Mostly Monaco

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

As usual, I'm behind on what’s been going on over here but what else is new. So let’s get started.  On Saturday the 9th of October the CSU program took us to Cassis and the Calanques.  We started with a hike up the mountains overlooking Cassis.  They were beautiful but were essentially giant cliffs overlooking the sea.  I definitely got vertigo staring over the edge straight down for hundreds of feet.  But the view was magnificent; however I was eager to get away from the edge after taking my pictures.  The tour guide and I had fun tricking my friend Angelica into thinking there were snakes in the bushes and to watch out.  She hates snakes and wasn’t sure if we were messing with her or not, so she was cautious none the less, quite amusing.  Angelica, if you’re reading this I’m sorry but you were really funny.

                Afterwards we went down into Cassis and had some free time to have lunch and see the city.  There wasn’t much to see there, it was quite small.  So we grabbed sandwiches and Candice and I split a bottle of wine and we all had a makeshift picnic on the beach.  It was windy and a bit cold, but not too bad.  Nevertheless some of the group braved the sea and went swimming.  I had brought my swimsuit just in case but really wasn’t in the mood to get in the freezing water, I had done my spontaneous freezing swim at Pont du Gard the previous weekend, and that was quite enough for me, I was busy enjoying my wine.

                After our lunch we grabbed gelato, which was amazing, and wandered around for the last bit of our free time before we were supposed to regroup.  There wasn’t too much to see, since the town was so small.  So we met up with our guide and headed off to the Calanques.  We were supposed to go out on a boat for a tour, but the winds were too strong that day and the boat wouldn’t take us out.  So our guide took us over to part of the Calanques and we just climbed around and saw what we could.  It was really scenic, the waves crashing on the rocks just below us.  I got really wet by a couple rogue waves that hit me unexpectedly.  I climbed up on some higher rocks and sat alone for a bit and just enjoyed the breeze and the sound of the sea, it was really calming, very Zen.

                The next morning I had to wake up really early to go to Monaco.  I had won a contest several weeks ago so I was able to go for free.  It was a beautiful tiny country, but I suppose overall I felt a little underwhelmed.  Perhaps it was because many of the people that worked there seemed very rude, but I think to get the full experience of Monaco you need at least a six figure salary.

                I got separated from everyone in my group during the changing of the guard.  After the crowd had cleared they were all gone and since I couldn’t use my phone because I was in another country and didn’t want to pay for international minutes I spent the day on my own.  Which had its advantages, at least I didn’t have to decide on where to visit via committee, I got to go where I wanted.

                First I went in the Palace, which was free that day for some reason.  It was really beautiful filled with lots of exquisite art and furniture.  Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures and after taking one was quickly attacked by two employees who insisted on watching me delete the photo off my camera.  I was able to sneak one photo but it didn’t come out that great.  What was the most interesting thing was the collection of portraits and busts of the royal family throughout the centuries.  It was like a really fancy photo album.   Afterwards I went to the Napoleon Museum, which had lots of artifacts from the Napoleon era including many personal items of Napoleon himself.  Here again I was attacked for taking photos and forced once again to delete the photos under the supervision of an employee.  It was explained to me that this was the private collection of the Sovereign.

                Afterwards I wandered and toured the only courthouse in the country.  It was pretty but really small.   I had to wait and take a tour to see the whole thing, really not worth the wait, but interesting, I suppose.  Afterwards I crossed the street to the cathedral which was built in a byzantine style.  It was not quite as big as some I’ve been to but was very ornate and beautiful.  The most interesting and unique thing in there were the graves of the royal family, especially the grave of princess grace.

                I was running out of time by then, but really wanted to make it over to Monte Carlo, the old famous casino.  It was on the other side of town, so I had to book it.  I couldn’t find the bus stop so I had to walk.  I finally found one and waited for what felt like a long time and finally got on.  As soon as the bus got to the top of the hill I realized that I had been about a 5 minute walk from the Casino the whole time I was waiting for the bus and not known it.  So I took some pictures and then went inside.  Again no pictures were allowed, but I snuck one again, this time I did not get caught.  It was amazing; no wonder the mega rich come here to gamble.  If you’re going to gamble away your millions, may as well do it in a palace.

                After taking some more pictures of the exterior I hopped back on the bus back to where I had to meet the group, on the way back I grabbed an incredibly overpriced piece of pizza and drink, but I was desperate.  I had such a short amount of time to see an entire country, that I hadn’t eaten.

                We headed back to France and stopped at Fragonard perfumery.  The guide explained a lot about the process by which the essential oils are extracted and the perfumes are made.  I bought a bottle of cologne for myself.  I was told that it would have cost about four times as much at a store, than there at the factory.

                This last Saturday I returned to the village of Saintes Maries de la Mer.  They were holding their bi-annual festival celebrating their patron saints Mary Salome and Mary Jacoby.  They take their statues of the two Maries to the ocean, escorted by the guardians, (cowboys on horseback), and ask for their blessing.  We headed off the procession after watching them leave the church after mass and met them at the beach.  We were encouraged to roll up our jeans and get in the water for the blessing, I think I was one of only a very few who braved the very cold water that day.  It was incredibly windy and cold that day.  After the ceremony we headed back to the church and touched the reliquary where the bodies of the two Maries are stored and went into the basement and saw the bones of Saint Sarah.  I lit a candle and said a prayer.  The place did seem to somehow have a healing energy about it.  My friend Angelica even commented on it, she isn’t Christian but is "spiritual".  Afterwards we got lunch; I was told that the bulls that they raise in that area are a specialty of that town.  So I ordered the sausage de Toro.  It was ok, it tasted like sausage, My friends both got much larger and more delicious looking meals.  Making me wish I had gotten the pizza like Angelica.  So much for trying to be adventurous and trying the local specialty.

                Afterwards we went horseback riding in the Camargue.  It was fun, I haven’t been horseback riding in at least six years since I was in Boy Scouts.  My horse’s name was Grizoo or something like that.  I think he was the grumpy old man of the group.  He did not like being told what to do.  He kept biting the other horses, and walked at his own, (excruciatingly slow), pace and refused to speed up.  He kept turning around to look at me and I swear he was trying to stare me down as if to say “shut up, I’m in charge here” and I think if he could have he would have bitten me too.  Once he kind of got in a hissy fit with another horse and they both started jumping around.  For a second I thought he might buck me off but I was able to keep him under control and get him to calm down and get back in line.  Our guides needless to say did not fill me with confidence.  They were both incredibly young and were watching us, sort of, when they weren’t busy lighting their cigarettes.  The boy guide couldn’t have been older than 15, but he was riding bareback which was impressive.  Vivian, who organized the trip for us, explained that these horses are only about one step above wild horses.  They are not housed in stables, but instead live outside and they are descended from prehistoric wild horses that have live in this region for quite a long time according to the fossil records, which show them to be nearly identical to their prehistoric ancestors.  This at least explained the attitude that I was dealing with while trying to enjoy our ride through the wetlands.  Overall, between the cold and whipping winds and my grumpy horse it was not exactly a relaxing ride but still an overall fun and positive experience.

                Yesterday, I went hiking up Mount Saint Victoire.  I knew it was a big mountain, but I definitely underestimated it.  Unfortunately I forgot my camera, so I’ll have to go again.  Which I likely would have done anyways, but the views are fantastic.  And from the top it is absolutely breath taking.  You can see all the way to the sea and have an amazing 360 degree view of the entire countryside surrounding you.  At the top there is a small chapel and little room where hikers can spend the night if they wish as well as a large metal cross called The Cross of Provence.  I had hiked it with a French friend by the name of Pierre, yes I know that’s about as French as you come.  He sort of acted as my guide as I would likely have gotten lost on my own.  We rested at the top for a little bit and snacked on some madelines he had brought, but we were chased down by the ridiculously strong winds.  It was so cold at the top we were almost running down the mountain to get away from the winds.

                Today, I rested mostly after I got back from archery class.  I started shooting left handed today which seemed to help somewhat.  It was a bit awkward though, because I am right handed but left eye dominant, so I need to aim with my left eye.  So it’s a bit uncomfortable either way, but shooting left handed when I shoot shotguns and rifles improves my accuracy so I thought I’d give it a try with archery.  I also met a girl in the class from Norway who speaks 6 languages, boy do I feel inadequate, I can barely speak one and a half.

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Emily on

are you still around the area? you have to find my "place" that i told you about!!

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