Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, I took the TGV with English assistant friend Sarah to Aix-en-Provence. I’ve taken a few trips to Provence during my time in France (Orange, Avignon, and Arles, for example), but Aix-en-Provence definitely seemed to be the busiest. It also looked like one of the richest, and I felt a bit shabby in my scuffed boots and well-worn winter coat (which fit in quite nicely when I was traveling in Berlin).
We started by walking down Le Cours Mirabeau, a beautiful street decorating with trees and fountains, including the La Rotonde fountain at one end. Aix-en-Provence is packed with lovely fountains, due to the springs that the city was built over. One on Le Cours Mirabeau even dates back to the Romans. From the tree-lined avenue, we wandered through town and tried not to get hit by the vans that were leaving the markets. The centers of most French towns were not designed for cars and Aix-en-Provence is no exception. But I survived the day as a pedestrian despite several close calls.
We had paninis outside at a café before continuing on our exploration of the city. It’s been so long since I could eat outside without losing feeling in my fingers; it’s such a nice change.
Aix-en-Provence’s most famous resident is painter Paul Cézanne, who was born and died in the city. Much of his paintings featured the countryside around Aix, but you can seen the the mountain depicted in “Le Mont Sainte-Victoire vu de la carriere Bibemus” from some parts of the city. Emile Zola and Ernest Hemingway also spent time in Aix-en-Provence, although only Cézanne has been honored by a statue by La Rotonde.
We also saw Le Cathédrale St-Sauveur, which has a notable triptych (I’m sure it would have been more exciting for my art history friends), and wandered up to the top of the very modern Grand Théâtre de Provence. The theatre was oddly in a very new neighborhood with apartment buildings that looked straight out of downtown Dallas. I hadn’t encountered that before in France. The theatre also had a “Grand R” restaurant, although I think my taking that as a Les Misérables reference was more of a projection than anything else. I know, literary references can’t be everywhere.
There was a really bizarre free art exhibition going on called “Hair du temps.” This was literally art and clothing made out of human hair, including hair hats from Jean-Paul Gaultier and stilettos decorated with long black hair by Pierre Hardy. Some of the pieces were really intricate and creative, like the 19th century bracelets. Others were just creepy, like the hairbrushes that had actual hair instead of bristles.
After the exhibit, we went across the street to Béchard, a well-known bakery that was recommended by my guidebook. The mille-feuille I bought did not disappoint and Sarah had a delicious looking chocolate mousse. After more wandering it was time to go back to the TGV station to catch the train back to Valence.
I bought my ticket to Rome and will be there May 6 to May 12. The price was too good to pass up, and I want to visit another European country before going back to the States. Should be another adventure.