Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tour de France: Grenoble, Aix-en-Provence, Cote d'Azur

So, my last 12 days in Europe will be spent traveling around France with my boyfriend Michael, a huge tour by train that started on Saturday and will end next week in Paris. Here are some notes from the journey...

The first day was a huge travel day...ten hours in the train to reach Grenoble, city set on the edge of the French Alps. The train ride got gradually more interesting as we headed south, with lots of forested hills, cliffs, riverbeds...

Grenoble itself was a beautiful town. Every narrow street you looked down you saw mountains in the background, and the city lies on the Isère River, with scenic old bridges.

In the morning I went to the market, got some goat cheese and talked to the nice cheese man as he delicately wrapped it in paper (no anti-Americanism yet!); he told me his first kiss was from an American... (The conversation went like this: "un crémant, s'il vous plait", "oh, where do you come from?", "oh, mon accent est assez terrible? des Etats Unis.", "my first kiss was from an American, et maintenant, je ne peux plus..." I guess he was there for some time to learn the language while he was young. I like little encounters like that.

The next train ride took us through rural Provence to the city of Aix. We wandered through the colorful old streets (I love this color palette: dirty hues of light orange, pink and beige), admired the fountains, squares and then made it to the TV in time to watch soccer (Euro Cup Finals: Germany vs Spain). Spain won. :(

me with the impressionist painter Cezanne:

Côte d'Azur, the French Riviera
The next train took us through Marseille and Nice to Menton, called the "Secret Riviera". The hotel was closed for midday when we arrived, so we took our backbacks with us down to the beach to kill a few hours. It was hot. Already. Hot hot hot.

Menton is located right on the border to Italy, and is famous for its beautiful gardens. My mormor would have loved it...I thought of her especially. The towns along the coast are nestled into steep cliffs, and again the houses are beautifully painted...light pinks, oranges and yellows with blue or green wooden shutters. The Mediterranean is unbelievably blue--hence the French name for the Riviera: azur...

We went swimming in the sea with this gorgeous little city in the background, huge forested cliffs all around us...picnicked in a park of olive trees (our budget requires a lot of picnics...but with amazing French cheese, local olives, sausage, fresh tomatoes, sometimes's good!)

Yesterday we took a day trip to Nice and Monaco. I'm glad we didn't stay directly in Nice...soooo many tourists, soooo many Americans! It was crazy how much English you hear. But it's a beautiul place so you understand why. Pretty old city and pretty beaches as well. Monaco is its own little country...super wealthy. We got in at night so we saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino all lit up with colored lights. And a gorgeous fountain!

In Nice I had salade niçoise and ratatouille, two typical provençal dishes.

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