Amazing Horse-Scavaging Birds of Provence

Well, even if nobody else thinks they are amazing, I do.

While driving around the south of France, include Provence and The Camargue, I spotted quite a number of horses grazing, and underneath them and surrounding them were whole flocks of strange white birds.

This pic has a somewhat bad quality: I took it while driving and (no kidding!) being followed by a police car!

But I think you get the idea:

I have no idea what kinds of birds these are – but I assume they eat any small insects that appear when the horse grazes.

Frustrating France

If you’ve ever driven around the south of France, you know how frustrating it can be. You’ll find spectacular villages and chateaus high on the French hills – but no easy way to get up to see them.

While driving on an Autoroute through the French Alps near Savoie I spotted this castle high on a high, and I decided enough was enough: I was going to drive up there!

It took over an hour to leave the Autoroute and, even with my GPS, find the right roads.  Here’s a view as I got closer:

Amazingly, when I finally reached the place, it was closed!  A sign on the wall said that it was now privately owned, and it was open to the public only a few days each month.

Still, the trip up here was not a waste of time, since I got a breathtaking view of the plains of Savoie, as the sun was just coming out and burning off the ground fog:

UNESCO fails to impress in Orange

If you’ve spent time reading my blog, you’ll see plenty of entries that show the incredible UNESCO monuments scattered around the world.  Well, at least in the French city of Orange, UNESCO fails to impress.

This is the Roman Theater from the outside:

And this is the Roman Theater from the inside, looking towards the stage:

And this is Roman Theater from the inside, looking towards the seats:

Any Roman ruin this large is impressive, to be sure.  And the fact that it dates back to 40 BC is also pretty spectacular. But . . .  compared with the usual magnitude of UNESCO sites, this one falls a bit short of many of the others.

What I thought was most impressive were not the well-worn stairs, eroded after centuries of use (and probably even more amazing when you think most people were either barefoot or wearing soft leather sandals):

No, what I thought was most amazing were the arabic, rather than Roman, numbers!

The Amazing Plane Trees of Provence

This might look like any other tree-lined street, but it’s not!

These are no ordinary trees.  And this is no ordinary street lining.  I took this snap somewhere between Sénas and Salone-de-Provence.

These are plane trees planted carefully on both sides of the street, and in fact this street lining continues for well over 20 kilometers!  According to what I’ve read, Napoleon ordered the planting of zillions of these trees along the roadsides in France, to give shade to the army troops when they marched from town to town.

Carrières de Lumières – MIND BLOWING!

If you find yourself in South France, and if you are even as far away as 3-4 hours from the Provence village of Les Baux de Provence – one day you will deeply regret not spending double this time to travel here and experience this attraction!

What is Carrières de Lumières ?

Les Baux de Provence is a medieval village perched high on a limestone outcropping in the Provence countryside,

But that is not the amazing bit.

Carrières de Lumières is a stunning, amazing, breathtaking attraction, open to the public and located deep underneath the city, in a huge cavern where, centuries before, limestone was excavated. Even the chance to stand in this place and experience the colossal magnitude of the limestone quarry is amazing:

The limestone hall is probably larger than a football field, and the ceilings are nearly 20 meters tall.

But this is still not the amazing bit.

The amazing bit is what happens when they turn out the indoor lights, and when huge digital projectors flood every square centimeter of walls, floor, and ceiling with animated artwork synchronized with rich stereo music in the background.  As the light show begins you are free to walk around.  These few stills do not do the experience justice:

These are not random pictures of art, but rather art that showcases particular medieval artists. When I visited, the theme was based on the works of  Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516), Brueghel (a family from 1525 to around 1719) , and Guiseppi Arcimboldo (1527-1593).

You can only begin to appreciate the power of this place when you see the live motion and hear the music. I tried to capture of a bit of that here at these links:




This is NOT cassis:

Technically, it’s “Creme de Cassis” and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Village of Cassis, located on France’s southern coast.

This is now probably one of my favorite snaps, taken as the evening winter sun illuminated the harbor:

And just around the corner I spotted the locals playing pétanque in the town square:

I’ve still never really wrapped my head completely around why people in the south of Europe are more outwardly social in this regard, spending more time outside with their neighbors.  A site like this would be strange anywhere in, for example, Alsace.

Join the Legion!

No, I’m not planning to join the Legion Etrangier, also known as the French Foreign Legion.

But I did visit their recruiting truck, which I thought made an amazing site parked just across from the Roman Coloseum in the French city of Nimes,

Inside the truck, with the music of Bolero playing in the background, I spend a wonderful time practicing my French with two older legionnaire officers who you could tell from their body language that they had seen a lifetime of combat.

Outside, I also chatted in French with some of the younger soldiers, who all told me they were mostly from other countries, not from France itself, although there were some French among them. Sadly, my French is not yet that good to understand when they tried to explain why there were French in the Legion, not just foreigners.

Interestingly, when I returned later in the day, the truck was full of young men – so I guess they were successful in their recruiting efforts.

Vendredi Noir?

I knew all about the famous start of the American Christmas shopping season called Black Friday. It starts on the day after Thanksgiving, also an American holiday.

So I was quite surprised to see how the Black Friday craze has spread to France, a country that does not celebrate Thanksgiving. I took this snap in Toulon, a seaside village on south coast of France:

What’s more: they call it “Black Friday!”  (Maybe one day they’ll say “Quarter pounder with cheese” but today it’s still called a Royal Cheese.)

The Incredible Legacy of Vauban

Vauban left an amazing, amazing legacy all over France which you can visit today.

First things first.  This is Vauban:

Or, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauben,who was a military man in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in France, and he directed what at the time would be the equivalent of today’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  He travelled around the border of France, constructing fortifications that were truly mind-blowing.

Case in point: there is the small village named Brisach Neuf in Alsace, on the border between France and Germany, and he transformed it into an amazing fortified jewel, which unfortunately you can only truly appreciate from the air:

And indeed, you’ll appreciate this even more when you see the original map of the village and fortifications that he created:

In this arial photograph, if you look at the village center just north of the town square, this church he also created is visible:

But the amazing part is the not paved area of the village, but the extremely complicated jewel structure of moats and barriers and fortifications that surround the village,

With dozens upon dozens of underground bunkers like this one.

Alemanic rituals of Switzerland, Southern Germany and France

Switzerland, Southern Germany as well as the eastern Alsacian region of France are home to a more evolved form of the German language, called Alemanic. And this region is also filled with tiny medieval villages, some of them still having impressive city walls like Riquewihr in France:

Inside of the village you’ll often find public fountains, which until quite recently supplied the residents with drinking water:

But the most interesting bit are the yearly celebrations such as Faschtnacht, planned for months in advance by the locals and usually involving street festivals and parades:

Unbelievably, in many of these towns the specific characters in the parade and even the costumes themselves are hundreds of years old, each accompanied by elaborate stories and detailed historical myths.

Amazing pilgrimage site – Lourdes and UFO’s

I’ve long been fascinated with pilgrims and their pilgrimages – people who are so devout as to make substantial investments of time and money and effort to visit religious sites.

Recently I visited arguably the oldest pilgrimage destination in the western world, and you can see my pictures here: Santiago de Compostela.  It’s tucked into a remote corner of Spain, and even today it requires quite some time and effort to reach.

And this is an equally famous pilgrimage destination, Lourdes:

Just like Santiago de Compostella, Lourdes is in a very remote section of France. Even with an automobile, it is very difficult and time-consuming to reach.

As I usually do, I visited during the off season, in the middle of winter.  Except for one family, I was alone in the entire complex which has grown in size to host tens of thousands of visitors each day. The pious believe that the spring water that flows out of a cave is holy and can cure illness – and it’s amazing to see the huge engineering effort, in which this water is diverted into channels so that the pilgrims have easy access. For a one euro donation you can buy a little glass water bottle.

A connection with UFO’s?

What I find most fascinating about Lourdes is the story of the apparition.  In 1858 a peasant girl reported seeing a number of apparitions of a woman. Here’s the amazing part: she never attributed the apparitions to Christian figures or the Virgin Mary; she only reported seeing an apparition.  It was other people in the village who assumed that what she saw was the Virgin Mary.

A few years later, in Portugal, three children also reported seeing the apparition of a woman; like the apparition at Lourdes, this was later attributed to the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Fatima).

So . . . could it be that the peasant girl in Lourdes, and later the three children in Portugal, witnessed something extraterrestrial in origin – or perhaps a time traveller from the future?  Some people believe so, and you can read more about it here.