By Bob Berwyn
When Leigh and I traveled to Europe late last year, we had an ambitious itinerary, traveling by train, plane, bus and ferry down the length of the Italian boot and across the Adriatic to Greece and Albania, with a stop at Pompeii for good measure. It was nonstop action most of the way, with adventurous moped rides and missed ferries in Corfu, traipsing around amazing World Heritage sites and sea kayaking in southern Albania, and late-night sandwich feasts in Italian snackbars.
But the trip began with a restful family visit in Brignoles, France. The quiet town in the Provence region is just off the beaten tourist path, although this past summer, it had a moment in the spotlight as a stage stop on the Tour de France. For us, it was a chance to reconnect with family and take a figurative deep breath before starting our whirlwind Mediterranean tour.
Living in the tourist Mecca of Summit County, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are many places where people go through their daily routines without ever seeing a tourist. It’s not that those places don’t have beautiful scenery of historic landmarks, but just that, for one reason or another, they never quite made it on to the map of must-see places.
During our stay, we settled into a peaceful routine. In the morning, we wandered from the house to the bakery to pick up baguettes and croissants. After a leisurely breakfast, we caught up on some work we brought with us, heading to the local McDonald’s, where we found a free and reliable wifi connection. Lunch, the main meal of the day, was served on the patio, and since the meal usually involved jugs of good wine, the only logical next step was an afternoon siesta.
The McDonald’s, we soon discovered, filled an unexpected cultural niche. Not everybody in France favors cozy cafes with surly, apron-wearing waiters. The restaurant was thronged overtime we went there, showing that the French have a serious love-hate relationship with McDo, as they call it. But the French McDonalds phenomenon has been well-reported, by Slate, for example, and also in the Times, which detailed how the American company makes more money in France than in England.
I’d rather just show you a few scenes of Brignoles and the surrounding area, captured in the following images.