April = spring break = visitors = "Bienvenue en Aix", or so the sign here says. (I'm still trying to figure out why it's "en" and not "à" since you go "à" cities and you go "en" countries but that's my non-native speaker intuition talking.)
Our first visitors of the season were my relatives from California who came for their Easter vacation.
I realize now that we took far too few pictures while they were here.
Here they are in the gardens of the Pavillon Vendôme. Note that there are no leaves on the trees -- there were a few, but mostly just buds. About a week later, it was all leafy around here.
Don't they look happy? That was before we made them walk all over the place ...
Like the Cours Mirabeau.
Sam and Jack (and the Diabline -- the funny little electric "bus" on the left that you can flag down if you want a ride) ...
and Suzi, Ben and me (James took the pictures) ...
In Cassis, where we followed the Sentier du Petit Prince on Port Miou ...
Note Sam's smile. She still had energy to run part way back at the end of the walk.
The rest of the day in Cassis doesn't have pictures, which is really too bad because it was sort of an adventure. Actually, it was more the leaving of Cassis that was the adventure, but more about that later.
First there was the wine-tasting at the Clos de la Magdeleine, which had nice wine, but a really unfriendly, glazed-eyed proprietor ... at least the one we met. The man who is smiling in the picture on this website looks way too happy to have anything to do with the woman who did our tasting. She was all doom and gloom with crazy black hair that looked like it might be hiding several pencils, a broom, and maybe even a cat. She didn't like us from the get-go because Sam and Ben, who weren't tasting the wine, didn't come down into the dark cellar -- go figure. We were reprimanded. We only got to taste their white, even though they also make a rosé. And despite what our wine book said about the Clos de la Magdeleine having beautiful grounds, we really have no idea because we weren't allowed to walk around and were ushered back out the gate as quickly as we had come in. Hrumph!
Things got better after a stop in a cafe by the harbor, and a delicious dinner of Breton style crêpes at Le Bonheur Est Dans Le Blé. Mmmmm ... buckwheat galettes!
And then starting with the credit card machine that didn't want to read an American credit card, things went a little south. Like when we pulled into the closed-for-the-night train station just as the 21h10 train was pulling out. We weren't too worried because there was a ticket machine and a 22h20 train so we said goodbye to Les Rush, who headed back toward Grasse in their car, and we waited for the next train.
Here's a frog we saw on the train platform. He reminded us of Aleppo.
Two other people came to wait, and the station agent and some other employee were there if anything went really wrong, until it did and then they were unable or unwilling to help out.
Our train arrived right on time, but didn't pull all the way into the station. The station agent's helper came out of the office and James and I and the other two people waiting, who turned out to be a mother and her 20-something son, went up to the train and tried to get in. I say "tried" because the door wouldn't open. We tried the next door. Still nothing. We tried a door on the next car. Nothing. And then the train started to move. We all thought that it was just pulling into the station from the end of the platform where it had stopped. But no, it just pulled on out of the station. The last train of the night.
We all went into the station agent's office and told him what happened. He didn't believe us but his helper, who had seen the whole thing, backed us up. Eventually he reluctantly called the next stop and they said there was nothing wrong with the train, so too bad for us. No, the SNCF wasn't going to send a bus or shuttle, there were no more trains, there would be no refunded tickets or putting us up overnight because the train malfunctioned -- because it hadn't at the next stop. We were out of luck. So over the course of the next 20 minutes while the agent begrudgingly looked up some things on his computer, the mother got livid and started doing all the yelling we wanted to do but couldn't in French, the son foresaw his firing for not being at work in Toulouse the next day and we contemplated almost certain death on our walk back into town along a dark road where people drive way too fast, where we'd have to find a hotel that we hadn't budgeted for, missed work the next day, and we wished we'd taken Jack and Suzi's offer to drive us back to Aix (even though it was out of their way).
Finally, the station agent shrugged and said there was nothing he could do to which the mother responded with an angry snort and a "Bravo SNCF! Bravo!" And then she turned to her son and said, "well, I guess I'll have to drive you to Marseille" and very politely offered to take us too.
And so began the frenzied car ride, complete with a call from les Rush who had taken a wrong turn and somehow ended up in the dodgy part of Toulon and who, now that they knew we were in a car with a frantically speeding stranger, were worried for our safety too. It's a good thing they called before we got on the motor way because that was when the mother started going almost 140 kph (85 - 90 mph, but it felt a whole lot faster in that car), which was in fact not that far over the speed limit of 130 kph (part of the time -- the rest of the time it was almost 30 kph over the speed limit, but who's counting?).
Then things got really scary when we got to Marseille and they asked us for directions. It turned out they'd never been there before. They were from Toulouse and on holiday in Cassis. I had assumed that since the mom had a car, she lived in Cassis and was likely to know Marseille. In fact, she laughed that she'd have to get out when she dropped us off so she could say she'd been there. Ha!
So let's see ... How do get to the Gare Saint Charles? Well, I can figure it out if we follow the signs to the Centre Ville.
Lucky for all of us, our two weeks in the hotel in Marseille and all the walking around I did came in handy and I knew a way to get to the train station. Not the best way that would get us there with a little extra time before the train left. More like the way that gets you to the train station and forces you to block traffic and get out of the car at a place where you shouldn't have stopped and then run to your train. But we never had to turn around and we didn't get lost. It just wasn't the most efficient way. But we made it home. And the son's train to Toulouse was delayed, so he made it too. At least we assume he did. We know that he hadn't missed his train.
And as it turned out, despite our adventure, we made it back to Aix before Suzi, Jack, Ben and Sam made it back to their B&B in Grasse. The little detour to the wrong side of the tracks in Toulon added over 2.5 extra hours to their trip and they didn't get home until after 1:30. But they say they'd still like to come back to France!