I love taking a wrong turn. I do it all the time in Aix and have found an unexpected surprise waiting for me, usually as I turn around to figure out where I am. I never allowed myself to take a wrong turn the last time I was here. I was a newcomer, barely spoke the language, and the winding, maze of medieval streets confused me. I definitely didn’t want to get lost! Each day I needed to go somewhere new, I memorized my route so I wouldn’t have to pull out my map and be targeted as a tourist. Now that I know my landmarks and have a pretty good sense of direction, during the hustle and bustle of an afternoon of shopping or finding a new route to my bus stop from class, I purposely wander down streets I’ve never explored. One day, I ran across a great little used book store with some beautiful antique works. Today, I discovered a surprisingly large Mediterranean grocery store – La Corbeille d’Orient – with such delicacies as Baklava and “home-made” dried apricots and papaya, none of which I can eat because of the sugar, but a fun find, nevertheless. (They also had a few things I could eat for half the price of the supermarket – a very important consideration for a grad student!)
However, my favorite surprise find came at the end of the day. I made time for a run, fighting the fatigue of the day and lack of sleep. It was exactly what I needed, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night for it. With a warm spring sun, a few clouds in the distance, and a pleasant breeze to cool my skin, I hit the hills. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Aix is nestled in the foothills, make that small mountains (from a runner’s perspective!) of the Alps. It’s absolutely gorgeous but makes running an extra challenge. I love it! Maybe it was growing up in Fremont and training on “Toboggan” and “Hernia” Hill. I’m not sure, but I have loved running hills ever since. Anyway, up and down I went, into the heart of the city, past the accordion player entertaining tourists enjoying aperitifs before dinner and the boutiques and shops closing for the evening. As I headed out of the city, I, as usual decided to take a different way home. I knew what direction I needed to head and started up a hill, or what I thought was a hill. Up and up and up… the grade kept getting steeper, and my legs began reminding me that I’d already put in three running miles on top of the 5 miles I’d walked during the day. Finally, after nearly a half mile at about a ten percent grade, I decided to give in and turn around to see where I was. I reasoned that I would need to reverse directions to get back to my apartment anyway. I slowed to a stop, paused my watch, and as I faced the direction from which I had come, I stopped breathing, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the run. There in the distance were the Alps as far as the eye could see. I’ve never had such a fantastic view of them. I was rooted to the spot until a crescendo in the music I’d been listening to reminded me that I should probably keep moving. Wondering if I could find an ever better vantage point, the sight of the Alps inspired me to continue further up the “hill.” I cranked up the music – a quarter of cellists playing some incredible hard rock – and attacked the slope once again. (I know hard rocking cellists sounds crazy, but look them up if you don’t believe me – Apocalyptica.) At long last… well actually, not that much longer, my legs reminded me I still had another hill to run on the way back, and I gave up. I had been glancing back periodically and never found another spot where I could see the mountains. Trees obscured the view, and on the way back, on the other side of the road, trees were also in the way. If I hadn’t stopped at that very place, I would have missed out on that sublime moment of awe and wonder over God’s magnificent creation. What blessing to take a wrong turn! It didn’t hurt that I got to run down that enormous hill on the way back and feel, for a few minutes at least, like a “real” runner a again. 🙂
I can’t find a photograph that is similar to the view of both the city of Aix with the Alps in the background, so I’ll have to return with my camera. I’ll post the picture as soon as I have the chance. I also need to take some pictures of Aix in the evening. I can’t take credit for the one I included in the post since I didn’t have my camera with me on the run, but it conveys the feel of the city in evening.
(Photo Credit: “Aix-en-Provence, Adagio,” <www.voyage-unique.com>)