Monday, May 19, 2008

Cruising through the countryside

Another early wake up call (3:30 am), another trip to the airport when it's morning and still dark, and another super early flight brings us from the city of Fes, Morocco to Marseille, France. While in the airport, I realized that being charged 12€ to check in an extra bag of random clothes wasn't worth it, so I picked out some clothes and items that I would most likely not wear or use to throw away (of course, the cheapest stuff) and once again managed to pack everything into one bag.

Arriving in Marseille, we took a bus out to the city and then jumped on the metro a bit, hopping out at the stop near our CouchSurfer, Baptiste. After meeting Baptiste, his roommate Norman and Norman's girlfriend Anouk, everyone seemed a bit hesitant but after a bit of talking and getting to know each other, we relaxed and felt at home. Their place is great. It's very nicely decorated, a nice white/brown/red color scheme and cool sliding blinds. The livingroom is very open and has a balcony on the side, mostly used for smoking. Anouk is a budding photographer with brilliance. Her photos capture such raw emotion, are contrasty as hell and sharp as nails. Check them out when you have the chance. Baptiste is such a cool character. Hilarious timing, an amazing cook and a beer swilling filmmaker. He used to work for Troma (Cannibal, the Musical!) and loves his bloody zombie movies. Many, many requests to see his work were made, but alas, the answer was always "later."

Later that night, Baptiste handed us a bag full of different ties, wigs and whatnot. Time to head out. Without having to describe things, let's just look at the photos.

Work it

Cianar said I looked like a walking Stephen Hawking.

Rock out!

We headed out to a local Irish pub. After grabbing some beers (me, a 7up b/c of stomach issues) and sitting at a table outside, about two hours into the night, some random person came up to Cianar and mentioned something about his slick Japanese headband. What seemed like an innocently enough observation ballooned into a 5 hour talkfest about everything and anything, especially having to do with Jeremy and meeting up with him later for quite possibly would be a very explicit rendezvous.

And that's what Jeremy thought about the whole thing, as Baptiste blows a condom into a balloon and Norman looks ahead in disbelief.

Talking with Ryan while I was in the Philippines, we decided to get a car rental and drive around the countryside of France. We picked up our car, a nice Renault Clio, sort of a hatchback style car that can fit the 5 of us, we took it back to Baptiste's place and, being the awesome guy that he is, he offered to take us around to the city of Cassis! Driving through the countryside is amazing, lemme tell ya. Winding away from Marseille, the road goes up, up over a mountainside and winds through beautifully curvy and green hills. After a few more fun curves downward, we arrive at the tiny coastal city of Cassis. I don't remember too much about Cassis, but we talked about pétanque while watching some locals in the park play. Generally, the words that come to mind are: port, cold, wind. We did end up walking around the "Warning, danger" sign and go around the cliffside to the other side.

You really should click through to see the larger size.

Returning home, Baptiste threw down an amazing chicken and wine stew with about eleventy billion spices and good stuff. Despite my stomach issues, I ate more than thought possible. We talked a bit more about movies, film, and some of the ones that Baptiste liked. We saw Maniac, then moved on to Cannibal, the Musical, and finally, with a bit more beer and some egging on, Baptiste's films! Woohoo! Filled with film magic and some greatly gory special effects and makeup (and a enough male nudity to freak out the average American) each film was a horrific treat.

Bidding our eternal thanks, we took off to traverse the countryside and get ourselves to the next cities. We stopped at Aix-en-Provence for a few hours to see the city on foot, then continued to our hostel in Avignon. Pretty quiet place, and a great location---right across the river that looks into the old city of Avignon.

Here's the view:

See it large. It's worth it.

That night, we went into the city in search of food and found a great tapas place called Tapalocas. Excellent tapas, from chorizo and lentils to aubergine (eggplant) medleys and even delicious confectionery like churros and melted dark chocolate, this place was worth the crazy lost-in-the-Medina walk to get to. It also the best sangria I've ever had. Delicious!

One more day of driving around the south to head toward the salt flat area near the ocean, we stopped by a vinyard (unfortunately at closing time) and decided here that we would do Cianar's panorama.

So we did.

And it was good.

On the 14th, I headed for Bordeaux to visit Caroline and the rest of the guys headed to Paris to hang with Ryan's sister Julie and her chill husband Andrew. How was Bordeaux? It's like a nice small town, very walkable from top to bottom, covered in a day by foot easily. Unfortunately, Caroline was super busy with work (being a doctor does that kind of thing) so I didn't get to see her much, but I did go with her to this delicious sushi bar called Yako for her friend's birthday. Sushi there was awesome, fresh and tender and tasty.

My favorite thing in the city was this art piece called Miroir d'eau, the Water Mirror located in front of the Place du Bourse. Water randomly goes from 15 mm depth to less than 1 mm depth, and then sometimes a fine mist is sprayed, letting lots of people enjoy the cool water as they walk through.

If anything it makes for a nice photo.

Bordeaux is also known for its vinyards and what would be a visit to the vinyard capital of France without visiting it's vinyards? Taking a tour to two of the countryside vinyards, I arrived at Château Guiraud and tried their delicious 2002 sweet white and Château Beau-Site for their lovely smooth reds and white, which was so subtly sweet as to be perfect. Note: I don't know anything about wines, but they seemed good to me. Andrew, Julie's husband and an avid wine drinker (from what I know) remarked that it was fucking good. Awesome.

Odd thing on the train heading into Bordeaux. After a few stops, maybe half an hour before we got into the Bordeaux station, the train slows down and stops, and an announcement is made in French. After reading my book for half an hour (Kafka on the Shore by Murakami), train having not moved an inch, I started to wonder what was going on and asked the couple next to me what the problem was. They mentioned that the train had an accident; someone lept in front of it. Yikes! As the train finally started on its final leg to Bordeaux, in the window I could see many, many police cars and an ambulance, lights blazing into the night.

Odd that the same thing happened when I was in London on the tube last year. Hmm!

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