Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Aix-en-Provence

(Posted from Milan, Italy)

(Also, friends, I want to make sure that you read what I posted after the "Well...I'm Out of Money" entry. It showed up before that post, so if you missed it, check it out!)

I was told by many of my friends that I should go to Provence while I’m in France.  All I heard was, “You have to go to Provence. You have to go to Provence.”  So, during one of the days in La Rochelle, I went to the ticket station—
(Let me add here that all European train tickets purchased with a Eurail Pass require face-to-face bookings.  So every time I want to go somewhere, I have to actually stand in line at the train station, struggle with the non-English-speaking staff, and sometimes end up not even being successful with where I want to go.  Frustrating. Anyway…)
—and  said “One ticket to Provence, please,” and the woman looked at me like I was from a different planet. So I said slowly, “One ticket to Provence, please.” After a few minutes of struggling, the person in line behind me said, in English, “Provence isn’t a city; it’s an area.” 
Duh.
So I had the dilemma of okay, where do I go now? And luckily the same man who told me the truth about Provence said, “Aix-en-Provence is really nice. You should go there.” He seemed to know his stuff, so I complied, and booked a ticket for the next day. 
The next morning, as I boarded the train, I realized, Holy crap, I’m going to a city that I know nothing about. I had a very stressful and anxious couple hours on the train.  I remember trying to sleep, but I was too stressed. It was a really bad experience for most of the trip.  At one point, I decided that I should walk through the train to see if I can overhear any English and start a conversation. Sure enough, I heard some people talking with Australian-like accents, so I started a conversation. They were a mother and son family from New Zealand, named Carol-Ann and Anthony.  They were headed to Nîmes.
After talking to them, I was still quite stressed and went back to my seat.  Nothing more to be said about that trip because it was so darn stressful.  I arrived in Aix-en-Provence, met some people who spoke English who showed me where a good hostel was, I went there, and checked in for a few days.
All I wanted to do at that moment was talk to some people from home, so I spent a while on Skype, which was nice.  I also met, however, a few very nice people.  One, my roommate in my hostel room, was named Stefane.  He was really nice and we had some good conversations.  I also met MJ and Florence, to friends from Montreal who were kind of doing the same thing I was in Europe.  I also met Lauren, a woman from Virginia.  We all hung out and talked about home and traveling, you know, getting to know each other but not too well.  We were all kind of in the same boat as far as traveling went, so we had some common ground that we could stand on.
There was a Picasso and Cezanne exhibit at one of the museums in Aix. It showcased Cezanne’s influence on Picasso through comparing the two artists’ work. I liked it a lot. 
The next day I went around Aix-en-Provence with MJ and Florence.  It’s a pretty cool city, with delicious candy shops. I’ll let the captions under the pictures do the talking.


I've only seen lions' heads on doors in the movies, but this one was in real life! 

These were incredible.  Hoo boy.

AND I flew my kite. 
The day after that was probably the best day I had in Aix.  I had quite an anxious time there, not knowing anything or anyone, you know, same old, same old. I decided it’s probably a good idea to do something that an annoying tourist would do.  Sure, it’s not necessarily cool, but it would bring me comfort to be led somewhere and to go do things in a group.  My mom had told me at one point, “When you go to France, you must do some sort of wine-tasting,” so I went to the tourist office to see if there was anything wine-related to do.  Luckily there was one—a tour of a French vineyard, lavender fields, and an olive oil mill. 
Sounds like the place for me.
I got my ticket and waited for the bus to take me on the tour (or excursion, as they called it).  A little van pulled up and a small woman stepped out.  I gave her my ticket, and watched as two other women also gave her their tickets. I had a small fear that this entire tour was going to be in French, so I asked the two women, “Do you speak English?”
“Oh yes,” they said, “We’re from Washington state.” Their names were Mary and Amber and they were colleagues working at a college in Washington.  We realized soon that we were the only people on this tour, which sounded quite good to know that we wouldn’t be herded around like a big group of cattle through the Provence region.
The two women and I quickly got along and we had a lot of fun on the tour.  I learned how to taste wine like a pro and hold the glass like a snob.  I walked through one of the best vineyards in Provence. I ate a fresh fig right off a tree next to the vineyard’s mansion. I had never had a fig before—I expected it to taste like a prune except worse—but it was so delicious that I had to have another. Hey, my parents are thinking about planting a new tree in their yard…I think I have an idea for them. J

Getting my fig on. 

Left to right: Mary, Amber, our tour guide, and ME. 

My mom has a picture of herself exactly like this. 

The garden at the vineyard. Beautiful.

I could have sat there for hours. All I needed was a person to share some wine and a good conversation with. (Another hint that next time I travel, I'm going to take someone with me.)
We then went to the lavender fields, which I desperately wanted to see in Provence.  I dunno—there’s something in the idea of seeing a field full of purple that seems very magical to me.

And it was magical.  Even the butterflies in the field were purple…I figured they couldn’t help but be. If you were a butterfly that lived in a lavender field, wouldn’t you do the same? The farmer who owned the field pulled up some lavender for us all, enough that my hands smelled like it for the rest of the day. I loved it. 

The farmer. 

The olive oil part of the tour was interesting, but nothing necessarily beautiful.  We just learned how the olive oil-making machine works, pretty much.  It was still fun, though. The floor of the factory was all oily and slippery. Pretty fun.
I came back from the tour feeling just amazing. Maybe I was high on lavender…or drunk…either way, I just felt great. I went back to the hostel to meet my mom and one of my best friends Tami on Skype.
You see, when Mom told me that I should go to a wine tasting, I told her that I had one better: I would get some French wine to match her French wine at home and we would drink it together on Skype. I told her to invite friends, too, so she invited Tami.  We had a great time just chatting up a storm. It was such a comforting, wonderful experience.

Tami told me that she had become inspired by a sermon she heard at church that week.  It was based on a bible verse that I have actually preached on before. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
I was so surprised how close to home this verse hit. I had never thought of it in the context of me, my trip, and my anxiety disorder. My gosh, my anxiety disorder is the thorn in my flesh that continuously keeps me humbled and in my place. I have witnessed some wonderful things that, of course, could make me quite smug about my experience here in Europe. (How many people do you know who are just annoying about their travels, always bragging about it and pretending to know everything? I know a lot of them.) Well this is one thing that is keeping me from that.
And it’s not that God gave this horrible disability to me, knowing that it would hurt me and cause me so much trouble, but God knows that He can work in all situations and take care of me no matter what predicament I’m in. When I am weak and can’t handle things on my own, that’s when God steps in to help me through.  His power is made perfect in my weakness.
Christie said to me at one point, “None of these wonderful things would have happened to you if your anxiety wasn’t an issue.” And it’s true. So I rejoice that I had those hard times because God’s power was shown the most clearly. It’s a little more difficult to rejoice when I’m in the middle of a hard time, but I try, because I know that God is truly at work in those situations, guiding me, helping me through, and protecting me. Even though I am weak, I am strong because God is with me. His power is made perfect.
God is good.

5 comments:

  1. Okay, first, you must describe the pretty little pink and green Oreo-wanna-be cookies/candy! They look absolutely delightful!

    I'm so glad you took in the French wine-tasting tour! And BONUS....a lavendar and olive oil tour too!!! FYI: to those that may not know...yes, I have a picture with me and grapevines like that, but I wasn't in France. My picture was a vineyard in Wisconsin where I 'worked for wine' for an afternoon! It was much fun, but it was in Wisconsin. Sigh....

    The fresh fig intrigues me...I want details...texture like a peach? Sweet? Sour? Bitter?

    Our french wine skype party was wonderful. Great idea, Brian!

    Yeah, we have a Good God! He's been with you every step of the way.

    Love you!

    Mom

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  2. Love the photos in this posting. In the first photo there's a clock tower. Any idea on its history?

    Hey! You got a shot of those pointy/narrow evergreens we talked about! Is it soft or prickly? They look cool.

    Yep, like the quiet place to drink some wine (insert Key Dogs) and talk. :-)

    So the lavendar fields were very fragrant I take it? Love that smell too. The lavendar farmer looked proud of his big green bucket.

    Have fun!
    Love you,
    Dad

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  3. I'm so glad Aix-en-Province turned out so good, even though you didn't have any plans until you got there!
    My gosh, you are good at meeting people on trains! I'm quite proud... and jealous too.

    Hey, come on Brian, you describe all your food but not the "delicious" pastel colored candy/cookie things! What did they taste like?

    I LOVE the lion-head knocker. We used to have a plain brass knocker on the front door at my old house instead of a doorbell and I thought it was so cool... this is 10 times cooler!
    YAY kites!

    Hey, don't think you're lame for going on that wine trip. A good tourist goes to a mix of mainstream and off-the-beaten-path things! It's very important to do both!
    Besides, it sounded like a lot of fun! You learned you like figs and smelled some pretty flowers and got WASTED!!! (hahah just kidding about the last part, of course.)

    Hehehe, in the picture under the grapevine one, the bushes are giving you bunny ears! Didn't need to travel with someone annoying to get them this time, eh?

    Oooh, pick me! Pick me to travel with next time!

    Your wine date sounded awesome. I wish I lived near your mom so I could have came!!
    Also, I'm so glad you found the perfect verse to describe the troubles on your trip! Don't forget that in the next 5 or 6 days, love!

    love you always,
    christie

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  4. okay, i think they were called macaroons (the cookie things, i mean). and they were just amazing. the green one is pistacio, and the pink one is raspberry. the outside was this really delicate soft cake with a crispy frosting coating, and in the middle was the fruit (or nut) flavored filling. it was SO GOOD!! they only took a few bites to finish because they were so delicate, but i couldn't help but make some very inappropriate-sounding noises to myself while eating them. :)

    the figs tasted somewhere between a peach and a kiwi. the skin was very peach like, but the inside was so very soft and stringy (like the inside of a kiwi. mmmmm...so good.

    i didn't touch the trees, unfortunately, dad. there are some of those trees here in italy, too, so i'll make sure to touch them and get back to you. :)

    those trees giving me bunny ears are jerks.

    yeah, i don't know the history of the clock tower. it looked cool, though. and i was very excited about that lion knocker.

    thanks, everyone, for posting!! it's so nice to hear from all of you!!

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  5. Oooh, I'm going to have to try a fig!

    And, personally, I thought those trees were FUNNY, not jerks. Hahahha.

    One more thing, did you KNOCK? Did anyone answer? :)

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