France: Week One – Part Two: AIX en Provence

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As I mentioned in my last post, the first week in France has been quite an experience.

Being in Paris was wonderful and I know that was because everything was familiar to me. I’ve taken the bus and the Metro many times all around the city with no issues. I’ve ambled down the large boulevards, sat in cafés and people watched, and I’ve navigated many train stations.

But mostly I think I had such an easy adjustment in Paris because I had my friend Catherine as a companion, who took care of me those first few days, making sure I ate, giving me tips on which bus to take, helping me get my phone, showing me some places I hadn’t seen in Paris before, and speaking French for me when I couldn’t find the words.

But now its time to go to AIX en Provence.  Comfort zone be prepared for expansion!

August 8 – Arriving in AIX en Provence on the train was easy, and Catherine’s friend EveLyne was there to pick me up. I will be staying at her home and house-sitting / cat-sitting while she is on holiday.

EveLyne picked me up curbside in her adorable bright yellow and white Citron DS3; and with a quick greeting, we tossed my bag in the trunk and we were off.

CitronLooking out the car window at my new surroundings I see the South of France countryside with villas, groups of cottages, farmhouses and small villages scattered over the landscape.  There on the horizon, just east of Aix rises the Montagne Sainte-Victoire one of the landmarks of the Pays d’Aix. This mountain was a favorite subject of Paul Cézanne, and he painted its likeness many times throughout his lifetime. (More on Cézanne in a later post.)

mt-sainte-victoire

Montagne Sainte-Victoire

Upon arrival at my new home, EveLyne gave me a brief tour of the house, back yard and pool, then showed me to my room to unpack and get settled in.

Later, EveLyne shared the bus schedules with me so that while I am here I can get along without a car. I thinking, Oh this will be easy! I know how to read a schedule, and I’ve taken the bus and metro all around Paris. (The saying: Famous Last Words now comes to mind.)

I change out of my travel clothes and don a cute summer dress and we head out for a delicious organic meal in the little village near EveLyne’s home. While walking in the village she points out the bus stops so I’ll know exactly where to go. (Note: there is no such thing as “exact” in the South of France, just saying.)

AIX 009

Following dinner we drive into the center of AIX for a look around. EveLyne takes me one of the most popular and lively places in the town, Cours Mirabeau, a wide (mostly) pedestrian street, with double rows of plane-trees and lined with grand homes, shops and restaurants.

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AIX is often referred to as the City of 1000 Fountains, and Cours Mirabeau is decorated with its fair share; the most notable being La Rotonde, a large fountain that makes up a roundabout at one end of the street.

rotande fountain

August 9

Today was purely a vacation day. I just relaxed around the pool, read a little, ate a little – it was wonderful. It’s been years since I did nothing but relax. I even got a suntan!

August 10

Today Evelyn left for her holiday (sailing in the Mediterranean Sea) and I headed off into AIX for a bit of exploring.

I walked to the bus stop, and there was an older French woman there. Being friendly I say, “Bonjour” and she responds in kind.  A minute later, she Lavender 001starts talking to me (in very rapid French), and from what I can make out she is upset because this village closes down in the middle of the day, and other shops closed down for August. Apparently she needed to go shopping as well as to the post office and everything was closed, and on top of that, she wanted to know where the bus was? Why was it late?

Did I mention this is my first day out? I am not fluent in French, she doesn’t speak a word of English and I have no idea why things are closed. So I string a few French phrases together to let her know I am just visiting, and I have no idea why this town closes down, I’m just trying to go to AIX.

The bus finally comes and within ten minutes we arrive in AIX.

I wander aimlessly around the old town, winding through the narrow, cobblestone streets, taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. I’m just thrilled to be here.

Here are a few snapshots from the day:

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COUPLE BW

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After a really nice day of wandering around, I stopped into a little brassiere for a bit of refreshment. I met some locals who taught me some new French words, and I taught them some English. We were having a terrific time.

There were only a few of us in the place for quite a while, but after around six o’clock, it started getting really busy. I had been looking up information on my iPhone all day, checking in on foursquare, etc., but I always put it back in my bag when I was finished. Except one time.

At one point late in the day, I had been using my phone, and then needed to grab something out of my handbag. So I laid my phone down on the table, and then when I went to grab my phone again, it was gone. GONE. Someone swiped it right then and there. Unbelievable!

In the States we have our phones out all the time, and no one seems to bother them. I was shocked and upset. But that wasn’t the half of it.  Busses stop running to my little village pretty early, so I had planned to take a taxi home that evening; the problem was – I had the address of where I was staying on my iPhone – so I didn’t know how to direct the cab driver on where to go.

To say the least I was pretty upset and a little scared. It was now dark, I had no idea how to make it home. After wracking my brain on what to do, I remembered my local phone, and called Catherine! (Thank goodness we programmed her number into the phone before I left Paris.)  She texted the address to my local phone, but I was so taken-a-back by the fact that my iPhone was stolen, I couldn’t really manage speaking in French to the driver to tell him anything. Remember, this is my FIRST day out in AIX by myself.

Catherine was such a good friend — she talked to the driver for me and proceeded to stay on the phone with him until we arrived home – giving point by point directions and making sure I made it safely. Seriously, I do not know what I would have done without her.

What a hard lesson to learn my first week. After talking to a few other people, I guess there is quite a market for smart phones here and you cannot set it down at all without your eyes on it at all times.  I’ve heard stories where these thief’s will actually steal it right out of your hands while walking down the street.

Thankfully my phone is insured, but trying to get a new phone while in Europe may prove to be a little difficult, and I may have to wait until I get back to Paris where there is an AT&T Worldwide office.

August 11

Needless to say, I stayed home today. I swam in the pool and got my bearing’s back.

To be continued…

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Filed under My Dream, Travel, Travel Lessons, Words of the Wise

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