Day Seventeen: Bourg St Andeol to Roquemaure: Lavender and other perfumes - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

April 13, 2017

Day Seventeen: Bourg St Andeol to Roquemaure: Lavender and other perfumes

In the normal course of events coming to a new town, you often get an overview as you spy the place from a distance, then you delve into the various streets and squares and finally end up at the exact address where you will stay. With Bourg St Andeol things went in reverse, making the place a little mysterious.We rolled up along the river and dove into a hotel that was right there, with an entrance off a 15 foot wide street. Holed up in our room, we really had no idea about our surroundings. This morning, we pushed and pedaled up from the river through the maze of old town streets, and began to discover what the town had to offer. But even the church was a little hard to spot. Only later as we were well out of town did we see the church and town clearly.

The overview of St Andeol. Our hotel was the pink building on the right.
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The town was named for St Andeol, which is neither here no there except that there is a sarcophagus in the church containing the guy. The strange part is that a sign indicates that this was a used sarcophagus (ebay?) that formerly housed a seven year old girl. Now how can we picture that? Where did they really get the thing? Why go for a used one? Where did they dump the seven year old?

Tonight we tried to find out these answers on the internet. But maybe no one else thinks in these terms. The Wiki entry did add some interesting background, though:

Andeolus or Andéol was born in Smyrna in the 2nd century. A subdeacon, he was sent by Polycarp, along with Benignus, to evangelize southern Gaul. He went to the Vivarais. Septimius Severus, passing through that region, had him put to death. His head was stabbed with a gladius on May 1, 208, at Bergoiata, a Gallic settlement on a rocky peak over the Rhône River which would be later known as Bourg-Saint-Andéol. The body, thrown into the Rhone, was later found and placed in a sarcophagus by a rich Roman woman, Anycia or Amycia Eucheria Tullia (Blessed Tullie), daughter of senator Eucherius Valerianus (Eucherius of Lyon). His sarcophagus was rediscovered in 1865 during excavations in the St. Polycarp chapel of the eleventh-century church in Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche).

Even this leaves questions: "Found and placed in a sarcophagus by a rich woman"? Just how did that play out? Did they (she?) find the whole body? How much later, and where? Oh well, perhaps the mists of time are best left in place on something like this.

The sarcophagus
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Small French villages, even here in Provence, and even if participating in the national program of "flowered villages", often tend toward the huddled houses model, leaving little area for landscaping. So it was refreshing as we noodled about St Andeol to come across a grotto from which a stream ran. The stream entered what surely was a tannery space, but it also provided some natural landscaping that allowed me to make a quite attractive photo.

From this poster, apparently the section we cycled yesterday - Viviers to St Andeol figured in the Tour de France last year. Probably they did it faster than us!
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The grotto
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The one nicely "landscaped" part of town
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Eleven candidates in the presidential election coming up
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LePen and macron seem to be the front runners
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We were bit torn about how much time to use up looking around this and other towns along the way, as opposed to just blasting down to Avignon. Having blown the better part of our first hour without leaving St Andeol, we implicitly decided to take our time and check out other towns along the way.

Rather than towns, though, our attention was immediately drawn by some fields of lavender. Almost as much as vines, lavender is the signature plant/product of this region. I got off the bike and pinched a leaf - ahhh.

Something not a signature but now more in evidence were election posters. We understand that a law gives equal time to all eleven candidates. Presumably this means on TV, but what we saw in each town was eleven panels, side by side, each with a standard sized poster from one candidate. It was very low key. One thing we noted specially was the matching lame slogans on the signs.

Put France Back in Order
Our Lives Not Their Profits
For Economic freedom
Power to the People
A Historic Choice, etc.

Of course one of the main things of note in these old towns is just how narrow and ancient looking the streets can be. In Lapalud I tried to guess just how wide (narrow) the street were. I'm tempted to say 12 feet, but probably they were an expansive 15. The bakery of course also came in for scrutiny. I took a compulsory bread shot - they are so beautiful. But also, just for research you understand, we bought a "beautiful" praline rose brioche. Michel had advised us to avoid brioche that looked too regular - probably a factory product. On this sample, he was right. The brioche was very weak - starting to border on hamburger bun. Well having done the research we can allocate our euros better next time.

Flash - Dodie reading over my shoulder puts those streets at 10 feet, max.!

A narrow street in Lapalud
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In the Lapalud bakery
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These must be the weak brioches that Michel spoke about
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How narrow is this?
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A field of lavender in Provence!
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One of the most interesting events of the day came as we approached the village of Pont St Esprit. We had just been looking at a field of lavender and it seemed fitting to come upon a perfume store. We stopped, thinking to pick up a token souvenir to send to a family member back home. But when we walked in we were greeted by a dapper man standing in a room filled with hundreds of identical bottles.

I opened the conversation, telling the man that with the fields of lavender around I was thinking perfume. He laughed at this, and pointed out (rightly enough) that perfume was far more complex than just a pile of lavender. He observed that there re thousands of fragrances, and that each has a different effect on our minds. However preferences are individual, so no one combination is correct. But how to find the one for you? First of all, pay no attention to brand names or advertising. Just because something says Chanel, or is expensive, does not make it right. Also, in sampling perfume never put it on your skin. This distorts the true fragrance. No, he said, trust your nose and your nose alone. Sample many fragrances and choose the most pleasing. And he denied that after a few they would all smell the same. No, go through several hundred, he advised.

In fact his deal is to have you sniff your way through the room, select a half dozen that seem best, show that to the man, and have him formulate your custom, best, fragrance. Just 99 euros would bring 100 ml.

We explained that we did not have 45 minutes for the process (or preumably 99 euros) but even so, I had a final question. I had seen documentaries about sommeliers who could distinguish hundreds of wines. Could this man, I asked, distinguish among his hundreds of scents? Yes probably, he said. Ok, I went and selected one (number 49), which was contained in a little cup with stones in it.

The man sniffed. He shook the stones and sniffed again. He cupped his hand around the cup and to his nose. Then he said "You didn't mix them did you?" Nope. At last he gave up. He quoted some characteristics but could not zero in. Steve, you devil!

It was so great. Not really because of my little challenge but because of meeting someone like that, right smack in the middle of Provence. It was as appropriate as meeting a hockey player in Montreal or Paul Bocuse in Lyon.

Rows of perfume
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Dodie and the perfume man
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Ok, I give up!
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The perfume store
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Inside Pont l'Esprit the Tourist Information gave us a map of town showing 16 points of interest. I kind of dread these things, becasue they encourage Dodie to want to go find each item, usually in numeric order. This can be a big problem especially in medium sized Italian cities, that can easily list 100 points.

In France, of course, the problem is less because 90% of anything listed will be closed at any given time (and god help you if it's lunch time).

This time around, even all the listed churches were closed, but hah hah they could not close the fountains. The one (#14) called the Navigation Fountain piqued my interest because of four griffons sitting around the base.

The Pepin Centre (#15) also scored because it had a bike store. We needed it for chain lube. It was disappointing that they only had a gooey one for heavy rain conditions. I tried to discuss other weights with the man but it all seemed to be news to him. I bought the Bunker C.

Also in the store was a moderate selection of ebikes. Had we needed to make good on the threat of buying one it would have been a model there with a low step through and 468 watt hour battery. It was only 1090 euros on sale, which is dead cheap for one of these things. On the other hand the motor was in the rear hub (not the crank) and we did not see if it had a (dreaded, unacceptable) throttle. Anyway, we are "limping" by without having to do more than just look at the offerings.

Pont l'Esprit from the pont
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eBikes for sale. We are not buying just now.
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A griffon at the "Navigation Fountain" Pont l'Esprit
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Look at how narrow these washing machines are, compared to North American ones.
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Ok, now it's getting really narrow.
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a last look at Pont l'Esprit
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Pont l'Esprit is the point where the Via Rhona mostly gives up. Still, we had in hand both the Bikeline route south, and the route that had been printed for us by Olivier in Viviers. Looking at the two, we went with Olivier. Bikeline seemed to want to take us up into the hills and vines. And yes, there was about 5 km of a little tense white line riding, but generally it was quiet.

Aso fun along the Olivier route was the Melox plant, a huge campus in which they produce plutonium fuel for nuclear reactors. The most visible thing is the fence, which has double chain link, barbed wire, electric fence, and video surveillance. We like to think of this to defend our flowers from deer. That would fix them!

The really good fence
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At first I missed the "no photos" sign on the fence. So I had to double back and get a photo of it. Soon a police car passed us and I thought "Busted", but no, I am free to publish my illicit photo here:

No photos!
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We came abreast of Chateauneuf du Pape, the famous wine producing town where the vines grow in soil just full of rocks. But we were intent on finding a place to stay, across the river in Roquemaure, so this time we bypassed Chateauneuf. Since we don't drink wine, we actually need ripe grapes on the vine to sample any given terroire.

At the entrance to Roquemaure we spotted a sign for a lone hotel, the Clement V. We followed from sign to sign but found nothing. A pedestrian that we asked assured us it was just ahead, but 1/2 km further, nothing. We turned around and found the TI. Yes, the Clement V had been at about the .6 km point. Murphy's Law, or something.

Clement, anyway, was the one who moved the curia from Rome to Avignon, so he was the first of the popes of Avignon. He is also known for cooperating with the French king Pilip IV in attacking the Knights Templar. Philip accused them of usury, credit inflation, fraud, heresy, sodomy, and immorality, but as we know from the DaVinci Code, it was actually that they had discovered the truth about Mary Magdalen!

Back down the Rhone
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This badger is mostly not alive.
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Lots of roadside thyme. It makes it feel like things are getting rather Mediterranean.
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In the hotel Clement V we find an unexpected Coquille (symbol of the Chemin St Jacques). Is there any message in this?
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Today's ride: 64 km (40 miles)
Total: 817 km (507 miles)

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