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Eric: Provence
Provence:
As Much a Mood, a Spirit as a Destination

Text & Photography:
Nancy & Eric Anderson

n a Clear Day You Can See Forever" goes the song. Robert Goulet sang it and Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis, too, and it surely comes to mind when you stand on a bluff in the Luberon of Provence and stare across at the little hill village of Gordes.

view of the village of Gordes from a bluff, Provence

The view is the best part; the village's interior itself is not dramatic and stands as a warning of what contemporary popularity can do to the simple homes of 12th century working people. "In the 1960s," says Rick Steves, "Gordes was a virtual ghost town of derelict buildings."

So what happened to this plain little place of bent cobblestoned streets -- and magnificent views so inspiring they could only be unnoticed by peasants scrambling to survive the hard living that was their lot in life? It was discovered: by wealthy Parisians and rich foreigners; by artists like Marc Chagall and the leader in optical art, the Hungarian Victor Vasarely; by movie directors seeking the perfect medieval village for their films - and by travel writers like Rick Steves himself.

Here is the quandary for travel writers. Should they remain silent if they alone have discovered the perfect destination? Because when a story is published it may ruin the perfection. The classic example is Peter Mayle who quit Madison Avenue and moved to Provence. His captivating A Year in Provence, the first in 1990 of more than a dozen about France, dramatically brought visitors to an area not ready for them. Indeed we were told by a guide in Provence in April 2010 that he'd had to move on from his beloved village of Menerbes because his fans wouldn't leave him alone.

Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun and, closer to home, John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil about Savannah, Georgia similarly made those places so busy they lost much of their charm.

And that is the problem with Provence. "France is the busiest country for tourism in the whole world," a French guide told us as modestly as only the French can be, "and Provence is the busiest place for tourism in France!" So Provence can be a place to avoid in the summer tourist season and if you come then maybe not a place to rent a car as parking is what you would expect! Maybe this is the opportunity to check out Rail Europe's rail pass, even though the villages perchés don't really have rail service. You can solve both the summer parking problem and the absence of rail service in the hill-top villages by looking online for a tour operator, like Viator, a company that is big in Europe.

If time is limited -- and it usually is for us because we're Americans -- what places must we visit? There are many villages north and east of Avignon and Avignon itself is worth a visit although much of its charm has been dissipated by the onslaught of the post-war tourist. We mentioned last month we didn't find the famous Pope's Palace all that inspiring: a massive but gaunt building with little character as is fitting for what Rome called "the Babylonian Captivity" period of the Catholic Church. Even as non-controversial a guide book as Frommer's Provence & the Riviera remarks that in "the extravagant court in the palace, art and culture flourished - and so did prostitution and vice … The real struggle, of course, was about the wealth and power of the papacy."

scuplture at the Pope's Palace, Avignon

The charge is about ten Euros for admission but checking out Avignon's other famous attraction is free if all you do is stare at a bridge that you can't cross: le Pont St. Bénezet. The famous bridge in the French dance song, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" doesn't have people even children dancing on it any more. Completed about 1185, most, indeed 18 of its 22 arches were swept away in a flood in 1688. When the Rhone flooded in winter and the mistral wind whistled down its valley, locals would shudder, the mistral being a wind so fierce it would "blow the ears off a donkey."

the le Pont St. Bénezet, viewed from the banks of the Rhône River, Avignon

One bridge that has survived the years in Provence did so because it was built not by workers in the Middle Ages but a thousand years earlier than St. Bénezet -- by the Romans: Pont du Gard. This bridge, the aqueduct that brought water 30 miles from the hills above Nîmes, was built in three years. No trade unions in those days. The 1000 Romans who worked on it would be proud because this160 foot high bridge has withstood floods that would have knocked down a less well-built bridge. A pedestrian bridge has been erected alongside so tourists can enjoy the view walking over the river Gard while wondering why the Romans hadn't anticipated that tourists might want to cross over too.

the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct near Remoulins

Evidence of Roman history is all around southern France even although today's Mediterranean influence impacts the area more: in some ways Provence is more Italian or Spanish than French. Even the French spoken is different from Parisian French though that is true throughout the country. The people of Provence even have sayings such as parler pointu (to speak "sharp in an affected manner like Parisians") and they describe the people of Northern France as vrai cul cousu which literally means a true sewn-up backside, or as we would say if we didn't have children readers… a real tight-a#@.

statue of bullfighter Nimeño II with Roman amphitheater in the background, Nîmes

Nîmes has a magnificent Roman amphitheater. It is still functioning and is used for special events even bullfighting as the statue of the tragic bullfighter Nimeño II demonstrates. A brilliant young matador, who had fought more than 800 bulls in his 18 years of bullfighting, was gouged and thrown fighting in his beloved Nîmes. He landed on his head, broke his neck and became quadriplegic. He recovered somewhat after two years of intense therapy but with a paralyzed left arm. This was not enough function for bullfighting but enough for him to hang himself in his garage. He was 37 years old. It devastated France because if it is a sport (and many would dispute that), it is surely a Spanish sport and Nimeño II was French, the greatest French matador who ever lived.

replica of van Gogh's painting of its garden, the Hôtel-Dieu, Arles

Arles remains one of our favorite cities in Provence because it doesn't take itself too seriously; it seems to enjoy itself even though its light-heartedness was almost more than poor van Gogh could bear. His presence lingers here even 120 years after he took his own life. His doctor in Arles was Felix Rey made famous by van Gogh's painting of him. The Hôtel-Dieu where Dr. Rey treated him still looks the same. In fact Arles takes pains to continue the colors that were correct when Vincent painted the garden. Arles is fun even when it doesn't have music festivals, but that seems to be all the time tourists come.

brightly-colored homes, the village of Roussillon in the Luberon

Our nostalgic memories of the pleasures of Provence return to the hilltop villages where this story started, the Luberon. The village of Roussillon, yet another treasure in this rocky remote area, clings to yellow red ochre-stained cliffs, the homes painted in the same hues. At one time ochre dug from the cliffs was the source of great wealth for Roussillon, times now gone. Visit Roussillon when the setting sun paints the hills of the Luberon pink and Provence glows with the special light that so fascinated van Gogh. And still fascinates its visitors.


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Tell Eric what you think of his article.
In the meantime, here are some of the feedback we have already received:


Hey Eric and Nancy! As a fellow Traveling Boy journalist, and as a confirmed WW2 aficionado, just wanted you to know how much I loved your story on Arnhem. Really great stuff, and truly brilliant riveting writing.

I’ve been there twice and covered it on my KNX radio show when I was on LA radio, and your story and evocative photos brought back a ton of wonderful and poignant memories. This could have been an amazingly brilliant military operation – as you both know – that might well have ended the War in Europe maybe a year earlier. However, allied misreading -- and in my view disregarding certain aspects of the situation in Holland -- plus the fact that they dropped the paras over 3 days and not in one huge assault at night (and not in the day as they did) doomed the mission to failure.

Your clever words and great photos brought all this graphically to life, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in any aspect of WW2, and certainly should be read by today’s teenagers. Again Bravo and well done!!!!

John Clayton
Travel with A Difference

We just couldn't leave your website before saying that we genuinely enjoyed the high quality information you offer for your visitors... Would be back frequently to check up on new stuff you post!

Raanana

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What a fantastic write-up!

I could almost copy and paste most of your narrative verbatim as it reflects our fantastic experience with Fantasy Cruises almost to a tee. It was truly one of the greatest vacations my girlfriend and I have ever experienced.

Cheers!
Mike Richard, Editor, Vagabondish.com

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One of my dreams is to go to Alaska by way of cruise. This article very much intensifies the longing for that dream to come to fruition. I simply cannot wait much longer. And I will never again be able to think of a waterfall without picturing myself "nosing up" to it. Thank you for this intriguing, virtual journey.

Sandra Mines, Seattle, WA

Thank you for writing, Sandra. Alaska really is a wondrous place. Re "Nosing up" to a waterfall: we have a different article up at Physician's Money Digest on the same cruise (Small Ship Cruising: Alaska by the Back Door). The third last set of images there shows a crew member filling a jug of ice water from a waterfall while standing in the bow of the ship! Best wishes. Get there! To Alaska one day.

Eric & Nancy

Loved your photos from Alaska! Because I am the Director of Sales & Marketing for Westmark Hotels, I am up in AK and the Yukon quite often to visit our hotels and staff! But your pictures were so enjoyable-love to see the "real" Alaskans!

Heidi Howeiler, Seattle, WA

Hi Ms. Howeiler, That was kind of you to write and yes, you do see real people in Alaska, don't you? Alaskans always remind us off rural Texans or Australians in the isolated Red Centre of their country: hard working, sensible, rolled-up-sleeves people with no affectations. We love your Westmark hotels and we take our hats off to the person who started your company, Chuck West. What a great guy!

Eric & Nancy

Enjoyed your realistic and practical comments on Provence. Always wanted to go there ever since reading Peter Mayle's 2 books on Provence. But the two times I went to France, time was always short, so we spent our days in Paris. And now you say, it is losing its unique charm to tourism. (Sigh). It's always a choice between sharing beauty, and keeping it hidden. The world lurches on. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dette, Iligan City, Philippines

Hi Dette, (Would love to see all your waterfalls), Thank you for writing. Provence is busy in the tourist season but it hasn't lost all its charm or the quirkiness Mayle talks about in his book Provence A to Z. It's still a place to visit. Appreciate hearing from you. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

What a great article, especially regarding Louis XIV. I was not aware there was a contemporary account of his execution. It was fascinating. Thank you!

Celtic fan, Nashua, MA

Dear Celtic fan, Thanks for writing. I didn't know about the account of his execution either till I stumbled upon it. Sad to think that the French revolutionaries thought they could be both judge and jury. We are lucky to have a more elegant system today. Thanks for writing.

Eric & Nancy

Nancy and Eric,

Enjoyed reading your article on Santa Fe, NM. I was in AZ travel nursing in 2008 and 2009 and made it to Santa Fe. Took a lot of pics and really loved walking around the old town while I was there. Hope to be able to take the wife there in the future.

Brett Eidson, Soso, MS

Hi dude! Nice to see your site. It's beautiful. My congratulations.

New York

Hi New York, Thank you for writing. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

Hi www.travelingboy.com! Your web-site is very interesting and I want to tell www.travelingboy.com G'night.

New York

Dear New York,

Thank you for writing. Glad you find the site interesting. We are here for you. Keep visiting.

Eric & Nancy

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This is all genuine. I will return to scan.

Keflavik

Hi Keflavik, Thank you for writing. We are happy you will return.

Eric & Nancy

Good article.

On Behalf Of Diane, Port Ludlow, WA

Thanks for writing from Port Ludlow. We hear that's a beautiful place. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

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When I was hurt in a boat accident my life would be changed totally. I really don't post much but thanks for the good times I have here. Love this place. Long time lurker, thought I would say hello!

Miami

Dear Miami, Thanks for writing. It's nice to hear from you. Hope you are getting better. Glad you get some good times at Traveling boy. Good luck.

Eric & Nancy

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Dear friends,

My name is Adelina. I am a 22 years girl from Italy. I was looking for a free translation software and I found one. Program's name is Babel Fish and it supports 75 languages. I installed it but I could not understand how to use it. I am not a computer expert. Can someone help me please on how to run this.The link is here :http://access.im/3/babelfish. I thank you very much for your help.

Adelina, Celaya

Adelina, I didn't want to download it but I saw examples online. It seemed easy. You select the page you want translated, copy it and paste it into the box. You then click on the button to translate. You may have to do one page at a time. You can also use Google to translate a page; that's what I do because I don't want to load too much software.

Eric & Nancy

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Amiable brief and this mail helped me a lot in my college assignment. Thanks you seeking your information.

WordPress Themes, Gray Mountain

We are glad to have been of help. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

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What's up everyone? Great forum. Lots of lovely people. Just what I need. Hopefully this is just what i'm looking for. Looks like I have a lot to read.

Spanish John, Benidrom

Encouraging to get your feedback. Glad to hear from you. Thank you for writing.

Eric & Nancy

Nice dispatch (http://www.travelingboy.com/travel-eric.html) - and this enter helped me a lot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.

Gray Mountain

Hi Gray Mountain,

Thank you for your comment. Your email reminds us all at TravelingBoy how important it is to be accurate in what we write. Good luck with your studies and have a great life.

Eric & Nancy

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Hello people, I just signed up on this splendid community forum and wanted to say hey there! Have a wonderful day!

Jacksonville

Hi Jacksonville, We are pleased to hear from new readers at TravelingBoy. Your feedback encourages us all to do better. Thank you for writing.

Eric & Nancy

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What a fascinating bit of Russian history you wrote about! How sad to learn that 100,000 churches were reduced to create skating rinks and such during the revolution, after seeing the photo of the interior of a magnificent church filled with art! War is so devastating on so many levels! The art of their culture is so beautiful as is shown in the image of the painted box! Thank you,

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

Dear Yoka,

Thank you for writing. Nancy is originally Lutheran and Eric is a dour Scot, more used to the frequently cold and often cheerless churches of his native land so we were both overwhelmed to see the beauty of Russian churches. It was kind of you to write, Yoka.

Thank you,
Eric & Nancy

Interesting observations.... Very informative and thought provoking. Questions.... What would be the best way to get from Moscow Airport DME to boat dock? taxi? prearranged limo? prepaid Viking Tours transfer? Any idea on cost and travel time for taxi or limo or Viking Cruise pickup from airport to boat? We shall be flying to Moscow on our own. Do you happen to have an address for the river boat dock that Viking Cruises uses in Moscow? I would be nice to Google map the situation. Thanks,

Robert Hopwood, Ottawa, Canada

Hi Bob,

Excuse the delay; we were on a trip. I do understand your question and will try and get you an answer. The Viking river dock in Moscow was for us in the north part of the city but once we were on the boat it was an easy ten minute walk to the Metro station that had us downtown within 30 minutes. I'm a lot more relaxed at the end of a trip than at the beginning and therefore I always feel taking the cruise-line sponsored trip from the airport to the dock makes sense: What starts right usually ends right.

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Hi Bob,

I’m back with more information. The river port’s address is Northern River Boat Station Leningradsky Prospekt, Khimki. If you Google that you will see it is about 15 minutes’ walk from two Metro stations. http://www.aptouring.com.au/files/documents/17/29022_Moscow2.pdf .

I spoke to Nancy at customer relations at Viking Cruises at the new LNR Warner Center in 5700 Canoga Avenue, Woodland Hills, Calif.

She was very helpful and advises you to take the Viking transportation service. She is biased, of course, but she’s right. Moscow DME airport is 40 miles away on the opposite side of the city, at least two hours driving time. The airport has no Metro station; you’d have to take the Aeroexpress train to Paveletsky station then change to the Metro and go to Rechnoy Vokzal station then take a cab to the port. A cab all the way from DME would cost at least 2000 rubles (more than $70). That’s less than the $60 each that Viking would charge…but…I think you’d be ill-advised to do it on your own. Why start the trip where the potential to screw up is so likely? Moscow taxi drivers are as dishonest as most tourist city cab drivers and probably yours won’t speak English. I think the address in Russian is

BUT...

I strongly discourage you from economizing on this and doing it on your own. Buy the transfer and save money somewhere else.

We have other Viking Volga web articles up at http://travelingboy.com/archive-travel-eric-russia.html and at http://www.ericandersonsworld.com/story.php?id=6LvDg.

Good luck. Great show Canada’s putting on for the Olympics!

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Reseller Hosting, London

Hi, Is it Britni Freeman?

Thank you, we think... We suspect your comments are valid. In fact we think all of us writing for TravelingBoy are starting to get into the swing of things and do a better job -- and your encouragement spurs us to do even better. Thank you for writing. Have a good 2010,

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Dear Nancy and Eric

Thank you so much for the wonderful article on statues in Europe. Statues are my favorite art form and your descriptions were delightful to read - knowledge and fun together. I do still wonder about that foot in Rome...

Peggy - Pasadena, CA

Hi Peggy,

Thank you for writing. We appreciate your comments. We used to be critical of people who can't identify the persons on statues in foreign cities -- until one day a tourist stopped us in our own San Diego and asked us, in vain, for details on a statue we'd never noticed before! We wonder about that Roman foot too. If Eric had stood any closer he'd be in his typical foot-in-mouth position.

Eric & Nancy Anderson

I live in Santa Fe and see and delight in it every day, but your writing makes it sparkle even more. How nice to see Santa Fe through your eyes. Great photos!

Cynthia Whitney-Ward - Santa Fe, NM

Dear Dr. Anderson:

I have followed your writing career for as long as I can remember, and I think the thing I enjoy the most about your travel writing is the sense of joy and discovery that leads the reader to anticipate ever corner you turn in your travels.What a delightful traveling companion you are, and I know have always been, with that wonderfully eternally youthful joie de vivre...I wonder:do you feel that East, West, home is best? And where IS that place you have never been, but want to go most of all,yet? Bring we, your devoted readers ever along!

CAT -- San Diego (Scrips Ranch), CA

Dear CAT,

Thank for taking the time to write to TravelingBoy.com. You are very kind. We don't know that travel writers make the best companions; we suspect they may be obsessed with getting the best photograph or may monopolize the guide with questions so that others don't get to ask what interests them. What place is best? Well, it may be fun to sit in a rickshaw in Beijing or try to master the Metro in Moscow, but -- as you imply -- it is good to get home after trips.

Home is as comfortable as a pair of old shoes and home for many of us fortunately contains family.

We've never been to Easter Island and may have missed the boat (no pun intended) there. The island is losing its innocence; we've seen that happen at Machu Picchu or, closer to home, at Lake Powell in Arizona. So maybe the best travel advice is: Go when you are fit and healthy, before rising prices make a destination inaccessible -- and before hordes of tourists ruin any destination's mystique.

With best Holiday Wishes from Traveling Boy,

Eric & Nancy Anderson

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What a fantastic primer on New York City. I think you have really captured its essence with this exciting overview of its offerings. Well done!

Gillian Abramson - New York

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You describe a city on wheels - er, wings - and an absolutely perfect way to travel. SHOWERS & FLOWERS! Amazing! I love that your passion for all-things-aviation comes through in this story about an almost unbelievable airplane. Thanks for breaking the news in such an engaging way!

Richard Frisbie - Saugerties, New York

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Enjoyed your blog on Romania. Noticed you called Bucharest "The Paris of the East." I wonder, is there any city not called "The Paris of something." I've read San Francisco is 'the Paris of the West,' Buenos Aires 'The Paris of South America,' and even Tromso, Norway 'The Paris of the Arctic.'

Terry Cowan - Fresno

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Hi Terry,

Thanks for writing to TravelingBoy. And thanks for educating me; I didn't know that about Tromso, didn't even know there was a Tromso. I heard Bangkok called the Venice of the East when I was there and, in two weeks, I'm heading for the Venice of the North, St. Petersburg, Russia.

It does become a bit silly, doesn't it? But we are originally an immigrant nation that was Eurocentric. Maybe it gave our forefathers confidence even courage when they took old names, old ideas to the New World with them. I know I feel nostalgic if I drive around Ontario, Canada and see all the British place names.

I appreciate your email. Thank you for writing.

Eric

Eric -

Enjoyed your article on Madrid. I noticed that you find it superior to Rome. Most of the Spanish folks that I meet seem to prefer Barcelona. How would you rate that city?

Samuel K
Seattle

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Hi Samuel,

We loved Barcelona although driving around the city was surprisingly complicated as our maps were inadequate. The cathedral had scaffolding around it so I couldn't get the pictures I wanted but we found the architecture fascinating and the Picasso museum rewarding. We were anxious to get on the road to Costa Brava and didn't have more than a couple of days in Barcelona.

Thanks for writing.
Eric


Great article on Madrid. I've heard there is a rivalry between the people of Madrid and Barcelona. In which city are the people friendlier? How about for hipness? I noticed you were Scottish. I felt a similar thing in Scotland, with a Glasgow v. Edinburgh vibe.

Gary
Santa Monica

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Thank you for writing to TravelingBoy, Gary. We found Barcelona friendlier.

Maybe that's because it's not the capital and it's not so busy either. Maybe it's because the Gaudi architectural influence is pervasive and -- to both its citizens and tourists -- comforting. Maybe it's because Barcelona is the gateway to the work of artist Salvatore Dali, and his spirit catches us. (I don't know much about art but I've seen a lot of Dali's work enough to think he never took himself too seriously and often painted tongue in cheek. Maybe fun people spring for fun places?) Hipness? Madrid is more formal and dressy but Barcelona, I believe, is more hip maybe, again, because it's more fun.

Your points about Scotland are valid. It's more than a joke. The Glaswegians are more down to earth. I think we see it here in the belief that if you had a flat tire in Middle America passers-by would be more inclined to stop and help than perhaps New Englanders.

- Eric

Dear Eric,

I liked the article. As I read it, I was wondering how you as a physician were influenced by Hippocrates. What influence did this historical figure have on the practice of medicine beyond the obvious 'oath.' Why is Hippocrates considered to be such a paragon of medicine? DWA - San Pedro, CA

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Dear David,

Thank you for writing to Travelingboy.com.

Hippocrates is revered because he believed his duty was to the individual patient, not to the community at large. This is a very important premise. The Romans, whose empire followed that of the Greeks, achieved much in health matters by emphasizing clean drinking water and personal hygiene, and created great national works like aquaducts and public baths but wealthy Romans apparently preferred Greek doctors as their personal physicians.

Hippocrates is also respected because he brought intellectual thought to diagnosis. He taught his students to use their five senses in assessing patients and was openly critical of the junk science of his day as practiced by the priest-physicians who preyed on the fear and ignorance of the ill persons who came to them.

It is true that not all medical chools today require graduating doctors to take the Hippocratic Oath but most conscientious physicians base their lifetime commitment to the practice of medicine on the life and teachings of that one man.

Or so I think. Perhaps if we knew more about our heroes they would seem less heroic. But in Hippocrates' case he did leave a record of his thoughts and some of his principles are today as strong as ever.

Thank you for writing, it is appreciated.

Eric

Stay tuned.


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