particularly fun outing with their new international friends. That's the crest part of the wave. Then the wave takes a downward turn again when the student realizes just how far away she is from ever being able to understand what these crazy people are saying to her.
That last one was about where I was this past week. But rather than heeding my diving instructor's advice of not interrupting the immersion experience for at least the first semester, I took a trip to England. This blog is my attempt to answer the question that other international students might encounter: Is it or is it not a good idea to take a breather from language immersion by returning to one's home county or the equivalent for a short time?
For one month now I've been living in France while I waited for my classes to start. I'd made friends with other exchange students with whom I could practice my French and I even made a handful of french friends. I began attending a French church. I did my shopping most mornings at the local market and around town where I've had to practice my French, and I intentionally put myself in situations where I've had to use it or at least listen to the languge. I travelled to surrounding towns and villages, and let me tell you, navigating french transportation is enough of an exercise in logic as it is in french comprehension. I did all of this for nearly 4 week with a smile on my face and a feeling that I was improving exponentially by the day. The majority of the time I thought "I can do this thing."
Then last week hit like a face-plant into a sandbar. Missing 3 family birthday parties and a family reunion in one week could give even the the hardiest of home-sickness immune travellers a flare-up of the pesky other traveller's bug. Soon the sun didn't seem to shine quite so brightly, the French didn't seem quite so polite, and my French verbal abilities seemed to have shrunk to the size of a snail on that tourist's plate. Against perhaps my advisor's and my own better judgement, I decided to fly up to England and visit my fiancé for a long weekend. I needed to see him, I told myself. I needed the break. And indeed, I did!
<Interlude>
This particular blog entry isn't about the joys of seeing a loved one after a long absence. Nor is it about the pure and basic happiness a person can derive from simply walking around a hilly English city and collapsing in a surprisingly sun-soaked garden. This isn't about how important it is to take time out with your mate without schedules and itineraries so that you can both simply enjoy being together and enjoy the incredible world in which we live. But all of those things definitely contributed to why I am now a decided supporter of the mid-immersion vacation.
<Thus endeth the interlude>
There are many reasons why international advisors advise us not to go back home for a visit or to welcome "home" to our foreign shores during the first part of the experience. We could get out of the habit of thinking, speaking, hearing and living the culture and language in which we're immersed. This is very true. We could become suddenly homesick when we reincounter this familiar way of life and these wonderful, familiar people. Again, also true. For English speakers, the thought might cross our minds that our's is the language everyone else in the world learns anyways so why even bother... especially if it's going to be this hard! *In my best pouty voice* Hmm, this too is partly true and certainly a tempting thought to a person contemplating ripping up a scary return flight. All these and more thoughts and fears crossed my mind during the course of my weekend in Angleterre and many of them became realities. For example, for 4 days I didn't speak French, which did indeed make it a bit difficult to get back in the swing of things upon returning. I eventually did, but those first couple conversations were stutterers.
Furthermore, after 3 years of being in a long-distance relationship and the subsequent multiple farewells that unfortunately must be voiced, saying goodbye to my fiancé after 4 days together in England even when we knew we'd see each other again in 3 weeks was probably the hardest we'd ever faced. Why? I'd say that for me it was definitely the fear... added to the usual feeling of loss and saddness. Fear of going back to the unknown again when I'd experienced the comfortable for 4 days. Would I be able to recall all that I had learned during my month in France? Upon returning to more bureaucracy, more queues, more language struggles, would I stll think that it was worth it?
At last, there is an encouraging part to this story. I spent my first day back in France doing things that a week ago I had been complaining about sans cesse: I waited in lines, I walked beaucoup des miles just to go from one office to another to try and sort out uni inscription paperwork. I spoke french and was even made to do it for a grade! And yet, for the first time in over a week I didn't mind it. In fact, I felt like a veteran. Before leaving for England I had been painfully aware of all the words I didn't know, how much better everybody else spoke french than I did and how I'd never manage to become even somewhat proficient. Today I was aware of only how much I had learned in a month. Yes, I'm aware of my weaknesses, where I need help, but I can see these needs in a productive, more positive light. I had un-immersed myself for a few days and was able to appreciate the strides I'd made from being immersed. Now I feel energized and ready to take on another month of "new."
Could this be just another "crest" in my emotions wave? Most probably!
Still, giving myself a vacation from the new was what inspired this positive upward turn. The hardest part was just getting back on the plane. But isn't that the hardest part of traveling no matter which part of the grid your surfing?

Posted by ernielow 11:36 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Climbing Mont Sainte Victoire

Two hours into our hike up Mount Sainte Victoire, my two other travel companions and I came across a chain bolted into a 30 foot wall of rock. Looking to the right and to the left of the wall we found no alternate route, certainly no path. There was a ledge of scrub brush to the left of the wall with enough space to walk one foot in front of the other while clinging to any hint of a finger grip in the wall of rock beside us.
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That was one of our first warnings that we'd gone up the wrong route to reach the apex of the mountain. We should have known better a few meters down the mountain when we came across a bolder with the word "difficile" scribbled on it. When the French write "difficile" on a hiking route, they're not kidding. Find the "facile" or "moyen" routes and still prepare to feel every muscle in your body the next day.
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Despite some of the scarrier moments during the first leg of our hike, the seven hours we spent climbing Mount Sainte Victoire have remained the happiest that I've spent in France so far. Aix-en-Provence is a lovely, whimsical Provençal town famed for it's brilliant markets and it's fountains. The town's charms are as unending as the ever bubbling fountains that dot the squares and corners of Aix's street. But for me, at least, the most charming aspect about the town is the mountain, at the same time bold and elusive in the way it rises up over the red-tiled roofs and bell-stocked church steeples and plays peek-a-boo as you walk in and out of the cobble-stoned streets. Sainte Victoire is a behemoth of solid granite that is altogether shocking and delightful in the way it juts out of the otherwise green countryside. A typical grey lump of a mountain during the day (though still lovely, it must be said), Sainte Victoire is transformed into a blaze of corrals, pinks, blues and roses when the sun reflects off of her southern face at sunrise and sunset. During my first week St. Victoire had been taunting me to come and share her view of Provence from the summit. I was sure I'd receive no rest until I got a closer of the landmark which had enchanted Paul Cézanne for so long and now had me under her spell.
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I've never felt so much relief and calm from being out in the countryside or on a mountain as when I was finally standing under the Croix de Provence, which marks the summit of Sainte Victoire. Perhaps it's because Aix, like any European city, gives you those same lovely black boogers from breathing in car exhausts and les fumeurs's second hand smoke. Or maybe it's the sense of accomplishment one gets from reaching the top after those few scary hours of having to practically rock climb up the side of the mountain without any proper equipement. I'm sure it also has something to do with the calm, the absolute peace of being too high up for the sounds of industry and transportation to reach you. From the Croix we could see every olive grove, every spot of open country, every village, every nearby body of water, every vineyard and, unfortunately, even every unpleasant landmark, like the constantly puffing coal plant directly in line of the southern view.
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But even with the few other randoneurs (hikers) who'd made it up to the top with us, we were struck by how loud even their sporadic conversation seemed. Up there where clouds roll directly over head and only the hardiest birds of prey entertain you with their calls, human noise seems futile and intrusive.
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Lake Bimont and the dam was clearly visible from our perch. As our water dwindled and our bodies started to send our brains little messages hinting at dehydration, we found ourselves fantasizing outloud about how nice it would be to jump in at that moment. It was obvious to us that we'd have to make the trek along the ridge of Mount Sainte Victoire and see if the crystal blue waters of Lake Bimont felt as cool and delicious as they looked.
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They did. I should probably have mentioned before now that we actually lost a member of our party after those first 2 scary hours. No, we didn't "lose" her in that sense; but by the time we finally turned around and struggled coming back down the rock wall that we'd labored so hard to climb, Amanda was understandably shaken by the affair and decided to had back the Aix once we made it back to the "safe" part of our route. While she scurried back down the mountain, Frances and I found the proper trail and had a lovely hike up to the Croix. It was a proper hike this time without any spontaneous rock climbing and we were able to concentrate more on the scenery and less on our unsettled footing.
Anyways, returning to Lake Bimont. The downward slope of the ridge from the Croix de Provence to the lake took about another hour.5 though we were just so keen to get down to the water that it seemed like we ran it. It was a good walk and a lovely opportunity to get to know Frances, an Austrailian. She's a proper outdoorsy Aussie who likes her trekking, environmentalism and isn't bothered at all by the vast number of deathly snakes and other beasts she's run into on her hikes. I didn't realize that there are no bears in Australia so was able to impress her by the fact that when you hike in north carolina there is always the chance that you'll be mauled by a blood-thristy black bear. Hmmm, or something like that. :)
We made it down to the lake and after having a snack of delicious wild blackberris that dot the provençal landscape we dove into the crystal clear water of lake bimont without a second thought. I've never seen a lake so blue and yet so clear. Noticing some guys on the other side of the lake who looked like they'd just gone for a swim, we didn't think for a second that swimming might not be allowed. It wasn't until we reluctantly got out of the water, dried off and began the walk up to the dam that we noticed the sign. "Baignent Interdit!" Well, turns out the reason why the water seemed so clear and clean was because Lac Bimont provides all the drinking water for the region around Aix. Ah well!
This is a long post, I know, but since that day remains my favorite while in France I felt in important to give a full account. Since that day last week I've gone back to the first village under Sainte Victoire, Le Tholonet, and I've hiked to the ruins of the Roman auqeduct, though I think it was actually a dam. I love the area, everything is beautiful and the perfect refresher after a few days of drudgery in the city. Hehe, if you want to call a student's life in Provence drudgery!
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Posted by ernielow 13:36 Archived in France Tagged foot Comments (3)

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