A day in Marseille

Our first night in Marseille was not without its challenges – tired from the day and having had an enormously heavy lunch, we opted to pick up salad items and eat in while watching “Jaws 2” in French without sub-titles.  Eventually we cut-over to an episode of “Orange is the New Black” and then lost the battle to fatigue and went to bed.  The apartment is really well located in the heart of the old port area.  Downside – LOTS of street noise, no A/C, and no screens on the windows.  Needless to say it made for a challenging sleep – need to shut the windows to stop the bugs and the noise, but then you’re stuck with a stuffy room and a wimpy oscillating fan!   Arghhh!  While the whelps from the bites aren’t as sizable as those mosquito bites we acquired in Camargue, the continuous nuisance could drive a person crazy!!  And then it was morning..

We set out on foot to explore Marseille today.  First, we walked down the west side of the quai from our apartment in the old port area and found breakfast – typical French petit dejeuner of croissant or pastry, orange juice, and espresso.  From there we went on to the Marseille Cathedral (La Cathedrale Nouvelle Major) and the museum of the remains of the Roman docks.


Picked up tickets for tomorrow’s boat tour and then made a quick stop in the apartment before heading up the hill to the Notre-Dame de la Garde.  The basilica was beautiful, but the stunning views were what made the climb up the steep hills and more stairs all worth while!


Made our way back down the hill – stopping for a wholly unremarkable lunch – and then on to the Palais Longchamp, home of both the museum of natural history and the museum of art.  Wandering back down the residential streets, we came across a farmers market and picked up some fresh fruit for snacks and breakfast.

Chateauneuf-de-Pape

Chateauneuf-de-Pape, aka CDP, is not just an AOC, but a quaint hillside town ridiculously overrun with amazing wine!  We headed out from Aix with our guide Michael sharing wine trivia and experiences + learning a lot from him about wine in France and the CDP AOC/Cotes-du-Rhone region, specifically.  We were headed into the heart of the souther Rhone valley where Grenache reins supreme and its not unusual for wineries to span hundreds of years passed down thru a single family.

First stop, Domaine de Beaurenard (http://www.beaurenard.fr/indexgb.htm), translated to the beautiful fox.  We tried both white and red CDP.  The 2006 vintage was showing its age – in a good way! – but the younger wines clearly still need some time in the bottle.  Winemaker Paul Coulon et fils.


Next up, Clos de Papes – a personal favorite of Michaels and definitely a low-key affair.  http://www.clos-des-papes.fr/   We tried both a new and old white CDP + reds from 2013, 2011, 2009 and 2006.  The last was only by lucky chance that the winemaker himself had been in the day or so before and pulled to cork on that fantastic vintage!  Lucky us!  The prices were significantly higher – mostly in line or slightly about high-end OR Pinots, so we opted for a bottle of their 10 euro table wine and look forward to having that while relaxing in Marseille.


We drove up to the remains of the chateau of Chateauneuf itself – built as another home of the Pope, which was dismantled by the same peasant workforce who built it after it fell to disuse.  We had a chance to see the rocky soil and gnarled old vines up close, as well as taste a grape or two that will be ready for vendange in @ 2 weeks.  Just down from the ruins, lunch included a delicious rose from Bandol, duck, bull, and a lovely fig tarte at Le Verger des Papes.  We also visited the cave at Le Verger and tasted wines from a mix of local makers + saw some of the old roman ruins now used as storage.


Last stop of the day and by far the best, Domanie Serguier.  http://www.domaine-serguier.com/domaine.htm   The wine was delightful and the winemaker incredibly accommodating and informative.  We tried whites and reds of both Cotes-du-Rhone and CDP – and then we tried 4 right out of the barrel.  Interesting in that she was using different sized barrels to different effect.  Elected a white CDP to take with us and started on our way to Marseille.


Beautiful day to be in the Rhone Valley!!

 

Best laid plans..

Of all of the activities we were looking forward to, the private winery tour of the Chateauneuf-de-Pape region scheduled for Tuesday was going to be the highlight.  The biggie.  The piece-de-resistance!  And then, as we’re pressed and dressed and out on the street looking expectantly for our ride – I see there’s an email from the company.  Our guide is ill and there’s nothing to be done.  Can we reschedule for the next day, she asks??  Grrrrr.   With much cursing and muttering, I summon a reasonably polite response – well yes, but we have to be in Marseille by 7.  D’accord?  D’accord.

But now what to do??  We’d seen about all there was to see in Aix and I wasn’t up for another group tour – even if we were the whole group!  We finally settled on a day trip to Arles, sorted out the correct bus/timetable, scooted out the door in time to pick up a crepe-to-go and off we went.


Arles is famous for a number of things, but most people know it as the inspiration for many of Van Gogh’s best know works.  He only spent @ 15 months there – many confined in the sanatorium – but yet he was incredibly prolific during that period, creating as many as 300 works!


What we didn’t know was that there are a number of roman ruins there – the Romans occupied the area as early as 100 BC – such as a rebuilt amphitheater, a coliseum still in use today, the remains of what were the community baths, and various pieces of roads and fortifications.
We enjoyed seeing the town and marveled at being able to touch a piece of rock carved for a pillar or cornice more than 2000 yrs ago.  What a reminder of just how young our country really is..


Last dinner in Aix turned out to be our best – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it was a burger and fries!  Naturally, it was the French rendition and not your average Red Robin, but still..  Anyway, we stumbled across Marie-Georgette by happy accident in our wanderings with Doug and Kara – we’d passed by the Passage Agard entrance to the small alley where it’s located multiple times and never even took notice.  Wonderful food and a comfortable low-key dining experience.  Should we find ourselves in Aix in the future, we’ll definitely seek it out!  http://www.marie-georgette.fr/


 

Camargue, St Maries de la Mer, and Aigues-Mortes

After our successful Luberon villages outing, we decided to try another tour, I thought it would be interesting to see a different coastal landscape + see how salt has been produced from the sea for many generations.  We were able to arrange a Camargue tour on short notice and – unbeknownst to us at the time – we were the entire group!

We had a quick lunch at Les Deux Garcons – more tourist hype than authentic cafe experience in my opinion – and went off to meet up with our guide for the afternoon.  http://lesdeuxgarcons.fr/  We did run in to Betty and Bill there from the previous day and had a quick chat exchanging notes on destinations and restaurants.  We also commiserated about a large and loud group of fellow Americans..  I guess we can’t all be subtle and savvy travelers!

The Camargue is a region of wetlands known for wild(ish) horses and bulls + large flocks of flamingos.  Might have been good to know that the very end of a hot dry summer is easily the worst time to visit!!  We did see horses, bulls, and flamingos – albeit at a distance – but the trip may be more remembered for the large and aggressive mosquitoes!!  Still whelped and itching days later!!



Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (http://www.saintesmaries.com/) is a lovely beach town.  Period.  As the story goes, its shore once welcomed – at the dawn of the Christianity after the execution of Jesus – Marie Jacobi, Marie Salomé and their handmaid Sarah, who were persecuted Christians escaping from Palestine on a boat without a rudder guided by an angel.  Miracles followed.  For more..  http://www.saintesmaries.com/eng/saintes-maries-de-la-mer.html   Had we been there during a bull game (they don’t fight/kill the Camargue bulls as in Spain) or gypsy festival, it might have been a different story.  But essentially, there was a little tourist town, a nice church dedicated to the two St Maries and St Sarah, and a beach on the Mediterranean sea.



In lieu of 2 hrs in the quaint tourist trap, we asked the driver if we could go to where the Salt Train tour is.  http://www.visitesalinsdecamargue.com/en/train-tour/  We ended up in Aigues-Mortes, which was close, but due to driving time, etc, it just wasn’t going to be possible to get there in time for the tour.  We did see the salt production facility from across the bay and also had a little time in the walled inner city of Aigues-Mortes, but that was about it.  Still, we did get rice grown and salt produced in Camargue – so we’ll have that memory once we’re home.


Note to self – and anyone else who may read this blog:  Go to Camargue in June!

Dinner that night was at a cute little bistro that we’d passed by numerous times – it always seemed lively and the plates looked good.  Le Piston was fine – but that’s about as good of a review as I can come up with.  Not bad, not great.  Okay.   Based on the reviews, it may have gone down hill in recent years..  It certainly had good reviews at some point!   https://www.yelp.fr/biz/le-piston-aix-en-provence

Footsteps of Cézanne

Got off to a bit of a slow start as we managed through the jetlag of a 9 hour time difference.  Enjoyed fruit and yogurt on the patio for breakfast.  Later, we’d have  salad nicoise and ceasar for lunch and then dinner at a Corsican restaurant, Le Contrepoint (https://www.yelp.com/biz/le-contrepoint-aix-en-provence).  The restaurant was busy and we hadn’t made reservations, so we felt lucky to snag a table in the cozy dining room.  I opted for the corsican beef tartare – with tomatoes and paprika, Paul got a fondue with potatoes and cured pork and then we had a chilled rose to go along with it.

Cézanne live and worked in Aix and the Provence region. Many of his works were inspired by the landscape here. His last workshop has been preserved with many of the objects featured in numerous still life paintings.

On our way!!

Headed to Marseilles and Provence via DC and Brussels.  Weather is clear, flights are on time…   And we made it to Aix – cheers!!

We got settled in to our basement apartment on the Cours Mirabeau, took a short nap, and then went out to explore our surroundings.  Our location was ideal – the main thoroughfare dividing the old city from the seriously old city.  There were picturesque cafes and alleys any way you went.  We later learned that Aix is the “city of 1000 fountains” – a bit of hyperbole as there are really on 111.  The do seem to be at every corner and roundabout.

No question we’re in the land of rose – were a good bottle can be had from the grocery for 7-9 euro.

City of Angels

Enjoyed a quick trip back to the old ‘hood this week.  Very nostalgic.  I didn’t get out on the beach because I got there after dark, but I drove through PDR and Westchester.  So happy to see not much has changed!

Enjoyed seeing Larry and Shannon again – plus the campus was as beautiful as ever.  Had a nice long lunch with Lili at Shiki over in Studio City.  I even enjoyed the traffic!!  

Orcas Island 25k – wait, what??

I must have been hypnotized..  Paul was talking about this race that’s so popular you enter a lottery to get in and then I was looking at the web site and there were only 4 spots left and then I reached for a credit card and signed up!  Really??

And THEN I read the FAQs..   My decision was clearly driven by scarcity – 4 spots, must act now! – and not common sense.  The good news is I’ll have 6 hrs to go just under 16 miles – and given the 4450 ft of elevation gain, I may need every minute of it!!

http://www.rainshadowrunning.com/orcas-island-25k.html

Two-tomato Quiche

Not that there are 2 tomatoes in it, but rather two types of tomato – both from our garden. Onion, spinach, feta, and early girl and chocolate cherry tomatoes on top.


More planning for our trip to southern France – we have an all-day private winery tour and then 2-day city passes to explore Aix and the surrounding area.  There have been wildfires near Marseilles this week, so hopeful that’s not an issue by the time we get there.  Looking forward to an adventure!

City Pass:  http://www.aixenprovencetourism.com/destination/preparer-votre-sejour/pass-touristique/

Wine Tour:  http://www.wineinprovence.com/provence-wine-tour/chateauneuf-du-pape/

Luberon Villages Tour:  https://www.viator.com/tours/Aix-en-Provence/Luberon-Villages-Day-Trip-from-Aix-en-Provence/d5228-5849LUBERONMARKET

 

Chili nights

Prep work continued on the basement walls and other wiring required to be ready for the furnace and tankless water heater install.  I immersed myself in the domestic bliss of laundry and other various chores.


Dinner was the (mostly) vege chili I’d made yesterday – not sure what I was thinking bringing that bag of Frito’s into the house!!  LOL!  They didn’t stand a chance!

Planning for our trip to Provence continues – we’ve secured a apartment in Aix-en-Provence (https://www.vrbo.com/1982146ha?unitId=3696419) for about a week and then one in Marseilles for the final weekend (https://www.vrbo.com/1449394a?unitId=1620995).  Tres excitant!