Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scenes from Aix en Provence

Two weeks ago, the Professor had to present his research at a conference in Aix en Provence and the little one and I decided to tag along. We thought we'd see the sights in and around the city center and then maybe take the bus to nearby Marseille and explore somewhere else. Well, our trip didn't pan out exactly as we planned. Roman's stomach virus lingered longer than we expected and just as he was getting better, he caught a nasty ear infection. The pediatrician prescribed an antibiotic for his ear which cleared up the infection straight away but made his already sensitive and wobbly stomach even more sensitive and wobbly which made him not want to eat and throw up whenever he did. So we scrapped the plan of going to Marseille but we got to know little Aix really well and if I tell you that despite the fussy, vomiting toddler we had a nice time (again, under the circumstances) maybe that'll give you an idea of how lovely this city is. 

Here are some scenes from our trip:

To start things off, here is probably the most iconic image of Provence. A little café with the typical wicker chairs and of course an old guy with a beret sitting with a cigarette and a newspaper. 

When we checked into our hotel and received our complimentary map of the city, we saw that almost all of the recommended sights were fountains. Apparently this is the city of a thousand fountains and no kidding, there's at least one every few blocks. This one above was my favorite. Not because of the fountain itself but because of the whole picture: the moss on the base, the green peeking through the pebbles on the ground and the contrast of the bluish grey doors against the warm tones of this old building. Isn't it charming?

A shot of Roman sleeping next to one of the thousand fountains. The poor little one. This was the first day of our trip when he was feeling the worst. All he wanted that day was to be walked around and around so that he could sleep and I was happy to oblige since it seemed like the only thing I could do for him. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I sometimes walked for three or four hours straight just to ensure that he slept as deeply as possible. I could only ever stop for a few minutes at a time since the lack of motion would immediately wake him up.

The good thing about walking around and around was all the window shopping I got to do. When it comes to window shopping in France, my favorite things to ogle are the boulangeries and patisseries. Pastries are an area where the French beat the Spanish, no contest. I think this picture speaks for itself, don't you think? 

Basically, we come to France to eat. We're not very fussed about the cathedrals or the museums or the palaces. But you can bet your life that we take advantage of our surroundings in all things culinary. Especially dessert wise. This is at the Béchard bakery on the Cours Mirabeau. If you go, try the calisson. After all, the cakes are too big for sidewalk snacking :) 

Above is a picture of the best, accidental find in the history of people accidentally finding things ever (that's right, Signor Columbus). While out walking one day, I decided to head down a tiny street off busy Rue Espariat and I found this little gem. It's a cafe run by and for expats with all of the familiar foods from England and the U.S. It serves tea, cakes, and bistro fare but the best thing about this place is the free wifi and the kid's playroom. For me it was like an answer to a prayer. Whenever we were in our hotel room, Roman would fuss and whine because he was bored but I couldn't take him to the park because he was sick and it was cold out. So it was wonderful to find this place where I could sit quietly and sip a mint tea while my little one played with cars and trains and pop up books. We made sure to visit once every day that we were in Aix. In case you're ever visiting this part of the world with little ones, I highly recommend The Provence Shop on Rue Victor Leydet.

A shot of my little one in the playroom of The Provence Shop. The toys are very well loved and most of them don't have batteries but that hardly matters to little kids or parents. Roman was entertained so I was happy. I just have to mention one awful thing that happened here. It still makes me feel a bit horror-struck when I think about it. On our second day in town, I stopped by the cafe in the hopes of trying the lunch (all I'd tasted the day before was the tea and banana bread which was delicious). Just as soon as my salad was served, Roman started vomiting all over himself. The Professor was at his conference and I was alone with a child covered in sick. It was terrible. I used up half a bag of baby wipes cleaning him off while he cried. The lady who runs the shop rushed over to help and I was so grateful to her not only for her speedy response but also for the fact that she was so calm and casual about the whole thing. For some reason, I was embarrassed when it happened-- the way you get when your child has a temper tantrum in public. When those kinds of things happen, I think we feel vulnerable and exposed because they reveal how little control we have over a situation when we feel like we should be on top of things all the time. So I felt ashamed and grossed out (I never touched my salad) and worried about my son. But the cafe owner was unflappable and helpful and that just meant so much to me. 

Asleep again on day three of walking about town. Looking back over all my travel posts, I realized that I have so many pictures of Roman asleep in his stroller. I could start a Tumblr devoted to them. I could call it, 'The interesting things Roman never saw because he was asleep but wouldn't remember anyway if he had been awake because, let's face it, he's just a toddler.'

Most of the time we were in Aix, the weather was lovely with lots of sun and only a mild chill in the evenings so it was the perfect walking weather. Everyone makes a big fuss about Provence in the summertime when it's lavender season and everywhere you go there are shades of shocking purple. But I have to say that Aix in the fall is probably just as delightful. There's not that many tourists, the trees are just sparse enough, and there seems to be a lovely autumnal hue on all the buildings. 

Of course, every autumn day can't be a sunny one so when the weather turned wet and cold on the last day of our visit, we were happy to escape inside Le Pain Quotidien. This chain serves wonderful organic foods but I have the feeling most people actually come here for the waffles and hot chocolate. We spent at least a good two hours here having lunch and dessert, enjoying the ambiance and free wifi while Roman played with a little French boy who had also brought along some Matchbox cars to play with. The kids raced their cars along the long table and giggled like little maniacs. What I love about this age is that there's no language barrier. As long as there are toys, kids will find a way to communicate. 

Walking around the streets of the city center, I saw this sign repeated a few times. It made me laugh so I thought I'd share it. I've seen signs for deer crossings before but never one for wiener dogs. What privileged animals to get their own designated part of the street! 

This drawing is painted on a window of a bar. It seemed to represent what a trip to Aix should look like. Two people sharing a bottle of wine and deep conversation over a friendly game of cards. 

A shot of the city center at night. When I say night, I mean five thirty or so when the sun went down. Ah, winter. At least it still looked pretty, right?

So that was our trip! We'd love to visit again someday, hopefully when we're all well. Have you guys ever been? What did you enjoy about it?

P.S. Here are some scenes from our last trip (also to France), in case you missed it.


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    1. Janet, thanks for reaching out. I love when people leave comments. First of all, congratulations on your little one and for making a big move. It's like two different adventures simultaneously! I wasn't clear if you are moving to Barcelona? If so, welcome! Write me an email with any specific questions and I'll give you all the help I can. My son's doctor is assigned through the public health system and according to the neighborhood we live in. That's how it works here. If you would like a recommendation for a pediatrician through a private practice, I can ask friends and get back to you. My biggest advice for you as a mom living abroad is to try to get out there, meet people and try to find groups of people in your same situation. It can be so lonely to be somewhere new with no family or friends and stuck with a baby all day. I know this from experience. Sometimes just joining a yoga class or something will instantly put you in contact with people who may become friends. Put yourself out there and you'll do great! Let me know if I can help with anything. Good luck to you!