Micro-Adventure: Musée du Liège

On Thursday, February 8, we headed out to the Musée du Liège, or the Cork Museum. Having just opened from their annual break last week, we had been looking forward to visiting another quirky little museum.

Wow! We never realized how much goes into the manufacturing of cork, or that there is a scale of quality for corks, or that it is a renewable resource or that it all has to be harvested by hand.

Though we were only in the museum for an hour — 20 minutes of which were spent watching a wonderful documentary about cork production in our region — we learned quite a bit!

For instance, cork is a type of oak tree and it takes 30 years to mature enough to be harvested. It is a natural firebreak and in the early days of firefighting it was used for helmets.

Cork oaks only grow in a few regions around the globe and has never been successfully introduced into non-natural climates. Our region and others around the Mediterranean produce more than 70 percent of the cork used world-wide.

The largest cork in the world is housed in a little museum in a tiny village called, Maureillas about an hour by bus from our little village and about 5 minutes from Ceret.

It is a very large cork. 2.4 meters tall and 1.3 meters in diameter, roughly 7 feet, 10 1/2 inches tall by 4 feet, 3 inches in diameter.

Housed in the old cork factory, the museum has four display rooms and a small gift shop. The modern room upstairs has a 20-minute documentary playing on a loop, samples of items that cork was historically used for, and a beautiful photo exhibit showing black and white photos of cork being harvested as well as a few historic photos of cork being hand processed after harvesting.

The second upstairs display is housed in part of the old warehouse and has many beautiful works of art all created out of cork. The room is has a large opening in the center of the space where you can peer over the railing into the display room below.

The room below features cork and wine products from around the world all housed in six enormous old wine casks. These are seriously large enough to add in 2 sets of bunkbeds and call it a cabin. I loved the dimmed lighting and colorful displays, especially the one with a large assortment of old jars that all have old corks in them.

The other room downstairs has the world’s largest cork, a large assortment of old machinery used in cork manufacturing. All of which are easily identifiable if you watched the film in the first room upstairs. My favorite in this room, other than the giant cork, was the small display on the quality of cork. With samples of what is the most desirable to the least.

This small museum is easily traversed within an hour, even with time for photos, and oddly enriching and educational. We completely enjoyed ourselves and highly recommend stopping in for a few minutes and checking it out.

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Micro-Adventure: Villefranche-de-Conflent

Part two of our micro-adventure was to visit the fortified city below Fort Liberia. Built before the fort, this ancient city was the capital of the region when it was part of Catalonia. The principality of Catalonia was divided in half in the mid 17th century when the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed. The northern region, including the fortified city of Conflent, became new lands of King Louis XIV.

The main industry here for centuries was the manufacturing of material. The village was famous for its fabrics and they sold throughout the European continent. Each bolt of fabric was labeled with the towns crest as proof of its origin. This emblem consists of two towers, a star and water, surmounted by the Catalan colors of red and gold and topped with the crown of Aragon. Because the fabric was so highly sought after the weavers of the city were not taxed for this commercial asset. This move on the part of the government gave the city its name “ville franche” or “free town.”

The village was built at the confluence of two rivers, the Tet and the Cady. Literally built at the river’s edge as part of the city’s defense. More formal fortifications were made and Cova Bastera (barracks built into an existing cave) added at the same time Fort Liberia was being built to strengthen the defensive system of the village under the direction of the king’s military architect, Vauban. Though these additions did not stop General Ricardos’ Spanish army from taking the town without a fight in August of 1793.

The town consists of just two narrow streets and several open squares with four main entryways, none of the original gates exist and the drawbridges have been gone for awhile, but the inner workings of the bridge lifts are still in place near the Porte de France, the place we first entered.

We ate lunch at the only restaurant available, Cafe Le Canigou, which thankfully advertises that it is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The restaurant overlooked a small square which had views of Fort Liberia and the Mushroom Museum.

Probably the quaintest feature we found in this tiny village was the continued use of signs advertising the wares of the businesses. Though more modern, we loved the use of this medieval advertising method from a period in history when the average person could not read and thus signs advertising the type of business were necessary.

As is often the case, we always notice that each new village or town has at least one thing we have not seen in other small locations. For Villefranche-de-Conflent it was the marble signage with instructions on the correction of the sundial to have the exact time in any season.

Villefranche-de-Conflent and Fort Liberia receive over 80,000 visitors a year, but our suggestion is to avoid the crowds and visit during the off-season when you have the opportunity to visit at your leisure and enjoy the quaint beauty without hordes of people pushing you through the street.

 

Micro-Adventure: Fort Liberia

Today’s micro-adventure was to Chateau-Fort Liberia in Villefranche-de-Conflent . . . well above it actually. About 1,000 steps above it.

We arrived early expecting a bit of a climb and set out immediately, once we found the starting point. Just off to the left of the parking lot for the train station is a narrow trail along the fence keeping people from the train tracks. This is starting point for those who are walking up to Fort Liberia. There is a summer shuttle for about €3, well worth it I imagine in the summer heat.

We followed the narrow trail, walked over the bridge crossing the train tracks and up to the gate allowing entrance to the private property of the Chateau-Fort. Approximately 100 meters from the gate is the start of the climb . . . a few dozen cement and stone steps. From the top of the steps the climb gets much steeper and there are less and less “steps” but more and more rocks and at this time of year, mud.

The sign at the bottom of the staircase said a 20 minute climb, it took us 30 minutes. We still arrive 45 minutes before the scheduled opening of 10 a.m. Though in reality the place didn’t open until 10:30 and we had already started back down the hill when the three-person team came up in a jeep to open up the fort. Turning around and reclimbing the last 200 meters, we finally made our way into the fort.

First, we hit the bar to pay for our entry and grab a cup of coffee while reading through the tour literature.

Built by Vauban — Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), a military engineer of King Louis XIV — Fort Liberia is 337 years old and played a big part in defense of the French-Spanish border after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 which gave the northern part of Catalonia to the French. Built above the walled city of Villefranch-de-Conflent a good two-thirds of the way up the Belloc mountains, this sandstone and marble fortress is both functional and beautiful. Used as a fort, prison and private home, it is in remarkable condition and has many of its original features, such as shutters and doors.

Vauban is well known in this area for building some amazing forts and military bases. In addition to Fort Liberia, he has another in this region called Mont Louis that we plan to visit in the near future. He was the leading military architect of his time throughout the world and his designs were emulated for nearly 2000 years. Fort Liberia is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site along with 11 other Vauban military installations throughout France.

Very little has changed through the years, though in the mid-1800s they adapted guard towers to deal with more “modern” warfare and in the early 19th century an underground tunnel was dug which links the fort with the fortified city below.

The most stunning features were the ramparts, the poisoner’s cell and the church. Though I favored the poisoner’s cell and the story of the six women who were imprisoned there. One lady was chained in a cell for 36 years and another for 44 years. The women were not allowed to talk for fear that they would name women of King Louis the XIV’s court who also took part in purchasing poisons from La Voisin, another of the inmates who was imprisoned for not only supplying the poison but also practising black magic. One of the court ladies who the king feared would be implicated happened to be among his favorites, hench the gag order on the prisoners.

The church dates from the 17th century and though small has a lovely alter and two tiny stained glass windows. After the army’s departure the chapel was turned back over to the church by the last private owner so that weddings and baptisms could once again be held.

We didn’t stay long, the entire tour took less than 90 minutes and though we would have loved to take the underground tunnel to the fortified city below, we didn’t think it was worth doing in the dark! Had the lights been on, we may have decided to travel 1.5 kilometers underground . . . perhaps next time!

Micro-Adventure: St. Genis des Fontaines

This week’s micro-adventure was to the small community of St. Genis des Fontaines. Specifically we went to see the 8th century Abbaye St. Genis des Fontaines, a Benedictine abbey which was part of the kingdom of Aragon when the Catalan people lived and ruled this area. Built between 778 and 780 AD it is dedicated to the martyr Saint Genis (303 AD).

This little abbey was destroyed by Norman looters in the 11th century and rebuilt throughout the medieval period, including architectural evolution of the 12th century church ceiling vault and the 13th century cloister construction.

In 1507 it was united with the larger Catalonian abbey of Montserrat, also a Benedictine abbey, near Barcelona. This alliance is what caused its decline in the 16th century during the French Wars of Religion. It became French governed under the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, when the northern kingdom of Aragon was turned over to France.

Only seven monks remained when it was finally closed during the French Revolution. It remained empty until 1850, when the church became a village parish once more. The abbey and cloisters, sold off in 1924, were finally returned to the parish in 1995.

The abbey has lovely Roman origins and though some parts are still privately owned or still in need of restoration, we certainly found a lot to see in this small, but lovely, little abbey.

The entrance fee also included an art exposition. Most of the photos included in the expo had been taken in Cerbere and Port Vendres in France and Port Bou in Spain. We recognized them immediately and appreciated the artists unique angles having just done photos in this areas recently ourselves.

The town itself had only a handful of businesses, but we still managed to find a place to grab a cup on coffee while waiting for the abbey to open and lunch (mushroom, bacon and cheese quiche) at the little boulangerie as the restaurants were not yet open and we wanted a quick bite before heading home on the bus.

The photos below are mine, Alan posted his to Facebook!

 

Micro-Adventure: Cerbere

For our goal of getting out and about more for 2018, we instituted Travel Tuesday (or Thursday if the weather is awful!). Yesterday for Travel Tuesday we hopped on a train to Cerbere. The last French city before you reach Spain, this lovely little community has quite a lot to offer for the day-trip traveler.

We opted for the train as there is frightfully little bus service to this tiny port town. So at 9 am we got on a train, rode for 31.5 km, and hopped off 15 minutes later. Round trip for two, under €20.

The very first thing we did was to go up to the oldest part of the station and take a ton of photos of the station’s gazebo-like outdoor structure. We see a lot of this type of design on older train stations, but this one has a secret — or more  truthfully a “little-known” fact — it was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel. Yep, THAT Eiffel, as in the giant world-renown tower in Paris! Cool, huh! We thought so, hence the tons of photos. The station’s border guards smiled and laughed at our enthusiasm, they obviously know the history and were likely more amazed that WE knew the history.

In addition to being built by such a famous architect and artist, the station also has a link to our home town of Argeles-sur-Mer in that nearly all of the refugees of the Retirada (the Spanish Civil War) passed through the tunnels under the Pyrenees, to the train station in Cerbere and then over the hills the 31.5 kilometers to the beaches of Argeles-sur-Mer. Between 1936 and 1939 Argeles received over a 1/2 million people fleeing from the infamous, Francisco Franco.

After our photo shoot at the station we hiked over to the beautiful Hotel Belvedere. This beautiful hotel built in 1928 is still undergoing restoration work, but the completed facade facing the sea is absolutely lovely. More photos, of course!

From there we hiked down on the elevated roadway that includes a nice, wide pedestrian lane which offers great views of the Mediterranean as well as the surrounding hills and town below.

We spotted the new breakwater near the empty harbor and headed down to walk out to the point. From that vantage point we had great views of the small pebble beach and sea-side homes and businesses.

Walking back toward the main street through town, we noticed a couple of backpackers and their dogs. We enjoyed watching their puppy try to play with the larger, older dog who wasn’t really interested. After smiling our good mornings, we went looking for the tourist office . . . which was closed. Not unusual for this time of year but we do love visiting and finding out new things nearby to go and see so it always feels like a missed opportunity when the tourist office is not open.

The small square at the end of the main thoroughfare was a bit lively with a couple of vendors selling their fruits, vegetables and meats. There was a boulangerie in one corner and a small corner grocery store to our right as we entered the square. However none of the restaurants on the square were open so no coffee . . . bummer.

After leaving the mini-market area, we headed out of town to go visit the lighthouse. Cap Cerbere is the most southern French lighthouse on the Mediterranean. It also looks a lot like the Space Shuttle. Seriously. From the lighthouse you can look across the large bay into Spain, which we did.

After playing around the lighthouse for a while, we took photos of the wine tasting building (only open during the summer) that offers free tastings for tourists during the “season.” We did laugh over the idea of something similar in the US, a road-side, free wine tasting booth with plenty of parking . . . probably never likely to see one there anytime soon!

Heading back into town we had lunch at La Cacerne, the “Happy Pizza” place, a small terraced cafe with views of the harbor. Ordering a small pizza  to share we were quite surprised when it arrived sliced American-style. So surprised, in fact, that I asked Alan if his French was that bad that the server didn’t bring us forks and knives which is standard for pizza consumption in Europe. Later a group of locals also received their pizzas pre-sliced so we figure it must be a “new” thing for the region!

After a delicious lunch, we headed back toward the square to check out the tunnels connecting the lower town to the hilltop above. One of the main tunnels leads to an interesting cistern like break between two tunnels, but includes an abandoned small home and overgrown yard, and a unique staircase up the curved walls to the train station above. Heading back toward the seafront, we decided to explore a smaller tunnel (pedestrian only size) off to our left. It lead us over the the opposite side of the railyard above us and allowed us to get much different views of the town below and the Mediterranean beyond.

Done exploring and wanting to get home while it was still beautiful out, we headed back to the train station. While waiting for our train we ran into the backpacking couple and their dogs. They were heading in the opposite direction toward Spain taking the 2 minute train trip into Port Bou. Vanessa and her boyfriend, whose name we didn’t quite get, have been traveling for a few years now. She was lively and fun to chat with, offering to play her ukelele for us if we run into each other in Argeles, as they visit up this way on occasion. We told her we would welcome another opportunity to visit and would love to hear her play.

Such a lovely day, warm and sunny with hardly any wind at all. Amazing for mid-January. Much appreciated by us both.

Today we woke up to winds at 87 mph blowing around the furniture on the balcony. It reminded us of a simple trut

h . . . Gustave Eiffel definitely understood the weather around here. The beautiful structure that we admired at the train station yesterday is brilliant in its design as it allows the wind to blow . . . through it!

Le Premier Bain de l’Année 2018 à Argelès-sur-Mer – First Swim Of The Year

For our first micro-adventure of 2018, I decided to join the crowd of 500 local residents in the New Year’s Day tradition of the first swim of the year in the Mediterranean Sea, the Bain du Nouvel An. Tracy expressed her doubts in my sanity, but encouraged me to go, and volunteered to take photos — from the shore. My lovely bride mentioned for me to avoid trouble as she would not be pleased to have to go in that cold water to save me.

Bain du Nouvel An Poster
Bain du Nouvel An Poster

The annual Bain du Nouvel An was held at Argèles-sur-Mer’s center beach at the end of the Esplanade Charles Trenet at 10:30 on New Year’s Day morning. The water temperature was 53.6′ F (12′ C) with the air temperature at 55′ F (13′ C).

The crowd was a mix of young and old, athletic and less athletic, swimmers and supporters. There was a Mardi Gras atmosphere with many swimmers wearing Santa hats, sparkling gem-color wigs, and one group with dayglow manga-style hair.

Swimmers with Manga Hair
Swimmers with Manga Hair

At 10:30 the swimmers rushed into the water while wet-suited lifeguards stood by for safety. Many swimmers were quickly “in and out” but others took to staying in the cold water as a challenge. I strode into the water fast to minimize the shock. The water was chilly, but I thought it was warmer than Lake Tahoe most the year. I quickly joined the ranks of the “in and out” swimmers on shore soon after Tracy got her photos.

Swimmers rush to the sea
Swimmers rush to the sea
Ta da!
Swimmers rushing to the sea.
Swimmers rushing to the sea.
Alan (definitely not Daniel Craig as 007 in
Alan (definitely not Daniel Craig as 007 in “Casino Royale”) leaving the Mediterranean.

After the swim there was free coffee and hot chocolate, and a table to pick up a certificate of participation. There was much laughing and looks of victory in the swimmers’ faces as they waited for their certificates. Tracy and my apartment is only two blocks away so a hot shower was only minutes away for me.

Alan with his Bain du Nouvel An certificate
Alan with his Bain du Nouvel An certificate
Bain du Nouvel An certificate
Bain du Nouvel An certificate

So, a Bain du Nouvel swim in 2019?  Let me warm up, drink my hot tea, and think about that. 

Premier Bain de l’Année 2017

It’s January 1, 2017 and my New Year resolution is to be far more consistent posting to our blog. So my first post of 2017 is its first micro-adventure:  the Premier Bain de l’Année (also called the Bain du Nouvel An), the first swim in the sea of the new year.  This is an annual event in Argelès-sur-Mer taking place at the central Plagd’Argelès-sur-Mer (Argelès beach) adjacent to the Esplanade Charles Trenet.

Premier Bain de l’Année poster 2017
Premier Bain de l’Année poster 2017

With the overcast morning’s air temperature at 11°C / 51°F and the Mediterranean Sea’s temperature at 14°C / 57°F, the swimmers and their supporters gathered at the beach as colorful traditional Catalan fishing boats (called “barques” in French or “llaguts” in Catalan) arrived to assist the event. At 10:00 a.m. the swimmers started to disrobe to their swimsuits while their supporters kept bags of dry clothes and towels for the swimmer’s return.

At 10:30 a.m. there was a series of whistle blasts and the swimmers ran to the water. Many swimmers looked festive wearing Santa Claus hats, outrageous wigs, and costumes.  One female swimmer wore a sparkling ballerina’s tutu.

No, I did not join the swimmers this year. The dogs and I offered our support and admiration from dry land. Perhaps next year . . . NOT.

The swimmers had a spectacular time. They swam, splashed, posed for photos, and there was a spontaneous group sing-along with two dozen hard-core swimmers long after most participants had returned to shore. There were swimmers of every size and age with all having tremendous fun. It was difficult to estimate the size of the event, but my guess is there was 50 to 75 swimmers with 200 supporters cheering them on from shore.

As the swimmers eventually became too chilled to continue, their supporters would meet them at the water’s edge with warm towels. There were free hot drinks and certificates of bravery waiting for the swimmers back at the Esplanade.

A fun, hometown event to start 2017.

Happy New Year!

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600th Anniversary of the Procession de la Sanch à Perpignan

Tracy and my most recent micro-adventure was joining 10,000 other spectators at the 600th observance of the annual Procession de la Sanch (The March of the Penitents) in Perpignan on Good Friday, 2016. (La Sanch is pronounced “lah sank.”)

Poster of the Procession de la Sanch à Perpignan (Perpignan Tourism Office)
Poster of the Procession de la Sanch à Perpignan
(Perpignan Tourism Office)

Outside of Spain, the Procession de la Sanch isn’t really performed any longer. In France, it is only held in the southern Catalan country. The largest and most famous of the French penance processions still performed during the Semaine Sainte (Easter Holy Week) is the Procession de la Sanch a Perpignan. Nearby Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure also still perform la Sanch ceremonies, though on a smaller scale. The event was originally brought to Perpignan in 1416 by Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Valencian Dominican. (Remember, Columbus reached the “New World” in 1492, 76 years after the first Procession de la Sanch.) The Pyrénées-Orientales département (which includes Perpignan, Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, sometimes referred to as Catalunya Nord) has strong Spanish and Catalan roots that has helped this French department retain a traditional event that is typical of the Semana Santa (Spanish Holy Week). The strength of this French-Catalan-Spanish blend can be easily seen in the departments’ flag, gold and red stripes, the same colors as those used in Catalan and Spanish flags.

The somber, masked procession began centuries ago as a method to support condemned men on their final march to execution and ensure their Christian burial. La Sanch’s robes and the conical hoods (the hood is called a Caperutx — today the entire ensemble is referred to as Caperutx) were worn by the executioners and the prisoners to conceal their identities. Apparently early on in history the victims and families of the victims were a bit too happy to pull them out of the procession and just beat them violently to death in the streets.

The Caperutx worn during La Sanch are either black (worn by the penitents representing death) or red (worn by the leader, the Regidor, representing blood), only the children and priests in the procession (representing the innocents and the saved) wear white. A Regidor, in his red Caperutx is at the head of the procession and rings an iron bell to warn of the coming procession. The robes worn in la Sanch, while reminiscent to the costumes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, actually predate the Klan’s by 500 years and have a completely different origin and meaning.

About 700 members of local associations, Confrérie de la Sanch, organize, march, and carry the approximately 35 “misteris” in the procession. (“Misteris” mean mysteries in Catalan.) The misteris are litters with life-size portrayals of scenes from the Passion of Christ. Weighing between 60 and 100 pounds, the misteris may be carried by up to eight persons. Some of the penitents in Caperutx carried drums and beat a steady, slow tattoo for the procession. Penitents also may sing”goigs,” traditional songs dating back before the 15th century, that recount the sadness of Mary’s suffering in Calvary. We didn’t hear a “goig” being sung while we were watching the procession.

The Procession de la Sanch takes three hours (from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.) to circle the historic downtown of Perpignan and passing other parishes, starting and ending at Église Saint-Jacques (Saint James’ Church) which dates back to 1245.  

Prior to the procession start, we visited Église Saint-Jacques. We found a beautiful 13th century church with a unique bell tower that was built in the southern Gothic style. Its most unusual feature is that there are two Catalan-styled altarpieces at opposite ends of the single nave with the organ at the center. Inside the church were many of the Misteris with their fresh flowers being displayed before the procession. We had a wonderful opportunity to see the Misteris up close and appreciate their size and weight. We spoke with another visitor to the church who was admiring the Misteris. He was French, but had completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He recounted the history of the event with us and told us we were very welcome there and encouraged us to have a look around the church. Since Tracy and I share an appreciation of sacred architecture, his invitation was quite welcome.

Église Saint-Jacques de Perpignan (Saint James' Church)
Église Saint-Jacques de Perpignan (Saint James’ Church)

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We choose a location to watch the procession in Place Puig (Puig Square) in the Quartier Saint-Jacques which is also referred to as the Quartier Gitan because of its significant Gitan (Roma people, often called Gypsies or Gitanos in Spain) community. While waiting for the event to start we visited with a local Gitan man who explained the Gypsy history of the area and how the former military barracks adjacent to Place Puig were converted to public housing and was now home to primarily Gitan peoples.

Procession de la Sanch Map (Perpignan Tourism Office)
Procession de la Sanch Map (Perpignan Tourism Office)

The procession was preceded with a loudspeaker explanation about the history and meaning of the event.  After the announcement we heard the tattoo of drums and the procession became a solemn, slow-moving parade.  Approximately 700 men, women, and children participated in the procession.  Although it is easy to fixate on the penitents wearing the Caperutx hoods and robes, there are a surprising number of women dressed in black marching in the procession.  The misteris on their litters looked impressively heavy as their were carried on the procession. Both the men and the women carried misteris.  The carriers had an unusual technique of using a forked walking stick under the carrying poles to support the weight of the misteris when the procession stopped and to trade carriers. The use of the forked sticks was performed without verbal direction with orders by tapped by the team leaders with their stick on the ground to alert the other carriers. Tracy noticed that several women were wearing heels up to 4 inches to allow all the women carriers to be the same height. Several of the hooded penitents wearing the Caperutx elected to walk the entire route and to carry the misteris in their bare feet. 

I spoke with one of the marchers who was collecting charity contributions from the crowd.  He attempted to chat with us in French, Spanish, Catalan, and, I think, Caló (Gitano-Roma) before I explained that our French and Spanish was very poor and that we were Americans. While saying he didn’t speak English, he spoke enough English welcome us, thank us for a supporting the procession,and gave us a prayer card with the “Our Father,” . . .  in Catalan, of course. It is always amazing to us the number of multilingual people we meet in the Pyrénées-Orientales département, even though English is seldom one of those second languages, usually the French people in this area of the south will most often also speak Catalan, Spanish, or Maghrebi (Moroccan Arabic – Darija.)

At the end of the official procession pasted, members of the public joined at the end of the parade and followed the official participants.

In all, it was a unique opportunity to watch the 600 year old Procession de la Sanch in person. A chance to observe a traditional Catalan and Spanish religious ceremony performed in a very secular modern France. To be involved in the conclusion to the penance and atonement of the Lenten season in a historic ritual dating back to 1416. It was an extremely powerful experience.

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter.

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Micro-Adventure: St. Cyprien Plage

Last Saturday I was house shopping for 2016-2017 at AirBnB online (again). We found a place in Perpignan that looked like it would be great, but I still wasn’t sure it was the best option so I was still searching. I found a small house with nice big yard for Sami and a three room loft. I put in an inquiry and almost immediately heard back. It was available for the entire year. So we decided we should go and check out town where this cute little cottage lives in St. Cyprien Plage.

The house is at the north end of the plage, but having never been there we weren’t sure exactly where to get off on the bus and decided that the second exit near the port seemed about right. Well wrong. As we walked to the center town we realized that the port has almost two kilometers of waterfront. Built in the 1960s as a way to encourage tourism, this harbor has dozens of turns and branches out much like a palm tree. It is the second largest pleasure port in France and the third largest in Europe.

Needless to say we were quite done looking at the houses at the harbor by the time we reached the central plage.

This was a Sunday and apparently market day in St. Cyprien. We normally would have spent an hour or so wandering through, but Sami was with us and she gets terrified in a large crowd. The best option was to sit and have lunch and wait for the crowds to thin out.

We found a Vietnamese restaurant and were so excited to see that they had Pho. One of our all time favorite things and we couldn’t get seated fast enough!

We ordered to bowls of Pho with pork and shrimp and a side order of the chilled spring rolls also with shrimp. It has been years since we have had Pho and every bite was a reminder of home. Amazing food. Kim Long’s Restaurant, if you’re in the area . . . definitely do not miss!!

After lunch we toured through the central plage area, taking in the nice wide sidewalks and bike lanes. This town is definitely dog and bike friendly. Argeles-sur-Mer is also very bike friendly, but only in sections does it have wide, shaded lanes for both pedestrians and cyclists. In St. Cyprien, every street we walk on had wide sidewalks, most of them shaded by big trees and with nice lighting as well for evening strolls.

My first impression was the harbor and while nice I had been thinking that maybe it was a mistake to be looking for a rental property in this city. By the time we made it to the central plage and found where people really hang out the city had a much better feel to it. North of the harbor is the more laid-back section of town. Not quite as northern California “beach bum chic” as Argeles — which my soul does back flips over — more like yuppie surfer-dude feel of say a southern California beach like Santa Monica. Minus the ferris wheel.

After spending the day and getting oriented a bit, we decided that we definitely wouldn’t mind spending a year, or two, in St. Cyprien.

We’re sure Sami would agree. Her most favorite thing in the whole world is to get sand in her paws!

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