Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Les Baux, Gorges de Oppedette, and pizza!

Critiqued in the more opinionated guidebooks as being not worth a visit because of the number of tourists, not because the site was uninteresting, we decided to give Les Baux a chance. Built on top of a bare rock about 3,000 ft long and 650 ft wide with vertical ravines on either side, the town and castle were home to a contentious bunch of warlords who were always causing trouble. Finally in 1632 the castle and ramparts were demolished on the king’s orders, and the town was fined 100,000 livers plus the cost of the demolition!

Les Baux
It was a cold and windy day, but the town still boasted quite a few tourists. Most were families though, not tour buses, out for the long weekend (November 1st is a national French holiday, and all the school are out for two weeks). The town, completely rebuilt for tourists, is the first place we have been that felt fake-touristy to me. Every door was a shop, and there were none of your staple stores (baker, butcher, little grocery, etc.). Looking across from the town, the valley below is called Val d’Enfer, or Hell Valley—the rocks and caves were the inspiration for Dante’s Inferno. At the end of the town, we paid our entrance fee and received an audio guide to the castle and ramparts (although they had very nice signs in English as well as French, so we got to skip the audio guide for the most part).

The town, and the Val d'Enfer
I could immediately see why so many families had picked this spot for a vacation! The castle was full of fun things to look at and explore. One of the first things we came to were a group of siege weapons. One, run by women because all the men ran the even bigger machines, could fire up to once a minute. The biggest trebuchet could hurl a 308 lb object over 600 ft., but they could only fire about twice and hour.

Next we climbed up some extremely worn stairs up to the Tour Sarrasine—I could see how annoying if would be there were lots of tourists as the stairs were really only wide enough for one person at a time. The wind was blowing extremely hard, which made everything a bit more treacherous. After we climbed back down and we went to the base of the stairs going to the top of the donjon (or keep). A large sign was posted saying it was forbidden by law to climb up, the there was nothing blocking it off and they had installed handrails everywhere so we aren’t sure what they really meant.

Mom and the very worn steps
The steep roof is a battering ram

I'll give you a penny if you tell me
what the square holes in the rock are.
Give up? A dove cote!

We had packed a picnic lunch in case the weather was nice, but decided it was much to cold and windy. We picked a little restaurant in town, and Mom and I had a “crepe formula,” which meant we got a savory crepe + green salad + a sweet crepe. It was good! We’ve made crepes twice at home, but we’ve got to try to make them thinner as ours have come out about twice as thick as theirs. Our savory ones were stuffed with mushrooms and cheese, and for the sweet one I had almonds and honey in mine. Yum!

Alan went with his class to the Gorges of Oppedette. The town of Oppedette is another typical hillside village, but what he was more interested in climbing around the gorge. He and Elliot, another SCAD student, set out around one of the longer trails around the gorge in search of some bat caves. The trail was very rocky along the edge of the gorge, with lots of scrambling, handrails, and ladders. The river at the bottom of the gorge is La Calavon, with is the same one that runs through the valley to the north of Lacoste.

Elliot descends to the bat cave (but there were no bats).

Another hiker on the narrow trail

Wednesday night, if you remember, is the night the pizza man comes to town. We tried to get pizza last week, but he didn’t show up. We thought maybe he was done for the season, but Alan’s professor said that he always comes, and she was planning to get pizza herself tonight. So we decided to try again—unfortunately, so did all the rest of the SCAD students! We went down at 7 o’clock (like restaurants, the pizza guy doesn’t really arrive till then) to find a long line of students waiting for pizzas already. Apparently last week the oven was broken, but it was working hard tonight! An hour later found us still waiting, and at 8:20 pm I finally trotted off home with one pizza while Alan took our second one with him to his professor’s lecture on her current photographic work (which had started at 8:15, but he was not the last nor the only one with pizza!). Mom and Dad had given up and eaten some before I came home, but they made room for a few slices of the thin-crust, hot-out-of-the-back-of-a-van pizza.

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