Provence: The Euro Series

The perils of navigating a rendezvous without a cell phone in a foreign country are not easily forgotten, but within moments of meeting Florent at the airport in Nice our problems had evaporated into the endless blue skies. Although I didn’t realize it, I was barely keeping the pent up anxiety at bay: Lifelong dream. Must go perfectly. Must see epic sites. Who needs sleep and clean clothes when you can beat the same path as Hemingway through Paris at midnight?

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Well, friends. I do. And God bless Florent. He whisked us through the low rolling mountains outside of Nice and on to the narrow, golden streets of Aix-en-Provence. We wandered through markets so vibrant with produce and color that I shamelessly snapped picture after picture of peaches, salts, flowers and spices that the locals were simply scooping up for their daily meal. After a bit we did the same: half a rotisserie chicken, roasted potatoes and a fresh salad. Do you know many twenty-something males who nonchalantly mix a vinaigrette from scratch for lunch with friends? Me either. We are so incredibly fortunate to call him a friend!

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After lunch, it was laundry and a nap. A few hours later I felt like a new woman as we stepped out to explore this charming medieval city. First settled by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, Aix unfolds like a treasure map for any traveler willing to depart from the masses.

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We ducked into ancient little churches and peered through the dwindling light onto Renaissance-era frescos close enough to touch.

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That evening, we met with some friends of Florent’s – students at the local university. Allow them to practice their English over drinks? Of course. And as they sipped beers and I nursed by ever-present café Americain a very interesting dialogue unfolded in which I attempted to piece together a quandary that had been frustrating me throughout the entire trip. As I encountered head-on the notions that Hollywood and Disney had brought me about Irish, English, French and Italians I couldn’t help but wonder: What is the overwhelming perception of Americans? Fat? Lazy? The ultimate consumers? Drinks turned into dinner and dinner turned into desert and at last I realized that any relationships worth having will see past any presumptions based on nationality or accent. And as for any less-than-pleasant passing interactions between tourists and natives – or even worse – tourists and tourists? They are not to be remembered. So months later, it is the wonderful conversation and warm hospitality that I recall from this dinner (however wonderful the food must have been).

IMG_3367The next morning we shared coffee and pan au chocolate in the “little park” behind Florent’s apartment. With regret, we cinched our packs and drove back to Nice for a taste of the Mediterranean coast line. Not to worry – it didn’t disappoint. After settling in, we crossed through a number of bustling city streets, trailing our host like lost puppies, when the street bowed inward and we crossed some time line into Old Nice. Magical.

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Though the real magic was hiding beyond those narrow streets. Fenocchio’s gelato. Cue angelic chorus.

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After a brief trip to the beach to lay on the hot black stones and attempt to coax my travel-worn tootsies into the rocky waters, we made our way up to these beautiful falls above Old Nice.

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The view looking out from the falls was incredible. And the winding road to we followed to arrive there was full of gorgeous little secrets.IMG_3468

Nice marked the halfway point in our trip. Note to self: when you get to the halfway point, all you will want to do is sleep. Our hosts were more than sympathetic to our quandary of desperately wanting to see the regional beauty of Provence and essentially running out of steam. They proposed an afternoon drive. Along the Mediterranean. To Monte Carlo.

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There is no comparison to French hospitality, and even then our dear friend and his family set the standard. Our memories of our time in Nice will remain vibrant and magical thanks to the wonderful kindness they showed us. Provence is truly a region as lovely as its people.

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Late that night, back in Nice, we made the walk again to the unlit shore of the Mediterranean.

IMG_3552The beach was crowded, but provided a quiet escape from the phrenetic energy of the city at night. In a whirlwind tour such as ours, the challenge becomes savoring the moment. This night, seated beneath the stars with all of France stretched out behind us, we were given an opportunity to push past tired, past expectant, past mesmerized and onward until we just were.

Many thanks to our wonderful friend, Florent, to whom we are eternally indebted for showing us all the colors, scents and sounds – but most importantly the feeling – of life in the South of France.

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One thought on “Provence: The Euro Series

  1. Adrie and Dan,

    I feel truly honoured by your article, and would like to thank you for your kind words.
    Most important is that you had a wonderful time in France (too short unfortunately in the South with me…) and that you enjoyed the life we have here.
    I want to emphasize that the Shelby family welcomed me first, when I spent a year in Indiana in 2010/2011. Thanks to all of you, I had the opportunity to discover the US, and really felt like I belonged to your family. A huge thanks to your parents that always did their best to take care of me.
    I am also thankful for the time spent together in Chicago, in May 2011. With my friend Gaétan, we had such a lovely time. The comedy club with Dan was epic! The Greek restaurant we went to was delicious, the Church on Sunday, the movies we watched on the evenings, the crepes that we ate… All these moments we spent together were a gift that we shall never forget.

    Thank you Adrie, thank you Dan, and thanks to the Shelby family for taking care of me three and four years ago.

    I hope we’ll see each other soon.

    Thanks again,
    Take care

    Florent

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