a tale of the wander years, and all the adventures that came my way.
what we call the beginning is often the end
and to make an end is to make a beginning...
we shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
- t.s. eliot, 'four quartets'
Monday, May 16, 2011
the french riviera; it’s like florida, but way less tacky.
(continued from the post “getting down in barcelona”...)
tuesday, 3 may 2011
...we landed in lyon, a city in the eastern region of france. after the previous days’ housing worries, i was glad to have found a place for us to sleep! we took the tram from the airport to the city centre, and then the metro out to meet our host. her name is hélène, and she is an angel from heaven, i swear. she came to meet us at the stop and then walked us back to her flat. she live in a little neighborhood at the top of a hill, overlooking the main city.. and her apartment is incredible. we walked in and were immediately greeted with a deep red, textured-wall entry way. hélène said we’d be sleeping in her room, since it was at the back and furthest from the morning’s construction noises. her bedroom was this lovely eggplant colour with orange trim and awesome african-print fabrics on the bed and chairs. her sitting room was bright yellow, with funky and unique couches in purple, and a patio table complete with umbrella in the breakfast nook! the apartment went on for several rooms in the same style.. rachel and i were astonished. usually, the french are so demure and muted in their colour choices. but not hélène! she matched her apartment perfectly – bright reddish-maroon hair, ecclectic blue and green outfit, red lipstick and blue eyeshadow.. and a wonderful spirit! she immediately offered us food – fruit, cheese, bread, yogurt – and then let us get settled.
around 4pm, we left to go explore the city, as it was really our only chance! we walked down this huge set of stairs into the town, and then literally just walked up and down streets, along the river, through plazas.. trying to soak up as much of the city as we could. we stopped for a drink, and then grabbed some groceries before heading back up the hill around 8pm. since lyon itself isn’t actually very big, i feel like we did a good job seeing a large percentage of the city in such a small amount of time! once we got back to the apartment, we were exhausted.. hélène wasn’t home (she’d given us keys), but i cooked us a little dinner of pasta and then we just laid in bed reading until bedtime!
wednesday, 4 may 2011
i thought that i couldn’t sleep for more than 9 hours, but after many nights of sleeping on small pallets or couches, a real bed was enough to keep me out for more than 10 hours! it was luxury at its finest – but considering we’d gone to bed around 11, we still woke up earlyish at 10am. we packed our stuff up and then hélène surprised us with an awesome savory tarte for lunch! two kinds of cheese and garlic.. it was DELISH. she had to leave around 12:45, so said our goodbyes and left then too. we hung out in a park for about an hour before heading to the train station...
our next stop was a city called nice (pronounced neese, like geese), situated right on the mediterranean coast, almost all the way to italy. we had several hours on the train, though, since we had to go out of our way and change trains in marseille. we finally arrived in nice around 8:30, where one of our hosts came to meet us at the train station. we stayed with an awesome french couple, valentin and yasmine, in their incredible attic apartment. it was the fourth floor of this beautiful old villa building, on the north side of the city. they have a sweet cat and an adorably decorated place. rachel and i enjoyed every minute of our stay! we talked for a long time after arriving, especially about the 3-week tour they are doing of the southwest USA, starting in a few days! they are starting in albuquerque and visiting several national parks, vegas, and eventually making their way to san francisco.. couchsurfing all the way! i hope they have an absolutely marvelous time – i know they will! valentin even helped me plan out our touring for the following day – he had some awesome suggestions! yasmine made an awesome quiche and salad for dinner.. yum. after dinner, i took a much needed shower before skype-calling my parents and heading to bed.
thursday, 5 may 2011
thursday was a long day!!!! so much walking. but totally worth it! we woke up around 9am to the sound of oranges being juiced... and walked out to the living room to find breakfast pastries and goblets (yes, small crystal goblets) of freshly squeezed orange juice. more praise for couchsurfing, can i get an amen? awesome. we ate and then walked down to the train station to catch our 17-minute-long train to the swankiest little principality on the planet – monaco. what a freaking FANCY place! we spent the morning wandering around monte carlo, marveling at the amazing amounts of money on display. i literally lost count of the number of bentleys i saw.. but i am absolutely sure than i saw probably 25 million dollars worth of car.. so many bentleys, rolls royces, ferraris.... my word. and then there were all yachts in the harbor... plus the stores – gucci, prada, hermes.. all in a row. SO MUCH WEALTH. even the banks were called ‘wealth management’ places.. geez. we went up to ‘old’ monte carlo and watched the (rather unimpressive) changing of the guard, grabbed some sandwiches for lunch, and taking in the amazing views before hopping a bus back to the train station.
we took the train 8 minutes back towards nice, getting off in a town called ‘eze’. this stop was purely on valentin’s recommendation, and it was SO worth it. we had to take another bus up into the mountains, but once we got there, we were rewarded with a teeny little stone village, perched high up on top of the hill, overlooking the medeterranean and the beaches below.. each little street was so cute, with art shops and other merchants. we got ice cream and wandered around for an hour before heading back down to the beach. on the bus ride down the hill, rachel realized that every single passenger on the bus was an anglophone – we were on a bus with probably 40 middle-aged to elderly american tourists. haha. we got back to the train station and walked down to the beach and dip our toes in the water for a bit before our train arrived. once it did, we had a short ride back to nice!
once we were back, we still had lots of time to kill before yasmine was off work. we ended up walking allllll over the city, carrying the groceries we had bought while still thinking we could drop them off at the apartment.. whoops. this was our best time to see nice, though, so i’m happy we did so much walking. we even got to sit on the beach for a while before yasmine called us and said she was home. we got back and chilled for a bit before breaking out the supplies we’d purchased – because we promised to make yasmine her favourite treat.. blueberry muffins! i even persuaded everyone to let me do half the batch as raspberry muffins. they turned out well, if just a little crispy due to some temperature confusion and a super hot oven. they were definitely edible (more than edible!) and we all enjoyed them immensely! it was nice to do some baking, too.. i’ve missed it!
after the muffins, we all went out for drinks and snacks in old nice, at a really cool bar. it reminded me of being inside jules verne’s sketch book, somehow.. really interesting décor. we walked there and back though, completing a VERY long day of walking! once we got back, i looked for a few hosts in cannes, our next stop, before heading to bed.
friday, 6 may 2011
in retrospect, i would not have done this day the way it happened. but i cannot tell the future, so when it started i was still pleased with my plan! we woke up to muffins and orange juice around 9am again. we ate, packed up, said our goodbyes, and left around 10am to catch our 10:30 train to cannes, of film festival fame. the ride was short, but unfortunately, the luggage holding area in the station was closed. so we had to lug our bags around with us as we strolled the beach walk for a while. we got to see the set up preparations for the film festival, which began a few days after we were there. the city was nice, but the beach itself was gorgeous. i’d just like to insert a comment here that can be applied to every time i saw the ocean during this trip – the colour of the medeterranean is incomprehensible. it is blue.. but it is turquoise, and green, and purple, and indigo, and navy. it is the brightest body of water i have ever seen.. i could have stared at it for hours. anyway, we got sandwiches for lunch and headed back to the train station.
our next stop was st. tropez, the famed beach destination for stars of every generation. it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in europe. too bad it’s next to IMPOSSIBLE to get there!! ugh. we took the train from cannes to st. raphael, the nearest city with a train station. from there, we had to take a bus. if i had known how long the bus ride was, i would have just suggested we stay in st. raphael and go to that beach. but, we commited to st. tropez and got on the bus. an hour and a half with a crazy bus driver later, we finally arrived in st. tropez.. only to realize that, in order to be back in st. raphael in time to make our train to our next host, we had to be back on the bus in an hour and a half. and we were on the exact opposite side of the city from where we needed to be.. and we still had our suitcases. struggle. after walking for a while (in the wrong direction, as it happened), we finally decided to give up on the “famous” beaches, and just find ANY beach to lay on for the 45 minutes we had left. so we took a nap on the beach and then woke up just in time to make it back to the bus. the ride back was twice as bad as the ride there, because there was so much more traffic and complaining from the driver (of course it was the same guy). he yelled at people for talking too loudly.. and by that, i mean talking. at all. we FINALLY made it back to st. raphael, got some food for snacks, and got on our train to marseille.
our next host was actually a friend of ours, not a couchsurfer. her name is laure and she is awesome! she had done a semester abroad at belmont, where both rachel and i met her. i only knew her in passing from the language lab where we both worked, but she and rachel became good friends during her stay. rachel even spent a week at her house in january before coming to angers. laure picked us up from the train station and drove us back to her house, about 25 minutes away. we got there and i got to meet her parents, who are both so sweet! we talked for a while, had snacks, and then rachel and i gratefully got into bed.
saturday, 7 may 2011
we slept in quite a while (for girls with things to do!) and woke up for breakfast around 10am. we had time to shower and get ready before laure drove us into aix-en-provence, another town nearby, to explore. it is a beautiful city! we toured the fine arts museum, which had several cezannes, as aix was his hometown. we found an awesome english bookstore/tea room, exactly like the one i would open if i were to open a bookstore. since it was saturday, the town was bustling with activity – terraces full of café-going people-watchers, shoppers with arms full of their latest hauls, tourists snapping photos of statues and church spires. we stopped for drinks at laure’s favourite bar before heading home. on our way, we grabbed some groceries to make burgers for dinner. the burgers were great, but the fries were soggy. i don’t know how i made my first batch of fries earlier this semester, but i haven’t been able to make them crispy ever since! i don’t understand it. anyway, we had some ice cream for dessert before settling in for a ‘friends’ marathon before bed! such a fantastic show. after a few hours, we called it a night.
sunday, 8 may 2011
american mother’s day! i have the best mom ever!
we got up for breakfast pretty late, and made our way out to the little pool in laure’s backyard for some sun time in the afternoon. beautiful. around 5pm, we headed into marseille to do some shopping and walk around, hoping to ultimately find a place to watch the marseille/lyon football match later in the evening. we found this awesome bagel shop (lol!) and ate there for dinner.. i hadn’t had a bagel in over 4 months, so it was pretty phenomenal. the pub across the street was playing the game, so we went over and posted up at a corner table for a few hours! the game was great – started out slow but had several goals near the end! unfortunately, marseille ended up losing the match, but for a while the energy was pretty electric! it’s always so fun to watch a match with locals. after it was over, we walked back the car and headed home. we had another ‘friends’ mini-marathon before bedtime. :)
monday, 9 may 2011
our last day of the trip! we had purchased tickets to do a boat cruise of the ‘calanques’ along the coast near marseille. we took the train into town, to avoid having to find a place to park, and got lunch before heading to the port. we got on our little cruise boat and headed out to sea! after the 3 hour tour, i still wasn't sure what a ‘calanque’ is.. i've since learned that it translates to mean ‘rocky inlet’. but the whole thing was so pretty! we bobbed up and down the coast, snapping photos of the dramatic cliff faces and peaceful inlets.. again, incomprehensibly blue water, with broad, white cliffs as a background now! near to the end of the tour (we saw 12 calanques in all), the three of us got a teensy bit seasick, so we all laid our heads down for a while on the ride back. but we perked up enough to see the ride back into the port, through the massive entry corridor, framed by hilltop fortresses. just outside of the harbor sits the castle where edmund dantes was imprisoned in ‘the count of monte cristo’! three cheers for literary history. after our boat tour, we walked back to the train station and headed back to st. victoret, laure’s little town.
once we got back, we napped for a while before getting up for dinner. laure’s parents had friends over, a nice french couple who had no troubles speaking with us! we joked around for a while until dinner was served – a delicious sort of shepard’s pie type thing.. it was this huge casserole dish with duck and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes and baked.. YUM. we had salad, radishes, and bread as well. SUCH a great dinner! i have missed home-cooked mom food so much! after dinner we sat and talked and ate cherries from the garden for a long time before we three girls retired to our bedrooms downstairs. since it was our last night there, laure agreed to sacrifice sleep for more ‘friends’ bonding. :) we went to bed around midnight, though, so it wasn’t too bad!
tuesday, 10 may 2011
laure had to leave for work early, so we woke up to say goodbye. she was such a great host, and i am so grateful and happy we got to stay with her! she left around 8am, and rachel and i went back to sleep for a few hours. around 11am, i got up to take a shower. we both went out to lay by the pool for a while, and then came in to get our bags packed up. laure’s mom took us to the train station for our 3:30 train, gave us bags with food and drinks and cookies, and sent us on our way back home to angers.
the train ride was direct, but 5 hours long.. we were both so happy to be off that train by the end of it! we got back to our dorm around 9pm, and spent the rest of the night visiting with friends who we hadn’t seen in 2 weeks! i even went out that night, just so i could spend some time with them.. every minute counts!
the days in between my return and next departure have been filled with friend time. i’m trying to have as much as possible! i DID have a great free dinner on wednesday night, courtesy of the university of angers. free crepes are the best!! and i also got to read to SUPER AWESOME books – the first two books in the ‘hunger games’ series by suzanne collins. i highly recommend them and i can’t wait to get my hands on the third one!
i’m heading off to ireland in the morning! well, my flight isn’t until the afternoon, but i’m out of the dorm around 11! i’ll be there for 10 days, and i’m so excited! stay tuned for that post somewhere around the 28th.. :)