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Published: January 24th 2012
View from tallest hill
Well it's been a week of hit and miss, of farm country, wild white horses and flamingos, and of course the blue, blue sea.
I think the last blog posting came from Nice, so we will start from there!
Marseille was nothing like I pictured, though honestly that was no surprise considering in my head I was dropped off at a port steaming with the smell of fresh and rotting fish, the sour stench of sailors just back from a year voyage, and Edmund Dantes as my guide through the back streets. Ah, if only. Instead I was met with steep, narrow streets dominated by dirty brown and beige buildings. I initially critiqued the designer's choice of the latter (not a color that inspires poetic inspiration) but then I saw the city in the last rays of the setting sun, drinking up the light and reflecting it back so that even the darkest corner seemed blessed from above, and in those moments I understood. And though Dantes never appeared, I still felt the inspiration behind his character in the narrow, grimy cells of the Chateau d'If, the off-shore prison past the port of Marseille.
Using the port city
as a home base, I took a bus to the little village of St. Maximin, which incidentally was my first detour without help from my guidebook (yay!) This small, out of the way cluster of run down homes and caged shops shelters the skull of Mary Magdalene. It is held in very high esteem and paraded around the town during summer festival. I felt something in that place, and I won't hesitate to call it "heart warming". Whether or not you believe in the legends or the secret theories, to stand in the midst of even the idea of something that ancient is humbling.
Saying goodbye to Marseille and turning my back on the sea I headed inland to Avignon, slightly northwest of the old port. Avignon is the beginning of the "Roman Ruins" part of the trip. A little fun fact for those of you who don't know (because I didn't know before I got here), Avignon was once the seat of the Vatican many, many years ago and 9 popes ruled from here. So, oddly enough, once again I find myself surrounded by a knot of Italian history in the middle of France. The enormous Popes' Palace
Wind blown after a two hour walk...that got me nowhere
dominates the skyline, rising straight out of the rock in places. Streets here are narrow (though not hilly, thank goodness!) and mostly cobblestoned. Unfortunately I was mesmerized by this old-city feel and it came as a great suprise come Monday morning to discover that it was a superficial facade and in fact this city is more modern than most; with all the filth and trash that goes with it.
Ok, breathe deeply. That last bit sounded as if I hate this part of the country, and truly I don't. Orange, another town just north offers a beauitful, well preserved Roman Theater. Arles, going south this time, has a Roman mini Colliseum that is still in use and a beautiful church that acts as a stop on the El Camino De Santiago (a pilgrimage route).
Going even futher south, back to the Mediterranean, I spent the afternoon walking along the shore of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a Spanish-like touristy town that is whitewashed and dead in the off season. In other words, it fit my need for solace perfectly! The town is known in legends as the landing place of Mary Magdalen post-crucifixion. She landed here, along with two other Marys (who
Sunset over the Old Port
are the ones the town is named after) and then finished off her days in the hills around St. Maximin. Gypsies come here annually to offer thanks to Saint Sarah, who can be seen in the form of a Black Madonna carved from wood. The serious attitudes of worshippers here resembled that of St. Maximin and it is easy to see how important the feminin is here.
One thing that made my day just perfect were the shells that littered the beaches of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. They were this dark, rich violet; the color that gives purple its "royal" description and it made the sea and the wind that blew over the water even more magical. I think in another life I was a lady of the sea. 😊 (Though now I could never survive on the water, let's just be honest.)
The rest consists of bus rides, missing buses, wandering around towns with little to offer, all the while speaking and even thinking in French. I've met some really incredible people and we've connected as only travelers can. There is a depth to relationships you make that can't last a life time, and though it sounds bittersweet, I would
never trade them for the world.
I apologize for the rollercoaster of emotions in this posting. I am in a bit of a weird headspace in week three of traveling and hopefully it will improve as tiime goes on.
Till next time, bisous à tous!
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