A Walk in Provence

Over on the other side of the mountains from where we live is a little village called Cereste. In this area are many traces left by the Romans who once occupied many parts of France. It is also known for its fossils and, in fact, a dinosaur was found nearby. I love stuff like this. It was a lovely walk, although really, really windy-damn mistral-and I enjoyed it but was so disappointed not to find even one fossil. I know they are there somewhere but just don’t know where to look. I saw a man selling fossils at a flea market last summer and he told me he found them near Cereste and even told me it was near the cemetary there. I went, walked around the whole area and, again, not one fossil. Here is what we did see:

Notice that all of the lambs are brown. I assume they will become like their mothers with brown faces.

A really old deserted little church. Look at the cyprus blowing in the infernal wind.

We walked to this old priory, long deserted. Next to it was an area carved out of the solid rock cliff used mainly for burial and probably some very basic rooms.

I love photos of old stone steps, worn with time, with plants growing in the crevices.

Spring in Provence

I spot the first Iris.

We are now in Provence after having been gone all winter. I’ve been told by those who live here that it was a particularly cold winter with some days having temperatures -15 degrees-and that’s centigrade! We’ve had many days of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s but haven’t seen many signs of Spring until about two weeks ago. The bushes and fruit trees always blossom first and the iris are now following suit. I had meant to plant some iris this autumn so I would have some in my yard when Spring arrived but never got around to it.

The view from our house on the first morning we arrived. I’m still intrigued with fog, having seen very little of it growing up.

A plane tree still holding on to autumn’s pods next to the ruined castle in la Tour d’Aigues. Love the blue sky.

I’ve seen prints of the castle in la Tour d’Aigues from a couple of hundred years ago and it was fantastic-very Italian looking. A small sign of what it was like then can be seen in the stars pressed into the corner in a section of the chateau.

My favorite section of the chateau. For some reason the curved walls appeal to me.

A fruit tree is bloom in our neighborhood.

Around the World 21 New Zealand

February 11th
A breath-taking drive this morning through more tropical forests in more mountains. Part of the drive was through a gorge with water falls and rushing streams. There are many one way bridges. Yesterday there were two that were even shared with a train track which was very narrow and rough. All of the highways here are mostly two lane, even the main ones. We passed many herds of sheep, cattle and even herds of deer surrounded by very high fences. It was a long drive and we finally reached Lake Tekapo. I remember now, when seeing the spectacular light powdery blue color of the lake with the little church over looking it thatI had seen it on a trip over ten years ago never dreaming I would one day return with my French husband.
February 12-14th
I have to say that Lake Tekapo is not a place to spend the night. Our hotel was over-priced and the TV only got one, sometimes, two, channels. It was very windy outside and after seeing the lake and chapel, there was nothing else to do. We had a good view of the lake but once the sun set, not much to see or do. The next morning we made it to Timaru, a very nice, clean city on the coast. There is a huge industrial harbor here, not a cute picutresque one. Maurice went into the water as usual for a short time at the small beach. the whole area behind the beach has things for children to play on. We went to a movie, then to another beach and watched some surfers, had a sandwich in the room and then to bed.
Next was Christchurch which we loved and our B&B is especially nice with huge rooms very well decorated. The bathroom is across the hall and-once again-we find ourselves with a bathroom for those in a wheelchair with no shower stall and, in this case, no shower curtain. That and the crummy TV are the only downsides to this place. The ambience of Christchurch is wonderful, very English with nice archetecture and not too many tall business buildings. We took the tourist tram around the city, walked in the Botanic garden and just enjoyed the area.
Finally, the flight back to Sydney, then on to Hawaii. We left on February 14th and by crossing the international date line, after an over-night flight, arrived on February 14th. There was a mix up in our hotel so we spent the night at another and came back again the next morning. I love Honolulu and seeing the fabulous hotel, the Hawaiin Princess. The water is smooth, almost without waves. There are many more shops here than the twenty or so years ago that I was here but I still love being here, tourists and all. There is a wonderful ambience and the weather is always so great. They did have major rain this year on the islands and we did get caught in a couple of rain storms but, still, I always love it here.

The little chapel by Lake Tekapo

Here is the chapel from a distance. That is the actual color of the water caused by rocks being ground down to powder by glaciers.

An interesting little Spanish style street in Christchurch. I don’t know who thought of painting the buildings that color, but I sure did like them.

It is hard to find anything more special than tall palm trees along the ocean.

Around the World 20 New Zealand

Looks like Big Sur in California, but it’s New Zealand.
February 8th
Did the long drive to Wellington. It started raining on the way, sometimes very hard. We stayed at the Novotel on the Terrace, a built-up area over the harbor. It’s in a great location. We returned our rental car (it can’t be taken to the South Island, we have to get another one at the Ferry when we land) then walked around the city a little and took the cable car up to the top of a mountain overlooking the city where there was a botanical garden. We couldn’t see much in the rain but it looked very nice, very hilly and rather like San Francisco. After a drink at a bar on the harbor, we had dinner at our hotel as we couldn’t find any other place to eat. The whole area seems strangely without life. I have no idea where people go for night life.
February 9th
We left on a ferry today for Picton on the South Island of NZ. We arrived early but found the ferry would be an hour late. It turned out to be two hours late. It was a very pleasant journey when we finally got going passing some fabulous scenery. Arriving at the ferrry station, we picked up our rental car and drove through a beautiful valley into some hills and finally into Westport, and stayed at the River View Lodge with a great view of a wide river. We went into the very boring town of Westport for a good dinner where our waitress happened to be from New Jersey. One of those outdoor, athletic types of which NZ seems to be full. She fell in love with the area and stayed.
February 10th
It was a long drive to Franz Joseph, a village at the base of a glacier, but a beautiful one. On the way we passed some Big Sur-like ocean views and an interesting area called Pancake Rocks where the sedement had layered into, well, rocks looking like piles of pancakes. There was also a strange little stop with live animals, such as a stag with huge antlers, which also sold a variety of things containing possum meat including possum pie. They possums aresn’t the same type that I’ve seen in Texas but a brush tail variety. There were cranky signs everywhere saying such things as: “Of course it rains alot here-were in a rain forest. We don’t know when it will stop. You’re on vacation-we are working-read the paper for the weather, don’t ask us.” It was a very western, funky place.
When we arrived at Franz Joseph, we made arrangements for a helicopter ride up to the glacier which turned out to be great. We landed on top on a sunny day and the views of the glacier stretched out down an enormous mountain with the river from its melting running into the nearby sea. The surrounding forest is tropical which seems strange but there is a similar one in Chili.
Some wine and a pizza while we watched a rugby match between two NZ teams then to bed early as we are getting up early-again-for another very long drive to the other side of the mountains. We have to circle them as there isn’t a way over. It turns out, as is often the case, that we underestimated the time it would take for all of the driving and we feel like we have spent alot of time in the car. We have been seeing fantastic scenery but won’t have time to see the famous Milford Sound. We needed a few more days.

The Pancake Rocks area.

The glacier metling and running down to the ocean taken from the helicopter.

On top of the glacier. We didn’t even need our coats.

Franz Joseph Glacier seen on the ground from below.

Around the World 19 Australia to New Zealand

A view of the ocean along the highway 1 in New Zealand

February 5th
Early flight from Australia to New Zealand with a three hour time change. We were lucky enough to get a rental car although we had been told by phone earlier that one wasn’t available. We left Australia a day early since we decided to leave from Brisbane istead of Sydney. It is a good thing we did leave from Brisbaneas there is no way we could have seen as much as we did had we had to make the drive back to Sydney. Our hotel, near the airport, wasn’t anything special but easy to find. We drove into central Auckland which is situated on a bay but it is not nearly as spectacular as Sydney. It is also very hilly with many of those hills called volcano cones. There are still active volcanoes around New Zealand.
February 6th
We left Auckland fairly late and entered Highway 3, then 26 which skirted some spectacular scenery on a pennisula. I love it when a road follows the ocean and we were very close to it on a two land highway. The vegetation is tropical looking with unusual looking palm trees but few ecualyptus. Lots of green and gold rolling hills with many denuded of trees and the ocean was a beautiful color-turquoise/blue with a smoky look to it from glacial work I am sure. There was quite a bit of traffic as it turns out that this is the celebration of the day a treaty was signed with the Maoris, which some say now was not fair. The Maories were fairly war-like with infighting between tribes and the killing and eating of ten of Captain Cook’s men at one point. They seemed to have held their own when the English arrived. We saw the small town of Thames and several other old mining towns and ended at Waili Beach. We had trouble finding a place without a reservation but finally got a B&B from a really nice man right on the beach. The weather is much cooler here which is such a delight after the heat of Australia. There is always a breeze blowing here as well.
February 7th
After a nice breakfast on the terrace of the B&B over-looking the ocean and a friendly talk with the owners, we set off for Rotorua. On the way we stoppped at a dormant volcano and climbed to the top-a very hot climb-and Maurice swam in the ocean, something he did anytime we were on a beach. It’s a great beach and off the beaten path. When we arrived at Rotorua there was a slight odor of sulpher in the air. Our hotel, a Quality Inn Geyserland, is looking a little worn but our room looked right out on a great area with geysers, steam and bubbling mud. About 5:30 PM we drove to nearby Waiki Pool and sat in a hot pool, which was naturally warmed by a boiling hot water source. We could see the steam rising above the trees before we arrived. The water felt great with the air being in the 70’s.

What we saw from the terrace of the B&B. Maurice swam in this water as well.

The geyser and bubbling mud that we could see from our hotel in Rotorua.

The steam rising from a hot spring near the pool where we swam.

Around the World 17 Australia

February 2nd
We left the disappointment of Surfer’s Paradise behind and climbed through some forests heading uphill and ended up in Binna Burra in the Lamington National Forest. It is much cooler and such a contrast to the seaside. We are staying at the Binna Burra Guest Lodge which is very rustic , much as it was 100 years ago and the showers and toilets are shared but you don’t mind because the forest is so great. The whole area was formed by a massive volcanic explosion from Mt. Warning which we should have climbed when we were further down the coast. It would be a very long drive from here. We took a guided walk in the hot afternoon to see some caves and the subtropical forest which is full of many varieties eucalyptus trees. There has been an eight year drought and they are taking over the forest as other trees die. We saw an interesting “strangling fig” which grows over the tops of other trees. Also saw a type of tree that lives to be over 1000 years old. The massive one we saw was about 400 years of age. There was a nice lady on the walk who had actually stayed in an apartment near Nation in Paris which is near to where we live.
There was a very nice man in the garden at the Lodge who showed me a bee hive full of tiny stingless bees that he maintains. He showed me a small container with a years worth of honey extracted from the hive with a syringe which he said was good for sores and cuts. He had other hives of Italian bees as well. He later removed a huge spider from our room. It is very buggy up here-lots of flying insects and spiders. We had lunch at a nearby cafe but, because they wanted $38 for a buffet dinner at the lodge, we drove down to a small town to eat in a funky place at a hotel looking like an old restaurant in England with gambling machines, a busy bar, and a photo of Queen Elizabeth on the wall. The dinner was good. We returned to the lodge and found that it gets deliciously cool here at night.
Febraury 3rd
Due to the early light and the noise of birds, I was up at 5:30 AM. We had breakfast in the dining room with huge windows over-looking the land. Then we did one of the short walks called Bellbird. It went into the rain forest and we saw several pandymelons, not wallabies, as we had been calling them. They are tiny kangaroos. We saw a great view over-looking a valley and headed towards a clearing where we were asked if we wanted to try a ride on the flying fox. You get into a harness and ride along a cable high above the ground. It was alot of fun. We saw some wild turkeys while there which very brazenly (or cheekily, as they say here) tried to get into some food on a table. So we checked out. This is one place we should have stayed at longer.
Then, on a huge eight lane highway, which is the first one we have seen on Highway One, we drove into nearby Brisbane. The city is near the coast and also lies on a river. It’s a huge modern city, very clean but so hot and humid I had trouble enjoying walking around. I’ve never seen so many well-dressed people, especially the women. I think they come close to the fashionable people in Paris as far as style and panache. We did board a free bus with a/c for a ride around the city which helped and ended up on the very nice riverwalk which was nice and wide with restaurants with terraces and an extra wide area for walking and riding bikes. It was one of the best planned river walks I’ve ever seen. After a movie in air condtioned comfort we returned to our hotel on the River Cat, a ferry that makes stops along the river. It’s a nice way to see some of Brisbane. It was especially wonderful at night as they turned out the lights and the boat zipped along in near darkness under the stars looking at the channel markers in the dark water.
As Maurice remarked, Australia is a very young country as far as European occupation goes. there are few buildings built earlier than the mid to late 80’s. Every city seems very new and modern and it seems much like America. Many places reminded me of California both in style and in being environmentally conscious with lots of water conservation, lots of outdoor living. There are more people here with degrees in ecology than anywhere else in the world.

The rustic lodge of Billa Burra. We really enjoyed our time here and wished we had been here at night when they do night tours with flashlights to see all of the nightlife that comes out. I did see a really huge bat in the evening fly overhead.

The sun rising through the eucalyptus trees.

View of the valley after a walk through the rain forest.

This is me on the flying fox. It’s hard to tell what it is and hard to photograph. It was originally built to haul up luggage to the lodge when the road didn’t go all the way up. The lodge was carried up in pieces for miles through the forest and rebuilt where it is today. There are some rooms with bathrooms. We just didn’t happen to get one.