Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Solitary Traveller

When Maïté was not here nor was I in Paris, I travelled the region a bit alone in order to not to miss the still warm weather. On self-discovery journeys, meeting new exchange students, taking pictures like a tourist, it felt strange but familiar all the same.

[Click on the bolded-italicised-title-links for more pictures]

  • IMG_0707 Sainte Victoire Sunrise [27 July]: On this fine July morning at Gare SNCF Aix-TGV, I witnessed the sun rising behind the silhouette of Sainte Victoire. I tried to get some "artistic" photos but I was too tired [it was 6:00am, and I had just come to bid Maïté farewell on her return to Paris].
  • IMG_0987 Monaco & Monté Carlo [5 September]: This weekend [of my Birthday], I took an organised trip with George, simply because I have never been on this one with him. Monaco and Monte Carlo was the destination. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world; only Vatican City is smaller. Monte Carlo, which lies in the French Riviera on the Mediterranean Sea in Monaco, is surrounded by France and close to Italy. This chic-bourgeois city, often IMG_1084 featured in movies, is famous for its Ferraris & Lamborghinis, races [Formula One Monaco Grand Prix], casinos [Monte Carlo Casino], and the sun & surf. Travelling alone was not as boring as imagined, since I met some of the exchange students on the bus and we were soon doing a bit of touring together.
  • IMG_1159 Benediction Calissons: Aix [6 September]: This Sunday afternoon, there was a very traditional and provençal festival in Aix: La Bénédiction des Calissons. A traditional festival where Calissons are distributed to the public, I was spectator to many provençal icons: The Guardians of Camargue [The Cowboys], Camargue Horses, traditional costumes, The Mayor of Aix-en-Provence [Maryse Joissains-Masini], The Queen of Arles [L'Arlesienne: Caroline Serre, a very pretty queen I must say], and finally I was privileged to hear the Occitan / Provencal Language. During the day, I also visited the antiques market, the book market, and the museum of tapestries.
  • IMG_1610 Sainte Victoire: Irish Lads [17 October]: We met an Irish guy and an Italian guy [who spent some time in Ireland] randomly one day while clubbing for Halloween perhaps, and we all decided to go together for a hike to Sainte Victoire. Although I had been there before, it was a refreshing hike, which reminded us all of how beautiful France was, and what it has to offer in terms of freedom and nature. It was the first time also that I climbed fully to the top, that is, to the Cross of Provence. It was so high, and steep, we had this feeling of "vertigo".

For more pictures, see:

Monday, 12 October 2009

Provençal Remnants

Maïté had left for Paris to do her apprenticeship at Ipsos, and thus occasionally came back to Aix to visit. During these times, as summer very slowly began to dwindle away, we decided to visit the remnants: those few provençial sites and villages, which we had never seen, or at least had never seen/experienced together.

Surprisingly, along our journeys, some of them spontaneous and others premeditated, we even discovered new and culture-saturated "" towns, such as Miramas. Below are highlights of our encounters: brief accounts of our experiences, of course as always, accompanied by their pictorial journals on Picasa.

Provence Trips Overview:
[click on the bolded-italicised-title-links for more pictures]

  • IMG_0647 Arles-Camargue: Maïté [25 July]: We started with a touristic but characteristic destination: Arles & The Camargue. We have both been here before but never together. The city of Arles was established by the Greeks as early as the 6th century BC under the name of Theline. Thus, there was a lot to see in terms of ancient ruins and architecture, as well as other famous symbols of the region such as: the Camargue Bulls, the Camargue Horses, the room of Vincent Van Gogh, Cowboys – the Guardians of Camargue, Flamingos, and the Beach at Sainte-Marie-sur-Mer. We encountered all this during the day and even had time to stop by for a Camarguaise lunch at an Arlaise Restaurant.
  • IMG_0877 Sainte Croix: Plage de la Saulce [29 August]: On this day, with Céline [Maïté's friend], we drove to the Côte Bleue, the other side of the Côte d'Azur that not much people know. It includes sea-side towns such as Sausset-les-Pins and Carry-le-Rouet. Randomly driving with no aim in mind except "the beach", we landed upon the Plage de la Saulce and Plage de Sainte Croix [happening to be in the village of La_Couronne, near Martigues]. Result: a splendid day with hot sun, cool blue waters and, as always, magnificent views [See satellite view].
  • IMG_0895 Saint Tropez: Cap Taillat [30 August]: A nice morning hike to Cap Taillat, see some naked French people swimming, have a swim in the Côte d'Azur, see some naked American people swimming, then off to sightsee in the bourgeoisie town of Saint Tropez – this is the life.
  • IMG_1339 Baux de Provence [26 September]: This medieval village, Les_Baux-de-Provence, has a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, set atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle [Château_des_Baux] overlooking the plains to the south. The village gives its name to the aluminium ore Bauxite, which was first discovered there in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier [I did not know this]. On this particular day, we went to see the Medieval Festival - The Siege of the Chateau, a true delight of traditional and historical display of costumes, merchants, events, parades, catapults, fairy-girls, and even a falconry show: a unique example of medieval history in Provence.
  • IMG_1356 Vauvenargues [2 October]: A peaceful and calming hike into the very near-by nature get-away village of Vauvenargues is how we spent this day. At the foothills of Sainte Victoire, this village is home to Picasso's Castle and Picasso's Tomb as well: that is about as cultural as it gets. After that, there was only nature to enjoy, since the village is practically one street with scattered colourful houses on either side. After the hike, we finished up with a refreshing glass of pastis of course.
  • IMG_1484 Salon-de-Provence, Miramas, & Martigues [3 October]: On this trip, we discovered the most, since neither of us had ever heard of Miramas before. I worked near Martigues, and always wanted to see it, so we decided to visit these towns surrounding the great Étang de Berre [Europe's largest saltwater lake]. First stop: Salon de Provence, we had time really only to see the castle [Château de l'Emperi], which was the biggest in Provence during the 12th and 13th centuries. After this, we went to Miramas only to find out that the older and more beautiful part of town was several kilometres away from the city centre. Solution: we hitch-hiked! It was scary but worth it, the village was extremely cute and had astonishing panoramic views of the Étang. We also hitch-hiked our way back in order to catch IMG_1448 the last bus to our final stop: Martigues. Nicknamed the "Provençale Venice", Martigues is a point of passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Martigues [now Étang de Berre]. The charm of its canals, its docks and bridges made it "The Venice of Provence". Finally, after all the rush to catch our bus connections, sitting back in the bus, watching the sunset, we realised it was a successful day.
  • IMG_1547 La Ciotat: Calanque du Mugel [11 October]: We were running out of places to visit, and one day just happened to go to La Ciotat. It was a greater experience, however, than the last times that we had gone there separately, since on this occasion we visited the beautiful Mugel Calanque and the Mugel Park Gardens [a huge impressive exotic-open-air garden], in addition to the village of La Ciotat. Can you imagine having a swim in the Mediterranean sea in October, in burning sun!? Netherlands and Finland at this time were both at freezing temperatures. Next time we visit Ciotat, we need to go to the Green Island [l'Île Verte] and Figuerolles Calanque.

For more pictures, see: