day 7 :

saturday, 17 september

Even though it seemed like we just arrived in the Corbières region, we had to leave this morning and head west to our next gîte in the Béarn region. Throughout the day, we were impressed with the thousands-upon-thousands of sunflowers planted in huge fields all throughout southwest France. The sunflowers were brown and dead, having peaked during the prime vacation season in August. We could just imagine what an amazing sight it must be to see all of those sunflowers in bloom.

Along the way, we stopped in the small town of Mirepoix for lunch, and to see their cathedral, which has the widest nave in all of France. We were also fascinated by the wood beams supporting the houses in the town square - they were carved into gargoyles - animals and people with all kinds of expressions.

We discovered an interesting thing about French radio on our trip, and today was no exception: stations seem to play one, or at most two songs in a row, and then the station's host gets on the air and talks for a good long time, either a monologue about something we didn't understand or taking listeners' calls. We tried listening to music on a dozen or more stations today, and always ran into the same fate - we'd catch the end of a song, and then blah-blah-blah. We even tried planning for this radio boredom and brought along our iPod and an ExtremeMac FM transmitter. Although the transmitter worked without a hitch with our car at home, it simply did not get along with the Renault regardless of what frequency we tried.

Another observation is that it appears to be impossible to overuse the word "voilà" in France - it can be used for nearly any situation, any time. Someone hands you your change, and voilà! A tour guide tells you who painted the picture on the wall, and the inevitable next word: voilà! Dawn noticed that the "i" is definitely pronounced, unlike what we remember learning in French class. That is, instead of saying "vwah-lah," people say "vwoi-lah."

Anyway, we arrived in the small village of Lay-Lamidou in the Béarn region late this afternoon, and immediately loved it. The owners of our gîte, Maison L'Aubèle, treated us like family, and our room was lovely. Everything felt relaxed and peaceful, like a home-away-from-home.

At dinner tonight, Dawn noticed the waitress telling a group of diners asking for an ash tray that there was no smoking allowed. This was the first that we had experienced at any restaurant in Spain or France. Given that so many people appear to be chain-smokers (we noticed some people easily smoking 4 or 5 cigarettes over dinner alone), this made us wonder, what's the current mortality rate due to smoking in these countries? Although we really enjoyed the wonderful food on this trip, some meals, even in the Michelin-starred restaurants, were so full of smoke that we really wanted to leave and get away from the fumes. It made us wonder if European countries will ever outlaw smoking in these public places, given that it is so much a part of the culture today.


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