Day 7 happened to fall on the first Saturday in July. Despite leaving Beaune at 8:30 in the morning, we hit traffic. We quickly learned that the first Saturday in July is when the entire population of Northern Europe descends upon Southern Europe, fleeing their gray, sunless skies in favor of the warm beaches and clear water of the Mediterranean. I know they were all from the north because their license plates told me so. (Deciphering the country initials on plates is the European equivalent to the license plate game in the States.) Nothing but Germans, Belgians, and Dutch on the road, all of whom have unique driving abilities. I use the term ‘ability’ loosely. At least the Germans are decisively bad. Everyone else cruises along, straddling lanes, turning their blinkers on prior to seeing if anyone is around them. The Germans will make their lane changes and its up to you to dodge them. One must be very alert when driving in Europe.
Anyway, the traffic was so horrendous, a 3 hour drive took us closer to 5, despite taking back roads after being deadlocked through the main highways around Lyon. We had to cancel our first tasting appointment at Chapoutier due to the traffic and so it seemed our luck had run out. Did I mention Europe hasn’t adopted automatic transmissions yet? Stick shift in that nightmare was the opposite of awesome. We finally arrived in the early afternoon, in time to make our next appointment (we grabbed lunch at a rest stop along the way so as not to lose anymore time) and we also finally hit warmer, summer-like temperatures.
We cruised through our tasting appointment, overall unimpressed with the wines we tasted (and certainly not finding the prices commiserate with the quality) and we hopped back in the car to finish our trek to Aix-en-Provence, another couple hours away. I had mentioned to Dave that I had wanted to see the lavender fields of Provence, so as I drove through the nightmare that was traffic, he found a map of the lavender fields, with the small town of Grignan smack in the middle of a purple patch on a map. We navigated our way there, a good stopping point along our route and found Grignan to be a cute village, in the midst of hosting a festival seemingly to do with books and writing. We explored a bit, snapped some photos and stopped for ice cream; a nice (short) respite from the roads.
Finally, around 7pm, we arrived at our hotel in Aix— a hour after check-in stopped for the day. Of course. Tired, hungry and a bit cranky, Dave called the emergency number, while a kind older lady who spoke a bit of English showed me the lockbox where we could find our room key after getting the code from the emergency contact.
After a week of traveling, we had a few loads of dirty laundry we’d hoped to wash before meeting Dave’s parents the next day. Typical of the days’ events, we got to the laundromat in time for closing. Sigh. Foiled again. We returned the small suitcase full of dirty clothes to the car and proceeded to explore Aix, in search of dinner while we were at it.
Overall, we found Aix to be a smaller Montpellier (and we all know how much I enjoyed that city). It was filled with shops and stores, giving it the impression of a giant commerce area— and not the kind promoting small, mom-and-pop kind of stores. They were the larger, French chain stores, which I’m sure were full of life during the day, but the late evening hours seemed to find the streets full of people just meandering aimlessly, not really with a purpose or in the “taking a walk” sort of way, but more of the “now what do we do?” mentality.
We found a pizza place in a main square, which also happened to be overlooking the classic car show that served as entertainment for the evening. Classic car owners and their spouses were dressed for a Gatsby-esque party, ready to hop in their Model-Ts for the short lap around the plaza. While entertaining, we still weren’t overly-enthused with Aix (to be fair, we were at the end of a long week of travel, which was capped off by the worst traffic I’ve ever been in, so maybe our mindset wasn’t right). Apparently Aix-en-Provence is also known for its fountains, so following dinner, we did a bit of fountain-seeking, but soon after were ready to call it a night. We decided that, in an effort to get to Nice by 3pm to meet Dave’s parents, we would sleep in a bit (and by ‘sleep in’, I mean wake up at 8am instead of 6am), then track down a laundromat open on a Sunday (not an easy task). We hit a market in the morning, making sure to get there before 1pm closing time, bought some lunch and a small box of laundry soap, then Dave picked out laundromats along the route to Nice. We stopped at two, before getting lucky in Nice. Then began the quest for change since the part of the machine that accepted bills was broken. Of course. Two loads later, we were finally clean and we made the quick trip to the Nice airport to return our car and meet Dave’s folks and head for Italy.
Phew! Before long, France was nothing more than the view in our rear view mirror. A quick trip around the country that was done as best we could in the time frame we had with which to work. I’m glad we did it, but by Day 8, I was definitely ready to put the “quick, let’s see everything we can” type of vacation on ice, in favor for the Italian beaches of the Mediterranean.
Now that we are in Cavo, on the island of Elba, the internet is a bit more limited, but know that I’m much too busy working on my tan to blog right now anyway- haha!
Ciao for now