Saturday, 27 September 2014

Taking a drop of Eau de Vie

Avoiding Faux Pas in French:
1. Use the correct greeting - Listen carefully to how you are greeted in shops and respond the same way. If the effeminate man in the sushi shop says "Bonsoir" (good evening) do not absent-mindedly respond "Bonjour" (hello / good day) or he will mutter and laugh behind his hand to his colleague about it, in a not-so-subtle fashion.
2. Kiwi accents are hard to understand - I had to give my name for a coffee order and the man said "GUM?". So I spelt my name in French for him, then he said "Ohh Keeeem".

We have done some sightseeing near Nice. The short drives to Cannes and also Monaco are worthwhile. Both places are eye-opening for the beautiful people, designer shops and sleek cars to drool over. Monaco is small but gorgeous. There is a great Museum (Musee Oceanographique) which happens to be inside a palace built into the rock with wonderful views from the roof. The aquariums in the basement kept the kids entertained and there is a playground on the roof too.


James being a fish


Casually looking at the view from the roof of the museum in Monaco

Changing of guards outside the Monaco Palace
The tram system is efficient, cheap and simple to use in Nice. Just make sure to validate your ticket when you get on. The ticket checkers have a disconcerting habit of popping in when you least expect and standing in the door as you are trying to get off the tram.Then you have to find and show your printed ticket, while negotiating the pushchair onto the platform before the doors close.

We said goodbye to Dave's mum and her husband at the airport and picked up our rental car to drive to our next stop, Marseille. My image of Provence was of olive trees, dappled sunlight and shuttered stucco cottages and never included the dark clouds, rainy skies and cold winds we woke up to. Our hosts assure us this is not normal. And so it was a good chance to have an 'inside day' and take a breath. Family card games, laundry, long naps and reading. And also cleaning bedding after yet another poop situation!

The next day Dave drove us to Aix-en-Provence, which is a small vibrant city about 45min from Marseille. It purports to be the city of fountains and of light and culture. Aix was founded in 122 BC and it used to be the capital of Provence. Paul Cezanne was born and lived here. We explored on foot and found cobbled streets, beautiful fountains and interesting buildings. It's the simple things that matter when traveling, especially with children. Travel intensifies every need; thirst, hunger; tiredness or the need for a shower or toilet. So we stopped for gelato in one of the many cafes on the main street, Cours Mirabeau. One afternoon in Aix was definitely not long enough.
"Sandwich outdoors isn’t a sandwich anymore. Tastes different than indoors, notice? Got more spice. Tastes like mint and pinesap. Does wonders for the appetite."
Ray Bradbury

Mmm gelato!
Place des quatre dauphins, Aix en Provence

Our last day in Marseille was action-packed. We took the train into the Vieux Port (old port) and walked around the harbour to the museum inside Fort St Jean at the harbour's head. There are lots of nooks to explore, tunnels, gardens and air bridges to different buildings. Next we took the tourist train up to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde, which has breathtaking views over the city. The cathedral itself has a mosaiced floor and intricate patterns on the ceiling. We managed to take the train back to the car to get back to our place and were invited for a drink with our hosts. They are a nice couple who don't mind having to repeat things so I can understand! They offered us a Pastis which is an aniseed flavoured Aperitif (drink before dinner) and a bit of an acquired taste. We did try it, along with some very strong home made alcohol which they called "eau de vie" (water of life).


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