Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last day in Marseille

Today was our last day here in Marseille, and we spent the day packing and cleaning the apartment. We are so exhausted! It's really hard to pack up after 9 months abroad! Oreo is not pleased about the situation, of course. We only wish he could carry himself along with a carry-on and a checked bag to help us out.

We did our check out with our landlady and just finished mopping (at 11:20pm). Now all is left is to send some boxes via post tomorrow, and we are on our way back. We fly into Newark tomorrow night, where we will stay at a hotel. Then we have a very early flight on Thurs to Cincinnati. Chris' parents will pick us up and drive us back to Salem.

To "celebrate" our last night, we went to Le Resto Provencal for dinner. We sat at the Cours Julien, watching the little kids play on the playground, listening to the music of the busquers, and eating delicious Provencal food.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just your average day in the Med

We are down to our last two days here in Marseille, and since we have to spend tomorrow cleaning and finishing packing, we took the opportunity today to go swimming and snorkeling in the Med!

We got up late this morning, ate leftover crepes from yesterday (which were still good the next day), and hopped the Frioul/d'Iff express boat over to Frioul. Standing in line for the boat, we bypassed the entire line waiting by standing in front of the gate to the far left (closest to the ticket counter). We have taken this boat enough times to know that they only open up that gate, yet everyone stands in front of the other 2 gates to the right. Just a travel note to those of you going to Frioul someday, stick to the gate to the far left...you'll get first pick of seats on the boat.

I love riding in the very front of the boat, so we went up there and enjoyed the little trip over to Frioul. We were the only one's walking to the other island of Pomègues. Most people don't know that there are lovely little inlet beaches there (oops, probably shouldn't post this on the net, or next time we go, the inlets will be packed!). We walked quite a ways on the island before we got to the beach we had picked out on our last hiking trip. We were upset to see 5 boats in the inlet, but decided not to let it bother us.

In the inlet, there is a very small island that you can wade over to. That's where we put our things, figuring, no one will bother them there, and that we could swim without having to worry about constantly watching our stuff. Funny how everyone who was swimming around, just had to walk up on this island (well, more of a big rock really), right next to our things, before getting back in the water to swim. So much for keeping our things away from others.

We had a great time snorkeling and swimming in the cove. The water was peaceful like a lake, so didn't have to worry about waves. There were lots of fishies that would come up to us and Chris even got a few pictures of some! However, we had a waterproof film camera, so you'll have to wait a little while for us to get the film developed.

The water was pretty warm to start, but got colder as the day went on. Chris went a bit further out than me, since he's a stronger swimmer, and saw some large fish, got caught in a school of small sardines, and found a top of a mine, not to mention a couple of little caves.

There were quite a few people snorkeling in the area, mostly men, but a couple of women playing with their dog and topless tanning on the beach. There was a group of 4 guys that came around for a bit that were kind of creepy since they just swam for a few min, than sat on the beach staring at everyone. Luckily, they left after about an hour.

My mask broke, so that pretty much ended my snorkel time, and I just swam around until I got too cold to stay in the water. I layed on the rocks in the sun and wondered how the Marseillais find the rocks to be so comfortable (since we see them lying on the rocks all over the place, sunning themselves). There were some little tide pools on the little island, and I saw 3 tiny crabs eating. First crabs I have seen here in the Med! I also saw lots of little snails and some sea anemones.

Around 6pm, we headed back to the boat and we left Frioul to go back to Marseille. It was sad coming back and looking behind us at Frioul. I almost started crying thinking about leaving here....our Mediterranean home....but Chris kept reassuring me we will be back many times in the future! YEAH!

We were very hungry by the time we got back to the port, so we went to Le Collins for our favorite meal there...moule frite (mussles and fries), rose wine, and flan caramel for desert. It was fitting to go there since that was the first place we ate at when we moved here to Marseille. We also went there before our first boat trip over to Frioul. So it was perfect to eat dinner there tonight, looking out at the Bonne Mer over the Port, and talking about when we will return to Marseille.

After dinner we came home, and I watched the coucher de soleil (sunset) from our window.

Pictures are HERE

Sunday, June 28, 2009

At Home in Marseille

Chris found this song called "Marseille" by Patrick Fiori that he wanted to share with everyone. He has translated the lyrics below. We both really love it! Some of the locations may look familiar to you if you have seen our photos of Marseille.

We are going to miss our home here in Marseille. We look forward to returning here in the future!

The paper is a little yellow,
but the colors come back,
All on does is close your eyes,
to return back there,
Oh, I hope that I will always be,...
At home, in Marseille
The Old Port stretches out,
Like two arms in the sea,
It has often that,
I already sang of it like this
I didn't always love every day,
but I suffer far from it,
Oh I hope to one day be,
At home in Marseille
I often truly forget the distance,
When I left the streets to go and take my chance,
But it isn't long that I don't think of there,
Oh, Marseille.
It is like when one stays too long staring at the sun.
You open your eyes slowly,
and the colors come back,
a little more beautiful like the years of sadness and joy,
passing behind,
Oh I hope to one day be,
At home in Marseille
It's true,I often truly forget the distance,
When I left the streets to go and take my chance,
But it isn't long that I don't think of there,
Oh, Marseille.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Martigues, the "Venice of Provence"

Today we decided to take the train to Martigues, which is 44 minutes away from Marseille to the West. We had some train certificates left over that needed to be used, and the website for Martigues looked great! They said it was the "Venice of Provence" with it's canals running through the city.

The train going to Martigues went along the Cote Bleue line, which was right next to the sea. I wish the pictures I took on the train were better, but the windows were rather dirty.

We saw so many cute towns along the sea, and noted some places we want to check out when we return to France. The train ride was excellent simply for the views of the Med.

We arrived in Martigues, and asked someone if it was possible to walk into the town center from the train station. The girl said yes, and it was about 15 min to walk it. So we figured, why wait and pay for the bus if we can just walk along the canal to the town. WRONG! First, there were no sidewalks along the interstate like road. Second, we had no idea which way to go. We walked a ways down the road to figure out that walking was not going to be safe since we were basically walking along the road. We turned around and made it back to the train station bus stop just in time to get on the bus going into town. Once on the bus, we realized there would have been no way to walk to town. That local girl was crazy!

We hopped off the bus and started walking around the town. Our first impression was "we came all the way for this?" The town was cute enough, but not "Venice". We tried to cross the canal and got stuck on the draw bridge as it was coming up to let boats through. We waited, and then went over to the other side, which was nicer looking. The town was clean and colorful, and right on the beurre de etang (a very large lake connected to the Med by the canal). There was one spot that was Venice-like but other than that, didn't see the comparison. The Office du Tourisme was quite a walk away from the town center, so we gave up on going to it. There was a windmill up on the hill, but it was quite a hike, and I wasn't wearing hiking shoes. We spent a good couple of hours looking around, but other than that, there was nothing to do in the town. It was worth checking out, but not a place you would want to spend an entire day in.

We thought about hopping the train and going back to one of the sea towns we had passed before heading back to Marseille, but there was only one train back to Marseille for the day. Something was stopping trains heading in one direction, and causing issues, so we were lucky we got back to the train station when we did, or we would not have made it back to Marseille!

Once in Marseille, we stopped at a Tunisian bakery to pick up some goodies. Chris has wanted to buy Tunisian goodies since we moved here, and figured he better do it before we leave.

Afterwards, we went over to the mall to pick up a few food items and to check out the sporting goods store to see if we could find some swim masks. They were having a deal on the swim mask/snorkel sets and the water shoes, so we grabbed two of each and got into line.

When we were checking out, the sales girl told us that it was buy 2 get one free for the mask/snorkel and the water shoes. We told her it was only the two of us and we didn't need another set. She thought we didn't understand her, so she brought her manager over to explain in English the sale. Chris told her he understood, but we just didn't need extras. A lady behind us said she would take the free set, and so we said sure, why not. Chris took her to the back to get another mask/snorkel and water shoes, and we gave her the free equipment. It really made her day, and we were happy to do something nice for someone else.

We can't wait to go back to Frioul and use our new gear!

Pictures of the day are HERE

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Conquering Pomègues Isle

Chris and I had lunch with our friend Jaclyn today at our favorite Indian restaurant in the neighborhood. Jaclyn is finished with her stay here in France, and is heading back to New York (she lives North of Westchester).

Her fellow teachers at work gave her a lovely bouquet of sunflowers, and she was unable to take them with her on the flight. So she left them with us.

After lunch, Chris and I decided to go hiking out on Pomègues Isle (part of the Frioul Archipelago). We had explored a section of it when my Mom was here, but we hadn't had a chance to see the rest of the island. Our goal before leaving Marseille was to see all of Frioul (minus the one island you can't get to without a personal boat).

On the way out to the island, there was a filming crew on the boat doing some sort of news broadcast. We kept thinking that the woman they were shooting would fall off the boat since she wasn't holding on. We never did find out what they were doing exactly, but it was entertaining to watch.

The weather was perfect for hiking...in the 70's, perfectly sunny, and the cool breeze kept us from getting sweaty. We found a lot of interesting things on Pomègues. More nazi bunkers, buildings, a fishery off the coast, beautiful inlet beaches, and gun ports. Chris & I were the only one's on the far end of the island, and the seagulls were not happy with us being there. They kept diving at our heads and making terrible noises at us. I felt like I was in "The Birds" and did not want to get hit by a raging gull. Chris just threw rocks at them if they got to close, but I was in duck and cover mode, running from one Nazi bunker to the next.

HERE are a few pictures

and some more are HERE

We found a perfect beach, minus the guy sleeping on it, to explore and wade in. We hiked the rocks around the beach to a more private one on the side, away from the sleeping guy. It was so quiet and relaxing. The crystal clear water was FREEZING, and I do hope it warms up so we can swim before we leave. We found some tide pools that had little sea anenome, an urchin, and little fishies that blended in with the rocks and liked to come right up to our feet. It was so much fun!

We hiked back over to the other island to catch the boat, but it was running late. So we ended up sitting at the port for an hour waiting for the boat to return. The ride back to the Vieux Port was also entertaining, since there was an American guy with three French guys trying to communicate. The French guys barely knew English, and the American guy barely knew French. They were also drunk, and drinking more beers on the boat, cracking up at everything they would say to each other. The French guys started singing "I'm to sexy for my shirt", but they only knew that line, so they sang it over and over. Then they knew how to say "Where is my umbrella?" Chris and I were silently cracking up at the whole conversation.

More pictures from our day can be found HERE and more HERE

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mistral affects our afternoon

Marseille has been getting hit by the Mistral winds since Saturday, which has put a damper on things we have wanted to do outdoors. This afternoon, we figured that we could go hiking in Luminy woods and be protected from the winds.

We took the bus all the way out there just to find out that the Calanques were closed! The sign said they are shut down to hikers until the end of August! NOOOOOO!!! We knew they shut down in July-Aug due to the dry summer and fire hazard, but this is early! We had hoped to get a few more hikes in before leaving Marseille.

So instead of hiking in the woods, we took the bus to the beach at Parc Boreley. The beaches were empty, minus a few people jogging, some kite surfers, and some wind surfers. The 37 mph Mistral winds made it unbearable for anything else. Luckily, not all of the beaches are sandy, because when the wind kicks up the sand, it's painful!

We could see smoke in the distance and realized that there was a fire over in the woods near the Calanques. There were planes dropping water on the fire, and we could see the flames going up rather high, even though we were very far away from the fire. By the time we walked down the beaches, the fire had been put out and hopefully no one was hurt or property damaged. No wonder they had the woods closed off today! We really haven't had any rain in a month and with the winds, a fire could spread very quickly.

As we walked along the beaches, we enjoyed watching the kite surfers play in the water, doing twists, jumps, and pretty much flying at some points. The wind sufers were enjoying the water too, and some of them had to be newbies, as they were crashing a lot.

Walking head on into the Mistral takes your breath away and makes it very hard to have a conversation or even take a step. We are exhausted from fighting the winds back to the bus, but enjoyed our time out.

HERE are some pictures from the beach.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Adventure in the Luberon

Our day trip with Nell & Dylan began early at 9:30am at the Gare St. Charles. We had ordered an automatic rental car for the day and Nell had volunteered to drive for us. We were surprised to find that first of all, the car we were suppose to have was not parked in the correct spot in the garage, and that our "car" was actually a mini-van. Those of you who have not driven in France before, should know that a mini-van on the streets here is just ridiculous. We should have had a little 4 seater car, but I guess the mini-van was the only automatic they had for us.

We got in our bus, or mini-van, and took off out of Marseille heading towards the Luberon. The Luberon is a region of Provence North of Marseille.

Our first stop of the day was a market in Lourmarin for picnic supplies. Nell & Dylan had thought ahead and packed water for us and a bottle of wine they had purchased the last time they had visited the Luberon. So all we needed to do was pick up the rest of the items we wanted. We bought sausages (duck, fig, nature, and pepper), formage (gruyere and chevre), bread, melon, cherries, olives (green and black), apero garlic (cloves of garlic with herbs that were very mild and tasty), tomato spread, coconut cookies, and nougat.

The market was filled with English speaking people, both American and British. No surprise since it's tourist season here. There were booths of food, clothing, spices, flowers, soaps, lavender items, kitchen utensils, and so much more. It was a gigantic market and we really could have spent hours shopping there.

Pictures of the market are HERE

Our next stop of the day was at l'Enclos des bories which is a village of neolithic ruins out in the middle of nowhere. The drive out to them was on a tiny, dirt road that looked like it was made for four-wheelers only. Nell & Dylan had been out there before, so they knew how to get out there and wanted us to see the ruins.

Apparently, the property is the familial property of the lady who was there to greet us and give us a tour. She wants to preserve the history of the ruins, and is looking for archeologists to do some research on it. But since the land is not publicly owned, it's hard to find the funding for the research. She charges 5 euros per person to come and walk around the ruins and to explore. She told us a bit about the bories (stone beehive huts) and about the people who had lived there SO many years ago. We couldn't figure out if the people had been uber short, since we had to bend all the way down to get in and out of the huts, or if they had just made the openings that way for protection.

The owner said that she had grown up playing in the bories and wanted to keep it as preserved as possible now that she was older. I kept imagining what it would be like to have grown up playing in the village. The ruins were quite spread out. We found 3 wells, many huts, areas that were obviously where they had kept animals, a grove of olive trees, murder holes, and a view over the countryside that was breathtaking. We could see the village of Bonnieux over on the mountainside.

Some interesting history, the bories was used from the 1500-1700's for refuges of various wars in Europe. People have been living in them for pretty much every era, which is hard to imagine.

I bet you are wondering what "murder holes" are. :) Check out my pictures HERE and find out.

We were getting hungry, so we decided to find a spot to have our picnic. The hot, humid, 90 degree weather had changed and it was starting to rain a little bit and get cooler as we drove through the countryside. We passed many vineyards, groves of cherry trees, olive groves, and beautiful Provencal homes dotting the landscape.

Nell had wanted to picnic along a wine walk. It ended up being too hot to do the wine walk, but we found a perfect picnic spot near Oppède Le Vieux. When driving up to Oppède Le Vieux, you eventually come to a parking lot that says that parking is obligatory and that it costs 3 euros to do so. Later, we found out that we could have driven past the parking lot and gone straight into the village.
We parked, grabbed our loot, and walked into the woods looking for a spot for our picnic. We passed a mini field of lavendine in bloom, buzzing with bees and butterflies. Lavendine is a hybrid of two types of lavender plants.

There was a perfect spot just down from the field to spread out our blanket and eat. The food from the market was perfect and the wine that Nell & Dylan had brought was a wonderful accompaniment.

While eating, we saw something that looked like a miniature hummingbird flying around us in the flowers. It wasn't moving quite like a hummingbird, but it looked like one. I got closer to it and discovered it was some strange mothlike creature that was disguised like a hummingbird. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen!

After our picnic, we walked around the lavendine, rosemary, juniper, and then headed up the hill to see the village which is nestled into the mountain. The village seemed a bit far to walk with everything else we wanted to see in a day, so we passed it up. Chris was disappointed, but it leaves something to do the next time we go there.

We jumped back in the car, and heading down the road, we stopped off at two local wineries for tasting. The Luberon is known for Rose wines, but their oak cask rouge wine is very tasty.

Pictures are HERE

Our journey continued and our next stop was the Abbe de Senanque. We pulled off the road and took a few pictures of the Abbe down in the valley from the mountainside road. The road going down was so small, and we could only hope that no one would head towards us since there was only one pull off point.

The lavender fields in front of the abbe were a little disappointing. I had expected beautiful, full bloom lavender fields, but instead, the lavender hadn't bloomed yet. I believe it was late in blooming due to being down in the valley. It was still beautiful, but I had really wanted to see the bright purple blooms.

There were lots of Asians around the abbe, which we thought was a little strange, until we saw a bride and groom getting their pictures taken in the lavender field. We rarely see Asians in Southern France.

We didn't do the tour of the abbe, but we did go inside the bookstore. We were looking around and heard someone up at the cashier asking, in English, for a phone card. A young couple needed to make a phone call to their hotel, and a phone card for the pay phone was going to cost them 7 euros. Nell offered to let them use her cell phone to call, and we started up a long conversation with them. It turns out, they live in Louisville, KY, but are orginally from Michigan. They were very nice and we chatted with them for a while, as Nell tried to get a signal on her cell. We never did get reception for them to call, but had a good time talking with them about Louisville and France.

Near the abbe is the town of Gordes. According to Nell's guidebook, the town is "too beautiful for its own good." This was an accurate description! The town was a gorgeous, hillside village with a large chateau at the top. We stopped and had some drinks at a cafe and ended up having to go hide from the rain for a bit as it poured. Once the rain stopped, we walked around the village and found a lookout point over the valley. After taking a few pictures, and looking at the lavender fields in the distance, a rainbow appeared! Then a second arch started to appear next to it! Gordes being "too beautiful" was quite true!

More pictures HERE

We drove through the country, passing lavender fields and fields of sunflowers that have not yet opened. If only we could drive the same route in August when the sunflowers would be in bloom!

The village of Roussillon was our last stop of the day. Roussillon is a small village with deep red clay for soil. We believe that the red clay used to create Santon must come from this region. The buildings were vibrant red and burnt sienna as the sun was setting. At first, we were the only one's walking through the town, other than ALL the stray cats! There was a stray cat every few feet in the village. It was very sad to see so many kitties, some not in such great shape, out and about.

We found a lovely cafe with a terrace for dinner. The plate of the day was cabillard fish with a butter sauce, garlic green beans, and rice or duck with pepper sauce. Chris & I had the fish and it was excellent! For dessert, creme brulee for moi, and Chris had figues cooked in honey with vanilla ice cream!

The drive back home was long, and in the dark. We didn't get back to Marseille until close to midnight. We were pretty tired by the end of the day, but amazed by the amount of things we did and saw! Chris and I are so happy that we were able to do it before leaving Provence. The Luberon is a definite must see when in the area.

Last photo album of the day can be found HERE

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Our 3 year wedding anniversary

Today we celebrated our 3 year wedding anniversary (11 1/2 years together!). We had planned to go to Cassis for the day to swim and hike, but when we got up, it was cold and cloudy and looked like it was going to rain.

We went to the Bio (organic) market at the Cours Julien and picked up some cherries, white peaches, eggs, and mussels. Next, we went to a gourmet shop and bought some wines for dinner. We brought those back home, and then decided to go out to lunch nearby. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant we have been wanting to try for a while called Le Rajasthan. It was SO good! I had the eggplant and potato baigan with fromage (cheese) naan and rice. Chris had an assortment of 10 items ranging from poulet tikki masala to lentil curry. The food was delicious and we really wish we had gone there earlier! We will have to have lunch or dinner there one more time before leaving Marseille.

After lunch, we decided to relax at home for a bit, and then go to the village of Allauch for a few hours. Allauch (pronounced Al-Lo) is just outside the suburbs of Marseille. It is a very quaint Pronencal town with windmills and a church up on the hill. To get there, all we had to do is take the metro line to La Rose, get out and hop the 144 bus to Allauch. It was very easy to get there, and once there, we found the Office du tourisme to get a map.

Allauch was very cute, clean and small They allow cars on the tiny, narrow streets, which is crazy considering the sidewalks are too small to walk on so you must walk in the street. The windmills are mostly ruins, except for one that has been reconstructed. From the windmills, we walked up the hill through the winding streets, all the way up the hill to Notre Dame (yes, every town has at least one church called Notre Dame). We were the only one's treking up the hill and the only one's at the top! It was in the 90's with very high humidity, I bet everyone else was staying smart and not hiking in the heat. But even with the sweat pouring off of us, we still had a great time. We hunted for cigale (cicadas) that we could hear chirping all around us. We had a great view of Notre Dame de la Guarde in Marseille from the top of the hill.

On the way back down the hill, I found a cigale on the tree! I took a quick picture before it flew to a higher branch.

We went back down into the village and over to the cemetary. I know, a bit morbid to visit a cemetary on our wedding anniversary, but hey, we are just weird like that.

The cemetary was very interesting and it was so different than one's we have seen before in the states. First of all, there is no grass, only rocks. Second, there will be one large stone on the ground, and on top, you will find ceramic flowers and little plaques with cameo pictures on them of the dead. The dates went all the way back into the 1800s. The ceramic flowers were very smart. You never have to replace them and they always look nice. The cameos were very strange and creepy. The one's of babies and young children were so sad.

It took us a long time to figure out how the bodies were actually buried below. We finally guessed that the stone in front could be lifted, and then you would go down into a family vault where the bodies are buried. Otherwise, they would just be stacked up one on top of the other (which is possible) under the large stone.

Some of the mosoleums were above ground, and you could look in to see statues of Mary and lots of flowers. Some were upkept better than others.

We went back home for dinner, and began cooking. We had a four course meal. For starters, we had a wonderful sparkling rose muscat wine. It wasn't too sweet, and tasted like honey and white grapes. We drank it along with our canapes of salmon egg, fig and formage, ham and formage, and egg. Our second course was lobster (frozen from our favorite frozen food store, Picard). Third course was fresh mussels from the morning market in a garlic and white wine sauce. And last, black forest cake!

The cake had a cherry on top that I gave to Chris. On our very first family date (with his parents), he said to me "If I can tie this cherry stem in a knot with my tongue, will you marry me?" I just smiled, and he tied the stem into a knot with his tongue. Well, look how that ended up. :)

It was a lovely day and evening relaxing and enjoying time here in Provence.

Pictures are HERE

Monday, June 15, 2009

What we will miss and not miss about France

Chris and I have been talking about our upcoming move back to the states, and we keep mentioning the things we will miss and not miss. I decided to make a couple of Top 10 lists based on our conversations. It was a LOT harder to make the Top 10 things we will NOT miss!!!

Top 10 things we will miss about France...
10. Being SO close to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea!
9. Hiking in the Calanques and on Frioul.
8. Not being rushed to pay the check and leave at a restaurant. Always takes at least 2 hours to eat and you are never rushed to leave once you finish eating.
7. SUN...SUN...SUN!
6. The friends we have made here.
5. All the wonderful places to visit in Provence.
4. Our lovely apartment.
3. Easy, laid back pace of life.
2. Inexpensive wine!
1. THE FOOD! Fresh, seasonal produce, DELICIOUS fruits, duck, fish and seafood, eggs and milk that don't have to be refridgerated, baguettes, I could go ON AND ON.

Top 10 Things we will NOT miss about France...
10. Being harrassed by drunk and/or homeless people.
9. Language barrier.
8. The beef.
7. Inefficient bureaucracy.
6. Six hour difference between friends and family.
5. Not being able to watch TV shows easily or access certain websites.
4. Strikes
3. Dog mess on the sidewalks and graffiti everywhere.
2. SMOKING! Not being able to enjoy sitting outside at a cafe due to smoking or having to smell it just about everywhere.
1. Days and days of Mistral.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Walking along the Corniche

Nate, Chris and I spent the afternoon walking along the corniche here in Marseille. It was a gorgeous day to be out...even if it was close to 90 degrees. The plages (beaches) were packed, and people were covering the rocks either sunning or jumping into the cool water.

I was amazed by the groups of young boys diving and jumping into the sea from various rocks and high points. Brave or stupid, you be the judge, but I wish I had the guts to do it. They would jump, climb back up to the top of the rocks, jump again, and just keep repeating over and over.

It never ceases to amaze me the numbers of topless women sunning as well. Women of all ages will just lay out without their bikini tops on. The guys don't even seem to notice or care, which I can't imagine would ever be the case if the same thing happened in the US. I think it's wonderful that they are able to be so free with their bodies and not care. Plus, just think of the money you save only having to buy bikini bottoms without the tops!

We saw at least 4 wedding groups driving past, honking their horns and screaming out their windows. The Marseillais like to hang out of car windows to celebrate weddings, apparently, and I couldn't help think that one false move on those crazy streets, and a celebration could turn to disaster.

Along the corniche, there are long staircases where you can walk down to little, somewhat hidden coves. We had a great time exploring the coves and winding pathways.

We almost made it from Plage Catalan to Parc Borely, but we were getting hot and tired, so we hopped the bus back to the metro. I would have liked to walk the whole strip, but perhaps another day.

With the temperatures rising, I think Chris and I will have to go swimming in the sea very soon!


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ratonneau Isle of Frioul Archipelago

Last time Nate visited, we spent one of our afternoons exploring 1/2 of the isle of Ratonneau off the coast of Marseille. Today, we explored the 2nd half of the island.

In my earlier posts about Frioul, believe I didn't menion that Frioul is actually the archipelago made up of 4 islands...Ratonneau, Pomègues, If, and Tiboulain. Chris and I have been to If, have now seen all of Ratonneau, and only 1/3rd of Pomègues. Tiboulain is off the coast of Ratonneau, and without a boat, we can't get over to it. It's rather small comapred to the other islands.

The day was perfect for hiking, in the low to mid 70's and sunny with clouds dotting the sky. After a hearty brunch of savory and sweet crepes, we took the boat over to Ratonneau and began our hike.

Ratonneau was once the site of Nazi forts, and then was bombed out leaving only ruins of forts and bunkers. We forgot our flashlight, but were still able to go down into some of the underground rooms and explore what is left on the island. The fort at the end was unforunatley blocked off, possibly rennovation or something else, but we could only walk around it.

The gulls were quite crazy since they have babies everywhere. Every gull couple has about 2 to 3 babies, which are hard to spot unless you know that you are looking for grey colored babies. The gulls were not happy with our explorations and kept yelling at us and, at one point, decided to swoop down at our heads...causing us to run back up the hill to get away from the attacking birds. I wonder if Alfred Hithcock ever visited Ratonneau?

There were lots of people at the beaches and boating around the island. Quite a few topless ladies on the boats. Chris was dying to go swimming all day, but it was a bit chilly. He was happy to at least put his feet in the water at one of the beaches.

We topped off the lovely day by eating van pizza. Yes, we bought pizza that was cooked in a van! (Nick...you'll appreciate the pics of this) The pizza was rather good...and the figatelli sausage one was best! The guys have now made me a convert to van pizza.



Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saturday night on the town

Chris, Nate, and I went down to the Vieux Port for dinner at a Tunisian restaurant. Nate ordered couscous with an assortment of meats (lamb, sausauge, chicken, and beef), and Chris and I ordered tajine's...mine with fish and his with mouton (sheep). The food was good, but it took me forever to pick through all the small bones in the tilapia.

After we finished our meals, we went walking around the port. It was a busy night with at least 3 bachelorette groups walking around, a large group of men who we think were the crews for the MedCup, and of course locals and tourists out to eat.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the MedCup this week. The race seems to be quite a big deal here in Europe, and it's great that we get to experience it before we go. The ships for the race are now in the port, so we got a good look at them up close.

The night was a bit chilly, but beautiful with the sunset. It was nice looking at all the expensive cars that were parked on the port and looking at the new yacht that has pulled in (the other two from Friday are gone).

HERE are pictures from our night.

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's June....our last month in Provence

June has finally arrived, and we are filled with mixed emotions. It's hard to believe that we will be moving back to the states in less than a month! I think we both wish we could have more time here, but are excited about the next chapter in our lives.

Chris has been working on getting some final documents photographed and I am thinking ahead to new projects and adventures. We still have some time left to do a few more things before we go, and our 3 year wedding anniversary is coming up on the 17th.

Today, Chris and I spent the day together, which was a treat as we have had so many visitors over the last few months that we really haven't had time to do things out together. We went down to the Vieux Port for lunch at Ginger, our new favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Then we walked around the Port looking at the two huge yachts that have arrived. The yachts are the "Latinou" and "Celestial Hope". We believe they are here for the Audi MedCup regatta this week. Chris and I didn't know about it ahead of time, and glad we learned about it so we can check it out.

Pictures of the port can be found HERE

Nathan is back!

Nate has rejoined us here in Provence for 2 1/2 weeks. He arrived only a couple of days after Mom left. He will be doing research on his dissertation proposal while here, and also, doing a few fun things when he can.

June 1st
Today we went hiking out in Luminy. It was Nate's first time out there, and I think he was impressed. We brought sandwiches along and sat on a bench for lunch.

We took a new trail heading up the mountains, only to find that the trail would continue to wind up the mountain and over. By the time we got to the point where the hike starts going straight up, we decided to go a different route down the mountain a bit. We just didn't have the equipment, or the energy to tackle it.

It is amazing how the terrain has changed since we were hiking with Mom just a week or so ago. A lot of the flowers were gone that had been in bloom, and new flowers were growing now. There were tons of ants marching in lines looking like they were relocating to new areas (oh to be an ant living in the Calanques overlooking the Med...take that "A Bug's Life"). Wooly worms were walking along the path, and there were all kinds of strange, colorful beetles. The insects and gulls were the only wildlife out and about.

The day was gorgeous and perfect for hiking along the Med. There were a lot of boats out in the water and we could see people swimming down below.

When we came home, we had a gorgeous sunset out our window. Every time we hike, we come home to the most gorgeous sunsets. Something I will really miss when we leave.

CLICK HERE for pictures from our day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Last few days with Mom in Marseille

May 23rd
Mom, Chris, and I went down to the Port for lunch. We took Mom to our new favorite Provencal restaurant, Le Dorade. We got there a little late to order from the formule (menu of the day), but there was a lot of other great choices. Chris & I ordered the dorade (seabass) for two and Mom ordered the sole. We figured since it was Mom's last day, we would go all out with a fabulous lunch!

The waiter brought out the uncooked fish on a plate for us to approve. I was scared that they were still alive, and turned my head, but Chris assured me they were dead already.

We waited for a while, waiting for the fish, and the waiter brought out the 2 person dorade (rather large fish!) all cooked with veggies to the side. He showed us the fish, we said it looked great, then he took it away again. What? Where did he go with our fish?

While we waited, Mom made friends with a little girl at a restaurant across the street. The little girl was probably 2 years old, and she loved making faces at Mom and eventually, had her Dad bring her over to the window of our restaurant to say Bonjour to Mom. It was so cute! We also got harrassed a bit by a woman trying to sell a newspaper and a guy with a bunch of trinkets and junk. One bad thing about eating around the Port, is the buskers and trinket sellers.

We waited some more, then he brought out two plates, with the dorade split between the two, cooked, cleaned, and deboned. Nice!

Then we waited and he did the same thing with Mom's sole, showed it to her cooked...then brought it out later all cleaned and deboned. No fish heads staring at us. :)

The fish was delicious! For dessert, we had a variety of sorbets that were perfect on the hot day.

After lunch, we walked up to Le Pharo so Mom could get one last view of the Port and sea before leaving the next day. It was SO hot. We sat down on a bench in the shade and watched an older woman feeding a stray cat, and watching the pigeon's trying to steal the food from the cat.

We ended up heading home early due to the heat (it was in the 90's), and just relaxing at home for the evening.

Mom left early on Sunday, May 24th. We went with her to the airport by taxi, and helped her get checked in. She got stopped going through security because she had soap in her carry on bag. Shouldn't they be use to people carrying soap bars from Provence through there?

Mom's flight home was better than the one coming here. She had more space, a TV in front of her, and the food was much better. It was hard seeing her go, but I know that I will be seeing her very soon again!

For some last photos of our trip with Mom and a few pics that Carolyn and David sent us, CLICK HERE

Tarascon: Monsters, Saints, and Kings

May 22nd

Mom, Chris, and I took the train from Gare Saint Charles (our train station here in Marseille) to the town of Tarascon. Mom was excited about her first train trip here in Europe! The ride was only about 45 min to an hour and we got to see a lot of nice farm land on the way.

Tarascon is known for Saint Martha and the Tarasque. The Tarasque was a dragon-like monster that would attack the people of Tarascon, until Saint Martha tamed it. Throughout the town, you can find statues, paintings, and decorations with the Tarasque on them. They have a parade every year to praise St. Martha and people dress up as the Tarasque. Inside the cathedral, the bones of St. Martha can be found along with a stained glass window showing her taming the beast. It's really fascinating!

We stopped off for lunch at a wonderful restaurant. I had a whole trout that was delicious! All of the food was great, and our waiter was very friendly and attentive. I wish I could remember the name of the place at the moment.

Tarascon also has a tremendous castle, still intact, that was once home to the Kings of Anjou. We paid the entry fee and spent the next few hours exploring the castle. It was more impressive than the Popes Palace in Avignon.

There was an art exhibit in part of the castle of South American art, which was strange, but the rest of the rooms were free from extra things. We really loved the Kings chambers and his own private toilet! Yes, we saw where the King would go to the restroom, and it was hilarious! A hole going straight down next to the Rhone River. We also walked through the Queen's chambers, the wardrobe, the guest rooms, and so many other rooms. The castle was huge! Mom wasn't thrilled about the spiral staircases, or standing on the roof of the castle. From the roof you could look across the Rhone River to the next town over, where there was a castle not as intact as this one.

After the castle, we went over to the cathedral across the street, but there was a funeral finishing up so we had to wait to go inside. Once inside, we saw Saint Martha's crypt and one of her bones.

We stopped at a cafe for some drinks, and then walked over to the Rhone to the large Tarasque statue.

The town of Tarascon is rather small, and we walked through most of it in an afternoon. I highly recommend others going to Tarascon and learning about the legendary monster.

So many pictures from the day. I had to separate them out into a couple of albums.




Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Marseille with Mom

Update to an early post...which one, I'm not sure

One night while around the Vieaux Port with Mom and Chris, we were looking for a place to eat. There are lots of restaurants around that area, everything ranging from Vietnamese and Japanese, to Provencal, to Tunisian. However, looking for something we knew Mom would like, was a bit tricky. We knew she loves chicken, but it's rare to find chicken on a menu here. So we went from one restaurant to the next, looking at the menus, and trying to find something we knew she would enjoy. We had almost settled on one place, when Chris found the Buffalo Grill. Yes, a restaurant called Buffalo Grill here in Marseille...with grilled chicken, ribs, buffalo steak, all sorts of foods that you would find in America.

Mom really loved the "Kentucky Grilled Chicken." :) I had a buffalo steak that was simply OK, but the platter of food Chris ordered had some really good ribs on it.

The place inside was so funny. Cowboys and Indian pictures an statues, and felt like we were inside a Tumbleweed restaurant. It was fun!

May 21st

Today, Mom, Chris, and I relaxed most of the morning, and then went down to the Vieaux Port to a ceramics market that was only around for one day. There were so many lovely items, that I wish I could have bought more and had a way to easily ship it back to the US. Mom found a little ceramic item that was painted the color of the Mediterranean. I found a cute little kitty necklace that Chris bought me.

Chris took off for home to get work done, and Mom and I hopped the tourist train up to Notre Dame de la Guarde. It was a bit cloudy, but still a beautiful day to go up to the cathedral. Since it was a holiday (when is it not a holiday here in France?), they were having mass. Mom and I stood inside of for a while to watch. Then we walked around outside looking out over Marseille.

We took the train back to the Vieaux Port and decided to shop around at some of the local stores. We had a great time together!

I have a few pictures that can be viewed HERE

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


May 20th

Chris, Mom, and I took the bus from Castellane (just down the street from us) over to Cassis. The ride only took about 4o minutes, and it was a beautiful drive. The bus went up into the mountains and then through the mountain tops over to Cassis. Chris was wise in sitting to the inside of the bus, because looking out the window and down at the edge of the mountain would have really bothered him.

The bus dropped us off a bit oustide of the main part of town, so we walked towards the port (or at least what we thought was the direction of the port) and wound up in the town center. We stopped into a shop so that Mom could buy a hat, then we walked through the open air market admiring the Provencal goodies. We had heard that the raisin bread is the best at the market, but we got there too late. We bought some dried figs and apricots, and then walked over to the port for lunch. For lunch, we had pizzas while watching people walk on the port.

The three of us went over to the beach and Chris & I touched the water. It was pretty cold to me, but a lot of people were out swimming. We went into the office of tourism and got a map of the area and plotted out what we wanted to do for the afternoon. There was a tourist train at the port, and we hopped on. It took us over to Port Miou, let us out for 10 min, then went back to the port. It was worth the ride because the scenery was beautiful! Chris and I had been to Port Miou when we took the Calanques tour boat.

Back at the port, we decided to walk to one of the 12 local vineyards to do some wine tasting. We walked the hill up to Clos Sainte Magdeleine. With the wineries, you are suppose to call ahead and make a reservation. We decided that we would just take our chances upon arrival.

When we got to the door to the winery, there was a couple waiting there. They spoke English and said that they had rang the doorbell and was waiting to see if they could get in. A lady appeared at the door and said that all of us could come in for a tour and tasting for 13 euros a piece. It turned out to be a very sweet deal!

The couple with us on the tour was from South Africa. The woman spoke English and French, and the guy only spoke English. Chris and the lady would translate for the rest of us on the tour. We walked over the vines and the view was amazing. I would love to live there and tend to the grapes, with the mountains on one side, and the sea on the other. We walked over to the cliff and looked down where people were swimming and one guy was holding a huge octopus.

The lady led us inside and downstairs to the cellar to do the tasting. Cassis is known for white wines. I'm not a big fan of whites, but the Cassis wine we tasted at this winery was the best white I have ever had. Even their Rose was delicous! Chris did an excellent job with translating and going back and forth between French and English. Mom was pretty impressed.

After the tasting, we paid the bill and found out that each of us got a free bottle of our choice to take home! So we chose 2 bottles of white and 1 bottle of Rose to take with us.

We didn't have time to explore any other wineries, but the one was perfect.

We went back to the port and decided it was time for gouter (snack). There was a cafe serving crepes, so we stopped there. Mom had a banana and chocolate crepe, I had banana and Nutella crepe, and Chris had creme de marron (chestnut cream). They were delicous!

We shopped around for a while and then headed back to the bus stop. It was a nice ride back to Marseille. Cassis is now one of my favorite places to visit along the sea.

CLICK HERE for pictures of the day

Chateau d'If and Frioul Island

May 19th
Since the weather was so nice, we decided that today would be the day to go to the islands off the coast of Marseille. We went to the mall and bought some sandwiches to eat for lunch, then walked down to the Vieaux Port to buy our tickets to Chateau d'If and Frioul island.

We had to wait about an hour for the boat, but that gave us time to show Mom the fish market and to eat our lunch.

The boat arrived, we went to the very top, and off we went to Chateau d'If. Chris and I had not yet had the chance to go to Chateau d'If and were looking forward to seeing something new. Mom really loved the boat ride out to the island.

We bought our tickets to the Chateau and walked around the island for a few minutes before heading inside. The Chateau was once a fortress, turned into a decent prison, with fireplaces and windows with views of the sea. At one time, there was a rhinoceros kept at the Chateau, but that was a very sad story.

We were a bit disappointed with the Chateau, it was interesting and fun to walk around, but quite small and easy to explore within a couple of hours. Also, there was an entire room devoted to the Count de Monte Cristo and all the different movie versions of the story.

CLICK HERE for our pictures of Chateau d'If

After exploring the Chateau, we took the boat over to Frioul Island to hike. Chris and I had explored one island, so we decided to go to the other one on this trip (Frioul is made up of 2 islands connected by a dam).

It was a hot day for hiking, but we had a blast. For the first time, we saw baby seagulls! They were SO cute! We also saw a rabbit, which was a first for us here in France (outside of a restaurant menu).

We hiked a large part of the island, but there is STILL more to explore!

After hiking, we stopped off in the village for some drinks and ice cream. Chris had Thyme sorbet and I had violet. It felt so good to sit and cool off for a little while before catching the boat back to Marseille.

CLICK HERE for pictures of our trip.