Favourite Places, 12 : Marseille

There are two things about Marseille I remember very well – soup and soap.

We had our first, as-authentic-as-you-can-get Provencal bouillabaisse in a restaurant along Vieux Port, after hearing good raves about it. We were hesitant at first, given what we read about the soup and how it originated – a stew made out of seafood scraps. Oy. I am not keen on fishy smelling foods.

But we weren’t disappointed. It was gloriously fragrant and delightfully filling! The bread rolls that accompanied the stew just kept coming, and we were gleefully stuffing our faces.

We needed to walk off the bulk threatening to split open the buckles on our pants, and strolled into a store that said Savon de Marseille. For some reason, I thought they sold tea packaged in colourful cubes. Tea Salon of Marseille? It must have been the fish stew talking.

I learnt later that the green cubes were somewhat of a legend – they are soaps made out of sea water from the Mediterranean and olive oil. There are only a few stores that make this traditional soap today – which explained why it was so expensive!

The varieties they make now are mind-boggling and commercial. The lavender ones smelled heavenly, and the lemon ones made me think of my sink. If you do get one, go authentic.

And wear pants with elastic waistbands to gorge on the fish stew.

Post 131. Marseilles

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Favourite Places, 10: Philadelphia

Philadelphia

I love open spaces. Even more if deliberately so. Particularly if decorated. Like the Benjamin Franklin Freeway decorated on either side by flags. Better still if I can associate with something familiar, like the SG flag. Ya, we hunted it down. 🙂

Bulit around the 1920s, the design of the Freeway ending at the Art Museum was emulated after the Champs-Elysees’ ending at the Arc de Triomphe, bringing “a slice of Paris into Philadelphia”. I’ve always found it amusing to see the fascination people have with Europe in the past because it reminds me so much of the present, and I wonder if this phenomena will continue in the future. If there was a need to prove that art transcends time and place, this could be one.

At the other end of the Freeway is the Philadelphia City Hall. The bronze statue of Philly’s founder William Penn stands at the top of its City Hall (white building at the end), and I suppose the city has him to thank for short buildings because, in his honour, none could be built taller than where the statue stood. This held true till about 1987.

We visited the Independence Hall, of course. As the stories unfolded, I felt my goosebumps rise and tingle – their patriotism was expressed and love for their country so clearly emoted that even as a non-citizen, I felt a swell of pride, a renewed respect for their forefathers. This patriotism and love, also, transcended time.

The moral, it seemed: Having wisdom and the perseverance will lead you to the ship, a genuine heart will give wind to your sail.

Being a good orator surely helped.

Favourite Places, 9: Hokkaido and its produce

Hokkaido has really good food. Its quality and freshness come from their organic methods of farming as well as stringent control of output. From sashimi to beef to fruits to wine, all of them are meticulously prepared, finely packaged and elegantly presented.

One of the foods I rather like is their cheeses (particularly Brie) because they are never really overpowering and do not numb my olfactory system. About 90% of the cheese that Japan consumes comes from here. Hokkaido is also Japan’s largest dairy farming region, with fields of happy cows producing good milk. Hence good cheese! 🙂

Brie and Hokkaido scallop taken raw, just out of its shell. Happiness is.

Post 107. Hokkaido

Cheese Board@Furano Cheese Factory

Favourite Places, 8: Sanibel Island, Florida

Seashells! So many that they form a mini-breakwater at one part of the beach. The island  ‘s unique east-west orientation makes it a prime catchment for treasures the ocean waves along the Gulf of Mexico wash ashore, and is renowned for its shelling beaches.

SJ fished out this live whelk fairly easily while wading, hunched, along the shallow parts of the water. The hunch is also known to be the Sanibel Stoop – the posture visitors adopt when they hunt for pretty shells on the pristine white beaches. 🙂 From afar, it did look like there were misshapened flamingoes pecking about.

We returned the whelk back to where it belonged after the photo-op, deeper where it is safe.

Post 99. Sanibel

Favourite Places, 7: Temples and Tombs of Egypt

I have Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones and Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra to thank for my fascination with Egypt. One for adventure through science, and the other for the BC period antics of Egyptian royals.

As I grew older, I turned to NatGeo for facts. Then I realised that Indy was in Petra, not Egypt. !!! Anyhow, one thing led to another and we ended up travelling to Egypt when I got even older.

It took my breath away.  If ancient ruins can ever be considered spectacular, this place would be it. They are so old, yet so incredibly majestic. They are all the colour of sand, but their tales are multi-faceted and awe-inspiring. They are huge structures, but were constructed with such care and attention to the smallest details.

Pharaonic Egypt, though rife with rivalry and war, was an amazing civilisation of mighty rulers, capable administrators and skilled crafters. Their army could have been built better, but the incursion of the Nubians, Assyrians, and Persians proved too much to handle in their decline.

Post 96. Egypt 1

The second Pyramid in Giza, with a guy strolling past. This is also the one visitors can shuffle along a claustrophobic tunnel that leads to a royal (empty) tomb. Contents are in Cairo Museum. Limited number of tickets per day.

Post 96. Egypt 2

The magnificent Abu Simbel built by the mightiest of the Pharaohs, Ramses II. All four figures adorning the facade are of him. Narcissism. A short flight from Aswan will get you there.

Post 96. Egypt 3

The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple, past the second pylon. A temple of the Pharaohs, it has 134 massive columns, each 15 metres high, except the centre 12 which are 21 metres; It takes about 6 adults to form a ring round a column’s girth. These columns were all brightly painted in their prime with natural dyes, and had large statues of Pharaohs between the columns that were either meant to look forbidding or impress the robes off the priests or royal retinue.

Favourite Places, 6: Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France

I do not know how to ski. I doubt I will try though I once wore a trash bin liner like a huge black diaper and had exhilarating fun rolling down a rather large snow mound. Doesn’t count for much but I think I got the gist of it.

Everybody in Chamonix seemed able to ski. It’s as natural as walking. I think I was one of the few, including some pensioners, who couldn’t. At least they have age as an excuse, I haven’t got one credible reason. But if I stayed there any longer, the temptation of going onto the slopes just to see for myself the beauty of the Alps would get the better of me. If I had to learn skiing to just get down from the slopes once after the sightseeing, I’d probably do it. Would 3 trash bags be enough to go the distance?

Situated on the north side of Mont Blanc and nestled between great big peaks of Aiguilles du Midi and Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix is a quaint little cobblestoned town that caters to adventurers and their less brave counterparts. It was the site for the first Winter Olympics held in 1924, and has some seriously dramatic slopes to prove its worth. The pretty Montenvers funicular will bring visitors up from the town to the impressive Mer de Glace glacier, and access the cable cars leading to the Ice Grotto made out of living glacier! Sounds like a lot of work to maintain the place. Summer or Winter, that place is c-c-c-old.

Where the train stops is also one of the starting points for brave adventurers ready to make their way across the Alps to where they need to trek forth.

But they really have only two other choices, Italy or Switzerland. Meh, I’d stay.

Post 94. Chamonix