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Aix-en-Provence

La Rotonde, Aix-en-Provence   The final installment in my travelogue of my time in France is my day in Aix-en-Provence, a sentimental journey 35 years after spending time there as a student. Taking the train from Marseille, I arrived about 8 a.m., hoping to avoid the blistering heat of the past few days. From the train station I walked to La Rotonde, a traffic circle surrounding a large fountain dating from 1860, topped by statues of the Three Graces. From the Rotonde extends the Cours Mirabeau, one of the most beautiful streets in Europe. Apart from a large Apple store and some upscale boutiques lining the Cours Mirabeau, the views were pretty much as I remembered them. Founded by the Romans, who discovered hot springs there, Aix was the capital of Provence during the middle ages, and after the 12th century, became an artistic center and seat of learning. The town exudes an air of old aristocracy, attested by the hôtels particuliers (private mansions) which line the Cours Mirabeau and the streets of the Quartier Mazarin to its south. It is still an artistic center; among its museums are the Musée Granet and the Fondation Vasarely, and just outside of town is the Atelier Cézanne, where the artist worked.       Hôtel de Ville and Clock Tower     Among the town’s many architectural treasures are the Hôtel de Ville and Clock Tower, the Cathedral of Saint Sauveur and its exquisite cloister, and small squares with fountains – Aix is filled with fountains, though my favorite, the

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Marseille

Published on August 15, 2015, by in France, Marseille, Travel.

First view of Marseille from the top of the St. Charles Railway Station steps     My twin goals for my sojourn in France were a week each in Paris and Marseille. The cities have little in common: one a northern gray city under often-cloudy skies, France’s capital, and one of the world’s great centers of culture, the other a sunny Mediterranean seaport in tones of yellow, ochre, brown, gray, and the impossible blue of the Mediterranean. My first view of Marseille is permanently imprinted in my memory: it followed shared car ride from Tours to Toulouse, an all-night train journey from Toulouse to Marseille, and at the end of a sleepless night a charcoal-gray pre-dawn breaking over massive ships in a harbor and then, at the end, exiting from a train station. I was at the top of a monumental flight of steps, the great sweep of a foreign city before me, and in the distance a pinpoint of golden light: the statue of the Virgin and Child atop Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. I watched in what I imagine now was open-mouthed astonishment as the day dawned over this strange new place. It was 1979, and I was in France on a Rotary International Graduate Fellowship. After a couple of months at a French language institute in Tours, I had come south to Provence, where I would be a student at the Universite d’Aix-Marseille in Aix-en-Provence. To reach Aix I first had to go to Marseille, a

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Arles

Published on August 10, 2015, by in France, Photography, Travel.

  This was my first visit to Arles, in Provence in southern France. The town contains some impressive Roman vestiges, including an amphitheater and an Arena. I was fortunate that my arrival coincided with the annual photography exhibition Les Rencontres de la Photographie, held in locations and historic buildings throughout the town. I spent one entire day wandering from one photo exhibit to the next, in the intense summer heat.   I spent three days in Arles, staying at the delightful Hostellerie de la Source just outside of town. Among the highlights of my stay was a bakery and pastry shop that sold wonderful Provencal sablés (a kind of shortbread). I ate several. I had intended on the final day to take a bus to Saint-Remy and Les Baux de Provence, but after standing at the appointed bus stop among a group of travelers for an hour, the bus never showed up. Those destinations will be saved for a future trip.         Cathedral of St. Trophime           St. Trophime cloister           Roman Arena            Photography exhibit            Photography exhibit, Archbishop’s Palace            Photography exhibit, photo group and chair         Open window  

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Paris places

Published on August 6, 2015, by in Food, France, Travel.

 Paris sky, evening   My internet access has been limited lately. Apart from not yet having wifi in my apartment, I lost my Nokia cell phone during the taxi ride back to my apartmentfrom Suzhou train station my first evening back from France. An unplanned new expense will be an iPhone in the next week.   Aside from that, I’m finishing up my dissertation for the M.A. in Teaching English for Academic Purposes, my title being Teaching English for Art History in a Chinese Context. The due date is September 1.   I will continue over the next couple of weeks to share photos from my trip to France. Below are some of my favorite places during my 8 days in Paris.      Restaurant Chartier, the “good value” restaurant I fondly remembered from my student days. I ate my first dinner there after my arrival in Paris.          The Paris Metro – a world unto itself. If you’re in the right mood, the mazes of corridors and “correspondances” can be fun in a dizzying sort of way.          I spent a lot of time in the Metro, thanks to my 3-day Paris Visite pass.          The covered passages or shopping arcades of Paris date mostly from the early 19th century. My favorites were the consecutive Passage Verdeau, Passage Jouffroy, and Passage des Panoramas, centered around the Grands Boulevards.          The Blé Sucré bakery on Square Trousseau came

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Paris, Paris

Published on July 27, 2015, by in Food, France, Travel.

    I knew that Paris would be different – no place stays the same, and with the passage of over 30 years I was a different person than I was in my 20s. There are a lot more chains and franchises now, the ubiquitous Starbucks, KFC, and Subway; the seedy areas I remembered from long ago are now upscale and stylish. There was also a heatwave, with temperatures in the 30s (Celsius), and almost as much English and Chinese spoken as French. It was, after all, the height of the tourist season, and not the optimal time for experiencing “typically French” atmosphere – if, in fact, there ever is such a time in the most-visited city on earth.   I was gripped by melancholy a few weeks before my trip; memories and regrets of my youth , a Christmas spent in Paris with my brother and our mother in 1979, worries that I would confront fragments of my lost self at every turn. Instead, I simply enjoyed myself. Yes, Paris is in many ways just another big and indifferent city, but my focus this trip was to see things I had missed before, and to enjoy the first trip of my life not regulated by constant money concerns. Above all, I wanted to eat.       I was actually in Paris twice, for 4 days each time, bookending my visit to Provence and a week in Marseille in between. It’s just the way it worked out. I stayed

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