Off to Aix – if that cab ever arrives!


This was our last morning in Arles. On one hand it was sad to leave, given that there were other sights left to see. But it’s often like this when you travel – you’re sad to leave a place you’ve just gotten to know, but you’re looking forward to another adventure waiting just around the corner.

Today was the first non-holiday day here. We had our window open as we packed and soon started to hear the voices of children. Looking out, we saw groups of them all nicely dressed, chattering away on their way to school. Only then did it occur to us that we hadn’t seen many children in our first two days.

Arles - view from our window - students going to school

Here's the Arles version of kids on their way to school, no doubt counting the days until summer holidays start.

Where did they all come from, or more to the point, where had they all been? It was somewhat strange, and yet incredibly charming to see these kids walking along these ancient Roman streets like it’s just another day.

Anyway, we got packed, went down to the courtyard for our last breakfast there and then to the front desk to check out and call for a cab. We had another half hour before the train left for Marseille and then to Aix-en-Provence. We figured that was plenty. It was a five-minute ride to the train station at best. We waited, and waited. No cab. The woman at the desk called again. Now we had ten minutes before departure. Waited some more. With five minutes before departure, the cab rolls up. We tell the driver our schedule and he doesn’t seem fussed. We get there, and in the distance we can see the train coming towards us. Perfect timing!

It was about a 45-minute ride to Marseille and then a 90-minute layover before our train to Aix. Not really enough time to leave the station, so we settled in for a little espresso and a fruit tarte at the café under the umbrellas and palms.

Marseille - train station arches

A bit of faux archery going on up there, but very nice anyway.

I had read about Marseille’s rough reputation, and hanging around train stations in south Europe can be dicey at the best of times. But aside from a few gypsies, there didn’t seem to be much action. We kept a close watch on our suitcases and tried to keep a low profile. The station was another one of these big open sheds, like in Paris, with pigeons flying around freely looking for crumbs. Now we understood better why there were umbrellas over the tables.

I was reminded that before we left I had insisted on buying money belts to protect ourselves against pickpockets. We’d never done that before, and as it turns out, we never used them. They didn’t leave the suitcase.

Soon enough it was time to board for Aix and thirty minutes later we rolled into the small train station. There was road construction all around and no taxis. Strange.

Cours Mirabeau with a moss covered fountain in the middle.

As we were looking for cabs, Marlene spotted a store across the street that sold all kinds of adapters. We headed over there, and sure enough, I quickly found the adapter I’d been looking for so I could use our Mac. Took the opportunity to ask about taxis and was directed to a round-about down the block where we were assured there were lots of them. I wasn’t exactly sure where our hotel was, but knew it was on the other side of town. The round-about turned out to be at the foot of Cours Mirabeau which is the main shopping street through town.

A square, a fountain, a café... that's Aix. Perfect places to while away an hour over espresso or drinks in the afternoon.

What a beautiful town Aix is – little squares and fountains everywhere. Later we would find it a bit disorienting, like Arles, given that it’s not built on a square grid and no matter what street you walk down, you soon come to a square ringed with shops and cafés, from which another six or more streets radiate. But the city isn’t that big, so even just wandering about, you soon find yourself again. Of course having a little map helps too.

Aix - hotel swimming pool wall

A glam setting. We were feeling, what, Hollywood? Maybe Riviera? Roman gods and goddesses? Anyway, the days were sunny, the pool was warm and we floated in bliss.

For our stay here, I had chosen something a bit different in a hotel. Although it was right snug against an old walled fortification, the Hotel Aquabella, as the name suggests, has a large outdoor swimming pool. We were happily surprised when we saw it – quite glamorous on manicured grounds with trimmed trees and hedges, chaise lounges all around and a big Roman wall in one corner. The hotel was modern, a bit corporate, but fine. This would be fun!

Aix - rooftops from hotel window

The rooftops of Aix from our fifth floor window. Someone has a nice little deck up there.

Aix - soap store

When you're in Aix, you have to buy some of the famous Provencal soap to take home. We bought ours here. We would have bought more if it weren't so darn heavy.


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