Aix turned out to be just wonderful. Our goal was to see the Christmas Market, do some shopping, eat some non French food (Japanese) and to see the annual Bravade Calendale.
The Bravade is a traditional gathering and parade that takes place on the longest day of the year, December 19, in this case. People dress up in traditional Provencal clothing from the 19th century and there are musicians and drummers and flags.
So, on Sunday off we go to the Hotel de Ville (city hall) and the square in front of it, where the Bravade assembles. There are young people, old people, small babies, children all in wonderful and charming costumes. There are speeches and then the parade starts down the narrow old streets (lined with chic shops, more on that later) to the Cours Mirabeau. The Cours, running through the center of Aix is a wide street – think Champs d’Elysee – with one side full of café’s and the other lined with the small wooden huts housing the Christmas Market.
The Bravade marches down the middle, which is completely closed off to traffic. They stop periodically and do traditional dances and shoot the flags into the air. There are even women pushing real babies in old wicker baby carriages.
It is absolutely charming and we have a grin our face the entire time. Something very special.
The night before, after a lovely dinner in a small and charming restaurant on the way home to our hotel, we heard some loud car sounds and clapping. Turns out that there was “parade” of old VW bugs going around and around a roundabout with a large fountain in the center. They were all decorated with lights for Christmas and lots of honking and cheering. And there was even a Plymouth (!) outfitted as a low rider. No kidding. Just like in LA and it was moving up and down. Talk about amazing.
In fact, the entire trip to Aix was wonderful and reinforced our previous conclusion that, at least for us, spending time in cities is the best idea for overnight trips outside of Mirabel. So much to see and do.
And speaking of things to do, I have never seen as many shops as we saw in Aix. Every street in the old part of the city is lined with shops, almost all of them independent as opposed to chain stores. Very chic, selling women’s clothing, lots of men’s clothing, jewelry, children’s clothing, boutique after boutique. Really a shopping paradise. I had a lot of fun and even bought some earings and some gifts.
As I am writing this, the attack at the Christmas Market in Berlin has happened. As I wrote before, the Market in Avignon was cancelled and in Aix we saw an entire contingent of French soldiers walking through the old city headed to the Cours. They were in uniform, carrying serious weapons in their arms.
Both of us were alert to anything happening and there were moments when I thought to myself that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this, but . . . And, of course, that is just what people in Berlin were thinking. It is truly hard to fathom all of this.
Here is a photo at the assembly point. The men with skirts around their waists actually have horse heads in the front, as if they are riding a horse. They are the grey/white ponies of the Camargue region, which is just south of here. And note the women dressed in 19th century costumes looking at their phones!