Aug. 26th – We decided to go pick up our friend Will from Montpellier in the afternoon, so we thought to squeeze in a day trip to three-hours-away (from Sète) Carcassonne, yet another medieval city. The Cité de Carcassonne is a UNESCO-listed medieval “Citadel surrounded by double walls 3km in length, dotted by 52 towers, founded in Gallo-Roman times” (Google).

There’s not much to say about the city, as we didn’t research any back history. So here are some nice photos. Lunch was a real delight, so I included all the food porn photos. 😉

best lunch: Le Jardin Du Carcasses (7 Place Saint Nazaire La Cité, 11000 Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France). We had fantastic food here, where we tried the set menus of cassoulet, foie gras, duck, creme brulee, etc. We were late to pick up our friend, so budget your time! It was busy here, but fortunately we got in without reservations.

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Aug. 23rd – At last, this day Amber and I would reunite with some of our old university friends in the quiet little vacation town of Sète, and get a small break from nonstop travel. We left early, because I had the keys to the apartment, but Avignon (and Montpellier) is pretty direct to get to Sète. If the town was all sleepy and relaxing, that would have made it the perfect place to be, as when my sister visited. August is the holiday month in Europe however (and most Europeans get plenty of holiday time, e.g. I get 30 days in Germany), so it was pretty bustling, for such the “little Venice of the south of France”. This was my fourth visit to Sète, so I could compare it between the off-peak (March) and peak (August) tourist seasons.

We also had arrived for the last day of the Fête de la Saint-Louis à Sète, so we missed the biggest water jousting tournaments, but saw the fireworks over the canal and Mediterranean Sea. Temporary stadium seating was generally on Quai Général Durand. Even after the official festival however, there would still be water joust demonstrations throughout the month. It was something different.


The weather had been pretty much perfect this entire time, and Sète proved to be no exception. We visited the beach or pool just about everyday — I particularly was interested in working on my tan and catching up on Kindle reading. Since I would be staying here for a handful of days, it was also a chance for me to cook a meal or two. There is an Auchan, Carrefour, Monoprix, and we could stock up on baguettes, yogurt, cheese, cured meats… the essentials of French cuisine.

Another day, we rented bikes for 4 hours (although only Will and I went as far as we could in two hours, almost Agde). Unfortunately Will suffered a small mishap on the return journey. I decided not to include that photo. It was fun besides that bit.

Sète was a good base from which to explore other towns. Unfortunately we only made it to the medieval town of Carcassonne, which I will save for the next post. I would have liked to visit the nudist colony of Cap D’Agde, Montpellier, Barcelona, Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, etc. I had been to Barcelona and Montpellier before though, so Amber continued on to Barcelona alone to fly back to NY, while I was destined next for Dublin with a different set of friends — the last leg of my EuroTrip.

best lunch: Les Halles De Sète (Rue de Strasbourg, 34200 Sète). Sète has one of the biggest working fishing fleets in France, so for the freshest shellfish catch of the day, you go to the Central Market.

best dinner: Chez Paul (15 Rue André Portes, 34200 Sète). We were starving and had been turned away twice from other places already for not having reservations. We were served here, finally, but seated and with a bottle of wine, we were not going to complain.

best bar: Le Bistrot du Marché (1 Rue Alsace Lorraine, 34200 Sète). WiFi!

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A couple panoramas, one from the highest hilltop in Sète (drive carefully), the other shot from the main strip (Quai Général Durand) of downtown Sète:



P.S. To compare, here are photos from Easter 2016, which happened to overlap with the Escale à Sète (22-28 Mar. 2016):

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and August 2015, after I attended the ICCB 2015 in Montpellier:


and finally Easter 2015, the first visit:

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And a couple panoramas:





Aug. 22nd – We next intended to visit Nîmes and Arles, because of the Roman ruins in the former and Vincent van Gogh’s association with the latter, but between the morning interrogation at the Aix-en-Provence Police over the missing suitcase and Amber needing to replace her lost essentials (toiletries and underthings, to start), we instead went straight to Avignon to drop off my backpack and go shopping.

Our AirBnB was in a sketchy-looking location just outside the round city (like Lucca!), but the straightlaced host was very helpful, giving us recommendations both for immediate lunch and evening entertainment at the Palais des Papes. We dropped off my backpack, and went to the best French lunch ever, where the speciality was open-faced sandwiches. Fortified, we then grabbed tickets at the Tourist Office for the 10pm English version of the light show within the Papal Palace. Then we went to get Amber some clothes. We stopped at Monoprix for toiletries, H&M and Zara for stylish European clothes. I even found a pure linen T-shirt to purchase (ever notice how hard it is to find clothing made of natural fabric?). We dropped off our acquisitions in our room, and began touristing.


Amber led us to Avignon Cathedral (Notre Dame des Doms d’Avignon), then the garden surrounding the Rocher des Doms. We next took the free ferry crossing the Rhône river, to photograph the famous Avignon Bridge (Pont d’Avignon). I don’t know how many selfies and panoramas we took here, walking along the Chemin des Berges, but Amber was in ecstasy. We crossed back into town via the Pont Daladier, still photographing pretty Avignon in the evening sun.


After so much walking, we were ready to start hunting for our evening foraging grounds. We were mindful of the time, because we needed to be early to get into our ‘light show’, and service isn’t the fastest in this country, what with multiple courses and Slow Food. After a very good French dinner, we waited in front of the Papal Palace in the dark, tickets in hand, to be herded by security into a cordoned-off arena. The light show was visually excellent, with four cameras from windows each projecting onto the opposite walls of this inner courtyard that we were sitting on the floor of, but content-wise… it felt like some sort of pope-centric “historical” vocal propaganda mixed with mythological legend and I’m not sure what. To illustrate, at one point, there were unicorns and dragons. Perhaps it was meant to be taken metaphorically or artistically, or perhaps the French version would have made more sense than the English one, but, afterwards, I felt as though the narration had made me stupider. It was pretty at least:


best lunch: Ginette et Marcel (25-27 Place des Corps Saints, 84000 Avignon). So good. So popular. My favorite lunch in France! Tartine, an open-faced sandwich, was made with great, fresh rustic bread and pretty awesome toppings. We ordered a meat and cheese platter which we actually would have been fine without. But it was the most affordable French meal thus far, so we went a little crazy. 😉

best dinner: L’Epicerie (10 Place Saint-Pierre, 84000 Avignon). Really good. Fortunately we could sit indoors since we didn’t have reservations (outdoor seating for only reservations — the French love to see and be seen whilst dining). We started with shrimp, and I gave Amber the extra prawn, knowing her seafood love. Our main dishes were great too. No disappointments here!

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Aug. 21st – Next, disaster struck. On the train to Marseilles (not a safe city, or so every French person told us), someone swiped Amber’s suitcase. Fortunately, she had her passport, most of her credit and bank cards, and her digital camera. But they got all her clothing, toiletries, and leather bags purchased in Florence. Needless to say, reporting said crime in Aix was not a highlight of the trip.

But fortunately we didn’t have a heavy tourist day planned, so we could flexibly visit the Police “Hôtel” twice, where Amber could be interrogated when an English-speaking officer was on duty. Aix was the birthplace of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, and we got to walk down a memorialized street between his childhood home, Jas de Bouffan, and his former studio, Atelier Cézanne. After lunch at a pizzeria on the main strip (I had previously refused pizza dining in Italy because Naples is the place to eat pizza), I was keen to visit the small Impressionist museum, Musée Granet (Place Saint-Jean de Malte, 13100 Aix-en-Provence). Our ticket was good for two separate exhibits in two different buildings, the other being Site Granet XXe, the collection of Jean Planque. The latter was cool, because it was a sample of one collector housed inside a former church. Amber took some nice photographs of the interior. Perhaps more art exhibits ought to be displayed in old churches. Impressionism is my favorite art style, and it was something easy to do in the afternoon. We also whiled away our time browsing the outdoor stalls along the main promenade, Cours Mirabeau. You can also admire the Fontaine de la Rotonde in the heart of town; the most lovely roundabout you ever saw.

We didn’t have any memorable dining experiences, so Amber thought we could have left Aix off the itinerary. I found it restful, especially after yesterday, and our French-only-speaking AirBnB host was charming (wish I had snapped a photo of the resident dog). Onwards!

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Aug. 20th – Arrivederci Italia! Bonjour France! On the recommendation of a French friend, we decided to sleep in nearby Antibes rather than the focal city, Nice. But first, we stopped in Monaco because Amber wanted to step foot in a new country. So we did. We walked from the train to the famed casino and back to the train. It was hot and expensive looking. I sat on a park bench with the luggage in the artificial-looking park while Amber attempted to get into the casino for a photograph. Unfortunately it didn’t open until the afternoon, so we left. Been there, done that.

We got off an earlier train stop to walk through Nice on our way to the recommended lunch stop. Some parts were shady-looking, but the weather was good. Around this point, I realized how much easier it had been getting around because I knew a bit more Italian than French. My only French learning had been one year in high school, while I had been trying Italian in my free time for the past three years, supplemented by numerous Italian trips. French was also more slippery to speak and harder to be understood in (plus French people spoke much less English than the Italians we met did). Around now I could appreciate how German and Italian are pronounced just the way they are written — so much more straightforward! We sampled the cuisine in Nice for lunch, at one of the longest lines we had encountered.

Amber was unimpressed with Nice, so we continued on to Antibes, which she liked much much better. It was a small town, but had a pebble beach, and old walls, and lots and lots of naked male art on metal poles. And I do mean lots. We dropped off our luggage in the second hostel of our trip (the four other beds were taken so we couldn’t even bunk together in the same bunk bed), which had an automatic air conditioner that stayed on as long as any lights in the room/bathroom were on (ugh, right?). Naturally, Amber wanted to do an intensive explore of the little city, as usual. Unfortunately, I had developed a sore throat from the A/C, so Amber conceded and we relaxed with a pot of herbal infusion (mint tea for me, green for Amber) rather than walk endlessly and swim at the beach and photograph a thousand things… Then we picked a simply lovely little restaurant for early dinner (7pm) after checking out half a dozen of them, and prepared to be astounded by our first amazing French meal. The chef let us have a table despite not having made reservations, but she turned down other, later parties after that. Rule for France: make reservations; they love it. But oh what a meal!


Nicoise lunch: René Socca (2 Rue Miralheti, 06300 Nice). Socca is a flat crepe-like food made of chickpea flour and common in Nice. The line for this outdoor takeaway place was so long, Amber didn’t even think the food worth it in the end. We had fried fish and fried vegetables and socca and more. We were so tired walking there, carrying all of our luggage, that it probably diminished our meal a little bit. But Amber ordered use two local beers (also made from chickpeas!) and I couldn’t have been happier. I almost made friends with the local pigeons, furtively feeding them fried batter when the waiters weren’t looking.

best dinner: Le Carnet de Bord (1 Rue James Close, 06600 Antibes). We had an amazing foie gras to share at the start. Then I ordered the chicken (I missed non-seafood) while Amber went with grilled fish. She loved hers. We were fortunately too full for dessert, as dining would prove to be considerably more expensive in France than Italy.

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