Thursday, June 9, 2011

Journey to the south of France

Well, I have had quite the past three days, with delicious food, incredible scenery, lovely company, and the sea!  The entire English-speaking pastry program from my school went to the south of France--a trip that is included in our program.

This is the view right out of the train station in Marseille.  So beautiful!

Our first major stop in Marseille was a soap factory!  Savon de Marseille is well-known throughout the world and it was really neat to see one of the original existing factories.  The factory we visited has been making savon de marseille in the same manner for something like 3 centuries--maybe more, I don't quite remember.  Soap under the name of savon de marseille can be found in all sorts of lovely scents and colors, but we learned that the only colors made by the true artisanal savon de Marseille soap makers are beige and green.  The beige is made from palm oil, and the green is from olive oil uniquely from the Provence region.  This soap is biodegradable, there are absolutely no animal fats, no scents, no colorants, no detergents, no chemical additives, NOTHING besides the local olive oil (for green) or palm oil (for white/beige), soda ash (sodium carbonate from plant ashes), lye, and water are used.  I found it interesting that at this factory, and perhaps at others as well, there is only one "soapmaster" who knows the secret recipe and exact methods of mixing and heating.  The whole thing reminded me of how the "secret recipe" for KFC is locked up in a high security vault somewhere.  Our tour guide told us that the soapmaster goes in there and works alone so that no one can steal his secret.  Of course, this had us wondering--what happens if something happens to the soapmaster?, but apparently he has some sort of apprentice.

Big pile of soap! (a picture from Britten's camera--thanks!)

Since this soap is so simple, it is very good for sensitive skin--but can also be used for almost everything else--the lady at the factory said she uses it to clean her car, her lawn chairs, her laundry, and it can even be used to brush teeth, wash hair, body, etc.  Pretty amazing!

We walked around the city for a while--our tour guide was a little prideful of her city.  Everything we saw had something like "...better than Paris," or " in the world" tacked on at the end.  The city is undergoing a massive amount of construction right now--it was almost impossible to capture a glimpse of the city without a crane somewhere, so there was also a bunch of "that hole right there is about to be the most beautiful ____ in France."

At one point we got on a boat and we all got super excited--

But it was only a ferry boat and just took us across a small body of water... how disappointing!

This is the oldest standing building in Marseille--from the 1500s!  At this point, the tour guide was really oozing with city-pride and we were all just really tired and wanted to eat, and were spacing out a little bit and she got really angry that people weren't engaged in what she was saying.  Angry tour guides aren't very fun, especially when they think there culture is superior to yours!

Oh my gosh--as we were driving past some of the ports in Marseille, I couldn't help but remember the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas (whose tomb I got to see in the Pantheon).  AND, it was really cool that I had that thought, because the tour guide made the bus stop later so that we could get out and see the Chateau d'If, where Edmond Dantès was imprisoned in "The Count of Monte Cristo."  How cool!!

It's a little hard to see, but here it is, the Chateau d'If:

Then we went to the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica.  It was beautiful.  I've never seen a church quite like it.  It's on the top of one of the 7 hills of Marseille.  Consequently, it has an incredible view from all sides.  You can see the sea, and you can see mountains.  Absolutely exquisite!

The little sliver of moon was so pretty in the background!
 Both the outside and the inside of the basilica have this cool striped architecture.


The view walking out of the sanctuary.

Views from the top:

Again, you can see the Chateau d'If (it's the small island in the middle)
 From there we headed to our hotel in the city of Ciotat!  I got to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time since Sicily :)  I forgot how refreshing the cold water is.

The seaside by our hotel

 The next morning, we went to a confectionary factory in Aix-en-Provence, called Confiserie du Roy René (  We got to see the entire process of production of calissons, a traditional confection from this region.

After that, we had a huge lunch at the cutest little place.  We sat outside under some trees, the weather was perfect.

After that, we went into downtown Aix-en-Provence.  I think it could have been cool if we had been told something at all about the city, but we were really just dumped off and told to return to the bus in an hour and a half.  So we just wandered around and didn't really do much.  But it was nice to walk around and explore.

But I was very happy after that because we went back to the hotel and I got to go swimming again!  This time Britten let me use her goggles and I swam down deep and looked at the fish and seaweed.  It was so cool!  The water was so clear, and I felt so much more safer going farther out because I could verify that there was nothing scary coming towards us! haha

We had a very traditional dinner from this region at the local yacht club.

Dinner at the yacht club

Showing off the restaurant--(thanks to Rachael Darigan's camera!)

Towards the end of our dinner, we heard roaring thunder and saw lightening, and it was pouring SO hard.  Which was really exciting for us since we had walked 30 minutes to get there!  But it let up enough after dessert so we just walked back in the drizzle.  I had a nice limoncello at the hotel bar with some friends before heading to bed, it really made for a nice ending to a great day.

The final day was packed with exciting things!  We had to be down with our luggage at the bus at 8:30am, and we drove to the sea-city of Cassis.  First, we stopped at La Ferme Blanche, a vineyard/winery.  It was gorgeous.  

My pastry class at La Ferme Blanche vineyards/winery in Cassis

It is best to taste wine in the morning, because your palate is more accurate.  NEVER do a tasting in the afternoon, we were told.  So it was good for us that we had our tasting at 9:30am!
Displaying the color of the wine in the sunlight before we began tasting

The 4 wines we tasted
 After the wine tasting, we went into the city of Cassis.  We got to walk around a fairly large open-air market before we went to lunch.

 Then we all walked to the restaurant

The beautiful walk to the restaurant
 Even the walkway up to the restaurant itself was gorgeous--look at all the lavender and jasmine lining the street!
Lavender and Jasmine 

This our view from the restaurant, where we enjoyed the best meal of the trip!

My view from where I was sitting at the restaurant.  Absolutely glorious.

We started with some toasted bread and sea-bass eggs--they were so smokey and delicious! I almost wanted to eat them out of the community-bowl with a spoon once we ran out of bread.  But I didn't.  We had 2 courses after that and a traditional regional dessert with fresh cherries!

After lunch, we went for an hour and a half boat tour of the surrounding coast, with its caves and high rocky cliffs.  It was probably one of my favorite parts of this trip.  The Mediterranean is so beautiful!

Pulling out of the dock

I've realized that I have an extremely disproportionate amount of pictures from the boat trip compared to all other aspects of the trip as a whole, but it was just SO amazing!  I definitely need more boat adventures in my life :)

Rachael, Cecilia, Britten, and me

The city of Cassis

Anglophone Pastry 2011!  A great trip.

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying the adventure you are enjoying in Europe. Thanks.