Bonjour from France!! This post is intermixed with both of us writing. We hope you enjoy it.
Wednesday to Saturday, Jan 21-24 – Toulouse, France
Our first stop here is Toulouse, also known as Ville Rose (“the Pink City”), from the extensive use of the unique, pinkish terracotta bricks. Such a pretty city!
Toulouse has two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St. Sernin, designated in 1998 because of its significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. This was one of the most beatiful Basilica’s we have toured and the largest Romanesque church in Europe.
Note the statue has the scallop shells on his clothing. Lucky for you, I also took the fewest pictures here.
We had an apartment hotel in Toulouse so ate breakfast and lunch in. We have been living on tomato and tuna salads; a common dish everywhere in Europe so far. We add goat cheese and heart of palm – so good! We enjoyed some great French dinners.
Classic with frites:
We went for a hamburger one night and learned very quickly through observation, that you use a knife and fork and cut every bite….don’t think I could get use to that.
We started our transition into life in France for six weeks by reading up on French etiquette and learning some common words and phrases. We have a lot to learn. Joe remembers a lot of his high school French so he is the ‘speaker of le maison’ most of the time.
Sunday, Jan 25 – Marseille (and Spencer’s Birthday!)
We took a took a relaxing 4.5 hour train ride through the beautiful French countryside.
Interesting events on the train as the conductors kicked two groups of people off; perhaps for no ticket. Kind of fun to try and figure out what it going on.
Arrived in Marseille in the south of France on the Mediterranean Coast. Marseille is the 2nd largest city in France at about 850k people in the city proper and just under 2M in the metro area. Marseille is ancient. Humans have lived in the area for about 30,000 years as evidenced by nearby cave paintings. The city was established as a Greek trading post on a permanent basis about 600 BC.
Today Marseille is a bustling international seaport city, with a high ethnic mix and a diverse culture. Our first night here we walked to the old port area for a restaurant and were a bit shocked at the garbage everywhere in piles on the street as well as sketchy looking people hanging around the sidewalk cafe’s and bars. It was a little unnerving and the grittiness of the city unexpected, but that was our fault for not knowing.
Funky mirrored ceiling:
Had a great Crepe dinner anyway and got back to our hotel easily.
Monday, Jan 26
Walked around the old city and became more comfortable with the crowds and mix of people speaking French, Arabic, and ?? Saw some cool old buildings and Cathedral. I took Paula to a mall. (Losing my mind).
Went back to the port area for dinner (Italian) and were a lot more relaxed. It turns out all the garbage in the streets is due to a Garbage strike that is about a week old.
Tuesday, Jan 27
Did a longer tour of the old city and also went to a new mall (I really have lost my mind – 190 stores). Anyway the mall was impressive with lots of stores we did not know. Went into UNIQLO, an international fashion store that is opening in Canada this year. They have stores all over the world. We both end up buying new jackets so we would fit in a bit better when we get to Paris in a few weeks.
Lunch at the mall:
Future kitchen design!
Took a picture if the Island of If, and the famous Chateau D’If… This was a famous Fort and prison, and was also the setting for the The Count of Monte Cristo. They have a special cell carved out devoted to Dantes the Character that Dumas wrote about, who escaped the prison to become the Count. It was also filmed here in 02. Also of interest …the French Connection in 71 was also filmed at the Chateau. Other films done in part in Marseille include Transporter in 02 and The Bourne Identity in 02.
Back into the old port area for dinner at an authentic Marseille restaurant and had Bouillabaisse, which was first created in Marseille:
All in all Marseille was not our favorite city, though it did have some good history and some nice areas; unfortunate about the garbage strike.
We did overcome our initial uneasiness and became more comfortable by the end of our stay. Now on to Lyon for a few days.
Wednesday, Jan 28 – Marseille to Lyon
Lots of police presence in the Marseille train station. Our train departure into Lyon was delayed by 45 minutes and we were confused as to what was going on. There were constant announcements as we sat on the train, all in French of course. We were alone in our car so we watched through the window into the next car and other passengers seemed concerned. It was a little stressful but in the end, we think it was just a ‘traffic’ delay and a matter of missing connections.
We arrived in Lyon and it was love at first sight. Our Airbnb apartment was on a winding street in Vieux Lyon. Our host Gaetan meet us at the door and helped us up the 4 flights of these ancient stairs:
You can see my shoes here; the deepest part of the rung was not as wide as my foot. It was the first time I have had to hold on to the railing. It was another painful climb we did 2-3 times per day:
Our neighborhood is filed with so many unique restaurants, bakeries, cafes – we spent a lot of time deciphering menus and gazing at decadent desserts.
Dinner at a friend of Gaetans’ restaurant and it was tres bien!
View from our apartment day and night of Basilique de Fourvière:
Map showing where all the Airbnb guests were from:
Thursday, Jan 29
Lyon features some pretty amazing staircases, several that go all the way up to the Fourviere cathedral. One staircase is just outside our door, so up we went today. At the top you are treated to a beautiful panoramic view of the city of Lyon with Mont Blanc in the distance.
The Basilique de Fourvière
The original Lyon was founded by the Romans on Fourviere Hill. At its height it was probably the major Roman city outside the Italian peninsula. There are two Roman theatres on the Fourviere hillside, both of which were built in 43 BC. The larger one is the oldest of its kind in France. The likes of David Bowie, and Lenny Kravitz have played here.
We also toured the Roman Museum; Musée Gallo-Romain de Fourvière. Now that, was tre cool.
The hills in Lyon are full of mysterious and beautiful passages and stairwells to climb.
Friday, Jan 30
We climbed Fourviere Hill again this morning; much faster without stopping to take pictures although the sunshine resulted in a few retakes.
More Roman ruins scattered within the city:
Later we crossed the river into the new part of Lyon. You can see Lyon’s Italian charm along the river Saône; including some medieval and Renaissance facades along the banks.
Across the river:
This was some sort of Je Suis Charlie memorial:
This is actually a miniature house; very, very, tiny pieces. Part of the Musée des miniatures et du Cinéma:
This is NOT Winners:
On the way back, one street caught my eye and I told Joe it looked interesting and sensed that we would find a surprise on it. And we did. It was this magical restaurant street; a few lingering Christmas lights made it sparkle.
We followed some people through a doorway in a building and found ourselves in a small, windowed passageway filled with long, narrow restaurants; busy with the locals enjoying their afternoon tea, coffee and pastries. My photo is blury and doesn’t capture that moment; the feeling of being immersed in the essence of Lyon and France.
Dined at a restaurant owned by another friend of our host. Another enjoyable recommendation. Very entrepreneurial bunch of 30 something’s – Gaetan owns and hosts 5 apartments and his friends own restaurants.
I think this was a Gargoyle store?
We put many miles on in Lyon. We would love to come back here when it is warmer and try every restaurant.
Saturday, Jan 31 – Lyon to Annecy, France
The French Army and the SNCF train police were in full force at the train station this morning. We are becoming used to seeing them and are quite happy to have them around!
We are now headed for Annecy, France. We wanted to go to Geneva, Switzerland, but it was so expensive to stay and getting in and out looked challenging. So I did a little research and found a little town called Annecy, 30 minutes outside of Geneva. Booked an inexpensive apartment hotel and we can easily take a bus into Geneva! I am so smart, sometimes. Plus, it turns out Annecy is considered to be the most beautiful place in the country. Nestled in under the Swiss Alps, it is the Venice of France. Lots of snow out the train window and in the forecast. Should be an adventure!! Here’s a sneak peak from our arrival:
HAPPY FEBRUARY …… spring is just around the corner(s)!