21.07.2011 - 01.08.2011 21 °C
The trip from Nice to Dijon with my friends was fantastic. We had 6 days, a car and no plans and despite being the busiest time of the year in Provence it worked out great. After 2 days Rach got the hang of driving on the right hand side of the road and handling a car lovely on the inside but both too big for France roads and just stupidly designed on the outside, by someone who clearly doesn't drive themselves (lesson: don't buy a holden insignia).
Aix-en-Provence was bustling - nothing had changed since my first visit 2 years ago (almost to the day) and it's still one of my favourite places, a great vibe with happy, friendly people, loads to browse and easy to see everything on foot. Dinner that night was great too, a simple bistro with some creative and FRESH food. Did i mention how deprived i'd been of good vegetables?
Our semi-planned journey from Aix-en-Provence to Avignon had to be aborted when we hit a jam on the motorway, thanks to Avignon's annual music festival. But not to worry, we turned off and headed north for the river Sorgue and followed the signs (with Ms Sat-nav for backup) for the Luberon region. Turned out to be a blessing with quiet winding roads lined with vineyards, villages and eventually some pretty lavender and sunflowers!
To spread our travel we had to stay a different night in each place, finding really pleasant roads through Provence villages and some awsome markets. 3 hours was spent browsing L'isle-sur-la Sorgue's massive and crowded Sunday market and we still didn't cover it all, and the fresh food market in Velleron was incredible and totally non-touristy. From the Velleron selection we made our Saturday night dinner from fruit, bread, 2 kinds of goats cheese, hummus, olives, tomatos, beetroot and of course wine - ideal 'French market' faire and all locally grown.
We were lucky to find a couple of beautiful Chambre d'hotes (B&B's) - at Cavaillon we were in a beautiful guesthouse on an old orchard, with a host who was really welcoming and funny. Near Aix we had a mini villa with a bed on a mezzanine for me and a stunning view over the pool. Odine the owner was a wealth of information about the area and happy to help me practice the language!
The few hours up to Lyon was quick and easy, only about 3 hours up the motorway. Only the second time i've been, its much bigger than i thought. We took the physical route to the best lookout, climbing the stairs up the hill to a church with a giant 'golden' Jesus statue. The city literally sprawls as far as the eye can see, but from the ground is pretty with lots of parks and the two rivers that run through, the Rhone and the Saone lined with trees.
The highlight meal was our dinner at Le Nord. The concierge at our hotel suggested this sister bistro to the famous Michelin Starred "Bocuse" restaurant, and everything was sooo delicious. (French) onion soup as entree for me and Rach and Matt went adventurous, trying the Escargot. These were some really plump snails and reportedly enjoyed ! We had been searching for grenouille (frog's legs) for Matt but to no avail so this was the next best thing.
Seafood and steak came for mains, all perfectly cooked and i could not have been happier with the ever-so-lightly sauteed zucchini and poppy seed on my plate.
Of course dessert had to be tested too, i went the moelleux au chocolat (molten chocolate cake), profiteroles for Rach and pistachio creme brulee for Matt.
In a unanimous vote Matt won the entree course, Rach the mains and me the dessert ! See the gallery for pics
Dijon the next day was the last stop after a quick visit through Laives for me to give Nadine back some things and make me free to not have to go back there right after my organised visit to Konstanz following Dijon. Chalon was absolutely dead - I'm sure the entire town was in bed with a hangover as the night before was the end of the annual Street Festival so Rach and Matt were subjected to a not-so-exciting tour by me through part of 'my' town.
From Dijon I hopped on a train for 5 days in Konstanz to visit my friend Morgane, who i travelled through India with, and her family. A tearful reunion, with her living in the US i really thought we wouldn't see each other again for years.
Konstanz is just beautiful, with views of the Swiss and Austrian Alps, stunning classic architecture, set right on the Lake Constance on the border with Switzerland, we spent days exploring the little shops around town, taking ferry and boat rides to visit the other towns and villages lining the lake and hired bikes for a days trek to further places. I love the ease of riding in towns in europe, where it's flat it is quick to get around and just so easy, plus we had mostly fine weather but never so hot that we worked up a sweat. The roads are designed for cycling, facilities at end of journey and the cars are used to you also so it's ideal.
The house we stayed in was Morgane's grandmother's who lived in Berlin and bought the house 50 years ago in Konstanz just in case WWIII broke out so they could easily cross into Switzerland. As it's rarely used there is a tenant upstairs and we were basically camping in the ground floor of the house - 1 bedroom, me, Morgane and her sister Sophie squeezed into 2 single beds pushed together in the living room. We had a kitchen so we could make tea and coffee and a toilet but no shower. No problem though we just visited the Thermal Baths! Just a short walk through the forest to the edge of the Lake this place had a pool plus a section with water-massage beds and a hot spa, all overlooking the lake - to me it felt like a luxury wellness centre.
Morgane and i went out for our last night there, heading for the wine festival in town we downed 2 wine bottle-size ciders spiked further with schnapps on the walk there (street drinking in Germany is totally allowed) then joined a bachelor party celebration so had wine freely flowing. A few of these guys spoke english and were pretty funny so when they insisted we come along to the strip club we figured it was part of the traveling experience. A German strip club? Worth a look. Well once there we felt a bit uncomfortable so didn't stay long - but from what we did see it appeared no different to what i assume goes on in the average Aussie one. We had to high-tail it out of there when the guys wanted to buy us more drinks so headed home - I managed to find out way back since M had gone through the liquid quicker than me and was in no state to recognise where we were. It felt totally safe around there and the walk was a good way to prevent a hangover setting in the next morning.
So she's now back in the US, we were so lucky that we happened to be in Europe at the same time this year but i have no idea when we'll have the chance to meet up again.