Our Aixperience

We visited Aix-en-Provence and saw a knife fight.   That wasn’t the only thing we saw.

After leaving the restaurant at dusk, we strolled the streets.  Some towns roll up the sidewalks after dark; Aix does not.  It is practically mandatory to walk the streets in the evening and have a drink on cafe terraces.  Yep.  Streetwalking is mandatory.  It’s especially nice because the old town (vielle ville) is car free, easy to navigate and a manageable size.

Boulevard Mirabeau (Cours Mirabeau), is a grand avenue built on the site of the former ramparts in the 17th century.   Our favorite trees in Geneva, the plane tree, line and shade  the stately boulevard.  The overhanging trees provide much-needed shade on hot summer days.  Moss covered fountains are in the center of the avenue with stately old town houses behind the wide sidewalks.

We strolled it that evening, but went back the next morning to have coffee (and a croissant)  in the legendary café, Les Deux Garcons.  Dating from 1792, many famous people have dined here including: Picasso, Churchill, Edith Piaf, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Raimu, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean CocteauSophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Hugh Grant and George Clooney.  It was a regular haunt of Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola.  I can see why.  The cappuccino was tasty and the croissant was wonderfully light.  It was a treat to sit and watch the world pass.

Being American, we like a fast pace and giant to do lists.  It is impossible to live like that in Aix.  It is a place to stop, enjoy the view and make the mundane wonderful.

Aix is known for its many and varied markets.  They have normal markets, local producers markets, flower markets, antiques markets and old book markets.  We visited the morning market at Place Richelme (there are also markets at Place de Verdun, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and Place des Prêcheurs).  We picked up some fresh fruit and perused the many artisanal varieties of cheese, meats and breads.

 Aix-en-Provence is a university town (University of Provence Aix-Marseille) and filled with academics and students.  It also gets its fair share of aristocrats, people who are wealthy enough not to have to work and professionals.   It has a reputation for being a bit elitist.  If you are interested in Aix, it was immortalized by Peter Maille’s book “One Year in Provence.”

Like many other towns in the south of France (Arles, Orange, Vence), Aix was inhabited by the Romans.  They built thermal baths at Aix, Aquae Sextiae, around 2000 years ago.  Today you can visit the newer (18th-century hot-water baths) and modern spa built atop the old baths (you can see them from the lobby).

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Fascinating Dubai

Before going to Dubai, I’d heard things like:

  • Dubai is like no other city on earth.
  • It is, or at least prior to 2008, it was the world’s fastest-growing city.
  • Dubai is Las Vegas on steroids.
  • Nobody ever went to Dubai in search of understatement.
  • It is glitzy, glamorous, spectacular and over-the-top, with more flash than class.

While the amount of consumerism there is astounding.  It is much more than that.  It is a city of contrasts with remarkable diversity.  It is futuristic and I found it fascinating.

Some of the things that fascinated me about Dubai are:

  • It is a city full of contrasts, from rich to poor, the religion and the hedonism, the large and small-scale of business, the man-made islands and the ancient trading on dhow boats both on its waters, the Orlando style buildings contrast with the imaginative skyscrapers…

  • Dubai has an incredibly rich cultural make-up.  I don’t know if I’ve been a city where I heard more languages spoken on the streets.  From its visitors to residents to influences, it has incredible ethic diversity.
  • Dubai’s shopping is a metaphor for its incredible cultural and economic diversity.  It has both designer boutiques and old-style souks.
  • A sea of skyscrapers and five-star hotels, are visible from the edge of the old town with it labyrinth-like streets and wind towers.

  • The traditional Emiratis  make up about 12% of the population and guard citizenship closely. They are typically extremely wealthy, but the town was built on the backs of a huge working-class population predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and from less prosperous areas of the Gulf.

Before the discovery of oil in the 1950’s, there was very little development in Dubai it was a fishing and trading outpost.  They didn’t even have an organized educational system.   By the 1960’s, it became a small, traditional, gulf trading center.  Thanks to petroleum money, it modernized.  It’s leader’s vision and ambition caused Dubai to remake itself and modernize differently than other states in the region.

In some ways, Dubai didn’t have a choice.  They were running out of oil.  Realizing this, Sheikh Mohammed, set about planning for the future without oil  He diversified the Dubai economy to create new employment and income streams as soon as possible .

Essentially, Dubai worked to establish itself as the regional economic hub, then a transportation hub, finance hub, tourist hub, property hub, and architectural hub.  To do this they have tackled infrastructure, water, transportation, education, culture and even religion in an incredibly strategic manner.  They spent massive amounts of money, but have accomplished the majority of their goals.  Whether you agree or not with their approach and its consequences for the workers and/or the environment, etc., what they have accomplished is impressive.

How Do You Know When Spring Has Arrived In Geneva? Check The Chestnut In Old Town

How do you know spring has arrived?  Flowers, spring showers, sundresses or swimming in the lake?  In Geneva’s old town, there is a tree, a chestnut, that is the official harbinger of spring.  Well, maybe it’s only the quasi-official harbinger, but it’s good enough.  In Geneva’s Old Town, on the Promenade de la Treille, is a tree whose first bud marks the official arrival of spring (Marronnier Officiel).  It’s known as “l’eclosion” which translates as “the hatching” or “the blooming” but in this case means “the budding.”

The first bud was charted since 1808!  It has always come sometime between January and the beginning of April, varying considerably (but generally getting progressively earlier).  This year, it arrived on March 13!  It’s official, spring is here.

Since observations began, several trees have been used.  The original from 1818  to 1905, the second from until 1928,  and the current since 1929.  The current tree is so bent over that it has to be propped up with a pole.

In 1808, Marc-Louis Rigaud-Martin began recording the tree’s first bud, likely out of a kind of scientific curiosity.  Since 1818, all the dates have been recorded on a parchment-roll in a special place in Geneva’s State Council chamber.

Workers of the city stroll past the tree over periodically during the key months and even use binoculars to examine the tree in greater detail.  Once, an employee hastily returned from vacation during exceptionally warm weather to avoid missing it!  They know exactly where on the tree to look as the first buds always appear on the eastern side.

Fancy A Turbosieste? Powernap National Day in Switzerland

I have been remiss. I let a Swiss holiday pass without so much as a word.  My apologies. In my defense, until a few days ago, I wasn’t even aware that Turbosieste National Day existed.  For those of you who don’s speak French, it means “National Powernap Day”.   What a holiday!

How do you celebrate Turbosieste ( aka Turboschlaf in German and Turbosieste in Italian) National Day?  Powernapping in public places.

Powernapping in private is also a common and acceptable (and common) means of celebrating.  On March 14, 2012 from 2:00 – 2:15 p.m. everyone in Switzerland was asked to stop what they were doing for a 15 minute nap!

Driving can be dangerous and is even more so on the steep and windy roads that cut through Switzerland’s mountains.  Driver fatigue is the cause of 10-20% of the accidents here. To prevent driver fatigue and avoid accidents, the Swiss launched a public service campaign.  It encourages pulling off to the side of the road to nap when tired.

I’m not sure that people would feel safe sleeping roadside or at a rest area in the US.  Michael Jordan‘s father was famously murdered while napping at a rest area in the US.  However, Switzerland is quite safe and there isn’t much danger of being robbed or killed roadside.  It is the number one country for the powernap (yet another reason to come visit).

Click here  for a short video about the Turbosieste on YouTube.

 

Barn House Combo

 
Animals put out heat.  To take advantage of their heat (and keep people from stealing them), people built housebarns.  I don’t need one because he puts out a lot of BTU‘s at night.
They never really caught on in the US, but they are all over the Canton of Fribourg (near the town of Gruyeres).  I love them.  
P.S. Those of you who play Farmville, please let me know if you can really purchase a Swiss Housebarn.  Muchas gracias…um…er… Merci beaucoup.

A New Leader in Geneva’s Best Beach Competition

It has been hot here. Really hot. Hotter than Charlotte. We don’t have air conditioning. To cool down, we went with our friends, Captain Finland and MC Roni (not their real names), to Jonction.  We brought a blanket and just chilled on the side of the Rhône. When we got hot, we went in for a dip. It is definitely the new frontrunner in the best beach competition.

Here is what we liked about it:

  • Super chill
  • If you are on the grass, you are right next to the river, not three blankets back.
  • You see trees.
  • The current is fun.
  • People are grilling.
  • You can play music.
  • Not too many kids
  • Free
Swans floated by us.
The Jonction where the Rhône and the Aarve meet.
If you come to visit, please bring us a raft, funyak, etc.
Very refreshing
People sunbathe on the docks, but we preferred the grass. It’s less crowded.
Some people came more prepared than we did
The graffiti added color
You climb out on the ladders

FYI – The clear waters of the  Rhône come from the Alps through Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). The Aarve also comes from the Alps, but via riverbeds.  As a result, it has sediment in it.  Jonction is so named because it is where the two intersect.  That is why in the picture above, you can see the clear blue mix with the cloudy water.

Getting Ready to Say Goodbye to NC

Enjoy the gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Instead of relaxing and enjoying North Carolina, we are frantically preparing to leave.  The list of things to accomplish seems to grow instead of shrink.

Mom came over and helped clean the house to ensure everything is tidy and in order before we leave.  I need to change our addresses on our bills, sell my car and a host of other really boring things.

If we don’t get to see you before we leave, we are sorry.  Please keep in touch.

FYI – After the previous post, we have given up on the slanted Aerobed and have moved to the neighbor’s spare bed.

 

 

House Hunters International, Geneva Edition – Part One

We are about to become residents of Geneva. We have not yet seen the city.   On Monday, that will change for me.  He has some meetings for work, so he will not be able to go until later.  This means that I will be picking out a residence in one of the world’s tightest housing markets all by myself. Strangely, he seems unconcerned.

The housing market in Geneva is in a state of crisis with a .05% vacancy (of course, half of all statistics are wrong).  The city is wedged in between a lake and the French border so there is not much room to expand.  Therefore, finding an housing in Geneva is notoriously difficult.  Here is my understanding of how it works:

1. Being me, I would have liked to stalk properties online before going.  This has been strongly discouraged because anything that I see online, even mere days ahead of my visit, will no longer be available when I arrive.  As a result, I am merely looking places online to determine how little our money will get us (although it still looks like a great place to live).

2. Fill out questionnaire for realtor. For an American, this contains some unexpected questions.  Those of you who watch House Hunters International should not be surprised by this.  I had to check a box that said whether or not I wanted to bring my own kitchen.  I love my house, but for me this is a no brainer.  We will not be bringing our own kitchen.

3. A Régie is the Swiss version of a realtor/estate agent.  Property owners use them to rent their apartments and handle the complex paperwork.  They show the apartments.

4. After viewing apartments, I should be prepared to put in multiple offers immediately (before the end of that day).  We know people who have put in four; we know of people who have put in over ten.  This step includes signing a paper that we are not delinquent on any local debts.  By the way, that paper costs $20-25. Even putting in an application can carry a fee.

5. We wait a few days to see if any of our offers have been accepted.

6. If unsuccessful, start again at step one.  Cross your fingers.