Monday, January 22, 2018

To Marseille

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking France & Spain: Day 07 (12-Dec-2017)

Vieux Port

L'auberge de jeunesse served free breakfast in the morning. There was nobody in the dinning room. I picked baguette and cereals and sat down to eat. The view was excellent but this place is very dull. 

I had booked my train to Marseille at around 2PM. I had walked into the train station last evening to book my ticket. After all the role plays I enacted in my French class to book train tickets had come of great use. I decided to head to the town early so, I left the hostel at around 11. Since I had explored most of the town the previous evening, I directly headed to the train station and sat there waiting for my train to arrive. I had some tasty Madeleine while waiting.

There are rigorous checks at train stations these days perhaps due to the recent terror attacks in the country. I passed that and waited at the platform for the train to arrive. 

The train ride was short, less than an hour and from the main station at Marseille, I rode in metro to arrive at Vieux-Port. As I walked out of the underground metro station, I was totally impressed with the view that welcomed me. Marseille looked spectacular. On my right, several boats were anchored. On my left, beautiful buildings stood tall and in front of me, along the footpath by the harbour, a street musician played guitar. I took an instant liking for this place.

The hostel - Vertigo Vieux Port is simply beautiful. The dorms are a duplex room with the Bathroom, toilet and storage in the lower level and 4 beds in the upper. A skylight gave this room an attic like feel. 

I stepped out to view the sunset and beautifully lit city. A Christmas market was set next to the port. Families gathered there to click pictures with Santa Clause, try joy rides and buy some local products. I fell in love with Marseille. 

For dinner, I tried a Tunisian food. The server/Owner helped me in naming the wide variety of sweet dishes they had. I tried some couscous with vegetables for main course and dry fruit rich sweets for dessert (Similar to Baklava) . A mint tea was very refreshing. 

I walked around a bit and then kissed good night to one of my new favourite cites and headed back to my cosy dorm to catch some sleep. Though, I did not do much, the day seemed long and eventful. Moving from one town to another makes me feel so. I was glad that I was going to relax in this city for three days. I had enough time to explore Marseille and also relax. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018


I Continue From Here 

Backpacking France & Spain: Day 6 (11-Dec-2017)

Les Calissons

My train to Aix-en-Provence was at around 8:30 AM. While I was dragging my bag into the tiny lift of the hostel, one of the buckles got stuck between the doors and while the lift began to descend, the buckle began to move up, lifting my entire bag. At the top end of the door, it remained, bringing the lift to a stand still somewhere between the third and the second floor. I was terrified and for a while wondered what to do. I started looking for some note to call the reception for help but then thought of trying something on my own first. I tried to lift the bag higher allowing some slack in the strap. That seemed to help and the lift began to descend again. But that happened only till my bag was raised all the way to the top of the elevator door. At this moment, thankfully the buckle broke off. I breathed out in relief as the lift began to descend freely. For a moment, it was really scary.

Anyways, I walked to the station and learnt that my train was delayed and thus sat there to eat some delicious crêpe. While, the traditional crêpe making still remains, the areas where the demand is high, automation has been adopted. I thought that this was a great idea and we could have something similar for Dosas. It seems more productive. 

At the station, I observed the graffiti done on some of the trains. Every train has some interesting art work on it. 

My TGV glided past the beautiful landscape. I am so impressed with the trains here. We boast a lot about the Indian railways being well connected and I totally understand that but we should not turn a blind eye to the advancement in technology that the west is already seeing. The train's speed here is such that, a TGV from Paris to Marseille takes only 3 hours for a distance of 775kms. That is like 50kms less than the distance from Bangalore to Pune. Imagine, if we could travel to Mumbai from Bangalore in just 4 hours. Moreover, this thought is neither new nor unachievable. Yet, many of us laugh at the idea proposed by our current Government to have more bullet trains. 

The TGV station at Aix-En-Provence is about 14kms from the town. I could have taken a local train to the station in the town (Gare de Aix-en-provence) but I was not really sure where the youth hostel was located. I was aware that it was situated somewhere outside the  town center. So, I took a taxi to the place. On our way, we had to take some deviations due to a fallen tree blocking the road. The taxi driver knew the location well. The youth hostel - L'auberge de jeuenese is situated in a beautiful location about 2kms from the town center. I left my bag at the reception, gathered some basic information about how to get to the city and set off to explore the town. 

As guided by the manager at the hostel, I waited at the bus stop for bus number 2. There was one more lady at the stop. She was of African origin. A drunk white man walked to the bus stop continuously cursing someone. He seemed to have had a fight with his woman. We both ignored him as he continued to scold someone and talked to himself. We boarded the bus when it arrived and I bought a single ride pass for a dollar. The lady who had boarded with me, understanding that I was a traveler, explained to me how things worked. She told me that the pass worked for any number of rides for an hour. There was another that could be used on a single route for multiple rides in a day. 

I got down at the town center. Aix-en-Provence is known for its streets filled with shops that sell top brands. It is a very upscale area. I loved my walk around the town. The streets are beautiful and the buildings are very impressive and coloured thoughtfully to present a picturesque view.

The main street was filled with tiny wooden shops like in all other towns that I had visited thus far. They sold interesting products. I bought a pack of tasty Calissons - a delicious sweet dish made of almond paste topping with candied fruit base. They looked very pretty and inviting, just like the beautifully constructed town of Aix-en-Provence. 

The town also seems to be obsessed with the famous local artist - Paul Cézanne and you could find his name everywhere. He was one of the popular post-impressionist artist who hailed from Aix. 

I also stopped by a hotel where I witnessed a very interesting exhibition of paintings by Botero, a columbian artist who was inspired by Pablo Picasso. These paintings have nothing to do with cubism art form but they take some known works and recreate them with fresh look and a different perspective. All characters in Botero's paintings are overweight and they bring a very different sentiment to the topics. 

I googled for a good vegetarian restaurant and found one. I had some tasty dish with rice, vegetables and peanuts, coffee and tarte  The tiny restaurant run by two women was very neat and I sat there for a watching the town soak due to light shower.  

I returned back to the hostel and checked into my room. In my dorm, there was this grumpy overweight guy who did not bother to return a smile. Half naked, he lay on his bed, busy staring at his cellphone. I unpacked and walked to the dinning room to have my dinner - Some remaining baguette and cheese. I wrote my journal and came back to the room. The grumpy guy found something very exciting on his phone and suddenly got up from his bed to dress up and left almost immediately.  

An Arab boy also shared the same room and he seemed to be very friendly. We spoke a little. But he appeared over excited. I did not really like the room as it was not very clean. There was this odd smell that came from the attached bathroom that was mostly left open by the others. But, I was extremely tired so, I decided to go to bed early. It was the dullest hostel I have ever been to. At around midnight, the Arab boy was talking loudly with some girl on phone. He had set his phone on speaker and thus it was very disturbing. However, since I was really exhausted, nothing seemed to bother me and I went back to sleep quickly, despite the noise. 

Continued Here 

Thursday, January 18, 2018


I Continue From Here 

Backpacking France & Spain: Day 5 (10-Dec-2017)

Les Romains

What excites me the most about a travel is the journey itself. To be on the road again is just so thrilling that I want to keep continuing even if the roads do not lead to a specific destination. At 7:00 AM, I walked to the railway station and printed my train tickets at the machine in the station. While waiting for my train, I had a croissant and a cup of coffee. 

I was very excited about my trip to Nîmes as I had read about the the roman ruins here. I took a early morning train from Avignon. It was a quick ride of less than an hour. Nîmes invited me with a very pleasant atmosphere. It was cold and drizzling. With wide boulevards with trees and buildings on either side, this small town looked really pretty. 

On the other end of the railway station is a park and the fountain Pradier is one of the most magnificent art work I have seen thus far on this trip. 

The church - Église Sainte Perpétue was very impressive. 

An other impressive church - Eglise Saint Baudile was also preparing for its Sunday mass. 

Along the way, I passed through some roman ruins and a statue dedicated to King Augustus. 

At Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor de Nîmes, the Sunday mass was almost about to begin. So, I stayed there and watched it for a while. The bishop accompanied by kids marched towards the Altair, prayers were sung, experts from the Bible were read and the Bishop gave his sermon. I liked the sermon which spoke about how man should continue to evolve himself. I listened for a while and then considering the time, decided to leave early. 

I stopped by the Vieux Nîmes musée that has a free entry and contains a display of the clothes that this town is famous for. It was from here that the clothes were shipped to the US and had labels that read - De Nîmes (From Nîmes) which went on to become Denim. There were other paintings and art work in display. 

I took a walk along the market- Les Halles where all types of food was being sold. I bought some cheese - Comté and Camembert. I also tried some tasty Flans. Comté is extremely delicious and irresistible.

The roman temple (Maison Carrée) is very impressive. It has undergone some restoration but most of it remained intact and has survived the test of times. 

The most impressive was the Arène - The Roman amphitheater. The audio guided tour that I  took here carried me away on a vicarious journey to the times of the gladiators. I could almost imagine the crowd roar and cheer them. But it is also sad to imagine such a game that involved human life and a crowd that enjoyed viewing the trauma on another human. I wonder how the wise ones who opposed it reacted to it. 

Just outside the arena, there was a group of bike riders paying their tribute to the French singer Johnny Hallyday who had passed away on the 5th of December. 

The entire city is so beautiful that every street, every park looked so perfect and beautiful.

I walked to the impressive Les Jardins de la Fontaine. The park that surrounds this fountain is beautiful and is no less than a piece of art by itself. Several sculptures adorned this park filled with trees whose leaves had dried away. 

There is a temple of Goddess Diana here in ruins.

Also up the hill is an ancient roman tower - La tour Magne. 

On my way back, I stopped at a small shop run by Mathilde. The shop was filled with some interesting eatables. I tasted a few pâte à tartiner (Spreads) and bought two of them. I also bought a bottle of Baba - Soft cake dipped in alcohol and lemon syrup. A pack of chocolates also fell into my cart. The shop owner (Probably Mathilde herself) requested me to try all of them before purchasing and they were all just yummy. A lady who was there to shop told me how the spreads were so irresistible that she had put on weight. We chatted a little with the owner in French and some English.

I walked back to the station. At a café just outside the station, I had another coffee shot. Back in the hostel at Avignon, I sat sketching the fountain Pradier. I completed it in a go. 

At the hostel, I spoke to an investment banker from England. His name is Ajay too. His parents are of Indian origin. But, he had not traveled to India yet. We spoke a bit about our travels. He was on a few days break from work. 

I must say that Nîmes will always remain one of my most favourite towns in France. It is simply picture perfect and the people are very friendly there. I love how each town here brings its own uniqueness in either the form of cuisine or art.

Continued Here