In any given week, I’ll have flashbacks from my mother-daughter European adventure this past fall. I ask myself, “Wait… did that really happen!?” Sometimes, well most of the time, it feels like a dream. It was (cheesy as it is) a dream come true. When I get to reminiscing about traveling around Europe with my mom for two weeks, I can clearly distinguish it as one of the top five events of my life thus far.
I have left y’all hanging since sharing the magic that is Paris (and Parisian pastries). That was only the first destination, however — just when the party was getting started. I think I have procrastinated writing these posts, again and again, because I admittingly hate to think that this trip of a lifetime is something of the past. Then my rational side talks to my emotions, and reminds me: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”
After four nights in the romantic city that is Paris, we headed to southern France via a pleasant train ride. This was my first real train ride — the first of many (16!). We arrived in the much smaller city of Aix-en-Provence on Thursday, mid-afternoon. We knew prior to our arrival that we were expected to find our way to our AirBNB rental from the train station, by foot. We were extremely curious about this: why couldn’t we take a bus, or a taxi? The explicit directions from our AirBNB host seemed complicated to us foreign tourists: turn right here on Rue de… make a left at this building… quickly, we figured out why we had to make this trek by foot.
Aix is a medieval city, and our destination was in the middle of Old Aix (downtown) where the streets are so narrow that they are not wide enough for a standard vehicle. So, looking blatantly like tourists straight off a train, tugging our rolling suitcases with one hand and the printed email directions from our host in the other, we finally made it to our home for the next three nights. A pleasant contrast from the grey skies we left behind in Paris, the southern France blue sky and sunshine had turned our cheeks a bit rosy amidst our search through the cobblestone streets.
The hill at mile 12 in a half-marathon race is sort of what it felt like climbing the stairs to our room on the fourth story of one of the ancient Old Aix structures. We muscled our suitcases up the 50-something uneven spiral stairs to the flat where we were greeted by our sweet host, Ines. You would never have assumed the inside ambiance from the appearance of the building that had seen so much history. Ines’s flat was darling — modern decor, with a touch of Asian flair. A banner-less concrete staircase curved up the side of the dining room to the upstairs corridors — unique architecture like I’d never seen before. After a brief introduction with Ines, a work-from-home mother of three, my mom and I ventured out back downtown to stretch our legs after half a day of traveling.
En route to our AirBNB rental…
Ines’s home – on the fourth floor
Inside Ines’s [iPhone photo]
After meandering the confusing streets (rues) on Thursday evening, we eventually decided to grab a few items to munch on for “dinner”; we were both more than ready for simple after eating our way through Paris. Finding fresh bread, fruit, and cheese is hardly a task in France. We took it easy the rest of the night, relaxing in Ines’s comfortable home. This was our first experience using AirBNB, and an “intimate” one at that. We shared the solitary bathroom with Ines and her girls, though with Ines and her girls being away for the weekend, we had the place to ourselves much of the time.
Friday morning, our first full day in Aix, we had a 9:00am appointment for a walking tour of the city. The go-go-go in Paris must have finally caught up with us because Mom and I both slept through our alarms and woke up five minutes before nine! In complete panic, we brushed our teeth, threw on whatever was on the top of our suitcase, and carefully ran down the spiral stairs. We quite literally ran up the cobblestone streets to the ancient cathedral where we were suppose to meet our guide, Delana. In her email to us, she wrote: “I’ll meet you in front of the big doors of the Cathedral Saint Saveur on Rue Gaston Saporta. I’m sort of tall, sort of blond and sort of middle-aged (if one lives to be 112!). I’ll be sitting just next to the big doors.”
We spent the next three hours with Delana – stylish like a native French woman dressed in a cute Gap chambray dress and Birkenstock sandals with a large tote – as she guided us through the city of Aix, flooding our ears with history of the medieval city. Delana, a Minnesota native, was energetic and lively — exactly what we needed after an abrupt, coffee-less start to our day. We knew our tour was off to a good start when one of the first places she took us was La Brulerie Richelme to sample the best hot chocolate — at 9:00 in the morning. Yep, hot chocolate for breakfast. When in France! The coffee roastery/cappuccino bar was so fantastic that we made a point to go at least twice more. After three hours of an educational and active tour with delightful Delana, we finally sat in the square nearest our starting location, bought Delana an espresso, and compensated her in Euros and many “mercis.” Now we were on our own!
Since we had missed breakfast, aside from the petite cup of decadent sipping chocolate, we were more than hungry and ready for a real meal. We took one of Delana’s recommendations to eat at a cafe run by two sisters who use fresh produce from the local farmer’s markets. We both enjoyed the vegetarian special of the day – a vegetable quiche and salad – as we sat outside the colorful cafe, on one of the sleepier streets. If I remember correctly, more walking ensued thereafter (most likely gelato, too). We popped into a museum briefly as it was closing up for the evening, and then laughed as we attempted to find a deli we’d stumbled upon the day before. We returned to Ines’s with a few savory delicacies to construct a casual dinner since we had a substantial mid-day meal.
Seeing as it was Friday night, Ines’s boyfriend was visiting, so we got to converse with him before they took off for the weekend. When talking with Ines and her handsome beau, we were inspired to visit the Calanques. So, the next day we were off to Cote d’Azur (to be continued…)!
Tidbits About Aix
It is a university town, and that is apparent with its younger inhabitants
Contrastly, it is considered bourgeoisie, so it has an upper class, ritzy feel
The sky is SO blue! They seriously joke that people move from dreary, grey, rainy Paris to Southern France because of this upgrade in climate
Melon agriculture is huge in Provence, so you will find melon everything — including the iconic cookie of Aix, the Calisson
Farmer’s markets every day — so much yes! This was absolute heaven for us, as evidenced by my photos
The narrowest street in Aix!
The large and lively square near Ines’s place
The infamous hot chocolate from La Brulerie Richelme
Chocolate for breakfast! [iPhone photo]
Pretty doors — everywhere!
Aix: “City of a Thousand Fountains”
[photo courtesy of Mama]
A vibrantly fresh lunch with Mama [iPhone photo]
Pouches of Provencal lavender
We randomly stumbled upon a movie being filmed in one of the squares
Mama shopping at one of the many markets
Cheese, of course, cheese!
Motorcycles at the flower market
The only type of (3-wheeled) vehicle that will fit down the streets – so cute!
That was Aix in nutshell… take me back, s’il vous plaît.