We love Carrefour

During our road trip, we used the French supermarket chain Carrefour often, and especially, We liked their organic range very much. Their readymade salads were a godsend when we became weary of eating out in unfamiliar places.

Thanks to free-roaming by O2, we could find branches of Carrefour on the road and replenish our supplies…

We made a detour to the supermarket before we arrived at Aix-en-Provence…

Mum bought boxes of Calissons d’Aix-en-Provence for her friends. We also bought milk, water, strawberries, a box of Kleenex and pastries.

Regarding supermarket shopping bags, I thought the French were doing a lot better than the British. I bought this large reusable shopping bag at the Carrefour in Limoges and used it throughout our trip. Unlike the British chains, the French counterparts didn’t give out any plastic bag and the only alternative was paper bags. Why don’t they do the same in the U.K???

Even if the chains increase the price of the bag to 10p, it won’t encourage lazy people to bring their own bags. The only way to reduce the plastic waste is making single-use plastic bags UNAVAILABLE!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Lourmarin & Cadenet

The next place we visited before Aix-en-Provence was Lourmarin. The village was listed as “one of the most beautiful villages in France” and we were intrigued by the claim.

A carpark by the perimeter of the village appeared to be full so we proceeded further into the heart of the village and managed to find a space on the street lined with large trees.

The time was around half past two o’clock and the street was very quiet. We saw all the gift shops and cafes were open but they weren’t at all lively.

Lourmarin was famous for its castle. Apparently, the castle had an amazing stone staircase which resembled a fusilli pasta. ‘Mum, do you want to see the castle?’

She pondered for a while but in the end decided not to visit the building because her knee was hurting. ‘I am sorry if you are missing out on opportunities because of me.’, she apologised.

To be 100% honest, Lourmarin didn’t leave me with much impression. The landscape wasn’t as spectacular as Gordes or Roussillon – just didn’t possess the same “wow” factors of the aforementioned places.

After leaving Lourmarin, we drove past Cadenet…

I can’t remember why we pulled over there and then. But anyway, we decided to stop.

A vast vineyard!

We climbed back to the car and headed to our next destination, Aix-en-Provence…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Roussillon

Our next destination was a commune called Roussillon. A guidebook recommended the place as a “must-see” so we decided to lunch there.

What made Roussillon unique was its reddish rocks and soil which added rosy and orangish tones to the scenery. It was due to the earth in the area was rich in clay with ochre deposits – ochres were pigments ranging from yellow and orange to red.

Unlike Gordes’, Roussillon’s carpark and the vicinity were very quiet…

Ragged rock face was punctuated by openings and doors…

Are they some sort of storage, like railway arches? What the inside is like?, mum and I were very curious…

We didn’t came across a single soul while we sauntered towards the village centre. Where was everybody? Not even the sound of everyday life, such as the sound of TV or washing machine, was heard from the walls which lined a narrow street…

Heavenly scent of jasmine greeted us…

Psssss, it’s so quiet. We must keep our voice down…

Around Place de la Mairie, there were a plenty of eateries and we decided to have lunch at one of them.

We were ushered to a narrow staircase which led us to an outside seating area…

The terrace commanded a fine view of the valley…

As we settled into our seats, the weather seemed to be going south and the wind started to increase the strength. ‘Oh god, I hope it will stay dry…’, mum frowned while she looked on one of the staffs struggling to secure a canopy above the terrace which was flapping rather wildly.

For our lunch, we ordered their plat du jour, steak!

Mmmm, it was delicious. A couple, who were seated next to us, saw what we were tucking in and ordered the same dish!

After lunch, I left mum in Place de la Mairie and went to fetch our car.

‘Where does this path lead to?’ I couldn’t resist my curiosity so decided to do a quick detour…

The narrow passage led me to a higher ground…

And I found more cafes and restaurants…

There were small gates and passages everywhere. Very intriguing…

One of the stairs led me to an open terrace which offered another great view over the Luberon Valley…

It was so tempting to climb up another path to see if any hidden gem would await me…

However, I resisted the temptation because mum would be worried if I failed to return soon…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Gordes

Yes, the snow is here and it makes me feel like we are finally having a proper winter. And I don’t mind the weather as long as it won’t disrupt my journey to the ice rink tonight!

My entry today is going to be a perfect antidote against the present chill because it is about the little village in southeastern France where mum and I visited during our road trip last summer.

From Avignon to Gordes, our first village in the Luberon region of Provence, the journey didn’t take very long…

There were many pretty villages in the Luberon Valley and having to choose just a few was an agony for us. However, it would require at least another week of stay in the area if we wanted to explore it properly and we didn’t have that time.

Gordes was one of those “eagle’s-nest” type villages which were perched on the summits of boulders. As we got closer to the commune, a winding road leading to the place got narrower and steeper. Prior to our visit, we learnt from a guide book that parking in the village could be tricky so we decided to park in a public parking area by the entrance of the village. While we were getting out of our car, a fleet of coaches pulled up and poured out a herd of tourists. ‘I am so glad that we’ve managed to park before more crowds arrive!’, mum and I whispered to each other as we walked behind them.

A view from the roadside…

It was about five minutes’ walk from the car park to the centre of the village…

We wandered around the village for a while…

We strolled down a quiet street which was lined with pretty shops…

Oh, this was exactly I imagined how the village in Provence would look like! Honey coloured stonework and climbing roses. How idylic…

Time to time, we caught a glimpse of a the Luberon Valley between the buildings…

Luscious green of Provence!

These are the colours of Provence. How delicious they look. I really miss them!

Mum spotted a small studio which was selling hand painted plates and she wanted to see the inside…

There were loads of pretty earthenware on sale…

Mum decided to buy a small dish for olive oil. ‘This will remind me about our time together’, she smiled. Oh, thank you, mum!

After shopping, we walked to the end of the row of houses and saw this…

Isn’t it beautiful?

We walked back towards the village centre and came across a little cake shop…

Shall we buy some treat?

Ahhh, our favourite, Tarte Tropézienne! We couldn’t resist it.

Leaving mum with a box of the cake in the village square, I returned to the car park alone so she wouldn’t have to strain her knee.

I saved the best view of Gordes for you…

Upon leaving the village, we did have a little incident and it was hairy! For some unknown error, Google navigation displayed a cycle path instead of car route, and as a result, I drove into an impossibly narrow lane. I am not sure if I could reverse all the way without my mum’s calm navigation. She did save me from badly scratching a bodywork of my car. Thank you, mum!!!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Les Halles of Avignon

On a double-sized bed in our small room at Avignon, mum was doing her post-breakfast ritual – emptying her small black crossbody bag and trying to find whatever the item she thought she had lost during a previous day. ‘Oh no! Where is it?! I thought it was in here! I am so sure of it!!’, she muttered as she pulled out the contents of her handbag. The sight always made me marvel how loaded it was. She managed to stuff the small bag with so many items! ‘Mum, why don’t you get a bigger/roomier bag? It will help you to organise better.’, I advised her even though I knew she would listen none of it because the bag was her favourite.

Oh mum, you have to wrap it up!

I grew a little impatient because we were leaving the city the next morning and apart from Palais des Papes and Pont d’Avignon, we hadn’t finished touring the place yet.

Put things back in the bag and let’s get ready, mum. No time to waste!

By hearing me urging her, she stopped the search with a big rueful sigh.

It was already 10:30 when we eventually hit the road and the first thing we saw was a police car on Cour Jean Jaurés, stopping all the traffic…

And ahead of the police car, crowds of people with placards walking away from us towards Place de l’Horloge.

Is it some sort of a protest march?

Later on, we found out that the protest we encountered was organised by far-left parties and unions and it was happening all over the country that day.

So where is our beloved and trusted La Baladine? We walked to a mini-bus terminal on Avenue du 7 e Génié and looked around. ‘Oh no! There is no bus service today?!’ It was because of the weekend street market nearby, the mini-buses weren’t operating that particular Saturday. I groaned as I read a notice stuck on the signpost. ‘Sorry mum, but we will have to walk to Les Halles.’

Having said that we discovered that the city was immensely pedestrian-friendly. Most of the backstreets were car-free and they were paved with colourful tiles instead of cobbled which was great for mum with dodgy knee and hip.

At La Place Saint-Didier, a craft and antique market was held. As we sauntered around the stalls, light rain came down and we opted to take a refuge in one of the cafes with large parasols.

No one said it would rain today!

We sipped coffee until the rain stopped.

Another brownie point the city merited was how compact the place itself was.

See? The old city within a city wall isn’t very large…

All the tourist attractions were situated within manageable walking distances.

After leisurely stroll, we arrived at Avignon’s famed food market just after 11AM…

A view of the covered food market from Place Pie…

A gigantic garden wall was a spectacular creation of the botanist, Patrick Blanc…

By the way, behind the lush vegetation, there was a multi-stories carpark for market visitors. How the French accommodate practicality and elegance, I couldn’t help being impressed!

Locals were purchasing bouquets from a flower stall by the main entrance…

Beautiful flowers, huh? Mum was busy taking pictures of them with her own iPod Touch.

Once inside, we found the market was lively but not too over crowded. I imagined that most of the shoppers must have finished their shopping for the weekend already as the time was almost midday…

Les Halles contained more 40 shops who sold all sorts of culinary specialities. There were so many things on offer and mum and I were simply mesmerised by the quantities and varieties.

The shop specialised in flavoured salts…

Those colourful mounds of sea salts were artfully blended with basil, tomato, chilli, onion, garlic, rosemary, charcoal, celery, etc. ‘I wish if I were more of a competent cook, mum!’ I couldn’t help uttering to mum who was standing next to me.

Spices, spices, spices…

Vegetables…

Potatoes…

Seafoods…

And olives…

There were also a various delicatessens which offered ready-made dishes…

And desserts!

If we were staying in a self-catering apartment at Avignon, we would have loved to buy bits and pieces for our table!

Now, this explains why there was a performance outside…

My apologies for filming the performance from a rather awkward angle. There were many spectators already and the spot was the only place I had an unblocked view.

Avignon was a very cultured city and it was well known for their art festivals. And during the week we were treated with a dance festival!

Ahhhh, Fruits Confits…

Don’t they look pretty?

These candied fruits were one of the best known confectionaries of the Provence. Each fruit was soaked in sugar syrup multiple times and the process was done very carefully in order to preserve the fruit’s original shape. Mum and I marvelled how good all of them looked.

‘Which one you fancy, mum?’, with our fingers in our mouth and our eyes as large as saucers, we pondered for a while. ‘How about these oranges? They are very good.’ A woman behind the counter pointed at the small oranges. ‘Ok, we will try one and also a strawberry because it looks very pretty.’

My advice to anyone thinking about visiting the market, will be “Go there with an empty stomach and try the eateries within Les Halles!” There were many cafes and snack bars which catered for the stall holders and the local shoppers and they looked really good. I wished if we were hungry and could try what they offered.

Let’s get something to nibble, like a brioche? We visited one of the many bakeries in the market and bought a brioche decorated with magenta coloured sugar…

It was very tasty.

After Les Halles, we decided to visit another well-known street of the city, Rue Joseph Vernet. If La Baladine was operational, it would have been better for us, especially for mum, because the street was a part of the mini-bus’s route. Still, Avignon’s city centre was compact and pedestrian-friendly, therefore, travelling on foot wasn’t that difficult.

‘Shall we try the fruits confits we bought in the market?’ I took out the bag from my bag and presented it to mum as we sauntered along Rue Corderie. The first one we tasted was a candied strawberry, and oh my, it was SWEET! In a way, it was too sweet for our liking. ‘Isn’t it like solid jam?’ We both agreed. Then, we shared the orange. It was again very sweet but also it had slight bitterness from the rind. ‘Hmmm, it’s like eating marmalade!’ Alas, candied fruits weren’t our cup of tea.

After reaching to Place de l’Horloge, we entered Rue Saint-Agricol and found a small crêperie. ‘Shall we have some Galette bretonne for lunch?’ Mum suggested.

The crêperie was manned by a woman and she was busy operating this ingenious pancake machine as well as serving customers. We marvelled her skill while we munched on our pancakes.

After filling our stomach, we started our stroll again. The street was rather quiet because it was Saturday…

Except the silence was broken by an emergency vehicle…

We arrived at Rue Joseph Vernet at last but found the street rather disappointing. Most of the shops which were open were well-know chain boutiques, such as Maje or Repetto, and more interesting looking antique shops were all shut for weekend.

Oh well, let’s go back to the hotel and start packing because we are leaving to Aix-en-Provence tomorrow…

Thank you, Avignon! We really enjoyed our stay in your pretty city…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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