Last night I got home from my first weekend getaway. It’s strange to think that Lyon is my home now, but it really feels like it. After an amazing, but exhausting, weekend I was looking forward to the familiarity of my cozy apartment and my comfy bed. It’s nice to know that I feel at home here in Lyon with my own little family of friends, when my hometown awaits me so many miles away.
It was an amazing first trip, and I am already looking forward to more weekend adventures! Our getaway started on Friday, when I got on my first European train with 11 other girls from my program at UJM. It started out well when one of my friends couldn’t remember her booking code, which resulted in us getting her tickets printed with only 5 minutes to catch the train. I’m sure it was quite the scene to see a swarm of backpack-laden girls running across the train station in a panic to get our weekend away started. Since we were so late catching our train, we couldn’t find any seats to accomodate our large group, so we resorted to sitting on a large floor space behind the conductor’s door. We were all very satisfied to have our own space, and were getting settled into the 3.5 hour trip with some wine and snacks. Unfortunately no backpacking trip is complete without a few bumps along the way, which we encountered within the first few hours of our weekend. About 4 stops into the ride, two very dirty and drunk hobos came onto the train and decided to sit down with on the floor and spent the majority of the trip swearing and yelling at us in French. It was unnerving to say the least, but we soldiered on and pushed our way past them once the train pulled into the next stop.
Once we arrived in Marseille, we tried to get a few cabs to our hostel, but were told it would cost us 5 Euro each person, which was clearly an attempt to take advantage of a group of young female travellers. We tried convincing them to use their metre, but to no avail. One of the cabbies was nice of us to point us in the direction of our hostel, and we made it there alive and well in about half an hour by foot. I had heard that Marseille is a fairly dangerous town because of gangs and pickpockets, but luckily none of us experienced this first hand – other than feeling a bit unnerved during our midnight stroll to the hostel. A few of us went for a drink along the Old Port on Friday, but called it a night around 2:00.
Our hostel was amazing – free breakfast, free wifi, great location, very clearn, and our own shower and toilet in our 4-person rooms. One of my friends had ran into a local while waiting for us at the train station, and he told her that we should visit “Les Calanques” in a town called Cassis if we had the time. So Saturday morning we asked how to get there at our front desk, and were told that the next bus left in 30 minutes. Once we realized the bus stop was at least a 20 minute walk from our hostel, we scurried as fast as we could and made it, once again, just in the knick of time. There was a very long line ahead of us, but were fortunate enough to convince the bus driver to let us squeeze 12 girls into the 6 empty seats that were remaining. 5 euros and a return ticket later, we were cozy in our crowded seats.
After picking up a few groceries for a picnic lunch, we were pointed in a direction towards Les Calanques. We asked several locals along the way how to get there, but everyone told us it was either impossible to walk there, or that they were closed after 11 am. Fortunately we were sceptical about the local’s advice, and continued in the direction we were first pointed. After about 40 minutes of walking, we ran into two French women who were properly equipped for a day’s worth of hiking. When we asked them how to get to the Calanques, they said they were also heading there and that they would show us the way. They told us that to get to the 2nd Calanque (a nice small beach area along the Mediterranean Sea) would take us another half an hour of hiking and that the 3rd Calanque was another hour past that. We were unfortunately all equipped for a day at the beach in our bikinis and flip flops, but we decided we’d attempt the hike nonetheless. Once we reached the 2nd Calanque we were blown away by it’s beauty and remoteness. We took a break for lunch and a swim, and rested our sore feat. I had worn flip flops, and by this point I already had a blister between my big and 2nd toe on each feet.
We decided to finish our hike to the 3rd Calanque, which included some detours and many naysayers that we met along the way who told us we wouldn’t be able to reach the 3rd in our footwear. Once we reached the lat stretch of our hike and realized how much mountain climbing it would require from us, only 6 of us actually decided to finish the trek.
It was quite the adventure to walk down to the 3rd Calanque but it was most certainly worth the pain it required. I felt small and insignificant in such an impressive, beautiful and natural setting. There were plenty of other hikers and boaters who were enjoying the sun and welcoming water that pooled into a bay among the rocks. After basking in the beauty of the 3rd Calanque, we missioned to get back to the town of Cassis where the rest of our friends were waiting for us. We started our walk back to the town at about 4:40, and made it back just in time to catch the last bus of the day at 7:00 pm. It was a long day to say the least, but one of the most unexpected and amazing places I’ve ever experienced. This weekend it really hit home how lucky I am to be able to experience the world from such an amazing perspective – through the eyes of a young, inquisitive, uninhibited student, willing to take the good with the bad in order to experience the world as it comes.
After an amazing dinner of fish and delicious wine Saturday night, Sunday rolled around with the promise of exploring more of the beautiful French coast. We left the old port of Marseille in a boat which brought us to the “Chateau d’If” – a fortress on an island just on the outskirts of Marseille which was built in the 16th century under Francois 1er’s orders. It was used originally to defend the port from attacks at sea, but was eventually used to hold political and religious prisoners and was also where the hero of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is kept prisoner. After touring around the castle and its island, the boat brought us to a second island where we lay on the beach and enjoyed the Sea one last time before catching the boat back to the mainland. The 12 of us girls dragged our tired legs and feet into cabs and made it to the train with 20 minutes to spare.
It was a full and busy weekend, which I’m sorry to say has resulted in a very long blog post. I’m still recovering from the effects of the weekend away, battling a cold and exhaustion, but I managed to drag myself to my first French class of the semester. My teacher is very intimidating and has already dumped a large pile of homework on us, which is daunting, but I am trying to stay positive about the experience. I will undoubtedly learn from Mme. Meunier, and it will help me work towards my goal of improving my French while living in France. I have another 14 hours of class this week, so maybe I will even see an improvement by Friday. My real school schedule starts next Tuesday, which I am looking forward to. I am eager to have some regularity in my new French lifestyle, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a nerd at heart – I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom surrounded by words and history.
I will try to post more regularly so I don’t have to dump such a big post on everyone, but I have been keeping very busy here. Love and miss everyone back home,