France Day 12 Cassis

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Cassis is a beautiful village tucked into a cove with a couple of small, but nice beaches. It’s like a dream village for those who would like to get up, have coffee looking out on the water, lay in the sun and wade in the clear, blue water. There is a scenic road the winds along the cliffs above the sea between Cassis and La Ciotat we were going to drive, but it was closed. The road up the mountain on the way was so steep that the VW Up! we are driving could barely get Up the road — truly “hors catégorie” on the grade of that road. The last photo is face of Mont Sainte Victoire. Cézanne painted the profile of the Sainte Victoire looking east.

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France Day 11 Arles Roaming Where The Romans Roamed

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We went to Arles yesterday where there is a lot of really well preserved Roman ruins, Arles has a lot of interesting old architecture as does all the old cities in Provence. After Arles, we drove down the Rhone peninsula to a little strip of beach. The area is a large nature preserve with flamingos. The wind blew hard all day and is was really strong on the peninsula — it was so strong that I was having trouble getting clear photos of the flamingos.

 

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France Day 10 Les Baux de Provence

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Yesterday was a free day, so we did laundry, then our hostess drove us to the TGV station where we got our tickets back to Paris on the 28th and where we picked up a rental car for the rest of the week. After talking to locals and getting recommendations of places to see, Laurie and I decided we needed to rent a car so we could get out in the countryside and really explore the area. So we are still going to the same places as the class, but we are going to do a lot more exploring. After we picked up the car, we drove out to Les Baux de Provence, an old fortified city built on top of a rock at a pass in the hills, which was highly recommended. You can only get there by car or hired tour bus.

Baux is a popular village. There were a lot of people visiting the village, a lot of large groups of bicyclists slowly making their way up the hills into the city, and lots of tour buses. We parked in the village in the valley below Baux and walked up on the the stone stairways that brought us to gate 6. Just below the gate there were areas where buildings had been built into the rock that were now just cutouts in the rock that reminded us of the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. We were going to go into the old fort that would have given us access to the highest points on the ruins of the old fortification, but two or three groups of about 100 schools kids were going in, so that slowed down the process of getting in, and we had limited time as we had to get back by 6:00 at the latest for cooking class.

There are a lot of shops and restaurants tucked into odd shaped places and on terraces. We ate crepes in the narrow, almost triangular building (photos 7, 8, 9). It was pretty late so we and another person were the only people in the restaurant. The crepes were excellent and while were eating, the waitress and cook where busy bringing things in and taking things out the door. When we left, they had set up an ice-cream machine and slush machines and had a soft drinks available on the street. The weather was cool, but I’m sure when all those kids came back through after touring the fort, she would get a lot of business.

We also stopped and explored some of the vinyards and olive groves along the way, and I got my first French drive-by photo of the shark on the truck — the drives can be quite wild in France, but drivers seem quite wild everywhere. BTW we are driving the VW Up! to the left of the Mini Cooper in the second to the last photo.

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France Day 9 Marseille & Bach

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We went to Marseille today. Marseille is beautiful, bustling port city that has lots of energy and lots of people from all over the world in the streets. Since Marseille was founded by the Greeks over 2000 years ago, a the locals think of Marseilles as the true capital of France. There is a lot of old architecture, and a couple of churches built in neo-Bizintine style with the alternating color of the stones and mix of Eastern and Western architectural styles. We have shrimp for lunch, which was great.

We got back from Marseille just a little late for Lundi de Pentecôte, a concert of Bach’s BWV 173 Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut et 184 Erwünschtes Freudenlicht at the St. Jean de Malte Cathedral. Bach wrote the music for Pentecost, and fortunately the priest was still explaining the music when we walked in, and there were a few open seats, so we didn’t miss a note. The performance was fantastic, and sound in the 13th century cathedral was outstanding. The musicians played baroque  instruments and the vocalists were phenomenal. They also had a couple of modern pieces which were performed by three people playing the pipe organ simultaneously. The pieces were Le jar din suspendu by Jehan Alain (1911-1940) and Le vent de l’Esprit: sortie se la messe de la Pentecôte by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). The modern was not the type of organ music I would seek out, but it was well performed and interesting. The orchestra and vocalists got a standing ovation, and we brought them back for an encore.

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France Day 8 Aix Water Bells

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We went to the service as St. Jean de Malte this morning. It was a beautiful service with two infant baptisms and other people doing their first communion. The baptisms were different from the Methodist tradition in that the babies were presented naked and immersed in a big copper caldron of water three times and then dressed with little white shirt and either water or oil put on their heads. The choral music was great and the pipe organ was wonderful.  We walked around Aix after church, talked to an Australian for a while and then went back to the house where we are staying, and I took a photo of the view from our walk to and from Aix. After we got home, I helped our hostess build a chicken coop, which looks more like a chalet than what we’ve used for chicken coops in the past. Then we went to cooking class in the evening, learned to make quiche, ate it and got home late again. We have to get up early to go to Marseille.

 

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France Day 7 Aix Art in the Rain

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We left the house at 9:00 am in pouring rain, walked around Aix all day in the pouring rain, visited a museum, a couple of artists, a bridge, a garden, a spa built over old Roman baths, photographed Death at a wedding, and got food and coffee in the pouring rain. We went to a Mass with confirmation of adults by the Archbishop at the Aix Cathedral the evening, and finally got home at 11:00 pm, cold and wet. The photos are in order of the day, with the exception of the Tapestry Museum where I couldn’t take photos.

The tapestries were of scenes from Don Quijote, and they had a show of photographs by Roland Leboye, a French photographer who has taken Cartier Bresson’s “the decisive moment” to the extreme! Leboye’s street photography was wonderful and often very funny.

The giant insects are by a local artist from Aix.

The piles of paper and paper skull are part of a Paper Art installation we ran across by chance, and the arch Laurie is standing under is at the end of the courtyard were the Paper Art was.

We stayed in the tapestry museum until around noon, so by the time we got done looking at the insects and paper art, we got some food and hung out and ate and drank coffee until it was time to go to the art installation to meet the artist.

We got to the studio and installation of artwork by Nicole Catannéo about 2:15, met Nicole and Laurie discussed art and life with her and another older woman, in French, for over an hour. Nicole has quite a story as she had an illness when she was in her 40’s which left her partially paralyzed, and then her husband died when she was in her 50’s. She got herself together and went to art classes, and now creates wonderful paintings.  She and Laurie really hit it off.

After the studio, we got another coffee for some warmth and energy, and headed toward the gardens at the northwestern edge of Aix. We walked through the modern shopping area on the western side of Aix, but when we got to the planted bridge, we were too far west and had to backtrack. We finally got to the gardens and found a bathroom on the grounds which had one of the “hole in the floor” fixtures. The garden was formal with mostly grass, but it had a nice rose garden behind the main garden. It also has a mansion with a museum, but they were closing when we got up to it. The mansion has a interesting entrance.

We stopped by a spa the is built over some old Roman baths to see what it cost to do the spa and get a message — about 100€ for both and 60€ for a 30 minute message.

On our way back to the center of Aix to find some food before we went to Mass, we walked by the cathedral and there was a VW and an Audi decorated for a wedding. Sophie told me that the Saturday before Pentecost was a big day for weddings in Aix, and we saw cars from 3 different weddings. While we waited for the bride and groom to come out, death walked by the VW.

After getting a bite to eat, we got to the cathedral at 7:30, an hour before the service to get good seats. We ended up siting more in the middle because the seats in front were occupied by the folks being confirmed, which looked to be well over 100 people plus their parents, bothers, sisters, husbands, wives; whoever was presenting them to the priest and Archbishop. The service was good, and the music was fantastic with the pipe organ and choral music. Laurie and I saw Matilda, the Brasilian who told us about it after the service, and we shook hands with the Archbishop on the way out. The boy in the last photo was cutting up during most of the service with a couple other boys. He looked quite shocked when the Archbishop stopped, put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and blessed him at the end of the service.

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France Day 6 Aix en Provence

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I think this may be the most photos I’ve ever posted at one time. The photos are a random set of Aix en Provence which has a lot of old stuff — remnants of Roman baths, a part of the medieval wall, 13th Century churches, churches built on churches that have baptistries that go back to 800 — and modern old stuff alike — Honda 70 trail bikes, phone booths and Renault 4 GTLs.  You probably would have figured it out from the photos that Aix has lots and lots of fountains, and the old city that was originally inside the walls has a lot of narrow winding streets.

The activities yesterday were a walking tour of Aix, visiting an art gallery and the cooking classes. After visiting the art gallery, and while we were waiting for to go to the cooing class, Laurie and I visited the St Jean de Malte church, which was built between 1270-80 by the Nights Hospitaliers. We visited with a woman from Brazil who sings in the coral group and she gave us the schedule for the Pentecost services for the main Cathedral in Aix and at St Jean de Malte — she said both will have special music.

On our way to the cooking class I noticed a doorway open with an exhibition sign at the opening. We walked through the tunnel into a yard with bamboo and other stuff in the yard stuff. We felt a little strange at first, because we were in a private yard,  but there was a little shack with paintings. The owner came out and told us about the painter, whose 70 years old, and he and Laurie discussed the artwork. We talked a little bit about life in general, and then he invited us to go back this afternoon to meet the artist and have a drink with her.  We’ve only been in Aix a little over a day and we already have social activities outside of class activities.

As we continued on our way to cooking class, we came across a guy outside a bar with a kitten on his shoulder. The little kitty was really soft and cute.

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