Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Adventures #16-20: Spring Break wooooo!

While packing for the two weeks, I heeded advice from an InStyle article about packing with a color palette in mind to make mix and matching outfits easier. My color-coordinated vacay wardrobe turned out successful I think, but I was more pleased with the beautiful palettes of the places we visited. In general, I loved how Provence marries the colors (colours?) of the architecture with nature and more specifically, I really liked all the blue shutters.

Between the boats in Marseille, the beaches in Biarritz, the azaleas in Bayonne, and the bike ride in Bordeaux I’d say my spring vacation, and spring as a season in general, was more or less a success and boy, did I rack up on those butterflies. But despite all the things I discuss in the following paragraphs, the best part of the trip was definitely spending time with some of my fellow assistants… they are some OK people to hang out with. J

Adventure #16: Marseille

When I went to Marseille with an LSU group in 2008, a teacher compared it to New Orleans: kind of gritty, rebellious, and multicultural. And like New Orleans, I felt lukewarm towards it after my first visit. But this time around, I found it much more charming. The beaches, the boats (I rode on TWO. Chhhhheck!), the sun-bleached colors, the clothes strung on lines from windows, plus we splurged on a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. (Unfortunately, I lacked my mother’s gene of taking pictures of the hotel rooms on this trip so no evidence exists…)

Highlight was the ride to the island of Chateau d’If of The Count of Monte Cristo fame (Apparently. I wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for Donatellla). Just expecting an old castle or whatever, but I enjoyed the plants and views of Marseille’s coastline with the recognizable silhouette of huge Notre Dame de la Garde. Boat ride #2 was a success because the water was wonderfully blue with which the calanques contrasting wonderfully, though I wasn’t entirely certain as to what they are. I thought calanques were the white-gray cliff structures rising from the water but it turns out they are the inlets created by them. Or as Wikipedia calls them “Mediterranean fjords.” Whichever, they involved a boat.

Adventure #17: Aix-en-Provence

In post-trip discussions, Aix came out as the general favorite (favourite?). The town I most looked forward to revisiting, Aix just seems to embody everything you want in a French town: the food, the markets, the architecture, the fountains, plus the people were actually friendly. I thus hypothesize that Southern Hospitality must be applicable to all countries. Sud met South when we got a generous dinner invitation to the French home of some fellow Louisianans from the Boudreaux family’s Aloysius days. Another great at a place called Chez Grand-Mère, with a super nice server and such yummy food, it’s one of the few meals on the trip I can remember perfectly: a mushroom cassolette, lamb cooked with foie gras, and a taste of this caramel moeulleux thing that was served on a piece of slate.

Painters like Paul Cezanne, whose house we got to see, loved Aix and the Provence region in general for its light and colors. And I did see something different about it, the way the sun reflects the color palette of the area: wonderful orangey-warm yellows, the best blues you’ve ever seen in a window shutter, and the green green green. I find that most French town lack in the greenery (shrubbery?), especially in their centers (Besançon included), which I guess is understandable for the crowdedness of it but Aix works them in well, especially the plane trees lining the Cours Mirabeau.

Walking around Aix, you see market after market of vegetables, flowers, breads, olives, soaps, lavender, herbs, wood products, sausages… you also see fountain after fountain. France likes her fountains. They are even more ubiquitous than her carousels (I swear, every town has one). Aix apparently sits on a natural spring or something so the city took advantage of it and erected fountains everywhere.

Soft serve ice cream (whippy?) acquired: mango and strawberry.

Adventure #18: Toulouse

France likes its strikes and so far, I’ve actually found them more or less beneficial. Either my school was striking and I didn’t have to work or the buses were striking so there wasn’t a way to get to work. However, an SNCF train strike had the potential to really ruin our plans. Our train from Aix to Toulouse was cancelled and we had to choose between staying another night in Aix or trying to get a super late train to get into Toulouse the next morning. We ended up hopping on a train back to Marseille in hopes of having more options there. Proved to be a GREAT idea because we all got free hotel rooms out of it. As in, all six of us EACH got an individual 96 euro a night Hotel Ibis room for nothing. One less night we were planning on paying for! So as far as strikes go, I like ‘em… once I got used to sitting on the floor next to a trash can in the baggage car.

Color-wise I was disappointed in Toulouse. Hailed as being “La Ville en Rose” or “The Pink City” I was jazzed for seeing what that was all about. But either we missed the pink buildings entirely or whoever came up with that tagline suffered from some sort of colorblind. So. Not. Pink. But it made up for its lack of color in gardens. Plus, I made my sole souvenir purchase (other than the twenty, yes, TWENTY, postcards I managed to purchase and write from the trip, thankyouverymuch). A tapestry wall hanging thing… I’ve always wanted one and it will nicely fit the old lady image I have of myself, hanging on a wall in the guest bedroom to prove to my few visitors that I indeed had at least one year of excitement. The visit to Musée des Augustins cloister was the only time my expired ISIC card has failed to get me a student discount. I had to shell out the three euros to get in. Thankfully the garden and the architecture made it worth it. Really nice ceilings.

Highlight of Toulouse was actually leaving it for the day to go to Carcassonne, home of “La Cité” a castle on a hill with an entire little town, or “cité,” within its walls. Total legit castle. Moat and everything.

Ice cream acquired: passion fruit and lemon.

Adventure #19: Bayonne/Biarrtiz/Anglet

Though we were based in Bayonne, technically we stayed in Anglet, and did a day trip to Biarrtiz. Bayonne for the ham, Anglet for the hostel, Biarrtiz for the beach. Before French became the uber-centralized entity that it is, each area had its own language, Bayonne’s being Basque. Apparently, Basque is interesting linguistically (another informational tidbit courtesy of Donatella), but I just thought it was neat to see the signs in two different languages.

On the pebbled shores of Biarrtiz we engaged in your typical collegiate spring break activities (drinking on a beach) but we cultured it up a bit with having wine and having a few games of pétanque. Played all over the world under different names (bocci ball, boules), I’m just good enough at it to really hate it when I’m bad, much like I feel about badminton or foosball. But since I’m bad kind of often I guess that means I can’t really be good. But it turned out to be a great beach game.

On our last day in Bayonne before we caught our train we took turns sitting with the bags and sightseeing the super cute town, I’m always a fan of timbered houses and patterned cobblestoned streets. Food-wise, Bayonne is known for its chocolate and ham. We saw how the later was made and tasted the former in liquid form (liquid ham?). Not always on Team Chocolate, I thought it basically tasted like thinned out warm brownie batter. But I can see how that could be a selling point to many consumers. Also, turns out they never actually cook the famed Bayonne ham. They just hang it up and dry it out awhile with regional salt. Huh. Uncooked pork.

Pastry acquired: some regional thing with cherries.

Adventure #20: Bordeaux

Every time I glanced at the name “Bordeaux” I thought it was “Boudreaux.” Wonder if I’d get any special treatment if I somehow did share the same name as a town? Hasn’t ever worked back home at Boudreaux’s and Thibodeaux’s downtown…

Thanks to our Welsh friend (mate?), we had contact with some students and other assistants in Bordeaux, which came in handy when our hotel turned out to be inhospitable, as in no hot water. Not like the hot water’s broken or slow, but as in hot water wasn’t even an option. But this was the only flaw in the perfectly laid spring break plan (other than the million train strikes) and because of their unbelievable hospitality, we saved again on hotel nights and were able to experience Bordeaux from their point of view.

Bordeaux seemed to be more of an actual working city than most I’ve seen in France (if that even makes sense). I found the architecture to be very Parisian and it seemed to be much more urban and modern than Marseille or Toulouse mostly due to their tram system. Think Epcot monorail on rue level.

We spent a lazy afternoon in a beautiful park and I got to ride a bike along a river, the Garonne to be exact. And it being Bordeaux and all, we did the whole wine tasting thing. Other than enjoying the scenery on the bus ride, it wasn’t as much fun as the one in Beaune and we surprisingly tasted a majority of whites. But I did meet a woman from California whose friend is the owner of Corks and Canvas on Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge… connection!

Ice cream acquired: Vanilla Bourbon.

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