Sunday, May 23, 2010

10 things NOT to do in Provence

Just for fun , and  inspired  by the web site concierge .com famous do's and dont's, we compiled a list of ten dont’s – and what to do instead, in a region that the shrinked euro makes affordable again.

1-Wear hiking shoes in the streets.
 Look  : you are visiting towns and villages that have streets since Roman times.  By now their pavement is perfectly smooth and your heavy walking shoes will feel out of place. Instead, bring your best office shoes with you : In France, a person status is very much determined by what he/she wears on its feet. And nice shoes might help you resist the temptation of bermuda shorts, flowered shirts and tank-tops.

2-Splurge on a three star restaurant
Yes,they are great, but also mightily over-priced : why pay New York prices for decent french food when  you are in France ? Instead, ask around for nice places.  With a good guide and more importantly advices   from your hotels, the local shopkeepers, you can have a  great lunch or dinner at french prices. And save the money for an other trip.

3- Stand in line to visit Avignon’s bridge.
 First, you wont even reach the opposite  bank ! The far end of St Benezet bridge has been destroyed several centuries ago by the Rhone river and the mighty mistral wind. But althought a lovely sight, it is ridiculously over priced, simply because the  town wants to make most of its reputation. Instead, take the free shuttle boat across to river to green Barthelasse island  and you will enjoy a view identical from the photograph above. Do not forget to visit the Palace of the Popes even if it seems pricey, and the Pont du Gard, a huge roman aqueduct 25 Km west of the city.

4-Taxe taxis around
They’ll cost you  “ la peau des fesses”   your  bottom’s skin. Avoid also  the tourist trains slow and prone to get stuck in traffic. ( Not always so slow  : one of them recently overturned in Marseilles due to an excessive speed). Instead, enjoy public transportation on the fine network of subsidized buses, both inter cities and inner cities , or on 'velopop' the pay-per-ride bike lending system in Avignon

5-Keep a large bottle of mineral water in your bag
 Again, this is a civilized country. No need of toting your personal water reserve as  a trekker in Betchuanaland. And the climate, though sunny, doesn't make our place a subtropical country. (Provence is at the latitude of Maine or Oregon). Instead , enter a café at any time of day.  Drink at the counter.  A glass of water is free, by tradition  ; should you want a free pee-pee also, you might be definitely pushing your luck with the bartender. Order something, anything. The cheapest drink in a french bistrot is a lemonade, enjoy it with mint  or  grenadine  syrup : it  will often be cheaper than  a can of soda at a vending machine or in a convenience store !

6-Book in a Hotel Chain
They are made for visiting businessmen and often tucked in industrial outskirts miles from anything interesting. Instead,  book in a small city hotel or a flat or  guest room rented by one of the locals. You won't be bothered by the whirr of the central air conditionning, and you’ll be more likely to hear the cicadas ... Have you visited our  august 2009 post about the flats we rent ?

7-Buy yourself a vineyard
Côtes du Rhone is the word here. And also Côte du Ventoux,  Coteaux d’Aix. Lovely landscape. Small exploitations.  Some people dream to make  a life style of it. And  are ready to sell everything aat home to buy the whole gammut, a few acres of land, a house with plane-trees and cellars. Talk about a million dollars. It is a sure  way to ruin if are not willing to toil for selling the stuff. Forget quiet evenings watching the wine leaves changing colors, sitting on a stone bench under the plane tree. Over-production of cheap and intermediate wines is such that several dis-illusioned investors are putting back their dream for sale. Instead, if you are in love with wine, visit the specialized shops : I recommend  Avitus, a cave and wine bar, and of course l’Hermitage, soon to open downstairs from our building.

8- Try to park in downtown Marseilles
The streets around the Vieux Port are as congested as Chicago, and your lovely Mercedes or Peugeot  brand new and shining from the Avis stables will be at great risk of being hijacked or burglarized. If I was a good guy, I’d tell you were is the one free parking lot downtown ( tip : in the backyard of a  no frills supermarket.) But then Marseilles was not meant for good guys. Reading the news, it apparently still is the nations capital of  organized crime, keeping loose links with politics and unions. Thank God, the organization itself appear far from perfect, so the ambience is relaxed.  Marseilles is a great city for a day tour. Instead, go by train, keep your sun glasses on at all times, like the local boys do, and fancy yourself  as a deputy of Al Pacino coming to settle a few scores with the Corsicans.

9 –  Gape at  real estate agents windows.
Locals feel  that the price of real estate has been pushed up tremendously by the influx of foreigners. It is probably  depressing to see tourist gaping in clusters at wide-angled-photographs over hiked up prices in agents’s shop windows  - just like kids in front of an icecream parlour.( The Real estate  market has long been depressed in France, and moves slowly.) Plus, figure that the old Madame Escartefigue, willing after all to sell one of her lovely village house, is not keen at all of seing its intentions advertised in front of the neighbours she despizes since about 1955. Instead, should you want to invest, do it quietly, from your armchair, on a computer, and start using first the four big real estate agency networks : Orpi, Fnaim, Laforet, Guy Hoquet.

10 – Pity the bulls in Arles or  Nîmes.
In western Provence and the Languedoc, the corrida de toros is taken seriously.  A month ago, the web site for Arles Easter feria was  hijacked  and defaced by anti-corrida  hackers : they published across the homepage a sentence by Mahatma Gandhi saying that a one could evaluate  a civilisation’s greatness by the  death it  bestowed on its animals, and a few gruesome photographs. Instead of voicing your love for animals ovr a glass of pastis, consider the wisdom words of the Mahatma : the barbarian but noble death of the toro, admired and respected by thousands of people united in  a spiritual fervour at the arena, is much more civilized than at  the slaughterhouse.