A Send-Off Trip to Aix-en-Provence


When I'm sitting in the car watching the endless fields go by, gazing at the mountains in the distance, the south of France feels like an entirely different world from the busy streets of Paris. It's a place where the time seems to flow like honey, walking lazily in the park and taking breaks only to admire the scenery or small boutiques. 

My boyfriend grew up in the south, in a series of smaller and smaller villages, and it always seems to give him a deep sense of calm whenever we stop by, even if it's just for a weekend. I've been to Aix and the surrounding area 4 times since my first voyage to France in 2020, and I wanted to share this experience with my friend Noor before she left to move back home to Jordan. 


This post isn't going to be a travel advice-centered post, despite the tags and title, but more some reflection on the south of France in general, my experience there, and the time we spent last weekend. When this trip was originally planned, we knew we had to work with the deadline of Noor's flight the first weekend of December, so planning around that was the idea of 'the last trip'. 

The word 'last' weighed on me a lot as I thought of things to do, fun places to take photos, what to eat, etc. I wanted to make it special and show her a glimpse of what I had experienced each time I visited my boyfriends parents, but I also wanted to ensure she had fun and and would leave France with some good memories. 


While feeling a bit out of her element in Dijon, Noor took to Paris like a fish to water, exploring countless museums, caf├ęs and parks. Paris, she says, is her favorite city. When we visited Marseille last year during a particularly windy spring day, she got a glimpse of the energy of the south, the golden color scheme, and the water. 

Though I wasn't jumping to visit Marseille again, Noor really enjoyed it, and this planted the seed of interest in taking her to other places in the south. The only problem was finding the time!
 

Now-- Aix is no Marseille, that's for sure. If Marseille is the fun loving, intense, crazy older sister, then Aix is the calm, artistic middle child that pulls you in with her charm. I would say Aix is definitely more my vibe. 

With little more than the clothes on our backs, we took the train and traded the cold, rainy weather of Paris for the brilliant sunshine the south is famous for. We arrived around noon, being picked up by Guillaume's father at the station. 

As we sat in the car, Guillaume and I took turns translating from French to English and vice versa so Noor and Gui's father could communicate. Noor has around an A2 level of French, so she could understand a good bit, but just needed a bit of extra help. As I translated back and forth, I felt a rush of pride. 

In 2020, I had arrived in the south not knowing a lick of French, with Guillaume patiently translating for me whenever I wanted to ask anything. Now, in 2023, here I was not only engaging in conversation but also translating for my friend. It was an amazing full circle moment.


We headed straight into the city center of Aix to eat, shop, and walk around. The weather was brisk, but not too cold, and as I wandered around various Christmas market booths, I wanted to blink my eyes hard and take a photograph to engrain these moments in my memory. I was carrying this word 'last' in the back of my mind the entire trip, despite knowing logically that Noor and I will meet again even after we both return to our respective countries. 

I felt quietly emotional as Noor and I walked around with hot crepes in our hands, switching back and forth so the other could try theirs. This trip was the end of 2 years of being in the same city, the same country, the same program, and the same phase of life. The 'normal' we had created being together was about to change, and though I felt excited for her, I also felt a twinge of sadness.

This kind of wistful vibe is something I often feel when spending extended time in the Provence area, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the energy of the region or maybe it's the slow and gentle pace of life in Guillaume's small town. It's like I disconnect from the world and just exist with my thoughts. In the morning, Noor and I walked along the bank of a nearby lake and watched Gui and his father skip rocks. Though we were all exhausted out of our minds from binging movies until 4am, we were all smiles. Though the winter air had the tips of our noses cold and pink, the sunshine warmed us. 

 

This post is a long ramble, it's a window into my heart and mind over the course of the weekend. Change is beginning soon, with the new year coming up and the holiday season, this farewell trip from Noor to France has become a poignant prelude to the changes coming soon. 

It's funny how a city can weave itself into the fabric of your memories, becoming a silent witness to the evolution of relationships, like how Dijon saw Noor and I go from strangers to friends, Palermo saw us go from unsure to fearless, and Paris saw us go from uncertain in life to on a set path. 

As we walked through the cobblestone streets, wandering in and out of shops, it felt like the sun itself was shining for us. Aix-en-Provence was more than the backdrop of Noor's goodbye to France; it was the culmination that we did it! We had made it this far and I shouldn't be afraid of the word 'last'. The 'last' anything was a placeholder until the arrival of the 'next.' 

A next chapter, a next experience, and a next time where we're together again. 




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