Catching up

You may be wondering about the lack of craft-related posts as of late. I was trying to finish up the vacation posts and keep them in a block, but I also haven’t been knitting nearly as much as usual. I barely picked up my needles in France (good thing I didn’t overpack my supplies like usual) and I’ve only finished one knitting project since getting home: Clandestine. I did crochet a few cupcakes for friends’ birthday and work on my Babette Blanket a bit.

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Last night I finished my first single on my spinning wheel. I should’ve stopped there, but I wanted to try Navajo plying. Ick, it was a disaster! My single was fairly consistent, and I think an excellent effort by a newbie. Once plied, it sort of turned into slop. My one consolation is that it’s pretty well balanced. I don’t know where the big slubby unspun piece came from, though.

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This morning, I was cleaning out our closet and decided to use a technique I’d seen on Stefanie Japel’s blog. Now I have 34 yards of t-shirt yarn! My t-shirt wasn’t seamless, so I modified her instructions and just cut back and forth on each side of my shirt. It made for some extra thickness wherever I turned, but I just thinned that out with my scissors as I skeined it. It’s not perfect, but it was fun.

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Vacation: Day 8-10

On Day 8, we spent the morning packing up and walking through Avignon one last time.  Then we drove back to the Marseille airport and dropped off our rental car. Our hotel sent a van to pick us up, and we spent the evening there.

Hotel near Marseille airport

Our last day in France, we decided to go to Marseille. Without a car, it ended up being a tad complicated. We’d planned on having the hotel take us back to the airport. Check. Then picking up the bus to head to the train station. Fail. You have to buy your train ticket first to get on the bus, and none of the SNCF kiosks would recognize our credit cards. Since there were no people there to help us, we ended up employing my vocab word for this trip: navette (shuttle). We took the shuttle/big bus that runs from the Marseille airport (that is actually about 20 minutes from Marseille, in Marignane) to the main train station in Marseille proper. It’s faster than having to take the bus/train, a little more expensive, and it was our only option. Once at the train station, we bought two unlimited metro passes and took the subway to the Old Port.

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It was earlier enough in the day that the fish market was still there. This port is the heart of old Marseille, the second biggest city in France. The port was established by the Greeks in about 600 BC and it’s been used continually since. (There’s a new port on the western side of the city that can accommodate bigger ships.)

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We had a vague idea of the location of the tourism office, and we were lucky enough to see signs pointing us towards it. Somehow we missed a turn in the Place Charles de Gaulle, but to our luck, this led us to one of the two Nespresso stores in Marseille. We were hoping to find one of them (I had the addresses in my purse), but stumbling across one made it seem so serendipitous.  We went in and were given a taste of chocolate and a cup of espresso. We bought a really cool Nespresso pod dispenser. (We’re big fans if you haven’t guessed.)

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Then we found the Tourism office right on La Canebiere, a very famous street that we didn’t get to explore. The woman in the tourism office pointed us to some restaurants to find bouillabaisse, a local specialty: fish soup. The places she recommended were a little pricier than we wanted, so we walked around until we found one Phil liked the look of. I was hoping for a salad since I don’t eat fish, but his pick didn’t have any salad on the menu, or anything I’d eat. Long story short, the chef came out and agreed to make something for me. His exact words, in fact, were “I’ll make something for you.” I had no idea what to expect.

Phil loved his soup.

Phil has bouillabaisse

I got a beautiful salad! The chef came out to check on me, even.

My chef's special

We wanted to take it easy since this was our last day of vacation. We got tickets for one of the little train tours, and it was awesome! Marseille is such a big city, that it was a good way to see a bit of everything as quickly as possible. We snaked along the coast for awhile, glimpsing Chateau D’If nearby. (I honestly didn’t know it was a real place.)

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Chateau d'If

We rode along the Corniche.

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And we went up some very steep hills.

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A passing motorcyclist waved as he passed us.

Motorcyclist waves to tourists

Then we glimpsed our final destination: Notre Dame de la Garde. Yes, our little train went up that hill, the highest point in Marseille.

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From the top of the Garde, you could see all of Marseille. It was truly overwhelming. The population density was astounding. The Mediterranean was wonderfully blue. We walked around in awe for a little bit before going up to the church.

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Inside, every square inch of the church is decorated. Miniature boats hang from the ceiling, each one unique, a testament to the importance of marine life in this city. The church was so colorful, it was the last thing we expected when we walked in.

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The train took us back to the Old Port, where we picked the subway up, headed back to the train station and took the shuttle back home. (We tried the train again, since there were people to help this time, but the line for tickets was insanely long and slow.)

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Day 10 consisted of getting to the airport stupid early, the airline somehow switching our side-by-side seats on us, then arguing to get some seats next to each other back, then waiting forever. Security in Paris took forever, then we landed in Houston tired and cranky and happy to be home.

We had a great time in France! We loved taking it slow and taking days off to just enjoy our surroundings and relax. I know I can overplan and overtax Phil, so this was the best of both worlds. We had a detailed plan in place, but a lot of flexibility built into it. We focused on enjoying ourselves, not checking places off of a list. It worked out best for both of us. I wasn’t panicked by a lack of planning, and Phil wasn’t dragged across the French countryside every day.

The rental car was a little bit of a mixed bag. We liked the flexibility, but it was a bit stressful navigating (for me) and driving (for Phil) in a place we weren’t familiar with. No major incidents, though.

We loved our apartment. It was perfectly situated and gave us a little home to come back to every night. We even cooked in one evening.

Looking back over our trip, I miss it already!

Vacation: Day 7

We were pretty psyched to see Nimes, an ancient Gallo-Roman city. Nimes was pretty important to the Roman empire, and was actually the terminus of the aqueduct that ran through Pont du Gard (it started in Uzes). Because of its importance, it was outfitted with typical Roman comforts: gardens, temples, an arena, a circus, etc.

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Driving in Nimes was insane. We took the first parking garage we saw, and were lucky to find a spot. We immediately discovered some friendly Nimeans. The guard in the parking garage had a tourism map for us and pointed us to the tourism office with ease. When we emerged on ground level, we weren’t quite sure which way we were facing. An older woman was marching down the street with purpose and a fanny pack. As she passed, she sort of quietly asked, “Vous cherchez?” as she kept walking by at full clip (“Are you looking for something?”). I almost didn’t respond, but shouted back, “Oui” as she was already a few feet away. She circled back and pointed us to the tourism office. As we strolled down Boulevard Gambetta, we watched her commune with her people. I nicknamed her the Maire (mayor) of Nimes because she seemed to know everyone. She stopped at several bus stops to chat with people. She talked to old men sitting on benches. She never saw a stranger. She stopped so often that despite her quick pace, we ended up even at the intersection we needed to turn at. She pointed us the way we needed to make sure we were headed in the right direction.

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The tourism office is just a few yards from the Maison Carre, which is actual a Roman temple to a caesar despite the French name meaning “Square House.” The temple was undergoing some renovation, so I don’t think it was as interesting as usual. It currently is used to present a 3D movie about the history of Nimes. We watched the movie and bought the 3-pass combo there that gets you into the Maison Carre, Tour Magne and arena.

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After the movie, we followed the Roman canal to the city gardens. This is where my poor French came in handy again. Phil got bounced from a public bathroom, so I went over to find out the situation. The man guarding the restroom explained that it cost 50 cents, so I sent Phil back with change. I apologized to the man for my poor French, and he apologized back. I think he was trying to explain his accent, but I couldn’t comprehend it all. He was very sweet.

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Bacchus was looking at the Temple of Diana. It was times like this when my brain just couldn’t comprehend how old the things surrounding us were. The Temple of Diana was open to the public with a simple sign asking you to not climb the ruins. Other than that, though, you could walk around and see what was left.

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The city garden is on the northwestern side of the city, and it climbs up the huge hill that is capped by the Tour Magne (Great Tower). It was nearly destroyed over the ages: in fact, Nostradamus predicted treasure beneath it, and that led to some pretty major vandalism. The tower served as a watchtower during Roman days. In fact, from the top, you can see the entire city of Nimes and farther.

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From the tower, we walked back to the ancient downtown, had lunch, then headed to the arena. The Nimes arena is the best preserved in France, and it’s still in use today. There are bullfights, concerts and various other public events in the millennia-old structure. We had the audio guide, and Phil was very excited about the gladiator descriptions. There were almost a dozen different kinds, each with specialized armor and weapons.

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The city crest for Nimes has a crocodile chained to a palm tree in honor of Julius Caesar’s Egyptian campaigns. The town hall actually has four real crocodiles chained to the ceiling.

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As we walked back to our car, we passed the Porta Augustus, which was one of the Roman passages into the city.

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It seemed that downtown Nimes’ traffic was perpetually congested. We ended up leaving around 5, which seemed to be rush hour. We took a path out of the city that didn’t work and ended up having to go back and circle almost all the way around the city to get back on track. We were glad it was our last day trip with the car, and we were really happy to be “home” in Avignon. On the way back, I was finally able to snap a photo of the tire store that made us laugh every time we headed west out of Avignon.

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Vacation: Day 6

We were exhausted after Carcassonne and a little sick of driving, so on this day we opted to stay in Avignon and spent more time exploring “our” city. We tried to do a better job of documenting where we stayed. Here are pictures of our apartment stairs and our balcony view:

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Our apartment was in Place St. Didier, a square that once served as the wood and silk market for Avignon. Also, an execution place. According to the historical marker below, a botched execution led to a public uprising that did away with executions in this area.

I found a knitting store! This picture doesn’t do it justice as it was closed on Monday. The store was very cute, and the man who ran it was very patient with me (I visited twice). They had Phildar, Bouton d’Or, Katia and maybe one or two other lines. The selection was pretty small, but decent. I was surprised to see cashmere, mohair and other natural fibers. I tried to talk Phil into letting me take home some pure silk, but I ended up with two balls of purple merino DK. Good enough.

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We walked down Place de la Republique, the main street in old Avignon, in search of a post office. I’ve found that each trip to a francophone nation has given me a new vocabulary word that seems to be The Word of The Trip. When we went to Tahiti, The Word of The Trip was “timbre” for stamp. I’d never heard it before, and we happened to be sending lots of postcards. It came in handy this trip!

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We found my favorite ice cream bar. This goes back to an old friend who taught me to look for Magnum bars while overseas. I’ve found them in every single country I’ve looked, except for the U.S. I always make Phil hold up the label for a photo. (As far as I can remember, I’ve had Magnum bars in Mexico, French Polynesia, France, Israel, the Netherlands and China.)

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We headed back towards the St. Benezet bridge and climbed up the Dog Tower. From the top of the tower, you walk a short bit of rampart, then head up stairs to the Rocher Des Doms. At the top is a stunning view of Villeneuve Les Avignon.
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Rocher Des Doms is a beautiful garden tucked between the city walls and the papal palace. It’s wonderfully communal, with tourists and locals all enjoying the views and the picnic areas.
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We visited the cathedral next to the papal palace. Benedict XII is buried there; the sign was in Latin and I was proud to know enough to be able to read it.

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We ended the day with some tapenade and chevre from the grocer in the square below combined with a baguette from Les Halles and a bottle of wine from our dear friends on Day 3. It was a pretty good day!

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