south of france

the very day my pockets were no longer bereft of the clincks of euro coins and were handsomely supplied by the coffers i had waited what seemed like eons for, i decided to splurge to recompense my having endured two weeks of terror. it was a thursday night and my options for spending were endless. i could have relished a proper meal i was starving for, or pranced about the city’s discotecas. but no, what i wanted more was to escape from the hell of an apartment i was living in. the time also happened to coincide with my friend jacques’s birthday, and he was dying for an escape as well. more romantically so, the autumn had only just begun to cape her winds along the south of france’s exalted coast and i was dying to experience a proveçal fall. so it was decided that jacques and i meet first in avignon, france and that we would figure where to go from there!

the absolutely most wonderful thing about travel is not the scenery or the chance for a new stamp in your passport–it’s the new friends you make along the way and the experiences you share with them (it’s corny…but whatever). jacques and i initially met in scotland last year while we were coming out of different clubs. he was lost and i knew the way to where our hostels were located. the next day, jacques joined my london comrades to dalmeny, a small coastal town 15 minutes away from edinburgh. we adventured, suffered from an unprecedentedly bitter downpour, laughed and kept in touch! so now was the time for a perfect reunion!

we both arrived at the city (actually at the same time) but late at night and were tired from our long-distance journeys– i from barcelona and he from toulouse. our hostel was cheap-ish…at 20€ for a friday night and was right in the center of the historical district near the papal palace. we decided to play a game of billiards, get a beer and walk around the parts of the city that could be seen at night. during the billiards game, i downed two cups of the hostel’s 1 euro wine just for kicks, because if there’s any place to drink wine that costs one euro, france is the place for it. we then grabbed a beer at an irish bar and capped off our night strolling through medieval cobblestoned pathways up till the gem of avignon, the papal palace.

i never learned much of french history, but what i knew about avignon is that it was once the headquarters of the catholic faith (excuse my ignorance). i still don’t know the exact history, but apparently, a pope was smuggled out of the vatican and established avignon as his home (i’m not bothered to wikipedia it right now). the outcome of all this hysteria is the palais des papes, the papal palace, which jacques and i only admired at night when the lights shined purple upon the aged, blond walls.

Palais des Papes at Night in October

it was pretty, and from it’s highest tower one could get a beautiful view of the entire city, but fascination with it gripped me for only about 45 minutes and jacques and i darted off to our hostel with the room as frigid and the mattress as stiff as our hostel receptionist. i climbed onto my bed and cacooned myself in what thin sheets i was given to hold the warmth in. yes i was uncomfortable, but, “hey, at least i’m in france,” my hopeful spirit whispered. after an insufferable two weeks penniless and a daily round of scorn from my landlord, i only wanted to escape.

as luck would have it, i fled the striker of emotional pain, only to find that avignon would furnish me with physical pain and avignon quickly became a sordid memory. an hour before the crack of dawn, i began to writhe feverishly about my hostel bed. the pain was in my stomach, the acids churning as i whisper-gasped for air. water, i thought would subdue the sharpness , but no, my stomach swelled with every gulp i took. a food bubble of various miserable toxins and french mcdonald’s arose within me, and we know that no bubble’s demise is ever without a thunderous pop of its film. i knew what was about to happen; i just didn’t know what would befall would be so immediate and….ubiquitous, or that it would happen twice more in the hostel shower (not sorry). i was aghast– i went through four years of university without an incident like this. dejected, i gathered that the lesson learned here is that wine worth only one euro, even in the heart of wine country, should be greeted with a curt, “non s’il vou plaît!”

The dawn of Avignon. Taken 1 hour after I first vomited my 1 euro wine.

jacques and i quickly felt the sting of avignon’s bitter cold and we wanted nothing more than to flee. the nearest large town happened to be france’s second largest, marseille. ahh, marseille, the coastal jewel that promised sunshine and grand views was but a mere 15 minutes away by train, and we scuttled to the gare d’avignon tgv to salvage whatever was left of the weekend–and when we finally arrived, it felt like touching down upon the garden of eden. o ancient massalia, a metropolis gilded so bright in sunshine between azure seas and limestone mountain ranges, smelled of fresh waters and nestled in every corner of the old port of marseille, vieux-port, were shops selling soap made with recipes over a millennium old. the old-world charm and ancient magnificence tugged at my heart’s drawstrings; i was falling in love.

now that jacques and i had checked into our amazing hostel, vertigo vieux-port, we could find ourselves at ease and begin to enjoy our mini-adventure. our first order of business was feeding ourselves, and we went grand. calamari salad for me, and chicken salad for jacques paired with a pasti, the anise-flavored beverage, ricard. jacques was a few notches shy of genuine infatuation with the drink (having named his snapchat after it) and i was skeptical at first, but, to say the least, ooh-la-la. the anise wasn’t subtle, and its liquorice like flavor truly appealed to me because of the grand college favorite, jagermeister (though they belong to different shelves), and the handfuls of dried fennel i am accustomed to eating after indian meals (fennel and anise have very similar tastes). few meals in my lifetime have been as simple yet satisfying as this number.

bellies filled, quite over-filled, sightseeing was next on our to-do’s. marseille is host to many pleasures, but as fate would have it, our saturday night fell prey to poor weather and it limited our sightseeing. additionally, the avignon wine caught back up with me. nonetheless, we made sure that the treasure that are les calanques, or the archipelago that clusters beyond the port of marseille would be enjoyed on our sunday morning. for just 10€, one can take a boat all the way to les calanques and relish stunning views of deep blue waves clashing upon pale, ancient rock. the hiking upon limestone isles many feet above the sea is unparalleled and on a good day, swimming is feasible in the delicious deep blue. we came in the fall, so it was breezy, but once you climb the isles’ peaks and gaze into the depths of the surreal landscape, your spirit electrifies under the enchantment, at least mine did. you would have found that my grin was a mile long as the wind almost carried me like a sail!

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my sunday ended perched upon the old port, lovingly spellbound by the show above the waters, the sunset pictured below. marseille treated jacques and i well, and i know that the two of us are surely returning to enjoy the beauty in the summer. despite the setbacks, france in the fall was well worth the trouble. i’ll leave you with a promise–to write more, to explain why i was penniless and why my previous landlord was the devil incarnate. but until then, ciao!



why barcelona?

driven as i am to ease into my new home and build myself a social scene from scratch, inevitably the question arises upon every new encounter, “why barcelona?”

my answer is typically a watered down attempt at rationalizing my hasty move: the familiarity of this city since i’ve “studied” here before,  and that i love the culture.  this answer satisfies the other party and generally we move onto far more engaging topics like donald trump or my boredom with pa amb tomåquet (bread and tomato salsa).

but the truth is far more nuanced!

yes, i studied abroad here at universitat pampeu fabra for a grand five weeks in may of 2015, but if you’d like the truth, i can only recall a handful of instances that were spent in sobriety. i was the 21 year old american who worshipped the temples of hedonism– mesmerized by the orbits of the glowing disco balls in every club found on the beaches of barcelona.  the age was that of endless nights, ritualistically paying tribute to our lords of dance, the djs. barflies eagerly gathered me in their fold. to keep up, i developed an obviously healthy disposition for order upon order of espresso to function under the sun–whilst carrying out my nightly acts of submission to the overpriced, highly-iced glasses of vodka redbull. paris hilton who?

precious barna tended to intoxicate in ways other than the obvious. it animated me with a liberation that i had never felt before. it was a city in which i could lust without a label. the freedom to be able to love another in public without the internalized contempt i felt for my kind of lust/love in indiana fostered a confidence that self-loathing at home disallowed. whether or not the environment was more liberal (it certainly was), the unfamiliarity and lack of familial supervision bred within me a desire for self-exploration–and i was a mighty grand explorer…

and yet, exploration wasn’t just of the self. under the heat of the mediterranean sun and the majesty of gaudi’s spirals was a city that possessed a beauty that took my breath away. where else could you find a city colored by the earthly contrasts of a beach and a mountain? fine architectural jewels that call barcelona home dazzled the senses of this novice wanderluster and i knew that i would return for them. i had to return.

and well…a year and a half later…returned i certainly have!

this time is different, though. i’m not a student (contrary to what my visa tells the authorities), but an english teacher/tutor. i’m adulting here and i know not what to expect but the vibrations that contrast barcelona the “vacationer’s paradise” and barcelona “the home” could not be more evident. the purpose in writing this blog is to record my experiences as an adult while (hopefully) entertaining you!

hasta luego,

qué es