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Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

What’s first on the Aix to-do list when we arrive? Flowers, of course! And what a glorious morning we have for our first market foray! The usual produce, flowers, clothes and textiles fill stalls, and the annual Santon Fair is set up beyond the grand Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau – every imaginable figure for your creche scene.Most of the week we’re walking around familiar lanes, but for a couple of days we rent a car to see friends further afield. After a near-freezing morning, we’re off to La Ciotat, where we’re surprised to see hardy souls braving the water – from stand-up paddlers beyond the waves, to swimmers and sunbathers. Our friends Jean-Marc and Kristin (author of one of our favorite blogs, French Word a Day) have recently moved here from a few miles away, and after that chilly start to the day, it’s turned out to be perfect for a garden lunch. Kirk channels Van Gogh in one of Kristin’s hats, and we while away the hours together in the sunshine.After stopping for some big box store supplies outside of Aix while we have the car, we take a side road home and pull off to take in a glorious sunset.One more day with a car, and we’ve invited new friends Jim and Brenda to see more of the area – the lush and varied Luberon north of Aix calls us today, beginning with ochre-toned Roussillon, always a favorite.Rewinding south towards Bonnieux, we pause at Pont Julien, a hearty Roman relic that survived when new bridges perished in floods over the centuries.
Just down the road is bonnie Bonnieux, where we pause for a look across the rooftops and the lower church – to the valley beyond. A few elegant doorways from centuries ago attest to the former wealth of the village, popular again since Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Pulling away towards Lourmarin, we’re grabbed with the sight of the village tumbling down its hill, framed in glorious autumn colors – wow!Between Bonnieux and Lourmarin we stop for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They left Italy where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Last stop, chic Lourmarin, with its eye-catching chateau. The guys pause for a coffee while Brenda and I peek in the shops.
Mt. St. Victoire greets us in the sunset as we approach Aix, where a surprise awaits us. Our friend Xavier told us to call him when we got back since he had something to bring us. He’s a collector of contemporary art, but has saved for us a piece from his parent’s estate that he gave to them years ago – of a place he knows we enjoy. Venice! We’ve been looking for something for this corner – how nice to have a piece with a personal connection!
Friends and family make life so delightful….the family arrives tomorrow!

 

 

 

14 juillet – Celebrate!

14 juillet – Celebrate!

July 14, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
How about celebrating Mozart in the matchless city of Bath, England in November?

France is celebrating today, and so are we – It’s Kirk’s birthday! As you may remember, he LOVES spending it in France since the whole country parties for him 🙂
How does he want to start the day? With a walk up the hill to Cezanne’s atelier and oft-used painting perch beyond, now the Terrain de Peintres, showcasing several of his portrayals of Mt. Saint Victoire painted from right in this spot.
In the afternoon we take in Aix’s newest museum, the Hôtel de Caumont in the Mazarine district. We were there years ago when it was the headquarters of the Music Conservatory, and although we’ve attended a concert in the courtyard, this is the first time we’ve been inside since the complete and lavish restoration. As we walk through the rooms with decor faithful to the 18th century, the period of the building, I’m reminded that a friend encouraged me to see the interior to get ideas for decorating our apartment of the same era. Our budget is not quite the same as the Caumont 😉
Upstairs, the rooms are always devoted to a particular exhibition, and until October 15 Sisley the impressionist is the beautifully curated collection. The rooms are spacious and uncrowded, allowing us to absorb the superb paintings at our leisure.More than any other artist Sisley draws you into his spacious landscapes. You feel as if you’re walking under that vast sky, brushing your fingers in the rippling river, listening to the twitter of birds in the trees. We’ve been to countless museums in our lives, but this is a new favorite…and the visit will be memorable since it’s part of our birthday celebration!
From top to bottom the Caumont is a treasure…and then there’s the tea room and garden! After sipping a cup in the shade, we snap a birthday selfie then just sit and enjoy – even on a hot summer day it’s cool and comfortable in the garden.
The party’s not over yet! After a delicious birthday dinner we listen to a string quartet in another beautiful mansion’s courtyard, then join the revelers on Cours Mirabeau – watching all ages sing along to French pop standards that we’ve never heard before – even the très cool teens and twenties sing the oldies as they dance!
Bonne fête, France, and Joyeaux Anniversaire, Kirk!

 

Seaside in the South of France

Seaside in the South of France

Monday, April 10, 2017
South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Here we are, back home in Aix en Provence (by the way, there are still summer weeks available at Ambiance d’Aix if you’d like to enjoy the South of France for yourself!) – and what should we see but a fascinating vintage carousel set up by Good King René at the top of Cours Mirabeau? Now there are carousels at BOTH ends of the Cours! This one is such fun to watch, with its beautifully crafted pieces – a vintage mini-steamship, a biplane, and more…. there’s a designated line for those who want to ride in the rocket, which rises as the carousel circles, so that the occupant is above the ornate top, looking out over the bustle of the street  – oh would our younger grandkids love this!
We’re always looking for new day trips to recommend to our renters, or to include on our Music and Markets Tours based here, and have had Martigues on our list for a while – so off we go, heading west around the Etang de Berre beyond the Marseilles-Provence Airport. We’ve seen photos of the town on Instagram, and as we walk into the historic center from the waterside parking lot I’m in search of what I remember admiring on the web….not this (yet another town that’s the “Venice of….”- in this case the Bouches -du-Rhone Department ), or this, pretty as it may be. Years ago, when we were shopping nearby to furnish our apartment, a restauranteur told us we had to see the “Mirroir des Oiseaux” the Mirror of the Birds, in Martigues…I imagined it was a pond or lake in the countryside, but no, it’s that photo I’ve seen on Instagram – right in the middle of town! Yes, this, is the prettiest spot in Martiques, for sure. I’m glad we’ve seen it, but I wouldn’t choose this as a day trip – not enough to enjoy here.
We take the long way home, around the Etang (salt-water lake), and wind uphill, intrigued by a walled village above – St. Mitre les Remparts. Is there anyone home? We see scarcely a body in the entire hamlet – just the curious cat above!
So now we’ve seen Martiques for ourselves…and another village, previously unknown. There’s always something waiting to be discovered!

 

Icy Fountains and Friends in Aix

Icy Fountains and Friends in Aix

Week of  January 16-22, 2017
Aix en Provence and Paris, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

When we were last in Aix in November, we left it all prepared for major painting, needed due to the damages suffered when our upstairs neighbor’s renovations caused a flood in our apartment in April. It took that long for the ancient walls to dry out enough to repair, and for the insurance company to decide on what to do. So we’re eager to see our good-as-new living room and study, and even though it’s after midnight when we finally walk in the door on Sunday night (Monday morning!) we walk around and take it all in, delighted with the result. The damage was mostly high up on the 12 foot ceilings, so was not immediately visible to anyone but us, so it’s hard to show the difference here – the entire rooms were painted. We can’t go to bed, late as it is, without putting a few things back where they belong, the antique trumeau (mirror with a painting) above the fireplace, the furniture where it’s supposed to be, a painting or two on the walls – but the rest can wait til tomorrow.
After sleeping late the next morning in our cozy warm home, we quickly eat breakfast and return to the beautiful lanes and squares of Aix, where the temps have not yet risen to freezing – not a common occurrence here! On Cours Mirabeau the water flows from one side of the Neuf Canons fountain, and remains frozen on the other. Winter seems to be a popular time for filming in Aix – perhaps because there are not crowds of day-trippers as in the warmer months. By the Palais de Justice a 70s crime show is in process – see the vintage police van and uniforms? And an episode of another series is filming on beautiful Place de Trois Ormeaux.
When we stroll by later at night all is calm once again…with Christmas lights still gleaming.
Good friends will join us for lunch, so out to the market I go early on Tuesday…but it’s so cold that all the flowers and produce are covered up! No wonder – they need protection on this 20 degree morning!
I return after a morning meeting with the painter, and find the market bursting with its usual rainbow of color.Jean-Marc and Kristi arrive with a decadent dessert and a prime rosé from their first official harvest at Mas de Brun – thanks to Kristi for these great photos! She also wrote about our time together on her lovely blog French Word a Day.
As the days pass, the market’s affected by the chill – very few vendors at our daily market on Place Richelme – the olive oil is solid rather than liquid, and  iced cherubs shiver on the Rotonde Fountain.
And we walk and walk, day and night, taking in the beauty of Aix – glorious whatever the weather!

Abundance in Aix

Abundance in Aix

A weekend in France, November 2016
Paris, Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

The days have just sped by since we arrived in Paris last Friday, where we breakfasted in luxury in Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon after our overnight flight. cam15259A quick 3 hours on the TGV (fast train) and we were back home in Aix en Provence, and before we knew it, the Saturday market was calling, in full bloom. cam15269Due to major urban renewal work going on in the biggest market square, as well as Cours Mirabeau now filled with….well, you’ll hear about that later…the vendors have been moved to open areas near the Rotonde, the grand fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau. Not this pretty fountain below – but since the market’s now there, it’s getting a little more attention than it used to!cam15275The stalls are as busy as ever – the move doesn’t seem to have hurt sales! And the abundance of fall produce graces every smiling vendor’s table.cam15277As we walk through the Place des Precheurs, the former market square, looking into the excavations preparing for pedestrianizing the spacious area, we notice a flyer about an afternoon modern dance in the excavations so after lunch we return to watch. Mysterious sounds from the bass initiate the performance, Souffle de Pierres – Breath of Rocks – then the elegantly supple dancer begins drawing our attention to the stones below. cam15302An associate reads passages from several authors about the meaning of archeological finds, and the former lives and history beneath our feet. Lying down on the stones, the dancer seems to fall asleep, then rises, hair unbound, cam15310portraying the energy simmering beneath. As she dances to the surface, then bows, we applaud…yet another unique taste of life in Aix.
There was music throughout the markets this morning, and as I walk through the streets later I see a trio spiffed up in suits, ready to play – cam15318-copyand as they sway melodically along the lane I wonder if I’ve stepped into New Orleans!
After dinner we’re out again, taking in the lights on Cours Mirabeau, lined for the season with Christmas chalets selling seasonal crafts and goodies,cam15323on our way to a string quartet with piano (yes, a quintet) concert at the Conservatory. The Vin Chaud (hot wine) booth, as always, is the busiest!  cam15328And the concert was fabulous (and free!) – one of our favorite quintets, by Schumann, performed to a packed house with warmth, excellence and verve by conservatory professors.
The Rotonde shimmers as we walk by on our way home – cam15329so fun to be here at this time of year!
We know the rain’s coming, so we enjoy as much outdoor time as possible on Sunday, strolling through the Mazarin Quarter after church – a poor dolphin on one of Aix’s most famous fountains is strapped to his post, loosened by rebels illegally climbing up the historic monument, and JUST after it was completely restored! cam15337We arrive at St. Jean de Malte just as their mass ends, cam15344and as people stream through the doors a postlude from the magnificent organ bursts out into the street.
One more concert completes the weekend – the Breakdown Quartet, cam15346with music of Gershwin, Piazzola and more – at an intimate salon not far from our home.
Aaah Aix – every time we come we love you more!

 

 

 

Back Home in Aix

Back Home in Aix

Wednesday – Thursday, May 18-19, 2016
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne?

A flight from Prague to Paris, a bus ride to the train station, then a fast train whizzes us south through the lush Burgundy countryside,05181601 Burgundy and we’re back home in Aix! A few purchases to settle us in, a check-up of the apartment, which has suffered water damage from upstairs renovations of a neighbor, a good night’s sleep in our own bed, and it’s Thursday, market day. We have a morning meeting with our manager and the contractor who will manage the repairs needed (painting will have to wait until the end of the summer, to allow our three hundred year walls time to dry well) but before they come we happily head for the flower market. 05191601 flowersFull of gorgeous spring scents and colors, one stall after another tempts, until we settle on a gorgeous armful of peonies – white for fragrance, red for color.05191601 fragrant white irresistable color of redAfter our meeting, where we bravely try to comprehend the insurance requirements and details of repairs in French, we all agree that the damage could have been SO much worse. Isabel, our manager, just HAPPENED to stop by the apartment to drop off clean sheets and towels one morning, and was shocked to see water pouring from a ceiling light fixture and down the kitchen and living room walls. She quickly shut off the electricity, called the Pompiers (fire department) who came and shut off the water, then assessed the damage and dried the affected furniture. It seems that the plumbing problem began earlier the same morning, not before that – or the house would have been flooded! As it is, our home is still comfortable and live-able, with some stains on the walls and ceiling that will be taken care of at the end of the summer. Not as pretty as it was – but it will soon return to its former state – and even better, we hope!
We’ll work on deep cleaning later, but now’s the time to get back out to the markets before they close. Joining the chic shoppers on Cours Mirabeau, 05191601 join chic shoppers on courswe take in the change of seasons – colorful summer merchandise is ripe for the picking! 05191601 summer goodsA new swimsuit? Or a find-me-at-the-beach hat?05191601 summer goods1Peeking down a pretty lane, 05191601 take another route homewe take another way home, stopping for some delectable spring produce for lunch.05191602 bounty of springPeonies for the eyes, a crisp cool rosé to accompany lunch,05191602 by peonies lunch we’re happy to be back!