Food, Coffee, and People

Eating in Provence can be an experience just like eating anywhere else. You can get a great waiter or a crummy one, a fantastic meal or one you'd rather forget, a great deal or ripped off. Here's the trick: Stop outside the eatery before going in and check out the menu. Many restaurants and cafes print their menu, often with English translations, and post it outside the door. But to be safe, study some of the more common menu items (chicken, vegetables, etc.). Prix fixe on the menu means that there is a selection of set meals for a certain price. Many menus may also offer a la carte, in which case you'll pay for each item individually. In France, tax is included in your bill, and tipping is a little different. Leave a few Euros to round up to the nearest five or ten-Euro mark.
As for the great/crummy waiter, there's no tip we can offer you here, but remember this: serving food in France is taken very seriously. Waiters are trained to be quick, attentive, and out-of-sight. You may think your waiter is not friendly, when, in fact, he or she is trying to be as professional and discreet as possible.
At home, there's coffee ("You want cream and sugar with that?") and then there's coffee (I'll have the triple Madagascar coconut almond creme skim latte!"*). In Paris, you have several options, many more than what is listed here, but this list will get you started.
Espresso: One small, hot, strong cup of steamy dark buzz.
Cafè au Lait: Similar to Italy's caffe latte, in France the cafè au lait is served as brewed coffee, rather than espresso, with equal parts of steamed milk.
Cappuccino: Traditional espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk, in equal parts--with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top for kicks.
Café Americano: Yeah, that's what they call it--one shot of espresso with some hot water added. And you don't get a little piece of lemon peel, either. But it's not bad.
Cafè Mocha: Sometimes served in oversized cups, real mocha has no chocolate but equal parts roasted coffee, espresso, and steamed milk.
Chocolat au Lait: This is for chocolate lovers--just hot chocolate, but a little creamier, popular in the morning.

Now, disregard the old notions about the French or Parisians being rude. It's simply not true--well, it's no more of a reality than it is in any other large city--and it's just an absurd notion in Provence. But keep this in mind: if you know any French, use it. If you don't, learn a little. Simple phrases will do just fine. Smile. You'll catch more abeilles with miel. Yes, you'll run into the occasional jerk, but you'd do that anywhere. Most of the locals you meet, especially in large cities, are busy and maybe a little stressed out. Moreover, they're not on vacation like you. They simply might be short on time. Overall, if you make an effort to learn a little and appreciate a little about the language and culture, you'll win new amies, honest!

*Editor's Note: We're not at all sure whether they have coconuts in Madagascar.

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family & children

Be sure to visit the Pont du Gard--a large remnant of a Roman acqueduct and still a working bridge-- a few miles outside Avignon. It's possible to climb to the top for a great view, but hold on to your kids' hands! A few miles south of Avignon, near St. Remy, is Glanum--the ruins of a Roman city, complete with a triumphal arch built by Caesar Augustus. Both Arles and Nimes have Roman-built arenas that are fun to explore.

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European Provence0France0Travel0Guide

· First Things First
· Where to Stay
· Getting to Your Hotel

· Around PrOVENCE
· Food, Coffee, and People
· The Littlest Travelers

· Top Ten
· If you have time

First Things First

When you see Provence for the first time, there is a moment of revelation, in which you understand that you've left the "other" France behind and entered a more Mediterranean world. The mistral, the near-constant wind that blows through Procence, has faded colors, worn structures, softened the heat and sun, yet allowed for fantastic patches of lavender to take over the landscape. Here, where that which is rustic is revered more than the refined, is France far away from the bustle and lights of Paris, the battlefields of the northern coast, and the busy vineyards of the fertile valleys.

France is a member of the Eurozone, the group of countries that uses the Euro currency (€). (Prices below are expressed in U.S. dollars for convenience; check the rate of exchange prior to arrival in Europe.) English is widely spoken, except in smaller villages. You might also try Italian and some Spanish. Of course, French, even just a little, will do you some good.

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Where to Stay

Make reservations well in advance during peak travel periods, and fly by the seat of your pants, usually not so risky, in the off season if you choose. Most hotels fit nicely into the one-to-five-star rating system, so you'll almost always know exactly what you're going to find once you unlock the door. Air conditioning is not as common in Provence as it might be elsewhere in France, and it's not common there either, so you might choose to pay a little more during hot weather. Otherwise, hotels in France are, as a rule, always modern, comfortable, and clean.

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Getting to Your Hotel

Public transportation all around Provence is swift, efficient, economical, and punctual. Larger cities, such as Nice and Marseille, have an advanced network of buses, trams, and/or subways that can easily whisk you from place to place. For smaller places, or for exploring lots of places in one region, a rental car or a railpass is a popular way to move around.

Driving in Provence is a great treat. From wide highways you exit to twisting roads that were made for convertibles. Expect lots of tiny, fast-moving things whizzing by here and there. Sometimes they're scooters, other times they're little bitty cars. Be careful. Out on the open road, the highway system is broken down into autoroutes (major highways), national thoroughfares, and regional roads. Obey the speed limits, as fines can be stiff, and look out for fast-approaching traffic circles and (sometimes) expensive tolls.

Using the extensive rail network of France is easy, efficient, and economical. Speedy, modern trains can whisk you between Paris and Nice or Paris and Avignon or other cities in no time. Other trains serve just about every city, town, and village in the region, most of which have a tourist office right inside the station, which makes last-minute deciding worry-free. Railpasses offer set or flexible number of cities, days of travel, and onboard class of service for varying rates. Visit www.raileurope.com for more information.

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Around PROVENCE

The blue-and-yellow world of Van Gogh is a medley of colors and flavors that truly enriches the soul. Provence is special not only for its infamous residents, mysterious mistral, and tasty pastis, but for the lasting place it will occupy in your memory. Nobody visits Provence just once. Nobody. If you don't have as much time as you'd like, try to do the musts first and the maybes if you can get them in... but there's always future trips.

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Musts:

Nice: "Come let's mix where Rockefeller's walked with sticks or um-burr-eellas in their mitts..." A great old Victorian resort, Nice is the grandmamma of European resorts, first summer home of fast cars, smart parties, and care-free living. Nowadays, they'll let us all in, and the beaches, grand old hotels, and swank neighborhoods are just as enticing.

Marseille: The Mediterranean's largest port is a medley of Byzantine churches, colorful neighborhoods, and hip new beaches, called the Prado, in the north of the city.

Aix-en-Provence: Medieval cobblestones and 18th-century marble form the first layer of each side of Aix-en-Provence (we just call it Aix, pronounced ax), the former capital of Provence. The heaps of museums, cafes, and churches that make up the sumptuous city are split in two by the social heart of the burg, the lively Avenue Mirabeau.

Avignon: For nearly 100 years, the popes, having been chased out of Rome, lived and sinned here, during which time they packed the city with structures, monuments, artwork, and other legacies to the papacy. They've been gone for hundreds of years, and Avignon now is an exciting town filled more with college kids than cardinals, but it's still wholly fascinating.

Les Baux and St. Remy: The windswept hill on which the fortress of Les Baux rests is one of the most imposing sights in France, Inside, shops, cafes, and amazing views of the landscape are accented by the unbelievable wind that never lets go. Down the street in St. Remy is a lively, more Bohemian crowd downtown and posh, "we thought of everything" hotels round the pretty outskirts.

Aioli and pastis: Like garlic? Like butter or mayonnaise, the soft, garlicky aioli is Provence's version of the necessary plateside condiment. It's served with just about everything but the pastis. Pastis? A strong, anise-flavored liqueur enjoyed straight or the Provencal way: poured into a tall, frosted glass and blasted with icy water, creating a freezing, refreshing, mostly mild and not-so-toxic eye opener.

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Maybes:

Arles: Van Gogh's "little yellow house" where the artist painted and went a little nuts, which dated from the late 19th century, is gone. The huge Roman amphitheater, which dates from the first century and where there were gladiator tournaments and some other pretty gruesome events, is still standing, in near-mint condition. Gogh figure.top of page

 
     
 


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