Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tour de France, Part 1

After visiting London, my mom and I spent a week marathon travelling through France, visiting five cities in all. With all our luggage and train travel, I felt a bit like the Whitman brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. But it went surprisingly well.

We started in Saint Etienne, where I showed her the town I had called home for the last seven months.

The next day I took her to Lyon and showed her all the sights. Lyon being the gastronomic capital of France, we ate dinner in a bouchon lyonnais called Le Tire Bouchon.

bouchon (boo-sho(w)n): literally, a lid or plug; here meant as a traditional lyonnais restaurant

The Tire Bouchon has a great ambiance that is everything that people are trying to capture when they put up Toulouse-Lautrec’s Le Théâtre du Chat Noir print. My mom had the traditional lyonnais dish quenelles, a type of pastry or pasta served in a sauce, and I had a parmentier (shepherd’s pie).

Then the next day, Thursday, April 28, we left with our suitcases to head to Nîmes. A trivia fact for you: Nîmes is the home of denim or de Nîmes, which Levi Strauss exported to California to make jeans for the gold prospectors. Nîmes also has many Roman ruins including the best preserved Roman arena in the world.

(Clockwise from the left) A matador statue in front of the Nîmes arena;  view inside the Nîmes arena;  Jardin de la fontaine;  la Maison Carré; la Tour Magne.

While we did cover a lot of ground in train travel, our tour de France did not feel pressed for time once we got to each destination.  It actually had a relaxed and leisurely feel as we did not overbook each day. 

The following day we took a short train from Nîmes to Marseille.  Our hotel was located just one block from the Vieux Port.  As our room was not yet ready, we decided to have a coffee and admire the view of the Vieux Port.  Once allowed into our room, we happened to be able to catch a bit of the royal wedding we saw the preparations for a few days earlier.

Marseille had an amazing atmosphere, which reminded me a lot of Rome, especially in la vielle ville.  We walked along the Vieux Port, which is full of boats and protected by historic Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Jean forts on either side of the harbour’s mouth.  We also took a short passenger ferry ride to the Château d’If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo.   Being an island prison-fort, the Château d’If reminded me a lot of Alcatraz, which I visited two  years ago during my trip to San Francisco.

(Clockwise from the top) Marseille’s Vieux Port;  view of Château d’If; view of lighthouse and Marseille from If island; view of Notre-Dame from Marseille’s Vieux Port; view of a street in la vielle ville.

Stay tuned for Part II.

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