A Little Marseille

This is it, you guys. The final post about my trip to Europe back in September/October. I’ve only been blogging about it for 5 months now. I honestly had no idea it would take so long, but it was such a dense, wonderful trip, full of so many adventures and beautiful places. I wanted to do it justice. And here I am at the end. I’m a little sad about that. The trip is really over now. I guess it’s time to start planning my next one.

We really didn’t spend much time in Marseille. We used it more as a hub for visiting nearby Aix-en-Provence and Arles. But we ate dinner each night Marseille and did a little wandering. I have to say, though, that Marseille wasn’t our favorite city. However, I was just doing some google image searching to try and identify some photos I took and kept coming across one gorgeous photo after another and all sorts of worthwhile places to visit in Marseille that we missed. We blame construction and bad directions. The entire old port was under construction during our visit, so we didn’t get that picturesque view. And we tried to make it to Notre-Dame de la Garde one evening, but we couldn’t figure out the bus system. It was really confusing. And then there was the disappointing market.

I had read that some of the street markets were pretty amazing and similar to a Moroccan souk, but when we got to Marseille I couldn’t remember what it was called or when it was. We looked at a tourist guide and I thought I found the right one. So we walked there before going to Arles. It was quite a lovely walk. The thing that I loved most about Marseille wer the rows and rows of houses just like these.

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I just love those French windows and delicate wrought iron balconies. We also walked past this beautiful bell tower.

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And then when we got to the market… well, it just wasn’t quite what we expected. I was hoping for fruits, veggies, soaps, and spices, but I found stuff like this:

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Along with lots of shoes and luggage. Yeah, not the treasure trove or souk experience I was hoping for. So we went to Arles. When we got back, we went to explore more of Marseille. We stumbled across the Cantini Fountain.

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And some buildings that I liked the look of.

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But, like I said, we couldn’t figure out how to get to Notre-Dame de la Garde and just decided to head back to the apartment for some dinner and to get ready for our long trip home. But we had one thing we just had to do.

Everywhere we went in France, we saw beautiful carousels, and there was one right by our apartment. We had to go for a ride.

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And we had to get some more pastries while we still had the chance. We were low on euros, though, so we asked the store if they accepted credit cards. They would as long as we spent 15 euros. That actually buys quite a lot of pastries. And they were definitely worth it.

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So with that, the retelling of EuroAdventure 2012 comes to a close. But I’ve had so much fun writing about my travels that I’ve decided to start a whole separate blog dedicated to traveling. Don’t worry, I’ll still blog here about my everyday life. But if you’d like to follow my travel plans, daydreams, and adventures, feel free to pop over to Travel Is My Yes. Add it to your reader or subscribe by email. I’d be ever so grateful.

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Lovely Arles

I think we ended our three-week adventure in France and Germany on a high note. I really loved Arles. In trying to think of a word to describe why, I keep coming up with “comfortable” for some reason. I think I just felt really content wandering its streets. It was full of charming cafes and beautiful alleys. I liked the woman I bought a pain au chocolat from. She just seemed very friendly. I also liked the woman we bought a sandwich from for lunch. It was maybe the most amazing sandwich I had the whole trip made of fresh mozzarella, avocado, lemon, and herbs. Mmm… so good! And well… I’ll just let the photos do the talking.

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The symbol of Arles is the lion, and you could see them everywhere, from fountains to churches to the remains of a bridge over the Rhone River.

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We went to Arles originally because Van Gogh once lived there, and we wanted to follow in his footsteps for a bit. A cafe in Arles is recognizable from the famous Van Gogh painting Cafe Terrace at Night.

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Now it’s called Cafe Van Gogh in order to capitalize on the connection. It’s kind of disappointing, but I’m glad they at least kept it the bright yellow color. We sat on some steps across from the cafe to eat that delicious mozzarella and avocado sandwich.

We also stopped by the hospital where Van Gogh lived for a while after her cut off his ear. It’s depicted in Le Jardin de la Maison Sante a Arles.

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And we stumbled across a sculpture dedicated to Van Gogh while resting in a park.

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And when walking along the river, we saw – in the daylight – what inspired Starry Night Over the Rhone.

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But mostly, in addition to Roman ruins, we saw lots of beautiful streets and tiled rooftops.

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Roman Ruins in Arles

For our last day of our long vacation, we decided to visit Arles. We primarily wanted to go there because of the Van Gogh connection, but I was also excited to see the old Roman arena. I would have loved to see a bull fight there, but it wasn’t the season. Instead, we just got to wander around on our own and feel pretty amazed that we were climbing the steps that had existed for almost 2000 years. Wow… just let that sink in.

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In the 17th Century, they used the walls of the arena as protection and built within it.

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But now it looks like this.

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I got thoroughly turned around in there (all of the exits look the same!), but I did climb to the top of the tower and found an amazing view as my reward.

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From there, we wandered our way to the amphitheater.

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There were piles of columns and capitals just lying around.

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We could climb them or sit on them or just stare at them. It was all pretty wonderful.

Exploring Aix-en-Provence

I took the week off work to recover from my surgery, and I was really hoping to use it more productively. I mean, I know I had surgery, but it was just on my ear, right? But alas, I spent most of it in bed sleeping, reading, or watching movies. I just had no energy for doing anything at all productive. Not even something I enjoy as much as blogging. But it’s been a full week. I am feeling much more like my old self. My hearing is a thousand times better, and I’m ready to finish detailing my trip. That I began over 5 months ago. (Can you believe that?)

After two days in Nice and Antibes, we took a train to our final stop – Marseille. Once we hiked up 4 flights of stairs to our rented apartment and dropped off our stuff, we headed straight to the train station to spend the afternoon in Aix-en-Provence. We discovered that we could take the train or purchase a cheaper ticket for a bus that also left from the train station. We did that.

Confession: When I was researching for my cheat sheets, I ran out of time before I got to Marseille. And you could tell. We had to figure out everything as we went and were not quite as prepared as I would have liked. We really didn’t know what to expect from Aix (or Marseille in general). The bus dropped us off in what seemed like a random intersection. We had no idea where to go but followed everyone else into town. We knew we had arrived when we saw this fountain.

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That was exactly what I was expecting from Aix-en-Provence. But we ended up taking a wrong turn at this fountain and walked down a street that was not what we expected from Aix. One of those modern streets with a copy shop and travel agency or some other mundane business that reminds you that people really live in France. I really love seeing that side of a city when I’m traveling, but it wasn’t how I pictured Aix-en-Provence. From the photos I had seen, I imagined fountains and cafes and streets bathed in warm light and shops with old books and maybe bicycles. I pictured it being quiet and quaint.

It wasn’t like that at all. I mean, there were fountains and cafes and streets bathed in warm light, but there were also super noisy motorcycles zipping up what seemed like pedestrian streets and tons of people making lots of noise. It was bustling! Not sleepy. We got turned the right way, away from the mundane shops, and headed up toward the university.

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We stopped in a bookstore and some other shops, but I don’t know if it was just travel-weariness or what, but somehow, we were not loving Aix. We decided to head home early, but first we wanted to stop for a drink.

Then something happened. We happened to turn down a magical street. Suddenly, it seemed like the whole city changed. It was exactly what I was hoping from Aix-en-Provence.

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Maybe it was just relaxing in an outdoor cafe and sipping on an Orangina that made the difference, or maybe my attitude changed. As the trip was winding up, I was feeling really reflective about my experience. One of the things I was thinking about was my approach to a destination – do I go into it with preconceived notions? or allow it to unfold itself to me? Obviously, I usually do the former, and I started thinking about how I could do more to cultivate the latter.

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So I ended up enjoying my few hours in Aix-en-Provence, even if we had a terrible time trying to find our bus home. But we made it.

An Afternoon in Antibes

Even though I didn’t mind the rocky beaches of Nice, we were craving the traditional sandy beach experience, so we hopped on the train for a quick ride to Antibes.

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It’s a pretty easy walk from the station to the beach, but we went a little further to visit the Picasso Museum first. The museum is housed in the Chateau Grimaldi, and the collection there is pretty intimate. We were able to view everything within an hour. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside, and I made the mistake of not writing down the titles of my favorite pieces, so I can’t share them with you. But I can share the view from the balcony.

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I could stare at that water all day.

Just be careful not to dance your way off the edge.

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Antibes has a large English ex-pat community and plenty of other things to see, but we were eager to hit the beach.

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It was a little crowded, but we didn’t have a problem finding a spot to spread out. After reading for a while, I ventured into the water. It was chilly at first, but warmed up. I don’t go swimming that often. I was actually terrified of water and didn’t learn to swim until I was almost 10 years old. Since I’ve never lived by water, I didn’t spend much time in it, so I only have a few memories of swimming in open water. This was definitely one of the more magical ones. There’s something about floating in the Mediterranean surrounded by walls that are hundreds of years old.

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There were so many things in and around Nice that I wanted to see and do, but I have no regrets about the time we spent just relaxing and soaking in the sun.

French Riviera Boat Tour

Here’s the thing about Provence and the French Riviera – it’s huge! And I wanted to see so much of it. And I only had 3 days to do it. I knew it would be impossible to accomplish even one-tenth of all I wanted to, so I decided to not even try. I would have loved to wander the narrow streets of Villefranche or walk Nietzsche’s path down from Eze, but we were still in relax mode, so we settled for a boat tour of Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer. We had to walk through Vieux Nice to get to the harbor. Unfortunately, we were in such a hurry to make it to the tour on time that we didn’t get to see much.

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The captain/tour guide was hilarious and very informative. Also, I was very impressed that he gave all of the information in French, English, and Italian. I really thought I’d do a better job of remembering what he told us, but it’s been three months now, and I barely remember anything. Mostly, I just loved feeling the wind and the rock of the boat. But some of these houses (I can’t remember which ones now) belonged to Elton John, Tina Turner, Sean Connery, and some other rich and famous people.

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Did you notice the house in the bottom right has a slide down into the water? How awesome is that?

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Even though I didn’t get to walk the streets of Villefranche, I loved being able to see it from the harbor. All those colorful buildings stacked up against the mountains.

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Back to Nice, where we cruised past the Opera House and Hotel Negresco and million-dollar yachts and lighthouses and sunbathers.

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Next time I’m in the French Riviera (because I’m sure there will be a next time), I will have lots more to see, but for this trip, a relaxing boat tour was the perfect choice.

Nice: blue skies + blue seas = happiness

I hate to admit it, but by Strasbourg, we were kind of travel-weary. The weather had turned from sunny end of September to gray, rainy first day of October. I still had a pretty bad cold that was threatening bronchitis. Our feet hurt. We were craving some fresh veggies, and most of all, we were super tired of carrying around all of our luggage, and I was tired of constantly repacking my bag. I hate to complain because it was all still amazing, and I still loved seeing everything. I just really wished we had planned some more time to relax.

It’s a short flight from Strasbourg to Nice, but as soon as I saw that deep azure water below the wings, I felt the weariness fall away.

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And in the cab ride, with the windows rolled down, some up-beat music playing, everyone walking around in short sleeves and sandals, I felt completely re-energized. Of course, we had lots of plans for Nice. There was the Matisse Museum, the Chagall Museum, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral – not to mention some day trips to Eze and Villefranche and maybe even Monaco. But as soon as we saw that beach, we looked at each other and knew we weren’t doing anything except watching the waves. As soon as we checked into our hotel, we changed into more beach-appropriate attire and hit the shore.

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The beaches in Nice are actually rocky. I kind of loved it. It wasn’t the most comfortable for lying on, and of course I missed the sand in my toes, but I also enjoyed the hot rocks against my skin, and I really appreciated that I didn’t have to worry about sand in my camera.

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Obviously what we should have done is paid for a chair under an umbrella at one of the private beaches and ordered drinks at our leisure, but we hadn’t learned the ropes yet. After an hour or so relaxing on the beach, we decided it was about time to see a little more of Nice, so we walked up the promenade.

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But we were still in relax mode, so we didn’t go too far. After dinner on the promenade, we walked down by the shore and just watched the waves crash. Why is that one of the best things in the world? I could seriously just watch them for ours.

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I have debated with friends before about the virtues of a city vacation vs. a beach vacation, and to be honest, I’ve always come out on the side of the city vacation. You may have noticed that I love the museums, the churches, the street scenes, and all the activity. A beach vacation never much appealed to me because I couldn’t imagine spending all day just relaxing by the water. Visiting the Cote d’Azure at the end of our long vacation was the perfect combination of city and beach.