Sunset over the Arno river in Florence, Italy. [image: 20130825195930316_2.jpg]
Swimming in the Dead Sea was on my Bucket List. I got to check that one off in October, 2014, when my son, Kevin, got married to Nadia in Jordan.
Taking off from the Venice airport offered a unique thrill: Venice from the air. Wow. Look at that!!
One strange thing about Marseille is that you don't see a lot of American tourists wandering around. Which is a shame. It's a wonderful city.
And I have a theory as to why.
I have found that tourists in general, and American tourists in particular (because vacation days are so few and rare), tend to take trips in search of cliches, stereotypes and scenes and scenarios that reinforce existing preconceptions.
They go to France to drink coffee at a sidewalk cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower, go chateaux hopping in the Loire Valley or drink wine in Bordeaux.
Cities like Marseille don't fit into any widely understood category. It's France. But Marseille has always been a port city, close to Italy, teeming with immigrants. Compared to many French towns and cities, Marseille is a bit on the grubby side. An astonishing number of surfaces are covered in graffiti.
Many of the markets and stores in the central downtown area are owned and largely patronized by Muslims, primarily for North Africa but also from all over the Middle East. And this is one of Marseille's most delicious charms. You can buy all kinds of foods from the Middle East and North Africa, and it's all cheap and authentic.
There is also an extraordinarily eclectic restaurant scene in Marseille, with fantastic Vietnamese, Mexican, Pakistani and other restaurants operating side-by-side with creperies and boulangeries.
The bottom line is that when tourists go to France, they want French stuff, not global stuff. And this is a missed opportunity. Because Marseille isn't just a French city filled with the influences of immigrants. It has its own unique identity that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Plus, some of the graffiti is breathtaking.
So take my advice and spend some quality time in Marseille.
Dragging our bags across Marseille after our bus arrival the other day, we passed a cool Egyptian restaurant called La Cantine de Nour d'Égypte. We made a mental note. Tonight, Amira and I ate dinner there. (Click on the picture above to cycle through all the photos.) The decor of the place is pleasant, with all the furniture apparently cobbled together from wherever. About 1/4 of the interior is the kitchen, which is just out in the open and meticulously clean and orderly. Tables ranged from regular table-and-chairs to very low tables on the floor with diners sitting on cushions. We had something between the two extremes -- very low chairs and an even lower table. Everything was very good. Amira has a very nice, freshly blended cantaloupe drink and I had blended lemonade with mint. We started with a lovely plate of random Middle Eastern things -- falafel, hummus, olives, eggplant, yogurt stuff and other such foods. For dinner, Amira had a fish and I had a stuffed duck dish. It was delicious -- all of it. You don't come to France for the Egyptian food. But one of the joys of Marseille is the extensive North African, Arabic, Muslim and Berber presence, with attendant restaurants, shops, stores and markets. La Cantine de Nour d'Égypte is just one sample, and we loved it.
It's on the 4th floor, up this spiral staircase.
Aix-en-Provence has this little cars (some with advertising all over) that can take people through the narrow, winding streets of the old city. The back is like a very spacious golf cart.
You might be able to park, but you can't get out.
It was nice to get outside and work for awhile. : )
Everywhere we go now, Amira buys cabbage and makes sauerkraut as soon as she can. This batch was ready in just over a week of fermentation here in Southern France. Because sauerkraut makes everything better!
When you're on vacation, you eat at restaurants. When you're a nomad, you discover amazing stores, shops and markets and make your own meals at home. Here's a nice plate of France we're having for dinner.
Amira made the mistake of bringing me with her to do food shopping. I dragged her into an awesome cheese shop and bought some more delicious cheese, including this incredible Mimolette.
This particular cheese was aged close to two years, and the aging process involves the cultivation of cheese mites, which nibble away at the rind, turning it grey and introducing incredible flavors and small holes that aerate the cheese. It's a cow-milk cheese colored and flavored with annatto. Mimolette is associated with Lille, France, which is pretty much as far away as you can go in France from where I am, which is Aix-en-Provence. Anyway, some FDA goobers in New Jersey tried to ban Mimolette in 2013 because of the cheese mites (which are present in smaller numbers on many aged cheeses), but American cheese enthusiasts publicly shamed them into surrendering and allowing its import.
We're renting an apartment in Aix-en-Provence, France, and it has a small kitchen. The oven, made by Coup de Feu, is only half an oven. The bottom half is a dishwasher!
Amira bought some potted-plant herbs at a nearby farmer's market, and they'll live in our Aix-en-Provence window until we need them.
We're in Aix-en-Provence (near Marseille) and Amira went to the market around the corner! She's really excited about that market because they have a lot of really great produce, including fantastic strawberries, cherries and raspberries. Plus, they had bread for tasting hummus and pesto and stuff like that. Amira asked the owner where she got the bread, and the woman took Amira to the other side of the market to the baker. Now we have an awesome produce person and bread person and we haven't even explored beyond our own tiny block!
We're off to spend a week in New York with family and friends before moving (temporarily, natch) to France. So glad Al Gore invented in-flight WiFi!
Leo Laporte gave this to me yesterday while doing an ad for TWiT: Watch the show and ad here. It's called a Trackr. Each one is about the size of a quarter and costs about $30. (Pro tip: Buy it here and use the promo code TWiT for a better price.)
After downloading the free app, you press a small button on the Trackr to pair it with your phone, and it saves you from losing or forgetting whatever you attach it to (keys, wallet, spouse, etc.) -- and also from losing or forgetting your phone. If you leave without your phone, the Trackr alarm sounds.
If you leave with your phone but without whatever you attached it to, your phone alarm sounds. It gets better: You can map your house, and use a web browser to find your stuff in your house. And if you truly lose something, you'll be alerted and shown on a map where your stuff is each time another Trackr user gets near it.
I attached it to the underside of my backpack (which contains everything -- camera, laptop, etc.), so now if I leave it behind or leave my phone behind, I'll be alerted. Nice! Watch Leo's ad for more information.
I'm always on the lookout for coffee joints that know what a coffee joint is supposed to be (a social space where people can work and linger for as long as they please).
The Larchmont Bungalow roasts and grinds their own all-organic coffee. It's super spacious, has outlets and fast WiFi and friendly staff.
There'a a big sign that asks people using laptops or studying to be considerate about hogging a table between the hours of 10 and 3. I asked the guy behind the counter about that, but he said I could linger for as long as I wanted and to just ignore the sign.
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Amira and I had an amazing time at the ancient Mayan ruin of Tulum.
We'd been there with our kids ten years ago, but on a dark, cloudy and rainy day. This time, we were greeted by blazing blue skies and puffy clouds.
We arrived at around 3:30 pm. That's late for Tulum, because the beach closes at 4:30 and the whole site at 5pm.
Amira noticed that by paying extra you could stay longer. So we paid. And because we had been hot and sweaty for hours, we decided to hit the beach first.
Tulum is on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. The site allows one tiny beach for visitors, and it was crowded. I went swimming while Amira guarded our stuff.
After a while, the lifeguards closed the beach, shooed away all the visitors except us (flashing our ticket granted immunity from ejection). The lifeguard swept the wooden steps before vanishing over the cliff.
So there we were alone on the beach. The setting sun cast the shadows of the ruins over the beach and water, while Amira and I just swam and goofed around and took some pictures.
There were probably around 10 other people total who had paid extra to stay late, but they weren't on the beach at the time, so they never came down.
Eventually, we climbed the stairs to see the site. And so for about an hour and a half, we checked out Tulum with the setting sun lighting up the ruins in a golden light. (On our first gloomy visit, everything was a shade of grey; this time, everything was on fire.)
The site is so large that we barely saw anyone else. It was totally quiet, and the only movement was the occasional scampering of an iguana or exotic bird.
At one point, Amira was invited by a guard to step over the rope and take some pictures up close of the Castillo, which is the most imposing pyramid at the site. He even took pictures of her and us.
Eventually, we wandered out of the site. When we got to the huge parking lot, our rental car was the only vehicle.
What an experience.