Thursday, December 9, 2010

Provence and the Côte d'Azur

Aix'd from Provence to a Nice beach, by a not so Arles-y trains. 

Aix at Night
Aix-en-Provence - We took a bus from the Marseille airport to Aix, and then had to wander about until we found a region of the city that matched the wee map we had. Eventually, we found the hotel, dumped our things and went out for a walk. It was dark by then, which was a bonus as the main way was lit up and had a variety of christmas stalls. After a brief wander and some rain on our heads, we headed back to the hotel - baguette, artisan cheese and saucisse in hand. 

The next day was spent walking around Aix. With only one night in each town (and already booked in other hotel) we didn't want to waste much time. Aix itself is quite small, and we managed to get around to all the things on the short list. However, because it is the off-season, many places were closed for lunch (which is at least 2 hours long). 

The morning was spent in the heart of old Aix, along the Cours Mirabeau and its many fountains, the eclectic Cathedrale St. Sauveur (on the Roman Via Aurelia!), various architecturally interesting buildings, and breakfast in a cafe (of course). Cours Mirabeau - German winter market without snow but with caissons; Fountains - lacking in the water department; Cathedrale - additions through the 6th - 16th centuries; cafe - overrated. 

The afternoon we trundled up a hill and passed by the Mausoleum of Joseph Sec, Therme Sextius, the Atelier Cezanne, and the Grand Theatre du Provence. The Mausoleum had 6 statues - identified by Matt as Noah, David and Goliath, and Aaron (bro o' Mose'); there were also three unidentified women, one of which was driving a nail into a guys skull…  awesome!  Therme Sextius is an old Roman bath built over a hot spring, and now caters to late-stage doyennes in bathrobes. Cezanne's workshop was closing for lunch as we arrived, and as we are 1) cheap and 2) impatient, we decided to forgo seeing the place where he mixed paints. I hear the Louvre has some of his pictures of art. The Grand Theatre is modern, and spade like a snails shell. We walked to the top, and got some nice views of Aix. Then it was off the the train station to wait for the train (which was delayed).

Marseille - the place we were the most and saw the least. 
It's uh… got a neat train station. With trees that grow inside. And an airport that is nowhere near Marseille. 

Nice - After switching trains in Marseille, we arrived in Nice at 9pm. Walking from the train station to the lost Hotel was sketchbag. Why do 15-23 year old males hang around in groups in doorways? It's just weird. However, we found the hotel, and then slept. 

Nice from Above
The next day, armed with sunshine and map, we headed out into Nice. First stop was the main boulevard and breakfast at a cafe (far better than the first attempt). We moseyed along Avenue Jean Medcin to the old section of Nice and the coast line. Walking along the beach, we saw the Chateau de Nice on a hill. The Chateau is no longer there - and was really more of a fortification anyway. In its stead is a park with views that reach far out to the mountains that surround Nice. On the east side is the port of Nice and Mount Boron. We headed that way, as there is an archaeological site of human ancestors -  Homo Erectus. Finding the Museum of Terra Amata was as close as we were going to get - the site itself is probably fiercely guarded. 

The afternoon found us back in Old Nice, and headed towards an xmas market. This time, there was a skating rink set up (in 15 C weather mind you). Lunch was had, and wandering through pedestrian shopping. We killed a bit more time by sitting in the cafe of breakfast and people watching until our train. Which was late. 

Arles - The train from Nice to Marseille was both late and delayed. Which means that we missed the train from Marseille to Arles. So we waited for a while. We arrived at about 10pm, and wandered past shops through the main pedestrian area that was way less sketch than Nice. We'd called ahead, notifying the hotel that we'd be late. They gave us the entry code, and then said we were on the third floor in room three. Upon arrival, we went up to the third floor and saw rooms 12-16. We tried doors, we knocked… nada. One of us got the bright idea to go down to room three and try that door (previously deterred by voices). it opened. It had a bed (or three) and a key. Punked! regardless of whose it was. Obviously it was for us… otherwise thats some interesting housekeeping method. Slept like the dead. 

Woke up, still in Arles, and headed for breakfast and then the car pick up. Stupidly going by the Europcar address, we arrived at an abandoned garage. To make matters worse, the actual location was at the opposite end of town. After hiking though a narrow market, that was beside Roman walls, we passed the train station. And a town gate. And a Speedy. Found the Europcar, got the car (Renault Clio) and found parking eventually (hoooweee 1.5 km and Matty and I were already killing each other). 

Arles Doorway
Arles has several structures dating through the ages. Roman, Medieval, Renaissance. There are Roman walls, a coliseum and a ruined theatre. Medieval churches and houses. and Renaissance hôtels and banks. One place where all three exist lies along the Roman Via Aurelia. The Alyscamp is a necropolis that houses the tombs and sarcophagi of the dead from Roman times until Medieval. The road is truncated by a Medieval church of Saint Honoratus, wherein pigeons live. The place cannot be described accurately. The pigeons calls echoed eerily, especially when down in the dark, damp crypt. That alliteration was totally accidental, promise. 

Arles was also the home to Van Gogh for 15 months, and was where he painted Cafe Terrace at Night, Sunflowers, and about 200 other paintings. Apparently he didn't like the place as a whole - but enjoyed parts. Probably on his good days - this was towards the end of his tortured existence. Poor guy. At least he had Gauguin to keep his spirits up. Again, visiting where the artists worked is interesting when reviewing their created image - but to see it, we have to travel to the Netherlands. 

View of/from Baux
Orange - We left Arles in mid-afternoon, in the Renault, heading towards Avignon. On the way, we saw, but did not enter the abandoned Abbaye Notre Dame de Montmajour. Have to leave something for next time! We also found a place called Baux de Provence. Initially we drove past to head up a mountain pass road - that was blocked. We popped out of the car to get a look at the vista, and yon ho! a town crested a mountain top. That was Baux. We immediately turned back and drove as far up as we could. Can't actually drive into the town, as it is ancient and sits on a mountainside. The outcrop was originally inhabited back in 6000BC,and continually built upon since. Baux is now home to 22 residents! and also the site of the first find of Bauxite. We left as the sun went down, and the lights were turned onto the hilltop fort-ruin. Onto Orange and an F1 motel...

Sorry this blog is becoming Proust-like. I don't have a professional editor to tell me when to stop. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I left to get away from this!

Dear snow. Please leave.

Oh, the weather - it's a topic to talk about regardless of location. Right now, I'm not that happy with the weather in Amsterdam, but them's the breaks. There has been a raging snowstorm ripping across the northern U.K. and it has affected the usual weather patterns here too. A few days ago, we had two solid days of fluffy packing snow - which still hasn't melted away. Today, on top of the (now) slush and ice lies a layer of cold powder. It sure makes for good tobogganing as evidenced by the wee chap we saw being hauled around by his mum.

The weather is apparently unusual, not only for the time of year, but for the temperature as well. At least I have my coat back, and can stop wandering around in Matt's windbreaker. Matt has yet to wear his winter snow jacket "because it's only -12C". Uh huh. R-tard™. I'm waiting for our winter clothes to arrive from Dad to get my warmth on.

Most people here aren't too bothered by the weather. There is a noticeable decrease in open markets because of the snow and cod. However, people are still riding their bikes, walking their strollers and hanging out in cafés. Matt has a few choice words about the prevailing conditions and motorized vehicles. Please see the end of the post for more details.

Tomorrow I head to Brussels for a few hours. We have yet to sort out our banking, and have been searching for places to easily open up a chequing account. France and Belgium seem to have options for non-resident accounts and so we're going to try that. It means we stop getting dinged ridiculous amounts for withdrawing cash from ATMs, and that we can start using the Euros we converted 2 months ago (Damn you economic crisis for making now the time to convert CAD to EURO and Damn you HSBC for being a bunch of useless #*@#$). Matt won't be joining me as the train trip is expensive enough for one, and setting up a joint account is too much of a pain anyway.

On Sunday, we head to Eindhoven to catch an aeroplane to Marseille...

* * *

An open letter to Canadian Motorcyclists (you know who you are....Derek)

Suck it up.

That is all.