Have just got back from South-East France by train trip with Molly and Rachel; had a really great time: saw lots of stuff , got some more experiences. Sadly still no internet so am gonna get on with writing up a nice big blog entry about the goodtimes so I can upload it (and some of my 286 photos onto Facebook) when possible. So Rach got to mine at 11ish on Tuesday night and filled me in on her trip to Morocco and then was time to get a good night’s sleep before we set off.
Wednesday 5th March, Carcassone and Avignon
Up in time for 8am train, happy at the approaching Spring as it was already light, yay! Rachel in her post-African sun haze persuades me that I’m not going to need my scarf…a decision which was later regretted by all involved. First train was a nice speedy direct one from Périgueux to Bordeaux. All in all we were to take 9 trains, they varied in degrees of comfort/cleanliness/speediness but not one of them was delayed. Wicked. Quick change at Bordeaux and we’re on train nummer zwei to Toulouse. Snacks for journey number one included my lettuce from the fridge (nothing funny about that girls!), boost bars I’d brought back from England to crave Rach’s cravings and station coffee. Another change and we followed the Canal de Midi to Carcassone. When we got off we were still right by it and there were lots of little canal boats in the sunshine. And palm trees! Excitement at being in the Sunny South was short-lived however as we strolled through Carcassone’s small town centre as the dark clouds gathered and we felt the wind whipping up. The wind which was to haunt the next couple of days of our trip.
Turning left at the end of the main shopping street (having been unsuccessful in our search for new flip-flops for Rach) we hit a random dome and then turned the corner to a lovely view of the river with the citadel in behind. Before exploring further however we needed fuel. In France it’s all about the “menu”; basically you get like three courses for a bargaintastic 15EUR or whatever. Today for me was a slice of an AMAZING quiche, followed by pork escalope in a yummy Dijon sauce with chips, and then “un pudding”. When the waited offered us “un pudding” we assumed he was trying out his English and awaited a menu with a list of choices. But oh no! Apparently “un pudding” IS a type of dessert….pretty gross looking (scarily like a slap of paté), but tasted like sweet, soggy bread with unidentified fruit (?) in it.
We practiced our dancing for Avignon on the bridge of Carcassone and crossed over to the citadel. It was really cool….big inside, the castle was just a part of it really, and there was also a cathedral (with one of the oldest organs in the world) and lots of little shops and restaurants. We had our big bags with us and after being directed by slightly grumpy Frenchies from hostel to tourist office and back again we eventually found a lovely man, who was giving out the audio-guides and let us hide our bags in his office as long as his bosses couldn’t see them. French men really are nicer than women on a whole. Although as we (Rachel) discovered there are not many young “fitties”…what is the attraction of white trousers?! It was cool to wander around the castle and we basically spent the afternoon there exploring then it was time to head back to the station.
Next stop Avignon, via a change of train at Narbonne where we were entertained by a group of mini-Frenchies, huddling to keep warm and a disappearing train. The last journey of the day I spent staring out of the window at the night hoping I’d be able to tell when we were on the bit of the line which I could see on the map went right past the Med…I couldn’t. Enjoyed that train journey though, had two seats to myself, so took off my shoes, got comfy and allowed Molly and Rachel to entertain me as they sat huddled under Molly’s coat trying to keep warm. We really were kinda unlucky with the weather on this trip.
First stop in Avignon (after getting the obligatory station photo) was, I must admit, McDonalds. McChicken Sandwich was just what the Dr ordered and then we set off again into the blustery night. Ok so blustery is an under-statement. This is the windiest place I have EVER been, something to do with the mountains and stuff. The directions said our hostel was “on the middle” of a bridge. And seriously I will never forget a moment huddled next to the edge of this bridge trying to shelter from the wind and check we were in the right place, and actually starting to wonder if this was the beginning of a hurricance or something. Had the sense everyone else knew something we didn’t as the stupid English girls fought their way across the massive bridge over the river. It was indeed extreme bridge-crossing. Eventually though we had a beautiful moment of salvation as we spotted our hostel and we were met by a guy wrapped in a blanket and told they had been “waiting for us” (interesting the French words for waiting and expecting is the same). The staff were friendly however and showed us up to our slightly Fawlty Towers-esque room and we settled down for a wind-disturbed night.
Thursday 6th March, Avignon and Nice
Up for a good complimentary breakfast (bread and jam, croissant, juice and a super-strong coffee), and then into Avignon, which is a lovely walled-city. First stop, the famous Pont d’Avignon from the song. We braved the still very strong winds and danced on the 4 arches which remain of the original 22.
Then onto the ‘Palais des Papes’ which I found really interesting. It’s the oldest gothic palace in the world and we got to see inside all the many rooms, including the bedrooms and massive dining room, and also to see the popes’ expenditures broken down which was fascinating. Got kinda lost heading in the totally wrong direction through Avignon when we left (it was a bigger place than I imagined) and that got our bags from the hostel and wandered back through town stopping at FNAC and a panini shop for lunch. Shuttle bus to the weird, modern, but kinda soulless Avignon-TGV station.
Train from Avignon to Nice. Awesome journey. The landscape definitely felt more Mediterranean now, dry and hilly, we passed mountains (which we’d also seen from the top of towers in Avignon and Carcassonne), little villages and little churches on the top of hills. We stopped at Marseille, which is second to Paris and apparently slightly ‘shady’, and then suddenly were right on the coast which we followed all the way to Nice via Cannes, was really cool. Would love to head back to that coast in the summer. Arrived at Nice, got a tram and then called our hostel who, as the instructions told us, collected us from the Casino supermarket in a white VW van!
We dumped our stuff and then headed right out on the tram (with a very seductively voiced announcer) to explore Nice. Was already evening, and although not massively busy the town had a nice buzz to it. There was a big central square with a ferris wheel and lit up men, a long street filled with restaurants and was really happy to be on the sea-front. I really liked Nice in the day-time too, although I feel like we hardly scratched the surface exploring it, but the buildings were all painted lovely oranges, yellows and peaches and there was a good feel to the place. We wandered around and then went for dinner. Tried the local savoury beignets for starter…battered and fried vegetables, really yummy. Main course was also a local dish, daube niçoise (lovely tender beef in a yummy, rich red-wine casserole sauce) with tagiatelle (we were really close to Italy), and topped it all off with a yummy salade de fruits.
We were pretty shattered come the evening when we were away and generally headed to bed pretty early. Tonight we had a beer in the bar at the hostel, got laughed at when we tried to speak French to the English bar-tender, and then headed to bed. We were in a fourteen-bed dorm so didn’t get an amazing sleep, but the fact that one of the disruptions was from one of the girls off of America’s Next Top Model made it slightly more bearable! She was “one of the twins” on the programme (I’ve never watched so don’t know but apparently she’s pretty famous) and it was very exciting. Molly got up in the middle of the night to ask her and they had a conversation about the lack of loo roll. Molly had me laughing a lot during this holiday, she’s always so bouncy and ‘up’….and of course always fun to take the micky out of her silly American accent! and we’ll say no more about night-time toilet trips…
Friday 7th March, Nice and Monaco
After a cold shower but redeemingly good breakfast at the hostel we headed down through the old town of Nice which was really pretty and had a nosy around the lovely market which had overtaken the area where we’d eaten the night before. Then we walked up to the old castle gardens for amazing panoramas of the city and coast. Got some lovely views and lots of pictures of Nice and the port, and strolled back down past the artificial fountain and into the little windy streets with their orange trees and then to a big square with a statue of Garibaldi. We saw the Nice theatre and Modern Art museum…and the “Cow in Tree” outside.
Around lunchtime we went to the bus-station and got a bargaintastic 1EUR bus 40 minutes along the coast to MONACO! Was really excited about Monaco and I must admit my first impressions were kinda disappointing. There were some flashy boats in the port and as we wandered around the town was very well kept (and FULL of police) but the area around the port was really nothing special. (In fact we later found out that where we’d got off was the pit stop for the Grand Prix which makes it kinda cool).
Things started to look up when we found a lovely lady in a little sandwich shop who gave us yummy spinach pastries for free while she cooked our hamburger meat paninis! MMM! Then we headed up the hill (called something Grace Kelly I think…) to the Prince’s palace (stopping for a photo with a Ferrari). Was a pretty grand looking palace with guard mateys and a long drive. His flag was flying so we waved, but the weather was pretty bad at the point so we didn’t really hang around too long. Was nice though, as were the little streets, museums and high school nearby. Rocher We then got a petit train tour which really gave us a better idea of the layout of Monaco. The really swanky bit was the other side of the port, Monte Carlo so we headed over there next past some very very nice looking boats.
This was more the Monaco I was expecting…hotels to die for (Hotel de Paris being the most famous I think) with smart cars outside, lovely landscaped gardens (including the really cute and very chilled-out Japanese gardens), designer shops, Cartier jewels and beautiful people (even a lot of the tourists looked kind of up-market!). The main highlight was the Casino de Monte Carlo, we could only get as far as the spectacular entrance hall and disappointingly normal toilets but was pretty exciting all the same.
Really raining by this point and we were starting to get quite tired out so back through the famous bridge and bus back to Nice. Did a bit of shopping; Rachel got some shoes and I tried FNAC again for internet doo-dahs to no avail.
Molly and I did not want to leave Nice without having dunked our little toes in the Med! The sea got deep kinda quickly and before I know it was up to my knees, but it wasn’t as cold as I’d expected and we were still out-done by two guys who rocked up and properly swam. They had towels though. Molly and I had to make do with a quick drip dry and spent the rest of the even in wet trousers and socks. Hardcore.
Had a REALLY good Italian meal for dinner…found this cool little restaurant ran single-handedly by two guys absolutely packed full with people (even early in the evening) and with a really great atmosphere. And amazing food. I had gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce….mmmm so good, so filling. I then intended to order a baked apple for dessert, but before I knew what I was doing the words “tiramisu” were coming out of my mouth, it was served and I was eating in it, delighting in its splendour.
Saturday 8th March, Montpellier
Got up, had breakfast, got some free luggage labels from the hostel and a lift to the station. Pretty long train journey to Montpellier…didn’t really mind though, in fact I quite enjoyed the train journeys, did some reading, wrote some postcards and rested feet and mind after all the explorations! Weather was starting to look up and eventually we arrived in Montpellier…although randomly the train stopped really fae away from the station, bizarre.
Monpellier has flowery trams. They rocked, bringing a little ray of sunshine into life. I loved Montpellier, it has a really big student population, a cute old town (but also some really nice Modern areas) and a really good café culture. The main square, Place de la Comédie, and the park next to it were both really buzzy and I loved them. Kinda annoyed I didn’t have a coffee in that main place, could have sat there for hours watching the world go by…will have to go back. The old town had some ‘different’ shops and lots of salons de thé, a bit hippy-stylee really.
But anyway we got the tram from the station and Molly & I (with a WRONG map) managed to get us kinda lost on the hostel…ok so when I say kinda, we basically walked up and down the same road pointlessly four times! Was worth it when we found the place though…was actually a hotel (with mini-bar!) so the life of luxury for our last night, lovely.
So yeah then we headed into town through the cool park and past the Corum theatre and arts building. There was a cool market going on, very lively and busy (was a Saturday) and I had a nice abricot pastry. Oh god….this is turning into another food blog entry….
From the Place de la comédie we headed up the main shopping avenue to the Palais de Justice and weird rip-off Arc de Triomphe, also so
- MATEY ON HORSE
(see photos on Facebook!)
It wasn’t raining but there were some very mean looking clouds in the sky in contrast with some very blue sky in places which made for some dramatic photos.
We checked out the Polygone shopping centre. Was packed and err shopping centre-like I guess, but I had the BEST amaretto-coffee ever inside, was good and nice to sit down…Molly was needing a Coke and we all defo needed a pit-stop.
Wandered back through the place as the lights came on around us and checked out some funny contemporary dancers which brought back memories for me, and I really liked the early-evening light in the square. Magical! Hunted out my last batch of postcards in the old town and just wandered (with direction) around the little streets of the old town) happening across the old monastery (which is now a school of choreography, pretty cool) and the then the unique cathedral.
Had a Chinese for dinner…wasn’t the classicist place we’d been to but it was yummy and filled us up (well there was just a little gap left for the Haagen Dazs café before heading back to the hostel, verifying we were all girls in a trashy magazine quiz and getting a really nice night’s sleep.
Sunday 9th March, Montpellier and home James
And today we headed home. Well got up nice and early and had a last look around Montpellier first, stopping for a pain aux raisins on the lovely Place de l’Europe. And then yeah at 11am we got on a train which got us into Bordeaux at just gone 3pm, then was the last train home to Périgueux. Have been at this blog for hours now and have school tomorrow…boo, back to work…so yeah had better get some sleep I think. All in all an excellent holiday.
Back to reality…
With a bump. Kids were noisy as hell today and teachers as cheery as ever…walked into the staffroom first thing this morn to some conversation about how sometimes they wake up and just don’t want to live anymore.