Thursday, November 29, 2012
You know, there is so much more to France than Paris alone. I love Paris but I'm in love with the south of France. There is something very real and raw about rustic small towns and villages ... a certain je ne sais quoi that disarms even the most jaded traveller.
The pace is slower, the people friendlier, traditions are preserved, and yes, coming from a tiny city state like Singapore, I lapped up the great expanse of space like a caged animal freed.
I based myself in beautiful Avignon and was extremely lucky to get only one rainy afternoon during my entire time there. The sun was glorious and it gave a glow to the already golden scape. Ah, autumn ... my favourite season!
I hired a private guide to show me around. I guess I could have chosen the more popular option of self-drive, but given my non-existent sense of direction, I would have ended up in the Rhône river at first turn. No, really.
Besides, I was on a vacay, for crying out loud. I just wanted someone else to take charge of everything for a change. Thankfully, I hit the jackpot choosing the perfect guide.
I found Laurent on the Internet and decided on him after we exchanged a few emails. I pretty much knew what I wanted out of my holiday: Van Gogh, hilltop villages and Châteauneuf-du-pape.
I got all that ... and more.
Laurent gave me a wonderful insight into the rich history and flavours of the land. He walked me through winding village corridors, into wooded areas and along babbling streams. We popped into little churches and charming towns; stopping here and there to sample tapenade, olive oil, honey and wine.
Time seemed to have stood still as we'd spend the arvo marvelling at landscapes or foliage or ducks in the water. Once, we stopped by a random field and he coaxed not one but five Carmague horses to come to us. And yes, it was so good talking about everything and nothing under the gorgeous Provençal sun. :)
These are what memories are made of - moments. Not so much what you saw, but what you felt. And they remain with you for a long, long time.
Of course, I got to fulfill my dream of tracing Van Gogh's footsteps in Saint-Rémy and Arles.
Standing in the middle of his room at Saint-Paul asylum where he was institutionalised ... looking at his bed and belongings ... it was one of those surreal, lump-in-throat moments. The man is long gone but his legacy lives on. I was so overwhelmed I actually shed a tear, can you believe it?
And then there was Roussillon. The ochre-hued beauty that is undoubtedly my favourite amongst the quaint hilltop villages I visited. It has a charm and character that speaks to me. What joy it was to be there and see it for myself!
One evening, as I watched the setting sun from the gardens of Le Palais des Papes, I could not help but recount a verse from William Henry Davies' poem. It goes:
"What life is this, if full of care,
We don't have time to stand and stare"
Indeed, everything comes to nought if we merely exist. After a hectic year - oh, what a year it has been - it was sheer pleasure to stand and stare, take stock of everything ... and press that refresh button on my life once again.
- The rest of my photos, including my Paris ones (which I took during my 5-night stay), can be viewed on Instagram.
- All photos taken with the iphone4S and all rights reserved.
- Useful links: Avignon Tourism website, All Provence Private Tours website.
- This time last year.