Thursday, December 6, 2012

Provence, Day Five - Aix en Provence To Salon

Sausages infused with everything from hazelnuts to goat cheese
To visit the Saturday outdoor markets in Aix en Provence is to stroll through food nirvana. A quick jaunt down antique alley and crafter's row was enticing, but the temptation was a tease; I was unwilling to haul more than edibles with several more riding days ahead.

Spices. Photo credit: Michele

That's me, drooling over the produce. Photo credit: Patty
Patty and I stuck together, tasting cheeses, sausages, pears, and several types of tapenades. I was intrigued with the sausage selection and a gargantuan paella mixture, plus an abundance of  breads.

Figurines decorate the olive selection.

Paella man with amazingly large pan. Photo credit: Michele
Many elderly women hauled wheeled carts down the aisles. We stepped aside, sometimes overlooking their tiny stature until we felt a gentle tap on the arm.

Fruits de Mer. Baby squids are in the center.
I can't speak for Michele, but Patty and I are all about food. We bike to eat, or is that eat to bike? 

I brought the plastic yellow sunflowers from home, feeling like we needed
decoration that represented a girly adventure. Unfortunately, the real Provencal
sunflowers were already harvested or past their prime.
By late morning we met back at the bikes. I bought a chevre sausage, black olive tapenade, figs, and a dense flatbread. I craved a softer bread; crusty baguettes were rough on my palette. It's a humorous sight: three women reorganizing panniers, stuffing handle bar bags until sagging; eventually some items need to go on top of the rack. Patty, in particular, tends to pile more and more items on the back (see upper left photo) and I teased her about it. I also love her cargo net; she could easily stow a baguette plus the elastic doubled as a laundry line.

Picnicking in a vineyard. Patty's lunch: baguette, heirloom tomato, avocado, fig, carrot, and a special cheese—of which I can't recall the name. Photo credit: Patty
We climbed all of the elevation we lost the previous afternoon, heading northwest to Eguilles. Cyclists passed in the opposite direction. It seemed like an organized Saturday ride was in progress and surprisingly, a few riders wore helmets. This is contrary to what we encountered nearly 20 years ago as my husband and I passed through France. But as before, guys dominate Saturday rides. 

West of Eguilles the landscape opened, displaying fruit orchards and vineyards. Lots of vineyards! Patty was determined to have a picnic among the grapes, which seemed fitting for a couple of winos—oops—I mean wine conniseurs. We ducked onto a dirt track and tried to get comfortable upon the hard, dry earth in shade with a prime view of plump, purple clusters.

Munching in the quiet heat, barely off the paved road, we were surprised by a Jeep suddenly halting in the dirt, interrupting the picnic. I scrambled to my feet to move my bike from the lane, apologizing "Excusez-moi!" By the look on the driver's face, he was just as surprised as we were. The two guys appeared to be firemen—from what we could surmise from the vehicle's sign—and they continued into the vineyard without further incident.

Patty and I enter the outskirts of Pelisanne. Michele brought up the rear
 for  nearly all of the trip, but oh, does she take some nice photos! Thanks, Michele.
The miles clicked by. We pedaled slightly downhill for a while as the vineyards gave way to scrub land. A long escarpment of white rock kept us company on the northern horizon. But then, the demarcation was abrupt. Greenery sprang from irrigation, and manicured lawns and plane trees signaled another village.

A wedding party in front of Salon en Provence's Hotel de Ville.
We skirted downtown Pelisanne and found an alternate to a busy highway into Salon en Provence. The guidebook said little about any of the places between between Aix and Arles, yet I personally found this stretch to be some of the best riding—precisely because I didn't know what to expect. Prime example: we descend into Salon on a green-colored road lane—the first, I noticed, that was specifically for bike riders. Then, soon after, a Muslim wedding party and guests spill out of Salon's city hall, complete with marching band that travels down the street a couple blocks then disappears into an alley.

Empiri Castle.
It's only 2:30 p.m. but a lady in the Information Center confirms a nearby campground, but nothing further within reasonable cycling distance. It's an easy decision to relax and explore Salon, then shop for dinner before heading out of town the last few miles. We lock the bikes and walk the long stairway to the Empiri Castle.

The edifice was once an archbishop's palace, but like many of these ancient structures, it's been renovated and is now a museum and venue for concerts. I especially enjoyed the iron sculptures and the herb garden in the courtyard.

A most interesting way to direct one to the toilet.

We walked the ramparts for a unique view of the city. A double-steeple church. Clock tower. More rock hills await us on the horizon.

A close-up of rooftops provide a mixture of colored clay tiles. I was fascinated by the number of skylight styles: concave, bubbles, pyramid-shaped, square convex. From the ground the streets appeared orderly, yet viewed from above, the buildings were jumbled, resembling a textured mosaic.

By late afternoon, after a coffee and filling panniers with food, we head out to the campsite.

By the end of the fourth cycling day, after pedaling more than 100 miles so far, I realize that my arm extension is too shortsimilar to the reach on my Ross's flat barsthough with 30 miles a day the discomfort remains minimal. Bar ends would've helped, but the rental company didn't offer the option. Neither Michele nor Patty had a similar complaint. Other than that, the bikes are performing well. In fact, the Specialized model provides many firsts for me. The V-brakes (a first) stop effectively. I am impressed. I love the ergonomic grips (another first) and despite the fact that mine rotate, possibly due to the heat, (of course I perpetually forget to remove them in camp to clean the barstoo much wine perhaps?) they made a significant difference. The aluminum frame (a first) lightened the bike and with Nimbus puncture resistant tires the bicycle absorbs road noise. (Our vacation was pleasantly flat free.) I initially chuckled at the leather white seatwho would put one of those on a bike?—but after several days the seat remains clean. So used to black everything on my own bicycles, this rental bike taught me how simple and lovely a bike could look, especially without fenders. RapidFire shifting is new territory and once I got the hang of it, it never failed. On the other hand, Patty has continual difficulty shifting the front derailleur (operator error!), depressing the wrong lever each time. Considering her usual quick wit and organization, it's become a comical affair. She laughs each time she tries to shift, never grasping which way is which. Michele and I get used to the clatter of her double shifting.

Patty with her obligatory baguette and bottle of red wine.

Salon en Provence is where Nostradamus lived, thus the name of the campground. Note the third line: "Vive le Velo!" Think they get a lot of cycle tourists?

Typical end of day routine: line up the bikes for check-in at campground reception.

Home sweet home. Patty sleeps in the grey tentsans rain flyto save weight. If precipitation
falls, she will squeeze in with  Michele and me in the roomy, orange monster.
We have dinner on the terrace after dipping toes in a frigid pool, deciding it's way too cold to get in. It's difficult to eat salad for lunch, but for dinner the ladies taught me to eat salad out of a bag. Voracious appetites that we have, we each gobble a full bag with added avocado, almonds, a whole fresh, tasty Provence tomato, tuna, with mustard (from a tube) and olive tapenade for dressing. It's easy clean-up too. Afterward, we munch on chocolate, sip wine, write in journals and always, always read the guide book. Good thing we each have our own copy...

After dark, we use flashlights and giggle our way to the bathroom, then crawl inside the tent.

Day One - Avignon
Day Two - Fontaine de Vaucluse
Day Three - Gordes, Roussillon, and Oh, Those Hills
Day Four - Saignon, Ingenuity and the Descent into Aix en Provence
Day Five - Aix en Provence to Salon
Day Six - Adventures in Arles
Day Seven - Les Baux, St. Remy
Day Eight - Tarascon Castle
Day Nine - Chateauneuf du Pape and Avignon


  1. What an adventure! And Michelle, I love that photo too!

    1. Everyday was an adventure! That's why I've broken the blog posts into days. Between the pedaling miles, emotions, and mental stimulation, it's difficult to write only one encapsulation - not to mention sharing these worthwhile photos.

      In hindsight I would've loved to spend all three weeks in Provence, but still, the hiking memories are priceless also.

  2. Hi again Annie! It's an older post, but I loved reading it because my wife and I are living in Aix en Provence right now!

    We love the markets stalls too... every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. How amazing is that? I'm looking forward to reading through your other Provence posts.

    PS. Thanks for including me on your blogroll! I'll be sure to return the favour.


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