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Near the town of Aix-en-Provence, rising out of the landscape, you will find the Aqueduc-de-Roquefavour. While on an outing to see the town of Ventabren, we happened upon it.

Even though I lived in Aix-en-Provence for two years and the aqueduct is situated only about 15 kilometers from there, I never knew of its existence.

It was built between the years of 1840-1847 by a young engineer named Franz Mayor de Montricher. The reason for its construction was that the surrounding area (mostly Marseille) which was continuing to grow at a rapid rate was having trouble getting access to fresh, clean water. They needed some way to bring the fresh waters of the Durance to the town. An epidemic of cholera a few years before construction began was a major pushing point in getting the aqueduct built.

It measures 393 meters long and 82 meters high and is comprised of 3 layers of arches. There were around 5000 workers who contributed to its construction. Today it is classified as an historical monument.

To see the aqueduct up close, you can park your car just under the railroad bridge and there you will find access to some steep and narrow steps. Once at the top of the stone steps there is a path just up to the left of the aqueduct. The climb up this rocky path is pretty steep but it gives you access to the next level on which you can stand and see a wonderful view of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the entrances to go under the arches are now gated and you can’t pass through to walk across, but you can still walk around the area to see different views of it. If you’re like me, you will love getting up close to be able to touch it.

It is in near perfect condition and looks as if it were built recently (except for the architectural style). It is definitely worth a stop if you are on your way to one of the surrounding villages.

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon there and were blessed with great weather, as well.


ATP Tennis Open 13 – Marseille

The company I work for mostly uses FedEx to receive our inbound packages and to ship our products out. Now, I definitely have had my share of the not-so-great experiences (I even wrote about one here and here) with FedEx, but for the most part we’ve had a pretty great relationship and due to the amount of packages we send out every week, I’d say their track record is really good.

I’ve meet with our account representative several times and we get along really great. She has sent me some very nice personal emails and we’ve chatted a good deal about our families.

Apparently she likes me cuz last week I got a personal invitation from her to see the ATP Tennis match that was being held in Marseille. She let me know that she had two tickets available for Friday, 24 February and if I would like to go. The tickets were the super awesome VIP kind which meant that we would get to have lunch with her and some of the other account reps and a few other invitees and we would get to sit in the VIP seats of the FedEx box right down in front next to the court.

Well, me being a huge tennis fan, took no time in responding to her with a resounding “Oui, avec plaisir!”  All Dude and I had to do was show up at the appropriate time and show our ID and we were in like Flynn.

When Friday came around Dude and I hit the highway about 9:30am since it takes a while to get to Marseille from our house. Amazingly, I took the day off of work and told everyone that I would not be available by phone or email. This was the first time I have ever done this since working for this company! In the whole time I’ve been there, I’ve never taken a day off of work and put my out of office assistant on. I did work on the house during the summer months for a couple of days during the week, but I always had my computer on and my email constantly streaming so I was always available to work. Believe it or not, I am bit nervous about people not being able to get in touch with me when it comes to work. I’m sort of a work-a-holic and a day off or vacation days seems a bit stressful cuz I’m always worried that inevitably something will go wrong that ONE or several days that I’m gone.

This time around I just said “screw it”, I would be at the match and there wasn’t anything I could do about someone trying to get a hold of me and I would just answer all my emails in the evening! For a little bit of the morning I was stressed, but I got over it by the time we arrived at the courts. I just kept telling myself that it was Friday and no one in Europe works on a Friday 🙂

Once Dude and I arrived at the Palais des Sports in Marseille and parked the car, we proceeded to the entry that said VIP and went to the desk to get our tickets. We followed the runway into the underground area where the ATP Tennis association had spruced it all up with a restaurant, bars, France Bleu Provence radio station area, and all sorts of stands for goodies. I was even able to watch a guy string a new racket for one of the guest. That was fascinating since I had never seen that in person before.

Lunch was at noon and Dude and I arrived about 30 minutes before that so we just took a tour around the facility. I was amazed at all the old wooden tennis rackets they had on display and the wall paper they had made of photos of old tennis magazines. It brought back memories of my childhood when my mom would watch the tennis matches on television of the great players of decades ago. They had photos of Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Arthur Ashe, and Bjorn Borg among others. My mom was a fantastic tennis player in her youth. She played on a team and was the proud owner of many trophies. As a result of her love of tennis it became a very intricate part of my childhood. I didn’t appreciate it growing up, but as I became a teenager I remember practicing with my wooden racket hitting the ball against our wooden garage door. I had forgotten about that until I saw those old wooden rackets and those memories all flooded back to me. Especially the ones where my friend Carmen and I would tell her little sister Melanie to run across the front of the garage while we hit the ball! Bad kids 🙂 Just so you know, she never really got hurt badly….well, maybe once or twice.

Around noon my account rep, Joelle, turned up with Audrey a co-worker who came down from Lyon for the day to enjoy the match. Here is a photo of me and Joelle.

We were also greeted by Benjamin who is another co-worker of Joelle’s. While we were waiting for the other guests to arrive Dude and I conversed with the FedEx people and got to know them a bit better. Benjamin was hilarious and at one point he was telling us about this cool game he had on his IPhone where you do a shoot-out. He demonstrated how you take your phone out of your pocket and whip it out in front of you mimicking a gun and then you point and shoot your opponent. He showed us a couple of times how it worked and in the process actually whipped the phone out and it literally flew out of its case, twirled a couple of times in mid air as it flew across the table and almost landed in the bowl of ice. It was completely hysterical and all of us started cracking up. I asked him if he had spare phones cuz of this game and he said “Yes, 3 of them!” Apparently this app from IPhone can be a bit expensive to play!

Once the other guest arrived our lunch was served. Audrey, who happened to sit next to me, explained to me what everything was. I asked her to do so since I don’t like fish and wanted to avoid anything of that nature.

The first course was a crème brulee with foie gras. This was very tasty and it actually enhanced the flavor when I dipped my bread into it and used it as more of a spread then just eating it straight out of the bowl like everyone else.

Next up we were served a red pepper cut and stuffed with fish placed on a disk of olives with some ratatouille. I loved the olives and the ratatouille but left the fish, of course. For some reason this part of the meal was of particular interest to Benjamin as he got on the subject of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He didn’t know the word for dwarf so he, Joelle, and Audrey proceeded to ask me what we called very small people in English. Mind you, before they asked the question, I was not aware of why they were asking it so you can imagine the look of confusion on my face when it came up! It seems that Benjamin thought that the cut pepper stuffed with fish resembled the hat that the dwarfs wore in the movie and he wanted to make this point but didn’t know how to tell me in English since he didn’t know what the word was. Once I knew where he was going with this, I was able to tell him (although none of them could say the word cuz I guess it’s one of the more difficult words for the French to say). Later on Dude told me that he was super uncomfortable with the conversation cuz it just so happened that Audrey was extremely tiny. In fact, she is probably one of the tiniest French people I’ve met. This being the case Dude didn’t really want to talk about small people in front of her. Although see didn’t seem to mind very much when she brought up the fact that she hated those little garden gnomes cuz they scared her! It was by far the strangest conversation that lasted about 10 minutes all because of what this particular item of food looked like!

Next up was the main course. This happened to be some more fish (which I politely left on my plate) along with some delicious vegetables. All this was served with a wonderful red wine, a 2009 Bouches-du-Rhone 45. I’m not really a wine drinker, but I gave it a go and to my surprise it was excellent. I made sure I ate heartily since I’m a bit of a light weight. I wouldn’t want to be sliding out of my seat during the game!

Last, but not least, was the delicious dessert. It was a lemon and coconut cake served with a side of sorbet. Dude couldn’t even finish it cuz he said it was too sugary. I soooo didn’t have a problem with that!

Lunch was concluded around 2pm and the match was due to begin so off we went to our VIP box seats. I was totally delighted when I saw that our seats were right down in front and we were going to have a terrific view of the game.

The first match was between two Frenchmen, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. I was not familiar Roger-Vasselin, but I had seen Tsonga play before so I was rooting for him. The game turned out to be pretty exciting with Roger-Vasselin being a fair opponent. I was able to get some good shots of both players while they were serving and also in between games. In the end Tsonga beat out Roger-Vasselin  2-0.

This particular tennis tournament was using the scoring of best two out of three sets to determine the winner of the match. I prefer that type of scoring as oppose to best three out of five. Then you’re able to stick around for a possible second match given that the first match will usually last anywhere from 1 and ½ to 2 hours.

There was about a 30 minutes intermission between the first match and the second. Right before the second match began we were all treated to a disco sort of show. They turned down the lights, turned on the strobes, blared music and had a pretty groovy television screen show of multi-colors and advertisements for the tournament. It was all in good fun and woke us all up after sitting around for so long eating, drinking and watching the first match. Towards the end of this little “1/2 time” show they introduced the next two players who were going to be in the second match, they both happened to be French, as well.

I shot a little video of the “half time” show. It was really more exciting than what the video shows, though.

I had never heard of Michael Llodra or Albano Olivetti, but these two players sure did put on a good match for us. It was Olivetti’s first appearance at this match and I tell you this guy has got a serve that would knock you out. He was hitting some top speeds for someone who was there for the first time and he even took out a referee during one of his serves! It got to the point that the audience would cringe as the ball came hurling towards them during his service and they all were hoping that Llodra would be able to return the shot! This guy’s serves almost took out some of the ball boys and girls, too. They were darting around like it was dodge ball. It was actually quite humorous and the camera men started to put up instant replays of the cringing audience after Olivetti served! In the end, though, it was Llodra that won two sets out of three and took the match. Though Olivetti was great at serving he seemed to fall short on returns and didn’t have too much stamina. I will be watching him closely as he is only around 22 and could have a good career ahead of him.

After this match a little boy of about 11 years of age from the local tennis club was invited to play against Llodra. This kid was great! He had Llodra running around the court a couple of times and really played well. After about 10 minutes of fun he was rewarded with an interview and his picture taken for the news. It was really delightful to see this young boy make some terrific plays on the guy who just won the match!

Once concluded that was the end for Dude and I. We were escorted out since the next game was for new ticket holders. I thanked Joelle for inviting Dude and I and let her know we had a really terrific time. I would sure like to be able to go again some time. This was a first for me and Dude and it’s nice to enjoy a little “perk from work” every now and then.

Since it was about 5:45pm and high traffic time on the freeways leaving Marseille, Dude and I headed over to one of our favorite and very missed spots, Starbucks at the Vieux Port. We hung out for a while, chatted and relaxed with a snack and REAL BIG coffee and waited for the traffic to die down. We headed home around 8pm (since that’s when Starbucks closes and they kick you out). Totally lame, I know! Who goes home at 8pm on a Friday night! Starbucks seriously needs to get their priorities straight!

Off we went happy that we had a super fun day and great experience at the tennis match and totally buzzed out on Starbucks coffee! Friday was definitely and excellent day in my book 🙂

Taxi Ride, Provence Style

For the record, I try to avoid taxi rides here in Provence. Reason numero uno, the drivers in this region of France are absolutely crazy and reason numero dos, the TAXI drivers in this region of France are absolutely crazier than the drivers in this region of France. Now all you guys who live in Provence know exactly what I’m talking about. The drivers here go WAY to fast, ride up on your butt and stay there (as if there is somewhere they’re gonna go in traffic!), lane change constantly going at light speed and pass on blind spots. I’m sure they do other “interdit” maneuvers, but those are at the top of my most well known list.

Well, yesterday I had to do something that I’m not really fond of (actually two things). Go to Marseille during morning traffic hours AND take a taxi there. I had an appointment in the morning and was warned that a parking space would never be found close to the building and that the public parking structure was a bit far from my appointment. So instead of me driving to Marseille in my car and stressing out about it, I took a taxi ride and stressed out about it.

When the taxi arrived, I was at least smart enough to get in the back seat instead of the front seat.  I knew that the drive was going to be a bit scary but I had no idea it was going to be an E-ticket ride! At 8am in the morning, with some light traffic on the first auto route we took, the taxi driver was seriously barreling down the high way faster than the legal limit and making swift lane changes without signaling. I couldn’t even look straight ahead because each time I tried I would just see an ocean of cars in front of me with their break lights on and my taxi driver not slowing down but doing a quick lane changes instead! Right away I figured I would just play games on my cell phone so I could avoid looking out the front window (that didn’t last too long, I got a bit carsick). Then I moved on to looking out the side window and sort of up at the sky. That seemed to help.

Before arriving to the interchange, I started to experience a great deal of speeding up and slamming on the breaks syndrome. For some odd reason all the drivers here just love to accelerate when up a head of them they have no where they can possible go and then just suddenly break at the very last moment only when they absolutely have to, thus giving everyone in their car a bunch of mini whip-lashes throughout the duration of the trip.

Things got a bit better when we transitioned onto the second auto route towards Marseille. That’s because the cars all came to a slow roll and there was pretty much heavy traffic.  About five minutes after being on this highway we came upon an accident. On the right-hand shoulder, a car had gone about half way over the railing (its back tires were actually hugging the railing and keeping it from falling all the way over on the other side) and there was a woman lying on the highway shoulder off to the side of the car! I’ve seen after-math accidents before, but never have I seen a person just lying on the side of the road! It was quite shocking to see and she appeared not to be moving. The paramedics hadn’t arrived yet and there were three other people standing next her. After we very slowly passed the scene of the accident, I looked over at the driver of the taxi and we both raised our eyebrows at each other in a bit of a shocked look. I felt like saying to him, “See, that’s why you shouldn’t drive like a freakin’ idiot!”

The rest of the way to Marseille was still heavy traffic and so we just rolled along with the taxi driver sending text messages to his buddies the whole way and constantly looking back and forth between his phone and the road. Hmmmm, I think that might be “interdit” here, as well. He did have to slam on his breaks a couple of times to avoid his own small fender bender. Did he already forget the accident we just saw cuz I didn’t?!

Once off the auto route and in Marseille, he still drove like a crazy person. We were weaving in and out of the lanes for regular cars and then the lanes for buses. There were even times when our lane was blocked by another car who had stopped and put their hazard lights on and the taxi driver would speed up to be able to cut into oncoming traffic to go around them even if there was barely any time or space to do so before the oncoming car was upon us!  At those few times I know I shut my eyes tight (a small scream might have even escaped my lips)!

I did manage to get to my destination before my appointment time, but I was a bit twitchy after the ride to say the least.  As I left the taxi, the driver gave me his card and said to call him when I was finished and he would pick me up. Oookay????? Well, what’s it gonna hurt to give him call? It’s not like there would be a chance I’d get another taxi driver who would drive slower. With my luck it would probably be the complete opposite and my ride home would be worse!

After my appointment I called the taxi driver and he was there in about 15 minutes (big surprise given the speed of his driving).

I strapped in and was ready for the ride which happened to be much faster than my morning ride given that the traffic was all but gone and we were now leaving Marseille. Again I just looked out the side window the whole way. This time around he was able to get up to pretty high speeds and weave in and out of traffic with more ease. I was really quite scared the whole way home more so than the ride to Marseille. A few times when we were in what some would consider the fast land on the auto route (every lane could have been called the fast lane with this guy) he would come upon a car that was “in his way” and he wasn’t able to change lanes cuz there was a car already there, so he would get so close to the car in front of him that the bumpers of the cars were practically touching!!! Then he would break, speed up, break and speed up, until the car in front of him would speed up and go into the next lane to move out of the way!  This happened on several occasions going home.  What happened to respecting a two car length space between cars!?? This sort of driving is so dangerous that I can’t believe anyone would even consider doing it, yet there my driver was all cool and calm about it.

I felt like I was on Space Mountain and I should put my hands up and scream!

Thankfully, I made it back to my home base all safe and sound. Once there, as I was paying the cab fee, the driver asked me when I was leaving to go to the airport cuz he would drive me there. I gave him a big smile and told him that I lived here so no other taxi ride was necessary! Then he told me to please keep his business card in case I ever needed a ride anywhere or if I had friends who needed a ride.

Even though he was super sweet, I’m not sure I would subject my friends to a crazy taxi ride. The friends I have I would like to keep!

I would caution any of you who are faint at heart to maybe forget about the taxi rides in Provence. For those of you who have the predisposition to get your heart racing just for the fun of it, a taxi ride in Provence on the auto route would be right up your alley. Go for it, but you might look like this when you exit the cab!


Wasting Time In Marseille Is Never Fun

Well today was another fun day in Marseille, NOT. The family had to go to the prefecture to change the address on our Titre de Sejour (our pass to live in France). It’s the law.

First of all, the prefecture is not a fun place to be. If any of you have gone, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t had to experience it let me tell you I would rather clean my neighbor’s bathroom than go there.

Second of all, now that we moved the Marseille prefecture is really far away (that’s a good point, as well). When we first moved to France we lived in department 13, the Bouches-du-Rhône. For our department and area we were obliged to go to Marseille in order to get our legal status taken care of. We’ve had to go several times with all kinds of paperwork and a million copies of everything before we were finally given the golden (or rather pink) pass to be here legally.

The last time we went was to pick up our Titre de Sejour. It was finally ready after many, many month of being here. At that time we knew we were going to move and we also knew that we were moving out of the Bouches-du-Rhône, so I asked the lady who gave us our Titre de Sejour if we needed to come back to change our address on our “passes” and I also let her know where we were moving to. She told me that we absolutely had to come back when we moved it was the law. I also told her that my daughter had not yet received her legal paperwork. She then said to come back anytime after July and to bring tax stamps with us and her paperwork would be ready.

Well, today was the big day. I had all my bazillion copies and all the originals. We got up early and we took of for Marseille. When we got there we had to first wait outside in a line. See, you have to make it to door #1 before you can try for door #2. The lady asked for our “justification de domcile” and our current Titre de Sejour.

I had them all ready, handed them to her and said, “Check it”. Cuz I figure I’m cool like that.

She then gave us three numbers (why a whole family can’t share one number is beyond me and lame, I might add). Then she said to go upstairs and we would be called. Onward and upward towards door #2.

The good thing is that we didn’t have to wait too long today. For some odd reason it wasn’t as crowded as it usually is. When they called us in to the “special room” we were greeted by a very nice guy. He already had our paperwork in his hands and was ready to give it back to us immediately. He explained to us that now we had to go to the prefecture in our own department. He couldn’t help us. I told him that I specifically asked the lady who helped us before about this situation and changing addresses and all and she told us to come back to Marseille. He felt bad, of course, and I did believe him. He really did try to help and explain to us exactly what we had to do, but I was upset that I had tried to get the straight answer ahead of time and it didn’t work.

To make matters worse, we tried to get Tinki’s legal paperwork (remember it was supposed to be ready after July) and the guy couldn’t find her file and paperwork anywhere. He took her passport and went looking in several places to find it. Didn’t happen. I told him that we’ve been here for almost a year and she has no legal paperwork. Then he proceeds to tell me that as long as she stays in France she will be fine.

Problem. We’re American. Our whole family lives in America. She has plans to go visit them at Christmas. If she doesn’t have her paperwork she can definitely go to the states for her visit, but I wouldn’t be able to get her back. I see this as a major issue, which I told the man, very politely. (Really I did, it was nothing against him). I told him that I really would like to have her back and this just wasn’t acceptable.

He said that he would try one more time to check in a few other places and again walked off with her passport. Dude and I just sat there thinking about what a big waste of time this was.

The guy came back a few minutes later saying he couldn’t find anything, no record what-so-ever! How could this be when we all turned in our paperwork at the same time! He gave us a document and said that we would have to fill it out on her behalf and when we go to our proper department’s prefecture we will have to turn it in and explain to them the situation. He was confident that she would receive her legal status a couple of weeks later. I hope he’s right cuz I have no faith in it.

Stuff like this is why the French always roll their eyes when you mention anything you’ve had to do involving the French administration. The eye rolling along with the, “Ooh La La” really makes you confident doesn’t it?

Well, that was my big wasted morning/early afternoon. I could have busted out a few clean neighbors’ bathrooms in the time I spent there. At least I would have felt that I had done something worth my time.

It’s Official

Yahooo! I became a French legal resident today. Now the celebration is on. Listen folks, I have been waiting for this for more than 7 months. All the paperwork, drives to Marseille, medical visits, money spent and French administration headaches (oh the horror) and now I have reaped the rewards. I actually have a bona fide status AND card. Instead of being an interim resident, it is now an Official resident.  Yes, that’s right. Official with a capital “O”. It is one small step, but a very important one. I can’t wait for someone to ask me for identification so I can pull that puppy out and say. “Check it!” It feels so good to have something finally completed here. This is big progress towards becoming a Frenchie!

The day started out with a few hours spent at the prefecture. This is the French administration building where everyone in this region goes to get their official paper work done. The lady behind the glass said she remembered me from months ago and she was really nice to us. We signed all our paper work and gave her these goofy stamps that are tax stamps required for payment to the French government for getting your carte de sejour. I kind of felt like I had visited the Blue Chip Stamp store, like when I was a kid.

So we handed over our stamps, signed our paperwork and got our residency. I heard fireworks, let me tell you. This is the most beautiful card I have ever seen and I am not lying. We are celebrating tonight. It’s called Jaffa Cakes and Bubbling Apple Cider:)

The only downside is that my daughter doesn’t have her paperwork, yet. We were informed that she has to wait an extra 45 days before she is legal. Why, you ask? No answer. Just because this is France. She will however have to join in on my celebration. That’s a given. So back to Marseille we will go in around a month and a half to make her official.

I really was trying to get it all done in one day. Let me tell you why. It is very specific. I hate going to Marseille.

I am going to be totally honest and just let you know right off the bat that I don’t like it. A lot of people do and they say that it has a certain vibe and flavor, but I must confess that I don’t like the vibe or flavor. It is very crowded, noisy, dirty and impossible to park your car without paying a ridiculous amount of Euros to do so. I think the best word for me to use is sad. As you look around the town you notice the separation between the rich and poor is great. There are the people walking around and shopping in their nice clothes and those who are sitting on the steps of public areas begging for money. It is very difficult for me to be there.

I know that there are so many wonderful places to visit in Marseille, especially if you love history as much as I do. Unfortunately, these places aren’t a draw to me because going there is such a pain in the butt. There are all the scooters coming out of nowhere and people walking in the middle of the street and not looking. You seriously feel like you’re in some video came just trying to finish the race. Oh yah, and the lanes and streets are too small for more than half the cars on the road. Hate it, just hate it!

I am probably missing out on some great stuff, but I think I can live with it. I am just glad I made it through another outing there and I don’t have to go back for another 45 days. Most of all I AM AN OFFICIAL RESIDENT.

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