Today was going to be a busy day. The first stop of day-two of our four-day driving trip was Aix-en-Provence. The trip took over two hours, mostly on the A-8, which is a toll route. Some tolls we paid by tossing a few coins into the collection basket, others are paid by a ticket when you exit the system. Sometimes our credit card worked, other times not. All “toll-ed”, we spent about €20 to get to Aix-en-Provence.
Aix-in-Provence, like many towns in the area, is steeped in history dating to the Roman times, and even earlier. Aix was originally founded in 123 BC by the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus, who named the town based on the natural springs (Aix meaning water). Legends associated with the town’s founding describe a culminating battle between the Romans and locals, in which 90,000 native soldiers were slain, 20,000 were captured by the Romans and 300 women were to be handed over to the Romans. According to the story, the 300 women asked to be sequestered on the night before the hand-over. The next morning they were all found dead – having strangled each other in a mass suicide rather than submitting to fate as a Roman captive.
Luckily for us, Rich, Dawn, Jill and Henry Warner arrived during happier times. The day was easily in the 90′s and cloudlessly sunny. The main route into town from the A-8 pretty much leads directly to the celebrated Fontaine de la Rotonde, which is supposedly one of a thousand fountains in the city. The first challenge, of course, was to park the car. We followed the signs to the subterranean parking directly under the fountain, only to be led down multiple levels then up and out again without finding any available spaces.
But there is always parking somewhere and we located an obscure underground garage that turned into a challenge to re-find upon departing. Fortunately we were only several blocks from the celebrated town market and wouldn’t you know it! Jill and Dawn had “coincidentally” planned our trip here on market day. Actually, in all honesty, Henry Warner learned that every day is market day somewhere in Aix, but Tuesdays and Thursdays are the grand market days for clothes and textiles on the Cours Mirabeau. Both Jill and Dawn are in the above photo, so do your best “where’s Waldo” to spot them. You may have to click on the image to enlarge it.
Unfortunately, we could not tarry in Aix-en-Provence, as we had to be in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence for the evening – which is where we were spending the night.
We had enough time to enjoy a leisurely lunch at an outdoor sidewalk café, which is one of the basic and required pleasures of any trip to France. Then it was on to Saint-Rémy!
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is about an hour from Aix-en-Provence by car, so it was late afternoon by the time we arrived. We had previously booked two rooms at the Hôtel Sous les Figuiers (Hotel under the Fig Trees), which was highly rated in all the guides we reviewed. We were not disappointed.
Saint-Rémy is another Roman-Gallo town originally founded sometime in the 400′s. Our hotel was a very convenient walk of about one block to the old part of town that still contains portions of the medieval town wall.
While Saint-Rémy is notable on several accounts, two of its most famous inhabitants included Nostradamus, who was actually born there and Vincent Van Gogh, who spent about one year as a self-admitted patient at the local asylum.
While being a patient, there were times he could not paint due to his illness, but he nevertheless produced an incredibly prodigious 142 paintings during his one year stay at the hospital. Perhaps one of the most recognized is “Starry Night”, painted from his east-facing asylum bedroom.
To this day, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence continues to be a mecca for artists, including the proprietress of our own hotel, who moved here from the Netherlands to pursue her painting passion.
While neither Jill nor Henry Warner are artists at even the most elementary level (although I can paint a pretty fair bedroom wall in basic beige), we did manage to get into the “artist mood” and Van Gogh spirit by donning our hotel-provided straw hats. Henry Warner actually wore his hat for the remainder of the evening (unlike Jill) proving that Henry Warner is indeed a truly committed patron of the arts. We did see quite a few other folks sporting straw hats as we ambled through the town, so wearing a straw hat is quite accepted and perhaps even encouraged.
Paint your palette blue and grey
With eyes that know the
Darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
They did not know how
But I could’ve told you Vincent
This world was never meant for
One as beautiful as you