Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Mystical Bum of Centre Bourse

Every time we go to the Centre Bourse, there is a man sitting outside, on the steps, asking people for money. Being from NYC, we just ignore him, but the French take time to talk to him. We see, women, kids (one even kissed his cheek), sitting down and chatting with the man. One woman the other day apologized to him in a very kind way for not having any money to give him.

Today, he was actually inside the Centre Bourse at the Cafe.

We are intrigued by this man. Is he homeless? Is he wise and that is why people stop to talk? Is he magical?

What do people talk to him about?

Very interesting.

Communication Notice

We will be moving into our new apartment on Nov. 4th. Unfortunately, we will not have internet, phone, or TV for 10 to 21 days. The French telecom companies here are lacking in customer service, and we can't get our account set up prior to moving in. Our wonderful landlady did her best to get it set up, but the companies wouldn't do it.

We will have to find an internet cafe to use in the meantime, and will have to rely on our friend Nell to get the results of the election.

The good news is that we will have Freebox, which is a company that will allow us to call to the US using our phone for free. Happy about that at least.

Just wanted to let everyone know that communication with us will be sparse for the next few weeks.

French TV

Chris and I do not watch television very much here, but I wanted to blog about what we have watched so far.

The stations we receive here at the Citadine are quite mixed. In English, we have CNN International and BBC International. There is a movie channel that occasionally shows American or British movies. Today, I found that the German channel has news in English as well.

We also have MTV which is in French, but some of the shows are English dubbed over in French. So when we are watching a show on MTV, we can hear both the English speakers and the French dub over at the same time. It makes it difficult to watch, listening to two languages simultaneously. The music videos are a mix of American and world singers. MTV here is just like it is in the US...they play the same music videos every single day. Chris & I have come to the conclusion that French artists shouldn't rap.

There is one show on MTV that we have watched a couple of times now called "Kiffe ma mere", which I think means "Date my Mom". It's English dubbed over and the show is absolutely ridiculous! We only watch it when it's on because it's just so scripted and absurd that it makes us laugh.

CNN and BBC International are all gloom and doom, so we only watch those to see what the euro to dollar rate is on any day. We have found we can watch Daily Show online so we can get real news there. :)

The French stations during the day love to show game shows, dubbed American soaps, cartoons, and home shopping shows. The home shopping shows are so funny. We watched one today that was for men's hair growth cream. The informercial looked like it was created in the 70's.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Our trip to the Iles du Frioul (10/26/08)

Our plan for the day was to have moules frites (steamed mussels with French fires) on the Vieux Port at Cafe Collins. We were craving this delicious dish since we hadn't had it since our first week here in France.

As we were getting up, we discussed going on a boat ride sometime in the week. We could go on one that took us to Chateau D'If, or to the islands of Frioul, or even over to Cassis through the Calanques. On our way to the cafe, we realized that it was such a gorgeous day out that we should do the boat ride today instead of waiting until Monday or Tuesday.

Sundays are not the best for visiting the port. It's very crowded, and we were amazed to get a table at the cafe. Lunch at Collins took two hours, which is typical here in France. We sat outside in the direct sunlight, which bothered Chris. Luckily he didn't get badly burned. The food and drinks were delicious as always.

After lunch, we went over to buy our tickets for the boat trip. The line wasn't too long. I felt bad for the couple in front of us though. The woman looked to be 7 months pregnant, and they would not sell them tickets because of it. Even though I don't know French, I could tell that they were telling her that their insurance would not cover her and the baby if something went wrong, so she was not allowed to go on the boat.

We wanted to go to Chateau D'If and Frioul, but I guess we got there too late in the day. So we purchased tickets to Frioul and had about a half an hour to kill.

Around the port, there was a small market of local items...soaps, Provencal dishware and table cloths, candy, cookies, shirts, and touristy items. We looked through the items for a little while as we waited for our boat ride.

We walked back over to get in line for the boat. We learned that Europeans do not know how to form lines very well. Everyone just crowded around the entry gate and waited. Some people would walk right in front of others to get closer to the entry way, even though to us that was cutting in line. We were patient though, and soon, they let us on the boat. Chris and I grabbed seats in the back.

I was thrilled to be out on a boat on such a lovely day, but the journey had deeper significance for Chris. The man who studies piracy in the Mediterranean was finally out on the sea.

We eased out of the port and towards Chateau D'If. We had to let some passengers off there and pick some others up before going to Frioul. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and there were lots of sail boats out enjoying the calm waters. Being on the Mediterranean is like being on a lake. It's unbelievable still. The color is a beautiful turquoise.

We arrived at Frioul islands in about 30 minutes. Frioul is an archipelago of small islands off the coast of Marseille. There are four islands, Pom├Ęgues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen. We spent most of our time on Ratonneau. The islands look like craggy cliffs of limestone coming out of the sea. The islands are pretty desolate, with few trees, only a couple of houses and cafes, and ruins of a couple of forts, military buildings, and a hospital perched on the top of the cliffs.

We disembarked and really didn't know what direction to go. Like sheep, we followed others who were walking along a road. We came to a fork in the path, and one couple veered off towards some calanques. We decided to follow them since that path looked more interesting. The word "calanque" means inlet. The path led us to a small beach where a few people were sunning themselves, and kids were playing on the rocks near the water. I wanted to touch the Mediterranean, but the beach was kind of dirty due to litter, so I decided to wait until we found a cleaner location.

We turned around and saw a path leading straight up the cliffs. No one else was headed up there, so we thought it would be good to hike alone to the top. As we started heading upwards (not an easy feat as the path was rather steep and the gravel wasn't easy to maneuver). Half way up we decided to veer off the path and go on a path that looked like it wasn't hiked very often. There was a group of Asian tourists following our lead up the hill, and we didn't figure they would continue following if we went off the main path. We were right. They went another direction, and we continued our hike to the top.

Once at the top, we looked and straight down was another calanque with a sailboat. The view from the top was incredible. We could see in all directions. Chris was nervous whenever I got close to the edge. We took a few pictures then continued towards the fort. We came to a very small fence that seemed to block our way over to the fort. We did not want to go down the hill again just to walk back up, so we just went around the fence. The good thing about Frioul is you can pretty much do and go where ever you want.

We hiked over to the ruins of an old fort. According to our Provence guide book, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the island was a place of quarantine for those suspected of having cholera or the plague. Germans used this island during WWII. The ruins of Fort Ratonneau and Hopital Caroline can be found here.

The ruins of fort were really fun to explore. Some of it was fenced off, but most of it was open for us to check out. We should have brought a flashlight with us, because some of the rooms were too dark to go into. I used the flash on my camera to get some idea of what was inside.

After we finished looking around the fort, we found a path leading down another calanque, so we hiked down towards the sea. We deviated from the path, once again, and walked down to a beautiful, secluded inlet. It would have been a perfect spot to swim (and we plan on doing that when it gets warmer). I finally got my chance to touch the sea! We found some shells around the rocks, and a couple of dead sea gulls (the gulls on this island are called Caspian Gulls). We found lots of bones around too, probably from seagulls.

The sun was starting to set, and we still hadn't made our way over to the hospital. We started hiking over there, and came across a beach with sand (sand seems to be a rare find here as most beaches we have found have rocks). This beach was like the last, littered. I don't know why people can't pick up after themselves. There are only three things that really upset me here in Marseille....people do not pick up after their dogs on the sidewalks, they love throwing trash into the water at the port and apparently, around Frioul, and graffiti (which we didn't find on Frioul, but there is alot in Marseille).

Since the sun was going down, we decided to save the hospital for next time and head back to the port to get the boat back to Marseille. We found a path leading back that went past some old military buildings. They were all fenced off and there were signs saying "Danger of Death" if you went in.

Once back at the port, we got "in line" and waited only about 10 min or so for the boat back. Everyone piled onto the boat...cutting in line, and smooshing themselves through the entry gate. The guy letting people through the gate stopped me and almost didn't let Chris and I on (which was going to really make us mad since there were a few people that cut in front of us earlier that they let on the boat before us). Since it was just the two of us, they let us on. We watched the sun go down as we left the islands.

We had a wonderful trip, and cannot wait to go back and explore the islands some more! The trip was pretty inexpensive, 10 euros per person. Worth every centime! :)

Lots of pictures from our day. I had to separate them when uploading into multiple albums.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cooking...French Style

Our tiny kitchen in our Citadine apartment has very limited cooking utensils. We have a frying pan, one medium and one small pot, one spatula, one large plastic spoon, and a colander. With only two stove tops and a microwave, you can imagine we are not able to cook as elaborately as we would like.

Something that is also missing are measuring cups and spoons. These are items that we have grown accustomed to using every day in the states. Since we don't have these items in our kitchen, we have found a few things that are good substitutes. For example, we had a dessert that came in a small, glass dish, that we figured out was the equivalent of 1/2 cup.

Yesterday, Chris and I went into a kitchen store to buy some measuring cups and spoons. Chris was a little unsure of the French to ask the store clerk what we were looking for. The clerk actually knew some English, so we explained that we needed measuring cups and measuring spoons. He looked at us quizzically as we attempted to explain what we meant. He took us to one part of the store that didn't have anything close to what we were needing. We continued going back and forth, both in French and English, telling him what we wanted. He went and asked a sales woman, and she looked at us like we were crazy. Eventually, we just came to the conclusion that they do not have these things and we should leave the store. We walked out wondering how do the French cook without these things??

Once we were back at the Citadine, we asked the girl at the front desk, in English, if the French used measuring cups and spoons. She also looked at us with a puzzled look. After muddling through an explanation with her, she told us that the French use a large measuring cup, but they didn't use measuring spoons.

I suppose the French are just so good at cooking, they just throw things together. We Americans are a bit more on the anal side and have to have things exact when following a recipe. Guess Chris and I will just have to be more flexible with cooking.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Visiting Notre Dame de la Guarde (10/25/08)

It was a gorgeous day today (which was very welcome as the past 3 days were quite gloomy), so we decided to head up to Notre Dame de la Guarde for the afternoon. We stopped in at the Office du Tourisme for information on how to take the bus up to it. We were told to catch the 60 bus across the street. We found the bus stop and hopped on. This was our first time on a Marseille local bus, and it wasn't the most pleasant experience. The buses here are a lot smaller than the one's in NYC, and there is very limited seating. Instead of bars running across the top to hold on to, there are only a few poles throughout the bus. We were crammed in like sardines, and there was NO air conditioning!

I was holding on to a pole with both hands to keep myself from falling over onto the woman sitting down in front of me. A French woman leaned over to Chris and said, in English, "Tell her to keep one hand on her purse while riding the bus at all times" and that she had someone get into her purse once while riding the bus. I did what she said, although it made it much more difficult to hold on to the pole while the bus was weaving up the hill on very tiny streets.

By the time we got up to the top of the hill, sweat was running down my forehead and back, and I was ready to get off the crazy bus. We hopped off and took in the unbelievable view of Marseille and the sea.

We could see everything from up there, and being that it was a perfect day (no clouds, 70 degrees), the view was breathtaking. The cathedral itself was something to behold. I wanted to look around the outside of the building first, before going in. We could see Chateau D'If, the island of Frioul, the Vieux Port, mountains surrouding the city, and of course the beautiful Mediterranean sea.

We followed some people inside the cathedral into a small room with candles and statues of Jesus and Mary. People were lighting candles and saying prayers. The next room was labled as a crypt, but it seemed more like a prayer room to us. There was an alter that looked like a crypt.

We exited the building and went another story up to the entry to the main hall. We crossed over the tiny drawbridge, went through the revolving doors, and into the main hall. It was quite packed, and it took us a few minutes to realize that they were actually holding mass. We stood to the side and listened to the service for a little while. I have never been in a cathedral quite like this. The inside is hard to describe, and the pictures I took do not do it justice. The thing that caught our attention was the model ships hanging down from the ceiling. Chris noticed that the priest said something about watching over fishermen in his prayer.

I wouldn't have wanted to be attending mass there with all the tourists coming in and out, talking, and taking pictures. Yes, I was one of the tourists, but I was as discrete as possible with my camera.

We exited the building and stepped into the gift shop for a bit. They had some interesting books on Christmas in Provence to thumb through.

We decided to forego the bus ride down, and walk home. The walk was nice, but very steep and all downhill. We really got a workout! It only took about 30 minutes to get back to the port. We hopped into a grocery to get some food for dinner (trout, shrimp, bread, and some appetizers).

Pictures can be found here

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For all you yarnies out there...

OK, did I lose any readers from the title of my post? Hope not. :)

After spending most of the last 3 days inside, I was VERY happy to meet my new French friend, Fannie (say that 3 times fast), for a morning of yarn shopping. Even though I still have two sweaters to finish, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out the LYS (local yarn shops) and pick up some French fiber with Fannie (OK, promise, no more tongue twisters).

We started with Phildar in the Cours Julien, which is a chain of yarn shops here in France. I had already visited a location in Aix, but really didn't know much about the store when I was in there. Fannie told me how knitting was more popular here in France in the 70's, but then died out in the 80's and is still recovering today. Phildar has mostly mixed yarn (meaning that it's acrylic and another fiber which could be cotten, wool, lambswool, etc.). The store also has clothing in it, which is quite different from the yarn stores in the US. I wasn't too impressed with the selection, as I'm not a big fan of acryic or wool, but I felt I had to pick up something (and the prices were quite inexpensive). I found some nice pink yarn to make some handwarmers.

Our next stop was around the corner to Bouton D'Or. This store was more my style, as it had more yarn than clothing, lots of natural fibers, and some fibers I had never seen yak and camel. Yak is on par with wool in it's itchiness factor (I'm very sensitive to wool). Camel, on the other hand, is more like baby alpaca, SO SOFT and the colors were gorgeous. I bypassed buying some camel this time, as I need to find a good pattern for it. I did buy some lovely baby alpaca (alpaga in French) yarn in two different colors for a scarf I want to make.

Our third store was somewhere in the city (I was a bit lost at that point). This store wasn't anything special. Most of the store was clothing, and most of the yarns were behind the counter where you couldn't touch them or look at them closely without asking the ladies for help. They did have some very nice knitting needles (very expensive too). We moved on to our last yarn shop for the day.

The last store, which actually is not far from where we are staying now, was the La Droguerie. When we walked in, I knew I was in a yarn store with the woman at the front desk knitting away, and the HUGE variety yarns along the wall. This store not only caters to yarnies, but also to those who make their own jewelry, and who are into other crafts. They have a large selection of buttons, but most impressive, was the wide range of colorful yarns. I found some bamboo yarn that I will purchase at a later date that was a great combination of blues. Fannie tells me there is another branch in Paris that has lines out the door of people waiting to get in.

After our yarn shopping, Fannie showed me some interesting shops around the city for kitchen goodies, herbs, spices, teas, milk & eggs, the Asian market, and the clothing market at the Cours Julien. We finished our trek with coffee at a cafe in the neighborhood. For those of you who don't know, I met Fannie on Ravelry, an online knitting community. I started chatting with her prior to moving here to Marseille, and she has been a tremendous help in moving here. I'm very happy to have met her.

Love/Dislike Relationship with Maids

Having a maid has it's perks...less laundry to do, we don't have to do the cleaning, and dishes get done without complaint.

However, there are some disadvantages to having a maid too. For one, we have to put Oreo in his carrier and go down to the lounge for 30-45 minutes while they clean our room. It is very annoying not know what time they will show up. We had thought we had the schedule figured out...before noon on Wednesdays. However, this week no maid on Wednesday. Thursday waited around, and still no maid. We asked the front desk when we could expect her, and he was as puzzled as us. He said she would come sometime Friday, but couldn't give us a time.

Friday, we waited, and waited, and she finally came in the afternoon. We left the room and came back to find that some things were...well, different. Little things that most people wouldn't notice. Like the toilet paper we had purchased not being on the roll anymore...and instead, the nasty, hotel toilet paper being there. (I guess she just threw the rest of our toilet paper that was on the roll away?). The maid also will not let handsoap be in the kitchen. Since our water closet isn't next to the bathroom, Chris puts a little bar of soap in the kitchen for us to wash our hands. The maid continues to remove the bar of soap (again, I guess she throws it away), and put new soap in the bathroom.

Another thing she did this time, which was rather funny, was that when we opened our bed, what did we find? Chocolates? No. We found a cigarette lighter. Now, I know the French like to smoke, but they didn't need to leave us a lighter on our bed. (I think it must have just slipped out of her pocket, but it was funny nonetheless.)

We have one more maid visit before we move to our new place. We'll see what happens that time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Learning about food continues...

We learned Monday that refridgerators do not work the same here as they do in the states.

Friday evening, we had bought some chicken and mushrooms at the grocery to fix over the weekend. We didn't get around to making them, so Monday for lunch I pulled both out to cook. The mushrooms were slimy and smelled awful. When I opened the chicken, the smell was disgusting! At first, we just figured we can't buy food and have it sit for that many days here (as the food is so fresh), but that wasn't the whole story.

When we arrived here at the Citadine, Chris didn't think the fridge was cool enough, so he turned the dial down to one and a half, thinking that it needed to be closer to zero to be cold. We learned the hard way that we had actually turned the temperature in the fridge up by doing that, so our food was not staying cold enough. It actually neede to be turned to at least 3 or 4 to be cold enough for the food and freezer. At least not EVERYTHING in the fridge had to be disgarded.

Sunday evening I broke down and told Chris he could go get McDonald's if he wanted to. He kept saying how the food at McDonald's here tastes better than in the states, so I wanted to see if that was true. Let me tell you, there is NO DIFFERENCE. :) It still tastes like fast food. Chris did find out that the guy at the cash register knew English better than some of the people working at McDonald's in the Bronx. hahaha

I'm the kind of person who likes to read ingredient labels before purchasing foods. It's more difficult for me now since I don't know French, but I'm starting to figure out what the labels say. I have found out that the French don't seem to use high fructose corn syrup here in their foods and drinks...which is fantastic! I really wish the US would adopt this practice, as everything there is made with this nasty stuff. Here, they use sugar to sweeten things so the food tastes so much better. Ketchup is SO good (a lot like the Whole Foods brand actually).

Chris has a new favorite saying "Do you want to make a duck?" While reading the book "Pardon my French", we learned that "to make a duck" means to take a sugar cube, stick it in some coffee or tea, and then suck the liquid from the cube. You can only do this about 2 times before the "duck" disintigrates.

Another thing that surprises me is that you can't find bacon in the grocery. Well, OK, not entirely true...they do have bacon, but it's pre-cooked bacon that doesn't look very good. I can't find just raw bacon to cook for breakfast.

Last, but not least, toast. Chris cooked toast the other morning (I leave the word "French" off the front of it because being that we are actually in France, do you still call it "French toast"? It was SO delicious! He used a baguette and let the ingredients soak over night. We found some maple syrup at the grocery (it was from Canada). Now, I just have to have crepes sometime soon!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pictures for you to see

It's taken me forever to get my pictures uploaded on this slow internet connection.

For pictures of Palais Longchamp, go to

For pictures of our trip to Aix, go to

Food and drink continued...

When we were in Aix, Chris found the drink Irn Bru in the international bookstore. He wanted me to take this picture specifically for Ryan & Natalie, since it is a British drink that Ryan loves.

This is the meal Chris cooked last night. Pork chops, green beans, and what we thought was sweet potatoes. However, when we cut into them...
We found out that they were something else! They were a combination of white and sweet potatoes. We didn't really like them. The Bordeaux we had was excellent with the food...and Chris even used some of it make a sauce for the pork chops.

The dessert here has been fantastic! Yesterday, we had pain de chocolate which is like a croissant with chocolate inside. We like to buy bars of chocolate at the grocery with different things inside of them...liquors, fruits, cacao beans. Last night we had mini cheesecakes with blueberries that we bought at the grocery. The chocolate mousse is also very good. The next thing I want to get is nutella crepes. They have stands all over the city where they sell these on the streets and they smell so yummy.

Even with the rich food and drinks, I don't think we are putting on too much weight. :) We walk a lot in the city and always walking back and forth to the grocery carrying our items. When we move to our new apartment, we will stay nice and fit as we have a 5th floor walkup!

Food and Drink in France

Chris & I are thoroughly enjoying the food and drink here in Marseille. We have not only gone to some wonderful cafes and restaurants, but have also cooked some delicious meals at home.

This was a meal that Chris cooked for us. He made pork chops with a tomato/red wine sauce. The vegetables you see are Legumes Noisettes...vegetable nuts. They are balls of carrot and broccoli that are breaded. They are frozen, and very easy to cook up on the stove.
To drink...a wondeful Bordeaux wine.

This is our nightly ritual...dinner in front of a movie or TV show online. This is one of my favorite breast! We can buy a breast of duck for 5 euros and split it between the two of us. Chris also cooked some spanish green beans, and we had hummus for an appetizer.

The wine is a rose Bordeaux that was excellent.

I should have taken a picture of the French toast Chris made me this morning. (I guess we would still call it French toast even when eaten here in France). :)

We love buying little foods to make up meals. For example, the other night I bought a salad that had smoked salmon, shrimp and pamplemousse (which is my new favorite word meaning "grapefruit"), a baguette, some Manchego cheese from Spain, salmon egg and cream cheese spread, an olive tapenade, hummus, and quince preserves.

Speaking of quince, if you have never had this delectable fruit, you MUST! Just don't eat it raw or you will have cotton mouth. We bought two the other night, and some raw sugar cubes and cooked it all together like applesauce. It was SO good!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our new French Apartment

We are happy to announce that we have signed for an apartment here in France! We will not be able to move in until Nov 4th, but very happy that the shopping is over. We have learned a lot from this process, and it's been quite the adventure.

Our new place is lovely! It is centrally located to everything we need (metro, grocery, markets, shopping, etc.). Allow us to give you a picture tour of our new home.

In the above picture, you can see the door to the apartment, the kitchen, the dining table, and part of the living room.
This picture shows the desk, faux fireplace, living room.

The windows you see here open up onto our balcony. The French do not have screens in their windows, so when these windows are open, Oreo could just walk right out onto the balcony.

This is our bathroom. To the right, there is a small washing machine. The French also don't use dryers, so we will hang our clothes off the clothes lines (balcony). The window made up of cubes on the left looks into the living room. The bathtub has a shower head that one can pick up to use...but no shower curtain. So I guess we take baths and use the shower hose to rinse off? Still not sure how that works exactly...without getting water all over the place.

Last, but not least, this is our bedroom. We have a bed, closet, and a window. The window is a bit dangerous for Oreo because it leads out onto the roofs of other buildings. We will have have to rig it somehow so he doesn't become a cat on a hot tile roof!

We will have to get some pictures of the outside to send once we move in.

We did learn a lot from apartment shopping here in Marseille.

1. In France, most rentors and real estate agents require that you make 3x the monthly rent or have a French guarantor (guarantors from the US do not count). We found out that most people will accept you paying the full year rent up front to get a place to bypass this rule. Our landlady is wonderful and was fine with our income.

2. There is a habitation tax here that varies around the city. So to live here at the Citadine, we have to pay 1 euro a day for me (wife tax) and 5 euros per day for Oreo. At our new place it will be less.

3. To rent in Marseille, it's good to have renter's insurance and also civil insurance. The civil insurance is in case you cause an accident to someone else, or hurt someone while here, the insurance covers it. It's very strange, and I guess it even covers Oreo in case he were to jump out the window and attack someone.

4. It's good to have a French bank account set up prior to actually moving to the country. We got started on this process late, so didn't have an account for a while which is difficult when you are wanting to rent an apartment.

5. We had thought about finding an place prior to moving here through the internet, and Chris & I are both glad that we waited to find a place in person. Although this has been a big stressor over the past few has been helpful to be here to see the apartments, explore the neighborhoods, and get a feel for what we wanted in an apartment.

Our Day in Aix en Provence (Oct 16)

This morning, we took the bus to Aix en Provence. The bus stop is actually just up the street from the Citadine. There is a bus that runs every 5 min, one that is every 10 min, and another that is every 20 min. We didn't have to wait at all to get on the bus. We paid for our ride as soon as we stepped on. The bus was nice, except it was hot (they don't seem to use air conditioning here), and it smelled like arm pits.

The trip to Aix was only about 30 or so minutes long. The view out the bus window was interesting...we saw the Northern part of Marseille, many hills and small towns, and some farm land.

We walked from the bus stop over to one of the buildings of the Universite de Mediterranae to meet with Chris' sponsor, Thierry. I think we walked at least a mile to get there. Thierry was very welcoming and nice. Chris chatted with him for a little while, and I just sat in the room, knitting. He showed us around the place, and helped Chris get a library card. He introduced us to a few of the other professors, and even offered Chris an office there! Thierry bought us some tea and we chatted about the area. He and Chris spoke French to each other, but I could understand a lot of what they were saying.

After we finished there, we walked back past the bus stop into the main area of the city. We found a little cafe that was serving cassoulet as their plat du jour (plate of the day). Chris tells me that cassoulet is different depending on where you order it. We were given a plate of white beans, with a leg of duck and a sausage link. The sauce on the meal was SO good! I really loved the meal. It came with dessert, so we had creme caramel, which is similar to flan. Again, SO good!

We left there and wandered around. We had imagined Aix to be an old village, with little stores filled with lavender products, kitchy items, and antiques. We were quite surprised that part of the city is very new...and it reminded me a lot of a shopping area in San Diego in the style. There were a lot of well known stores and brand new apartments above the stores. We found a store called Phildar, that sells yarn (which made me very happy). Chris asked the shop owner how to get to the historic district, and she told him how. The historic district was more like we had imagined, except no stores like we expected...just more name brand, high-end stores filled with clothes, purses, and shoes.

We happened upon an international book store that was filled with books in English. We met two girls studying in Aix from CA, and an older couple who was also from CA visiting France for 3 weeks. The best find there was a can of pumpkin. I had been looking all over Marseille for pumpkin (canned or fresh) since it's fall. I wanted to make some pumpkin pasta and have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. They just don't have pumpkin here. So when I saw the can of pumpkin....I had to buy it. The catch was it was 5 euros for a can!! Yes, very silly purchase, but something I will never forget.

We passed a real esate agent office on one of the side streets that had some amazing houses listed. One was a house for 3 million euros! I had to take a few pictures of the advertisements because it was so odd to find million euro houses listed on a side street that really had nothing else on it.

We hopped the bus back to Marseille, and thank goodness this one had air conditioning! We got back to Marseille in about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apartment Shopping, Glacier, and our visit to Palais Longchamp

Chris and I have been quite busy looking for an apartment lately. We are going to view one tonight that we think is "the one"! The pictures are amazing, and I'm sure we will love everything about it when we see it. The good news is that it's not through a real estate agent (no fees and we don't have to pay the full 8 months up front) the woman renting it speaks English! I'm very happy!

We haven't done much otherwise over the past few days. Sunday we lounged around. Monday, we took a walk along the port during the afternoon. We saw some men playing petanque (bocce ball). It was a coudy day over the Mediterranean, but still beautiful.

Yesterday, we decided to have lunch at Pizzaria Maga...I have yet to have Provencal pizza...but unfortunately, we got there too late (3pm). Lunch in restaurants and cafes are served from noon to 2pm. Then food is not served again until 7pm. You can order drinks anytime, anywhere, but not food.

We found a little cafe called "Tarte Julie" that was serving tarts, so we ordered a couple of slices. Chris had one that was a tarte with onion, anchovies, and herbs. Mine was more like a quiche with egg, chicken, lemon, and mint. They were very good, but we were still very hungry after finishing. We ordered a chocolate tarte for desert that came with the most amazing vanilla glacier (ice cream) that I have ever had! It also had British cream on the plate. I had to refrain from licking the plate clean!

After lunch, we took the tram over to the neighborhood of the first apartment to get a feel for it. The neighborhood was eh, and it really made me think that we really don't want to live in that area. We really do love the tramway here. It's so clean, easy, and fast! Marseille is working on adding more tram lines.

Next, we went to the Palais Longchamp. This is one of my new favorite places here in Marseille! At first glance, I was awestruck by the huge entry, waterfall, and interesting statues. The place had a very ancient feel to it. It was actually built in 1862 as a water tower for the Durance River being led into Marseille. You can read about the history at

We walked up the steps, past the grand entry way, into the park. There use to be a botanical garden and a zoo on the grounds. The zoo was done away with years ago, although some of the cages are still there. Now it's a huge park with different trees, and waterfalls.

There were a lot stray cats around, and a few people feeding them (the older Marseilles people like to feed the stray cats, so none of them look malnourished).

We found a couple of trees changing color, which made me very happy since I'm missing Fall in the US. We found a small carosel with a few children and, I kid you not, they were playing "Let's Get it On" by Marvin Gaye! I had to make a video of this so people would believe me, but not sure how to post the video on here. It was hilarious!!!

We saw an older man with a Conestoga wagon led by a pony, with two ponies tied to the back. He seemed to be giving free pony rides around to children.

There were lots of families in the park. TONS of adorable French babies!

After we finished with our walk, we came back home and relaxed before dinner. Chris cooked a duck breast (my favorite) with some Spanish green beans. The rest of the evening was spent chatting online with Chris' parents and I did a little knitting.

PICTURES can be found at

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Our week

It's hard to believe we have now been here in France for over a week. Time seems to fly by here.

This week, we spent time looking for an apartment. We viewed two nice places, and met with real estate agents. We are waiting to hear back from them. One of the apartments would be absolutely had everything, fully equiped kitchen, balcony with a view of Notre Dame de la garde, living room, bathroom, bedroom with a view of the mountains, washing machine (which is a huge plus for me), and dishwasher (another plus).

We haven't done too much besides grocery shop, look for apartments, and explore a bit. We had lunch the other day at a pizzaria in the Prado...great neighborhood with a huge outdoor market. We had supion (fried cuttlefish) that were oh so yummy. The inside of the restaurant was very Provencal, with the colors and decorations. I thought it funny that two men came in for lunch and ordered whiskies.

The other night, Chris cooked a wonderful meal of duck breast, spinach balls (will have to take a picture of them so you know what I'm talking about), bread and wine. Duck is one of my favorite foods, and he did an excellent job of cooking it medium rare.

The other night, we went to a bar at the Vieux Port where we met Nell, who is a fullbright student here living with her husband. They are from New Jersey. The bar was very old...I can imagine sailors once frequented it. Nell chose a lovely table near the window where we had a beautiful view of Notre Dame up on the hill, and the port below. We had les aperos along with tappas (nice thing about ordering drinks here is that you get tappas as well). The tappas included mini shrimp, tomatoes with other veggies, endive with gorganzola, and olives.

Today, we walked over to the Cours Julien neighborhood. It was an uphill walk to the area, but well worth it. The neighborhood is very bohemian...or hippy. Lots of used bookstores and a market of used books. Lots of people sitting outside enjoying the air, and ruining it by smoking. It would be a nice area to live.

The weather here is lovely, so warm and sunny. It is quite a bit warmer than I had expected, and I really wish I had packed differently.

Oreo has taken up residence on the bathroom sink. He does not like it when we have the window open, as he can hear children and other people outside.

Something I have noticed here is that the people are very relaxed when walking around and riding the metro. It's not like in NYC, where people are rushing around, practically running into you, and waiting impatiently for the subway to come then pushing you out of the way to get on and get a seat. The French here in Marseille saunter down the street to their destinations. They wait for the metro, without constantly looking down the track for the train. They don't run past you on the steps or on the escalators. It's really refreshing coming from the fast paced city of New York.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Interesting things about Marseille...

I just wanted to note some things that we have noticed being here in Marseille...

*When waiting to cross the streets, the walk sign does not flash before it turns from "walk" to "don't walk," so you really don't know how much time you have to cross the street.

*Chris bought a Cherry Coke today, and the ingredients are different from Coke in the US. They do not put high fructose corn syrup in their soft drinks, which is GREAT (since that stuff is so unhealthy).

*Everyone says "Bonjour" (hello) to you as you pass. Very polite here.

*The city (except restaurants) shut down between noon and 2pm and then again after 5pm. The French take time for lunch and dinner. You will find people sitting at the restaurants and cafes for hours, drinking and smoking and relaxing.

*The only fast food that I have seen here is City Burger and McDonald's. Neither of which we have visited, or plan on visiting. (Chris would say differently).

*The younger girls lock arms to walk everywhere.

*They serve alcohol everywhere, even at Haagen Dazs and at the mall. No one cards you when you order a drink.

*Between 2pm and 7pm, there is food available, but only certain kinds of food. For snacks, the French eat crepes (these can either be sweet with fruit or nutella, or savory with cheese and meat), ice cream (this isn't just a scoop of ice cream...they are artistically done in a chalice and typically 2 or 3 scoops), salads (not exactly healthy salads when they have lots of goat cheese or bacon on them), and some tapas (small items taken from Spanish cuisine).

*Bread is served with everything...even drinks.

*I don't know how the French stay thin, considering the amount of dairy these people intake. There are 2 aisles for yogurt alone in the grocery.

*We found horse meat (steaks, ground meat, and liver) in the grocery!

*Milk and eggs are not refridgerated in the grocery.

*The handle-bar mustache is big with taxi drivers and brasserie waiters.

*People are friendly here. They joke a lot, and willing to help you with any question you ask.

*Most people we have come across have been able to communicate with us in English.

*In restaurants, small wine glasses are used for any drink.

*Mineral water is the water of choice, although spring water is cheaper. The French typically order a carafe d'eau...which is a carafe of free tap water.

*Alcohol is cheaper than bottled mineral water.

*Majority of the people smoke...Marlboro's.

*There are a lot of sunny days here, but very few people wear sunglasses.

6 octobre

Chris contacted some real estate agents today, but didn't have much luck in finding a place to view. So we decided to head out and explore some more.

We walked back to the Vieux Port, and then up to Le Pharo, which is a palace up on a hill overlooking the port. It was a bit of walk up there, but well worth it. From the top of the hill, we could see the mountains, the sea, the port, and so much more. We walked along a path to get a closer view of the Mediterranean. The sky was perfectly clear and blue, as was the sea.

Chris led me down the road to one of the public beaches. There were a few people on the sand, and only one woman wading in the water. A few naked kids played in the sand, and one top-less woman sunned herself. It was around 73 degrees outside.

Back at the port, we found out that the French do not serve dinner before 7pm. Before that time, you only have les apero (aperitifs: drinks prior to dinner). Chris and I waundered around looking at the dinner menus (like in NY, the restaurants post their menus on the sidewalk so you can look as you walk by). We continued walking and found ourselves on a street very similar to Broadway in Greenwich Village...a street filled with shops. Many of the shops were the same as in NY.

We wound back to the port, and decided we would find a place to sit and relax before dinner. We stopped at a brasserie for apero. Chris had a pastis (anise flavored drink) and I had a glass of rose vin. The sun was starting to set, and we definitely wanted to wait before getting dinner until after the sun went down over the port. As we walked along the port, past all the cafes, everyone would sit facing the sun, even if two people were sitting at a table together talking, they would sit side by side facing the sunset.

We found an Indian restaurant for dinner, and to my luck, they spoke English. The food was delicious and the prices were very decent.

We walked back to the Citadine in the dark, which was fun because we got to see the port and streets lit up at night. There are a lot of blue lights everywhere. We felt completely safe walking back through unknown streets. Coming from the Bronx, we feel very comfortable here in the city.

I have some pics from the day. They can be viewed at and the night pics can be found at

Monday, October 6, 2008

Our room at the Citadine

For those of you wanting to know what our room at the Citadine looks like, here are some pics

It's quite small, and the 3 of us keep bumping into each other, but it will work for a month. We are currently contacting real estate agents and looking for some place to live come Nov 1st.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Exploring the City

Yesterday we were feeling less jet lagged, so we decided to start exploring our new city. We got up late (still getting use to the time change), and went to the Vieux Port (old port).

At the Vieux Port, we had lunch of moules frite (steamed mussles), pomme frite (french fries), pan (bread), and rose vin (blush wine) at Collins Cafe. We were able to sit outside and not be near smokers, which was great. The food was fresh and delicious. The vin was fruity, crisp, and unlike wine in the states. It's so much better, probably because it is made right here in Provence and doesn't have to travel far before it is consumed.

We walked around the port, over to the fort. We walked up into the tower, which was a mini museum. Afterwards, we walked around the fort and I saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time (minus our flight into Marseille). It is so beautiful! Very blue, and a lake. It was a little windy (as you can tell from our pics below). Next, we went to the cathedral nearby and walked through it. Then it was off to Le Panier district where we waundered around for a bit...looking at the tiny streets.

I have added more details to the photos from the day. You can view them by going to

Friday, October 3, 2008

Few words before bed

We ended up not making it to the old port tonight. I was feeling a bit jet lagged while shopping, and decided we should come home and rest. We looked all over the Centre Bourse (mall), and couldn't find a hairdryer for under 20 euros. I really need to find one soon!

Right next to the supermarche (grocery) is a sushi restaurant. So, we picked up a couple of to go boxes before heading home. The sushi was pretty good....not as good as Haiku (our favorite place in Bronxville, NY). But hey, I'll take sushi whenever I can get it.

I took a few pictures and posted them here on the blog for everyone. I love the ruins in front of the Centre Bourse. There are cats everywhere, and last night we saw an old woman feeding a few of them. Tonight, we saw one getting ready to catch it's supper...a big fat rat. The ruins are a big open playground for les chat.

Just a few things I wanted to mention about today...

Julie, at the Egide earlier today, had made a few comments I just had to post because they were so funny.

When asked if there are unsafe areas in Marseille that we want to avoid, she said, "Marseille is very safe. We have no guns."

When asked about one of the arrondisments (areas in the city), she said, "It's not that this area is unsafe...the people there are just poor, and nobody wants to see that."

When the fire alarm was going off she said, "Ah, it's a fire...we are all going to die," and then went right back to getting our paperwork organized.

Off to bed...Bon Soir.

October 1st through the 3rd

I just wanted to share a few pictures of our trip and new home. You can view them online at

I will be uploading more as we continue on our adventure. I am also working on a few videos to put on YouTube.


Venturing out...

We had a few "firsts" today. We rode the metro over to Egide (the part of the French government that is providing Chris with his funding). The metro here is similar to the one in DC. It's very clean, no bums, and no rats. It was fairly easy to figure out how to purchase a metro card and to get to where we needed to go. The train cars are very small and during rush hour, become quite tight.

From walking around today, I realized that Chris & I do not have enough black items in our wardrobe to fit in. And I thought New Yorkers wore a lot of black! Seems that we both need very skinny jeans and black jackets to truly fit in. I'm not even sure I could get my butt into a pair of the women's jeans here...I call them "cigarette jeans" because you have to be skinny as a cigarette to fit in them.

Speaking of cigarettes, I'm going to have to be more tolerant of it since it seems the French do enjoy their cigs. We went to Egide and in the offices they smoke, so it was very hard to breathe in there. I got a bit of a headache after awhile. Julie, the woman who has been corresponding with Chris via email, was very helpful. She switched over to speaking in English for my benefit, which I greatly appreciated. She told us some good areas of the city to look for apartments, and how to ride the bus and tram (same as metro really, just have to buy a card). She also told us some other important items and started our applications for the carte de sejour (French green card). She was very sweet and most helpful. While we were there, the fire alarm went off, and Julie made a joke about how we will all die since we are not going outside. We asked if she should go and she said that they are like sheep (meaning that they will only go out if they see others going too).

Afterwards, we found a restaurant that was open across the street. It seems that most of the restaurants close between lunch and dinner. This cafe had outdoor seating, so we sat outside. We realized that it was a bad move, because of the smoke. There were non-smoking signs outside and in, but everyone outside smoked. It was hard enjoying our meal with it being blown our way...but we made it through. We ordered some water, which we found out was more expensive than most of the different from New York City. We both ordered salads that were wonderful...they had warm chevre (goat cheese), lard (which is a strip of ham like bacon), mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, and a wonderful dressing over lettuce.

We came back to the Citadine before we head to the grocery. We walked in and couldn't find Oreo. He had figured out how to open the cabinet doors in the bathroom and was sleeping inside the cabinet (because he had shut the door behind him). Not sure how long he had been in there. He's in there right now attempting to open them again, so I'm watching him to see how he does it exactly. He's rolling all over the floor making little meows as he attempts to pull the doors open. It's hilarious!

We are off to the grocery, and then on to the old port for some sightseeing and dinner later on. We will get some pictures posted soon.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nous sommes arriver a Marseille

We just got up from a very long nap. We got in to the Citadine (where we are staying) around 11am French time (5am your time). We dragged our things into the room, got Oreo's thing set up, then crashed on the couch bed (yes, we do not have a bed here). We just woke up to someone opening our door and telling us we had left our key card in the door! Needless to say, we are WIDE awake now.

Carolyn and David took the shuttle van with us over to Newark yesterday afternoon. Newark airport was very easy to navigate. We were amazed at how smooth check in went even with Oreo. The line through security was at a crawl, but they were so helpful with Oreo...speeding us through so he could get back in his carrier. Everyone was talking and staring at Oreo...he was the star of the show! We found our gate and waited to board. Chris had the very smart idea of going ahead and boarding first when they called "those traveling with babies or children and those needing extra time). We were one of the first one's on the plane, and had plenty of time to get Oreo under the seat and ready to go.

We ended up taking off about an hour late. The flight itself was very smooth and pretty comfortable considering we were in the middle of the plane, and Chris had the aisle, I was in the seat next to him, then there was an empty seat and a woman on the other aisle. I had plenty of room to pull Oreo out from under the seat and have his carrier just on the floor so he could stand up and move around. He slept most of the flight though.

The first thing the attendants did was bring drinks through, including free alcohol. Chris had some white wine with his dinner, and I had some Campari, which helped settle my nerves. The dinner was actually quite good...creamy chicken with rice and veggies, grapes, a roll, salad, and cheesecake (which wasn't so good). Chris and I were asleep before the in flight movie started (Made of Honor), so we missed that.

We were given a small breakfast of cheese, roll, granola bar, and some mixed fruit which had mango in it. I only figured out there was mango after I had taken a bite, but luckily I caught it in time and spit it out before swallowing.

It only took about 6 hours to get to Frankfurt, Germany, but with the delay, we were only going to have 10-15 min to get to our next gate to board the plane to Marseille. We booked it through the airport as fast as we could....which was difficult since we had a long way to go. We had to go through an additional security check point, which held us up for a long time. They put us in the one line that the metal detector had stopped working, and they were patting down and wanding each person. I had to stand there, with Oreo in my arms (free from carrier) for over 10 min. They finally waved me ahead of everyone else so that I could get him back in his carrier quickly. He just clung to me and looked at everyone and again, he was the star of the show because everyone was smiling and staring at him.

We were so late to our gate we figured we would have to catch the next flight, but to our luck, the plane was delayed, so we got on just in time! We hadn't thought to check our seats ahead of time, so Chris ended up in an exit row, and me 3 rows back in between two women. We were served more cheese and bread on the flight and another granola bar (I am SO sick of airline cheese!). I guess Chris ended up speaking to a very nice French couple on the plane and they were eager to see Oreo after the flight.

I could see a little bit of the city, the Mediterranean and the Alps flying in. The view from out the airplane windows was amazing...especially the mountains.

Getting off the plane and to the baggage claim was fairly easy. We got our bags and headed over to customs...which was the EASIEST thing all day! We could have walked past the guys and they wouldn't have cared. We walked up and asked if they were customs and they said "Yes. Do you want to declare anything? Do you have any cigarettes or over $10,000 in cash?" We said No, we wish we had that much money, and they said "Welcome". That was it! They didn't look at Oreo's papers, or anything. We walked right out and got a taxi.

We barely got all our luggage into a taxi, but we made it. The taxi driver spoke some English, so we told him where we were going and we headed into the city of Marseille.

The drive was a bit wild considering how fast they drive and all the tiny cars on the road. We arrived at the Citadine (the apart-hotel we are staying at for October), and we found out that the room wouldn't be ready until 3pm. We told them we have a cat and lots of luggage, so they got a room cleaned out VERY quickly for us so we wouldn't have to wait all day. The room is just like a hotel walk in, and there is a small water closet (toilet) to the right, mini kitchen, then the living room/office/bedroom. We have a tiny TV and stereo, desk, sofa bed, and a few nightstands. There is a balcony just big enough for one chair to be on it. Good sized windows and a closet are also in the main room. Then there is a small bathroom with sink, bathtub and shower. It is smaller than our basement apartment in the Bronx, if you can imagine that!
It's going to be tight the next month, but we will make due. Oreo is settling in and exploring as much as he can. He might get bored rather fast.

Chris just turned on the TV and there are American shows dubbed in French. Hilarious!

We are going to get cleaned up in a bit and head out to the store to get a few supplies. We should also get something to eat since we really haven't had much more then airplane cheese and bread today.

I think the nap really helped calm my nerves. I was about to have a breakdown earlier from exhaustion and the trip, but I'm feeling better now...ready to explore the city and eat.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On the move...

We are now at the Sheraton Hotel near Newark Airport, and I wanted to take a minute to write about our crazy move.

Monday, Chris' parents arrived to help us finish packing. We got things ready to go for the movers, who were to show up on Tues morning at 8am. My friend, Nancy, dropped by to say goodbye and pick up some books, and Nate was over most of the evening helping us. He helped Chris & I pack our suitcases, and I have to say, the boy has talent. :) He was able to get everything in with room to spare!

Tues morning, our day started with our movers being an hour and a half late. I got up at 6:45am and we just ended up sitting around and waiting until they arrived. We had some breakfast delivered. Chris' parents got to our place closer to 10am. We were suppose to have 4 moving guys, but ended up missing one, so things went slow. It took the guys 4 hours to get everything out of the apartment. One of our older Italian neighbors was very upset that she had to get around our stuff in the hallway. She yelled at us, and our movers. I attempted to explain to her that we were doing the best we could, and that the guys just couldn't get all of our stuff down 4 flights of stairs all at once. She didn't understand.

The movers finally got our stuff over to the storage unit, and took an additional 2 hours getting it all unloaded and packed in.

Carolyn was wonderful when it came to cleaning the apartment. I don't know what we would have done without the help of Carolyn, David, and Nate.

Nate & I took some furniture, clothing, a microwave, and some other things to the church down the block. They were very happy for the donations. At one point, Nate & I went up and down the stairs 5 times in a row! Needless to say, my legs are SO sore today.

Carolyn, David, and I took a break and headed to Giovanni's for pizza since it was getting later and we had skipped lunch. Chris & Nate walked down to the Cablevision store to turn in the DVR...and ended up being there over an hour waiting in line. By the time they reached the restaurant, we had to have the waitress reheat the pizza.

After dinner, we finished taking more trash downstairs and cleaning the place. A Hispanic family was moving in across the hall from us at that time. They had at least 5 little kids running up and down the stairs with items. We were all envious of their energy...since we were all dragging up and down those steps by then. The next place we live, we MUST have an elevator!

David and I took a few last minute things over to the storage unit, just to find that you can't get in after 7pm. There was a guy there and we begged, pleaded, and offered bribes, and he would not let us bring the few things we needed up to our unit. We were SO mad! So we had to unload all that stuff we had packed in the car, and take it all back up the stairs to the apartment.

We didn't get to the hotel last night until 10:43pm. Oreo was happy to explore the two rooms. For part of the day, Oreo stayed in the bathroom, and the other half we had him in our bedroom. He seemed pretty relaxed given the situation. Last night around 5am, he decided to wedge himself into the tiny space under the sink in the bathroom. Chris had to unscrew the cabinet door to get him out. I will have take a picture and attach so it will make more sense. We were up and down with Oreo all night.

This morning, we got up early and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Chris & David are headed back to the apartment for the last few things to take to the storage unit. We are keeping our fingers crossed that they don't hit traffic and can get back over here before lunch. We have to be at the airport before 3:30pm this afternoon. Our flight leaves at 5:45pm.

I really don't know how we did the work we did...without collapsing! Nate was a HUGE help....really relaxed about everything, ready to do anything you asked of him. He was amazing. I'm going to miss our boy! Carolyn & David were great too. I don't think Chris & I could have done it all on our own.

So, now I'm debating if I should go jump in the jacuzzi for a bit and soak my tired muscles before the flight later today. I'm thinking I will sleep most of the way. We will post more when we arrive at our destination.