Day 2 started early, but thankfully not as early as day 1. Around 10:00 I had to pick the rented car I had booked online. Pickup location was at Gare St Charles which is the main location for car rentals in the centre of the city.
So I got up at around 8:30, had breakfast in the hotel (nothing very special, standard continental) and then got by metro to the Gare. I thought initially to use a bicycle, but decided against it because time was passing by and I was more eager to explore Aix and around. I really enjoyed the walk up to the metro station because there were fishermen selling fresh fish they caught just outside the entrance and I got a good chance to see Marseillese life, not so typical of most French cities
The process to get the car was quick and efficient once I located the rental office (you had to get outside the station building and walk alongside, but it was easy since all companies are situated together). They even had printed a details sheet in Greek for me! Anyway, I got the car (a small Citroen C1) and headed straight to Aix-en-Provence
The drive from Marseille to Aix is straightforward. I am using HERE Maps (now it’s rebranded as Here WeGo) which is fantastic and almost spotless, and does not require online access. It took me around 30 minutes to get to Aix. Parking there was another thing altogether, I had to circle around for some time and then found an underground parking near Cours Mirabeu and the Fontain de la Rotonde, the virtual beginning of the Veil Aix, the magnificent old town
And now some words about the city : Aix-en-Provence sometimes is seen as the twin of Marseille, but the two cities are very different : Aix is more compact, artsy and cultural and even … richer. It is quiet, clean and comfortable. It’s development around the old city means a huge diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels (all a little on the expensive side). Furthermore,apart from tourists there is a lot of students in the city, including many foreigners. Finally Aix owns its fame on the fine arts (Cezanne and Zola were born there while many other intelectuals made it their home for some time
This does not mean you should not visit Marseille (actually I prefer Marseille to Aix). But it is a different affair : a large city, a port city on the Meditarrenan, with a great history going back to the Ancient Greek times with its own distinct flavour than almost any other French city
But enough of comparisons and more exploration : after parking I got out and was at the Fontain de Rotonde, at the beginning of Cours Mirabeu, the boulevard that defines the centre of Aix. There are A LOT of fountains in the town and the Fontain de la Rotonde is the largest one, in a large square which is the natural startpoint for exploring Aix
As I had some time I took a tour with the tourist “train” which run for about 45 minutes. It was fun and with the English voiceover (there also other 7 languages to choose from) I was able to get a good idea of the city, the history, its people and the most important monuments
Tour “trains” are nice and fun but the best way to explore Aix is on foot. I started walking aimleslly in the old city. It was fun, noticing all the colours, shops, people. I ended in the square of the Hotel de Ville where I stoped in a cafe for a refreshment
After that I kept walking. I needed to eat something, preferrably a local delicacy, but since time had passed, most restaurants were closing for midday. I passed several places, including the lovely Forum des Cardeurs, without much luck. Finally I found a nice place, with a back garden that was not closing down (yet!). I was double lucky with the selection as I got a Provencal speciality : some kind of pancake, stuffed with minced meat and cheese(s) and salad. Accompanied by local red wine. Wonderful
During lunch I contemplated what to do next : stay in Aix, go back to Marseille or explore some more. I finally decided on going forward, or rather northwards, to explore the area of the Durance and the nice villages of the Luberon I’ve read so much about. But that is another chapter in the journey ….