Sunset over the Luberon

Kate and Greg Cycle Western Provence

Wherein our heros have a great vacation

Logistics. Days 1, 2, and 3 -- Vancouver to Marseille
Some assembly required ...

Last year we biked from Toulouse to Nîmes. We thought we would have liked to go further, but ran out of time. So this year we decided to "finish" the bottom of France and check out Provence. Here is a map.

We blew the flight, however. We ended up flying Air Canada/Air France from Vancouver to Montreal to Paris to Marseille. It was 24 hours from the time we left our house to the time we arrived in Marseille and we were exhausted and wrung dry, but at least our bikes arrived with us.

Evening at the Vieux Port in Marseille

The next day we had allocated as a jet-lag day, to get used to the new time zone and rest. We walked around Marseille, and it can be a reasonably pretty place, for a French city, indeed the second largest French city.

For those of you dying to know the history of the place, it was founded in the fifth or sixth century BC by the Phocaeans (Greeks), and was ruled by just about everyone that dropped by. The natural harbour, now expanded into the Vieux Port is incredibly good, and anyone would have established a city there in antiquity. Nowadays, the Vieux Port is just used for fishing vessels and yachts, while the heavy traffic of an international port has moved North along the coastline.

Some assembly required

While we spent much of the day wandering around, we had two things to accomplish. The first was to get the bikes assembled. This is how the bikes arrived. The instructions that came with the bike box said that it would take ten or fifteen minutes to assemble the packed bike "once you are used to it"! I've heard that before, of course; it took about an hour per bike. But the bikes arrived in good shape, and we had chosen the hotel because they said they could keep the bike boxes for us while we were cycling. One of the minor encumbrances of having bike boxes is that you have to pick them up at the end of the trip, so you need to go in a circle.
We also had to feed Kate a bouillabaise. This is the Marseille specialty. You can't go ten meters around the Vieux Port without running into a bouillabaise shop. But Kate wouldn't go to a good place (I offered!), so she got one at a tourist place right on the waterfront -- which was recommended by the hotel proprietor -- and had many French people in it. Kate has decided saffroned-up fish soup is not her thing. I had an Aïoli -- which is fish with a heavily garliced mayonaise, and it was good, but the small fish they have around here has a lot of bones in it.

Biking. Day 4 -- Marseille to Istres

Kate pointing in the other direction

This is Kate with Marseille behind her pointing in the other direction for me to take a picture over there. We lucked out on this road, because it was the easiest way out of Marseille, but it is normally very busy. During the recent rains and floods, some rock had fallen on this road so they had closed it to traffic. Of course, with bikes it is easy to get around the barriers, and so we had this great road almost entirely to ourselves.

Mediterranean Costline - the Côte Bleu

This is the other direction, typical coastline for this area. We were heading to what they call the "Côte Bleu" (as opposed to the more upscale Côte d'Azur.).

I had been worried about biking out of Marseille, but it turned out to be no worse than most other cities I've done.

Kate dips her feet in the Med

We had a pretty nice ride (hot though) up over some hills and back down to the Med. There are no real sandy beaches here, it is mostly cliffs and rocky shorelines. Kate wanted to wade into the Mediterranean and so she did here. We then headed over hill and dale away from the Med North through the town of Martiques (where I took a wrong turn and we had to reclimb a hill) to the town of Istres where we had a hotel room booked.

Biking. Day 5 -- Istres to Arles

Le maitre des Boue

The next day, before starting off, one of the proprietors of our hotel showed us his "boue". This is what they call these huge local mushrooms (which are everywhere alongside the road). They are picked in the early morning, and he was telling us that normally they are sliced up, and fried with a little garlic and butter. Sounded good, but we never did get to try them.

We had other problems. The Mistral had started. The Mistral is a very serious wind that blows down the valley of the Rhône, generally in winter and spring. It was early this year. The point is that it blows from the North and we were biking North. The forcast for the day said it would be 40-60km/hr gusting to 80-100km/hr. That is getting up to storm force, and made the bike ride to Arles "character building".

When we got to Arles (at about 4pm), we found that our hotel would not be open until 6:30. There was a big celebration in town and just about everything that wasn't a restaurant and a bar was shut for the day. So Kate practiced her chanter as we waited.

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