Friday, December 14, 2007

Salon du thé

Our Marseille CouchSurfer came to pick us up at the train station, which was very nice. The first thing we saw upon leaving the station was a rat, which made me feel at home, New York-wise. We dropped off our stuff in her friend's trunk (who was with us - no breaking and leaving things) and went to a bar where one of her colleague's was having a celebration for the completion of his thesis. In practical terms: free food and free beer. I had a Pelforth, which I enjoyed heartily.

After this, we walked through the center of Marseille to an Algerian tea salon. It was an amazing experience. We got mint tea and two rounds of shisha (which is immeasurably better than the crap they serve in New York). There was live Algerian music, and our host's friend played the drums and, I guess, "jammed" with the musicians there. Later on, another group of people came in, including a white girl who nonetheless was very good at belly dancing. Unfortunately, my camera was about to die, so I only have one picture of this whole thing:

In the car on the way to her house, our CouchSurfer explained to me that Marseille folk have a reputation for bad driving, as do Algerians, so she was doubly cursed. But actually, I drive exactly like she does. And I'm Asian and a woman. Funny how that works out.

A funny thing about Marseille is that it's got a reputation for being extremely dangerous, even across the border. (Hannah's dad called to tell her to be careful in such a sketchy city.) Well, we were walking around together at 3 in the morning on a Saturday night, and we didn't see another soul around, except for a woman who was trying to sell bread for some money. No one even remotely dangerous.

We got back to the house, and it was a REAL house. With two floors, and living rooms and everything. It was nice, after being in apartments all the time. Then it was definitely time to sleep.

Last Nice Day

Ok, lame pun. I apologize.

This "morning," Hannah and I went for lunch on the shore. I had seafood pasta, and the setting could not have been more relaxing or perfect. Except I broke a glass, and instead of having a socially proper response like apologizing immediately and sincerely, I kept laughing, except I think in my attempt not to be obnoxious, it came out as kind of a continuous snickering as the waiter was picking up the shards among the rocks on the beach. Whoops.

The bread they gave us while we were waiting for our food was amazing. In Ratatouille, they talk about bread that sounds good - this bread sounded amazing. Like a philharmonic orchestra. It was served perfectly warm, and you could almost taste the oven (in a good way). The pasta was also excellent. Plus, you can't beat the view.

After lunch, we went to the Christmas market and got some churros with nutella. Let me tell you, even without nutella, churros are already a lot sweeter in France than they are in Spain, so this was like a sugar circus in my mouth. Following the sugar shock, Hannah went back to the apartment to continue her work, and I trekked around Nice all day. (Obviously, Hannah is a significantly more diligent student than I am. I have brought "Islamic Economic Systems" to read for my term paper with me both on this trip and to Lausanne, and I have gotten to page 11.)

The Christmas market
(The fence is around an ice rink.)

Here are some sights I encountered:

Selling mini- to regular-sized Christmas trees on a boardwalk has to be up there with Santa scaling palm trees.

This is the Church of Jesus. It's very fancy.

This is a typical street in Old Nice.

Then I went up the big hill in Nice, and I stood in the exact spot as the photographer of the postcard I just bought for my parents. I could tell because if I held the postcard really close to my face, I could line it up exactly with my actual view. It was strange. Anyway, the view is excellent. You'll notice that I've said this a lot. That's mostly because Nice is gorgeous, so it's pretty from anywhere.

After that, I got gelati, because I like ice cream, and Nice is close to Italy. It was delicious.

This was followed by more wandering, and more sights:

Presumably, these kiddies were going to sing, but I didn't have the patience to stick around.

Stilts and a Segway? How often does that happen?

This was also followed by one of the most random experiences in my life. I was looking around in a Monoprix, which is a French sort of department store, and this French woman approaches me and asks me if I'm Chinese. I say yes, and she starts talking to me in Chinese. So I just figure, well this is random, but not that weird. I mean, I imagine she doesn't exactly have a lot of opportunities to practice her Chinese. So we chat for a little while. Then she asks, "Are you religious?" And all I can think is, "... Seriously?" So I tell her that I'm not, and lo and behold, she whips out three magazines - in Chinese - explaining why I ought to accept Jesus as my lord and savior. So not only does this woman randomly speak Chinese, she actually walks around with evangelist material, presumably, at all times. So now I have three magazines about Jesus. That's an excellent addition to the souvenir box.

Following this, I wandered back to the sea, constantly wondering if I had really just experienced drive-by evangelism. I decided I needed to sit by the water and watch the waves and the sunset. Then I decided: I'm right by the Mediterranean; it would be ridiculous if I didn't set foot in it. So I did. I over-anticipated the coldness, so it was actually fine, though I'm sure it was indeed quite cold. and picked up Hannah for dinner. At the restaurant, I ordered pizza and was promptly handed a ninja weapon to eat it.

Then we gathered our things, and hopped on the train for Marseille.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

To Monaco!

Hannah had some work to do today, so we agreed that I would go to Monaco on my own and we'd meet up for dinner.

I met two Americans at the train station while buying my ticket, so we sat on the train together. One of them pronounced "baguette" like BAG-it. He also said some very, well, stereotypically American things (in the bad sense). Even though he was Indian. And his (white) friend was visibly embarassed and amused. It was funny.

Anyway, we all wanted to see Monte Carlo, so we did that leg of the trip together as well. I decided against going in because a) there was a chance you had to be 21, b) there was a much stronger chance a passport was required, c) there's an entrance charge, and d) I don't have any money to gamble anyway. I'll come back when I'm rolling in the green. Literally. For now, here's a picture of what other people's fabulous wealth have helped sustain:

After that we split up, since I wanted to see more of Monaco, and the boys, oddly enough, wanted to go shopping. Weird. And now, a picture tour:

This is Feuilleville, which is, I suppose, where people actually live in Monaco, assuming the fact that people living in Monaco is an actual phenomenon.

The prince's palace

Candide in front of the harbor, taken from the palace area

A bubble stand at the Christmas market

Another word about this Christmas market. I ordered hot wine at a stand, in French, naturally, and the guy asked if I was French. I said "No, I'm from the States," and he responded, "Oh really? You sound French." I could've married him on the spot. Now, I know what you're thinking, because I also thought, "If I sounded so French, then why did he ask?" But there are a couple reasons to ask. For one, I'm Asian, so no one in Europe would assume that I'm from the area; also, I was in Monaco, which has huge numbers of tourists. All the same, I'm sure he was just being nice or hitting on me, but still. It made my day. Also, the hot wine was €2,50, and you keep the cup. And the cup was Ikean. So it was a good deal.

Eventually, I came back to Nice, and Hannah and I went out to dinner. I had an excellent plate of paella, and Hannah had some pizza. Afterwards, we went over to the local college where Marie (one of the CouchSurfers) was part of a dance exhibition where every dance club in the school was performing. She did a contemporary piece with perhaps 12 other girls, and it was very good. The ballroom however, made me want to cry. It was like robots, only worse, because robots ballroom dancing would at least be kind of funky.

Two of their friends came back to the apartment to join us, and we all watched L'auberge Espagnole, which is a great movie, and even better once you've actually travelled as a student and can relate to the characters. Also, it makes Russian Dolls (the sequel) make a lot more sense.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Entering the Riviera

Tip: Don't oversleep on an overnight train and miss your stop.

It actually wasn't that bad, since the next stop after Nice is Monaco, which is pretty close and very easy to get back from. But in general, it's probably bad practice. I had actually set an alarm, but I turned it off in a state of semi-consciousness and went back to sleep. Then someone was calling me and I did the same. About 15 minutes later, I thought to myself, "Wait, if someone called me, it's probably Hannah. Which probably means we arrived." So I woke up about 30 seconds before the train started pulling out of the "Nice - Ville" station. At that point, I didn't really care anymore, since I'd have to wait for the next stop in any case, and I remembered seeing that Monaco was one of the stops when I got on the train in Paris, so I wasn't too worried. Instead, I looked out the window, and HOLY CRAP. I saw a brilliantly blue sea and PALM TREES. It was amazing. The perfect break from the crappy cold and rain that we'd left in Paris.

The train itself was actually really nice. The covers were bright green, which is my favorite color, so I was unreasonably excited from the beginning. The rooms are kind of cramped, because there are six people sleeping in an area that is smaller than my parents' bathroom, but it's all good. It's not uncomfortable, and you save money on a place to stay and don't waste any time that you could otherwise be doing things.

At the train station in Monaco, all I had to do was go to another platform and hop on a train in the opposite direction. (Nobody checked my ticket, so it was fine.) I met up with Hannah, who had become thoroughly familiar with the Nice train station while waiting for me to come back.

After that little adventure, we set out for breakfast and found a little place called "Le Colbert," so naturally we ate there. The sky was so clear, and it was so much warmer, it was impossible to be in bad spirits. We walked around and I saw a decoration that involved Santa climbing up a palm tree. I cannot express how wrong that image is. But you can see for yourself.

Then we got to (drumroll please) the SEA. There was a BEACH and everything. So we just walked along the shore on what is roughly equivalent to a boardwalk (since the beach is rocks) though nothing like the Jersey shore boardwalk. We got to a little port, but the boat tours weren't running in the off-season, so we couldn't do that. In fact, a lot of things were closed in general, since it is customary for businesses in Nice to close for about a month in the winter. I would still recommend going in December though, because the thing about Nice is that it's a real vacation. There's not a lot of sights to see, unless you're really into art museums, and there's really not that much to do. You are essentially forced to relax (not that I needed any encouraging). I think that's the difference between travelling and going on vacation. A lot of people travel and call it vacation, but never get around to the relaxing part that is implied in the word "vacation." You're supposed to vacate. Your brain. And just relax.

Anyway, we went back near the station for lunch at a place called "flunch," which I thought was inexplicably entertaining. It was set up like a cafeteria (i.e. you take things like at a buffet, except you pay for everything you take), except the food was good. I got the "Christmas menu" which meant lox, a choice of salmon or chicken, and this chocolate christmas-tree shaped cake thing with chantilly cream. It was good. There were free "vegetables" that come with the meal, which I put in quotes, because it included french fries, mashed potatoes, (which granted, are both potatoes, but neither are something I'd call a "vegetable") and rice and stuff.

At this point, we hadn't yet been contacted by the CouchSurfers we were staying with, so we just went back to the beach to sit and stare at the water, which seems really dull, but is actually very, very nice. Hannah had to work on a little paper about St. Augustine's Confessions, so we talked about religion and original sin, which was interesting.

Then we met the CouchSurfers! They were incredibly nice. We all went out to have a street food sort of dinner of socca (which is a chickpea kind of pancake thing), pissaladière (which is like a pizza of onions and olive stuff, no tomato sauce), hot wine, and beignets (which are sort of like dumplings, I suppose). It was really good, and very cheap. For dessert we got nutella crêpes, which were a LOT better than they are in Paris, because the seller made them right then and there, whereas in Paris, they've usually already made the crêpe and just put it on the hot plate thing and add whatever you ordered. I'm sure this is due to volume, but it is why Nice's crêpes kicked Paris' crêpes butts.

We then went to a free performance which was between a Chopin concert (piano) and a play. It was odd.

Then off to home we went. We bonded over Georgia Nicholson, and Little Miss Sunshine, and "Friends," and it was good.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Leaving Lausanne

On the way here, all I passed were lots of fields, and also, I was visibly travelling from clear skies into rain. On the way back, it's so dark that all I can see is my reflection. I'm not sure which is more depressing.

Anyway, today we walked up to a little park that is really a green hill with some paved paths, but mostly we lazed around at home, because that's what you do on Sunday. We did walk around a little before the lazing though, and I have some other closing thoughts/photos for Lausanne, so here they are.

First, Lausanne is really close to France, so you only ever hear French here, aside from tourists. However, unlike France, Switzerland has its own currency, which I didn't realize until the night before I came. I was (unsurprisingly) looking up restaurants in the city, and all the prices were posted in "CHF," and I kept thinking, "What the hell is CHF?" Well apparently, CH is confederation helvetica (I believe) and F is just franc. So Switzerland has their own francs. I was not aware.

Of all the possible cultural exports, why Scientology? This is why people hate America.

I don't know what's going on here, but I'm disturbed. I think Señor Guevara is, too.

Graffiti is an art form in Lausanne, as you can see.

I don't know whether I should feel sorry for this child or just let it go and be entertained.

I understand that it's cruel, but I'm going to eat foie gras anyway. It should come as no surprise that if it comes to choosing between good food and animal rights, I will choose good food. A) I like food, and B) I'm Chinese. You do the math.