Oops! I thought I had posted this ages ago. Apparently not. This was a trip we made in February. Sorry for the delay. Also – I’ve run out of space for photos. Time to get myself in gear and upgrade the blog. Coming soon, I hope,
It’s about 35 years since we last went there. We were on holiday, camping and cycling around Provence. In those days travelling by train from London with a bicycle, you took it to Victoria Station a week ahead of your journey, hoped for the best, and consigned it to be transported to where you could collect it. Hopefully. And indeed, the bikes were there waiting for us when we arrived.
This time we again travelled by train (no bikes), which was so easy to do. We took plenty of provisions to eat along the way, and only needed to add occasional cups of coffee. Train to London, Eurostar to Lille, then TGV all the rest of the way. A shuttle bus into the centre of Aix, where our kind AirBnB host met us at the bus station and took us to her home.
Such a lovely city, and we were fortunate indeed with the weather. As we travelled home by train, from Avignon northwards all was covered with a thin layer of snow. Which a few days after our return became the Beast from the East, and delivered a rather thicker layer of snow here in Bath. But there was no hint of that while we were in Aix.
Such a delight to buy our food at the market and the local shops. Such a delight to cook for ourselves every evening. Daily doses of eclairs au chocolat (ou au cafe). Purely medicinal you understand.
Such a delight to explore the old part of the city in relative warmth and sunshine. Plenty of time to sit outside drinking coffee and people-watching. Wonderful art galleries and exhibitions. A visit to Paul Cezanne’s studio, looking for all the world as if he had just stepped outside for a moment. Because it was off-season, we had the place to ourselves. A visit by train to Marseille, where we climbed up to a magnificent cathedral and explored a very new museum complex.
But mostly just being there, in Aix, in the moment, in the sunshine, together.
The icing on the cake was managing to make contact with my sister’s exchange partner (herself the sister of my exchange partner), who I hadn’t seen for about 45 years. We hosted her (then painfully shy) 17-year old daughter for a week some years ago.
She lives in Arles, and she and her husband generously collected us for the day, we visited the daughter and her husband and children, they gave us a guided tour of Arles (including various views made famous by Van Gogh), and cooked a lovely meal for us.
At one time our families were very close – not just our generation, but her mother’s generation too, and even her grandmother – herself an extraordinary woman still riding her moped around the city (sans helmet) well into her 80s when we visited her last time we were in Aix.
It started with a young French woman who came to my parents for a year as an au pair (to rescue her from a horrible place where she started). She stayed on as a family friend and was a great friend and support to my mum through various traumas (including my father’s illness and early death); we hosted her mother and some of her cousins; later my sister and I had exchange visits with some of her nephews and nieces. My mother and step-father became close to another brother and his wife.
The first time I visited her family I was just 12 years old, and spoke very little French. They spoke no English at all, and I was with them on my own for 3 weeks of the summer holiday. The mother was kind and lovely to me, and looked after me well. By the time I went home I had fallen in love with the French language, and with what I had experienced of French family life.
While I was with her in Arles, she took a phone call from that ‘young French woman’ – now 74, who had rung especially to talk with me. It felt like entering a time machine. Her voice was the same as before, but now we spoke French to each other. I was transported back to 1966. So very wonderful, and so very strange.
We will keep in touch now. The ‘young French woman’ lives in Noumea, New Caledonia, but frequently visits family and friends in France. I hope that we may manage to meet in Paris or London some time. And who knows, perhaps the entente cordiale will reach into the next generation of our families.
Postscript: the ‘young French woman’ (now 74) is coming to visit us later this month! so exciting!!