Jul 14, 2008

The Spirit Of Adventure

I chose to utilize the second weekend in France to make my longest trip down south to Toulouse, and further east to Marseille. These two cities lie about 4 hours from each other and though being the 4th and 2nd largest city of France respectively, they resonate very different vibes within the towns.
You might know Toulouse from being the site of assembly for the largest passenger aircraft, the A380. In fact Toulouse is the pioneer of France's aviation and air transport hub - the Concorde was built here and retired here a few sad years later after being banned from flying (too dangerous, and too uneconomical). Making long stories short Toulouse is an industrial city since WWII, manufacturing cutting-edge technology and driving Europe against the US.
I arrived in Toulouse on a wet Saturday morning, and much to my dismay the pink city, la ville en rose, is best visited under full sunshine. Speaking of pink, nothing beats the color out of Toulouse - every building must have a dash of pink with them. Some, dating back to the war, is almost completely clad in the trademark red clay produced here. The colorful buildings and interesing façades are a far cry from Taiwan, who, some complained, have the worst architecture and building design in Asia.
Being France's major industrial city is no play play for Toulouse. Most residencies in Toulouse are simplistic and minimalist - reflecting their industrialized, practical minds. The Metro of Toulouse is the most frequent and rapid I've seen - in average one metro passes by every 3 minutes. And they are fully automated.
However, the Airbus Visit is a shame, so much so the workers themselves admitted it. Located 40 minutes away from the city center, one practically have to take the airport shuttle bus before calling a cab to go further. The whole cost for transport is a shattering €25 round trip already. The whole affair of paying €11 for the trip is to see 5 A380 standing on the tarmac, with no workers because it was a Saturday. And mind you, photography is forbidden as they're afraid their cutting-edge technology will be forged from visitor's camera. The guide, who speaks in a thick British accent, seems as unenthusiasted as the rainy weather. And the souvenir shop is practically daylight robbery, though I myself bought 3 pieces of postcards.
The no-nonsense attitude is also carried deep into the restaurants, where patrons would complain once the waiting time exceeds normal. The waiters and waitresses won't have time for you to hesitate, and certainly no time for you to flirt with them (in other parts of the country you could sweet talk the waitress until she finally reveals the best dishes to you).
Next to Marseille, city of fishermens and sailors. Marseille is the oldest city of France, founded by the Greeks long before Romans walk Europe. As such, the Greek feeling - barren, down-to-earth yet magnificent, lingers in the Vieux Port, or the old port of Marseille. I was fortunate enough to witness fishermen auctioning their catch of the day just in front of the port early morning. 
Being the major seaport during early times,, this city is fortified with layers upon layers of defence. Up at the tallest hill we have Notre-Dam de la Gard, the defence clock tower. It is interesting to find traces of Turkish architecture from the Alhambra era on this tower with a statue of Mary and baby Jesus clad in gold (and shining so brightly it blinds). The view from the top was breathtaking. And indeed, just as Lonely Planet described, if you have time for only one thing in Marseille, go up there and be awed.
Next I wanted to visit the island where The Count of Monte Cristo is based - Chateau d'If. However, due to strong winds, no ferry operators dare to dock there today, so we traded for Chateau d'Frioul, another island nearby used to quarantaine sailors with plague and cholera. The Med never fails to fascinate me.
Come 4.00pm, I am so reluctant to leave Marseille I decided it would be nice just to hop on another attraction before leaving. Bravely but stupidly I took the metro to Palais Longchamp. My bravery bore fruit - it was a grand palace similarly breathtaking like the Vieux Port itself (photos soon). Then it's time to worry - my train leaves at 4.19pm.
Naturally I missed my train back to Bordeaux, by 10 minutes at the very least. In turn for my greed, I have to take a slower train, and make a connection at some rural place. The entire journey, from the original 5 hours, now stretches to over 7 hours.
I just rode it out, given my silliness and the fact that I don't have the extravaganza to splurge a fortune on an air ticket.
On the TER (French regional train, stopping by every station along the way), I was targeted (Mum would faint at sight of this word) by a group of French Police. They were apparantly tracking down potential illegal immigrants, and given my complex identity (Malaysian with residency in Taiwan) I was a natural suspect. The good news is that I have with me my air ticket, which indicates I will leave by end of the month; the bad news is that I left my invitation letter (letter indicating I am here for a lab exchange) in my apartment.
My first time with the forces is certainly not a pleasant one, more so when it's French. I am not nervous or scared in one way or another, as I know Malaysian citizens are held in rather high regard compared to Africans or Eastern Europeans. And I did not do anything illegal for the past 19 years of my life (littering doesn't count). They checked my passport for authenticity, and called their colleague to ensure I am a clean man (imagine an officer receiving calls and checking people's identity in a dark room of a police station).
The senior officer questioned me where I lived in France, where I work, whether I get salary for working and other wallahs. Luckily for me I stamped my lab's address and titles a few days ago in my Moleskine notebook out of sheer fun. I showed them the lab details, along with the plane ticket and Lonely Planet France (solid proof that I am an authentic tourist).
Several minutes later the officer-in-front-of-the-computer called. After some exchanges of 'bon' and 'd'accord' (good and OK respectively), I was returned my passport. And so ends my encounter with arrogant French police.
I reached Bordeaux around midnight. It was National Day the following day, so the streets were lightened up and fireworks were liberally released. The spirit of adventure ends for the time being, but it would be lightened up again next weekend, when I plan to go to Poitiers and La Rochelle.
Photos to be updated soon!


Wyatt [Y.C. Tan] said...

Oh God! I am definitely gonna save money for a trip to...wherever you are right now. Lol!

The only place in Europe where i ever set my foot on was Florence, and that was for only a few days since my parents went there for some boring meetings. Ok, maybe Prague, but that was when i was a toddler! So unfair.

You got to share details with me when u get back! I mean, like how to go there and stuff. Hehe... I ain't gonna rely on my parents no more.
Anyway, i've updated my lame blog.
Do swing by for a quickie visit.

Have a great summer!