There is no easy way for me to sit still, but somehow, after months sheltering, I am doing slightly more of that, daydreaming right back to fabulous memories, like this girl’s trip I took to France two years ago. Concocted and plotted during the winter months and executed during the heat wave called July, four of us converged to explore Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Cassis, Arles, Eze and Nice. We delighted in the architecture and art and space and sea and trains and food and drink and each other. I invite you to lazily daydream through my photo story, and as you do, imagine roaming with pure freedom once again.
We were in Paris for only one day and one night so we took full advantage of every minute by walking. Ten miles of roaming around and around until the evening sky called us to hotel beds. But until that very late hour, we lived and breathed all of the city that we could under a brilliant and exciting sky.
You can feel the history and the pageantry made visible through the artistry and Paris charm everywhere your eye wanders, from old stones to soaring spires to lights, yes, truly this is a city of lights.
Rooftops tell so many stories in Paris, dating back before the Revolution and into the modern age. From our hotel balcony, we could imagine ourselves into the garret conversations that lead straight to the vision of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, the three tenets that shaped this new world we all love.
This trip was my third visit to Paris. The first time I was with all my siblings and parents at 17. I was twirled around, shuttled about, saw what was on the agenda. I remember eating loaves of fresh bread with delicious jam, and the day when my sister almost touched the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the whole of the museum security reigned down upon us. The second time I was sure to get up to the top of the Eiffel tower with my teenage daughter despite the long line and my caffeine jitters. We lived on tuna baguettes and hot cocoa and to her delight made sure to visit Jim Morrison’s grave in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. This time my friends and I wandered just to feel the beat of the city, the heart of her, and drink in every taste and smell and sight, even jet-lagged it was heaven. Each time I visit I imagine staying longer to carve my own path in the creative current that sweeps across the 20 distinct arrondissements.
Look up, look up, the always mantra when traveling, which always comes with gifts when you do that.
We were lucky to see Notre-Dame (before the disastrous fire brought down the roof) from a glass boat along the Seine, and later we heard the iconic bells ring out. That one night sticks in my mind as strong as the will to restore the national treasure. Can one ever forget how you feel in Paris? How your heart opens?
After an afternoon on one fast and comfy train, we found ourselves far south, in the quant and lively Aix-en-Provence. The heat wave we hoped to leave behind in New England followed us across the ocean, from Paris to even here, but we kept walking through it, to not miss a second of this adventure.
How often one could stop and look in this picturesque city? Isn’t that often the best reason to travel? To have the leisure to really appreciate and acknowledge this world of wonders? Yes, I believe so.
Provence has countless gardens and fountains and invitations to stop and breath in the graceful beauty.
The fleur-de-lis can we found everywhere, and melds together Roman Catholic ideals with the French monarchy, a stylized symbol of unity, to be celebrated within this culture, and found EVERYWHERE.
Cezanne’s influence as well as his inspiration can be seen in the mountains and streets and trees of Provence. We followed the markers to discover all that he depicted in his iconic paintings.
And even his studio which is still filled with many of the objects his iconic work memorialized. Cezanne said, “Long live the sun which gives us such beautiful color,” and in this place, one treasures his view.
As we continued to explore we spied the Montagne Sainte-Victoire which borders Aix-en-Provence. This peak is the subject of numerous paintings by Cézanne’s and one can see why, as it hovers majestically.
During our sojourn we had no rules about eating, except to do so, tasting every local delight, even grabbing gelato while looking for a place to dine for the evening meal. No rules works wonderfully in France I’d say, where every morsel is worth shouting about with glee and astonishment.
As we planned this trip over lunch during school days, another colleague would pop in to our impromptu gatherings to make suggestions. He was adamant we find our way to Cassis, and as he is right about all things travel, we did just that. From the high road we knew we were headed down to a special spot.
With a bag of ripe peaches and the warm Mediterranean we all relaxed in the afternoon sunshine.
On to the next adventure, another train took us to Van Gogh’s city of Arles on the Rhône River.
Besides our one night in Paris, we only stayed in fabulous homes via Airbnb. In Arles we were treated to luxury in a remodeled eighteenth century mansion, with rich wood and stone work, high ceilings and tall windows. Spacious, modern and ancient, once inside, we spread out and felt ourselves the luckiest of travelers to inhabit such a beautiful space.
From the apartment, one looked down the narrow stone road to see a courtyard with cafes and restaurants. We took our pick for each of the nights we stayed in the neighborhood. All divine.
Once a provincial capital of ancient Rome, Arles is also known for many remains from that era, including Arles Amphitheatre which we explored top to bottom. The two story structure still stands intact in many places and was well-worth our hours exploring.
Intricate stone carving are still on display, and remind us of the continuum and demand of artistry.
We were often spell bound by these sights, by the centuries that man has defined culture, crafted a vision and a means to create society. These moments demanded we attempt to take it all in.
We also toured the twelfth century Cloister of St. Trophime and heard all about the extraordinary Romanesque bas-relief sculptures and carvings that depict stories from the Bible, along with the fourteenth-century galleries that contain scriptural depictions in the Gothic style. Just wowed.
And as one does on a girl’s trip, we found plenty of nooks to stop and pose, well, me especially I guess.
Did I mention the food? How easily we found nearby bakeries open early with goodies to breakfast on, and plenty of fruit stands, add coffee or tea, jam and butter, and happiness spread across our table. Vincent Van Gogh said, “What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.” We sought him at every turn, and glimpsed him there.
Ready for Nice, we once again boarded a train, and got back to that blue sea with boats and more boats!
There is something about the light, in the sky, the water, in the bright clothes, and in the pose: Que c’est beau! By this point in the trip we had argued, gotten grumpy, disagreed, and laughed our way to ease. That is the way when friends share space together, facing whatever crazy comes their way, yet make it to the next day with smiles and determination not to let anything come between us and exploration.
In Nice we opted to stay in the heart of the old city, up six flights (such crazy decisions can be made in the winter) to a 2 level apartment that offered a splendid view of every rooftop. We once again could walk just about everywhere and despite the killer-walk-up loved the vantage to beach and shops and all the rest the old city offers. Our first night there I could hear the boom boom of the dance clubs and was tempted to venture out, but instead slept to ready ourselves for another day of touristing with gusto.
Without much conversation we all decided our first stop was straight to the top of Castle Hill Park where the view of the old-town and coast line is breathtaking. Yeah, a skyline park is smart planning.
If there is a beach, in walking distance, you can be sure, we got into that water. It really is bluer than you can imagine, a particular and singular shade, and such joy to splash about with these gals.
Summer means long days and late nights and Nice is ready for all of that. We walked forever, dinned splendidly, heard wonderful jazz, and saw the brilliance of Matisse in all of that brilliance. Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage. ” So does living these days, but what a reward when you step into the adventure, right?
As we did in previous spots, we followed the footsteps of Matisse, and found his love of the blue too. At the Matisse Museum we saw his genius, and that of Picasso, but I’d say you’d find his joy in the sky too.
We often grabbed food from any of the many outdoor vendors, all delicious and tasty, and easy on the go. In this regard we four were of one mind, keep it simple, and keep going.
Although much of my interest in this trip centered around the great artists of the region, and hours spent within museums, there were plenty of outdoor wonders that stopped us all for moments of pure joy. Misty and cool water is always worth a few minutes, pausing in the heat to soak in the spraying relief.
Other times we’d find the perfect bench, in the shade, with a view, and we would just have to take the opportunity offered. If you don’t everything is a blur, and oh my, we wanted to savor these moments.
Of course, there are always bells too
And enticing archways that lead you right off your itinerary (not that we kept to one) and into a surprise.
Our same colleague who mentioned Cassis, told us about Eze, so of course, we boarded a bus and made our way to the medieval village high up on the mountain top. There is no easy way up either, only by foot, along tight windy roads, but we ventured willingly.
Touristy and crowded in July, but we navigated our way to see every inch, filled with small cafes and shops.
To a most spectacular view.
We decided to hike back down to get to the beach so we followed Nietzsche’s path.
“The magical and unique ambiance of the town has an unforgettable appeal. But perhaps no one was more charmed by Eze than the tormented and controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.
While he lived in the area in the 1880′s, the environment had a profound tonic effect on the famously troubled philosopher. “I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvelous vigor and patience”, he later recalled. He also found the inspiration for the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head (so the story goes) while hiking the steep trail every day from the seaside to the medieval village. The route, once a goat path, is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche’s Path” (Walking the Nietzsche Path).
So many moments to pause and see the view– and to imagine the swim we would have once down!
As a girl who summered on the rocky shore of the Long Island Sound, these rocks did not deter me!
You are never too old to travel, to try new foods and enjoy the company of friends. As I remember this trip I am filled with hope that once again borders will open, excursions will be executed, and our one world will continue to be what it once way, a safe and wondrous place. Perhaps you have daydreams of your travels, or a wish list of where you still want to wander? We will get there… and I can’t wait!