The sunny south

Cyril and I spent the past weekend in the south of France, near Montpelier, visiting his family and enjoying the great outdoors. The weather contrasted dramatically with Paris. On Wednesday I surrendered to winter and wore my heavy coat for the first time, but in south, we ate breakfast outside and biked in t-shirts.

IMG_0278 (1)

The distance from Paris to Montpelier is about 60 miles more than the distance from Minneapolis to Chicago but it is easier to go from Paris to Montpelier because there are many high speed trains that make the trip in less than 4 hours. It would take 7 hours to drive there. Taking a train is less tiring than driving, and less expensive, less stressful, and more comfortable than flying so it is a pretty nice way to travel.

Cyril has a lovely family. I always enjoy spending time with them, but this weekend was even better now that I can communicate with them without a translator (most of the time). It was gratifying to see that the drawing I made for them during my very first visit over three years ago was still on their entryway table.

Dina poses with her likeness
Dina poses with her likeness

Cyril’s stepdad Pascal dotes on Dina. He likes to joke that she is his favorite child.

Our decision for what to do Friday was influenced by a movie that I had watched last week, called Avis de Mistral. Two of the characters run away and go camping and horseback riding in a huge river delta area called the Camargue.
The road into the Camargue was lined with stables and pastures of white horses for rent. It was very tempting. I am sure there is no better way to see the delta. It would be incredible to explore and splash through the ponds and marshes on horseback. I have added it to my to do list when I have more money to burn.

Not a cloud in sight
Not a cloud in sight

Cyril and I rode our bikes to the Gacholle lighthouse and back, along the southern side of the nature preserve near the Mediterranean Sea. The land on either side of the trail was very flat with shallow ponds surrounding by low scrubby plants and grasses. It was gorgeous! The colors of the grasses and lichens were spectacular.

IMG_0372

01e41ca6734ea38f3c98afb04e843b063a85f99bc4

There were so many birds! The delta is known for them, along with packs of wild horses, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see any horses. I enjoyed watching the packs of flamingos the most. It was the first time I had ever seen any in the wild. Flamingos are funny birds when you really look closely. Their knees bend the opposite way and their necks are truly bizarre.

Flamingos!
Flamingos

At times, the mosquitoes put northern Minnesota to shame. I was so thankful to be on a bike, because with a little bit of speed, they didn’t attack. As we passed a particularly marshy area, I could see pillars of mosquitoes rising from the grasses like mist. It was a terrifying and awe-inspiring sight. The power of nature!

I found a piece of driftwood that looked like a beached shark!!
I found a piece of driftwood that looked like a beached shark!!
Naturist
Naturist
Saturday Cyril had a surprise planned for me. Unfortunately our friend Manon accidentally told me on Friday night when we went out for drinks. “So you are going rock climbing tomorrow?” “Am I?”
Manon didn’t completely ruin the surprise because it was via ferrata (Italian for iron road), a special kind of rock climbing. In via ferrata, climbers attach themselves to a steel steel cable that runs along the climbing route for safety. There were also iron rungs attached to the rocks to give footholds and handholds.  It is physically demanding, but doesn’t require serious rock climbing technique so it is great for an inexperienced climber like me. There was only one point where seriously struggled and I thought I was going to have to let go of the rock and have the steel cable line catch me.
01593408b1221776f93e67bac3158e899b1af832c2
01bf1f3d0bdf44cc88e0ca48d74f9f6926bfc777d5
It was exhilarating and the scenery was gorgeous!  The route went through caves and up the side of a small mountain and incorporated a zip line and a few rope bridges.
The view was incredible01f2ee05bed8a2e7bfc4e1611fd3dc6cf46086ee05
018f603f30e3a7a4ea8e8c159130647d7e474821c4
At one point we trecked to the mouth of an enormous cave that wasn’t marked on the map. Cyril asked me, “Would you like to have Pascal belay you down the 100 feet drop to the floor of the cave, or would you like to belay yourself, and if you make a mistake, you die?” “Well, when you put it like that… I trust Pascal to do it for me.” That was the most terrifying part of the day, but once I began my descent, and I was hanging there by the rope, I could appreciate the cave and enjoy the experience.
Getting belayed down into the cave
Just like Bond
After Pascal belayed Cyril, me, and himself down to the floor, we climbed a via ferrata route back up through another exit.
013d5a2b936440dafb093fd55d38184f3f87148b9c
This part was a sqeeze
Cyril’s mom and stepdad used to do via ferrata more when they were younger, and would take trips to the Alps to do more challenging, extensive routes. That sounds like a blast!
The crew
The crew

That night, Cyril’s grandparents came over and his grandma made supper. I asked Cyril, “Do you know what she is going to make?” “Too much food!” Grandmas are the best:)

Sunday for lunch we ate raw oysters. Another first for me. They were so fresh that they recoiled a little bit when one poked them with a knife. Not my favorite seafood, but I ate my fair share.

Before leaving, Cyril and I visited his dad and played soccer with his brothers Clement and Vincent. I played soccer for 7 years in elementary school but I was the weakest link. If Sacha, Cyril’s 9 year old brother, had been there I would have had a worthy opponent.

à la prochaine!

Advertisements

One thought on “The sunny south

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s