Marseille, April 2012

I love France. And this love was instantly strengthen when I, after leaving a cold and rainy Gothenburg, stepped out of an airplane at the airport in Marseille on a late Thursday evening in April and felt the warm breeze against my face. Right then and there I knew that this weekend in the south of France would be a success!

One thing that I absolutely love about coming to new cities is getting to know them by walking around – without a map and without a specific destination in mind. I find that this is the way to go about in order to find the real treasures, hidden from the “standard” tourist. And God knows there was a lot of walking in Marseille.

After having left the bags at our hotel, New Hotel Select, a very well located and neat one I must say, we went out to familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood. Within minutes we found ourselves in the harbor area where there were a lot of alley ways with cozy restaurants lining up after each other offering one Mediterranean specialty after the other. It looked so nice, however, when having dinner there the evening after I realized that it was better to just enjoy the view than to actually order from the menus offered..

Sometimes when I walk along Vasagatan in Gothenburg I see tourists taking photos of one of the high school buildings there. Granted, it is a rather impressive building and I guess that they assume, by the looks of it, that it is a monument worth taking photos of. Still, I cannot help but smile when I pass them thinking “if only you …”. The same thing happened in Marseille: at one point we found ourselves on a street in front of a building with the word “Alcazar” written in oriental letters above the entrance. There is a Swedish pop group with the name Alcazar which my friend is a fan of and so she started taking photo’s of the house – as it had Alcazar written on top, was a huge and beautiful building AND had people queuing on the outside she figured it must be something worth photographing. Turns out it was the city library…

One of the first, and best, discoveries in Marseille was finding ourselves in front of the Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille). It is a huge and magnificent building with a stripey looking design, a style that was new to us when we saw this Cathedral but later found to be common in Marseille. The Cathedral looked rather closed down and abandoned, luckily someone tried to enter and found the door to be open though. It is rather impressive to walk around in a building with a history such as this one where the sound of your foot steps echo in the silence surrounding you. When it comes to religious buildings there is, however, another one that is more connected to the city of Marseille: Notre Dame de la Garde, a basilica situated on the top of a hill. It was of course a place worth visiting but this building did not generate the same feeling of awe as the Cathedral had generated earlier that morning. However, the view from the hill was awesome and the winds blowing up there that day was something extra-ordinary!

Day two we had planned to take a boat out to Chateau d’If, the fortress made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. However, we were told by the staff at the Tourist information that boats would not stop there on this particular day due to heavy winds so instead we bought some baguettes and took a boat to Frioul, another island nearby. This island offered beautiful scenery and a number of historic landmarks, if you have the time and want to do something very relaxing then I recommend you to go there. Have a picnic, climb the hills and enjoy the view of Marseille from the ocean side.

Before coming to Marseille there had been a lot of talk about what a dangerous, dirty and worn down city it is. My perception of the city after having spent a weekend there is nothing like that! I found it to be a charming city, not all that unlike Gothenburg: the city centre is small enough for everything to be within walking distance, it was clean, people were friendly and the weather was exactly what a frozen northerner needed! Not to mention that the shopping was good and the crêpes were delicious!

 

Paris, c’est la vie!

I just came back to Stockholm after having spent a lovely weekend in Paris with my dear friend Clémentine. I flew down friday morning and arrived at Palais des Congrès in the centre of Paris around mid-day. Walking towards the Arc de Triomphe I stopped at the first Boulangerie I found and bought some french delicacies such as a butter croissant and a pain au chocolat – sweeeeet!

Clémentine met up with me at the arch and then we went to her place to drop my things off. It fascinates me every time I go abroad how different the living standard is at different places around the world, especially compared to what I am used to in Sweden. On the other hand, I would think that a big explanation to why we have the standard that we do is due to our climate. We need to have well insulated houses as it gets REALLY cold here during the winter, but that doesn’t really apply to for example the south of Europe… Anyways, visiting Clémentine in her 9 square metre appartment, my 25 square metres in Stockholm suddenly seemed very spacious. However, there is a saying in sweden that is suitable for Clémentine’s appartment – “where there is place for a heart, there’s place for a bum”.

The weekend was very intense and included, amongst other things, the obligatory walk around Mont Martre accompanied by Clém and Sébastien (both former exchange students from Gothenburg), apéro with Carl (a co-student from my time at Azurlingua in Nice) in the Bastille area, traditional french dinner with Cléms friends at the restaurant Les Sans Culottes, walks in the city centre, shopping at Les Halles, numerous visits to the Disney Store at Champs Elysées, crêpes at the Eiffeltour, sunday brunch at Mont Martre with Clém and Séb and more pain au chocolate than I wish to admit.

I really did get a lot done in the about 60 hours spent away from home and I must say that weekends like this one are really good for recharging ones batteries. There’s something special about Paris, each area of the city has its charme, even though I do of course have my favories such as Mont Martre and the area around St Germaine. Visiting Paris is always a little bit bitter sweet though, I feel so at home there and most of the time it feels like such a waste leaving the city instead of just moving there for a few years. Dreams, sweet dreams.. 🙂

Birthdays should come more often!

Historically I haven’t found my birthday too much of a thing to celebrate. But, the older I get the more I enjoy a special day just for me. And this year was no different. I woke up in the morning with a smile on my face, a smile that lasted all day! I took my morning walk as usual in the morning, had my usual breakfast, dressed up a little bit extra for work and left my apartment feeling like this would be a good day.

The whole day was full of greetings from all over, both from friends and family in Sweden and abroad. I also got a call from a flower shop that had flowers to deliver to me. 🙂 Haven’t received flowers like that for some years now and it was a great surprise!

After work I walked down to the southern parts of the city where I enjoyed a very tasty dinner at a restaurant called “À la crêpes” in the company of my cousin and a german friend of mine. When returning home to my apartment I found the flowers outside my door, accompanied by some lovely greeting cards.

All in all it was a great day and I am already looking forward to next years birthday as it will be my 25th and take place on midsummer’s eve. It will be magical! 🙂

Montréal

Montréal is a city located in the Canadian province of Québec. The majority of the population is francophone but there is also an Anglophone minority, along with a large number of other minorities of course. An interesting occurrence is that all the information given to the public such as menus and information about contents has to be in both English and French, and if I am not mistaken the French information is to be in a bigger font size than the English one. Something else that takes some time for a Swede to get used to is the fact that the tax is not included in the prices displayed. Frustrating to say the least as you can never be completely sure about what you will have to pay for your purchases.

I had the pleasure of spending ten days in Montréal in august 2008 and the city really grew on me! I might as well start my report on Montréal by confessing to be hungry while writing it as this will shine through in my report, it is not a coincidence that my most memorable things all turned out to be food or drink related.

Sweets are a reoccurring theme in my posts and this one will be no exception to that. Montréal used to be a French colony and guess what – that means you can easily find crêpes, which is always a good thing. However, no matter how much I love my nutella crêpes I did at least once manage to put that fascination a side and instead order a Canadian specialty called Queues de Castor (eng: beaver tail). This little creation can also be ordered with nutella so, to be honest, it wasn’t really that much of a sacrifice for me.

Speaking of Canadian specialties there is something else that one has to try while in Montréal: poutine. For an outsider it might not seem like anything special, it’s “just” French fries with cheese, but for Canadians poutine is close to a religious experience. Right now I can’t remember the name of the place where I had my first poutine experience but I will ask my friend about it and update this post with the information, I mean, if you’re going to have poutine you might as well get to try the best poutine that Montréal has to offer.

I have now reached the point in this gastronomic review where my mouth really waters by the memories from my visit to Juliette et Chocolate on St Denis. Imagine a menu full of chocolate related items, can it get any better?! I had a super yummie chocolate fondue with apples, pears, pineapple, strawberries, bananas, grapes and kiwi fruit. It was to die for! Had it not been for the fact that my first visit to Juliette et chocolate was at the end of my stay I would have made sure to squeeze in a second visit before returning to Sweden!

I was lucky enough to visit Montréal during two special events; one being an 18th century market at Pointe-à-Callière and the other being the Montréal World Film Festival. The first one brought me back in time to a Montréal 300 years earlier. The market stalls were timely, the sales men at the market were all dressed timely, the products sold were home made and decorated as if though they were actually sold in the 18th century and last but not least the streets were decorated with straws. During the market I got to taste home made truffles, jam, honey beer, honey wine and cheese among other things. If you are in Montréal during the time of this market, make sure you visit it! The second event was the film festival. We have a film festival in Gothenburg each year as well but I have never visited it. In Montréal, however, me and my friend just “popped” in and watched a movie completely unplanned, and what a movie! It was a Danish movie about a girl trapped between two worlds, the one of her family’s strict religious believes and the one of a regular teenage girl wanting to fit in.

Beer might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Montréal but the city does have quite a pub culture. Once again St Denis is the place to be, with bars on either side of the streets it leaves you with a Mediterranean feeling. For a memorable night of Quebec culture I also recommend a visit to the pub Les Deux Pierrots. On my visit to this bar they had a well known band from Quebec playing and the crowd sang a long to most of the songs, creating a very cosy atmosphere. Another night out that has nestled in well in my memory bank is the night at Baloo’s; not so much due to the party going on there but more due to the idea of having a popcorn machine on the premises serving the visitors with free popcorn all night long! How come more bar owners didn’t think of that!?

When in Montréal be sure to:

  • Explore the underground system of shops and restaurants. It’s like a second city in the city!
  • See the Sacré Coeur of Montréal, l’Oratoire St Joseph. Apparently the dome of this church is only exceeded by the St Peter’s church in Rome. However, I would say that it is enough to admire this church from the outside as the inside can be considered a bit disappointing if compared with for example Sacré Coeur. The stairs leading up the church are reserved for pilgrims climbing the hill on their knees, an amusing idea.
  • Don’t miss the Mont Royal hill, with its parks and magnificent view of the city it is a great place for spending some hours!
  • If you visit the city during the summer, check whether or not there is a picnic electronique on Sundays. It’s quite an experience!
  • Eat Asian food. Might not make much sense to recommend this in Canada but really, it is very good here! Especially in China Town.
  • Stroll around the area of the docks and check out the clock tower. If there is time, rent one of the pedal boats and enjoy a relaxed hour or so in the harbour area.
  • Eat smoked meat and drink Black cherry soda at Schwartz on St Laurent. The meat was not so sensational in my opinion, but the black cherry soda was fun.

Lille

To a lot of people Lille doesn’t really ring a bell. In my opinion it is one of the hidden jewels that the north of France has to offer. It might not offer that many well known sights to visit but it is a perfect place to live in.

Admittedly one of the great advantages of Lille is the city’s location, which allows easy access to cities like Bruxelles, Paris and London. Not to mention a personal favorite of mine: Bruges, which can be considered the Venice of Belgium and is a MUST for those who, like me, love well kept old cities, romantic channels and cobblestoned streets.

Even if one of the great advantages of Lille is the fact that you can easily get from there to some of the big european capitals there are also places worth exploring within the city’s borders. I am a huge fan of old towns and Lille’s more historical area is no exception. It won me over in less than five minutes with its maze of alley roads filled with bakeries, restaurants, chocolate and gift shops, artist studios and a fascinating cathedral which can be found on Rue Jean Moulin.

When you are done with dreaming away in the old town the next stop on my city tour around Lille is the park of the citadelle where you can find something as luxurious as a free zoo! I found this little pearl early on during my stay in Lille and it quickly became a favorite when it came to taking sunday walks! The zoo offers a wide range of wild animals in a beautiful setting and is perfect to combine with a walk along the channels in the park.

Besides my fascination for old towns I have a soft spot for sweets, crêpes in particular! I see it as a duty to eat as many nutella crêpes as possile whenever I visit France. And Lille is no exception to that. However, I also got another favorite during my stay in Lille: the merveilleux sold at Carrefour. A chocolate lovers wet dream! Chocolate mousse and meringue, yummie!

Being a swede means enjoying to spend hours at cafés: having coffee, eating pastry and chatting with friends. In Lille I had a hard time finding a good place to do this as there didn’t seem to be to many cafés offering something to eat and drink without having to breath in a lot of second hand smoke. However, half way through my stay I found this one place called Le pain quotidien at Place Rihour that lived up to my demands, plus: they offered a white chocolate merveilleux! Loved it! (While writing this I found out that it is actually an international chain, no cafés in Sweden yet though..)

So, to conclude my little review of Lille:

  • Eat crêpes, merveilleux and visit le Pain Quotidien.
  • Take some time to explore the maze of alley roads in the old town.
  • Visit the zoo and explore the area of the Citadelle.
  • Take advantage of the city’s location by making day trips to surrounding citites!