Thursday, August 22, 2013

out and about

I'll start with the good.

Breakfast, in the courtyard, artfully prepared.

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I wished Ed was across the table, helping me with the bread and cakes. Or, just there, reading something and saying, mindlessly, "yes gorgeous" when I ask something, equally mindlessly.

The market. Today's is supposed to be the more agreeable one. Saturday's is larger, with stalls of junk (not my words) competing with produce and foods from Provence. (You may ask -- is Uzès in Provence? They tell me it's considered the western most Provencal town. Incorporated out of a historic generosity rather than reality: Languedoc is Languedoc, not Provence.)

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I went twice to the market and predictably, the early, pre-breakfast trip was quieter, funner.

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I've said this before -- the French like to rate, rank and reward their foods. This woman received the top prize for her haricots verts.

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And these oils from Nimes took top honors in Paris. I wont tell you how tempted I was to take one home.

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Other market favorites -- note the theme here...

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Okay, other good points to the day: I publicly acknowledge my deep gratitude to the staff of Terroirs -- the best restaurant-bar on the square and the most popular lunch place by far -- for letting me stay and work on my laptop all the way until noon (when the dining really begins).


They put up with me again, when I returned for a late late lunch (after 4), with computer again. I did eat a lot, including the best salad ever -- artichokes, tapenade, tomatoes and goat cheese in a slice of prosciutto.

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And I even ordered dessert to show my commitment to remain as a paying customer (and because the idea of fresh fruit topped with melon and apricot ice cream and raspberry coulis sounded too good to pass up).

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If you're in Uzès, eat at Terroirs. Food's great, the staff is professional, competent and so very good natured about the idiosyncrasies of patrons.

Another favorite moment: returning on the bus from Pont du Gard to Uzès.

This needs a clarification: I decided to do one and only one trip outside of Uzès (I'm here for three nights). Where to? Well, it's the obvious choice: Pont du Gard is possibly the best preserved Roman Aqueduct, nearly 2000 years old, once carrying water from a spring in Uzès all the way to Nimes. You don't need to read details here, but imagine this: the incline across the river is only 2.5 centimeters! How would a Roman engineer be able to build with such precision? Amazing.

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So I bite the bullet and go to this fantastic and very very popular tourist spot (I saw a bus from the Czech Republic). It's a mere 12 kilometers from Uzès.

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The appeal is also in the river itself: a vacationers paradise on the hot days of summer here.


But that's not a favorite moment. That one came on the inter-village public bus ride back to Uzès. This particular bus takes a circuitous route so as to hit all the villages and connect them with the big towns of Nimes and Avignon. So that the 12 kilometers by main road is for some buses, but not for this one, which, because of its village hopping becomes, in normal circumstances, a forty minute ride.

These were not normal circumstances.

A young man is training for this route and a more senior driver sits up front to tell him which way to go. The trip is made exceptionally difficult by the narrowness of the road. In one village, the experienced driver tells the newer one: if one person has their shutters open, you wont make it; you'll have to get out and close it.

These buses are scheduled to accommodate school children and during vacation, the afternoon bus is nearly empty. There is, however, a young couple with their son and they, too, sit toward the front (as do I). Such friendly, chatty types! They entertain the driver and teacher with endless stories of their harried road trips (they are from Rouen -- here, you brag that you have 300+ days of sunshine, in Rouen we brag that we have 300+ days of rain!), so much so, that I really could have continued this journey all day long. (My French improved tenfold just listening to their chatter!)

One village en route...

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And the last stretch home. (He was only twenty minutes behind schedule. He took those turns very slowly!)

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Home, meaning Uzès, with another (for me at least) Renoir moment:


Not done with the good points to the day!

In the early evening, before the sun set over the garrigue covered hills, I took a walk outside the town walls. There is a suggested path by the river l'Alzon.

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After a kilometer or two, I come to a trail marker pointing up, with the enchantingly simple name of "la montagne." So I follow it. Up up, in the breeze of a summer evening. No one's here. It's quiet, but for the noise of the cicada and the chirp of a bird. And slowly, the view emerges. Uzès skyline. It's tough to photograph, as the sun is just starting to set right behind it, but it is incredibly beautiful nonetheless.

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And as I climb higher, up this magical mountain, I see the hills and mountains to the south, to the west, famous peaks that probably mean nothing to you but they remind me of notable trips to this area and in any case, it's just so beautiful here!

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It's not an intense climb, but it does take a while and by 8:30 I think it surely is time to head back.

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Down to the river again and here, there's a different kind of enchantment -- of ducks, kids, local kids, families too, bringing their bikes, their soccer ball, their swim suits, to the river, dappled with the golden evening light of the reflected limestone hills behind.

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There are many many photos that would show off this river walk, but I know about a reader's limits, so maybe just one or two more?

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Okay. Back to town.

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And dinner. Another high point! I had asked my innkeepers where I can eat something light, given my late and copious lunch. They suggested the Italian place, Via Curti. You can just have a main dish or a couple of appetizers.

Well maybe he can!

The setting is lovely -- under a fig tree and grape arbor...

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The menu is small, but so tempting! I choose the tomato mousse with a tomato sauce, over fresh tomatoes swimming in olive oil. (I asked for the recipe. I got a smile and a shake of the head.)

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Then a pasta dish with warm arugula pesto. Oh my.

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I was good enough at least not to order dessert.

I walk briefly to the square, so vibrant, even now, so full of vacationing people...

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...and, leaning against the noble walls of Terroirs, I can check my phone  for messages from home. And it is a sweet little pause. In the center of the square, a man is entertaining children with his various gadgets and tricks.

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I note that it is maybe 10:30 and all the little tykes were up still and not at all grumpy at this late hour.


It's what they're used to, right?  Long hours at the table, long evenings. (Though I had to smile at this family, with three teenagers, this afternoon at Terroirs: they all had iPhones and they ordered Coke Zero.)

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Were there weaker points to the day? Not really. The WiFi issue has arrested my work progress, but I can't truthfully call that a bad thing! I suppose I was a little taken aback by the whole approach to the Pont du Gard. The Tourist Center is rather massive and though it offers refreshments and shopping opportunities for the ever ready to spend Euros visitor, for me at least it takes away from the experience of the Aqueduct.

Oh! I can't leave you with a photo of kids drinking Coke Zero! How about the moon? I looked it up: it was full on September 19th. But you can pretend, right? Over Uzès, it looks mighty bright tonight.

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