Tuesday, August 25, 2015

To The South!

When I first arrived in Europe, now more than two years ago, I spent my initial month primarily in the South of France. I had been flown over by a family to teach their children for a few weeks while they spent their holiday at a summer cottage near Sainte-Maxime. It was an interesting period for many reasons, but no matter how bizarre, I was left with an overall impression of beauty and delight. There is definitely a reason why most Parisians flee the city during the last month of the summer and settle into rented or owned houses by the Mediterranean Sea. 

This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by one of my closest french friends to stay at her family house in Aix-en-Provence for a few days. Not only would I be able to explore some new sights and cities, but I would finally get to be apart of the mass exodus heading south in august. The weather in Paris had gone from intolerably hot and humid to unseasonably cool and rainy, so I was also looking forward to the dry heat and sunshine so traditional to the coastal regions. I began my journey by taking one of those famous high speed trains known to traverse these lands and so made it to my destination in just about three hours. My friend picked me up and we did a little afternoon shopping for supplies before settling into her frankly amazing house for the evening. A pitcher of mojitos (diet-mojitos to be precise... my friend accidentally put in spoonfuls of a splenda equivalent, making them taste just that little bit off like only fake sugar product can produce) by our side and we were quite content to lounge by the pool as the sun set on the horizon. That also gave us time to plan our adventures for the next few days, deciding what I wanted to see, where we should go and when.

Our original goal the following day was to spend the late morning and early afternoon in Cassis, followed by Marseille in the later afternoon and early evening. But if our completely unsuccessful grocery store excursion the night before had taught us anything, this was not going to be a trip where we did anything quickly or efficiently. After driving through the streets of Cassis way longer than necessary, we finally admitted to ourselves that the only parking available was much further away from the city center. This ended up working out for the best, however, as the lot was free and the shuttle bus downtown was less than €2 roundtrip. Once we finally made it to the seaside and stood in line a while for boat tickets, we had limited time to grab sandwiches and stuff them down before we had to get on the ferry that would take us around the port and 5 different "calanques" or inlets, that are famous to the region. The wait and the hurry were absolutely worth it, though, and I was left a bit breathless at how gorgeous the city was from the water and even more impressed at each of the stops we made. Mountainous cliffs hovered over the inlets, some much more pronounced than others, and even in the back of the boat we were sometimes showered with water splashed up from the speeding boat.

After the refreshing expedition, we wandered around the small port town, stopping in some shops, having a quick beverage (non-alcoholic surprise surprise because we drank rosé every day!) and taking an interesting jaunt to a local craftwoman's home. My friend had discovered a website online that showed the wares of a woman who creates lovely pottery in the form of bowls, cups, etc... We found the address and walked over but were surprised when all we found was a formidable looking gate protecting various residences. We ended up calling the number on the website and luckily found out that the woman was home and we were welcome to come and check out her goods. It was lovely to see the workshop and shelves of her creations lining the walls. It is of course always more interesting to do business with a local craftmaker rather than the touristy nonsense so easily distracted by in the city center.

After my friend purchased a few things, we finally decided to make way back to the car and head home. En route, however, my friend remembered that we were not far from a small town called Vauvenargues which is home to a notable castle. It was originally the home of various members of the French nobility, ranging from counts to archdukes. But in 1958, Pablo Picasso bought the château and surrounding property, where he and his wife are buried to this day. The Picasso family still owns the castle and land so there is no public access, but it is definitely a worthy spot to see.

Luckily, our failed grocery store mission the day before had in fact turned providential so when we finally arrived back at the house, we had all the ingredients for a thoroughly adult and healthy dinner to accompany our wine and provide a lovely prelude to our decadent desserts. All in a day's work when on holiday in the South.

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