Manchester

Year Abroad. Part 18: Essaix-en-Provence

And at last, my friends visited. Early morning flights means early morning landings, and I was there to welcome them, beret on head, sign in hand. There were 5 of them, so 6 of us altogether. A bus journey provides space for the first catch up, a refresher for personal jokes and all the stuff I’d missed out on. We had an audience though. Leaving the bus I was smacked on the arm with some paper, two girls giggling shoved it into my hands. I said “thank you”, twenty minutes speaking English and 8 months of French goes out the window. What we found surprised us: a watercolour painting, everything we’d said on the journey, two lipstick marks and an Instagram account. Bit weird, but strangely flattering. We’re not from Manchester though.

Sun shining, we made a beeline for crêpes, the first stop on the tour. Savoury was a winner with two choosing premium specials, combining mushrooms, sausages and cheese in a pastry sensation. All was going to plan, weather holding out despite tomorrow’s promised downpour, the town was buzzing with people strolling in and out of shops, street performers, crowds and markets filling the squares, the sound of a nearby accordion drifting round the corners with the scent of flowers. We took a coffee in a square, well I did, I was building an image. Just make sure you nail the s’il vous plaît when you’re ordering that lemon fanta boy.

The Airbnb was perfect. Overlooking one of the central squares, two minutes’ walk from everywhere we wanted to go. Sightseeing was done in a drive-by fashion with time at a premium, just enough time to show them that every cathedral was covered in scaffolding. We were headed to the park to play frisbee and chill but without the key to my room, that pointless 25-minute walk to my accommodation was going to be well received.

Up and out for pain au chocolat and croissants the next morning in the drizzling rain meant wet feet to catch the bus to Les Calanques which promised a wet hike and wet sand. The deluge that awaited us forced us to take shelter in a restaurant which they weren’t best pleased about to say the least. “A table for 9 please”, there were only 10 seats in the restaurant. Some poor lady lunching alone ended up our tenth member for the afternoon. Well, she did until she started slagging us off to the other customers and staring at us. Like a school trip are we? You’re eating alone love.

Thoroughly soaked already, we took the plunge into the sea. We shouldn’t have staggered our entry though because it just meant I was standing around dodging icebergs while the others got changed. Aiming for the 7.30 bus was a solid plan, but we were a month early with it starting up again in May. The 40-minute dash to the train station did warm us up though. Aixcellent.

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