I left for vacation at 12:00pm on Friday, February 8. My last class ended at 11:15am, and I was very very excited.
Notes from my trip from Ussel to Marseille (not an easy feat!), translated from French:
-the mountains of the Massif Central silhouetted between the haze of the clouds and the brilliance of the sun
-replanted trees in exact columns even better ordered than corn
-bare trees in the foreground become lace through which you see the mountain pines
-cultural differences become less and less distinct
-I sat at a four-seat place with two women - one Canadian and one French - who spoke English the whole way...I love not being noticed as Anglo!
-nausea in the bus from Ussel to Clermont
-a REAL rest and an opportunity for some French
[Friday 2/8] Marseille is huge but the youth hostel is friendly and accommodating. The girl at the desk used the familiar form of "you" with me, and that made me feel comfortable. Tomorrow is serious sight-seeing and maybe meeting up with Ben for lunch or coffee. I needed this vacation.
[Saturday 2/9] Today at breakfast there was an Algerian or Tunisian man, a Quebecoise named Emilie and an Australian named Adam. I kept quiet because I'm a quiet person and also without knowing who I was they made some rather rude comments about the US. AS I was leaving, Adam asked if I was going on the hiking trip to the Calanques. I said no but I'll go ask. I asked the man in charge who said it was cancelled. I asked "Why? There's another guy who wants to go..." So Nabil, the guide, restarted the trip just for me and Adam! About an hour of buses and a trip to a corner market for picnic fixings, we were in pleine nature. Words cannot describe how amazing, beautiful, exciting, and exhilirating this was. sights I'd always wanted to see but never had the guts or desire. But something inside me said why not and despite my very tired feet and body, Iam thrilled I went. Amazing and beautiful sights. So much "oh my goodness" and "oh my gosh" and "wow." An unforgettable and memorable experience. I got to play translator between Nabil and Adam who was not thrilled about me being American but tolerated my weak translation skills well. I am so glad I did this, and tomorrow I'll take it easier. I had dinner, and beer, and now I'm going to bed. Happy happy day.
[Sunday 2/10] Natalie is from Canada and a first grade teacher in England. She moved into my room last night, as did a large and smelly Japanese girl whose English was really weak. Despite numerous and polite requests to sleep on her side, snored and ground her teeth to the point of sleeplessness for me, Natalie, and the other English girl who left. Natalie and I finally had enough and asked the super sweet night watchman Salim with whom she made friends to switch rooms. Yay! So after a good night's sleep, I DID Marseille. Palais Longchamps was a cute park with a neat hanging garden fountain, no giraffes, and the HUGE palace for the Fine Arts Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum was lots of really old stuffed animals (in pretty bad shape) and a thinly researched temporary exhibition on the North Pole. As I left, I passed the Museum of...fancy people's houses or something...in any case it matched the Vacation of Decadence. I mosied down to Vieux Port to do some sight seeing and find a very mediocre lunch of eggplant pizza (and horrible service). Then I braved crazy vacation traffic to climb Fort Saint Nicolas (it belonged to Napoleon) and crossed the street to Jardin des Pharos, a happening park full of families including one celebrating their little boy's first birthday complete with a tricycle! On my way to the other side of Vieux Port I bumped into Adam from yesterday and traded travel tips. Then I tried my darndest to find Le Panier Quartier but shops are hard to find on Sunday! Also the tourism guide's suggested walking path sucked. I found the cathedral which reminded me of Florence. La Vieille Charite accepted my attestation professionnelle (French teacher's ID card) for the world's worst contemporary art exhibition. I have yet to find contemporary art I truly like. By now I'm exhausted by I still have Notre Dame de la Garde to find! So I arrived exactly for mass but also for amazing views of the city that was turning beautiful warm colors in the afternoon sun. Then I caught a bus back to Vieux Port and the metro to the bus for the hostel. And I saw Natalie again! We had dinner and talked the night away. We're both North Americans teaching elementary school in Europe, traveling extensively during vacations, and are maintaining long-distance relationships with boyfriends named Andrew. This hostel has truly shown me the benefits of youth hostel life. I'm actually looking forward to Nice's hostel and seriously considering hostels for Maggie's trip in April.
[Monday 2/11] Today was an adventure! I woke up my whole hostel room this morning with my alarm clock. The bus to the metro was late but I made it to the train station with ten minutes to spare. It was a night train from Nantes (north of La Rochelle!) to Nice so my chair reclined a lot. I got to Saint Raphael, bought an expensive bus ticket to Saint Tropez, ate a great little breakfast, and fixed my ticket to Nice. The bus ride to Saint Tropez was awesome - we hugged the coast for most of the way, and it was beautiful. On the other side were resorts and adorable lonely beach towns and beautiful villas. I arrived in Saint Tropez and went to an internet cafe to unload my camera. I wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere and the fact that I'm on the Mediterranean coast. I found lunch at La Tarte Tropezienne - grilled open face pissaladiere and sardine sandwich and salad. Delicious! (Look at the picture.) After lunch, I found my hotel. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but I didn't like it and only decided that after I paid 70E. So I went to the Office de Tourisme and asked for recommendations. The hotel they recommended was actually the next place in my book, and for 8E more a night, I got a beautiful room, flat screen TV with fifteen international and French channels, a minibar (I'll never figure that one out), an immaculate bathroom, and super friendly service. Unfortunately the first hotel only refunded me 20E, so that was a 50E mistake. I consoled myself with a visit to the Musee de l'Annonciation which was Pointillism heaven. Jus really nice and totally worth the 5E. I even bought art postcards! I bought a piece of tarte tropezienne which was delicious. I like being on vacation!
[Tuesday 2/12] Today was fun! I woke up really early because I didn't do a lot of physical activity the day before. I visited the market which was on the plaza where my hotel was - another plus! And I bought some lavender and a towel...I know I'm weird. First on my list of things to do and see was the Citadel, a fortress on a hill. I walked around and kept hearing a loud bird. So I look up, and it's a PEACOCK!! In a tree! I followed him for a bit and then walked the perimeter of the Citadel for some breathtaking views of the bay. I visited the Citadel which was pretty dull but the writeup was helpful. I saw another pretty bird that looked like a finch - red breast, green back - but it was camera-shy. Lots of pretty plants too. As I left, a peacock was at the entrance with his feathers fully displayed as it tried to bully a pigeon. I can't believe I saw a peacock - not in a zoo or a park! After the Citadel, I found the Parish Church. Photos were forbidden which is too bad because it was pretty. Lots of saints' effigies and yellow paint. For lunch I tried to find a place to eat, but every place seemed really uninterested in me. So I grabbed a sandwich from Tarte Tropezienne and some snackies from the minimart next door and watched TV in my hotel room. I got up in time to see a tour boat - and went on! For 9E I got an hour of commentated tour of the bay of Saint Tropez including some famous peoples' houses. the guide asked me personally a lot of questions once it was understood that I'm from New York and not French. That makes me really uncomfortable because it puts my spoken French in the spotlight and I don't like people seeing me immediately as The American Girl...eh. After the boat tour, I embarked on an odyssey to find a pair of jeans, as my American pair were dying of crotch holes. Not only did I find ones that fit (American size 12!), but also a cute grey turtleneck. I also bought stamps. Then to Senequier, a famous cafe, for cappuccino and tarte tropezienne - yummy!! By then I had walked around a lot and was bored so I bought some more snackies at the minimart and vegged out in my hotel room. An excellent day.
[Wednesday 2/13] *disclaimer* Dad, avert your eyes: I "lost" my MC for a little bit this morning. The hotel concierge was more than patient and helpful and sympathetic. Luckily I had left it on the Post Office counter when I bought my stamps and the clerk kept it for me. I wasted time looking at boats in the port until the bus back to Saint Raphael. The trip from Saint Raphael to Nice was very unpleasant: lots of annoying teens with awful Franco-Italian fashion and haircuts, beggars getting mad at me for not giving them money...eesh. Finally I arrived in NICE! This city is crazy. It reminds me a lot of Italian shops - I know I have something to do if I get bored! I wandered to Vieux Nice and went to the Parc de la Colline du Chateau and saw all sorts of neat things: ruins of a 12th century church, Saddam Hussein's yacht in the port, the coolest jungle gym ever, and a waterfall! I stopped at a neat place for "dinner" but it was only 6:00pm. I had three stuffed sardines and salad witha glass of rose wine. I still have sardine bones in my teeth. I like the hostel so far, especially the in-room showers. This is a great vacation.
[Thursday 2/14] I miss Andy. Valentine's Day sucks away from him. Mom called too. I could hear how much she misses me. I feel bad about that. Today I saw the Fine Arts Museum which was pretty neat, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral which is pretty much tiled in gold and mosaics, the Contemporary Art Museum which explained the plastic men on poles in the main square but is still very uninteresting, the Museum of Prehistory which was NEAT, and Vieux Port. I ate dinner at Quick (Belgian McDonald's), had socca (chickpea flour and olive oil crepe), and walked everywhere. I need to buy a jacket and shoes...too bad French fashion is pretty bad. I love vacation!
[Friday 2/15] Today I saw the Matisse Museum. He was a smart man but I couldn't really appreciate a lot of his art. It was less dramatic than I expected. Next door was the Archaeological Site and Museum - Roman ruins!! Really well laid out and explained. I wish I had more time. These two places were in the neighborhood called Cimiez, which is RICH, like reminded me of Madison Avenue near the French Consulate RICH. Wow. For lunch I mosied back to Vieux Nice and randomly found a busy place to eat. If I don't have a specific place from my guide book, I go to whatever looks edible and busy. I had pissaladiere, which is anchovy, carmelized onion and olive pizza, daube which is beef with I think lavender ravioli, and the world's worst charlotte aux fraises (strawberry shortcake) but they did give me a free kir (wine with fruit syrup) and they were super friendly. Then I went to the Chagall Museum. Marc Chagall was a Jewish artist from the south of France, and this museum focused on his Bibical works which are naturally on the Old Testament. Absolutely breathtaking. And there were benches to sit and just STARE at his paintings, so that was fabulous. I went to the carnival and got a crepe with creme marron (sweet chestnut spread) and got to watch a bitch fight between the crepe girl and a snotty girl who wasn't satisfied with her crepe. For dinner I found a recommended place for a salade nicoise (green salad with tuna, anchovies, and hard boiled eggs), the hottest and least similar lasagna, and chocolate MOUSSE. YUMM. Now to PARIS!
I didn't keep my journal in Paris as Paris is exhausting. It was so good to see Kathy and Liz. They're family, really. I've known Liz since she was born, and Kathy has known my parents for longer than I've been alive. I am not the best travel buddy but they were as patient as they could be. It was neat to see Paris, France, and Europe with fresh eyes as so much of what I see is colored with my perspective and studies. Jet lag was not kind to Liz the first couple of hours, but she muscled through it. Kathy discovered that Paris is mostly built on spiral staircases much to her dismay. We did a lot of fun stuff, but there's still a huge list of things to do and see in Paris both for me and for them. Things we did see:
The Louvre! Kathy wanted to see the medieval part which is super cool and more interesting than the Old Lady. Liz wanted to see the Winged Victory of S...(how do you say that again?), and Kathy could have done a day entirely in the sculpture gardens.
Musee d'Orsay. So cool we had to go back another morning.
Eiffel Tower. We went on a sunny afternoon, only for it to close for an evacuation exercise. LAMECORE. So we went back on a cloudy afternoon and were rewarded with surprisingly excellent views of Paris. We went to the top floor, something I've never done, Liz went to the bathroom, we had hot chocolate, and we sent postcards. Excellent!
Bateaux Mouches. A guided boat tour of Paris on the Seine. Freezing but bright and very fun.
Sacre Coeur! This was in our neighborhood and where Kathy discovered Paris' love for spiral staircases. I love Sacre Coeur.
Notre Dame. The first afternoon we were too late to climb up, but we did go inside. It's so pretty but smaller than it looks inside. The second time Liz and I climbed to the top, followed closely by a British couple of which the wife was deathly afraid of heights. SOOO much fun!
Berthillion, or as Kathy and Liz put it, Mansion Ice Cream. Delicious gourmet ice cream on the ritzy Ile de Saint-Louis. I got caramel ice cream on a hot waffle.
Pantheon so Liz could find Voltaire's tomb. It is SO cold in there.
Museum of the Middle Ages. My favorite place ever.
Versaiies! I've never been there and to be honest, it reminded me of those Decorative Arts museums I avoid because it's just rich peoples' furniture and household items. I liked the paintings and tapestries better. Unfortunately it's February and the gardens were less than pretty. Marie Antoinette had a French village recreated so she could play peasant, and that was absolutely beautiful. I think I'd like Versailles if you could live like French royalty for a weekend - complete with the clothes.
Our neighborhood was awesome. Montmartre is really touristy but it's busy, friendly, and you can find Real Paris there. Breakfast was at this adorable and super busy bakery with excellent value menus. We ate in a number of nights for dinner, as Liz discovered the magic of baguette and jam and Nutella. We had a lot of Greek food from a great deli, a cheese platter one night, and all around deliciousness. One lunch we found an Antillaise place - French island food that was beyond delicious. Another night we went to a restaurant in our neighborhood. In Versailles we went to a recommended place that was excellent value and delicious. Lots of crepes, coffees, and sandwiches. Lots of metro rides. The weather was very good the entire time. Only two grey days - Versailles and the Eiffel Tower, unfortunately. Liz had some serious shopping to do, so she bought a swimsuit and a jacket. I bought the same one, but she looks much better in it. In any case, I finally have a good quality and cute spring jacket.
So that was the vacation. Two weeks is a LONG time, and I enjoyed it. I really needed it too. I hope you got my postcards. It was a real vacation, and totally worth the (hundreds) of euros and dollars I overspent.