Day 3 - St. Remy, Aix-en-Provence
22 June 2009
Jet lag had us both awake in the middle of the night but we managed to fall back asleep and woke around 8 a.m. with the solstice sunlight pouring through the windows. It was still windy from the Mistral. Our hostess, Avern, told us that the Mistral usually runs in sequences of 3, 6, or 9 days and today was the 3rd day. We found our way to a little pastry shop in the middle of town for more thick French coffee and a chocolate croissant.
We wandered around St. Remy a bit, but we planned to head to Aix-en-Provence (called "Aches" by the locals). The drive to Aix was through the countryside. For the first 10 miles out of St. Remy, the roads were lined with tall trees. There's no way this would go over in the US–some safety agency would determine that it's a hazard and demand the Department of Transportation tear out hundred year old trees to satisfy some bureaucratic edict. There were lots of 200 year old farmhouses and hand-lettered signs advertising local produce for sale.
Aix is a much more modern city than St. Remy and full of people. The Cours Mirabou is pretty with its' fountains and tree lined streets. But there are also a lot of people, including drunken transients, all over the place.
We ate at a pizza joint on the Cours Mirabeau called Piazza Papa. The signage suggested it was a chain, but it was our first "real" meal in France. If chains in the US were as good as that one, we would be very lucky indeed. We sat in our chairs on the patio, just watching people go past. I was amazed at the number of teenagers walking the streets with cigarettes and beer. Nearly all of the boys had English-language t-shirts that would get them a scolding if worn in public over here.
We found the Tourism Office, which the Rick Steves says are useful stops. The one in Aix was very full of people and all the literature was in French, so we didn't talk with anyone. After the TI, we got lost after walking away from the Cours Mirabeau and found ourselves in a residential area along long, curvy streets with no end in sight. After about an hour of walking, we found ourselves at a cafe near where we parked the car. I ordered Jackie an Orangina and I had a pastis. After 30 minutes, we were ready to walk the 1/2 mile to the car and head back to St. Remy.
Along the road back to St. Remy, we stopped at a field of sunflowers and took some photos of each other in the field. I also took some shots of the flowers, which was difficult with the sun in the way. By the time we got there, the flowers had turned their backs to the sun, which meant that I had to shoot straight into the sun to get the shot. Fortunately, I brought some filters for the lens to help dampen the harsh effects of the sun.
Back in St. Remy, the Mistral was still blowing hard. As the sun sat, we chose a restaurant in the city center called Le Gousse de Ail (The Garlic Clove). The food was very tasty and the building was decorated as if it were a circus. Because the wind was blowing hard, our meal on the patio was a little colder than normal. I ordered profiteroles for Jackie and I thought her eyes were going to roll back in her head in ecstasy from the chocolate glaze over the ice cream.
In the restaurant, a group of older Americans were loudly telling stories on each other and slapping each other on the back. Everyone else in the restaurant was thinking evil thoughts at them. I apologized to our waitress on behalf of the rest of the country.
Culture Shocker: I've been in Europe several times and France twice before. I'm accustomed to Europeans different attitude toward cigarettes than ours. Jackie pointed out that all the French women who are super-thin are also chain smokers since nicotine is a powerful appetite suppressant. I guess I never put 1+1 together before.
Slept all night. Sometime in the middle of the night, the wind stopped blowing.
Tomorrow – Villes-sur-Auzon, Sault, Mt. Ventoux. If you want to skip all the talk and see the pics, just browse over to my Photo site.