Okay, so I’m cheating a little here, but there aren’t that many places beginning with X outside mainland China!
It was an early June day in Aix-en-Provence. We had driven down the highway from Avignon and planned to overnight there, ready to head to Marseille and the French Riviera the next day. We were keen to see this town built in Roman times and renowned for its history both as a spa and as a draw-card for artists and writers, such as Cézanne, Zola and Hemingway.
The main street – the Cours Mirabeau – is a wide street lined with double rows of plane-trees, and bordered with large ornate buildings and decorated with fountains. Unfortunately when we arrived, the plane trees were bare, there was heavy construction occurring on the street, and none of the promised charm or grandeur of the famous Cours Mirabeau was evident. I am sure that a month or two later, in the height of the tourist season, the trees would be green and provide shade from the sun, the cafes would be open and full of happy people eating and drinking and watching other people, and the fountains would offer a cool respite to the summer heat. But not the day we were there.
So we left our car, and decided to walk through the old town, to the north of the Cours Mirabeau. The streets were rambling and cobbled, as we walked up towards the Town Hall and the universities. As we passed small squares and courtyards, we got a peek into past days, where ornate courtyards and magnificent homes were justified. The squares offered a welcome resting place, a place to watch the locals go about their business, the students meeting and laughing with their friends. But overall I was disappointed at the presentation of the town’s beautiful buildings and squares. They were frequently soiled with rubbish, and along with cleanliness, maintenance didn’t seem to be a priority for the city. Consequently, I find I don’t have a single photographic reminder of our day in Aix-en-Provence, and have had to revert to an image from Wikimedia.
We had arrived around mid-day, and soon everything would be closed for the Mediterranean siesta, so we decided a French lunch would be in order. There was no more driving to be done for the day (other than getting to our hotel), and so we relaxed with a bottle of wine, under the shade of an umbrella, on a quiet side street, and enjoyed a long lazy lunch.
Afterwards we continued to walk, wander, explore. Before lunch we had passed a shop selling a brand of clothing I had loved in New Zealand, but could rarely afford. My husband, confident that I wouldn’t be able to retrace my steps, promised we’d return there after lunch. Once again, he underestimated my spatial abilities (and shopping ability), and was confounded when I unerringly returned to the right place. At about 30% of what I would have paid for the imported product in New Zealand, I managed to find some bargains. It made up for my disappointment in Aix-en-Provence, and I enjoyed practicing my French with the friendly shop owner, all the time trying to avoid standing on her miniature dog quietly asleep in the corner of the tiny shop.