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!

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: 2 Years

Can you believe that I have been in Germany for two years now? Seems like just yesterday I was breaking the news to my Grandma that I was going to be going far from home yet again. She wasn’t particularly pleased, but I think my family has all finally come around to the fact that I wasn’t meant to live the Missouri life.

Let’s review a bit what I’ve been up to. I stepped off the plane in Germany back in September 2015, and started my Master’s degree about this time two years ago. On top of my four semesters of study, I managed to visit Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, and Switzerland – plus a lot of southern Germany. I also met some wonderful people in Konstanz from all over, and three of my closest friends are now pursuing PhDs because they’re super nerdy. Just kidding guys! Well, partially at least….

Theses

Thesis Freiheit
My final Master’s thesis!

Studies themselves were quite a challenge for me here in Germany. The German language was obviously another source of frustration these past two years, although significantly less so now. Finances were also a struggle for me (I would strongly caution anyone considering graduate studies abroad if they have significant debt to be careful). Despite all of the difficulties, I was never deported and think that moving to Germany is the best choice I could have made!

I felt quite vindicated by my decision to move to Germany when I handed in my thesis last month. That same week I did a job interview in Munich at a start-up that I really wanted to work for. After nervously meeting the CEO and Head of Business Development there, I went back to Konstanz to do some exploring and discover the things I had not had the time to see in the past two years.

Konstanz Muenster and Me

While rendezvousing around Konstanz, I got a job offer from the very same company. A few days later I signed the contract and was working on moving out of my student flat.

A little less than a month ago I started working there and things have been going great so far. I’ve been working on some challenging tasks and am really excited about where the company is heading.

Student life is officially over and “adulting” (AKA paying off my student loans) has begun. Meanwhile, the leaves have pretty much all changed colors despite the Indian Summer that we had here in Munich.

So what’s next? Adjust to my new work like, find an apartment, and a trip back to Missouri for Christmas!

I’ll keep this update short since my last post was already very reflective. I’m also planning to reduce the frequency of these Germany Thus Far posts to once every three months. My monthly life isn’t changing as quickly and there are not so many new things during my day to day which would warrant monthly updates.

With that, I leave you lovely readers to enjoy autumn (or spring for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).

Cheers!

On the Changing of the Seasons

It may seem trivial, but I have long struggled to decide which season is my favorite.

When I was a child, I would have said summer. I didn’t have to go to school, so I would play in the backyard all day long. Summer also meant long trips to my grandparent’s place at the lake where I was free to roam the property.

When I turned 16 and got my first job, my love of summer turned to feelings of dread. I started to dislike summer almost as much as I dislike winter. Missouri typically has cold winters with a 5pm sunset. Since most of my winters have been spent in school during the day, there was very little time to enjoy the sun before it went down, especially after I started working.

It’s probably my loathing of winter which led me to appreciate spring so much. I always find it exciting when the days grow longer and I can spend more time outdoors.

Photo Sep 01, 18 08 23

But what about autumn? The coming of autumn meant going back to school, so I found this time of year very discouraging until I started university. And then everything changed.

It was during my university years that I started to be more confident in myself. I didn’t really notice it at first since I also struggled with self-awareness through most of my undergraduate studies.

During the changing of the seasons, from spring to summer of 2014, I left the country for the first time. Spanish, Oaxaca’s streets and markets, and the first inkling that I wanted to travel more accompanied a sense of self-awareness of the confidence that I had been cultivating through three years at university. Thus, my international experience and a sense of personal growth were marked by the changing of the seasons.

At the next changing of the seasons, summer to fall, I boarded my second international flight out of the States. The day that I landed in Northern Ireland, the air felt almost cold compared to the heat I had left behind in Missouri.

That semester turned out to be the most liberating and life-altering times of my life. Armed with my new sense of self-confidence and self-awareness, I forged enduring friendships and discovered and developed new parts of myself.

Two season changes later, as Virginia transitioned from spring to summer, I defended two Bachelor theses, applied to graduate schools, and earned my Bachelor degree.

As summer changed to fall, I found myself on another international flight. I watched the screen as the plane flew closer to the Emerald Isle, and I looked out the window somewhat in shock that I was seeing Europe again.

Only a few hours later my plane touched down in Germany, a country I had never set foot in before. This time I was transitioning into graduate school, another new country, and a plan to stay indefinitely.

Since that changing of the seasons, nothing has really changed as significantly. Until now.

Yet again, I find that the most pivotal changes in my life are coinciding with the changing of the seasons. As the weather changed from tank tops and unbearably hot to rainy and cold enough for sweaters in the span of a week, I was working on finishing my Master’s thesis.

Finish it, I did. Earlier this month, I handed in my thesis and breathed a sigh of relief. I’ve finished my second degree and only have to wait for a grade and my diploma in the mail. Everything is changing now. I’m saying goodbye to friends, went to a few job interviews, and accepted a job in Munich.

Photo Sep 01, 18 15 05-1

This changing of the seasons brings the end of my studies as well as the beginning of my professional work life. Finally, I see myself being able to start paying off those student loans, develop professionally in a non-academic environment, and have more financial resources to get lost in new places.

All this to say, I guess the reason I can’t pick a favorite season is that I prefer the changing of the seasons. To friends near and far, I hope to see you again as I come into some time and finances to travel. I already have a trip home to Missouri scheduled for Christmas.

Until the next changing of the seasons…

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

Since things have been quite busy in terms of my study load, I decided to lump two months together when I realized that there was no way I’d write about June on time. To be clear, those two months are June and July. Oh wow, that’s most of the summer gone already…

Around Konstanz & Southern Germany

In the first part of June, I did quite a bit of cycling. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but still nice enough weather to summon you outdoors. On one Saturday, I went cycling along the coast of the Bodensee with A before we went for a swim in the cool lake water. After swimming, we realized it was getting closer to 8, so we cooked dinner and then took some wine and glasses back to the beach.

Bodensee Sunset

We had intended to just drink some of the wine while enjoying the sunset. It was certainly a surprise when, across the lake near Meersburg, a firework show started up.

Fireworks vor Moonrise

This went on for about five to ten minutes. Near the end, I glanced to the right and noticed a light above the horizon. At first, I thought it was the sun for some reason, but then I realized that the sun had set to the left and had been below the horizon for some time already. It only took me a few seconds more to realize that it was the moon rising up from behind the Alps and scattered clouds there. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the moonrise before finally deciding to cycle back home at a quarter to 11.

Moonrise

Several weeks later A and I went hiking at a place called Eistobel. The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, and there are several opportunities for taking a swim along the path (although the water is freezing!). However, what Eistobel is most known for is its waterfalls. I understand that the waterfalls are especially beautiful in winter when they freeze, so I may need to return during a colder part of the year to get the full experience.

Eistobel

Also that weekend, I saw my first ever hedgehogs during an evening cookout. A pair of the adorable little guys just decided to join us in the yard, probably drawn by the warmth of the fire and the abundance of slugs (a meal for them) in the nearby bushes.

At the end of the month, I spent some time at the annual Konstanz Flohmarkt (flea market). According to the local news, there were about a thousand stands at this market. It’s every year in June for a full twenty-four hours, along both sides of the Rhine and across the Swiss border into Kreutzlingen. I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up some antiques for one of my little sisters.

July has been much less exciting. The heat waves have ended with cold spells before igniting a new heat wave. As I write this, the past several days have been cold, rainy, and gray. I even had to get a pair of fuzzy socks out to keep my feet warm. Now the thing with these drastic weather changes, as any good Midwesterner would know, is that they bring strong storms. It’s been quite a month for a storm lover (meaning me!), and there were even multiple instances of small hail!

Hail Kz

The few exciting things this month, apart from the weather, have been dinners. The first dinner was at the house of my professor, who is also my advisor and now former-employer. In case you didn’t know, I quit my student job to focus my last few months on my thesis and job search. The dinner was a relaxing break, and I got to put my experience of making fruit bowls to good use.

The second dinner was to say goodbye to a good friend and fellow student in the program. He moved to Mannheim this week to pursue a PhD. I wish him all the best in his continuing studies, and I know he will see us all again.

That dinner was the first time I really thought about my friend group here splitting up. I realized that he and I are the two who will be leaving Konstanz at the end of this semester. And for me, that means having to once again search for a new friend group in the city where I will live next. Or being a hermit, which is entirely possible although not the plan!

In the Books

On the study side of things, there is good news. Lectures have ended, and I only have one exam next week. Luckily, this exam isn’t required coursework, so the pressure isn’t so high. I also finished my colloquium presentations on my thesis, which is a huge load off of my shoulders.

What is left is to get moving on my thesis, write everything up, and hand in the final document at the beginning of September.

I also officially started my job search in this past month, which has meant writing lots of cover letters and getting frustrated with myself for not speaking better German. The jobs in my field usually prefer people with excellent German skills. The ones which don’t require German are often either too senior for me, or I am overqualified for the position. I’m trying to apply for all of the jobs that I can which are in my Goldilocks zone (and interesting to me), but that means that I may not end up going to the city which I am most hoping to live in. Let’s see.

Speaking Denglish

I’ve been trying to push myself a bit more with German. I do have to say though, that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering learning improving my German has taken a backseat due to my thesis. Annoyingly, I keep stumbling across confusing things such as the strange forms of Junge which are part of an entire class of nouns previously unknown to me and the fact that Fladenbrot (flatbread) is not at all what I think of as flatbread. Sure makes it difficult to try cooking something new. But hey, finding ingredients has been a challenge since I arrived for many of my favorite dishes, ehem, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Before the Storm at Bodensee

So that’s my June and July here at the Bodensee. Hope you all have been enjoying summer! Oh, and by the way, happy Game of Thrones return!

Cheers!