Before breakfast, this morning, I carefully reassemble the camera, which shows no more visible signs of moisture. I put the battery in, and turn it on. An encouraging sign: The lens pops out and the LCD lights up. I can view already-recorded images. Yay! Bad news: the lens is clouded with water, and there's a strange flashing symbol on the LCD. The camera clearly cannot record any images in this state. We'll try leaving the lens deployed, and keep the camera as warm as possible today.
Surprisingly, our watches are both still working. My Casio geek-watch (in the U.S., it automatically synchronizes to the NIST's atomic clock via WWVB radio). Brigid's analog watch is also still running fine, but its "Indiglo" backlight is faltering.
Breakfast? The only difference this morning is that the preserves are grape and raspberry. Oh, and we're in such a hurry that Brigid keeps the orange kitty at bay.
And reluctantly, we're back on the bus. We're heading to Provence today.
At a brief (and rather rustique) pit stop, I set the camera out in the sun and wind, which has picked up a bit.
An hour later, and we've arrived at the Pont du Gard. This is the largest aqueduct bridge the Romans ever constructed. It's something like 800 feet long and 150 feet high. Commissioned during the reign of Julius Caesar, the aqueduct that takes water from Uzès to Niems was built around 2,000 years ago.
Viewing the Pont du Gard (which spans the Gardon river -- not the Gard) is cold business. The sun is shining brightly, but the wind is really blowing. This is the famed Mistral wind, which is a similar phenomenon to Southern California's Santa Ana (but without the warmth). It is likely that this wind will be blowing during our visit to Cassis.
Anyway, I find the associated museum (which opened less than two years ago) to be much more interesting than the artifact itself. This museum, which escaped the flooding disaster that took place just a little over two weeks previously, is beautifully designed. All exhibits are in four languages: French, English, Spanish, and German. This includes both the static text/artifact displays and most multimedia displays. The museum shows you how the Romans engineered the aqueduct, how they distributed, used, and disposed of the water, and the history of how the aqueduct has been used and abused since it was constructed. Like most ancient edifices, once the aqueduct fell into disuse, it became nothing more than a source of building supplies for governments and individuals. In one multimedia presentation, a scientist comments that he himself had observed someone harvesting limestone blocks from a piece of Roman aqueduct, to be used in building a backyard barbecue!
We have lunch at the museum cafeteria. I choose the Thon Provencal (tuna in a tomato sauce), which comes with ratatouille and rice with wild rice. The tuna is okay, but nothing special. The rice is undercooked. The ratatouille is quite good. I should have followed Dina's lead, and selected the Assiete des Légumes (veggie assortment), which was just the ratatouille, rice, and "tomatoes provencal" (baked tomatoes with herbs and bread crumbs). Brig had roast chicken and frites ("french fries"). Feh. We share a Tarte aux Fraises (strawberry tart). It's very good! (This mediocre lunch cost €16.40.)
And we're back on the bus, heading toward Cassis. We eventually make a rest stop, picking up water, dark chocolate (76% cocoa solids, yum!), and pistachio and rhubarb yogurts. The pistachio yogurt tastes more like pudding, and neither of us are particularly impressed. The rhubarb will have to wait until tomorrow. There's no time to eat it before reaching the bus, and eating dairy products is prohibited on the bus.
As we skirt the Marseilles area, Kristen takes the opportunity to play the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. She points out the rather strident and gory lyrics. Apparently, there is increasing controversy over the lyrics, which are better suited as a revolutionary call to arms than as the anthem of an established country. Funny thing: In elementary school, we were taught some of the Marseillaise, but we were NOT taught the meaning of the lyrics. I wonder how Mrs. Berman and Mrs. Bromberg avoided it!
Meanwhile, we've continued to keep the camera in the sun, as much as possible. We periodically power it back up, but that little icon keeps flashing...
Upon arrival in Cassis, we find another mini-train/tram waiting to shuttle us from the bus to the hotel. We carry our bags to the tram, and shiver in the Mistral winds, while waiting to depart.
We arrive at our hotel, and are assigned room 23. Nothing special. There's a television in the room, and an english language channel, CNN International. Two single beds, pushed together. Slightly overly-potpourried room.
Before leaving for dinner, I decide to try the camera yet again. Hmmm... That icon is still flashing. Holy Moly! I suddenly realize what that flashing icon means: It only meanst that the date and time haven't been set! Once I set the date and time, the camera is back in business! I admit to Brigid that my pessimism was NOT proved right, this time. And I'm very glad of it.
We meet up for a very brief orientation, including a visit to the laundromat, which has Internet access for €1.60 per 15 minutes. We'll be back, tomorrow.
Then we head back to the harbor, for a group dinner at a restaurant called La Paillote.
Dinner begins with a choice of aperitif: either Kir or Pastisse (the intense anise liquer). Brig and I choose Kir, thank you.
Brigid chooses a starter of "stuffed" mussels. The mussels are quite small, perhaps 1/2 inch by 1 inch. They aren't really stuffed. They're cooked with garlic, parmesan, olive oil and butter. Excellent.
I choose a Provencal sampler, which includes more ratatouille, a sardine in tomato sauce, some kind of cold white salad I can't identify, and a marinated octopus salad. The sardine was better than the canned versions I've had at home, but not something I'm likely to crave. Same for the unidentified white salad. The cold ratatouille is good, and the octopus is better than good.
...Grouper in "shrimp sauce". This is a nondescript cream sauce with tiny shrimp. It's served with some plain rice that tastes like a dead ringer for Uncle Ben's. The fish itself is tasty, but I scrape away the sauce, which is just not worth eating. Same goes for the rice.
For dessert, Brig chooses the Tart Tatin (apple tart). This is a very tender apple tart with carmelized sugar and spices in it. It's served with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's got just the right mixture of sweetness and tartness, and the apples have the perfect texture.
I decide to go to the light side, choosing a fruit bowl. I'm served a bowl with tiny chunks of pineapple, honeydew, strawberry, raspberries, red currants, and dark, dark grapes (with seeds). It's light, refreshing and does the trick.
On the way back to the hotel, we agree to meet Phil and Joan at 9:30 AM tomorrow, to go to the market for lunch fixings, and then to hike out to two or three of the calanques, which are nearby fjords that are supposed to be very beautiful and in some cases, swimmable.