Mornin’!! Guess where I am?

I’m in Nagano, Japan! I arrived at my mum’s place 15 days ago and I have been keeping her company ever since.

Some of you may know that she had a knee replacement surgery in March and she is still recovering from it. The operation went very well and her knee is getting stronger day by day. However, discomforts, such as swelling and fatigue which are typical of post-surgery, are still there and she becomes anxious about it time to time.

‘Don’t worry, mum. What you are experiencing now is nothing unique after the surgeries like yours.’, I comfort her. I am an expert when it comes to recovering from an orthopaedics surgery because I broke my own elbow and hand in pretty messy manners on separate occasions in the past and went through laborious recovery processes.

Twice a day, mum performs a set of exercises, which was prescribed by her physiotherapist when she was discharged from the hospital. The exercises involve stretching and flexing the operated knee, using a Dyna Band and a physio ball. ‘The knee still doesn’t move like before.’, she laments as she demonstrates the routine. ‘I feel sorry for you but you mustn’t be discouraged, mum.’, I try to console her. I know how frustrating the healing process is because I went through it myself.

Now, I shall present a few Japanese sceneries I captured during my journey.

Hello, Japan! I’m home…

After picking up a mobile Wifi, I headed to Tokyo Station with my suitcase in tow via an airport monorail and JR Yamanote-line…

Looking over the station square at Shinbashi from the train…

Quintessential sceneries of Japanese bullet trains…

I realise that I am truly in Japan every time I see those futuristic trains coming and going…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

La Tarte Tropézienne, Cassis

Cassis, a reputed coastal town of Côte d’Azur, was about half hour drive from Aix-en-Provence. Visiting the town was earmarked to be one of our road trip’s highlights and we were praying for good weather.

And our player was answered! We found a gorgeous blue sky over our head. A perfect weather for visiting the seaside.

We came off from A50 and went through a few hairpin curves…

‘I don’t see any coastline yet.’, mum complained. Guardrails were cutting the line of our sights and the only things we could see was the blue sky and the line of trees.

The traffic slowed down as we approached a toll gate…

I can’t recall how much the toll was but it was around €3.00?

After driving through narrow and winding streets of Cassis’s residential area, we arrived at a very smart carpark. The place was modern and stylish with a fancy ironwork and colour scheme. Even though the charges weren’t cheap but I was impressed by most of the French public car parks in their towns and cities. They seemed to be well designed and pleasant to park a car. And we always felt safe.

‘Wow! It’s busy!’ Despite being weekday morning, the car park was almost full and we had to park in the lowest level. How busy will it be during the high season!, mum and I shook our heads with disbelief.

I don’t know about you but the sight made me very nostalgic…

It reminded me of the illustrations of my all time French children’s book, Caroline et ses amis, á la mer…

All those pinwheels, who will buy them, you may wonder. But the atmosphere of seaside is such, I would have been lure to buy one if my rational side of me didn’t stop me!

The first settlers of Cassis were the Ligures who arrived at the shore around 500 BC. They were originally from the north-western Italy and they established their lives by fishing and farming.

Today’s Cassis is a popular tourist destination and the place is teeming with visitors who want to visit its famous cliffs and inlets.

A well-presented town centre…

Despite the aged appearance, the buildings were well maintained and the tiled streets and pavements were immaculately clean. The town was very smart.

Look mum, La Tarte Tropézienne!

La Tarte Tropézienne is a chain patisserie which has branches mainly in the South of France. They sell not only the famous tarte Tropézienne but also more usual French cakes and pastries.

Tarte Tropézienne! They came in different sizes…

Let’s have some with coffee before we go cruising, mum!

Doesn’t it look cute?

It was delicious too! While we enjoyed our morning treat, I chatted with a staff who made up delicious coffee. She was shocked to hear that I drove from London all on my own. She was even more impressed when I told her that I would drive back to the UK, tracing the eastern side of France.

‘By the way, is there any public convenience nearby?’

She told us that there was one in a town square which was adjacent to the shop.

Place Baragnon…

The square with a fountain seemed to be also a home for several ducks…

Hey guys, do you know where is a public toilet?

The public loo was in the north corner of the square and it was one of those “automated” kinds. I had seen a similar one in London for years but never had the courage to use one.

Oh well, I’ve got to bite the bullet now because I have to test drive it before sending mum in!

The loo wasn’t dirty but it was a bit scary. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help worrying if the door wouldn’t unlock and I would be trapped inside!

Thankfully, no such thing happened and I sent mum to use it too. However, I stood right next to the door and kept on asking her if everything was ok. It must have been a peculiar sight for the passers by…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Aix Cathedral

As I have mentioned in my previous post, le lundi, aka Monday, was a no-no day to do sightseeing because everything noteworthy is closed – throughout the country, almost all of the public attractions are open on Sunday and closed on Monday.

After finishing lunch, we made a beeline to Monoprix on Cours Mirabeau. ‘I hope they have another one.’, mum said excitedly.

She bought a teal green knitted top at their branch in Avignon and she really loved it. The style and the material were very flattering to her so she was hoping if she could find the similar one in black.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have it. In fact, they didn’t have anything we saw in their Avignon store. How can it be possible? Mum and I were puzzled.

After leaving the store empty-handed, we decided to wander around the old city centre…

The rain had stopped and the pedestrian came out onto the cobbled backstreets. Aix-en-Provence was a very attractive city with honey-coloured buildings and numerous leafy squares. However, the signs of economic recession, such as boarded-up shop fronts and shop windows plastered with “solde!”signs, were everywhere…

We wanted to visit somewhere noteworthy in the city, therefore, we headed to Paroisse Cathédrale Saint Sauveur Aix-en-Provence, aka Aix Cathedral…

The cathedral was not as humongous as the ones in Reims and Strasbourg. However, the history of the shrine was as old and as interesting as theirs.

During the Roman occupation, the place, where the present church occupied, was dedicated to Apollo, a Greek sun god.

After the Romans left, the first Christian church was built by Saint Maximinus of Aix during the 1st century. The saint arrived to Aix-en-Provence with Mary Magdalene and spent his lifetime spreading the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The first modest shrine was destroyed by the invading Saracens in the 8th and 9th centuries.

From the end of the 12th century, Aix-en-Provence became the capital of Provence and just as the city’s prestige and importance increased, so the need for a larger place of worship surged.

From the early 12th century, the construction of a new church started and the Romanesque style structure was dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Notre Dame de la Sède).

Like many of historic buildings in Europe, the church was made from several architectural styles – from the 12th century’s Romanesque to the 18th century’s neo-Gothic. It was a joy to look around and discover pieces of history etched on the stone works.

‘Let’s go back to the car park before the rain starts again!’

The walk was short and easy..

Now, we will do another grocery shopping at our favourite Carrefour and head to the hotel.

By the way, a hotel we stayed in Aix-en-Provence was a bit of disaster. I chose it because it was right next to a multi-story car park and I thought it would make mum’s life easy. However, the hotel was very basic and out of date. It reminded me a student dormitory! Even though the owner was very helpful and friendly, I wouldn’t go back there in future…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Le Diabline of Aix-en-Provence

Our impression of the city could have been more positive if it wasn’t so dull and chilly when we hit the pavement of Cours Mirabeau.

It was Monday and most of the galleries and museums were closed, therefore, not many people were out there. And also, a very turbulent weather system was causing a havoc all over the country and we had been very lucky not to be caught up in it so far.

While we sat in one of the cafes and pondered what to do next, mum complained how chilly she felt and was regretting about leaving her scarf in the car.

Mum, you do this all the time! One moment, she complains how boiling hot it is and next moment she changes her mind and starts piling herself up with layers of clothings.

Anyway, we decided to go back to our car which was parked in the car park at the north end of Rue Mignet so she would stop sniffing.

‘Ok, let’s find another Diabline ride!’

Le Diabline was similar to our favourite in Avignon, La Baladine, and like her counterpart, they circulated in the city centre, serving mainly for older residents who had limited mobility.

Here comes Le Diabline!

You raise your hand and it will stop for you if there is a space available – the car has only four seats. But not to worry because a troop of the cars are on road and you will be able to hop on the one before too long!

We hitched a ride on Circuit Ligne C (green one)…

Paying the fare was a little different from La Baladine. In Avignon, we paid 0.6€ for every ride but to use Le Diabline, we had to buy a card each and to stick the card into a machine – the blue one behind the rear seat. I can’t recall how much the fare was but it was around 1€.

Oh no, the rain starts to come down…

A view of the driver’s seat…

We were supposed to get off at Place Bellgarde but our Diabline pulled up at the beginning of Rue Mignet.

It started to rain harder and we didn’t like the thought of being thrown out from the car at that moment…

Are they terminating here? There was an old French madam with us and we all looked at each other quizzically? ‘En casse?’ I asked. The driver laughed and answered ‘Non, non!’ but whipped out her mobile phone and started to talk to someone.

‘Oh well, we will have to be on this a little longer.’ Eventually, the driver climbed back into a driving seat and started the engine.

These are the tickets we bought on Le Diabline…

While we headed back to Cours Mirabeau on another Le Diabline, we had an amusing encounter with a Corsican man. As we settled into our seat and exchanged bonjour, the man with a deep tan told us that he knew a very famous Japanese man. ‘I know Hirohito!’ Oh god, the Showa Emperor?! I felt rather uneasy because, you know, the history, WWll etc. So I just smiled back to him. He then beamed, ‘We had a great emperor too!’ ‘You mean Napoleon?’ He nodded enthusiastically and grabbed my hand for a firm handshake. Then, he started to rant how the French took over Corsica and he hated the French. And there was another passenger who was the French and she took an offence and started to complain. Oh my, the looks of disdain on their faces! We got off at Cours Mirabeau and the others, the Corsican and the French continued their journey…

At an Italian restaurant on Cours Mirabeau, we had pasta with cream and smoked salmon…

Since the rain has stopped so we can walk around the city centre!

Mum and I decided to explore the city…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

We love Carrefour

During our road trip, we used the French supermarket chain Carrefour often, and especially, We liked their organic range very much. Their readymade salads were a godsend when we became weary of eating out in unfamiliar places.

Thanks to free-roaming by O2, we could find branches of Carrefour on the road and replenish our supplies…

We made a detour to the supermarket before we arrived at Aix-en-Provence…

Mum bought boxes of Calissons d’Aix-en-Provence for her friends. We also bought milk, water, strawberries, a box of Kleenex and pastries.

We visited this Carrefour almost everyday while we stayed in Aix-en-Provence…

Regarding supermarket shopping bags, I thought the French were doing a lot better than the British. I bought this large reusable shopping bag at the Carrefour in Limoges and used it throughout our trip. Unlike the British chains, the French counterparts didn’t give out any plastic bag and the only alternative was paper bags. Why don’t they do the same in the U.K???

Even if the chains increase the price of the bag to 10p, it won’t encourage lazy people to bring their own bags. The only way to reduce the plastic waste is making single-use plastic bags UNAVAILABLE!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Blog at WordPress.com.