It feels like this is becoming a bit of a broken record now, when I say that it’s been another chaotic week. It may have been a bit busy, but it’s also been very lovely, as not only did Andy return after a stay back in Devon, but he arrived with our youngest son Tom, who popped over for a week on holiday.
We’ve had a delightful few days, heading out for some sunny winter walks with Millie, who has been so happy to have the pack all together again. We’ve wandered along the woodland trails from a hamlet near Pont Julien, up to the colourful village of Roussillon, which is so wonderfully peaceful at this time of year. Join us in a little walk here
We also ambled along the Mur De La Peste, on a little circular walk that starts in the fascinating Cabrieres D’Avignon. It’s a delightful route that follows the wall, built to protect the Papal lands around Avignon from the spread of the Plague, when it was decimating the population of Provence in the early 1700s. Not only is it a nice circular stroll, but the views across the valley and towards Gordes are particularly lovely.
Then the week was interrupted with Andy having to go into hospital in Aix for a planned operation, so Tom and I took the opportunity to spend the day exploring the city, planning to visit the Camp De Milles, Memorial Site on the outskirts too. Having ensured Andy was safely in the clinic, we drove straight to the site, only to find the car park closed and the site looking well and truly shut, which was a shame as we had planned to spend a good part of the day there, to learn more about this very dark period in history, which had such a devastating impact on so many families. So one to add to the list for the next visit…
So we spent the next few hours in Aix, enjoying coffee on the Cours Mirabeau and exploring the streets, squares and fountains of this beautiful city, which was looking particularly stunning in the February sunshine, against a backdrop of bright blue skies.
Eventually though, we decided we needed to escape the city and as we still had a couple of hours to kill, we headed out towards the Barrage de Bimont, for a little walk.
The Barrage, set in the hills towards Mont Saint Victoire, is a huge hydroelectric dam which forms part of the Canals de Provence network. It’s a dramatic sight, with an 86 metre high wall of concrete filling a deep, narrow gorge, holding back a lake that stores 12 million cubic metres of water, that is such a valuable resource in this increasingly dry part of France.
It’s clearly a popular spot for walkers, as the car park was busy and people were heading off on many of the walks signposted from the start of the dam. It’s a beautiful spot, with the expanse of water reflecting the colour of the sky, and the stark limestone ridge of Mont Saint Victoire towering above the surrounding woodland.
Having a little stroll across the dam and out along one of the paths gave us a little taster of the area, before we had to head back into Aix to collect Andy from the hospital, and I have no doubt that we will head back there to explore a little further, as the walks looked particularly good and ridiculously, it’s somewhere we really haven’t visited at all.
French health care is particularly good, and happily Andy was really well when we collected him, but the efficiency of the system and the speed with which his operation took place did rather get in the way of our plans for the weekend. We love rugby, and before Christmas we saw that Toulon were to play Stade Toulousain this weekend, at the ‘Orange Velodrome’ in Marseille. As Tom would be staying, we had booked tickets and had been looking forward to spending the evening ‘en famille’, watching the match in a venue that we hadn’t visited before.
Andy is not good at sitting down, or taking it easy after an operation, and I do sometimes feel as if I need to Velcro him to the sofa simply to save him from himself, but even he accepted that he wouldn’t be able to walk from the car park to the stadium or sit in a tightly packed seat for the match, so reluctantly we left him (baking bread and cleaning windows …. what can I say?) and told him to take it easy, whilst Tom and I hopped into the car to drive to Marseille for a mum & son evening, watching the match.
If I’m honest, I was a little worried about the drive into the city, as I’m not particularly happy in cities and by the time we arrived, it would be getting dark, but there were two routes into the car park and as Andy had said, as long as I took the one that didn’t go straight past the Velodrome we would be fine. What could go wrong?
The answer is, following the satnav that seemed to have a mind of its own, deciding that the route round the outskirts of the city would be far too boring, so instead it took us straight into the centre and down into the tunnels that run directly under the city, where it decided to lose us too. I’ve never driven in Marseille and had no idea that the tunnels existed, and we found ourselves in two lanes of solid traffic, creeping along at a snail’s pace, somewhere below where I needed to be going. We watched as the arrival time at the car park got later and later, happy in the knowledge that we had left in plenty of time to still walk to the stadium, in time for the start of the match.
After a heart-stopping moment, when the SatNav told us to ‘Turn around when possible’, we somehow managed to make our way across 2 lanes of traffic, without getting honked at and found ourselves, finally heading in the right direction, having a lovely view of The Velodrome, as we passed (the one that Andy said to avoid at all costs, as it would be chaos…… I hate to admit it, but he was right). From then on, with adrenaline surging round my system, it was a really simple drive to the car park and we arrived, slightly shaken and walked the 25 minutes back to the stadium, joining the crowds of people excitedly making their way there too.
The moment I caught sight of the stadium, the anxiety from the drive disappeared and I was just whisked along with the excitement of everyone around us, stopping in my tracks at the sight of this incredible structure, glowing brightly against the night sky.
Getting in was simple and once inside the perimeter, we found our way to our seats, just behind the posts at one end of the stadium and sat back to take it all in. It was still 45 minutes until kick off and the atmosphere was already electric, with the sound of the crowd and the drummers trapped below the spectacular roof, reverberating around us. Within moments we were enjoying the spectacle, with the stress of the arrival, already a distant memory.
It was lovely to see local grass-roots rugby being celebrated with a parade of, what appeared to be, every youth rugby team from across Provence. There were hundreds of youngsters parading around the edge of the pitch, enjoying their own moment in the limelight, and I was particularly excited to see the children from our local team in Apt there too, I just hope they heard me cheering!
The last minute, before the teams came out, was more like being at a major concert than a rugby match, with the lights turned off and pricks of light from phone torches lighting the stadium instead, then the countdown, with ribbons of light running around the roof and an explosion of sound and colour again, when the players ran out of the tunnel.
The match was everything and more than we could have hoped for, with exciting running play, some drama with sending offs and Toulon winning, with the winning try being scored just in front of us, in the final minutes of the match, after an amazing piece of play. The poor chap sat next to me, who was a Toulouse supporter couldn’t watch any more, but the running play kept going, even after the fog horn sounded to mark the end of the 80 minutes.
It had been an incredible evening, sitting amongst nearly 45,000 supporters, screaming for their teams, Toulon shirts, next to Stade Toulousain flags and just a friendly rivalry, with respect and friendship in every direction, which is one of the biggest joys of watching rugby like this. Tom & I had a great time watching the match and simply soaking up the unique atmosphere in this amazing stadium. We felt exhilarated and exhausted at the same time, chatting all the way back to the car and back home too. Heading home the SatNav decided that it would take us back through the outskirts of the city, as if it had just realised that there was an alternative to the nightmare of the tunnels, which was a huge relief, as I’m not sure I could have faced that again!
All that was left was to get safely back to The Luberon without having a close encounter with a Wild Boar on the way, which is always a worry, but I’m pleased to say they decided not to take a stroll across the road, in front of us, on the way home, where we finally made out way up the stairs to bed, at just before 2 am.
It’s been another busy, but hugely enjoyable week and today will be a slower day, of enjoying little walks and lots of coffee to keep me going after a late night and just a few hours sleep.
But was it worth it? Yes it was (even the tunnels) … and I can’t wait until they play there again and we can take Andy to enjoy, what is a very special night out.