Guys, I Ate a Snail

Welcome back to my dive into my travel journal. This post is a continuation of the last three posts about my trip to the southern part of France. You can read the first post here.


I hope the title doesn’t scare you. Maybe you’ve done it, too. Either way, today’s post is about my final destination during a summer trip to France: the city of Lyon.

We arrived at our rental apartment located on the Saône River in Lyon, right in the midst of some historical buildings. We set out to do some late-day exploring in the nearby streets. All of the streets apart from the one right next to the river were largely free of cars, and instead filled with both locals and annoying tourists like ourselves.

We checked out Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, otherwise known as the Lyon Cathedral.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon

What was most exciting for me about this cathedral is that there is an astronomical clock there. People who know me are familiar with my excitement about the astronomical clock in Prague, so you all can guess how enchanted I was by this one. It is located inside the cathedral, but was not working at the time that I visited (big letdown, I know…).

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon Astronomical ClockCathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon Astronomical Clock

When we had sufficiently explored the nearby streets, we picked a restaurant for dinner. We wanted to try Bouchon (if you don’t know what it is, try Googling it to get a sense), so our wonderful French friend figured out which restaurant we should go to. She picked well, and we enjoyed our fill at Le Comptoir de Boeuf.

Although the name suggests this is a restaurant big on beef, everyone was able to find a meal that made them happy, including our vegetarian friend and myself with my food allergies. Even better than the meal though was the dessert. I don’t remember the details of anything else I ate that night apart from the stolen spoonfuls of a pear cooked in red wine that A had ordered. Yum. I’m totally not salivating at the memory of this.

The next morning we headed across the river and into the city. We did a lot of walking on this day, and quite a bit of it uphill early on. We took a look at Saint-Nizier Church which was not so visually stunning, but happens to have quite a turbulent history if you check into it (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with history today).

In the Streets of Lyon

We checked out a number of shops as we headed towards the Croix-Rousse Quarter. There, we visited a really spectacular mural, Mur des Canut. The mural is so vivid that you aren’t sure what is part of the building or what is just a painting. It looks so three-dimensional until you reach out and touch it. If you’re ever in Lyon, check it out for yourself.

Eventually, we headed back in the direction of our apartment. While on the way to our home-base area, our little group decided that we should try some snails. We stopped by a restaurant where we only ordered a single dish of snails to share like a bunch of crazy tourists.

My honest opinion? Snails are not for me. The texture is just too much, and I also didn’t really find them to be so flavorful that I’d actually choose to order or cook them of my own volition. Sorry if I’m offending anyone out there; snails simply aren’t for this gal.

So, finally, we can discuss the grand finale of our short stay in Lyon. Up the hill from where we were staying is a basilica which is stunning and filled with gold accents everywhere. It’s like someone was given unlimited gold paint and went a little overboard with decorating La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

Outside, you can take in a view of the city since the basilica is at the top of the hill. When you’re ready to head indoors, just remember to look up.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

The main hall is a feast for the eyes, but there’s even more! Head downstairs to the basement of the basilica to discover another chamber of wonder. From there, you can walk out of the back of the basilica to the outlook again, or you can do like we did and frolic happily down the garden on the hillside just in time to return for dinner.

And that was pretty much our trip to Lyon. Short, sweet, and to the point. After one additional night, we rose in the morning and made the long drive back to Germany. I have to say, I was very happy to be back to a land where I halfway understood the language. All the same, thanks for the good time, France!

Cheers!

Not My Favorite City in Southern France

Welcome back to my dive into my travel journal. This post is a continuation of the last two posts about my trip to the southern part of France. You can read the first post here.

After four full days on the French countryside, it was time for the next part of our trip. We planned to go to Marseille, a port city on the coast. Initially I was excited about this. Before leaving the States, I tried to read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas several times. Each time I failed, giving up and giving in to my large study workload. (As of one month ago, I now have the book in my possession again and intend to give it another go.) After reading the first half of the book I had an interest in Marseille and Château d’If, the prison setting in the first stage of the novel.

Fiction is a fickle thing, as the city did not give me any of the sense of intrigue as written by Dumas, and (spoiler!) I wasn’t exactly a fan of the city. Still, it’s a part of my travels, and travel isn’t always perfect. Therefore, I will share my experiences with you regardless of how much I (dis)liked the city.

One Hot City

I’m not a city gal, nor am I into hot weather. Marseille was more of a city than I am comfortable with despite being less that a million people. It was so much more busy, crowded, and fast-paced than I expected of an ocean-side city on the Mediterranean. The heat I expected, but I forgot that the buildings would block the sea breeze.

We arrived in the late afternoon and headed to our rented apartment. As it was so hot, our group decided to head out of the flat as soon as possible. We meandered through the streets down to the harbor where there was at least a nice breeze. Walking past all the boats, we decided to give in to our stomachs’ complaints and find some dinner. Since we were in a port city, seafood seemed like the best choice.

Marseille Harbor

We found a place not too far from the harbor and I experienced my first fresh seafood. And by fresh, I mean extremely fresh. This was my first time ever cracking open crab legs and discovering the struggle of trying to get every morsel of succulent meat out. The others had done this before, but the sea snails were new to almost all of us. It was an experience to try the sea snails, but I think I’ll skip them in the future.

After dinner we took a walk around before heading back to the vacation flat and getting some much-needed sleep to prepare for our second day in the city.

Marseille

On the morning of the next day, we decided to take a walking tour around town. We visited the Old Port again before heading east into the heart of the city. We wandered through markets and some streets which did not really appeal to me at all (if you’re into architecture, I’d love to hear your take). We also stopped by the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul, where a statue of the Joan of Arc stands outside. The interior was nice and a chance to cool down, but I was still not impressed by Marseille.

Joan of Arc before the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul

Eventually we got to the Palais Longchamp which fed my soul a bit since I was missing green spaces and trees. We paused here for a while to relax before moving on to a place by the train tracks full of skaters and graffiti. The street art was interesting to see, but it was too hot to enjoy. Instead, we retreated to the shade of some modern skate-style cafe to eat lunch.

Palais Longchamp in Marseille

The Calanques

After lunch, we grabbed the public transport back to our flat for a short rest and to change into our swimsuits. The plan was to visit the calanques and do a bit of swimming. We drove out to a place recommended by the tourist office and parked the car. We then started walking. It was supposed to be a nice easy walk there, but at some point we took a wrong turn and ended up quite high up overlooking two calanques on either side. We took a steep path down in flip-flops and sandals (neither recommended nor safe), finally emerging on the side of one calanque in a quiet, residential area instead of at the main beach which was full of people.

We found a spot on the side of the calanque from which we could relax and swim without the crowds. We laid out our towels on the rocky shore and then headed into the sea. This was my first experience swimming in salt water. All I can say is that the saltiness seemed to end up everywhere in my belongings afterwards and the water seemed slimy compared to fresh water. These were small things though as the view was picture-perfect and the water was clearer than anywhere else I’ve ever swam. (Again, no camera for this day, so you’ll have to settle for a postcard.)

Calanque de Sormiou

As sunset loomed, some locals gave us directions for a trail out of the calanque. They said it was an easy walk and would get us quickly back to the car. Indeed it was faster than our way in, but it was also very steep going up. In wet flip flops, it was a trek for sure. Returning to the car with our wet things, we started driving back to the city. Spying a grocery shop and pizza stand, we stopped to grab breakfast for the morning and eat some dinner.

After dinner, we decided to head to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, the highest point in Marseille and a great place to enjoy a view of the city at night. Of course the church is closed at this point, but there are enough lights both on the hill and in the streets below to keep you satisfied visually. It was also cooler after sundown, so we had a bit more energy to walk up and down the hill.

Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille

So nice views were the way we closed out the day. In the morning we wandered a bit more, including into some creepy church with many gruesome relics. I personally could have skipped that bit. Before long, we packed up the car and headed out of the city for our final stop in our French get-away. More on that in the next post!

Cheers!

Mountains, Gorges, and Gorging on Mountains of Ice Cream

Welcome back to my dive into my travel journal. This post is a continuation of the last post about my trip to the southern part of France which you can read here.

To continue with the tale, we woke up to another very warm day in the Provence with a little road trip planned. On this particular part of our trip, our hosts informed us that we would be going through some water where fancy camera equipment may be unhappy to say the least, so A. and I decided to leave the cameras behind. As a result, you’ll not find many photos in this post.

Mount Ventoux + Les Gorges Du Toulourenc

After two lovely villages, it was time to get out and stretch our legs in some new environments. First on the list was a mountain which is apparently legendary in the cycling world. In order to get there, we loaded into our big rental van and made a drive that lasted over an hour. Luckily, we chanced upon a massive market in a village, the name of which I have sadly forgotten.

Sensing a potential lunch in the area, we parked the van and followed the crowd to the heart of the market. At that point, I was getting used to farmers’ markets in Germany, but this French market still blew my mind. The foods that were being cooked fresh and on-site were astounding (and no, I sadly don’t know what any of them were called). We bought fresh bread for the house, some people grabbed some light meals. I ended up going for bread with some olives as a light lunch that held absolutely no heat on what promised to be another very hot day.

I have no idea which olives we got. I just pointed and did the sign language thing until I had the desired amount of several different mixes of olives. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what I got. These are, to this day, the best olives I have ever had in my life. (If another country would like to step up to the challenge, I’m happy to eat their olives, too!)

Olive fantasies aside, we continued on our journey to the top of Mount Ventoux. To give you a little context, the reason this mountain is so famous is that it has been included in the famous Tour de France bike race multiple times. I think it’s safe to say that cycling enthusiasts the world over would like to cycle up the mountain if they had the chance.

The group I was with for this trip was not exactly in extreme cycling mode, so we simply took our vehicle up. We were lucky to have an incredibly clear day that allowed for incredible views from every direction on the mountain. We had a few snacks, walked around a bit, and watched the cyclists making the final stretch of the ascent. After a while, we loaded up and rode the van back down the mountain.

We found our next destination only a short distance away from where we descended from the mountain. Pulling into a dusty parking lot, we started loading up on water-proof sunscreen, packing our bags with water, and hiding away the few electronic devices that we had brought.

We meandered down a small path to the river and started sloshing through the water, enjoying the coolness after being in a crowded van on a hot day. We followed the river to the gorge where the surroundings were incredibly beautiful. In some areas the water just covered our feet, while in others it was up to our waists. In a couple of places we even had to climb up and down some rather large boulders in the way of the water.

In the end, we arrived at a swimming hole which was smaller and shallower than usual since there had not been much rain recently. Regardless, we took a dip. That is to say, those of us who thought it was not too cold went swimming, and those like myself who are no so inclined to swimming in freezing water just hopped in and out quickly.

When we were tired, we followed the same way back out and loaded up the vehicle to head back to the house.

Fontaine de Vaucluse

For another day trip after our mountain and gorge hike we all ventured to Fontaine de Vaucluse. This small town is in a little valley with stone rising up around the town. A small river runs through town, powering the water wheel of a paper mill, where you can still enter and get an idea of how paper was made in the olden days. The mill is called Moulin à Papier, and also includes a shop full of paper products which should keep someone with deep pockets busy for a while.

Fontaine de Vaucluse

Continuing past the paper mill following the stream away from town, the ruins of an ancient castle can be seen up on the rocky outcrop. The castle apparently used to belong to the Bishop of Cavaillon, but today it is more of a scenic element. I would love to have gone up to the castle, but I’m not sure that it’s possible to even do so.

At the end of the path we followed along the river, you come to a hole in the ground. Okay, it’s a spring, and the source of the Sorgue. We were there in low season when there wasn’t quite so much water flowing out. If you arrive when all the snow melt is in the water system, it is apparently quite impressive to see the water welling up from the subterranean depths.

Fontaine de Vaucluse Spring

Apart from these small wonders, this little hidden gem of a town also has quite a few shops, souvenir stalls, and restaurants which certainly smelled delicious. We didn’t eat there though, as we were more preoccupied with the thought of ice cream.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

The Sorgue pours into the town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This was our next destination, and a very beautiful one at that. The water flows through the town in sorts of canals with some water wheels here and there.

We visited some of the shops. One can find many antiques and items from the region here. We bought some more goodies in jars to bring back to Germany and enjoy over the months after our return. After our shopping excursion, we hunted down our friends’ favorite ice cream place: Gourmand L’Isle.

The ice cream at Gourmand L’Isle was not only tasty, but it is also home to the biggest ice cream I’ve ever seen. Two of our friends ordered the biggest ice cream dish they have which probably had at least 20 flavors in it and multiple toppings to boot. If you fervently love ice cream, then put this place on your bucket list!

Concluding with ice cream seems as good a plan as any, so I’ll leave you all with your ice cream dreams now.

Next stop: Marseille.

Cheers!

Grapes, Ochre, and Villages in the Provence Countryside

After many months of being completely distracted by… well, life, I’m finally going through my travel journals and converting scribbles into coherent stories that actually make sense to other humans. Seems that where I left off was my trip to France in the summer of 2016.

During my time abroad in Northern Ireland, I made friends with some German students as well as some French students. Two years on, some of my German friends decided we should road trip to France to meet up with our French friends. This is how I ended up in the back seat of a rather large rental vehicle surrounded by three German men and drinking a bit of wine to cope with the insanity of the situation.

It was a good thing that I drank early and slept well, because in the wee hours of the morning it fell to the American, the only one with significant experience on long-distance driving overnight, to take us the last couple of the hours to our destination. Turns out those years of driving between Missouri and Virginia in one straight shot really paid off!

Anyway, the three Musketeers and I arrived at the home of one of our friends somewhere between 4am and 5am. Our French friends kindly let us in and helped us get settled before we all passed out for a few hours. I probably should have drank more wine after that to help me sleep, because I only managed to sleep an additional two to three hours before I was up and running around. After everyone woke and had breakfast, we had our first adventure in the August sun of Southern France.

Avignon: A Pope’s Home Away from Rome

I was only just getting my whits about me when we pulled into a parking space in Avignon. We pasty white people slapped on some sun screen before heading into the heart of the town.

Exterior Papal Palace

After a light lunch, we started exploring. The first place we stopped by was the Palais des Papes, or the Papal Palace. Construction of the palace began in 1252 CE, but it wasn’t until 1309 that it became the residence of the popes and seat of Western Christianity. Avignon remained the papal home until 1364.

The Papal Palace is actually quite a massive thing. We walked to the chapel entrance, and decided to go inside for a few minutes. I was so glad we did, as the August heat was getting to be quite intense around mid-day, and the chapel was incredibly cool and relaxing. Pro tip: Always go in the church if it’s summer and you’re in a hot place. The cool stones keep the heat out. And yes, it took me going to Southern France in August to figure this out!

Interior Papal Palace

Interior Papal Palace

After we left the chapel, we wandered the streets, stopped for ice cream which was very hard to order since I don’t speak a lick of French, and eventually meandered towards the river.

Avignon

Avignon

At the the Rhône, we found Pont Saint-Bénézet. This bridge was originally constructed in the late 1100s. The bridge was later destroyed in war, rebuilt, and destroyed some more when the floods came. Eventually they decided to give up on the bridge, so now only half a bridge stands across the river. Talk about infrastructure problems…

Half-Bridge in Avignon

Now, this useless bit of stones serves as a tourist attraction for people like me and the Germans. I can only imagine how annoying it must be for the poor locals to have half a bridge that everyone who visits is so amazed by for some reason. After we walked around on the bridge, we decided to buy some groceries and call it a day.

Two French Villages: Roussillon & Gordes

Our next day’s adventure was to the village nearest to us: Roussillon. We walked through the fields of grape vines under the incredibly hot French summer sun before making the march up the hill into the village.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the whole place seemed to me to be a quintessential French village of southern France. Stone shops and houses, grape vines growing on buildings, local artists, wine cellars, and of course, bakeries.

French Vinyards

Roussillon

Although the village itself is cute, our first stop in the village was more… geological. Right at the edge of the village you can pay a small fee to enter onto the ochre trail. Ochre is an orange-ish pigment found in the clay deposits of the soil there. In the past, the village people made their living mining the pigment and processing it to be used in a variety of industries. Today, you can take a short walk through the mine area and feel like you’re on Mars.

Les Ochres in Roussillon

Les Ochres in Roussillon

After that we filled our water bottles and headed off to explore the village some more. We wandered through an antiquated cemetery, bought a bottle of local wine, watched an artist at work, and stole moments in the shade of the grape vines and sparse trees.

Later in the afternoon we ventured back to our little vacation home and took a nap to escape the summer heat. Very necessary.

We roused ourselves in the evening so that we could make it to another village in time for the sunset. Gordes is a quite popular village in the area, and with good reason. I have heard it argued that Gordes is one of the most beautiful places to visit in southern France. Sitting on a rocky outcrop facing the village is one of the best ways to enjoy the golden light of a sunset, and walking through the narrow cobble-stone streets is a bit like stepping into a French fairy-tale land.

Gordes

Gordes

Now that I’ve done a bit of research into the village, I see that there is quite a bit of history in the small place, although we mostly just enjoyed wandering around and made a quick stop into a historic-looking church.

Gordes

If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping by here.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 11 Months

My eleventh month in Germany has come and gone… while I was in France. Oops! While I’ll get to France later, I still wanted to backtrack and write a little bit about August in Germany.

Studies

I finished up my exams in July, and August was the first month of the semester break. I spent a lot more time playing than reading, and I will just leave my study update at that.

German

I thought my German was getting better. Then, I went to Switzerland and understood absolutely nothing (though, that is more because of the Swiss accent than it is because of my German). The Germans still tell me that my German is getting much better. I suppose that is to be determined at the end of the break after several months without a German class…

Travel

Here is the real substance of this blog post! August was a whirlwind of a month in terms of getting out and about. I started August by heading to Switzerland to see an international couple, a Swiss and an American who met while we were all studying abroad in Northern Ireland, get married. I was so happy to have been able to share that day with two very special friends. I hope that I get to see them in Edinburgh, their new home, in the future.

The next big event was the Konstanz Seenachtsfest (night festival at the lake). The city center was closed to traffic and flooded with people. A village of food and beverage stands had popped up by the lake. People merrily drank their beer while listening to music and waiting for the fireworks. Finally, they started. I was really impressed by the fireworks over the water and the accompanying music that was perfectly aligned with the bursts of light.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

When the Konstanz fireworks ended, another round of fireworks started on the Swiss side. They weren’t as good. After the Swiss fireworks ended, people started to get up to join the party or grab another beer. Suddenly, the Konstanz side shot off some more fireworks and dramatically triumphant music burst from the speakers. I think they made it clear who won that showdown.

About a week later, I grabbed my hiking boots and went to the mountains. It was a bit warm, but at least it was cloudy. A small mountain by Immenstadt was selected for the day. It did not take long before I found myself surrounded by cows. I have seen cow bells at Flohmärkte (flea markets), but this was the first time I saw a lot of cows wearing them. For the entire hike I could hear the sounds of cow bells, as they were in fields all the way up the mountain.

Cows in the Mountains

When we were about ready to head back down the mountain, we saw a sign for a Käserei (cheese maker). With all the cows, we figured why not get a bit of Bergkäse (mountain cheese). I knew that they made the cheese in the form of a cheese wheel. I was surprised to see the size of the giant boards on which cheesemakers set the cheese wheels.

Finally, as I stated above, I closed out the month with a trip to France to visit some friends (also who I met while in Northern Ireland), which I will write more about all in good time. We spent about half of the time on the countryside of southern France. On the first day we visited Avignon. Near the end of the trip, we spent two days each in Marseille and Lyon.

Lynnae in Avignon

So this is how I spent my eleventh month in Europe. Not too shabby.

Cheers!