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August 22, 2008

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Aix-en-Provence, France

After a rather plain breakfast of just bread and jam here at the hostel, the Swedes and I caught the bus into the old town of Aix-en-Provence.  I had seen some of the surrounding newer town yesterday when I got lost and I really wasn’t impressed.  It was newer buildings and most areas I drove through were somewhat depressed areas.  I was beginning to think I had a made a mistake coming here.

dscn2703We hit the old town and oh what a treat.  My friend Barb had posted a comment and question recently about how clean the streets and towns seem to have been in my pictures, very Disneyesque she said.  True for many of the places I’ve been, but many have had dirty streets and some depressed areas.  Old town Aix-en-Provence was certainly not pristine, there are cracked buildings, dirt, graffiti, etc. but considering her age (founded in 126 AD), she’s looking pretty good.  Aix was the capital of Provence, the region in southern France, way before a unified France, and was considered the cultural center of the universe.  This was the home of Cezanne, and painters such as Picasso, Chegal, Van Gogh, Matise and others came to Provence to be inspired.

The original name of the town was Aquae Sextius, which means waters of Sextius for its hot springs and the Roman General who founded the town.  Somehow, that name was shortened to Aix and then it became Aix-en-Provence; hot springs in Provence, which is all part of the larger region called the Côte d’Azur, the blue coast.

dscn2776We walked around for a bit to get our bearings and then decided to split up, the four of us each wanted to do our own thing.  Caraina wanted to check out the local cinema machine rooms and museums, Onika, the museums, Lisa, some shopping and people watching, and I wanted to walk the town and take pictures and find a park.  After some time passed, we all ran into each other again and decided to have lunch so we picked a nice little cafe with outside seating and had the plat du jour and then sat there for a while, you know like the locals.

We split up again and decided we’d meet up at the hostel whenever.  I headed off to look for a park but didn’t find one.  As I was strolling down a street, a light rain started up and everyone bolted for cover under awnings, building overhangs and inside shops.  I sought cover under a well-protected tree which was quite comfortable.  After the rain, which cooled everything down nicely, I found a street corner just on the edge of the old town and sat down on a stoop for a while.  It was a great spot to watch the parade of interesting people going about their business.

Five teenagers on very loud supped up scooters stopped at the traffic light revving their engines while waiting for the light to turn green and I just knew these guys were pretty ornery.  When the light turned green, oh man it was loud; people crossing the street ducked to avoid whatever unknown unrighteous force was coming their way.  That was followed by a handsome slender man with a well worn and weathered face, a very prominent jaw and short gray hair.  He must have been in his 70s or 80s.  His face really belonged on the body of a rugged Alaskan fisherman, but his hair was well groomed, he was dressed casually but very sharply and he had a confident and slow steady stride.  Nothing going on around him seemed to be worthy of his attention.  He struck me as a man of some importance; someone you wouldn’t want to mess with.

Heaps of girls and young women in their pretty summer dresses, great looking men, many wearing capris and looking good in them, passed by mixed in with obviously wealthy couples, most speaking French or Italian, dressed to the designer nines and wearing sweaters on their backs with the arms over their shoulders and tied in front, as if it were sweater wearing weather.  I could tell they didn’t really have any particular business they were taking care of, they were just out to be seen.  I even saw someone in jewel encrusted flip-flops.

A guy on a scooter with his girlfriend on the back riding side saddle came by and then, what I could only classify as well to do beatniks, passed by carrying their baguettes home for supper.  Did I mention that Europeans seem to eat a lot of bread?  A man walked by with his head up and seemed to be generally snooty and turned between the back of the truck that was waiting at the traffic light and the car that was behind it.  In Europe, cars and trucks with automatic transmissions apparently are rare.  The light turned green and the driver of the truck put it in gear, took his foot off the break to move it to the gas and like all standard transmission vehicles are prone to do, it rolled backward a couple of feet.  The idiot snooty pedestrian put his hand up to the truck as if he could stop it, and instead almost lost his legs at, well, the top of his legs.  I flinched because I thought I was in for a blood bath, but luckily, it turned out to be just a close call.

I’m really amazed at how many husbands and boyfriends are carrying their wives’ and girlfriend’s purses.  Ladies, good on ya.  Guys, stop it, you look silly.  A large fellow with out of control hair and beard, dressed in all black with a guitar slung over his back and pulling a small speaker on a small dolly went by, probably on his way to his street corner or square in old town to earn his living for the day.  Funny; I’ve never seen street musicians coming or going, they’re just there.

dscn2847Lisa wandered by and said hello and we started walking down some less populated streets and I found some great picture opportunities.  We wandered into the cathedral and once through the doors I was stunned by the age and the beauty of it.  Just to the right was the baptistery which was lit by the sunlight from the windows above creating some neat light effects.  The organ was monstrous; I wish I could have heard it being played.  This cathedral was built in approximately 500 AD.

dscn2868We made our way back to the Centre Ville and decided to sit and have a drink.  We found a great spot in the center of it all, had our drinks and sat there for another hour or so just watching people.  I faintly heard a guitar playing jazz and I turned and saw the unkempt man in black from the earlier parade sitting on his speaker playing for coins.

Lisa and I split up again and I walked around a bit more and then after an unintended tour of the city as a result of getting on the wrong bus, I found my way back to the hostel where I hooked up with the girls.  Lisa arrived well before me and they were wondering what had happened to me.  We headed down to the bar around 7:30 with our groceries and bits of food we had purchased during the day and had a mini smörgåsbord. We were joined by Jack from London, yeah really, Jakob from the Czech Republic and Clint from Oklahoma.  We shared our food, bottles of wine, pictures, travel stories, and great conversation about each other’s homes, our governments and their social and domestic policies and our plans for the future till 1:00am.  What a great way to end a day.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Maggie - posted at 2008/08/26 16:42:46 Universal permalink
    August 26, 2008 4:42 pm

    Not grapes and not olives

  2. Barbara - posted at 2008/08/26 00:02:32 Universal permalink
    August 26, 2008 12:02 am

    Sounds like you had a marvelous day. The pipes at the cathederal are unbelieveable AND there’s two! You asked if anyone knew what kind of tree that is. I don’t. Are those grapes growing on it? I’m happy to hear that you’re meeting so many fun and interesting people. Maggie, you are a talented writer. I loved your detailed description of the 70-80 year old man whose face belonged on the body of an Alaskan fisherman. Take care. Keep having fun.

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