The other thing very striking of France, is that it is old. The history of previous centuries comes to life before your eyes. It is wonderful that buildings, 100's of years old, are still in full use and standing strong. Unfortunately it is not just very old, but very dirty - everywhere. While driving through Provence and all the towns, the following saying is true: Beautiful from afar, but far from beautiful, when near. Yes, from a distance, everything is picture beautiful. It's the one puzzle-picture or postcard-image on the other one. I was totally trigger happy(that is with my camera). But... if you get closer, you see how dirty everything is. The streets, the buildings, the pavements... Whenever you take a picture, make sure not to include the ground, because it is covered with cigarette ends and beer bottle caps.
That is the one really sad thing of France – the smoking. My guess is that almost 70% of the population above 15 years of age, smoke! That calculation was made counting people who smoked/did not smoke on beaches, in restaurants and on the streets. I must admit that it was not a very scientific calculation, but sadly very close to the truth. Even sadder is that they not only cause other people to smoke with them with the 2nd hand smoking, but they also pollute the ground with cigarette ends. Not good...
However, if you look past the smoke and the dirt, it is beautiful. While driving through Provence, up and down tree covered hills with one small town following the other, we treasured the beauty from afar. We saw the already harvested lavender fields and the hectares full of dead sunflower heads and could imagine just how even more beautiful it will be in June/July – when all is in full bloom. We admired the vineyards loaded with grapes ready for harvest and olive trees in neat rows. We had picnics in forests and on mountain tops and next to rivers. We explored, photographed and travelled Provence and thoroughly enjoyed it.
One thing that is obvious from the years gone by, is that many battles have been fought. I don't know whether everyone always knew who they were fighting against, because the battles were so many, but they could fight. They also tried to keep the enemy out with very high walls – some still standing strong to this day! (In Namibia we try the same technique with the thieves! I'm not sure who has the most success.) At least, if you count all the churches, you also realize that they knew where their Guidance, Protection and Power came from. The battles are different in this century, and Guidance, Protection and Power is still needed, but I'm not so sure where it is found. The churches are either monuments, with visitors taking pictures, or if it is operating as a church, those attending church services are old people. Whenever entering a church, it became a habit to pray for all people entering the building, the same prayer as what Jesus prayed in John 17: "That they will Know God".
Although we cannot speak their language, we managed well with a friendly smile, "merci", sign language and Afrikaans. Please do not speak English, they are not very helpful when you do.
During day time, the pavements are pavements, but at nighttime they all become street cafes. The French people love to sit in a cafe on the pavement on chairs all facing the street. It seems that they always have time and energy for a few hours with friends at the nearest bar. They definitely put a lot of emphasis on their social life. May we also always put great effort into maintaining special friendships and make time to create special memories.
We had 2 very different houses while in Marseille. We were really blessed to be able to have these different experiences. Both houses, as I think all houses in Marseille , were in neighborhoods where the houses fit in like Lego blocks, or like pieces in a puzzle.
Our first house had a wonderful backyard, complete with a vineyard canopy and a fig tree. We had all our meals out there in the shade, and enjoyed the French life with fresh grapes daily.
We were woken every morning at 4h00 with the baker next door opening his safety door and chatting in "high volume" with who ever was with him. It surprised us only the first night, and there after it became a comfortable pattern. Although the house is in the main street, it was quiet and peaceful during the daytime. The house also provided comfortable workspace for each one of us and good internet. Another big fun provider at our Rûe de Rabelais house, was the table tennis that filled the passage in front of the house. We had tournaments and play outs and I can officially say that I am ranked nr.5 in the Fourie family. Luckily my self esteem is not tied to my table tennis rating!
We also had a car while we lived there. Remember that I said a car has to be small? Well this one fit the regulations. It's a Renault Kangoo, very small body, but surprisingly spacious inside. My family even tried to convince me that this must be my next car if I buy a new car! We drove all over Marseille and Provence, a few days even without a GPS, and was grateful each time that we arrived back home. One day we went to Cassis, a small town east of Marseille. We went on a boat to see the Calanques, massive fjords that protrude from the land into the sea. The water is turquoise blue and the scenery was(again) like on postcards. The sea was rough and everyone sitting on the front of the boat, got soaking wet. Although there were about 20 people there when we started, it was only the Namibians who stayed there the whole time. We had so much fun! We were wet to the bone and when we dried, we were like salt pillars, because the water is extremely salty!
Afterwards we had a picnic on the beach, where we were the only ones wearing hats. Everyone was just lying in the sun, trying to look like a over baked cookie. Another observation is that the ladies wear only one-piece-swimsuits: only the bikini pants!(Somewhere, some one must have many bikini tops for sale) In any case, we had a wonderful day and no one was burnt.
Our second house was right on the other side of Marseille. We all drove there, with our luggage, in the Kangoo. We unloaded and Dawie and Charlie went back to house nr.1 to leave the car there. Then they walked all the way back to us. It was 16km, of which most of the way was not pleasant or good for pedestrians. All 5 were very relieved when the doorbell rang. (they saved more than E40, enough for food for a few days!)
This house is in Rûe de Bouderesque, very close to the sea. This is a very busy, noisy neighborhood, with people moving and talking till very late at night. The street is wide enough for only 1 car, but it is a 2 way street. It is a real art to move in and out of that small, but busy corner of Marseille. We were glad that we did not have a car while living there. We walked everywhere we wanted to be. We went for regular swims, either in the harbour or in the open sea, where you jump in from the rocks. It is special to look at the city from deep within the sea.
We celebrated Tinus's birthday while we were there, but much have been said about that special day already. Although we did not have internet or workplace for everyone, we still managed to do what was set out for us in our goals. We could also take nice long hikes next to the sea on the path with the longest bench in the world. We loved watching the full moon through the balcony door of our bedroom! Although the moon was always up there, we did not see it so often during the past 8 months and really enjoyed to see it this time.
Another wonderful thing was, that when we left for our boat cruise, we could pack only 2 bags and left our other luggage in the house and when we returned to Marseille, we had a house to go back to(for 2 days), before leaving on our last leg in this tour around the world.
Yes, we were blessed with both our houses in Marseille. Yes, we were blessed like all the previous times. We agreed once again, that home exchange is a win-win way to enjoy your holiday. What makes it special for us, especially this year, is that we become "locals" the moment we move in. Then we plan what we will do in this new place(never too much) and we become "slow paced tourists" for a few hours every now and then. The rest of the time we are "home", working, playing, talking, laughing - We love it!