Kat: The moment you’ve all been waiting for. The glamour. The glitz. The celebrity holidays. Yes, the monkeys have made it to the South of France, home of all that is expensive, luxurious and chic. You may be wondering why we’re even in this neck of the woods in our matching fleeces and hiking pants. But we’ve been overtaken in the style stakes by my infamously more fashionable father, Gary.
For those who missed the last post, the Two Monkeys have been joined by the Two Baboons, my Mum and Dad. Now my dad has a certain style. Let’s define it thus: shorts and sandals in winter. Papa Monkey has been known to wear shorts in Sweden in minus degrees. So was the Mediterranean weather going to stop him from wearing shorts? Hell no. In fact, the weather has been so incredibly good here I even wore a T-shirt in Nice. It’s been great to shake off our cold weather clothes and enjoy the sun.
We started our Provincial journey in Carcassonne. Winding around the hills we could see the pointed spires of the enchanting castle, straight from a Disney story. The city boasts one of the best restorations of a medieval castle in the world. While the castle fell into disrepair, it was brought to the attention of one of the great French architects, Villiers le Duc. He did not live to see the final restoration, but you can visit the complete castle and ramparts that run around the entire inner city.
The Monkeys and Baboons spent a couple of hours meandering through the city grounds, despite the fierce winds up on the ramparts. One can only wonder what it felt like as a guard standing in the towers on a cold winter’s night shivering in a tunic. Castles are also replete with all the great things that big kids like us love – slots for shooting arrows at invaders, portholes for boiling oil…
From Carcassonne we drove up to Pont du Gard, a UNESCO world heritage site that features an aqueduct built by the Romans in 19 BC. Yep that’s right, a ginormous artifact from BC times. It also features the world’s most expensive historical site parking. 18 euros later we had access to history. Mum and I walked up to the top of the aqueduct and “touched time”, as she so fondly described it. I find it amazing that a thing so old could still be standing after more than 2000 years.
After watching the sunset over the aqueduct, we spent the night in Avignon, another UNESCO site and medieval city. Our hotel was part-church part-gay nightclub, featuring stained glass windows and orange faux-fur vases. Avignon is home to the Papal Palace, where the Papacy promoted popelism in the past… well I had to say it. It also has a famous bridge, which was built in the 12th century, destroyed a bit later, rebuilt again, half-washed away in a flood and finally you can now pay 8 euros to walk on a half-finished bridge or you can actually look at it from the river front for free! The strange thing about tourist attractions is that you can actually see them better if you’re not standing on them.
Provence is famous for attracting two types of people. The first are middle-aged rich people trying to capture some of that French je ne sais quoi because they saw it in a movie. The second were the impressionist painters. We drove through the stunning countryside, made famous by the paintings of Cezanne, his terracotta and forest green landscapes blocked out in cubic shapes. In Aix-en-Provence, the heart of his working life, we walked the Cezanne walk around the city, ducking into ancient cathedrals and staring at the shuttered windows.
My family motto when it comes to driving holidays is “Go hard or go home”, so we ended the day driving around Toulon, suffering through GPS recalculations as it tried to navigate us to parking amidst peak hour traffic and one way streets. My mum, teacher that she is, has managed to make her passengers behave by offering a 5 euro daily incentive scheme for passenger of the day. She’s the Pavlov to our dogs.
Justin: It’s been good to get back to a slightly warmer climate… we abandoned warmer days way back when we kicked this trip off in Hawaii, although according to the mass of Facebook whining occurring in Sydney I don’t think we missed the great long Aussie summer too much. The cool breezy climate makes any coastal dwelling Australian feel like he’s returned home. The climate also slightly justified Gary’s preference for shorts. One of the most iconic shots is Gary vs Mediterranean as Gary triumphantly walks out to embrace the Mediterranean Sea. Classic moment, with Kat’s Dad hanging around it seems like classic moments surface regularly.
We headed up in the train to Nice, another seaside resort type of place. One of the first things I said when we got there was, “it’s like Manly just with all the crap deleted”. In Europe they do things on their terms – sometimes this can be a little disorganised or haphazard for the traveling tourist but ultimately I think it’s really cool, laid back and stylish. We had our first French Kebab, it tasted like, well an Aussie Kebab with all the crap deleted. Kat’s parents bought a French painting from a street seller, Kat and I settled for some fruit. If we could we would accumulate a collection of items from ‘round the world but a little tricky to keep carrying it everywhere.
From Nice we headed to Monaco on the train. I don’t know too much about Monaco apart from the fact it’s two most famous frequenters happen to be James Bond or the Love Bug, so an Aston Martin or a VW beetle, what a contrast! The beetle more befits my personality, as I discovered there aren’t too many Suzuki Swifts ambling their way up and down the mountainous basin that is Monaco.
We spent most of our time in the botanical gardens, situated among the higher parts and affording a great view of the bay, high rise developments and rooftop terraces. The gardens had inordinate amounts of cacti and a deep cave to explore; the cacti were damn impressive, some of the larger ones being unimaginably high and attached to walls by steel rods. I would not want them to fall on the passer-by.
We managed to make it to Monte Carlo Casino, I watched some of the Ferraris pull up and was a little surprised at how miserable and angry-looking their owners were as they exited their cards and headed into the casino. Money definitely can buy all the luxury goods and lifestyle you want but not a smidgen of natural serenity. The adage money can’t buy happiness is so true when you travel, especially in areas like Monte Carlo where tax havens and opulent lifestyle is the norm. Genuine contentment and happiness seemed to be a little absent, or is that Euro now? Oh no Dad jokes are starting to invade my writing now, must be Gary’s influence I say.
The coastal area of southern France and Northern Italy is stunning. Lots of high bridges, terraced villages, glasshouses and luxury apartments to feast your eyes on. The Mediterranean has been secretly calling my name for most of my life, it’s such a beautiful area that feels so much like home for me. Maybe Kat and I will settle here one day when Kat belts out her Harry Potteresque series of novels. One day baby… really lovely scenery and the engineering required for constructing these bridges and tunnels as you hug the coastline. And so we take this coastline to our next country, beautiful Italy, bellissima! Ciao for now. Love Justin and Kat