Marseille

post2bWe got to Marseille easily. The train station was huge and felt much more like an airport than any of the other train stations we had been in; there were cafés, giftshops, news stands, benches, multiple monitorspost2c updating passengers with arrival and departure times of trains, and many, many platforms. The vibe of the train station told us we had definitely left the calm of the Provence Countryside and had post2aentered a major metropolitan area. The train station sits at the top of a hill, which makes for an incredible first view of the city and displays the iconic Notre-Dame da la Garde Cathedral very nicely. It was easy to get a pretty good view of the spread and vastness of the city, which was quite a shock after spending the past 5 days in small towns.

We headed out of the train station, down the long flight of stairs, and began the trek down the hill towards the port and our AirBNB. It only post2dtook about 15 minutes to get the plaza where the apartment was, but finding the exact building and door to wait at proved rather difficult. Businesses and buildings weren’t very well signed or numbered, but after looking and relooking several times, we were able to find it and then found a seat at the fountain in the plaza where we waited forpost2k our host to arrive. At exactly 15:30, when our host’s assistant was scheduled to greet us, the main door to the building creaked open and a head popped out, glancing around. We made eye contact and Jesse and I headed across the street. In broken English, she asked her if we were here to meet post2jsomeone. We confirmed and gave her the name of our host before she led us up 3 flights of stairs and into an airy, bright apartment. The lady spoke very little English, but made every effort possible to answer our questions and show us everything we needed to know about the apartment. Again, I felt a humiliation/sadness that I knew only English! She endedpost2i up giving us a wrong set of keys, though Jesse had the smarts to test it right after she left, and finding that it wouldn’t unlock the door to the apartment, he ran down the stairs and was able to find her and remedy the situation before we were stuck stranded.

post2lAfter settling in for a few minutes, we ventured out again to explore the Arab district and hopefully find something to eat. I had my heart set on some of the delicious savory Arab foods (like pastilla) mentioned in our guide book, but sadly, we weren’t able to find the restaurant mentioned (Le Soleil d’Egypte) and discovered that it was a bit too early in the day for most restaurants to be open anyway. Thankfully, we were able to find the little Tunisian Bakery we’d read about, Le Carthage, and pick up some tasty treats. I’m not sure what everything was called, but the small squares were rose turkish delight, the triangle was baklava (of course!), the rectangle was some sort of date bar (makroud, maybe?), and the crescent shaped pastry was tcharek, I think. There were bees and flies zipping through the shop, traipsing through the mounds of powdered sugar on the tcharek tray, and climbing over the bodies of their deceased cousins, whom I believed died of a sugar overdose. Mmm, mmm. It’s all part of the adventure. 🙂 When we finally sat down later to eat the pastries, we found more dead bugs in our boxes. We had to carefully avoid and inspect each bite, but it was well worth it.

Leaving the Arab market, we headed over to stroll through thepost2f mall that was just a few blocks away. I was curious and wanted to see what shopping was like in France. It was fun to get a sense for the different styles and see the various groups of teenagers prowling the mall. Not so different than the US. The store “American Freshman – authentic campus clothing” gave me and Jesse a bit of a laugh. Throughout our time in France and Spain, we had seen several Hardrock Cafe shirts also, which made us chuckle. Barcelona Hardrock Cafe in France, and London Hardrock cafe shirt in Barcelona, etc. I don’t know why we found it so entertaining. Perhaps it just went along with the stereotypical tourist look; confused individuals wandering around with a guidebook in one hand, a camera in the other, wearing shorts, carrying a small bag/backpack, and typically wearing some shirt that sought to impress (“I’ve traveled HERE!”), but really made them stand out even more as tourists. We also noticed a lot of people wearing shirts with English words or phrases on them, just as we see shirts with French/German on them in the States, or tattoos with Chinese/Japanese characters. People really are more similar than different.

post2gWe stopped by the Monoprix on the way back to the apartment and picked up a few things for dinner – tortellini, sauce, sheep cheese, camembert, baguettes, and wine. I loved the variety of cheeses at the grocery store there, though it would have taken me many months to try them all.

The smell of the ocean breeze rolling in off the nearby port was just too much, so Jesse and I walked down to check out the departure post2etime for the Calanques Tour in the morning. Both of us were itching to get out on the water and just relax and get off our feet. Kayaking sounded the most fun, but was much more logistically complicated and would’ve taken up the whole day, and we were too exhausted for that.

We passed by a mob of people on the way back. Curious, we pushed our way in to catch a glimpse of some street dancers/break dancers. We watched for a couple minutes before continuing on to the apartment, where the rest of our evening consisted of cooking, journaling, surfing the net, and drinking wine.

Here’s short video of the dancers. Not very impressive, but fun and quite the tourist magnet. 🙂

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Eating in Arles

post2pWe had eaten a light lunch of gazpacho (for me) and sandwiches (for Jesse) at a small café earlier in the day, but found ourselves quite hungry now and thought it was late enough for dinner (it was about 6pm). We looked through our guide book and picked out one of the recommended places that looked good and headed off. Sadly, we found that it was closed, so we picked out another option from the book and trekked on. Again, we discovered the second post2roption was closed. Somewhat disheartened, we picked out a third and continued on, only discover, yet again, that it too was closed. Feeling upset, hungry, and emotional, we headed back towards the Arena to see what food was available. We spotted a small creperie by the Arena that was open and decided we’d just eat there. We just wanted to eat SOMETHING. Still not quite certain of restaurant customs in France, we awkwardly went inside and asked the employee if we could have a table for two. He responded, “that isn’t a problem,” in a somewhat irritated tone.

post3cSlightly humbled, we walked back out to the patio seating area and found a table. A few minutes later, a server came and brought us a menu to look through. When she came back, we were mostly ready to order and asked for two savory dishes – a pasta and a crepe. She gave us somewhat amused smile and the pointed to a blurb across the top of a menu page and then gestured towards a list. Confused, I tried again, only for the girl, with a slightly condescending expression this time, repeating the same action and then state that only these select items were available until dinner started. I was still confused and asked when dinner started so we could order the other post3jones, and point again to the menu, where in small print it was noted that dinner started at 19:00. It was about 18:15 at the moment. Feeling immensely small (and still hungry), we decided to leave until  dinner and come back later. We felt incredibly awkward and intimidated by the whole situation (the first humbling experience of the trip) and needed to escape to center ourselves. As we walked away, we wondered if this is how Americans with no cultural awareness feel while in Paris – a sense of stupidity and shame that make s you want to hide. I did not like it, but I was glad to have the experience. It is good to be reminded that I am an outsider with much to learn and it’s always nice to have a post3adifferent perspective. The entire situation could’ve been avoided too if I had read more carefully, so in this case it was definitely a case of stupid tourists, though for being a tourist destination, I was a little surprised at the response of the staff.  Everyone else we’d met on the trip had been incredibly helpful.

After making it back to the safety of the hotel room, we flipped through the guidebook again, this time with a new understanding that the restaurants weren’t closed for the day, post3bbut most likely closed until dinner hours of 19:00. We found few on on street that looked good, so at about 18:55, we headed out to go check them out and make our selection based on menu and atmosphere. We ended up opting for the one that looked a little less fancy, Restaurant Le Plaza, and since we were one of the first people there, we were able to get one of the few remaining unreserved tables outside.

Umm, let me just say that I am so glad that we didn’t eat at the crepe restaurant. The food here was amazing! I think it was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Everything was divine and post3emelted in my mouth. We order a menú again, wanting to get the full French cuisine experience. My appetizer was grilled peppers marinated in olive oil with sliced ham and Jesse got a eggplant caviar with Brousse cheese (a soft sheep’s cheese), and a tomato coulis. YUM. Mine was scrumptious, but Jesse’s was definitely the favorite. It tasted like the most perfect noodleless lasagna dish I’d ever tasted. The flavors melded together perfectly and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s on my list of things to try to recreate once I can find the cheese.

post3dFor our main courses, I got a seared salmon with an amazing leek sauce and Jesse get a traditional bull-steak stew with red camargue rice, a rice that grows in the nearby wetlands of Arles and Provence.

Dinner was, not surprisingly, crème brûlée, the preferred choice over the dark chocolate dessert with a red fruit sauce.

post3hI absolutely love the French dining experience. i really enjoy the the waiters are attentive and helpful but don’t bother you or ask you unnecessary questions or try to make small talk. They do their jobs and that’s it. I feel they also pay more attention to you. We emptied the water carafe at the table, and immediately a server swooped in and whisked it away and before promptly replacing it with a new post3gone. I liked that I could just focus on my company while eating rather than the waiter, whether it be trying to get his/her attention or being interrupted by unnecessary talk.  I think it might have something to do with the fact that the tip is included in the menu post3fprice (and tax!), so they aren’t trying to suck up for a tip. It is definitely pleasant concept, and ideal to me.

Feeling full and happy, we headed back to the hotel, making a pit stop at the cafe we at at for lunch so I could momentarily steal the wifi and listen to the musicians playing beside the beautifully lit arena.