AIX / Everything that Marseilles wasn’t
Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21, 2014
I had no idea of what to expect
I will not make the ridiculous statement (I have not visited all of the cities of France) that Aix is the most beautiful and livable city in all of France but it’s wide thoroughfares, progressiveness, shopping, restaurants, climate, cleanliness and amenities would surely make it a contender. My awe may simply come from being in Marseilles, an hour away where one feels as though they are in North Africa. Marseilles is decidedly influenced by Islam and the African approach to live which means nothing is picked up from the streets. Moreover, to be in a city where graffiti is almost non-existent when Marseilles is covered three times over may have caused me to be overly appreciative of Aix en Provence.
When I am a temporary guest, I have a little, general rule that three days is my limit when staying with other people fro more than three days so, with this in mind, I decided to go somewhere for a couple of days prior to heading back to Italy. There was a bit of a lull so I decided to go to Cezanne’s city of Aix in Provence. Many of the French Impressionists made the cities and villages of this region their home. Arles and is another town frequented by the likes of Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh and later, Matisse. I wanted to see what the lure was and expected Aix en Provence to be a quaint little village.
Instead, I arrived to a first class, beautiful and bustling city. This left me staggered because I thought I would get off the bus on a shady Eucalyptus and café lined street while instead, I stepped from the bus into a terminal with spots for twenty mega buses. Further, my hotel which was advertised as ten minutes from the city center turned out to be twenty-five minutes from the bus terminal. After asking the English speaker at the News stand, I took his suggestion and got a taxi. After Paris I was apprehensive but discovered that 6 euro eighty would get me there.
I unpacked, took a shower and made my way to the old city where I did discover about five square blocks of quaintness surrounding the City Hotel and Sacre Couer. Here we have the restaurants and coffee bars of note. Not only do we have these, On Saturday morning during market, we have every local and tourist in Provence. The streets and piazzas were packed with gawkers and shoppers. If I were a citizen of Aix, I would be where they all seem to be this morning. The sparkling, county fair winning vegetables are stacked to the canopies of the umbrellas that cover the stalls. Poultry, breads, honey, cheeses, meats, herbs, spices, fresh sea food of every description and flowers also fill the shelves and table tops. Hundreds of people are shouting and pointing while money is being traded hand over fist. Further down the streets, five blocks in all directions are more open air markets selling everything from purses, shoes clothing to handcrafts and art.
Peering around the crowds, I took what photographs I could, went back to my hotel, rested and tried once more in the evening. Since there was little improvement in the picture taking opportunity, I sat down in an open air bar, bought a drink and did some people watching. In a few minutes the table next to me was occupied by a Chinese girl and her mother. Turns out she wasn’t a girl at all but a woman, married and older than I thought. She was an art teacher and because I had been drawing she asked about me in English. Around her neck I saw a small Protestant cross. This gave me impetus to inquire. Indeed she was a Christian from Hong Kong so we fellowshipped for about half an hour while her mother who only spoke Chinese appeared dumbfounded. When she learned my real purpose in Europe caused her to overflow with favor. Irene wished me God’s blessing on my ministry as she left.
Later I went out to a Moroccan restaurant recommended by the hostess at the hotel. I had a Tanjine of lamb, vegetables and couscous. Unlike, the dinner at Kos Kos in Oslo there was plenty of taste and definition and for half the price. Le Riad lived up to Julie, the hotel receptionists’ praise. I left full and satisfied.