One year ago today, I was packing and saying my goodbyes.

Tonight, I am looking through my old posts, messing with the format of my blog, and trying to rekindle my engagement in an activity that has been on hold during the intense early phase of another major renovation.

I happened upon this post, never published.

In memory of that wonderful time that feels like an eternity ago now, I hit the Publish button.


. . . After our whirlwind rendezvous in Paris, the four of us settled comfortably into the rhythm of daily life in Aix; I walked to work at the usual times and while I taught my courses, my husband sought out specialty cheese shops to discuss the merits of wash-rind goat varieties with knowledgeable, English-speaking proprietors. My older son wandered the streets with a camera, while the youngest improved his scooting skills on cobblestones.

Then my semi-break from work began, opening up the possibility for travel.

Barcelona sounded grand. Or, a quick Ryan Air jaunt to Greece would be romantic, we agreed, hunching over the laptop late one night. Even an eight hour ferry ride to Corsica out of Marseilles seemed like a fun possibility. But after an hour of research and at least ten exciting plans developed —tabs still open to all possibilities with reservation buttons waiting to be pressed— we realized that every option would require lengthy transit times and expensive overnights in cramped hotels . . . with two kids. We concluded that the best way to enjoy some low-key travel time as a family was to rent a car allowing for day trips in Provence that would land us back home each evening, in time for dinner.

Settled on ease over adventure we booked an economy car with a GPS for three days, like it was some kind of compromise. Writing this now, stationed firmly back in Connecticut, I realize how ridiculous this sounds.

Provence, a compromise?

In my defense, I had been living in Aix for a month-and-a-half by that point and my senses were dulled to the magnificence of my surroundings, because that is what happens, people adjust. What at first we find surprising becomes normal to us, rather quickly.  Satiated with locally grown olives, crispy baguettes, Côtes-de-Provence, and seven-days-a-week of sunshine, I was spoiled like a princess on a cake-only diet.

Still, I was excited to visit the countryside and some of the smaller towns around Aix. So with our GPS guide modified from French to Irish, and the kids crumbling their pain au chocolat breakfast on the back seat of the rental car, we set off eagerly, ready for an adventure.

We quickly discovered that Provence is more than just vineyards at sunset, and something beyond the undulating farmland that crests into hilltop villages. Sure, like other tourists, we already knew Provence for its picturesque, ramshackle, stone cabanons waiting to be renovated by fool-hearty foreigners —thanks to the many expats who both famously, and not-so-famously, moved to this once-remote (once-affordable) provincial part of France and wrote humorous, poignant, and informative accounts of the slow pace of life in the French countryside.

But we were surprised to find that the region also contains a variety of ancient landscapes, once inhabited by early man.

In the Gorge du Verdon, we found a place that you can stand on the edge of a mountain with snow in your hand, listening to thunder clapping loudly through canyon walls, looking down onto a river the color of the Caribbean sea. On a boat tour of the Callaunques, we saw a man traversing an inlet of the Mediteranian in the space between two sea-worn spires, fifty feet above the water, on a tight rope. Hiking through the Sentir des Ochre, we stained the soles of our shoes and the tips of our fingers on the red ochre deposits from a landscape that more closely resembles Mars than the even the South Dakota Badlands.

And we always made it home in the evening before dinner.