08 December 2011

Francetastic: Marseille and the Accidental Toulon Tour

Day 1

At 5am, the alarm clock sounds more like a screeching parrot that is trying to scratch your brain out with its beak. Caitlin and I rolled around on our mattresses and mumbled things about sleep and death. We finally managed to peel back the sheets, and we must've looked reasonably humanoid by the time we reached the airport, as the flight attendant greeted us with a friendly "Bonjour."

(I know it's probably her default greeting; still, it's nice when you're not automatically assumed an American. Starbucks has tried to cut out language barriers with their creation of "Starbucksese," but I still try to order with a Spanish accent.

Inevitably, I will not catch it when the cashier asks my name. I will say, "¿Que?" And he will say with great enunciation, "What ees your name?" Therefore, any time someone greets me in anything other than English, I hope that just maybe I look like something else than an awkward monolingual. Of course, maybe they're just giving me the benefit of the doubt because I am wearing boots and leggings.)

This is a Nutella-filled crepe and a shot of espresso. There is no better way to continue a morning of sleeplessness-induced slap-happiness than with espresso.

We were awake for a grand total of 17 hours that day, so here are a bunch of pictures and no more words, because I don't know that anything describes the day better than we laughed really hard the entire time and had no idea why.

Day 2

I was really stoked to see the Chateau d'If, the place where Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo was set--and later filmed. However, because of wind, we could take a boat tour to the neighboring small island of Frioul but not to d'If itself. Don't worry; as we sailed past, waves slapping the front of the boat, I pretended that I was locked up inside with Jim Caviezel and the old bearded man. Because that is what normal people do when they go on vacation to France.

You know how sometimes there are things that are so beautiful you absolutely cannot grasp them? You feel like an invisible hand is pushing your heart into your lungs and you breathe in gasps; it is simply the only way to take it in, as if the sense of sight can't operate properly while the rest of your body is functioning normally, and so you take shallow breaths and let your eyes eat up everything around you. This is the way I feel when I see the blue of the Mediterranean. Twice I have seen it now: the color crushes all the air out of me, then fills me up with the bluest blues in the world.

That evening, we attempted to visit the museum of contemporary art, which houses some oh-so-French originals by guys like Andy Warhol.

We ended up not getting there on time, which turned out to be perfect, as it forced us to turn down the road toward a magical park. It was like a combination of every classic European thing you've ever imagined--and Estes Park, Colorado. Also, along with bikes and trolleys, you could rent plastic horses.

There were several churro stands throughout the park. Now, Spanish churros are very different than the churros you're used to from Taco John's. Fast food churros are coated in sugar and cinnamon, and they make a mess all over your car and clog your arteries with happiness. Spanish churros are plain and a little greasy, and, dipped in slightly sweet chocolate, they churn in your stomach afterward like a big oil bomb.

So, armed with the handy dandy Lonely Planet phrasebook, I tried to order something else in French--to actually say words, instead of just pointing and grunting like we'd been doing all day.

"Um, glace?" Ice cream.

The guy looked at me. "We do not have; too cold. It is for summer." Dang. Again with the English.

I tried for the next item on the list: "Pomme d'amour." I think it was a candied apple, though directly translated, that means "apple of love." Well, sugar or love, I could use either one of those. But the guy denied me again, assuring me that pommes were for summer.

I quit trying after that. I ate Sarah and Caitlin's churros instead. Let it be noted: French churros completely dominate Spanish ones. They come with sugar and Nutella and taste better than any love apple possibly could.

Speaking of food, we followed up the churros with food from a little sidewalk cafe. I am not a food connoisseur by any means, but the appetizer plate consisted of tomatoes and mozzarella perfectly stacked, drizzled with olive oil and basil, and I swear, for one shining moment, I was living Ratatouille in my head. You know, the part where he takes a bite of a berry followed by a bite of cheese, followed by colors splashing against music. Let's not even talk about the melt-in-your-mouth salmon.

(Did I just compare my palate to that of an animated rat? Yes, and I also ate tuna straight from the can for lunch today.)

Day 3

We decided to take the train to Cassis on our final day in France--just a short ride from  Marseille. The postcards boasted it as a place with water so blue it'd burn your retinas, so of course we had to see it.

We bought the tickets, which had no train number or departure time printed on them. Just to make sure we were headed the right direction, Caitlin approached the man at the help desk, who pointed her toward the departures listed on the board. "There it is," he said, handing her a map of the train route.

"This is a really nice train," Sarah commented. "Is it supposed to be this nice?"

"The trains in Germany were like this," Caitlin reassured us.

"Are we on the right train? The other people have, like, big train tickets. Are you sure we're not going to Paris?" I had noticed that Paris and Lyon were listed on the train door when we'd entered. And as gracious as our friends are about early morning phone calls, I was pretty sure no one in Camarma would be excited to hear, "Um, we missed our flight and are sitting outside the Louvre. Do you think you could give us a ride home?"

Sarah pulled out her book; Caitlin opened hers. I rested my head against the window.

Fifteen minutes into the trip, I began wondering why we hadn't stopped yet. Caitlin was looking out the window, also seeming a little concerned, but neither of us said anything.

Half an hour in, we were looking out the window again, and then at each other. Finally, one of us spoke: "Um, I don't think we're on the right train."

That fact was confirmed when the train finally came to a stop in Toulon. We knew nothing about Toulon, except that it was about five stops past Cassis...and that we'd paid for cheap commuter train seats and gotten a first-class speed train to the wrong town!

And so we did the thing that we'd been doing all weekend, the thing that makes me love traveling with Caitlin and Sarah: we laughed.

And then we got food, and then we followed that up with more food from a little cafe where the guy asked if we'd like the menu in Dutch.

We made it back to the airport in plenty of time, and in case you've ever been concerned about French airport security, their x-ray machines absolutely will catch smuggled bottles of Starbucks vanilla syrup. (It started out innocently enough, a present for a friend. Two minutes after purchasing the syrup in question, I realized that, crap, you can't take that much liquid on a plane! And though we considered emptying out all our shampoo and soap bottles to transport the syrup home, we figured that Lisa probably wouldn't love the hygienic aftertaste.)

This is Louis. The pilot asked us to clap for him because this was his last flight with RyanAir. He is now headed to Miami for "a better job and a better life."

And here we are at the end of it all, completely giddy and exhausted in Madrid sweet Madrid, the place where it's okay if gracias slips out of your mouth instead of merci, the place we love most of all.

1 comment:

em in espana said...

Great summary of your trip! So glad you guys had a great time :)