In choosing a place via AirBNB, Nancy and I were able to stay in a cute apartment on the 6th floor in the Quartier des Quinze Vingts near the Gare de Lyon. This offered great views of the surrounding neighborhoods, as the 6th floor represents the height limit of all construction in the area. It was a bustling community with easy walks to bakeries, restaurants, and transportation.
Same Direction - Parisian Sunset (or Sunrise?)
Living in an apartment in Paris, versus the typical hotel situation for vacations, affords a more casual approach to mornings and evenings. Our apartment offered a balcony accessible by large doors that allowed the living room to flow right into the city.
Simple, Yet Perfect
The inside to the Paris apartment was both functional and simple. It offered the perfect atmosphere for relaxation after enjoying the cultural treasures of Paris.
Paris Metro - Mural at Bastille
The Paris Metro system is known worldwide for its usefulness and even cleanliness. Many of the stops are destinations themselves, with varying characteristics - like this painted mural at the Bastille platform. This area was walkable from our rented apartment and would often greet us as we jumped on a train and headed out to various corners of the city.
The recently renovated and opened Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris offered a chance to take in some wonderful history of the area. Nancy and I climbed the 200 steps (all in a tiny, shoulder-wide, spiral staircase) to the very top. This afforded beautiful views of the river Seine and its surrounding monuments.
Nancy near the Conciergerie
Clock Tower of the Tour de l'Horloge
We had warm, but generally beautiful weather throughout the entire trip to France and were greeted by blue skies. This offered photo opportunities for capturing Paris' architecture against the blue backdrop of the sky.
A Small Glimpse of Notre Dame
Both Nancy and I wished to avoid the classic tourist landmarks of Paris and skirted around some of the traditional tourist destinations. Thus, a quick peak of the buttresses at the rear of the Notre Dame was as close as we got.
Familiar View of Pont Marie
Pont Marie holds a special place for us - both in terms of drawings and ice cream. But, that's a story for another time ...
Enjoying a Sunny Sunday in Paris
Nancy in Her Element
With a long history and assorted connections to France, Nancy relaxed and enjoyed being my tour guide for interesting points about the city.
Along the walk by the Seine toward this area, we stumbled across a Sunday morning market for live birds. Every color and type of bird imaginable was lined up in cages along a narrow side street. From simple finchs, to colorful doves and pheasants - it was a busy, noisy atmosphere. Nancy speculated it may be a front for something more nefarious, but I suspect they were simply selling birds to old men.
Musée National d'Art Moderne from Saint Jacques
Although the climb up the 200 well-worn steps of Saint Jacques was tiring, it offered tremendous 360 degree views of the city. Paris is quirky in its ability to hold onto old architecture and intersperse modern elements - like the Musée National d'Art Moderne.
Gothic Gargoyles of Saint Jacques
Normally, only distant glimpses can be made of the gargoyles surrounding the gothic architecture in Paris. By climbing up Saint Jacques, we were able to see them up close and understand they function of diverting water away from the sides of the buildings in a fairly elaborate way.
The Purple Door in Aix en Provence
Both in leaving the apartment in Aix en Provence and our multiple returns, we were greeted by this heavy purple door down a narrow side street. Staying in an apartment that was on the 6th floor of this building meant that the door signaled the start to a long ascent - there was no elevator. For one of the days, combining the climbs up the apartment steps with the climbs around assorted villages in Provence, we accumulated 46 stories of vertical climbing (according to my iPhone health app).
Lavender Now Stands for Chinese Weddings
Lavender fields are a staple crop to the region and provide as much chances for wedding tourists and photo groups as they do for the crop themselves. After passing multiple fields where buses were off-loading masses of people for photo ops, we decided to join in the crowds and stopped alongside the road for a few photos.
Water Basins of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
As we toured the various villages in Provence, the temperatures soared into the high 90s. Fortunately, nearly all of the villages offered free-flowing water basins throughout - collecting cool runoff from the mountain streams. A quick dip of the hands provided a refreshing contrast to the baking heat of the air.
This basin was in the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.
12th Century Church of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
After research and finding a great reference website for the assorted villages throughout Provence (www.beyond.fr), we picked villages with picturesque elements that were also easily drivable from Aix en Provence.
Moustiers-Ste-Marie lived up to its "one of the most beautiful villages in France" title. It was built into a mountainside with beautiful views of the surrounding valley. Although one of the more touristy places we visited, it was worth the trip.
Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel
The Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel site high in the hills overlooking the main city of Moustiers-Ste-Marie. To get to the chapel, a well-worn path existed that offered a sort of pilgrimage up to the heavens, as it were. As it evident in the skies, we were greeted with a beautiful day as we entered the base of the village.
Family graves in Moustiers-Ste-Marie
Many of the sites within Provence center around religious symbols and architecture. This cross marked a family grave in Moustiers-Ste-Marie and provided such an organic look - well in contrast to many of the formal looking statues that surrounded it.
Swallowtail Butterfly in Provence
Lavender plants are a staple throughout Provence - both from a crop perspective and as decorative plants around people's homes. Thus, after spending a few days in the area, they would often go unnoticed due to their commonality.
This one plant near Moustiers-Ste-Marie offered the chance to see a Swallowtail Butterfly - liekly enjoying the scents as much as we were.
A Door, A Welcome Breeze
The pilgrimage that we decided to undertake to the high-positioned chapel in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie was filled with trials. Although the rock path was worn smooth (and thus, slippery) by centuries worth of footsteps of those making the same journey, our primary adversary was the heat. 95F+ for most of our day in the village.
Nancy found some relief by seeking out parts of the path which collected the mountain airflows and offered a simple breeze - even though it was still hot air.
Streets of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Throughout Provence, the small villages typically host a few hundreds residents and maintain their historical designs near the town centers. This means narrows that were only there to accommodate a few people and an infrequent horse. Four wheel drive SUVs were not in the minds of the early urban planners of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.
The climb up to Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel
Nancy would be the first to admit she did not have along proper footwear for the climb leading up to the chapel. The walk was steep and marked with stones that were worn smooth and slippery by the countless people who have taken the same journey for many centuries.
Plus, it was damn hot.
I am surprised I caught a her with a smile ...
The Chateau of Allemagne-en-Provence
Our exploration throughout the villages of Provence was guided by those deemed "most beautiful". That means that we also traveled through many that may not have "made the grade" - so to speak.
In this case, a lovely, privately owned chateau - The Chateau of Allemagne-en-Provence - happened along that way from one village to another. A quick stop had us marveling in the classic "castle" styling of the building.
2nd View at Allemagne-en-Provence
Provence is largely an agricultural region, with many of France's high-quality produce being grown through the valleys. Thus, the blue skies that offset the Chateau of Allemagne-en-Provence are simply a common site in the region during the warm, dry summer months.
The abundant water in the area due to the surrounding mountains and hillsides runoff means that everything stays lush and green.
An Unexpected Rooftop View in Aix
I joined Nancy at the tail end of her research trip to France. We started in Paris and then took the TGV down to Aix en Provence as a central point to explore the assorted historical villages throughout the area.