The Calanques

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I have always dreamed about finding a secret spot along the ocean that only the locals know about; a special cove that is breathtakingly beautiful and defines relaxation and tranquility. Pictures on Pinterest egged on this fantasy and I always wished to discover a place so magical amongst nature. On my European adventure this semester, I have finally found this place. It is called the Calanques. This newfound treasure of mine is located in Marseilles, France and they are actually quite a well known landmark, a National Park for that matter! I was in a specific part called Sugiton and it was beyond any expectation I'd ever had. Talk about dreams coming true!

The journey to the Calanques was half of the fun, especially when the group I was with knew we were getting closer and the anticipation was very high. Our hike to the ocean had some wrong turns involved but I wouldn't have had it any other way. We started on the main path for about 20 minutes and at an intersection we decided to turn left in hopes it would lead us to the waterfront. After a good 20 minutes more we realized we weren't progressing down in any way and were instead high above the water. However, the views were spectacular and I'm so glad we chose this 'wrong' path as it added to the adventure. Returning to the intersection we then got on the 'right' path as it appeared to be heading downward. I then knew this was where we were supposed to be. (In fact my first instinct from the beginning was to choose this path, so a lesson learned is always trust your intuition!) From this point onward I was so excited to get down to the water I could barely contain myself. It was hot out, we were sweaty from the hike, and the idea of jumping in water sounded absolutely marvelous. I almost just started running but continued to hike at a 'Mikaela' pace which is what I'd call fast walking with purpose. Other people on the path looked beach ready and I knew we'd be seeing some water soon! At last our first sights of the water emerged and I was in awe. I couldn't fathom what beauty I laid my eyes on! The views were just impeccable and I knew I was in for the most perfect afternoon that I could have ever imagined. 

The water was very cold but there was no way that would stop me! I gradually forced myself in and went swimming around the cove. The whole time I gazed all around me marveling at the endless sea, infatuated by the big rock formations, and intrigued by all the people mutually enjoying this experience. They could have all been French, or visitors like me too, but I'd only hope nobody was taking this all for granted. It was too enchanting. Being at this place was a treat and I couldn't have asked for a more sunny, pleasant afternoon. 

I also did a little cliff jumping! Our Canadian friend that we spontaneously met on this hike tested out the water since there were rocks to watch out for. The coast was clear and my friend Maddie and I stood atop the jump for a solid 5 minutes between sentences of, "I'm so scared! and "let's just do it!" At last Maddie made the first move and jumped and I followed seconds after. It was totally thrilling and I am proud to say I pushed pass my fears and took a literal leap of faith! It didn't look that high from afar but it always feels different when you're actually up there.

I think everyone can relate to the fact that when you are enjoying yourself so much time doesn't even matter. I could not tell you how long we stayed because time stopped that afternoon. No other thoughts consumed my mind other than "wow. I can't believe I'm really at this beautiful place. I never want to leave." I rarely have moments like this where all my other thoughts just disappear into nonexistence. It's usually in this same pattern when I'm dumbfounded by nature and I'm mesmerized by the environment around me. You could call it pure bliss, or eternal happiness. This state of mind captured me into the present moment where I relished every piece of matter in my eyesight. Obviously I was overwhelming grateful to be where I was.

As all good things must come to an end, I had to say goodbye to my sanctuary. The sunlight literally glimmered on the water that day making it the most brilliant afternoon I'd ever witnessed. I felt warm, fulfilled, and cheerful. As we walked farther and farther away I kept looking back to make sure it was all really real and to get my last looks in. I wanted that image encaptured in my memory forever. I never wanted to let go and release this profound joy I was given. The Calanques had indeed captivated me beyond measure. I'm now left with my pictures, memories, and hopefullness that I will once again return one day. I'm more than lucky, I am blessed. God bless this journey that led me towards a glimpse of heaven. 


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Marseilles, France Weekend Trip ~ September 23rd-25th, 2016

Vieux (Old) Port.

Marseilles, France is a beautiful port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It's part of the Côte d'Azur region and is the second most populated city in all of France. My friends and I were lucky enough to plan a weekend trip here and enjoy all it had to offer! 

Our trip was short as we arrived Friday night and left in the afternoon on Sunday. However, we saw a lot and I feel satisfied by all we accomplished! We stayed about 15 minutes from the center of town and walked most places unless we really needed to hop on a bus.

The view from our AirB&B.
It is always such a rush of excitement when you arrive in a new city! Even if it was dark and late at night, I felt in awe of where I was and couldn't contain my emotions. I couldn't wait until morning to conquer this city!

Saturday morning we managed to leave the house at 8:45am with a specific plan in mind to visit the well known Calanques. The Calanques are breathtaking rock coves and inlets that stretch on for miles. I loved this place SO much that I will have a seperate blog post for it, but here's one (okay two) pictures to get you excited:

That evening after a long day exploring the Calanques we got ready for a nice dinner in town. All day we had excitedly spoken about getting some fresh fish for dinner, since we were in a top seafood location, however we ended up at an Italian place! I was not disappointed however since my dish turned out splendidly and for the past few weeks in France I have not had good luck with ordering meals. Ask me about what the French consider a 'caesar salad' and how my ravioli turned out to be on top of pizza... Anyways, the pasta I got was freshly made and you could tell! The fresh basil leaves on top made the dish.

The restaurant was called Trattoria Marco.
After dinner it was fun seeing the port all lit up at night. I relished in the moment admiring all the sparkling lights, serene boats, and overall night life scene. We got ice cream at a place called Amarino. I got Pistachio flavor and a rich, mousse-like chocolate flavor. Perfect end to the evening!

Sunday morning we got up at the same time as the day before and headed toward a little, old neighborhood called Panier.  I expected Panier to be a very cute, traditional small French town. It was in many ways but there was a hip/edgy/spunky vibe there also. Apparently the neighborhood isn't experiencing its best days with a funky culture happening. There was a lot of street art, graffiti, and other signs of this.

Normally street art doesn't appeal to me but I loved this colorful piece!

After snapping countless photos through the hidden alleyways and streets (which is always essential when visiting a French town) we came across a little center ville with a bunch of tables and chairs set out. We found a little cafe here and ordered crepes. The others got espressos too in cute little cups. They took awhile to make so we knew they were authentic and fresh; plus they tasted like it! It was so delicious, I savored every mouthful. Loved how this impromtu morning was turning out.

Isabel, Maddie, & Heidi. (Poor Ingrid was too sick to join us!)
Proud to say the cost was only 3 Euros. Would have paid much more.
Nutella crepes=simply amazing
Next, at about 11am, we set out to see the church seen from the hill called Notre Dame de la Garde. We quickly realized it was a huge tourist trap and since we didn't have time to hike up it, we opted out and found new sights instead. I wasn't too disappointed though since the views of it from afar were spectacular in itself. 

Hardly does it justice!
I love how in all of France every individual shop adds an 'erie' at the end. You have your Boulangeries (bread shops), Patisseries (pastry shops), Brasseries (brewery/causal restaurant), even Croissanteries! It's so adorable. I guess that a Savonnerie is your local soap shop and I just love the way these words sound.

The Savon de Marseilles soap is surely a super cliche souvenir, but I wanted it regardless (despite if it's not even made in the city anymore (who knows)). To me this shop looked the most authentic from the one's I'd seen and I happily purshased 3 different soap bars at a great price. I got the scents Lavender, because it's a French must, Violette, because it smelled dainty and sweet, and a unique one called Sweet Almond which I just couldn't pass up! I'm glad I accomplished getting these special gifts.

The glorious city of Marseilles!
 Lastly we ventured around the MuCEM Musuem which featured a beautiful rooftop with views views views. The architecture of the musuem was unbelievable and creative to say the least. It was a sunny and bright afternoon and I enjoyed our walking about.

Saint-Laurent & Sainte-Catherine Church right next to the musuem.

A cool striped church we saw. It's currently under renovation but ever angle of it was magnificent!
I liked this mural of the city of Marseilles.
Another street art piece I liked! The Souvenirs of Marseilles: Soap & Olive Oil
After our walking promenade it was nearly 1pm and we still had 2 hours to spare before the arrival of our blah blah car service. Hmm what do the French like to accomplish around this time? Oh that's right, lunch break! We concluded our trip with a sit down lunch to relax and enjoy. Without much thought we sat down at a total tourist getup on a corner by the water. It was convenient to do so and I reluctantly picked the cheapest item on the menu: a 4 Euro sausage sandwich. It literally was just a big French baguette with butter and salami pieces inside. Its simplicity made it good and was quite satsifying. Can't go wrong with bread in France, you just can't.

Overall, I didn't have that high of expectations for Marseilles since I knew nothing about it. I quickly fell in love though. Sometimes it's better to go into a new place blindly. The city of Marseilles provided natural beauty, culture, and history all in one. The weekend was well spent and I look back on it already with fond memories.

 I think the greatest lesson that I learned on this trip was that you must be flexible and you can't plan everything. I had a lot of fun researching Marseilles on Pinterest and had lots to do in mind because of it. It was the perfect preview to the trip but the fact that I didn't become a slave to the itinerary was key. For our 1.5 days we had a rough framework of plans in order to hit all the spots we wanted to, but we also made it easily adjustable. You never know how long you'll want to stay in one spot and you just take it as it happens. That's the beauty of exploration and discovering the unknown. I love adventure and couldn't have been a happier girl!

Isabel (our photographer): "Strike a pose!" We sure did.