Tulips Grow on Trees

Magnolia sunbathing 

  • Tulips do not grow on trees. Magnolias do. The person who came up with the name ‘Tulip Tree’ had a good point though, especially in their buds, magnolia flowers look like tulips. To me, when they are fully opened up, they look like lotuses. Good that we call them Magnolias. They are regarded as spring flowers, just like the tulips, but in Marseille you never know if they are announcing the summer, as the weather gets quickly warmer.

Resembling a Lotus; a Magnolia flower unfolds its petals

  • Across from my street, tall Magnolia trees grow in the front yards of apartment buildings, and whenever I pass by I am captivated by their presence. In gathering some information for this Vignette, I discovered that the Magnolia is one of the oldest species on earth, this tree existed even before the time of the bees, about 20 million years ago.

Matchstick-like stamens on a Magnolia petal

  • These trees have been part of earth’s evolution up to today, and are native to North, Central and South America, East and Southeast Asia. As there are over 200 species, the flowers can vary in diameter between seven to thirty centimeters. The several cultural significances that have been given to the Magnolia flower are nobility, purity, perseverance and, of course, beauty. 

The golden heart of the Magnolia flower 

  • And of immense beauty they are. The petals are almost succulently thick and the flowers, especially those from the Magnolia grandiflora, give a subtle yet rich fragrance. Inspiring, when you realise that such a giant plant has survived the severe changes that have occurred throughout time.

Keukenhof is for Tulip Lovers

Tulip serenity at the Keukenhof; Lisse, the Netherlands

As it is the national flower of the Netherlands, is it typical Dutch to love tulips? Looking at the annual number of visitors to the Keukenhof: one million from over one hundred countries, it must be all universal. I recently went with friends to this world-famous ‘Spring Park’ – as it is only open from end of March until end of May when Keukenhof displays thousands of tulips of all imaginable colors and shapes, often grouped together with other bulbous species. 

White Tulips with Muscari Grape Hyacinths; Keukenhof

Keukenhof means ‘Kitchen Garden’ but it is not exactly your mother’s kitchen garden. Originally it was indeed part of the Teylingen Castle, a family estate of over 200 hectares which developed into the Keukenhof Castle in 1641. It was redesigned in 1857 in English landscape style, and only in 1949 a group of bulb exporters used the Keukenhof then to exhibit their spring flowering bulbs. This was an instant hit with the public and, voilà, the annual spring flower exhibition was born.

Fully opened tulips because ‘Spring is Here!’ Keukenhof

The Dutch tulip history-story, as displayed at the Keukenhof Juliana Pavilion, tells that when the tulip was first introduced to Holland by botanist Carolus Clusius in 1593, his precious bulbs were soon stolen. This incident made the tulip instantly famous as people realised the unicity of this strange flower that had come from Turkey. That period is called Tulipomania, as the rich were willing to pay copious amounts of money for just one bulb. 

Ridiculously expensive in the 17th century; extremely cheap in the third millennium; Keukenhof

Whereas in the 17th century one speciality bulb like the ‘Semper Augustus’ could fetch a price equal to the value of a grand house, today you get bulbs for ‘peanuts’. A bunch of ten tulips in Holland will cost only a few euros. A rare item has become a most popular product of beauty.

You can give credit to the Dutch that their fascination with the tulip lead to the ultimate cultivation of this bulbous plant. Over the past 400 years incredible hybrid varieties have been developed while mass production has made the tulip an item of flourishing commerce.

A highly varied collection of tulips makes for a grand palette of colors; Keukenhof

1/320 Second of no people in the viewfinder; Keukenhof, the Garden of Europe; Lisse, the Netherlands

Depending on the weekday, Keukenhof can attract so many visitors that the situation can be quite difficult to fully enjoy the beauty of the Park if not make it a challenge to take photos. Nevertheless, the quiet beauty of the tulips will quickly capture one’s attention and one gets absorbed by a deep spectrum of colors, wonderful varied shapes and fine subtle fragrances that take you into that otherworldly atmosphere of the tulips.

Fabulously Escaping Winter

Petra and Hans at La Vieille Charité, Marseille, that has been converted into a museum

What do you do when you want to escape the Carnival season and the winter weather in the Netherlands? You visit your brother, in law, who lives in Marseille. My sister Petra and her husband Hans Kohnen visited me in the last week of February, and I was happy to show them around on my new turf. It was sunny indeed when they arrived and during most of their planned week here. They stayed in an Airbnb acquired studio in walking distance from the coast. We noticed people already swimming in the sea in this month of the year.

Sunny temperatures in the Calanques

Blue sea, blue outfit, and a blue bottle. Me in the Calanques. Photo by Petra Timmermans

Besides the must-visit to the Calanques, it was easy to produce an itinerary, knowing they have a deep connection with culture, art, and nature, she being a painter, an Indian folk and Spanish Flamenco dancer, and Reiki teacher; he being a sculptor working with wood and natural stone and occasionally with ice, the program included specific cultural parts of the city as well as museums. At MuCEM there was the exhibition on: Après Babel, traduire, After Babel, translate that we visited, plus the permanent Gallery on the origins of the Mediterranean civilisation. 

Inside MuCEM, Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Marseille 

Fortunately, they were also curious about Cassis. The town should not be excluded as it gives a full day of enjoyment – a comfortable bus ride in a scenic setting along the Mediterranean coast and walking around in town and to its outskirts of Calanque Port Miou, is all about colorful natural splendor which inspired Petra and Hans deeply as artists and nature lovers.

A view of Cassis harbor

Cap Canaille seen from Calanque Port Miou, Cassis

On a rainy day, yes rainy, we visited MAC in Marseille. No, not the fast-food chain but Musée d’Art Contemporain which has a permanent collection of art from the 60s upto the 90s. After MAC, we took the city tram to Palais Longchamp that dates to 1869 and contains two museums while its former Zoological Garden has been transformed into Le Funny Zoo.

The old fashioned 90’s: Les Idoles, 1990, by Italian artist Sarenco, MAC, Marseille

Fully alive, Le Funny Zoo, Parc Longchamp, Marseille

Discovering the symbolic decor of Palais Longchamp, Marseille 

We did much more in and around Marseille, including cooking dinner every evening at my place. At the end of their winter escape, they both said that they had not realised Marseille was so beautiful and diverse, having a touch of Paris but located in the warm climate of the Côte d’Azur. Also the morning of their flight back was sun-kissed.

A rose for Rita

Throughout their stay here, Hans was regularly updated by his sister with news on the condition of his mother who had been hospitalised just before they left. One week after their return to the Netherlands, his mother died peacefully in her home with all direct family present. This vignette is dedicated to her: Rita Kohnen.

Marseille – Le Vieux Port

Nathan looks at Marseille from Frioul archipelago, with Chateau d’If on the right

Where to begin when talking about Marseille? The city is so diverse with such a rich history, and it is popular, even more so since 2013 when it was designated by the EU as the European Capital of Culture, for one year. With such a question, I normally resort to my yoga perspective and say ‘you start with the centre.’ Of course.

Le Vieux Port is one of the most attractive sites of Marseille

And the centre is of course Le Vieux Port, the old harbor. Others regard the beautiful Notre-Dame de La Garde, Our Guardian Lady, the Catholic basilica, as the central focus point, as it stands high above, guarding the city. However, the city‘s history starts in 600 BC when Greek settlers landed there to begin a trading post which later was known as the Vieux Port, and the city was called Massalia.

Le Vieux Port has become a marina where boat owners park their boats

Ferries and private boats have replaced the trading ships of the past at Le Vieux Port

During the nineteenth century, the trading activities were moved to nearby sites but Le Vieux Port retained its centre-of-the-city position and started to function as a marina and a terminal where ferries depart to nearby towns and islands, like the Frioul archipelago where also the famous Chateau d’If, prison island, can be visited.

A perfect location to view the setting sun, Le Vieux Port

Almost completely destroyed during WWII, and lovingly rebuild under architect Fernand Pouillon, Le Vieux Port is the heart of Marseille, offering inspiration when it comes to people, sea and city.

The Mountain That Swims

Cassis on the Rivièra

Always refreshing to start a new year in the slow pace of village life. It is said that the Romans were first in mentioning Cassis as a coastal fishing village that was flanked by ‘Cap Naïo’, as called in the Provençal language. It means ‘the mountain that swims.’

Nathan takes in the beauty of Cap Canaille

The beauty of this enticing ochre-colored cliff inspires you to sit down and just take it all in and let nature rebuild your state of mind.

Nature continues in the man-made environment, like the simple and solid lighthouse that is constructed from the natural stone found in the Cassis area. It still guides boats to the harbor at night while it stands on its own as a piece of art.

Cassis Lighthouse is constructed from natural stone found in the area

All along the harbor line one can sit down, taste the local cuisine, and enjoy the scenic character of Cassis

On Higher Ground – Vitrolles

Notre-Dame-de-Vie on top of the chapel's roof at Vitrolles

Notre-Dame-de-Vie above the chapel’s roof, in Vitrolles 

Known for its thirty-metre high rock that features a small chapel and a statue of Notre-Dame-de-Vie above it, Vitrolles is a historically rich village that lies next to the modern Marseille-Provence airport at the Etang de Berre, a lagoon on the Mediterranean coast. 

A tower post on the rock of Vitrolles to watch for possible invaders

Le Rocher de Vitrolles was also a post to watch for possible invaders

The chapel with the statue of Our Lady of Life, symbolises the protection of the inhabitants of Vitrolles, whereas the rock protects against harsh weather. In the past it was used as a watch post to prevent possible invaders from taking over the place, as the thirty metre high elevation gives a superb panoramic view, far and near. And, territory challenges happened …

Perfectly restored housing

Perfectly restored homes

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The village dates back to the 5th century and experienced Roman occupation, Saracen invasions, and annexation to the region of Provence during the time France was a kingdom. Today, Vitrolles is a significant suburb of the city of Aix en Provence while the chapel remains highly regarded by the village residents. Because of its diverse history, the now famous rock gives more than only ‘une belle vue’ to those who visit. 

On the way to Vitrolles - travel necessitie

On the way to Vitrolles – a break at Paul’s, a French bakery chain since 1889

Sunlit Scapes

Sailing

A lone sailing boat faces the massive Calanque de Sugiton 

To get some fresh air after the day the results of the US presidential election were definite, I went for a walk in the Calanques de Marseille. Just being there is a mind and eye opener and it opens your heart as well, the beauty just overwhelms you, especially during sunset.

At the belvédère viewpoint, one understands why it has been assigned as the best point of view. The majestic mountain range of the Calanques overlooks the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean sea while showing the diversity of cliffs and fjords, left and right. 

"Dragon Island" as the sun goes down

“Dragon Island” as the sun goes down

Sunlit Path. Pink colored clouds pass over a partial sunlit track

Sunlit Path – pink colored clouds pass over the landscape

Turning around and starting my way back, low-hanging pink colored clouds passed slowly over the landscape. It was getting darker but also more intriguing. On the seaside, the sky changed into warm yellow and deep red colors, contrasted by the now blackish landscape. I still could find the right path back by the time it was fully dark. 

Red Cloud Mountain

Red Cloud Mountain

Cassis the Adorable

Captivating Cap Canaille overlooks the village of Cassis

Captivating Cap Canaille overlooks the town of Cassis

Cassis, not more than twenty kilometres east from Marseille, has been compared to Paris by 19th century French poet Frédérick Mistral, who said ‘Anyone who has seen Paris, but hasn’t seen Cassis, hasn’t seen anything’. My thoughts exactly, when I visited the place for the first time, and every time I do again. Such is the attractiveness of the little town. The reasons are evident for any nature and culture lover. Cassis is situated between the limestone mountains of the Calanques and the most impressive Cap Canaille, a 394 meters tall cliff that is also the highest sea cliff of France. In between these two giant beauties lies a most picturesque landscape of vineyards with the 13th century Chateau de Cassis situated on a hill.

Château de Cassis overlooks the centre of Cassis

Château de Cassis on top of a hill with the centre of Cassis below

Of course, Cassis must have been different in the 19th century yet today the town is still as picture perfect as one can have it. Lovely streets and alleys with soft colored houses lead to the main centre of the town, the old fisherman’s harbor, which borders on a pristine beach area. From any corner one can see the Calanques, Cap Canaille and the vineyard-covered hills complemented with marvellously tall cypress and pine trees. 

Lovely alleys that give a view on the natural setting of Cassis

Most alleys give a view on the natural setting of Cassis, and someone looking at the Cassis housing market

Cassis harbor is the centre of the town

Romantic Cassis harbor is the centre of the town

Almost a secret corner, the Plage Arène with its rough rock beach is located at the base of Cap Canaille and densely lined with pine trees making it a tranquil spot.

Aréne beach is pretty and exclusive

Aréne beach is pretty and quiet

Uphill, there are exclusive private sites where grapes are grown for the well-known white and rosé wines of Cassis, and the higher one goes the more charming the views of Cassis become. 

Private vineyards can be found all over the landscape of Cassis

Private vineyards can be found all over the landscape of Cassis

Downhill and uphill, Cassis invites for healthy hiking

Uphill and downhill, Cassis invites for healthy hiking

Over the centuries, the beauty of Cassis has appealed especially to painters and writers, and today it is not much different as Cassis remains adorable. Naturally.

Wild Colors

Autumn foliage in Cassis, south France

Autumn foliage in Cassis, south France

It is autumn here in Europe and nature showing its warm palette of colors. I am often inspired by plants, tall or small, and in any season for that matter. In south of France there is quite some flora I know from my time in sunny southeast Asia. One of them is the Heliconia with its bright red flowering bracts while its tall leaves and water-rich stems are as colorful and attractive.

Heliconia leaves show their lines and colours

Heliconia leaves show their colors

The stems of the Heliconia leaves can be as red as its flowers

The stems of the Heliconia leaves can be as red as its flowering bracts

Another of my favorite exotic plants is the succulent Agave americana, it stands out in its bold design as well as in its subtle patterns. The colors of the leaves can flow between light shades of blue to green, and the imprints of leaf on leaf look as if all the leaves were of one piece before unfolding into individual parts.

Subtle leave imprints on each leave make for a unique design

Subtle leaf imprints show on each leaf after the Agave opens up

The colours of an Agave flow from subtle shades of green to blue

The colors of an Agave flow from light shades of green to blue

Two Waiters and Two Painters

A fountain on popular Cours Mirabeau, centre of Aix en Provence

A fountain on popular Cours Mirabeau, centre of Aix en Provence

On a stormy autumn day in October, friend John and I visited Aix-en-Provence and nearby village Vauvenargues, by a rented voiturette. The two places are not more than about 35 kilometres from Marseille. Not taking the highway kept us closer to the attractive landscape of Provence. Aix is known for its most famous citizen, the post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne who was captivated by the colorful mountainous landscape around him. Today, Aix en Provence has become a popular university centre for international students, bringing youth from all over the world to this historic place.

Café and restaurant Les Deux Garçons on Cours Mirabeau

Café and restaurant Les Deux Garçons on Cours Mirabeau

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Before proceeding to Vauvenargues, we had a coffee at well-known Les Deux Garçons, a café and restaurant that dates back to 1660, but the name refers to the two waiters who bought it in 1840. The place has been frequented by famous individuals like singer Edith Piaf, writer Jean Cocteau, statesman Winston Churchill, Cezanne, Picasso, and others. Spanish painter Pablo Picasso spent most of his life in France, from 1904 onward, first in Paris and later in the south, he bought the Château Vauvenargues in 1958. Paul Cezanne was an inspiration to him, and living here triggered a most creative and productive period.

Château Vauvenargues or Picasso's castle with the mountain range of Mont Sainte Victoire in the background

Château Vauvenargues or Picasso’s castle with the mountain range of Mont Sainte Victoire in the background

Today, Château Vauvenargues is known as Picasso’s castle. It is situated in the foothills of Mont Sainte Victoire, the mountain that inspired Cezanne so deeply. Picasso’s body has been buried here as well, and the castle, now owned by one of his daughters, attracts regular visitors to the petit and picturesque village of Vauvenargues.