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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Carcassonne

post1We wanted to post3continue exploring, but after 4 hours, our brains were starting to get slow from the constant processing and our stomachs were begging for some real food. So, we headed back down the hill and began the 1.2 mile trek to the hotel where we could check in, rest, and research dinner options. These are a few post2shots of the town of Carcassonne.

The kind husband and wife team, Marc and Séverine, showed us to our room; it was small but clean, though I probably would have been grossed out a few years back as it lacked all the frills USA hotels have that tend to hide grim. I really appreciated the tile floors in these rooms post13as carpet tends to gross me out, especially at hotels. We collapsed on the bed, expost4hausted. Our feet felt like they were going to fall off and our calf and thigh muscles throbbed; I was a little bit worried that our muscle fibers might post5explode. We were also dying of thirst, as we hadn’t been able to find a water fountain anywhere in the old city. We vegetated for the next hour until our hunger finally outweighed our exhaustion. We opted for Adelaïde Restaurant, a small French restuarant back in the old city. Our aching legs somehow managed to carry us back across town and up the long hill to the castle.post7

Jesse mumbled his way through a few French phrases and got us a table for “du” outside, and we were fortunate enough to get a waiter who spoke a teeny, teeny bit of English. We quenched our thirst with une carafe de vin rouge and une carafe d’eau (water) while skimming the menu options. We opted post6to get actual menus; in France, a menu has several courses in it and is usually the cheapest way to eat. Ordering one item (chicken + sides)  is more expensive and is referred to as à la carte. It’s a little confusing, since in the USA a menu refers to the book that contains all the food options, and a la carte refers to a single item (1 taco). I can’t remember the names of everything post9(I neglected to get a photo of paper menu), but I got baked camembert as my entrée (also confusing, as this is what we know as an appetizer) and Jesse got a salad. We got different things so we could share them and taste more things. For les plats principals (main coupost8rses), I got cod with some sort of creamy sauce on it and saffron rice and Jesse got cassoulet (a traditional medieval peasant bean stew) with sausage and duck leg in it. Both were delicious, though Jesse’s was heartier and hit the spot after such a long day.

post12Dessert was fromage blanc and of course, the most famous of French desserts, crème brûlée. They were both delicious. Somehow the French creme brulee tasted lighter, more delicate and refined than any other I’d had before. It was also the perfect consistency – not too dense and custardy, but not under baked or runny. It was silky smooth and perfectly coated our mouths. The fromage blanc was also delicious and I am craving it as I write this. It was the perfect balance between tangy and sweet and had a refreshing, clean taste. It was a great finale to our first dinner experience in France. Actually, as we were eating, all we kept thinking was that we were eating our first French meal in France at a French restaurant in a French Castle at sunset. How freaking cool is that?! This whole post10day was mind blowing and unreal; this dining experience was just the icing on the cake. Jesse was having the time of his life, and I was thoroughly enjoying watching him experience a vast array of emotions. I’m not sure there’s much else in the world that would give him the adrenaline rush or high that exploring a castle did. I felt as I imagine many parents do while they watch their children wake up on Christmas post14morning; as much as I loved France, Carcassonne, the Castle, and the food, it was that much better because I was getting to watch Jesse experience it with so much joy and excitement.

After finishing out food, Jesse wanted to take one last walk through the castle and explore just a little bit more before the sun set completely. Much to our amusement, we passed a bunch of young adult who had bought wooden swords at one of the gift shops. They were having an epic sword fight that took them from the castle walls, down post15some stairs, and into a grassy patch. Their friends above cheered and taunted them on, and they all laughed hilariously as one guy pretended to die and the other excitedly proclaimed himself the victor. Jesse fought the urge to join in with them, though he couldn’t stop whispering to me how fun that looked and that he wanted to jump down and play with them. Had they all post16been 20 years younger, post17I’m sure that would’ve been completely socially appropriate.

Our walk took a little longer than expected, and it was getting dark by the time we headed out the gate and trekked back down the hill. As we got near the post18bridge to cross over the river, we saw police lights ahead. A little bit closer, and we saw the officers were stopping cars to protect a large procession of people walking though the intersection. They were gathering in front of a statute of Mary and singing to it. It was beautiful, and Jesse and I paused to watch. After they finished, the group continued walking, singing gently and carrying their lit candles. I was so glad to have experienced and seen something so unexpected, and it was a very poetic ending to our first day in France (I later learned they were celebrating the Assumption of Virgin Mary).