Most of our days on the bus were short compared to my tour in 2008. I think the longest bus day was six hours. But these days were always split up by a tourist attraction, rest stops and a wonderful lunch.
We never had to eat lunch at a rest stop on the highway. This was a highlight for me, even though I think the rest stops have nice cafeterias, I always prefer to sit in a restaurant. We just used the rest stops for our breaks, a good place to buy cheap wine, coffee from a machine and of course snacks. It's always fun to walk up and down the aisles and see what type of snacks they have. This was the first time tasting shrimp flavored chips and the best treat was nougat. I purchased some for friends back home and wished I had more.
We were always well entertained on the bus. Julie would talk about her experiences of living in France, setup French word games, and give lessons on the Castle that she works at. I also liked it when she would read off our hotel room numbers in French. I was never very good at this, but it was still a good way to get us all awake arriving into the town.
William would have talked the entire bus ride if there was someone to stay awake and listen. But everyone needs their naps! I think the one thing I loved learning about was France's educational system and how they decide at an earlier age if someone is to continue in academics or learn a trade.
On the way to Vaison la Romaine, we stopped in a delightful little town, Romans, for lunch. We (Ted, Ann, April, Mom and I) had enough time for a wonderful sit down meal at Le Gailly. William was talking about the regional specialties again on the bus, so I knew I wanted to have the baked cheese ravioli. Yep, a little heavy for lunch but no one says you have to finish it! The sun was shining and the wine was plentiful. These are the moments that made this trip special.
Vaison la Romaine, our home for the next two nights, is a jewel of Roman Provence. Often compared to Napa Valley, it is a popular vacation area with its nature, history, gourmet food and excellent wines that create a unique environment. Vaison la Romaine has a very beautiful cobblestone old town.
Peter was so kind to drive us right up to the top. The whole time William was saying he can turn around...nope. Poor Peter had to then drive the bus backwards down the winding hill and park across the river. I think he was tired when he finally got back up to the top. Thank-you, Peter!
Hands down, the Hostellerie le Beffroi was the nicest place we stayed. It's one of the most beautiful 16th century mansions in the old city, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding old houses and countryside, or the peace and tranquillity of its terraced gardens.
I quickly ditched my bags and went down to the pool. What a view! You could even see the bus in the distance...
After having some time to relax, we all met William for a walking tour of the town. Basically our walking tours show us various good restaurants to eat at later during our own time. I think this is a great strategy. By the time William was done showing all the restaurants in the town and explaining their atmosphere, prices and menus he actually covered some good ground. Of course he also pointed out highlights and provided a really good foundation to the history of the area.
Mom, April and I decided to walk back up the hill towards the hotel and eat at the little cafe and have pizza. We were basically the first ones there for dinner but proceeded to wait and wait for our meal. Peter and William sat down long after us and were done before we got our food. I don't know what William said to our waiter, but he started to pay attention to us afterwards. In the end it was the best pizza of the trip and the wine was exceptional. I love that April joined the tour at the last minute.
Our first day in Provence was so relaxing, what a joy! To keep up with tradition, a few of us gathered on the patio to finish off some bottles of wine and just hang out. It was a very nice summer night and someone brought music to creat some ambience. Julie also entertained us with some very funny stories of living in France.
At this point it was just a few of us left on the patio and the bells would chime every hour to let us know what time it was. Michael mentioned that in Colmar he was awake to hear at least five different sets of bells that would chime during the night. I'm so glad my room didn't face the bell tower. Mom's snoring is enough - I don't need church bells keeping me awake. I will admit that maybe, just maybe I snore when I drink wine. Mom liked to remind me that that was every night.
The best-known attraction in the town are the Roman ruins. The Puymin Quarter, which we toured, contains the House of the Messii, Pompey's Portico and the 6000-seat Roman Theater. I have been to Pompeii so this was like a mini refresher for me, but I think Mom enjoyed seeing the ruins.
Wine Time! After touring the ruins we joined Peter for a leisurely drive through the beautiful landscape of Provence. We had an appointment at Domaine de Mourchon for a wine tour and luncheon.
This was another place where I wondered if the bus would fit. William kept saying they took a bus through there years before, but Peter kept saying his bus was bigger. April and I snagged the front seat for the first time. Kinda crazy! The little cars seem to barely fit as we passed them. And when we were winding up the small trail to the estate, I got extremely scared. You know how the front wheels are actually deeper into the front of the bus, while when we went around a tight corner April and I were hanging over a cliff. I'm so scared of heights I had to go sit with my mom.
The rest of the day was another highlight moment. After touring the processing areas we were served glass after glass of their wine and then taken to the hills to actually stand in the vineyards. This is where we got to sample the grapes. The skins were thick and bitter, but the juice was so super sweet. We were sampling the grapes from the vintage vines. They are so old and the soil looks more like rock. It's crazy what grape vines can grow in.
It may not appear that way, but yes, we are having fun! We are just waiting for the actual wine sampling.
I love home cooked meals. In 2008, our best meal was a home cooked meal in Burgundy and this year, this meal competes with it. Yes, that is real cream on our chocolate cake and fresh raspberries.
The McKinlay family went above and beyond this day to provide us with the best experience ever. I cannot believe this is their home. What a view! They purchased the vineyard of mature vines in 1998 and started production in 2000.
Provence is definitely one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. I would love to go back and spend a significant amount of time in the area.
Tonight is our last night with Peter. Tomorrow he is going to drop us off at the French Rivera and drive back to Paris for a different tour. Peter received some good-bye gifts from William and Julie, water wings and a license plate that said 'Rue de Biere". It was very funny. Peter actually got William water wings too...some inside joke.
Our group meal was hosted at the hotel where they served regional specialties of a Provencal eggplant terrine, stuffed lamb avignon mode with baked tomatoes and polenta. For dessert we had mixed seasonal fruits in a custard form. All of it was wonderful, but I think we were all so tired. Surprisingly there were many bottles of wine left on the tables.
In the morning I learned why the French eat so much bread, to adsorb the alcohol. I ate every bread product in that basket and had many cappuccinos. I think my head hurts!
Mom enjoying the scenery.
Me, Nancy, Arlene, Judy & April