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. 🙂

Theater Antique d’Orange

post1Today was the day of walking. We walked, and we walked, and we walked. My legs ached by the end of the day. I wish I had worn a pedometer this day (actually, I wish I had the entire trip), because not only did we walk from destination to destination, but each destination consisted of a lot of walking (museums, historical sites, etc).

We left Avignon early to catch the train (does this sound familiar?) to Orange, though all I really wanted to do at this point was sleep in. Each train andpost1a train station we went to were all a little different than the others; it made it kind of a fun game, having to continually “figure things out.” We arrived without any problems (it was only a 15 minute ride) and headed straight to Théâtre Antique, the old Roman theater in the town. It is one of 3 that sill exist with their original acoustic walls attached; the other two are in Asia Minor.

As we walked towards the theater, I was thinking to myself that it wasn’t SO big, but the closer we got, the more my jaw dropped. We stopped by a small café next to the theater to get croissants post1band coffee for a quick breakfast before heading off to purchase our tickets and pick up the fantastic audio tour of the theater. The audio guide discussed the historical, culture, and social background and importance of the theater. Nero very grossly took theater to a new level by having actors burned at the stake during performances. Ironically, Caesar was originally afraid of post1ehaving a bunch of theaters/entertainment because he felt that it had been the downfall of the Greek civilization and didn’t want to repeat history and also didn’t want his people to stop working and live forpost1c entertainment. Hmm. Interesting to ponder, as I’ve often thought that the moral decline of the Roman civilization was what led to the weakening of the empire. Also an interesting fact – when females started to act (as opposed to the usual all male cast), the crowd would cheer for them to take their post1dclothes off.

The social classes were also fascinating. The entertainment/plays were free for all to attend, so people were treated equally in that sense, but there was extreme segregation with everything past that. The Romans had built the wall/passagewayspost1q in a such a way that people would enter and exit quickly without every having to cross paths with someone from a different class. Of course, the higher the social class, the better your section was, and within that, the better the seat you got to take.

Another curious tidbit – that statue of Caesar that looms above the stage? It is his body, but they made the heads replaceable so that when a new emperor came to power, they would just send out mass amounts of new post1pheads to swap out with the old ones. It’s like having a Ronald Reagan body with a Barack Obama head attached. I find this somewhat comical.

loved the theater! It was so magnificent, majestic, and huge. I couldn’t soak it up. Every time I walked to a new vantage point, I had to sit down and just stare, trying not to let my jaw fall open. I probably could have spent an entire day there just soaking it up and savoring it. I have fond memories post1fof wandering around, climbing the steps, exploring the hallways and tunnels, sitting and staring… just wondering why we don’t build such timeless, majestic, and beautiful pieces of architectural art anymore. Seriously. It doesn’t seem like it would be that much more expensive, as it is all very scientific and precise. Also, good acoustics like this post1gtheater has (it is still in use!) would save SO MUCH MONEY on audio equipment, which also happens to ruin aesthetics. The structure of it made more sense to me too, as the steps were steeper which made the highest seats still closer to the stage than they are in our modern theaters. Even at the top, I felt close to/intimate with the stage, and this theater seated 9,000-10,000 people.

The theater was built into a hill (so they could save money and use less materials) and right next to the entrance to the post1itheater, there are the ruins of an old Roman temple where they used to sacrifice animals. Hmm. Is it a coincidence that there is a temple right next to a theater? Theaters had a reputation of being festivals of immorality. What better place to put a temple than where you can immediately make right the wrong you’d just indulged in?

post1rAfter spending several hours in the theater, we headed across the street to check out the historical museum there before post1hwandering down the boulevard to get a look at the Arc de Triomphe.


post1j

Bienvenue en France

We woke up after far too few hours of sleep and strapped our backpacks on, ready to leave Barcelona and catch the train to France. In hindsight, we definitely allotted ourselves way more time than we needed to navigate the metro system and figure out the train station, but all is well; a lack sleep is very worth a reduced level of stress. When we woke, we could hear a distant ruckus coming from outside and wondered what was going on. We locked our door behind us and began the long climb down the winding stairway, the noises getting louder and louder the closer we got to the exit. I made Jesse open the door and step outside first; we were amazed to be greeted by a crowded street of drunk/still drinking people… yes, at 5:50am. A few middle-aged locals paced back and forth yelling that they had beers for sale, but the rest of the crowd was much younger. After hearing a whistle and being uncertain of who it was directed towards. I clung close to Jesse as we TrainJannanavigated throuh the rest of rowdy crowd toward the metro. We passed one man who stood in the corner and began pulling his pants down to pee. He eyed us carefully and yelled/slurred, “Don’t look at me!” Keeping our eyes ahead of us, we got to Las Ramblas and saw many police officers standing guard and carefully watching the crowds to make sure nothing got out of hand. The metro was quiet; only a handful of people were on it, and most of them were in a drunken stupor, ready to pass out. We easily figured out the train station and found the platform we were departing from. It helped that the Sants Station was large and had good signage.

buildingThe train ride was easy and we got to relax a bit and catch up on journaling. It was a comfortable and easy ride. The scenery was lush and peaceful, and I enjoyed listening to the communication system transition from Spanish/Catalan/French to just French. We had a moment of panic in Narbonne, when we got off to switch trains. There were two trains listed as going to Carcasfluffyflowersonne, our destination, but neither of the train numbers matched up with ours. After using a lot of gesturing and simple vocabulary (it’s harder to come by English speakers in small towns), we were able to confirm which platform and train we needed to board.

When we arrived in Carcassonne, we instantly fell in love with France. It was so calm and peaceful… the voices, the slowness of life, the scenery, the way people drove… my soul was rejuvenated by being in such a quiet, gentle place. The people there was also very kind, helpful, and gentle, not rude or arrogant as I had feared.

building2Our hotel, Hôtel Astoria, was close to the train station, so we were able to quickly find it and drop off our bags, though our room wasn’t ready until later in the afternoon. From there, we began the trek to the old city, making a quick pit stop at the local Monoprix for some lunch snacks. The grocery store was also quiet and gentle. No one was irritated or in a rush, nor seemed upset about the little old lady at the front of the line who was taking an especially long time to coubuilding3nt her change. It was very relaxed and slow paced, quite the contrast to what we’d just experienced in Barcelona. Both of our brains were having an incredibly difficult time transitioning from Spanish to French; Jesse managed a basic bonjour and merci to the store clerk, but my brain and tongue weren’t quite agreeing, leaving me mute. We headed back down the road to continue the long-ish walk to the castle, passing classic French country-style buildings and homes on the way.

BridgeThe view of La Cité from the distance was incredible. The castle is majestically perched on top of a hill and watching it grow larger and larger was we grew near was quite exhilarating (or maybe that was the walking?). It was surreal. We crossed over the river via the Old Bridge and took a detour to the nearby park sp we could sit and eat our snack/lunchpark. The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, and there was a slight breeze… my heart felt so at peace and at home in this tranquil town, and I wondered for a moment if I’d died and gone to heaven. Words cannot convey how lovely and intimate this town was. I experienced so many emotions and desires all at once; I wanted to take a nap in the luscious grass, run around singing and dancing with my hands in the air, paint a picture, weep from overwhelming joy and peace, and play an instrument. I really wish there was a way to bottle up the serenity I experienced and take it home with me. I finally understand why so many brilliant artists have spent at least a portion of their career in France.

picnic  water