Greetings from France! We got here a few days ago, and have been enjoying the food and the sights.
From Barcelona we booked a train to Marseilles. What we failed to notice when we got our tickets was that the station we bought them from was not the same as the station we would be departing from. However, our mistake led to a very useful conversation with a ticket agent. We missed our train to Marseilles, we explained, so is there any way we could exchange our ticket for a later one? We were told there were no more trains there that day. But we really need to get to Marseilles tonight, we insisted. Well, you could get there for free with your passes, he said, but you’d have to take three trains. They’re regional trains, so you don’t need a reservation (and consequently you don’t have to pay the booking fee). We hadn’t realized that this was even an option, and since we’d rather spend time than money in getting places, this was perfect. So it all worked out in the end.
The ride to Marseilles was very enjoyable. The weather and countryside were beautiful, and one of our fellow passengers was a friendly Argentinian who was also traveling around Europe. He’s doing it even faster than us, which is impressive, since even our two and a half months seem to be flying by.
We spent our first full day in France wandering around Marseilles. It’s been a port for more than two and a half millenia, which is pretty respectable. From the old port we could see the Chateau d’If, which is the prison from the Count of Monte Cristo. One of the cool things about travel in Europe has been actually seeing all these places we’ve heard and read about.
After Marseilles we decided we were finally going to camp, so we checked Google maps for a good place close to a nearby train station. We chose La Ciotat, which appeared to have open land a couple miles or so from the station. We arrived around sunset and started walking in what we thought was the right direction, but it the farther we went the more developed it got. The most secluded place we passed was back where we started, by the train station, so we returned there. It didn’t take too long to find a promising group of trees on an empty area between a freeway and the train tracks (the site was a lot nicer than it sounds). We set up camp for the night and went to sleep. The Henessy hammocks we have worked great. They’re light, compact, easy to set up, and more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. The only problem was Janak’s rainfly: he set it up to keep the dew off, but dew just collected underneath it and soaked his hammock when he got up in the morning.
Next we spent a couple days in Nice, a coastal city which is aptly named. The color of the water here is amazing. I’ve tried to capture it in the pictures, although it’s difficult to really convey it. It’s a much more vivid blue than what we have at home. and Nice has this big outdoor flower and produce market that we spent a lot of time in. We got some bread, cheese, and candied fruits, the latter apparently being a local specialty. We’ve had so much bread and cheese here, it’s ridiculous. Baguettes, brie, and the ocassional fruit and vegetable have pretty nearly made up our entire diet this last week. We’ve been enjoying it a lot. Nice also has a museum of archaeology with some well preserved Roman ruins. There are two days in a month when the museum was free, and we had the good luck to show up on one of them. The ruins were of an arena, three baths, some roads, and a few other buildings, from around the first to fifth centuries. Good times for a couple of history geeks.
It is I, Janak – I seem to have developed a habit of interrupting David’s posts and I apologize for that; this time he asked me to elaborate on the hostel crowd though, and since he was writing grad school apps at the time, I must oblige.
Due to my inability to speak French, most of my interaction in this country has been with fellow travellers. This is where the beauty of hostels comes into play. The past two nights were spent with four Kiwis, two Englishmen, a Korean, and a German – all of whom provided great entertainment. There was a guy from Philadelphia at one point, but he was more or less ostricized from the group within half an hour for being ‘the typical American’. According to my newfound mates, I am some sort of exception – a quieter, humbler American that views myself as some part of the world other than its center. I think my love of Monty Python also earned me a title of ‘quite alright for an American’ (haha thanks Patrick). Anyways, I have again written too much, but lastly I would like to include something about the generosity of most other travellers. The Kiwis all offered me food and a place to stay when I visit New Zealand, which is a warm communal perspective we don’t see enough of in the States.