Friday, August 28, 2015

The Happy Bus

Midway through our week in Cassis, we decided to inquire about tickets to Arles. We had to vacate our apartment on the Saturday and planned to stay for a few days in Arles, before catching our flight home on the following Tuesday.

Normally we would just walk to the train station. However, the station in Cassis was a few kilometres away and the weather had become very hot. I don't mind the heat near the sea or on a shaded walk, but this would be a trek near busy roads with lots of buildings. We decided to take the bus and I am so glad we did. The trip gave us a perspective into the lives of the locals.

First we got to meet the bus driver, a young man, who obviously loved his job. He smiled and chatted with everyone, as we boarded. We noticed too that someone always sat in the front seat opposite the driver, to talk with him as he drove the route. Listening to their conversation, was a good way to improve my French.

The bus route, though long and circuitous, gave us a great tour of the area beyond Cassis. Farms and vineyards spread out behind the low rise apartment blocks. Banks of Oleander screened the less attractive commercial buildings and the road always curved up, down and around, making the drive quite scenic. At the train station, we were able to buy tickets to Arles, which could be used anytime on Saturday. Great, we could leave, when we wanted to!!

The bus timed its arrival at the station to meet the next train, so our trip back to Cassis was crowded with people going to the beach. I was particularly taken with a German family, who were travelling with four young children. There were bags, strollers, baguettes, and children, everywhere. This is when you need a vacation from your vacation!!

The people, who came on and got of the bus, were always greeted by the smiling driver. They immediately smiled back, as did the rest of us. In fact one passenger decided that this should be called, "the Happy Bus." We would never have had this experience in a car. Yes, you would have on a tour bus, but that is expected. This trip was just the daily slog for some, made so much better by a friendly driver!!

The pictures? random shots around Cassis.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Quiet times in Cassis

I mentioned in an earlier post about the quiet walks around the town of Cassis in the south of France. Here are some pictures.

Most of the side streets in the old town near the harbour were very pretty, with lovely flowers, quaint entrances and cobbled walks.

For more activity, there were several beaches close by.

In fact, one day we did some kayaking in the basin of one of the inlets. Yes, that's a man repairing something on his boat! OMG

At the end of a busy day, our apartment was always relaxing, with a beautiful view of the harbour and lighthouse.

Last post on Cassis soon. Have a great day!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Creme de Cassis

For a small village, Cassis has an extensive list of "things to do." I remember telling a neighbour, who had stopped in Cassis for lunch while on a tour of the south of France, that we had stayed there for a week. She was amazed that we could find enough to entertain us for that length of time.

As I have said before, we almost always walk. Although walking takes up a lot of time, you do see much more along the way. For our second day in Cassis, we walked to the calanque that we could see from our window. Again the hike was well over a mile, uphill, however, we managed to walk past an old castle, enroute to the summit, and to marvel at the beautiful views it offered of Cassis' beach and lighthouse.

Fortunately, on our way back down, we happened upon a local winery, Clos Sainte Magdeleine. This had to be the winery from heaven, even if it didn't make altar wine :) Its vineyards cascaded from the upper reaches of the majestic calanque, right down to the cliffs that overlooked the Mediterranean. We immediately booked a tour for the next day. We just had to come back for an inside look at this idyllic spot.

There were the shorter walks too, either around the town or out to the lighthouse. There was also time to just sit with a latte at the many cafes which fringed the harbour or savour an ice cream near a sandy beach.

Creme de Cassis of course :)

We loved the contrasts in Cassis - wild hills beside a seaside town, leisurely strolls after vigorous hikes, sophisticated vineyards near farmers markets, young and old, hot and cold, land and sea!!

More to come. Have a great day!!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Les Calanques

Les Calanques is the name of the national park between Cassis and Marseilles, which was created to preserve the limestone fjords that jut into the sea at this end of the Cote D'Azur. With their magnificent white cliffs, azure inlets and rugged vegetation, Les Calanques are a national treasure well worth keeping in their natural state.

One of the sad things about the south of France is its rampant development. Dense housing covers most of the mountains that slope to the sea, obscuring any break between the towns along the coast. For the most part the Cote D'Azur could be re-named Le Cote des Maisons. This is why Les Calanques are so special, no one can build there!!

It's true, that before the national park was established, there was a villa or two within the boundaries and one of the inlets is a marina, which moors about 300 sailboats. I also forgot to mention the ubiquitous cafes that crop up here and there as pleasant oases for those who have climbed up and down a fjord or two. Still the park has managed to stop the housing developments of today and the quarry companies of yesterday.

We travel in Europe without a car. This forces us not only to walk a lot more, but also to see a lot more! Hence, we set out one morning to walk to the Calanques, for a walk! Little did we realize that we had to walk about a mile and a half on roads that looped up, down and around the rugged coastline, before we actually got to the gates of the park. We were now ready to begin our walk!! Oddly enough, when you are moving, you tend to keep moving, which is why we didn't stop at one of the cafes for lemonade until we had finished the mile and a half walking trail, because again, oddly enough, it's difficult to get going, once you have stopped.

Fortunately, the additional mile and a half walk back to our flat seemed much less arduous than the one setting out. "Say not (that) the struggle naught availeth."

More on walking and kayaking next post.

Have a great day!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cassis 2015

We decided to spend a week in Cassis on a whim. Actually a friend had given us a calendar by an artist who painted beautiful pictures of places in France and Italy. Cassis was one of the prettiest. I decided that it might be a nice place to spend some time based entirely on an artist's interpretation. I have said before that serendipity is my co-pilot.

Fortunately my husband did some research and discovered lots of other reasons to go there -

1. It bordered on a national park - Les Calanques, which has some beautiful walking trails overlooking the sea.

2. It was in a wine area, with several wineries within walking distance of the town.

3. It offered great accommodation options on Home Away. We booked an apartment with a view of the marina, the open sea, the castle and two of the Calanques.

4. There were dozens of great restaurants.

5. Shopping was mixed. There were very upscale stores from Paris located beside a few affordable local shops.

As I have said before, we are not of the "must see everything in one trip" sort of people. We prefer to settle into a place and stay for a while. I could have stayed for months. We ruled out going back in winter for a while, though, when we found out that it could be lower than 10ºC with a fierce wind in January and February.

Still in June it was warm and sunny. There were mussel dishes of every description on the menus of most restaurants, as well as, other local sea food and duck. If you planned to cook at home, the fisherfolk came in each morning with their catches - eels, when available, were snapped up pretty quickly. We ate in twice. In both cases we bought prepared food - quiche one night and a charcuterie of pates, meats, baguette and cheese another night. Ymmmm. The wine was always local and usually Rose´- very trendy here.

We, of course, had to do a lot of walking to work off the calories. More on the walks next post.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Amsterdam to Marseilles

Somehow, I have always felt that there is a conspiracy between hotel clerks, taxi drivers, restaurateurs and tour guides. When we checked into our hotel on Friday night, we asked when the shuttle train to the airport left in the morning. Our hotel clerk immediately said that the train was not running on Saturday because of repairs, but he could call us a cab. Hmmm, that of course meant a much more expensive ride to the airport. It was a little late to check out his story, so we reluctantly accepted his offer to arrange for a cab at 7:00am the next day.

We had by now, become quite comfortable with our boarding passes on our phones, however, we still preferred to check in our luggage rather than taking it on the plane with us. Behold! self check in. Soon the world will peopled by robots :) What we faced at the airport in Amsterdam was a huge bank of "cupboards," that opened for you to insert your luggage and print your luggage tags. There was, however, a glitch. Not all of the scanners on the respective cupboards could read a boarding pass on a phone. An attendant still had to take our phones, print out our boarding passes and then insert them in the slot for our robotic cupboard to read, weight and process our luggage. Sigh!

I think that I have to try and pare my belongings down to a backpack and start taking everything on board or begin relying on the kindness of strangers. Yes, our cases are small enough to take on board, however, we too are small and lifting a somewhat heavy case into an overhead bin, is no small feat for anyone barely 5 feet tall - all puns intended :)

Anyway, enough of airports and transfers. Our flight to Marseilles was short and sweet. We left very cool weather in Holland - 13ºC and arrived to 23ºC in the south of France, even sweeter. We didn't, however, attempt to take the train from Marseilles airport to Cassis, our final destination. This would have involved a shuttle into Marseilles, a bus to another terminal, a train to Cassis and then another bus into the centre of town. We actually had our contact in Cassis book a taxi for us. So it was that we walked out of the terminal right into a handsome 6 foot stranger holding a sign with our last name on it - we knew we were home!!

Taxi fares aren't cheap, but it does ease the pain, if the drivers are entertaining. Justin gave us a cook's tour with a pretty good English commentary. As we had been told the fare in advance, we knew we weren't going to be charged more. Justin even refused a tip at the end!! Yes, we might have gotten a cheaper fare, if we hadn't pre-booked, but we could also have been ripped off, as we had been last year from Aix en Provence to Marseilles. More on that later!!

The pictures? Random shots by water - love them!

Have a great day!