Tag Archives: Rhone

Following Van Gogh in Saint Remy

In Van Gogh’s footsteps

“What I should like to do, Van Gogh writes to brother Theo in Paris in 1889, is to go there as an inmate patient at the end of the month or early in May…let’s try three months to start with, and we’ll see how it goes..it is very likely that I am yet to suffer much.

The landscape of St.Remy is very attractive and I shall gradually become acquainted with it.”

Vincent Van Gogh

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Saint- Remy de Provence, FR- Leaving our beloved bastide near Cheval-Blanc behind, we headed further south for Saint- Remy, a city that proudly carries Van Gogh’s heritage with its Saint-Paul asylum.

We drove through alleys of stately plane trees lined by olive and almond groves, cypresses and cornfields at the foothills of Alpilles that have all inspired the master of post- impressionism.

Saint Remy de Provence
Saint Remy streets

Saint- Remy, whipped by mistral from the Mediterranean Sea, bustled with tourists.

A large painting of Van Gogh’s self-portrait without the straw hat greets the visitors at the 18th century Hotel Estrine. Van Gogh’s museum is located inside. He created more than 150 paintings during his stay in Saint Remy.

My French granddaughter Ella, 6, immediately recognized the famous painting.

“Our teacher showed us that,” she said all excited.

The French nation has immortalized its artists and scientists with busts, sculptures, in schools, museums and gardens scattered all over the country.

However, the lively town of Saint-Remy did not partake in any of Van Gogh’s pathos, who also painted the gardens of the asylum. Hundreds of boutiques, souvenir shops, bistros and cafes vibrated with l’art de vivre, known as the art of living prevalent in France.

Estrine Museum in Saint-Remy de Provence
Estrine Museum in Saint Remy is dedicated to Van Gogh.

Throughout our stay in Provence, our ladies “international squad” sampled this l’art de vivre on every corner of the tiniest streets, in regional dishes, in gourmet cafes, and in the Provencal architecture of churches, bastides and mairies.

All French city halls carry the motto of the French revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity.

Saint Remy de Provence
Saint Remy in Provence

To this day, it remains a mystery to me, why the People’s House aka Lidovy Dum in downtown Vizovice, Czech Republic, has the French national motto engraved in its coat-of-arms.

After exploring local shops with Provencal herbs, yellow and blue linens, lavender soaps, perfumes and candles along with the l’Occitane line of body products, we found a reasonable restaurant on Boulevard Mirabeau.

Fashionable Bistrot des Alpilles sits on the Mirabeau loop around the medieval city with the massive Roman catholic church Collegiale Saint Martin as its anchor.

“You should try their local soup,” said daughter Emma.

Wherever my writing takes me, I always make it a point to sample the local fare and drinks. In Provence, the regional dishes feature different variations of fish soups depending on where you are. It is the royal bouillabaisse in Marseille and fish pistou in the rest of the region, ratatouille or vegetable stew accompanied by a glass of pink wine from the local caves. Desserts in France always include an assortment of cheeses or you may opt for gourmet café.

Fish soup St. Remy style
Cassoulet de poissons St. Remy style

So, the entree cassoulet de poisson was a natural choice for me with a glass of the house wine, the “Lovely IGP Alpilles”, 2015.

Bistrot Les Alpilles
Bistrot Les Alpilles menu in Saint Remy

Daughter Emma chose the lighter sweet aperitif Kir. The kids of course had the syrup –dissolved- in- water fruit concoction that I despise from my childhood years in Czechoslovakia.

As I write this, I realize that I haven’t tried the “Eau de Vie poire”, the water of life  pear liquor or the pastis.

“It’s nasty,” Emma said about the pastis liquor made from licorice.

At the adjacent newsstand, I bought “Van Gogh in Provence” English Edition booklet with photos of major paintings created during the master’s stay in Arles and Saint-Remy.

As we embarked on the long road up north back to Fixin, we got stuck in the traffic jam, called “bouchon” in France due to the returning vacationers from the Mediterranean resorts.

“They all go for their vacation at the same time to the Med,” Emma said. “They use the only highway that goes from north to south, the A7.”

Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy
Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy

But being stuck in a “bouchon” in France is not necessarily a bad thing, because it’s another opportunity for more sight- seeing and treats for the palate. We stepped out at the Aire- de- Montelimar rest stop and I bought the real French white nougat with hazelnuts, the local specialty from Montelimar. At first Ella refused to taste the nougat.

“I don’t eat that.”

“Ella, you’re like an old person,” I laughed. “Don’t be afraid to try something new.”

“It’s delicious,” she said.

In the Lyon “bouchon” I admired the renaissance buildings on the banks of the river Rhone, reminiscent of the Prague riverside on Vltava. Emma pointed out the Museum of Confluence built on a peninsula in the river, where the Saone meets the Rhone.

“I love being stuck in traffic,” said sarcastically our driver Selene. “Give me some coke, please.”

Hundreds of cars stood still on the major Paris bound thoroughfare going through downtown Lyon, pop. 2.2 million. Only the colorful trams crossing the bridges and the boats navigating the Rhone were moving.

To the right, I noticed a girl waterboarding on the massive turquoise-colored river that originates from the Rhone glacier in the Swiss Alps.

The boat pulling the girl was full of young people having the time of their lives, while the nervous drivers drummed their fingers on the steering wheels. We were melting in the late afternoon heat in front of the tunnel.

Thanks to the obsolete infrastructure in Lyon dating back to the advancement of the automobile, I finished reading the Van Gogh booklet intended for the transatlantic flight home to Chicago. Two hours later, the youngsters were still waterboarding on the Rhone.

“Thank you Lyon, Mr. Van Gogh and Doc Emma for great entertainment, as always.”

Notable mention for Van Gogh lovers:

Van Gogh in Europe

The Estrine Museum in Saint-Remy de Provence is part of Van Gogh Europe, a vast European project associating places and museums concerned with the life and work of the painter.

The objectives of the Partners of Van Gogh Europe are to value the life and works of art by Vincent van Gogh by developing cultural, educational and touristic projects of the highest quality.

Some images are from the Commons at https://www.wikipedia.org

To be continued………..A Bohemian afternoon in Paris


Copyright © 2016 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Geneva, Switzerland

European adventures

This is the ninth installment in my travel adventure series through European countries including France, Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland. I was gone for five weeks to a different world with different languages, and different traditions. So, now after coming back on Oct. 9th to Lowell,Michigan, it feels like I’ve been in a time capsule.

Geneva, Switzerland Oct. 2nd

We planned a day trip to Switzerland with my daughter Emma partially because of my Lowell area following of friends. A great portion of Lowell residents are of Swiss origin including my neighbors and one of my best friends.

Geneva, where Rhone meets Lake Geneva and the Alps.
Geneva, where Rhone meets Lake Geneva and the Alps.

I’ve never been to Switzerland, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve only heard stories how beautiful the country is, and I remembered my friend’s pictures of Swiss Alps in her office. Switzerland borders with France to the east and shares the language, but not the membership in the European Union. So, the country has its own currency, and that is the Swiss frank, which has a lower value than the Euro, but higher than US dollar.

Our intention was to go to Lausanne which is located on Lake Geneva just like the city of Geneva. We took the back roads to avoid the 40- frank sticker for using the freeway crossings between the two countries. Soon after we left the cheese city of Poligny, home to the famous Comte cheese, the narrow road started climbing. We were stuck behind a truck, that wouldn’t let us pass.

Geneva with backdrop of Alps.
Geneva with backdrop of Alps.

When we finally lost the truck, the signs to Lausanne also disappeared. Now, instead of Lausanne, all the signs pointed to Geneva. The two cities are not exactly close to each other. Each city is on a different side of Lake Geneva that stretches for more than 50 kilometers.

We stopped at a border town already high in the mountains, where you could hear bells ringing. I thought it was the train coming. Then I looked up, and the cows that were grazing on a steep hill, had bells tied around their necks. I knew we were in for a Swiss adventure, and not just chocolate and milk.

“This is a classical echec,” Emma said. “We’re on our way to Geneva. Those cows have the bells so they don’t get lost.”

“What is echec?” I asked about the strange French word that doesn’t have an exact translation but derives its origins from chess terminology. I was yet to find out what echec really is.

Old town Geneva.
Old town Geneva.

We arrived into beautiful Geneva instead of Lausanne on a sunny afternoon. People on the streets were already wearing winter coats and jackets. We walked into the old town across a bridge, where the big river Rhone flows into Lake Geneva on the backdrop of snow-capped Alps with eternal ice. The water sparkled in the sun with a million rays. A landscape on the bank lined by beautiful buildings was in the shape of a clock.

“This is breathtaking,” I said.

Boats and yachts were cruising on the mysterious lake that does not give away its secrets.

“I got to get some monkey money,” Emma said referring to any currency that is not Euro.

Well, the monkey money, could not buy us a lunch that we could regularly afford in France or in Czech Republic, not to talk about Spain.

We ended up eating steamed food in a paper dish at probably the only health food restaurant in Geneva. Signs advertising menus on the sidewalks in front of restaurants did not go below 30 franks for a dish of tartiflette or potatoes with cheese. Even a burger in Geneva cost 15 franks.

We walked into a Geneva “patisserie” or coffee house and did not buy their cream filled squares covered with chocolate and a logo, because we were full of the steamed food.

“There will be other patisseries like this where we can have a dessert,” we thought.

Well, there were not. We did stop to buy some Swiss chocolate in the new town at La Chocolaterie de Geneve. The friendly owner lady offered us extra chocolates to taste.

Swiss clocks and watches even in landscapes.
Swiss clocks and watches even in landscapes.

But, still if I didn’t have Emma by my side with her knowledge of French, I would have trouble communicating in this heavily tourist European metropolis.

Also, while window shopping, most stores did not indicate prices of their goods and the famous Swiss watches. The Chanel store did not label prices either, but it was cool to check out their tweed-covered purses.

So, in the end we had Swiss franks left, and spent them at a tiny border town meaningless gas station on our way back to France for a beer and a coffee.