Saturday, May 31, 2014

Aix en Provence:

"The charms of Aix-en-Provence are commonly sung. With a historic core as perfect as any in France, it glories in the medieval period of independent Provence, the riches of its seventeenth and eighteenth centrury growth and the memory of itts most famous sons, Zola and Cezanne."

Cours Mirabeau is the Champs Elysees of Aix-en-Provence. While it often feels like a completely pedestrian street, in fact vehicles are allowed.
The lobby of HOtel des Augustins, just off the main drag, which we can highly recommend. However, don't expect large floor to ceiling was once a monestery!
We came here for three days, since we'd often thought about visiting during our house exchange days, but had never been successful.  We stayed the first night at Hotel des Augustins, a converted medieval monestery, just off the cours Mirabeau, the main street. With its wide sidewalks lined with restaurants and fine shops, it is a very impressive street.

What the guide books didn't describe is an impressive area of new buildings near the western end of the street. There were some impressive new buildings, as well as a bridge with an impressive green wall and what is planned as a major water feature.

Sadly, there are many homeless and beggars on the streets. This one was stationed right outside a church....a good spot I thought.
If someone can please explain what's happening here I'll be most appreciative. It seems like the graduating class for a naval or military school, but I wonder why they all have such long hair.

This new bridge features an attractive green wall on one side and a water feature on the other. However the later is not yet completed.
The forecourt of the new Renaissance Hotel...a truly 5 star hotel, with 5 star rates. It is part of the new development area just west of the centre-ville.
Some of the architectural gems in what I am calling the new town. Surprised by the ivy...
One of the things I liked about Aix is the streets are very lively much of the day and evening.
At the Cezanne Cafe you get a glass of rose, some nuts and olives for 2.5 euros, about $3.75 at the time.
I could not get over the prices people seemed to be paying for smoked salmon and various kinds of salami and smoked this case a smoked filet

We noticed this street shortly after we arrived. Little did we realize that we would have an apartment along it for 2 days, thanks to Dominica and Alastair. Much appreciated!
Sally correctly observed this courtyard almost looked like a movie set. Depending on the light, it looked quite fantastic.

I will probably always regret not getting these purple shoes...which came with various coloured laces!

All in all, we spent three delightful days in Aix-en-Provence. It is a special place. However, the surrounding towns and villages are not as pretty as the towns and villages of the Luberon and some of the other places we visited. We left Aix for Les Baux, where a very special day and dinner was set up by Philippe Boname!


The Dentelles: Stone walls, stone paths and mountaintop hamlets

When touring around I often live by the dictum you can't get lost if you don't know where you're going. That was the case after leaving Pernes. Eventually we planned to get to Aix but wanted to see Vaison-la-Romaine and some of the other nearby towns. We came across Malaucene and all I could think of was Gordon see, it is one of the two towns at either end of the Mont Ventoux section of the Tour de France.
We explored a number of delightful villages and hamlets in the area known as the Dentelles en route to Vaison la Romane. They included Seguret, with its cobbled streets, vine covered houses and medieval structures; Gigondas known for its excellent wines; Baumes de Venise home to a sweet muscat wine; and Le Barroux where we went to visit the twelfth century chateau, only to discover that it was not open as advertised.

I'm ashamed to admit that we saw so many charming little places that after a while we started to take them for granted. Eventually, we made our way to Vaison-la-Romaine, one of the main tourist destinations in the region, and for good reason.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pernes les Fontaines

Sally picked this village because of its description in the guide book.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of driving into the walled centre-ville looking for a hotel recommended by the tourist office. I shouldn't have done it. The streets were incredibly narrow and had it not been for the sensors on the bumpers I would have surely scratched the car. Eventually we drove outside the walls and walked back in. When we found the hotel it seemed closed.

While we were at the hotel, the sky suddenly darkened and it started to rain. Now I understand why we often see photos of flooded out villages around Europe. It really rains!
So we went to our second choice, #1 on TripAdvisor L'Hermitage, and it was absolutely wonderful. A charming place on a couple of acres with an assortment of guests from Australia to Belgium. Some French people too.

In the middle of the town was this elementary school. Somehow it seemed out of place. What were kids doing living here?
The small town is famous for its fountains...some quite substantial, others quite modest. We did the tour, looking down the charming streets. We had good meals, which were far less expensive than what Pete McMartin encountered in Paris as described in his column today.

We stayed two nights and would have liked to stay longer. But so many things to little time left to do it. But here are some more pictures of a very picturesque place.

The oldest synagogue in France. The second oldest in the Diaspora

While I visited a lot of churches on this trip, I didn't see any synagogues until I arrived in Carpentras. The city dates back to Roman days. However, there's evidence of a Jewish community dating back to the 13th century. They were invited there as "The Pope's Jews" but moved to a ghetto in the 16th century.

The building of a synagogue began in 1367 and it was enlarged in two stages between 1741 and 1776. On the first floor is the mikvah or ritual bath.

The synagogue owned two bakeries, one to make bread for the sabbath, and one to make coudoles or matzah for passover. Poultry and small animals were slaughtered in a small yard outside the synagogue, with a built-in waste water system.
While the entrance to the synagogue is up a steep internal stair, I was very impressed with the overall look and feeling of the sanctuary. The colours and interior design are quite different from anything else I have seen.
Sadly the synagogue needs repairs but the small community does not have the funds to carry them out. I was told they also need someone to prepare measured drawings of the building. I suggested that they contact the French Architectural Association or French architectural schools. They claimed they did not have success doing this in the past.

Perhaps it would be a great project for some North American architectural students. A month in Carpentras could be a wonderful experience.