A Travellerspoint blog

Tuscany and Rome - relaxing and refreshing

.kalie

overcast 9 °C

"She's supposed to be his transitional person. She's not supposed to be the ONE". - Sally, in 'When Harry met Sally'.

I began our holiday already a little bit in love with the idea of France - a soft-focus, unrealistic, overly-dramatic love based on teenage fantasies, but love nonetheless. After ten days in Paris and Marseille I know I've barely scratched the surface, but I also know my attraction has deepened and I want more:) .

I wasn't ready to leave France but our schedule meant we had to, and I felt a little like I was leaving a lover while things were still good.

France had been an emotional roller-coaster and I was uncertain if I was ready to go through it all again in Italy.

Italy started well, with delicious, rich hot chocolate...in a roadside service station (I love stopping for fuel here!...because while we do many things well in Australia, good quality food and beverages in highway roadhouses/service stations/truck stops is not one of them:) ).

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The trip to Venice was lovely,

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...and although it's never been on my list of Places I Must Experience, I'm glad we went.

It was beautiful. There were many shiny, sparkly, pretty things in Venice.

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It was fun
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But after a day we were done.

So we changed our plans, checked out of our hotel in Venice a day early (ridiculously, this felt very rebellious), and arranged an extra night in our Tuscan villa (the advantage in travelling off-season).

We took a 'back road', which although still a busy motorway was a very picturesque route.

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The extra night was worth it.

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Three days of reading our Kindles, meandering through the grounds of the villa, buying groceries from the village shops, sampling local red wine, and eating cheese.

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It was the perfect place to separate myself from France and gently ease into Italy.

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I'm not sure what I expected in Rome actually. So much of the preparation was - for me - all about France. Rome was 'after France' and therefore not something I had thought a lot about.

Our accommodation is spectacular:

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Centrally located, spacious, and well-equipped. It's been a comfortable place to hang out after each day's exploring.

After a day trip to Pompeii, and a morning tour of the Vatican (which I was expecting to like, but did not), we have reaffirmed what we always knew to be true; we are not tour-group type folk. We did the Vatican tour because it seemed like the best way to do the Vatican - skip the lines etc. We did the Pompeii tour because it seemed like the best way to fit in the 6-hr round trip from Rome.

In hindsight, we could have done both on our own as we have done everything else to this point. The tours created more frustration than they saved; we were unable to explore or reflect on our experiences without timeframes imposed on us (yep...at times we're all slightly controlling, and like things to be done 'my way'...which makes for interesting conversations when the three of us have different 'my ways' :) ).

That aside, we enjoyed the few hours we had in Pompeii.

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Rome has exceeded my expectations. It's been fun to explore the old streets, the ruins and the Colosseum.

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...and let's not forget the shopping (obviously the boys are looking good too, but note my awesome red jacket!)...

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Italy has been good to me. I don't think it's 'the ONE'...but it was a relaxing and refreshing rebound:) .

Posted by mark.kalie.kobi 13:04 Archived in Italy Tagged venice paris france shopping italy rome wine pompeii tuscany coffee relax marseille cheese Comments (2)

Falling in love with Marseille

overcast 5 °C

At first blush Marseille can leave you wondering about where exactly it's reputation comes from. After the dizzying beauty of Paris, many of Marseille's building look a tad shabby, the graffiti tags prevalent throughout some districts add to the ghetto feel. Combine that with the seemingly endless traffic snarls and cramped streets and it can be overwhelming to those not used to it.

That is until you get out and walk those streets. There is a sense of life and vibrancy to this city that has to be experienced to be understood. From the people you meet to the boutique shops and amazing local cuisine there are wonders to be discovered for those willing to venture out. No trip to France could ever be complete without a stay in Marseille.

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Hailing from the far flung reaches of Australia as we are, we were completely unprepared for European lifestyle or experiences. In Australia most of our shops are in shopping centres, all under the one roof, with plenty of parking available. Here in Marseille there are small shops scattered throuout the streets, down little alleys and tucked away in backstreet locations. Parking is at a premium, if you are not used to skilfully inserting your car into a space that leaves a hairs breath between it and other vehicles, give it a miss and use the public transport instead. If you want to experience the heart and soul of this city, go wandering the streets for an afternoon, be adventurous go into those shops in the side alleys and back streets, you may just be pleasantly surprised.

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As for touristy things, there are more than enough to satisfy even the most ardent snap happy photographer, from the Notre Dame to the Chateaux d'If. On a whim I decided to take my family across the waters to visit the Chateaux d'If, not knowing anything about it other than a having taken a few long distance shot of it from the Notre Dame. We found that a quick trip on a shuttle boat can transport you back in time six hundred years to the first Royal Fortress in Marseille.

Being a sometimes literary buff and enjoying a good swashbuckling adventure every now and then ,I was well aware of the story by Alexander Dumas, "the Count of Monte Cristo". What I was not aware of was that the prison that the main hero is wrongfully incarcerated in is the Chateaux d'If. Now that I have been there and seen the cells and can imagine the conditions for the prisoners, I can see why Dumas chose this location to convey the sense of finality and hopelessness needed.

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There is a quiet quality to the place, one that pays silent tribute to the history contained within its walls. Well worth a visit, don't expect much there, it is almost as bleak as originally intended, but it does convey a sense of intimate timelessness.

Marseille stands out as a study all that life can contain, stunning beauty and sobering reality. This city is alive and vibrant, and has the ability to make me feel like an awe struck tourist and right at home at the same time. My wife and I were hesitant at first about how we felt being here in Marseille, now we are talking about what we will do when we come back. Warning bells do tend to go off when she says "I could live here", with her, this is not an idle comment...

I could see it happening...

Posted by mark.kalie.kobi 11:38 Archived in France Tagged france australia shopping tourist notre dame marseille count_of_monte_cristo chateaux_d'if Comments (0)

Another View . . .

.kobi (age 12)

Thank goodness for aeroplanes, they are amazingly useful, but really, a very boring way to get from one place to another. For the first twenty minutes I am usually excited about getting 30 000 feet off the ground in what is essentially a thousand ton box with nothing but aerodynamics and fuel keeping it from crashing.
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And delays are not all that fun, to be honest. Though I have to say, the result wasn't all that bad. Went to Heathrow, had good food, took many many photos of us having coffee (no experience is the same without them) and, although we did not see the spectacular lights of Paris at night we did get a tour from our taxi driver as he drove us to the apart-hotel.

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I'm not a fan of shopping. I detest shopping, in fact. But I know it is necessary, sometimes I protest it aloud while my parents get on with it, albeit very slowly to my mind. However since I found myself in a country where it is so cold that it feels like my ears are in danger of freezing off all day, I found myself quite at home with the concept of getting into a warm shopping centre. At least there I was provided with clothes that mitigated the ears freezing off concerns.

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And now we get to driving.

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Having come from a country where driving rules are completely reversed, me and my family are not quite used to European road rules.

1. Driver is on left side of the vehicle.
2. The cars are on the right hand side of the road.
3. The speed limit is different (faster).
4. Much more traffic on the roads
5. They park so close it is any wonder they can get out
6. The squeeze their cars through gaps like cats down drain pipes.

I'm sure all this has some crazy, demented logic to it, just like a messy room, and just because I can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.

Goodbye, though, because we're in France should I say "au reviour!".

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Posted by mark.kalie.kobi 22:10 Archived in France Tagged planes paris shopping driving cold delays Comments (0)

Wandering the streets of Marseille

sunny 7 °C

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

On our journey through France we have been in Marseille for three days. While that is not near enough time to see everything there is to see, we took today as a rest day, to take it easy with no real plan of attack. We took a morning stroll down one of the major roads near our accommodation and happened upon a street market, not to mention the obligatory cafe.

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Street markets like this strike a chord within for both myself and my wife, we both love walking amongst the stalls. We spent at least a couple of hours browsing through all the goods, picking up bits and pieces, and the occasional trinket. Presents for relatives back home, functional things for us while away. My wife got a cute little coffee percolator, an absolute essential for her, while I got a pair of winter crocs... Yes, winter crocs!

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It's turned out to be a wonderful ways to spend time on holiday, one that was both relaxing and enriching. I discovered that not everything needs to be touristy, and that being on holiday is not always about sightseeing or checking out the local history, sometimes it is about just wandering around and finding out what there is to see. Gold doesn't always glitter, sometimes it looks rather mundane. Holidays don't have to be full of ancient monuments and amazing sights to refresh and restore the spirit, sometimes something as mundane as a meandering walk with no destination in mind can be just as valuable.

Marseille is something of a living contradiction, it has elements of ghetto, with tagging and graffiti abundant, and yet it also has small boutique shops scattered throughout the city. Small side alleys and cut through streets can have amazing shops like bakeries or jewellers hidden away from the main streets. It may be a little intimidating going for a walk down some as they are very small and often jam packed with cars, but for the adventurous soul, there can be benefits.

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A few hours wandering the street and a quick stop off at the local boulengerie patisserie for some lunch made for the perfect morning of holiday wandering. I'm beginning to love Marseille, the people are friendly and it is everything I imagined French living to be like.

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Posted by mark.kalie.kobi 04:19 Archived in France Tagged food markets walking france cafe marseille bakery crocs Comments (2)

Marseille - unexpected pleasures

.Kalie

sunny 5 °C

'Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but if you will sit down quietly, may alight on you' - Nathaniel Hawthorne

After the excitement of Paris, our two day trip down to Marseille was initially a let-down for me.

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The motorway traffic. Thankfully, Mark adapted beautifully to French traffic. I'm sure if I lived here, I'd adapt. But coming from a country where we drive on the left hand side of the road, and whose entire population fits into Paris, I'm currently slightly shell-shocked by the sheer volume of cars here.

I have, however, enjoyed the motorway cafes. Real coffee, good quality food, and the opportunity to regroup after what in my mind were dozens of 'near-misses' with other cars:) .

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You've gotta love a country where there is real coffee everywhere!

Although we were only there overnight, the cobbled streets of Lyon were delightful.
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On our arrival in Marseille, once again I was overwhelmed by the traffic and the style of driving - it has a kind of manic order about it. To the untrained eye (me), it looks chaotic, but it appears to work!

After the constant pace in Paris, I was looking for a more relaxed few days in Marseille, and in my head (which is not always a realistic place), we would be able to have leisurely 'country drives' around Marseille. Not with that traffic.

The trip down and the traffic driving to our Apart Hotel led into a minor meltdown. In my professional life I'm (almost always) in control. I save the tantrums and release my insecurities at home, much to the delight of my husband:).

I think I expected every day to be a 'feel good' day, and I had placed expectations on myself (very like me) that I would feel outstandingly happy, enthusiastic and energetic ALL THE TIME we are away:P. A combination of my occasional inclination for stress (because let's be honest, i do like to control everything) and my blood disorder, meant that yesterday morning I was very flat and uninspired.

There were a few things which placated me when we arrived in our apartment:

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But it didn't shift my mood completely.

...and then we explored Marseille.

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The centre of Marseille is a 'busy in a mellow kind of way' place. It doesn't have the same sense of being dressed up for the visitors which central Paris has. I loved the perception of perfection in Paris, and I love Marseille for it's authenticity and beauty.

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In Paris, I felt constantly awed and amazed. I'm enjoying Marseille just as much, but in a more subtle, laid back way.

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We are 'wander through markets' types, so we had a relaxing morning doing just that. We soaked up the atmosphere while we bought gifts for the girls in our family (this country is a world of pretty things).

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The hot chocolate, like the coffee, is outstanding. The very chocolately hot chocolate sent Mark and Kobi to a whole different world of pleasure:

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(If you're ever in France, go to this place - it seems like they're a franchise, so they're everywhere. This is the home of the amazingly chocolately hot chocolate)
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We caught the bus and Metro (subway) like locals - cheap and easy way to get around - and went to Marseille's Notre Dame Cathedral, which overlooks the city. With that view of the Mediterranean, and in a place this old, sacred and silent it was impossible to stay stressed.

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I sat down and caught the butterfly.

Posted by mark.kalie.kobi 21:50 Archived in France Tagged traffic bus metro holy happiness butterfly notre_dame motorway marseille Comments (4)

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