After a long wait in the Orly airport, we made it to Marseille and were greeted warmly by the families of our exchange. The students could not wait to see their French families and settle into their homes for the next two weeks.
The next morning we met at the Lycée Duby (the high school) for a “French as a foreign language” class. Claudine, a gracious host parent from our exchange two years ago met us afterward to take us into Aix and show us around. Before reaching the city center, we stopped at the Santonnier Fouque. This is a very special family owned business, specific to Aix. They specialize in making clay figurines for nativity scenes. But this is not your typical nativity; it has everything from the baby Jesus, to the farmer to the merchant of wine! The students got to see how the figurines are made. They are molded, dried, baked in the oven at 1000° Celsius for 30 hours, then cooled and painted by hand. Of course we had to visit the shop for a few souvenirs.
Next, Claudine took us on a walking tour of the city. It was Tuesday so the market on the Cours Mirabeau was open and we got to see all the vendors selling their various goods. We stopped to buy the herb of the region: lavender! And the lovely man was so happy to have so many customers he threw in one sachet for free! From the market we went farther into the winding streets of the city toward the fruit and vegetable market and the Hôtel de Ville. There Claudine pointed out the Salle des mariages (where one can get married) and if you look down to the cobblestones in the courtyard you can see remnants of confettis from weddings before. Next we walked to the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. Inside you can see the remnants of the Roman structure and even the basin where baptisms were held. To wrap up our tour we went to Place d’Albertas to see the historic plaza and fountain. At this point, it was time for food. We had a lovely lunch at the Pain Quotidien. We continued our walk and then went for desert. French students took us all to Crêpes à Gogo, which are a fixture amongst Aixoise youth. Afterwards students spent time exploring the city with their host siblings.