Provence Cycling: An impressionist’s dream 


Day 1 – Friday 20th June, 2014  AVIGNON

I’d always dreamed of going bike riding in Provence.  For years I’ve read with envy articles about other travellers enjoying bike riding holidays in France while I slogged away at my job in real estate. I imagined the vibrant colours of the landscape and could almost taste the food and the wine.  It’s my perception of heaven to pedal hard all day through beautiful countryside, then relax in comfortable accommodation and of course, indulge in good food and wine each night. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my days on the tennis tour. For me there’s nothing like the relaxation I experience after strong physical exertion.

But have I left it too late, I wondered?  Especially when I’ve had Fibromyalgia for the last 4 years and have to take an afternoon rest.  The WalkInn representative tries to talk my husband and I into electric bikes when they find out how old we are. (I’m 65 and my husband’s 67 with a crook right knee.)   The Bike Hire Company then actually delivers the said electric bikes to our hotel in a last ditch attempt to entice us.  Not being technically minded, I’m sure I’d be a danger on wheels on an electric bike.  The alternative they then supply is a “unisex”/man’s bike.  They advise that I’m too tall for a woman’s bike.   I have to insist.  And just as well! Early on in the ride I have a minor spill when I try to ride up a bitumen flap and have to jump out of the way of the bike when it tips over.  If I’d been on a male/unisex bike with a high bar, I wouldn’t have made it and could easily have been seriously hurt.  As it was, I escape with a few minor bruises, a loss of dignity and the wisdom not to mount any more curbs. The tyres, I realise, are not cross-country ones like the ones I have on my bike at home.

Our bike riding adventure starts off in style with a move from our 2 star accommodation in Avignon to Villa de Margot, a very upmarket Bed and Breakfast at the edge of the historic part of town.  It is a very stylish, elegantly furnished home with Persian rugs and beautiful artwork.  As we are travelling for 6 months we are on a tight budget.  The bike riding trip is to be an exception. We really appreciate having the luxury of a huge room, a very comfortable bed, soft pillows and an impressive bathroom complete with a huge bath. I can hardly wait to get in it.  We can also enjoy the luxury of being able to sit downstairs in a sitting room or out in the garden, our previous budget accommodation having confined us to our room.

Dinner is not included the first night. Our hostess recommends that we eat at L’Essentiel and it is a winner – right up there in line with the accommodation. My very fussy Swiss husband, Markus says that it is the best restaurant we’ve eaten in since we’ve been in Europe which includes 7 weeks in Italy.

However, despite all the comfort and wonderful accoutrements at Villa de Margot, I don’t sleep well.  I worry about all the horrible things that could occur on the trip. Ambulance sirens haunt my dreams, as do the noise of mosquitos which are real and invading our beautiful room ferociously.

We have chosen to do a self-guided bike tour so as seniors, we can keep our own hours and cycling pace.

Day 2 – Saturday 21st June, 2014

Our exit from Avignon, which is quite a substantial town via the Magnanen gate is not as bad as I imagine.  Fortunately it is a Saturday, so there is little traffic on the road at 8.30am.  There are also designated bicycle lanes on most of the roads we make our departure along.

I am surprised at my level of fitness. One of the things I anticipated was that I’d be really struggling by the end of the 36k’s of our first day’s itinerary. Even though it is more than 30 degrees, I feel fine and very happy.  I love being outdoors as my school reports always attested to.  I also envisaged that there would be a lot more ups and downs in Provence.  In fact, there is only a small climb up the Montagnette to the Saint-Michel de Frigolet Abbey, where I sing “Amazing Grace” in semi darkness in the beautiful old church which has the most amazing acoustics. The reward of our uphill toil is the journey back down with no pedalling involved.  Although I do keep my foot ever ready to brake if I start going too fast for my comfort.  I find about 23 k’s per hour is my max, but if the road is too curvaceous, then the brake really gets a workout.

Toilet stops are a problem. I notice that the French seem to no longer wee in public without even going behind a tree, as I remember they used to when I was travelling on the European Tennis Circuit.  We find we have to search for some bush as there are no public toilets provided for water guzzling bicyclists.

We pass through the quaint towns of Graveson and Maillane, where we take a drink break and arrive at St Remy in time for lunch.  All that peddling has given us a hearty appetite and we strike gold with our choice of La Gousse D’Ail (the garlic clove).  The food is delicious. I have a rabbit terrine and salad.  The restaurant lives up to its name with the very garlicy salad dressing.

Although there is a pool at our B and B, it is in full sun and I think I’ve had enough Vitamin D for the day.  I retire inside for a lazy afternoon reading a very old Morse detective book which I find on their bookshelf.   We dine at L’Estagnoll which is situated in a large courtyard garden and is a perfect venue for a summer evening.  It also has excellent food.  I feel very relaxed but not bone weary. Markus, my husband is a bit worse for wear, not having done any training.  In typical male fashion, he is relying on his body to perform.  As we wander back through the town a cacophony of sound from different types of bands broadcasts though the night. There is a musical festival on and all the streets have been closed off.  All the surrounding cafés and restaurants are packed and the streets are filled with people.

St Remy is a town renowned for its artists, home to Vincent Van Gogh for a year.  Much to my disappointment, we won’t have the time or energy to go and see where he lived and painted, nor the Site Archeologique de Glanum, a Roman city.

Monday 22rd June, 2014



Over 30 degrees is predicted again today so we leave early in order to escape the worst part of the heat around 2.  By this time of the day we hope to be well and truly happily ensconced in a shady restaurant, eating lunch.  The ride today starts well. Once again we pedal down quiet country lanes through more olive groves and vineyards for which Provence is famous for. The rich colours of the blue sky, the green of the fields and the vibrant yellow of meadows of sunflowers makes it easy to see why artists have been drawn to this area.   Beautifully sculptured religious icons of Mary and Jesus stare down at me as I ride through village squares, reminding me of the deeply religious country that French has been in the past and still is according to my Swiss husband, Markus, who descended from the Huguenots.  His ancestors who were French Protestants, were driven out of France during the 16th Century during a scourge against Non-Catholics.

But this reverie doesn’t last all the way. About halfway through our day’s ride, we are on busier roads, some of which don’t have a designated bike lane; my pet aversion. Unfortunately I have a tendency to wobble when cars whoosh by.  At times I fear I’ll go off the edge of the road into one of the deep ditches which run too close to the side of the grass verge for my comfort.  Fortunately, French drivers on the whole are a lot more respectful of cyclists than their Australian counterparts and give us a wide berth, except for one young bloke whose patience gives way waiting for me to get around the round-about. He nearly collects me.

We ascend into Les Baux, named after the family of that name.  It is not as tough going as I anticipate and I only have to get off and push my bike on a couple of the steeper sections, my thighs no longer having the capacity to pedal up fairly minor grades, even utilizing all the available gears. Les Baux is a mediaeval town perched atop a rock face.  Entrepreneurs have taken full commercial advantage of the site.  Rentals are obviously high as are the prices of the wares for sale. Quality paintings, sculptures, giftware and clothes, the latter which I manage to resist.  No room in my bag. If only I could get rid of some of the sensible drip dry items I packed as recommended by the travel agent, that I’ve found I don’t wear.

We manage to get lost just a few kilometres from the hotel where we are staying. I’m not sure if it’s the wine and the 2 beers Markus had with his lunch or as Markus insists, the instructions from WalkInn which are at fault.  It is well after 2pm and the sun by this time is absolutely blazing down as we ride down a gravel track.   In the end Markus has to activate his GPS to locate our accommodation.

We eat dinner in the village square.  Eggplant and chevre tart followed by duck in fig sauce (I think I have duck coming out of my right ear) accompanied by an excellent wine.  Markus insists that we have wine which we have to pay for, commensurate with the food but it’s not cheap.  We stroll around the town afterwards. One thing I really love about being in France is ‘la promenade’ after dinner even after a long day’s bike ride.


Tuesday 23rd June

Our last day’s peddling is “parfait”- just how I like it.  Except for our exit via the main street of the village, most of the day’s ride is down quiet country lanes through the beautiful countryside of Provence.  We easily accomplish the last 20 remaining kilometres back to Arles by 11.30, and despite those dire warnings of discomfort from our contact at WalkInn, except for the odd case of cramps we’ve both been experiencing due to the overly hot weather, and with the exception of that minor spill on the first day, we arrive unscathed.  Contrary to one of my father’s favourite expressions “Anticipation is better than realisation” I have to report that the trip far exceeded my expectations.  I particularly love the feeling of total relaxation and well-being I feel at the end of each day’s exertions which doesn’t happen often these days at home in Narrabeen.

I am happy to report that my bike riding has definitely improved.  By the finish I am going downhill around 30 k’s and can ride around 18 k’s on the flat.  I also wobble less when cars go by, though for safety sake, when I am on a main road, I stop and stand on the grass verge when big trucks go by.

We wander around Arles, eat lunch in a courtyard restaurant then spend the rest of the afternoon in our hotel.  WalkInn has come up trumps again with their selection.  There is a pool, (but once again in the full blare of the sun) a shady garden, several beautifully furnished sitting rooms and an outside bar area.  We eat dinner at another fabulous restaurant, which Markus now says is the best restaurant that he’s ever eaten at, then wander down the banks of the Rhone before we turn in.











On the middle Saturday of the tournament, my brother, John and I are set down to play on the Centre Court against Margaret Court and Marty Reissen.   He is touring in the Davis Cup team managed by Harry Hopman and this is the first tournament we’ve played at the same tournament since Palermo.

Although we are the next match on, and have been duly instructed where to wait, I am the only one who is sitting on the hard, board seats in the small room behind the Centre Court.  The other more experienced players and my brother – who no doubt has been counselled by Harry Hopman, – remain in the comfort of the change rooms until the very last moment. Unfortunately this gives me too much time for my already shattered nerves to kick in especially as right above the doorway leading out to the Centre Court are the two crossed swords and underneath the lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem:-

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same.”

Triumph I can handle easily, I reflect, as I sit there. It is Disaster that is my main concern.

I find it hard to believe that I am about to play on the hallowed Wimbledon turf, the scene of so many long and torrid battles, fought by past champions.  As a young girl, growing up, I’d dreamed of this moment, as I’d lain sprawled on my parents’ bed, sipping hot, sweet tea and listening to the crackly radio broadcasts from Wimbledon in the early hours of the morning.  Now I am here and it is about to happen.

When the others arrive and I stand up to go out on the court, I can’t feel my knees.  They’ve completely gone to jelly. Nor as hard as I try, can I get the butterflies in my stomach to fly in formation. They are running wild.  I make the mistake of looking up at the Centre Court stands, which are full to overflowing with people. They shimmer in the afternoon sun, appearing to rise out of the ground, almost perpendicularly.  I pray fervently, to the God of all tennis players, that I will play my best, not let my partner down, or worst of all make a fool of myself.  I step gingerly forward, wishing fervently that I was a turtle and could just disappear into my shell.

We lose – but only just.  The good part is that as a brother and sister combination – only the third in the history of Wimbledon – we are the crowd favourites and are cheered loudly every time we win a point.  Mum will certainly be very proud and happy as it has always been her dream for John and me to play Mixed Doubles on the Centre Court at Wimbledon.




On the day of my first match at Wimbledon, in 1970 a chauffeur – in full livery complete with cap – arrives in a black, shiny Rolls Royce at the boarding house in Putney where I am staying.  The other,  not-so-fortunate players who haven’t made the draw,  plus our landlady – dressed in a crinoline brunch coat with her hair in rollers, covered by a paisley chiffon scarf – gather at the front door to and wave me good-bye. I hop in the front with the driver because I get carsick in the back, and am so excited that I don’t shut up the whole trip!     As we drive regally along, everyone keeps turning around, to see if they recognize me. “Am I someone famous?”

The sun, for once, is shining as we drive into the Club grounds past mile long queues of people waiting for tickets for the standing room area. Loud, spruiking scalpers are plying the crowd with tickets at exorbitant prices. The crowd parts as we drive through the gates then pass the Centre Court to the Players Change Room. Autograph seekers thrust their books at me as I get out.  I sign a few, and then race for the cover of the Ladies.  No doubt they are disappointed that I am not one of the top players!

I am due to play Margaret Court – the Number One Seed – in the singles in the First Round at 11am, and try to cool my nerves before the match.  I am most certainly relieved that, due to rain, we have been rescheduled to play on Court 17.  It would have been a nightmare to play her on the Centre Court, where we were originally drawn.

As I make my way through the crowds milling around the outside courts, adrenalin is surging through my body, making my knees go weak.  Unfortunately, I’ve managed to get very little practice on grass since I’ve been in England and find the transition from the very slow loam courts which I’ve been playing on, to the faster-than-lightning grass, difficult. The long, lush, English grass is also very different from the Australian lawn courts which bake themselves corn coloured during our long hot summers – by the end of which there is mostly dirt with only a few odd spikes of grass around the service line.

There is a large crowd crammed around the court which I am not used to and I become caught up in the occasion.  Margaret Court turns out to be every bit as formidable an opponent as I imagined she would be.  As well as being the Number 1 Seed in the tournament, she is the current Australian Champion.  It doesn’t help that grass is her favourite surface and really suits her serve/volley game to a tee.  I play in a hesitant manner, mistime the ball and don’t really settle down in the match at all.

It is not a pleasant experience.

I already had the “Nervous Nellies” before the match, having read a feature in the paper this morning, which compared the various arm lengths of the players in this year’s tournament.  I am especially intimidated by the fact that Margaret’s arm length is longer than two thirds of the Men’s Draw.  That doesn’t help my confidence and during the match when she comes into the net, it’s all I can think about.  My worst fears are confirmed.  It is just impossible to get the ball past her.  It feels like she is just all over the place without taking more than a step in any direction. The reality: with that massive arm stretch extended to the maximum… she is!

She also hits the ball with a lot more power and depth than I am used to, which I’ve heard is due to the fact that Frank Sedgman (who is coaching her) has had her doing weight training.  She wins easily but fortunately I manage to get a game in the second set for which I get a big cheer from the crowd.  6-love, 6-love would be very embarrassing even though she is the Number One Seed and we are on an outside court.


I expected to lose so I am not that disappointed. As I walk back to the change rooms by the other outside courts I notice that there are just so many good players. As only one hundred and twenty-eight players make the draw, I feel I’ve done well just to get into the tournament especially when I take into consideration that I am far from dedicated, have a dreadful second serve and am the female version of McEnroe.  I also have smoked all the cigarettes that the Rothman and Malboro  (tournament sponsors at that time) representatives gave me to hand around to the spectators.   Besides Margaret has the advantage of an entourage, whereas I am here all by myself.

I console myself in the change room with a long hot shower followed by afternoon tea on the lawn in the sun outside the centre court. I eat the biggest, sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted, with lashings of cream washed down with a half-way decent cup of tea. I’ve never really liked strawberries all that much before, having always found them a bit sour, but these English ones are so sweet and luscious.  They are truly to die for!


At last I can be me!


At last I can be me.  It has taken a long time for me to realize that I’ve spent my whole life fulfilling other peoples’ dreams – rather than my own.  I am 65. Time is marching on.  I feel a sense of urgency.  There’s no time to lose.  I don’t want to leave this world with my songs unsung – or in my case my book unfinished.

My mother’s ambitions for me were centred on tennis.  She always dreamt that my brother John and I would play in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon.  My Dad’s dream for me was more of the practical kind. He was 42 when I was born and knew he wasn’t going to always be around to support the family.  He wanted me to have financial security and encouraged me to go into real estate.

From an early age Dad had been intent on a career in business for me.  I received a telephone for my third birthday, a cash register for my fourth, he taught me how to write the receipts for the rent when I was seven and gave me a typewriter for Christmas when I was eleven.  He was doggedly determined to get a square peg into a round hole.


Both these professions left me somewhat dissatisfied and unfulfilled – as if I was rowing upstream against the current – there was something missing.  Deep down my dreams were along very different lines.   I had dreamt of living a creative life.  When I was young, I desperately wanted to be a dancer – then when I got too tall to be a ballerina – an actress.  I wanted to perform.

Mum and Dad were concerned about my creative side.  They were afraid I’d taken after Dad’s mother, Florence, who was very musical and arty.  She’d studied music at the Conservatorium in London, before coming to Australia with her husband. She played the piano, sang and also wrote fantastic stories.  However, she failed to pass muster with mum and dad because she was on the Bohemian side of life, was constantly on the move, had unreal expectations of life and people, was an unskilled money manager, a hypochondriac without maternal instincts and smoked roll your owns.  I adored her.

My grandmother, Florence May Alexander with her four sons looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth which was far from the truth.

My creative life, which had lain buried for more than 30 years, began to make itself known in my late 40’s.  It seemed to arrive with the beginning of menopause.  For two years I had a recurrent dream in which I packed suitcases every night.  I had a plane to catch but I couldn’t decide what to take.  I kept putting things in the case then taking them out.  The clock was ticking.  It wasn’t until I realized that the plane represented death, and the packing represented the things I couldn’t decide about, what I wanted to do with the remainder of my life.  It wasn’t real estate.  I started taking singing lessons.   Poems and songs popped into my head as I walked through the bush around the lake near my home at Narrabeen on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

I was invited to read my poem “Road death of a Kangaroo” at an international poetry conference in Washington and reached the semi finals.

Spirituality has always been one of the most rewarding parts of my life.  Although mum and dad had duly sent us to Sunday school, I found out later that they were both atheists.  They kept this very quiet when we were growing up in the 1950’s.  This was the era of the American Evangelist Billy Graham – a time when the majority of Australians were Christians (89.4% in 1954) and regular Church attenders.  Mum and Dad only sent us there so they could have peace and quiet while they gardened on a Sunday morning.

I’ve always believed that there was another dimension of invisible energy – not anything to do with what we learnt about in those Sunday school classes, held in the freezing chamber of Sir Frederick Stewart’s old dairy. I never felt alone as I raced barefoot through the bush or sat high up on branches watching the world go by.  I have always felt that there was something else – a presence.  Not just what we see – another level – invisible and magic.

I sold my real estate practice in Narrabeen in 2006 but it has taken me until now, 9 years on, to relinquish my real estate licence.  I finally made the decision to be a full-time writer while walking the Camino de la Plata in Spain, last year. I had waited so long for this moment. Sometimes I regret the time I’ve lost pursuing other people’s dreams. I wonder whether I’m too old to throw caution to the wind and embark on this new endeavour.  The silver lining is as I like writing about things which have happened in my life, and there is certainly plenty of material to write about.

I do believe that everything that has happened to me in my life, happened for a reason and at the right time – although quiet often it didn’t feel like it at the time.

I am finally walking my own path.

*Sir Frederick Stewart was a businessman, politician, government member and philanthropist. In many ways he was the antithesis of a professional politician, being prepared to sacrifice political advancement to achieve social reform. He relished his role as a gadfly: he was critical of his party leaders to the brink of disloyalty, but always commanded their respect. More active in social and industrial policy than virtually all Labour politicians of his generation, he was frustrated in his supreme objective of implementing a national insurance scheme. His idealism, administrative talents and disregard for political aggrandizement made him one of the more effective and attractive of Australia’s politicians in an era of depression and war.





CHANGE (THE SONG)  by Susan Joy Alexander


Writing makes me so much happier than tennis or real estate.

A picture of the front cover of a book called "A Spanish Love Affair" by Susan Joy Alexander.
A Spanish Love Affair by Susan Joy Alexander

Change can make me feel

Sometimes happy sometimes sad

Like I’ve just won the lottery

Or lost everything I‘ve had


I’m caught in a swirling river

Struggling to keep afloat

There are times I seem to be living my life

Bailing out my boat


When my best laid plans

Just go astray

And disappear from sight

And things I want to happen… don’t

Though I try with all my might


Its times like these I have to change,

My plans if not my mind

And if I practice often

It will get easier I’ ll find


But if I my dig my toes in

And insist on being the same

I’ll leave many paths undiscovered

Which would surely be a shame


Cos change can be such a wonderful thing,

A chance to live my life anew

Do wonderful exciting things

I never thought I’d do


So I’ll just grab it by the reins,

Dig my heels into its side

And if I walk, trot or run

I’ll just enjoy the ride


For in this life one things for sure that

Change is here to stay

No matter how I try

To keep it at bay


Well I really must say

That I DO love change

I get bored with the status quo

Though sometimes I feel

That I’m not quite ready


When the tide of change….. begins to flow