I could not have picked a better stop after six weeks in Spain and Portugal. Some people come to France for romance, I came to visit friends, eat, and heal (hey, breakups happen, even sudden and shocking ones… let go, let flow). There is something invigorating about being on your own and making new friends, but there’s tremendous comfort in catching up with friends you’ve known for 15 years. I have been fortunate enough to spend 2 weeks in the south of France, and for all but 3 days I was visiting (and crashing with) friends. I am blessed to have friends all over the world [who let me crash with them]!!
First Stop: Marseille & Aix en Provence
My last visit was back in 2009, when I was living in Geneva. My love for this area hasn’t changed, but just about everything else has! My friends, Marjorie and Damien, now have two amazing children- Noah (8) and Livia (10). And Marjorie’s sister, Candice, also a friend, is married with two adorable children of her own- Leonard (4) and Nicolas (3 months). Much of my time was spent enjoying framily time with them, their cuddly rescue mutt Max, and Marjorie’s parents. We went on a great hike to Calanques, I got to enjoy time at the ocean (or at least, ocean views) daily, and I ate SO MUCH GOOD (vegetarian!) FOOD. Seriously, the French have fully embraced veg cuisine. <Click through photos below for specific recommendations!> Marseille is a city that has it all: mountains, the ocean, loads of sunshine, a vibrant city center with plenty of edge (my fave neighborhood we visited: Cours Julien, which is full of amazing street art) co-existing near well-preserved historical areas (the Old Town is wonderful, and right next to the impressive Cathedral and Muceum), and fantastic public transportation (seriously, with one card you can ride the bus and get a free transfer onto the metro!). And with just a 30 minute bus ride (that costs only 10€ round trip), you’re in Aix en Provence, surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in all of Europe. Candice reintroduced me to Aix and its wonderful markets (damn right I bought some local honey!), and I had the best crepé of my life. If you’re lucky like me, your friend’s dad will take you on a day trip to tour the lavender fields (and sunflower fields) in Provence! (Speaking of lucky, I visited the last week any lavender was remaining in the fields. Prime season is June through mid-July. By the end of July/first of August, they cut all the lavender.) We also stopped in the nearby, incredibly charming town of Valensole, for the BEST ice cream I’ve had in all of Europe. Homemade lavender and honey-lavender; anyone who knows me knows my obsession with these flavors, and this ice cream did not disappoint!! If I decide to pick up a third language (French), I will definitely be moving back here to live while I study/learn.
AIX EN PROVENCE
Next Stop: Lyon
While in Pamplona for San Fermín, I met Pras. The friends-of-friends network really is the best. I knew almost immediately I wanted to hang out with Paula and Pras again (sooner than later!) because of how awesome they are, though when you’re talking about friends abroad sometimes “sooner” is 1-2 years. When I realized how close Pras’ home (Lyon) was to Marseille and Nice (the two places I had planned to visit), I decided to build in a few days to hang out with him. Pras graciously offered to let me crash with him, which made this extra stop a no-brainer; nothing better than getting to know a new place with a local!
I arrived by train (pro tip: when traveling in France by train, check tickets on OUIGO before SNF; same great trains but cost can be as low as 10€ for a ticket!) into a rainy Lyon. After several hot days and nights in Marseille, it was refreshing to have some rain and cooler weather. Though after the first day, it was sunny and quite hot. My second day in Lyon I injured my leg while running (not sure if it’s a strain, sprain, or torn muscle…praying it’s not the latter), so had to seriously curb walking and playing tourist. But still managed to see a good bit of the city. Highlight was definitely an incredible street art exhibit we went to. I had to take and post several videos for the music: they had everyone from Tupac and Biggie to Tribe Called Quest and Scarface. Legit 🙌 Plus, I adore buying art when traveling the world and now that my [first] European trip is almost done, I don’t mind having to handle a piece of art. A word of advice: don’t visit the center of French gastronomy on a Sunday-Monday, when most things are closed. And especially for a cuisine that is not traditionally veg-friendly… the food in Lyon left much to be desired for me. I ate MUCH better in Marseille. Sad! Because I have no doubt it is amazing. Worth another visit at some point.
Final Stop: Cote d’ Azur/French Riviera
I picked Nice as my final destination because Norwegian Airlines has the best price for a flight home, and they don’t fly out of Marseille. What brilliant luck! To get to spend my last few days in Europe (on this trip) on the French Riviera. It is as beautiful and charming as its reputation. Highlights of each place I spent time in as follows… (1) Nice. Fun city, great restaurants (especially, Le Saint-Paul- hotel/restaurant in a former seminary, and Crêperie Corentín), gorgeous architecture and city parks. You can get a great view of the city from the rooftop at Le Meridian. Ocean temperature was perfect, I could have stayed in the water all day. Though warning: bring swim shoes or Teva sandals because rocky beaches HURT. Also, bring lots of padding to lie on because laying out on rocks is as uncomfortable as you would imagine. (2) Saint Paul de Vence, a charming medieval town in the French Alps that is an artists’ mecca. I’ve never seen any place so full of galleries. (3) Monaco. Stunning and the luxury is off the charts. Personal yatchs bigger than some cruise ships. I visited the Cathedral where Princess Grace was married (and is buried), the Palace, and of course the famous Monte Carlo Casino (but only the bar inside, because it’s the only casino in Monaco you have to pay to enter, and I had no intention of gaming). I have to give another nod to awesome public transit in Europe! For trips to St. Paul (1 hour each way) and Monaco (45 minutes each way), I took a Nice city bus and paid only 1.50€ each way! Super efficient and cheap way to explore this region. The bus between Nice and Monaco (#100) may win the award for the most stunning view of any bus ride EVER. My trip was capped off with an awesome flight home, an awesome seat mate, Kelsey (I love meeting smart, kick ass women, following their goals/dreams!!), and a spectacular view when flying above Greenland. Pro tip: if you’re on a budget, Norwegian Airlines is the way to go for long flights. It offers business class at the cost of coach flights on every other airline; you don’t get lie flat seats (but still WAY more room than coach or even coach-plus), the movie/entertainment selection is limited, and the food is pretty crappy, but for the money it’s still totally worth it- such great value. This was my 2nd flight with them and won’t be my last!
I am finishing this entry from my parents’ home in MO, shortly after voting (I timed this trip home super well!). I’ve got one more week to try and catch up on my super long “to do” list and then I take off again. Next up… another quick stop in London, then India!