Les calanques de Marseilles, Cassis and La Ciotat: one of France’s natural wonders

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In the last days of May we went on a road trip down to the south of France. It was the beginning of summer and we wanted to enjoy it.

Marseilles

The beautiful old port of Marseilles.

The beautiful old port of Marseilles.

The second biggest city in France and the capital of Pétanque and Pastis, Marseilles is a beautiful city located a bit more than 300 km south of Lyon. It was historically the most important trade center in the region and functioned as the main trade port of the French Empire. Nowadays it seems to have a bad reputation (that’s what I heard from French people) regarding safety. We spent the day going around there and frankly I saw nothing bad. I guess like in all cities, you just have to be street aware and no need to paranoia. We visited the old port, the MuCEM (an impressive Museum that’s worth checking. Free entrance.), Marseilles’ Cathedral and went up to the beautiful Basilica Notre-Dame of the Garde.

Les calanques

The first open view of calanque de sugiton and its short beach.

The first open view of calanque de sugiton and its short beach.

After a good night sleep we went exploring the beautiful calanques along Marseilles’s coast. Starting in Marseilles its range extends 20 km in length going through Cassis until La Ciotat.

Map of the Calanques between Marseilles and La Ciotat.

Map of the Calanques between Marseilles and La Ciotat.

We started with the calanque de Sugiton that can be reached from Luminy University Campus. It’s a fairly easy hike and it won’t take you more than 1 hour to reach the small beach between the mountains. Parts of the way is paved so you’ll find lots of families hiking with their kids.

Going back to the trail you will find another path heading to the calanque de Morgiou. Hiking along the path you’ll find signs for a belvedere in the top of the mountain. We stopped there to take a look and it’s impressive.

After this belvedere you can go back on the trail and go all the way down to find a little beach. It’s a long walk and as we were a bit tired and still had to go all the way back to where our car was parked (near the University), we decided to skip that. However I think it’s totally worth it if you got time.

We took the road again heading to the calanque de Sormiou. You will reach a parking lot where you can start your hike. It’s a long paved way down to a beach and we decided to stop in a place where we had an amazing view and enjoyed the sunset, rather than go all the way down.

A beautiful view of the calanque de Sormiou.

A beautiful view of the calanque de Sormiou.

La ciotat, Cassis and Route des Crêtes

We had the small village of Ceyreste as our base, as we were staying at the Camping de Ceyreste. Village is pretty small and we were very glad that the only restaurant opened by the time we went back to spend the night was a pizzeria (yes, I love pizza :P).

Some mushroom, ham and cheese. It was delicious!

Some mushroom, ham and cheese. It was delicious!

Next day we took to visit the small cities of La Ciotat and Cassis. They’re both nice cities by the sea. Where we chilled out and relaxed after a busy day going all over the calanques. The best thing about those cities is the road between them. The route des crêtes has some scenic views and passes through the beautiful Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges.

Once in Cassis, we skipped the touristy restaurants in front of the old port and walked around some narrow streets away from the port to find the Le Bonapart restaurant, where we had some fresh fish. Delicious meal and least expensive than the touristy restaurants. 

Once in the south of France do as the southern people and have some pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur and apéritif from France, typically containing 40–45% ABV (alcohol by volume)).

Once in the south of France do as the southern people and have some pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur and apéritif from France, typically containing 40–45% ABV (alcohol by volume)).

After lunch we enjoyed the afternoon by The beach of the Cassis’ bay

That’s it. Time to take the road again and go back home.

On our way back to Lyon.

On our way back to Lyon.

Hope it was useful in case you’re planning on spending some time on the south of France.

Click in this picture for more pictures of this area :D

Click in this picture for more pictures of this area 😀

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Preparing our trip to the Amazon rainforest and a bit of Manaus

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Last March, Jessica and I, flew to Manaus and made it our base to explore the Amazon rainforest. It wasn’t an easy decision though, as the forest is huge and can be explored for several different starting points.
Just so you know, its territory is part of nine countries. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Thus not very easy to decide where to start, however as our base would be definitely in Brazil, our options were basically Manaus, Santarém, Belém or Porto Velho.

A couple of years ago I heard about this amazing boat trip from Porto Velho to Manaus. It’s basically the only options locals have when they need to make this trip, as roads are shitty and flights expensive. It would be amazing, however the trip can take up to 5 days, and you can’t know for sure when the boats are leaving, so you might have to stick around in Porto Velho longer than you expected waiting for a boat to leave. The thing is that Jessica only had 3 weeks in Brazil, and we wanted to see a bit of everywhere. We decided to spend 7 days in Amazon, so the idea to take the boat was left behind, as we wanted to do several activities. I’ll definitely be back to Amazon to make this trip, probably stopping in Manaus, taking another boat heading to Santarém, and then another one to Belém. This must be an amazing trip, being in touch with locals for a long time, getting to know more about them and I look forward to having time to do it.

Having dinner with our "host family"

I also want to go back to Amazon to spend more time with its people. Such amazing and humble people. This picture was taken during dinner with a family who hosted us for one night. We learnt how they cultivate cassava and other things about their life.

But let’s get back to our trip. Knowing that we didn’t have too much time to spend there, the best idea was to find a travel agency that offers tours around the Amazon rainforest. We got excited with the idea of visiting Manaus, a “big” city in the middle of the rainforest, so we decided to take Manaus as our base.
We heard about many things you could do by yourself to explore the area, but again, as we didn’t have too much time, we decided to look for a travel agency that would show us around. If you find yourself looking for a travel agencies offering tours based in Manaus, you’ll find out that most of them offer similar packages. The activities are basically the same, but what can change your experience might be how far and in which direction you’re heading from Manaus.

Spotting caimans at night is one of the highlights of the tour.

Spotting caimans at night is one of the highlights of the tour.

We had been talking with different a travel agencies and in the end we chose Iguana Tour, by that time they had a pretty good deal with GOL Backpackers and we got two nights for free because we booked the “survival packaged“.

They would take us up to their lodge in the Juma reserve, by the Juma river. Here’s what I mentioned that can make your experience different. Firstly, the Juma reserve is located south of Manaus, some 70km away in a straight line. When exploring Amazon south of Manaus, you’ll have a better experience exploring the aquatic life, specially if going during the rainy season. As this regions is mostly flooded by the rivers around, it’s difficult to spot Jaguars for instance. So if that’s the kind of experience you want to have, you should go up north, and you’ll have more chance to spot such type of animal life.

Distance between Manaus and Juma Lake

Distance between Manaus and Juma Lake

Secondly, Juma isn’t that far away from Manaus. Ok, it’s difficult to get there. You’ll have to take two different boats, drive more than 40 minutes in some shitty roads, but once you arrive there, you will be able to see the lights from Manaus at night. It’s still a very peaceful place, no cellphone sign or internet connection, however there are already too much noise, light and people for the animals and isn’t that easy to spot them anymore. We were able to see caimans, grey and pink dolphins, monkeys, several different types of birds and a sloth. Even though for us it was a lot (although only caimans and dolphins were close from us) our guide told us that it wasn’t even close to as much as we could have seen in more isolated places, or even there, but some decades ago.

Selfie with our guide and part of the group with whom we explored Amazon.

The guide and I were the only Brazilians among a group with an Australian, Portuguese, French and Germans.

Finally, you should also bare in mind that these companies that won’t take you too far from Manaus, and are least expensive than others, will have more people going. Even though we were the only ones that had booked the “survival package”, we did most of the activities with other people who had bought different packages that include one or more of the activities that were included in our package. We enjoyed having different people around and had fun with them. But some activities requires you to be quiet, so you have more chances to find animals, and you can imagine that the bigger the group, the louder it is. So we felt that sometimes we could have used more silence to spot more animals.

The only activity we did alone. We took our time paddling through small rivers and lakes and only by being very quiet, we were able to spot monkeys, beautiful birds, grey and pink dauphins.

The only activity we did alone. We took our time paddling through small rivers and lakes and only by being very quiet, we were able to spot monkeys, beautiful birds, grey and pink dolphins.

So if you’re using Manaus as your base and ask as many questions as you can to the company you’re planning on booking your tour, so you don’t get higher expectations and later get frustrated with what they will really show you.

We had an amazing time, were very impressed by everything we say and I wouldn’t change a bit if I had to do it again.

Here you have the list of activities of the “survival package” that I’ll be writing about in the following posts:
Take a boat crossing the meeting of the waters (junction of the Negro river and Solimões river), paddling, watching dolphins/birds/monkeys/tarantulas (very hard to find), fishing piranhas, spotting caimans, jungle trekking, visit a local family to learn about their life and how they cultivate cassava, sleeping (in hammocks) in the local family house, overnight (sleeping in hammocks too) in the forest and trekking in the forest to learn about the rubber process and see how they did to extract rubber years ago. We also had spear fishing in our package, but due to weather conditions we couldn’t do it.

Manaus

We spent two days there and honestly, there isn’t much to do and see. Our hostel was located right beside the main square, where you will find the amazing Amazon Theatre. It’s an impressive building that shows how rich the city was back in the time when people made fortunes with the rubber boom.

Beautiful Amazon Theatre

Beautiful Amazon Theatre

This square is really nice at night, where people gather around to have a drink or eat. There were even a Cinema Festival when we were there, with some movies being shown in big screens outdoors.

Manaus' main square by night.

Manaus’ main square by night.

We also heard about a market near the port, which seemed to be nice, but we couldn’t visited as it was raining a lot during the free time we had.

Palace of Justice in the back of the Amazon Theatre

Palace of Justice behind the Amazon Theatre

Eating

We found two good places to eat around there. First of them is Skina dos sucos, where we had amazing juices from fruits that even I, being a Brazilian, had never heard of. Some of them were really good, and some were a bit strange, but I guess it depends on one’s taste. Jessica liked some that I didn’t and vice-versa. You should definitely stop by and try some. They also have good Açai, some sandwiches and pastries.

The other place I found in a website I love and you should really use them if you’re looking for good places to eat in Brazil. The restaurant is called Peixaria Gabinete Jokka Loureiro. We had an amazing fish there, with a great view of the Negro River. The meal was so good and we were so hungry that we forgot to take pictures. But you can see pictures on the link I shared. We had exactly the same thing that they did.

Well, I hope I could help a bit in case your planning your trip to the Amazon rainforest or Manaus.

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Pérouges : one of the most beautiful villages of France

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You might have read our first post where we wrote that what excited us most about travelling is meeting people. However, there are other things that we’re passionate about when it comes about travelling, and one of these things is nature. We love being outdoors and last weekend we had the chance to visit the medieval village of Pérouges, one of the most beautiful villages of France.

Medieval building connect to the church in Perouges' main entrance.

Medieval building connect to the church in Perouges’ main entrance.

Pérouges is located only 30 km northeast of Lyon, where we’re currently living, so we decided to have a look.

Old bulding in Pérouges

The village is small and very charming, and if you are around Lyon, you should definitely consider spending some time there.

Church in Pérouges

Yes, this place is awesome with all these beautiful old buildings, but our objective was to explore a hiking trail around it. There are 4 trails, starting on a 2.3 km long, taking approximately 40 minutes, and the longest one with 9.3 km, taking about 2h30m to finish it.

The trails around Pérouges

We decided to take the longest one, as we arrived early in the morning and had a lot of time to spend there. Needless to say that the trail is amazing and we loved it.
It was pretty easy and I guess even people who aren’t used to hike can do it. It’s more like a long walk rather than hiking. We loved the landscapes and get closer to nature.

IMG_2201-16-1

In the end of the trail we went back to the main square to grab some food and try the local beer, which was great.

Local beer made out of corn

Some saucisson and ham.

So whether you take the shortest or the longest one, you should definitely spend some time exploring this trails when in Pérouges.

Corn is Pérouges' main production

You can find more pictures of Pérouges and other regions of France in our Facebook and Pinterest albums.

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Travelling to non touristy places: Bradford

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There’s something special about going to places where tourists usually don’t go and I discovered that while travelling to the snowy Bradford in mid-February. Before getting there, most of people I had met would tell me: “Why are you going there? There’s nothing to see, nothing to do.”. Well, they were wrong.

Snowy Bradford

Snowy Bradford

But I’ll be honest, there was something I wanted to see in Bradford. I am a football fan (not fanatic, at least not anymore) and I really wanted to visit the local team’s stadium. By that time, it’d be a fantastic opportunity as the usually terrible team (they are playing in the 4th division in England) were in an important final cup, had beaten first league teams on their way to the final. Ok, enough with the football fan bla bla bla, let’s get to the points.

Visiting Bradford

So I got there, I visited the store (couldn’t by a jersey due the “final cup” situation, the stock was gone) and then I tried to visit the stadium. I got to the reception and I was told that the “guide” wasn’t there, someone in his family was sick. But if I wanted, I could get inside by myself and see whatever I wanted to see. It was ok for me, not having to pay to get inside and no crowds annoying my experience. If someone had told me two years ago that one day I’d be there, I’d say they were crazy. But there I was, completely amazed.

Bradford Stadium

Bradford Stadium

When I was leaving, the guy asked me if I liked what I’d seen. Of course I had and we started to talk. He asked me where I was from and a really surprised “what are you doing here?” when I answered: Brazil. It was funny talking to the father of the president of the team. Very nice guy, he gave me one of the player’s internal magazine and showed me the original letter that Dalai Lama had sent them. He would ask all the staff who were passing through “You can’t imagine where this guy came from. So guess?”. Most would say Australian. Anyway, I spent almost an hour talking to him, and I think I could write a post just about it (remind me to do it one day).

Dalai Lama's letter

Dalai Lama’s letter

Meeting people

So now what? I had nothing to see. And that’s when things get more interesting. You’ve got no pressure when visiting a place like that. You don’t have to rush trying to think about the places you can’t miss, the places you’ve got to take a picture so to show to your friends and family, no need to buy little souvenirs (I never do it anyway). So I just wandered around, taking a few shots, enjoying the cool breeze, and slowly making my way to my couchsurfing host’s house. Getting a bit lost in a city like that is fun and I’d seen a couple of interesting things, and one was a book shop inside of a old church. Really nice.

Old church that became a book shop

Old church that became a book shop

But the coolest thing that happened in Bradford, was having met Nina, my couchsurfing host. When getting to her house I wasn’t enjoying the cool breeze anymore and just wanted to get into a warm place. Plus, I was looking forward to finally meet Nina after talking by messages. She seemed to be really nice. And she was. She welcomed me with a delicious cup of tea and introduced me to her flatmate. Then she told me that the central heating had just broken and that the landlord would send someone to get it fixed, but till then, we’d have to do it with a small electric heating. It was more than enough and the living room as so cosy and warm that I could have stayed there the whole day.

Park close to Nina's house

Park close to Nina’s house

Nina and her flatmate are probably the kindest people I’ve ever meet. Really. Was so nice to talk to them, and so easy (I’m not a native English speaker as you’ve probably realised so far, and it’s much easier to understand British than Irish speaking), specially her flatmate who would speak so slowly and gently.

Later on, Nina invited me to go to a “neighbourhood//friend’s party” which they organize every Monday. That one would be at the house next door, so we wouldn’t have to commute in the cold to get somewhere. I promptly accepted. There were about 20 people in the house, I guess, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place with so many kind people together. I was a strange there and everybody treated me so well. Got talking with a German guy who was studying in Bradford, with some of Nina’s friends and then with Lavinia. She heard me talking about hitchhiking and told me that she’d done it already. Very interesting girl, told me that she lived in France and I was amazed by what she’d done there. We kept talking and I couldn’t believe when she told me she once went to Tibet. By that time I had , and still have, this fixed idea about going to Tibet. If I had to do a “To-do list” this would be the first thing. I wish I had spent more time seating there on the floor talking to her.

Oh, and it was one of Nina’s friends birthday, so after a delicious vegetarian dinner, we sang Happy Birthday to him, plus, a really funny dance that they do when is someone’s birthday. (I can’t remember the “lyrics” but I’m messaging her and will ask about it haha).

It was so nice and when I finally went back home, the central heating was fixed and I slept like a baby in one of the best “couches” ever. The couchsurfing experience was amazing and the couch was really comfortable (maybe better than my bed.).

Yeah, things happen for a reason, I don’t think I was lucky to have chosen Nina (and Nina chosen me) among other people to stay with. And then not only Nina but also her friends. I’m so glad I went to Bradford and remember clearly not wanting to leave and wishing I could be in situation like that one more often.

What about you? Have you ever been in a situation like this, being a strange in a small/non touristy place?

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How I ate my first Paella, in Spain

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Okay, I’m gonna tell you the story of how I ate my first paella. Wait, this isn’t a “How I met your mother” story, I won’t keep you guys here for 9 seasons to know how it happened, but I gotta tell you a short story first.

Why paella?

I’m a foodie. I love eating. I love trying different types of food, especially when I’m travelling. Thus, my search for a delicious paella started when I flew to Madrid with my friend Marco. First thing I tell Marco: I wanted to try paella for the first time and it has to be in Spain.

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

Marco has a very selective taste and there are not many things that he’s up to when it comes to food. So I knew that it’d be a challenge. Secondly, we didn’t know where we could eat it. If we were going to try it, it had to be a good one. Last but not least, we didn’t have a lot of money. Big challenge!

When we were walking around Madrid we had the chance to see a lot of mouth-watering paellas, but once we were going to meet a Spanish friend of Marco, we decided it would be smart to wait and ask him for a good spot to try it. When we met Jose Maria we got a bit disappointed.  He told us that it would be difficult to find a really good and traditional paella in the places that we were going to. Plenty of restaurants cook frozen paellas, and we wanted to try a typical, homemade or freshly prepared one. Keeping it in mind, we didn’t try it in Madrid, nor in Bilbao, Santander and San Sebastian.

Marco and I had different destinations after San Sebastian and I flew to Barcelona alone. I was determined to find a place to eat paella. Unfortunately, I spent four days in Barcelona, surrounded by Turkish and Italian, and didn’t have the chance to talk to a nice Spanish to ask for a good place to try it. I was leaving Barcelona a bit upset, as I would spend only one more day and a half in Spain and didn’t know if I would have time to eat paella anymore.

Zaragoza: last destination in Spain, last chance to try a paella

So I arrived in a boiling Zaragoza, where I’d be couchsurfing for the first time alone, and it was about lunch time. So I was a bit hungry when I took the bus to my host’s house. As I arrived at her place, she introduced me to her friend and told me that another friend would come by as well. And as soon as we were introduced, she says something I will always remember: “Hector, I don’t know if you like it, but I’ve cooked a paella for us. It’s boiling outside so I’d like to stay here, eat a paella and drink wine. If you don’t mind …”

She had cooked a paella!!! A paella!! Can you believe it??? I had been searching for a paella for almost two weeks through a few cities in Spain, I dreamt about eating paella and in the last city, my host offered me a homemade one. It was just amazing. No need to tell that it was delicious and I was very happy and thankful for what she had done.

Her friends were great too and we ended up in a party in the roof of a building, with a lotta people there. But the party and how I tried Spanish Tapas for the first time could be described in post.

With my host and her friend in Zaragoza (Spain).

With my host and her friend in Zaragoza (Spain).

This experience made me start thinking about how certain things happens for a reason. It’s hard to believe in luck, but once you put your though and your energy into something, destiny leads you to your goals and put people on your way to help you out. It was the first of a series of things that happened while I was travelling and surprised me in an amazing way.

Do you have any interesting stories about when you ate something abroad?

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