Wednesday, August 21, 2013


If you read the NYTimes travel section, you probably will have noticed the article that appeared there just a couple of weeks ago on the Languedoc town of Uzès. The author described Uzès (and yes, you pronounce the "s" -- you never know with these French towns) as an undiscovered Languedoc gem. Say what? There is a gem in Languedoc that I don't know of, indeed, have never heard of?

So I am in Uzès. And here's a dangerous thing: the Internet at my Bed and Breakfast does not work for my little MacBook. And in Apple solidarity, my iPhone refuses to connect there as well. And so I am at a cafe on the main square and it is a vast square, with many cafes...

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...and one of them has quite good WiFi. The point is that you have to order something. It's almost evening. A sip of rosé seems right. I ask for the smallest carafe. No, no. That's not how it works here. They bring a bottle, put it on your table and you pay for however much you consumed. I have a lot of Internet catching up to do. How is this a good plan?


[Update: I drank 2.9 Euros worth. I'm offering no further explanation.] 

Let's go back now: morning in Barcelona. Actually not much of one. A quick cafe croissant at the hotel bar (thank you, management, for treating me to it, for no reason at all except you're nice)...

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Then I'm off. (Here's the somber entrance to this enchanting little place.)

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I have a 9:05 train to catch and so all I see is the series of blocks between my hotel and the train station.


They do include the Parc Joan Miro, so that's nice (though you've seen it before -- this isn't the first time I crisscross this place to get to the train station).

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(Barcelona, like most every city these days, has a bike rental program going. I'll leave you with one photo of a daring young thing on a red bike.)

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Okay. I'm at the station in plenty of time, which is good, because there are multiple checks and balances. Spain has had some rough times with trains in recent years.

There isn't (yet) a fast train between Barcelona and Paris. You have to take one to Figueres and change there (Figueres just got linked this year). You switch along with everyone else. A mass exodus from one train, to the one standing on the other side of the platform.

And now I'm riding the train from Figueres to Nimes (Nimes is the closest train a grand vitesse stop on my way to Uzès) and it isn't really a long trip -- just three hours, in a huge, luxurious arm chair (this is second class?) and a plug for my computer. And now we're passing the border and the Pyrenee ridge and of course this plunges me right into the great Roussillon plane (hello, Sorede!), with the mighty Canigou peak to the west, without cloud cover today...

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...past the Corbieres hills (giving us some of the best rose wines ever!), past the etangs that flow out of inlets right by Franqui beach!

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...and past Bezieres -- my first introduction to the Languedoc region back in 2006 when I spent my three weeks just west of it, in Pierrerue (a hamlet so small that I learned never again to rent in places that didn't at least have one cafe and one bakery)...


...past the salt fields of the Camargue (yes, flamingos and wild horses, even today!), all this beautiful countryside  spinning rapidly by me, like a tape that has been unwound over the years and now it's spinning back, a rapid spin of images, with all these terrific memories.

It's true that, with the exception of one unusual weekend in September, all my trips to the Languedoc region have been in June and so it feels especially poignant and odd to be here at the end of the summer. I swore I would never come to southern France in July or August and yet, here I am and it feels like I'm watching a movie set -- not my life, no, that would be June. June!

My, but it's beautiful in August too! Who knew...

I get off at Nimes and I take care of my train reservations for the rest of the week and now I have an hour to kill. My memory of Nimes will be that it has a river running through it -- right along a sidewalk, A paved river and on this hot day, offering interesting possibilities for the young and old(er).

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Oh, it has other attractions -- this city of famous olive oils and Provence like overtones. The amphitheater, for example.


Cafes, too. Always the cafes. (Tell me she does not remind you of a woman in a Renoir painting.)

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But I'm most smitten with the water. In all shapes and forms.

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I'm back at the station. There's a Paul bakery here and so I pause for a lunch. A somber lunch, because I am alone in this empty place with the disturbing painting of very young chimney sweeps reaching for a piece of bread.



Okay, out in the bright Nimes sunshine, I catch a bus to Uzès. Forty minutes for 1.5 Euro. How is this possible, I ask my innkeepers later. We pay taxes! -- his simple answer.

It's a beautiful ride -- right through the garrigues that are so characteristic of this area (they're a Mediterranean combination of shrub, oak, rosemary etc. -- growing on limestone soil; there's a love of this scrubland that spreads to a total infatuation with the foods and wines that come out of here).

I have the front seat which offers some limited picture taking opportunities.



Ah, there's Uzès. With its 11th century castle tower for all to see, for miles beyond.


So how is this town of 8,000? Well here's a piece of truth: the NYTimes article not withstanding, it's not undiscovered. True, the visitors appear to be predominantly French, but there are many of them. Not quite like you would encounter in Provence in the summer (I've seen not a single tour bus pass through), but still, it's no Sorede (which, admittedly, is one third the size). Maybe, too, it's different once we're done with August and the French call it quits on the vacation season. My innkeeper tells me he's highly agitated until the month comes to an end.

I notice this nod toward visitors right away as I walk with my little case through the blissfully pedestrian-only streets. There are shops. Lovely things that French people like to buy: fabrics, art for the garden, delightful summer cotton frocks and hats, hens -- how tempting is that - glass hens! (Can you imagine anything more awkward to carry on trains for the rest of the week?)


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In Sorede, there's nothing to buy and in Paris everything is too expensive so it poses few dilemmas and few sessions of trying on this or that, just to see, with wistful exists and mumbled words -- no, I cannot, I should not, no, not this time.

My Bed and Breakfast (l'Albiousse) is discreet: a building like many others. There are just four units, carefully restored and kept up in a beautiful fashion...


...and really not very much within my price range in normal times, but these are not normal times and so they are having a 30% discount. I grabbed. And it's perfect and I try not to mind the WiFi issue even as it means a lot of cafe-rosé time for me, only maybe at other times I'll switch to Badoit or ice cream.

I spend the rest of the day strolling around town. Nothing ambitious, no great plans to see anything. Just trying to get a sense of the place.

Many of the villages around me have an evening market at least once during the summer months and I have hit upon such a day in Uzès. The market starts at dusk and runs until midnight and the emphasis is not on produce but on candies and quiches and crepes, jewelry and wines, little olive trees and artsy little shirts and shawls. There is music and champagne if you're so inclined (these French locals are so inclined)...

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...and as the evening progresses the space around the castle fills. (Do note the guy in lavender buying things made with lavender.)


(Yes, they consider themselves close to the Catalan culture here. Not as much as the villages closer to the border, but enough so.)


(And yes, I almost bought a young olive tree. Then I thought that maybe it's not allowed...)

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I pause for a while to listen to the Bad Guys play. (In one of those photographic moments of  -- what just happened here?? -- I see that a boy on a scooter zipped by just as I clicked.)

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Here he is, later, in a more stationary pose.

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The Bad Guys are good  -- a jazzy trio that performs music about as American as it gets. I ask the guy on the sax where they're from and oh so predictably he says -- New Orleans.
Touring here? -- I ask.
He laughs. Well now, that would be along tour. Going on fourteen years! Actually, we live in France now.
So you like it here?
There are worse places to live in!

I eat dinner at a small restaurant, far off the main square. My hosts suggested it (Ma Cantine). For the locals, that's for sure. The proprietor sits down and chats with diners who all seem to be familiar faces. Fresh and honest food. I have pate followed by chicken. Keeping things simple.

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Late. Very late. The main square is exploding with people, lights, people, people.

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Wonder off a bit and it's quiet.

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And pleasantly cool. Not enough for a sweater (for me; the people here are quick to take out The Scarf), but breezy, in a summer kind of way.

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Is it a full moon tonight? I miss the immediate gratification of having all questions answered instantly through the Internet.

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I stroll to the edges of town, not quite sure of my way. Tomorrow. I'll step beyond the borders tomorrow. This evening, I'll stay with the cobbled streets of Uzès.