Dee and I did not have France as a destination on our travels for this year as we felt that it was too large and diverse a country to travel around in a few days, but having chanced upon some cheap RyanAir tickets from Portugal to UK enroute Marseille in France, we decided to grab the chance to see what little we could of this beautiful country.
Chapter 1: Visit #1 – Marseille
We arrived into Marseille late on a Saturday night and were frisked away from the train station into a bar by the port by our CS host Lisa. Lisa is originally from Brittany but was living in Marseille for the last 7 years. Apart from having a regular 9-5 corporate job, she also played the banjo as part of a band that played at the waterfront every Sunday.
After a good rest, the next morning we set forth to explore the town under the sweltering summer heat which clocked in excess of 35 degrees. But to the rescue was an Italian gelateria housing the best chocolate gelato I’ve ever had. Dee and I were reluctant to have a cone each fearing that we would be slipping back to our old European glutton like eating habits, but one swirl of the chocolate with our tongues and in a trice I found myself ordering a second cone. We spent the morning walking through the streets of the old town, which at all times offered stunning views of the waterfront. In the afternoon, we headed up along the coast to the place where Lisa was to meet the rest of her band members to kick off their regular Sunday gig. Post raking up a storm with their loud music from the trumpets and the banjo we proceeded to do what every holidaymaker’s dream in France is – sample some of their fine cheese and wine.
On our second day there, we ventured out to Les Calanques, a national park bordering the south coast of France. The landscape is primarily dry rocky terrain with a few beaches scattered across the park. Despite the sweltering weather, the water was too cold to manage a swim for Dee. To reward myself for the hour and bit hike, I took a 20 second dip before coming off to seek some much needed warmth and sensation for my toes!
Fact or fiction, it’s always been known that the French are not overtly fond of the English language in their country especially from tourists and we were shown that first hand when we sought directions to Les Calanques from a young girl who despite not knowing much English managed to direct us onto the right bus. The hostile reception she got from onlookers was shocking to us as they went off on a rant on how she was “succumbing to Western tourism and that she had no respect for her national language”. Bigotry in today’s times is unacceptable and whilst this might have just been the one odd incident, it certainly does France no favours as a country if they wish to come across as welcoming to visitors from all around.
Chapter 2: Visit #2 – Paree!
We came to France post a week in the UK and Belgium and stopped over at Paris en route to Italy as I was really keen on seeing the city that half the world raves about.
Lisa was nice enough to put us in touch with her mate Florine in Paris, a city where finding a CS host is next to impossible. Florine and her mom welcomed us into their homes after a 5 hour bus ride from Brussels with an assortment of French cheese, bread and wine. Over this sumptuous feast, Florine told us about her passion for diving and her diving adventures through Asia and Europe. I found it incredible that she had dived in to the North Sea in winter, WINTER! Magic of a dry suit I suppose.
Post dinner we took a stroll through the narrow windy streets of Montmarte and stopped at the Sacre Couer to take in views of the city from the steps of this grand cathedral. On the way we also stopped by to have a quick coffee at the cafe where the internationally acclaimed movie ‘Amelie’ was filmed. The ‘Moulin Rouge’ was also sighted alongside Paris’s red light district. We walked paste restaurants that seemed to be running at full steam even though it was well past mid night. There was a crowd outside most bars and all of this was on a Monday night! The energy and charm of Montmarte makes it a must to stroll through for any visitor in Paris.
On our second day, we went on what is now our customary tradition – the ‘Sandeman free walking tour’ of the city and were treated to the history of the faces on the bridge on the island (it’s fascinating and hilarious, google and read), Napolean’s conquests and views of the Louvre and Arc de Triumf. Post the tour, given that it was still pouring down plenty, we decided to step into the world’s biggest museum, The Louvre and spent a good 5 hours on foot with our audio guide marvelling at the works of art and craft on display. I did not imagine myself to be captivated in such fashion and would definitely recommend a visit to anyone, even if you should not have an interest in art. The detailing and story in each of the paintings was simply astounding.
That night, we caught up with an old friend with whom we had got acquainted with in Sydney – Lucile. She’s very inspirational in that she had come to Australia from Paris to backpack across the country, found a job with Accenture and stayed on for 2 years working in Sydney and Brisbane before jet setting again around Asia pursuing her passion for diving. Now back in France, she was itching to get out into the big world again! Plenty of laughs, wine and chatter about our travels ensued.
We finished our trip to France in climatic fashion, with a visit to the most wondrous postcard of them all – the Eiffel tower. We were pleasantly surprised to see that Paris’ annual ‘White Party’ was in full swing at on the lawns leading upto the tower and the festive atmosphere around enchanting!
As always, we sealed it all with a kiss.
Although we did not have France as part of the countries we wanted to visit, we were glad we did to soak up the coastal beauty of Marseille and the enchanting city of Paris. From what little we have seen of it, it seems to be a country with diversity in food, landscapes and people so we look forward with eagerness to explore it in detail on our second visit sometime in the future
The cheese is the best out there. We all know that. The crepes are also of outstanding quality – try them out at the street side stalls in Paris. I am no wine connoisseur but I can definitely testify that the pinot stands out!
Next Stop: Italy again!