Thursday, December 30, 2010

Aix-en-Provence & Marseille, France: June 24, 2010

While we were staying in Marseille we took a day trip to Aix-en-Provence. We had actually wanted to stay there overnight but couldn't find any CouchSurfing hosts so we were relegated to a day trip. Which was unfortunate, because the town is beautiful and you could easily spend a few days there. In a way it was a very typical French town, with lots of beautiful architecture and great cafes and restaurants, but when you're in France a beautiful town like this may be cliche but is so essential to the French experience...

Big water fountain in a roundabout close to where we got off the bus.

Around the fountain were a few massive sculptures (probably brass), all of the human body. We assume you can figure out what these are!

...The back of a head!

Man with missing arms. And lower legs. He has his penis though! So he is good for something :P

A very cool fountain that has a bit of greenery or moss growing on the top of it.

A cool building that we suspect is a church, but we're not really sure.

Nothing special...except we are in FRANCE!  Just a photo that gives a nice feeling of what the place is like!

A cool street in the town...we like the street but really like how this photo turned out!

In one of the big squares, where there was plenty of outside seating for restaurants and cafes, there was a large building with a cool clock tower on one side...and here you see the picture of it!

A sprawling bit of cobblestone road. As you can see there are lots of restaurants here with outside seating. What a beautiful place to eat! (which we did...but you will see later!)

Another cool street with nice buildings.  Again, we like how this photo turned out...if you make it large enough, and put your face up to your computer screen, it will seem like you were there! Oh, and turn a heat lamp on, cause it was hot that day! 

Another many as we came across on this trip, they are always awesome places to sit, eat, and people-watch!

Okay, so on this trip we stuck to an eating regiment...only eat the traditional food of the country we are in.  This is the second time we broke our little rule (the first time being burgers in Nice).  Well, it wasn't so much a rule, cause we naturally wanted to eat the traditional food.  When we walked up a nice pedestrian street in Aix-en-Provence, we saw a large line up outside this tiny Vietnamese place.  It was take-out only, and we figured if people are lined up outside, it's gotta be good!  We got in line, and the guy in front of us started chatting us up, and pointed to the beef noodle dish at the front of this picture, and said, "that is the best thing you will ever eat in your whole life!" Well, we didn't believe, we can't say he ended up being right, 'cause we never got the beef dish!  We were in line for a super long time (maybe 30-40 minutes), mainly because the asian man (who reminded Stefan of Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid") who was serving was moving in super slow motion! It was painful!

Remember the square we said we ate at but you would see later...well, here we are about to chow down into our yummy meal in that square!  On the far left, we have a spicy tofu and onion dish, on the top was a chicken with noodles, bok choy and other veggies, and on the bottom was a shrimp, mango and basil salad.  Ok, so it the whole meal sounds like a pretty normal one...but it was holy shit balls amazing!  It was freaking tasty!  We then understood why there was a line!

A view of the square we ate that meal in....we sat just past where the bike is in the photo

Stefan relaxing in the sun after that delicious meal!

A cool cobble stone alleyway.

Another cool square with fantastic buildings around! If you had to eat at one restaurant per square on this trip, you would be one fat pig by the end!  Sounds ok to us!

We really like this building, imagine living in something like this! Yes please!

This was a nice, three sides of a square building with a quad in the middle. It seemed like something that should be in a prominent place and out in the open, but it was tucked away in an area with really narrow streets and wasn't populated by tourists at all.

Same church as in the beginning of this post...we came back around and took more photos and really liked how this one turned out.  Crazy blue sky, and it's totally natural!

How many narrow streets in Europe look cool!?  Too many, but we are gonna keep posting pictures of them anyway!

Ah, nice buildings and a roundabout...but see that sweet red Ferrari!?  We rented it for the day, Stefan is driving, Cliff stood outside for a minute to take a picture!  It cost a lot, but was worth it!   Hahaha, you can't seriously believe we did that!?  Okay, so we did get a picture of it, but the rest is bull! :P

The main street (the Cours Mirabeau) that leads into the old part of town was really cool.  It had a huge stone walking part, and a narrow stone driving part.  As you can see, it had lots of tress along it, and of course wonderful buildings and places to eat along side.  What was really great about it was how the cars and pedestrians mixed.  It never really felt like a street for vehicles, but somehow the cars being there didn't seem out of place.  It was also filled with lots of people just relaxing and enjoying the day!

Here is the Deux Garçons, a famous brasserie on the Cours Mirabeau. Built in 1792, it was frequented by great artists such as Paul CézanneÉmile Zola and Ernest Hemingway!

Back in Marseille, at the top of the massive staircase outside the train and bus station.

Stefan and his massive Hoe!  He never had a Hoe so big!  Hoegaarden that is :P  His favourite beer ever!  Found this litre of beer in Marseille, for only about €2.50...which is about 3.30 Canadian...yeah, super cheap for a premium beer!  It was soooo tasty!

We both really liked Aix-en-Provence, and would have loved to stayed there longer.  Another great place we recommend to make a stop at if you are ever over that way!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Marseille, France: June 22-25, 2010

We made a point of visiting Marseille on our trip because we thought it would be really nice, but it turned out to be less impressive than we had expected. It fit in with Milan as a big city without a distinguishable character. Don't get us wrong--even though we weren't exactly blown away by the city we still had an enjoyable four days. If we weren't staying with our CouchSurfing host Sebastien, who was a great host and with whom we got along really well, Marseille would have been a skippable city.

A building we passed on the way from the train station to the port. Very cool!

A shot of some sailboats on the harbour.

Around the harbour were a few of these sculptures. Sort of like the moose sculptures in Canada! As you can see here each globe had something different on it.

Cliff during the morning when we were waiting to meet up with our CouchSurfing host. While we were both sitting there we had the pleasure of the company of an older street gentleman with a lot of character (i.e. beer in hand, not enough shower time, etc.) chitchatted us up about Canada, and went on a bit of a rant when we told him we liked Marseille...apparently he had some negative feelings for the city!

Above and below are three shots of Marseille's port.

Dinner time! It took us quite a long time to find a restaurant to eat at, but finally we found a decent-looking place with a menu that had something for the both of us. Cliff's meal: a salad with tomatoes and eggplant, topped with ham and fried cheese. Not bad!

Stefan's first, it looked no better than penne pasta we make at home, and it tasted like that as well.  Good, but you know how you always expect (or hope!) that food at a restaurant will be better than you can make?!  Well, as I got further into it, it was one of those meals that gets better and better! By the end, it was pretty darn tasty!  It was pretty simple, penne pasta, chicken, tomato, pesto, and some other yummy things!

Our host Sebastien took us to a market the next day to buy some groceries, and on our way there we walked through some very cool alleyways! The graffiti, which wasn't particularly interesting on its own, gave these otherwise grungy alleyways an artsy, comforting feel.

At the market we shopped for ingredients for ratatouille!

Musical accompaniment to your grocery shopping!

Cool cathedral close to the centre of town. It looks like it's at the end of a main road but the road actually forks around it.

A fountain with no water and a mermaid!  She's gonna dry up!

Joining Padova and Nice, Marseille's tram transport, as you can see, is fairly new. We found this city's trams extra cool because they were so futuristic! It looks like something out of Wall-e or 2001: A Space Odyssey!

A not-very-pretty shopping street... :P This photo should give you an idea of what the downtown core looks like.

Some government building... If we had kept up on the blog better we'd probably be able to tell you what building this was! 

This is a really nice looking building, although you can't see much of it!  The fountain to the right, you can see just below and behind the tree was really cool...but you'll have to go to Marseille to get a better look at it! :P

We went to visit this church on a hilltop which gave you a very good panoramic view of Marseille. The church sis directly behind us in this photo.


Interesting architecture...kinda has a slight look of a castle!  The black painted stones used in the tower give it a unique, almost pirate look to it.

Views from the top!

Inside the church. The red-and-white striping is pretty unusual and reminded us of the churches back in Monterosso!

A square with lots of outdoor seating for its restaurants.

Another photo of the harbour.

A nice big roundabout down by the waterfront.

Here you can see the church we visited earlier.

The first building we encountered when entering the old town.

Cool street shots in old town Marseille!

The Hospice de la Charité, which was an orphanage.

Inside the gates of the hospice, surround the building in the first photo, are these arcades.

Not the nicest looking alleyway but there is something about its character that we like a lot.

A very nice residential area at the top of the old town that seemed a bit out of place, given how the rest of the old town looked!

When in France, buy a baguette!

Our host Sebastien asked us what we wanted to make for dinner, and if there was something French we hadn't tried. We decided that ratatouille was the winner! 

Ratatouille, with two slices of the baguette Cliff was holding! We totally forgot the onions! But it was still awesome! Amazing how simple a dish ratatouille is, but it's so tasty! Sebastien is a great cook! Of course, cooking this French dish in France with a Frenchman probably didn't hurt either! :)

The Marseille train station. Magnificent staircase!

An obelisk in some square in Marseille.  We came across this round about on our way to the coast outside of the city.  We never got to the cliff on the coast due to some transit confusion...

...but we did end up getting to this beach. But because we hadn't planned on going to the beach, we didn't have any swimwear with us. So we were relegated to people-watching. To the left outside this photo there was a topless woman playing catch with a friend...bouncy bouncy bouncy. Maybe not the most appetizing sight to two gays trying to eat lunch on a beach! It wasn't a nude beach but of course in France it's not uncommon to find nudity on any beach.

Just behind the beach there was a big park, with this random building in the middle of it! No idea what it was, but here is a photo of it :P It was a nice day in the city but for whatever reason over by the beach and this park it was soooooo hot! 

Here's Sebastien preparing our second meal together...

Tomatoes stuffed with veggies and finely chopped chicken breast, and scallop potatoes (or gratin dauphinoise in French)! Bon appetit! Another amazingly tasty homemade meal courtesy of Sebastien! :)

Us and Sebastien! We even match! :P

Like we said, we didn't find Marseille particularly interesting, but we are so thankful we had the pleasure of meeting Sebastien through CouchSurfing. He made Marseille fun and really because we enjoyed hanging out with him.  The city itself was okay, nothing to go back to or make a detour for, but our host made it worthwhile!