Living Monet and Van Gogh

Poppies at Azille.

Sometimes long-term travel resembles one of those movies where they show things in a strobe-like staccato fashion.

Flash. Forty-eight hours ago we were in the quiet town of Calvi watching the sun set over a light house we’d walked to. Flash. Twenty-four hours ago we were on a ferry about to leave Ajaccio after seeing Napoleon’s birthplace. Flash. Twelve hours ago we woke up arriving in Marseilles. Flash. Now we’re in the tiny town of Azille just north and just east of Carcassonne.

We arrived in Marseilles at seven this morning after an easy night at sea. A quick metro trip took us to the train station where we caught our train to Narbonne. We passed through the classic Van Gogh country around Arles but saw nothing that really reminded us of his work in spite of Declan’s protestations. Van Gogh is one of Declan’s favourite artists and so there were many fields that were definitely in his paintings. It’s too early for fields of sunflowers of irises though.

What we did see was rolling green countryside. The fields are alive with growth and their edges are pinked with poppies in a subtle way which a painter might capture but a photograph doesn’t. The contrast with Corsica was stark – although neither suffers, they are just different. Very different.

In Narbonne we picked up our hire car and set off on another stressful French driving experience. France is not as frenetic as Italy on the roads but every French driver seems to need to be somewhere else in a hurry. The Italians don’t care about the rules, or the timetable. The French care deeply. So I always seem to end up with a Frenchman or woman driving three inches behind me, hunched over the wheel with an intense glower on their face. And believe me, they drive so close that I can see every slight wrinkle on their face.

It wasn’t a long drive to Azille. Just a progression of smaller and smaller roads over the course of 45 minutes. Azille is a tiny town with a church, a boulangerie and epicerie and some houses. Our house sits just outside the town borders. It’s not charming, being quite new, but after a week in hotels it’s absolute heaven. Actually, that’s not quite fair – the house would be great under any circumstances, a pool, a games room for the boys, huge living room with large-screen TV, great kitchen and a lovely outlook. The only fly in our ointment is that it turns out our Canadian friends are not going to be able to join us.

And the house has the one thing we’ve all being looking forward to for the last week: A shower you can stand up in. It turns out that three-star French hotels do not have proper showers, they have a bath with a hand-held shower. I can see absolutely no reason for this – how hard can it be to put up a shower screen and a fixing-point for a shower. Our only conclusion is that it’s a conspiracy – there has to be some clear way to differentiate three-star from four-star and so the lack of proper shower is the key.

Anyway, we walked around Azille this afternoon amidst olive trees and poppies. If we haven’t got much Van Gogh, we certainly have a lot of Monet and poppies. And what better way to calm down after staccato travel than rolling countryside replete with fields and wild-flowers?

And then, thanks to Google, it turns out that Van Gogh did more poppies than I was aware of. In fact his field with poppies could have been taken right from our walk today.

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