Tuesday, October 18, 2016

France&Fez Days 1-2

Here I begin a chronicle of our recent trip-of-a-lifetime, Gentle Reader.  This is my way to chronicle and reflect on the blessings of our first real international travel, my first time in Europe and Africa, and two+ weeks of sites and sounds and adventures with my dh.  Feel free to skip these posts unless you want to journey with us.  This is mostly for us to remember by, but we are happy for you to come along!

We left home early on a Tuesday morning and picked up my dad in Rio Rancho, and he delivered us to the airport.  We would be travelling for the next 20 or so hours. We flew a tiny airplane from ABQ to Chicago, and then a slightly more comfortable one from Chicago to Brussels.  We dozed off-and-on through what was our afternoon and evening, but was night time in France.

We hit Brussels during our night, but Belgium's morning.  We hazily wandered through a customs check. Not only were we a little hazy, but that airport in Brussels is like a huge, duty-free mall, and they force you to wander through stores for clothing and perfume and alcohol to find your gates.  And who knew that after wandering to Gate 29 as our boarding pass instructed, in the final god-forsaken outer reaches of the airport, we would be told the ACTUAL gates are only listed 40 minutes before each flight, and Gate 29 was not the gate for our flight.  So, we headed in what we thought was the right direction, only to find ourselves back at the beginning of the duty-free mall again.  The escalator we had come up ONLY came up--we couldn't go back down. So through we went again, and eventually found our way to the proper gate for our Air Belgium jump from Brussels to Marseille.

The flight was uneventful and short, but the plane was alarmingly rickety.  Several of the seats (including mine) could no longer stay upright, and my window shade wouldn't stay open either. The single bursar on the flight gave all instructions in three languages-- French, English, and perhaps Dutch. (It didn't quite sound German.)  We were just jet-lagged enough for all this to seem rather off-kilter, sort of like living in a Tim Burton movie, where all the proportions seemed just a little off.  But soon the green, lush, rolling hills and manicured farms of Belgium gave way to the stony, sandier hills of the Cote D'Azure, and we landed at the Marseille-Provence regional airport.

We followed the crowds to customs and our first major border crossing.  There were two lines available: one for European Union Passport holders, and one for everyone else.  Into the "everyone else" line we got.  Soon, we were surrounded by North Africans in white robes.  Literally hundreds of them.  This was the end of the Hadj, and the faithful pilgrims returning from Mecca wore white flowing robes to show they had been cleansed.  It was hot and crowded, with only two people checking passports painstakingly, however, and more and more pilgrims joining us.  Soon we were in a teeming, pushing, hot and sweaty mob of people speaking Arabic.  These folks don't cue politely. And they don't use the same kind of body products we do.  We were soon surrounded not only by unfamiliar people and language, but smells as well.  When one of the border patrol folks closed up shop, shouting started.  I began to wonder where to go if a riot ensued.  But it didn't.  Soon, more passport checkers were added, and after about 2 hours in line, we waltzed through the checkpoint to our bags.

Or, I should say, bag.  My bag inexplicably decided to go on tour to Washington, DC.  Oh well- I had only been wearing the same clothes for 24 hours straight.  What did another 24 or 36 hours in them matter?

Before the trip, I had been using a program called "Duolingo" to review my French.  Shortly before we left, the app informed me I had achieved 27% fluency in French-- whatever that meant! Through the whole trip we joked about how far my 27% carried us, and in this case, it helped me find an English-speaking baggage claims person to arrange things for my wayward bag to find its way to Marseille. {I am very grateful for the many English speakers in France, and the grace they extended to me.}

Once that was accomplished, we got some money and a salad to share, and found the shuttle bus to Aix en Provence.  My 27% helped me make sure the bus was going to end at the desired location in Aix, and we were off.  When we disembarked from the shuttle at the Gare Routierre in Aix, we literally walked around the corner to our hotel, Hotel Rotunde.  It was clean and cute and convenient, and had a lovely covered portico with tables right on Avenue de Belges. .  And we were just minutes from the large rotunde at Cours Mirabeau, the main pedestrian thoroughfare into the old city of Aix en Provence.  So we headed to pick up a map at the tourism office near the round point, and then began walking renaissance and medieval streets.

Aix has been voted one of the prettiest villages in France, and it is easy to understand.  It seems very Italian in character, with its yellow and beige buildings, lots of 17th century additions to older medieval structures, and fountains everywhere.  It is a university town, with several institutions and seminaries located there.  We wandered until it began getting dark and stormy looking, and we were wearing out.  Then, after asking directions, we headed under the Ave Voctor Hugo, to the Crepes a Gogo stand in the tunnel under the street.  A second stop at a small grocery across the street from the hotel, and we carried our dinner back to the hotel: a crepe sallee (savory) with ham, cheese, and mushrooms, and a crepe sucre (sweet) with fresh lemon and sugar, a jar of tea, and a few necessary items for me since I was sans suitcase. We got drenched crossing the street, but I am sure it just helped clean out my clothes for the next day.  It was a glorious start to our trip!

The portico at Hotel Rotunde

The round point at the start of Cours Mirabeau from the square near the Tourism Office

Some of the lovely streets.  I just kept saying, "Look!  We are in France!  This is Provence!"

 France is full of "old stones".  So beautiful, and so much history around every corner!


Shannon said...

I've just finished reading through all the posts of your adventures, but now I've started over again! We are hoping to make our first trip to Paris on the 18-20th of this month. We'll only have one full day there, which isn't nearly enough time, but since we're only a 4 hour car ride away, hopefully we can go more than once.
I chuckled about the uncertainty of what the third language was on the plane. It can be tricky to settle into what's being spoken where we live, too, since we're so close to the border of 3 countries. Some of the Belgians speak French, and some speak Flemish. Then, of course, there's Dutch and German (which are similar), and if there are other vacationers around, we get various Scandinavian languages...they all sound different from one another, but there is enough similarity between many of them that it takes a bit of listening to get one's bearings!

What a neat trip for you both, and how great that you were able to experience so much in your time! If you do make it back over to Europe in the next few years, don't forget that the invitation is always open to come see us or just crash at our house! :)

MagistraCarminum said...

Thanks, Shannon! You will love Paris (though we didn't try to drive there!) We just may take you up on a visit one of these days! Sending you all hugs!