Monday, March 21, 2011

Best Vacation, Final Part: Back to the South

La Maison Carrée
For the last part of the vacation, everyone kind of went off on their own separate ways for a few days. I decided to head back down south to explore a bit more. My friend lives in Nîmes, and I thought that would be a good place to start.

Nîmes has a few really neat monuments, like la Maison Carrée (Square House), which I had seen twice before, but it was being restored both times.  The second time was almost a year and a half after the first time, so I thought I'd never get to see it in all its glory since the French are notorious for taking their time on les travaux... but this time all the scaffolding was gone and it looked gorgeous!

Les Arènes
I saw the arena again, just like back in November... remember this picture from my post way back when? There's Feathers!  Les Arènes is just something I can never help taking pictures of. It's so impressive.

This could have been a much better photo if I had just taken my time... I still like it though.

The best place for a little chat in Nîmes? I think so.

I had a good couple of days relaxing in Nîmes, catching up, meeting new people... one day it was gorgeous out so we all went for a picnic in the park.

Opinel - "très français", Antoine told me

Whatever this was, I wasn't very good at it...

 Next I went to Marseille!

My first view from outside the train station.

Marseille is gorgeous. It was a bit cloudy when I was there but there was still so much more sunlight and color than I get at home in Normandy.

I got a coffee at this place called "Cup of Tea" that I've remembered since 2008, when I was last in Marseille... my friend Mimi had told me about it back then and I meant to go inside but I spent too much time in the soap shop next door... by the time I wanted to get a coffee there it was closed for the day.  So I vowed to come back and I did! I got a nice little seat by the window and read On the Road for a bit with my cappuccino.  Sooo indie.

I hadn't seen this cathedral before - La Cathédrale de la Major. It was very striking and I loved all the colors inside.

Next I took a little daytrip to Cassis from Marseille! Well, it was meant to be a daytrip, but I didn't get there until the sun was going down. It looked like a small little town so I didn't think I'd need that much time to explore.  I just wanted to see the town that was the namesake of Crème de Cassis... and it's also very close to the Calanques, which are these beautiful inlets on the coast which I keep hearing about. I didn't make it down there this time, but maybe I'll go back when it's warmer.

I got to the little train station and, it turns out, the center of town was 3 km away, and the next bus wasn't coming for another 35 minutes. Looks like I was in for a stroll! It was a very nice walk, though... I strolled through these trees, past a bunch of vineyards, with the sunshine in my face... it could have been worse.

Then I got to the town, right on the water, and these big orange cliffs just came out of nowhere.  With the gorgeous sunset light hitting them.  Amazing.

I got some regional cookies at the pastry shop and just walked around, marveling at the light hitting all the trees and buildings... I had a hard time believing the whole town wasn't part of some elaborate creation at Disneyland. The lighting was just too perfect.

I didn't spend enough time in Cassis to really get a feel of the place... but it was very pretty. I'd like to go back someday and take a trip to the Calanques while I'm there.

 Next on the Provence docket: Aix-en-Provence!

One of my favorite things about going to a new city: finding the tourist office, grabbing a map, finding a café and sitting down for a few minutes with a coffee (or hot chocolate in this case) to orient myself and plan out my day a little. And some journaling thrown in there too.

Once again: SUNSHIIIIINE!  Love it.

Everything always looks so pretty at French outdoor markets...

There's those dang rotisserie chickens again! I WILL get one someday!

Sometimes the goodies in a pâtisserie window will actually make me stop dead in my tracks and need to take a picture. In this case I actually went inside and purchased....

...des calissons d'Aix! A little regional specialty which I was keen on trying. They're little cookies (I can't think of a better word to describe them, but this is a grave understatement) made of melon and almonds, with icing on top. It sounds very bizarre, but they were delicious. Mine tasted more like lemon than melon though.

Seeing daffodils always makes me grin like an idiot... They may be my favorite flower. And seeing them always means that spring is right around the corner.

Another cathedral, another beautiful organ. I'd never seen a green one before. I think my Granny would have loved it.

My friend Sophie and I found this great little teashop called L'Orienthé. It looked so cozy! Inside we were asked to take off our shoes and to find a place to sit on the floor. They had a huge menu of exotic teas and yummy desserts. I wanted to steal my teapot, it was so cute...  My tea was called "Indian Summer" and it was heavenly. Just the thing to end my day in Aix, and my perfect vacation.  Summer is getting so close, I can feel it....

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best Vacation Part 3: London

London was the first place I ever visited outside of the United States, way back when I was 7 years old. (By the way, I was a super cute 7-year-old... I wish I could find some pictures on my computer of that trip. Anyway.) Because I visited England with my family at such a young age, I'm always reminded of that first trip when I visit now. And, it makes me miss my family a lot when I'm there. This doesn't happen too much anywhere else I visit in Europe... I mean I always miss them, but France is kind of my place, and the same goes for all the other countries I've seen... I've been there without my family so it's been my own experience that I can share with them later. 

But England is ours. Even at home, we all share a love of British things like going to The Olde Ship and getting shepherd's pie and a pint, or watching Wallace and Gromit, or driving around in my mom's death trap Morris Minor convertible.
However! I still managed to have a great time with my friends! Also it was refreshing to be somewhere where I could speak my native language with everyone.

My first meal in London - fish and chips, of course! With mushy peas that were actually quite tasty.
Adding to the whole being-homesick-missing-family thing, Suburban Legends and Reel Big Fish were playing a show in London! Two bands from my hometown that played a big role in shaping my childhood/adolescence... haha. I'd never seen them outside the USA before and I was excited to take my friends to see them for the first time.


It was a blast, as usual! So nice to see them again.

My friends were all excited about "meeting the band"... :)

My boys and me, all the way across the world!
Adding to the missing-home thing. What a weird poster to see in London!?

I took Feathers to see some of the London hotspots.

Like Harrods, of course!

I thought I remembered this from last time I went... there is definitely a Krispy Kreme shop inside Harrods. They really do sell everything.

One thing I had never experienced in London - a Sunday roast. Apparently every pub serves a full Sunday evening roast every week. Ours had roast beef, horseradish, Yorkshire pudding, creamed leeks, veggies, and roasted potatoes. YUM. Also I got a "snakebite", which is a pint of half-cider-half-beer, with a shot of blackcurrant syrup. It sounds bizarre but it was delicious.

It was a really short trip and I want to go back before I leave Europe this time. I took the Eurostar train back to Paris and it was only a 2 hour trip! A bit pricey, but it's much better than taking a plane because it gets you from the center of one city to the center of the other. Yay!