Alrighty, it’s time for the next delayed blog post, courtesy of Jonathan. March was another month of growth for us. Work for me stayed busy, Sara continued her French classes at the Aix-Marseille University, and we had our third round of guests!
Our featured guests for March were Leigh and Dan MacDonald, good friends of ours from N.C. State. One of the last exciting things we got to do on our whirlwind “Farewell Tour” before moving countries was to attend their wedding! Sara was their impromptu photographer for the occasion; turns out organizing a wedding in the middle of a hurricane was difficult. So, it was a fantastic surprise when we found out they’d be willing to visit us so soon after our move. They stayed with us for about 5 days, which seemed to fly by way too fast.
Sara entertained Leigh and Dan the first day with some tours through Aix-en-Provence, while I was busy earning that paycheck. They quickly learned the joys of French food. I took a few days off for a long weekend, and after learning how to rent an automatic car in French, we were off on some adventures! The first destination was again the Chateau les Baux, the same medieval fortress we took Andy. We felt like seasoned travelers getting to show someone a place we’d already been to. Afterwards though we drove about 10 minutes away from les Baux to a new place: the Carrieres des Lumieres. This exhibit had been closed back in February, and after going with the MacDonalds I believe it’s now one of our most favorite exhibits! Carrieres des Lumieres is an abandoned rock quarry that has been converted into an art exhibit. The cave is full of large, flat, stone walls on which famous art pieces are projected. The projected art moves and changes with music that echoes throughout the exhibit. When we went, they were showing a combined exhibit on Van Gogh and Japanese art. At the end of the almost hour long exhibit, they projected thousands of chinese paper lanterns on the walls. That is now my internal happy place.
The four of us also took a hike through the Calanques, the same trail along the Mediterranean coast I went through with Andy. It was the first time Sara got to take the hike. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed getting to see the clear, blue waters of the coast. There’s nothing quite like sitting on the Calanques and overlooking the coastline while eating your french baguette! After the day of hiking, we invited some of our ITER friends and post-docs over to our place for a Friday night party, filled with lots of wine, Jackbox, and Smash Bros.
The next day, we introduced Leigh and Dan to the massive outdoor Saturday market. It’s been nice, we’re slowing becoming experts on market shopping; it felt good to be able to walk around and say things like “this vendor has the best strawberries,” “this booth’s sausages are better than that other booth,” or “you absolutely have to try these olives!” Also, one word: Madeleines. Our visitors gave us an excuse to finally try what every local has proclaimed as the greatest madeleines in all of southern France. The hype was real. They are still the best madeleines we’ve had so far (timestamp July 2019.) We relaxed the rest of the day with Leigh and Dan, hanging out and catching up, eating a glorious Charcuterie board from food we bought at the market. Then on Sunday the short visit was over; they went to spend a day in Paris (something we still hadn’t done…) and then were off. We thoroughly enjoyed their company, it was nice to see familiar faces again, and being able to play host again boosted our morale. It really made us feel like we were figuring out our new life in Aix.
By the time April came around, I was deep in work preparing for a conference in May. Sara had also finished up her French classes, sort of. It seems there’s a bit of a disconnect between how many classes ITER spouses are allowed to take for free at the Aix-Marseille University. Sara only got to take half a semester’s worth of classes, then had to quit just as she was starting to get the hang of things. We talked to ITER about it, others complained, a committee was assembled, so we’ll see if the program changes by fall. Let’s see, some exciting things we did in April: we joined a Game of Thrones viewing party with other ITER friends! We all got to fill out a GoT death bracket for the last season, to see who could best guess which characters would survive. We went to a “Goat Festival,” and drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of goat cheese. There were also goats there, of course! We also went to a small but fun Medieval Festival with some of the other post-docs. It was in a town between Aix and ITER, Peyrolles-en-Provence, and really had the ambiance you’d expect for a Medieval town! We ate a lot of food, and attempted axe throwing. Big, two-handed axes! Neither of us were really good… We’ve gone bowling, eaten amazing ice cream from an artisan ice cream maker (we tried escargot ice cream. It tasted like you would expect it to…) I played some Magic in French and we celebrated a friend’s last night in Aix at a really great cocktail bar. Lastly, we were invited to hike Mt. Saint Victoire! We, umm, definitely weren’t as prepared as we’d thought. Our hiking shoes weren’t the best, the trails here are much more rocky than we’re used too. Also we were just a bit out of shape… Hopefully we’ll get better as we strive towards beach bod for the summer.