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Week Three: Flying to France, meditating with strangers + Living large on the Italian Riviera
Written by Amelia Whelan on Sep 14, 2018
THE CITY ON THE COAST
We spent three days in Marseille and it couldn’t have been more ideal. Upon our arrival into the large city and historic port town, I couldn’t help but think we were going to be surrounded by noisy streets and swarms of tourists, yet again. Fortunately, Marseille quickly proved this assumption to be very wrong.
We spent a relaxing night in our AIR BNB loft apartment and woke up the next morning to enjoy a morning stroll around the harbor (avoiding the stenches of the morning fish market at all costs,) a quick grocery shop and home cooked breakfast of mashed avocado, local tomatoes + baked beans on fresh french baguette toast with tea and coconut milk. I spent the morning running around looking for an international converter for my laptop computer (as I left my last one in the hostel’s wall) and am proud to share my mission was a success. I power walked back to the loft to spend 2 hours finalizing last week’s travel blog and finish editing photos before check out.
EXPERIENCING THE FRENCH RIVIERA
Matt and I left our heavy backpacks at that night's accommodation and set off on foot to explore the city and make our way along the coast. We hadn't done much research, as per usual, so strolling and seeing what we stumbled upon seemed to be our best bet. We made our way past super yachts, sail boats, ships and loading docks as we walked outside of the city center and along the shore. As soon as we passed the first public beach, I knew I was a little bit in love. Swarms of french teens, children and young adults lay half naked and well tanned along hot sand strips of beach or underneath brightly colored umbrellas. I met the sweetest french puppy there ever was and attempted to speak a small bit of french to his owner while asking if I could take his photo.
From there, we continued walking down the city's coastal side walk/bike path and were mesmerized with each corner we turned. Marseille is absolutely gorgeous. I'll share photos below, because the pictures better explain it's unique beauty far beyond my simple words can. Crystal clear waters, ocean front cafes lined with bright colored tanning beds, children jumping off bridges, cliffs, rocks and small canoes. Beautiful french people (french men) everywhere. It was a Sunday morning and the sun was high in the sky. We sat down for a Pellegrino at a small water front cafe and left the table in intervals to climb down the restaurant's stairs straight into the Balearic sea. The atmosphere was stellar. The music was upbeat and the weather could not have been any more beautiful. After a quick final dip in the sea to collect a few plastic bottles floating adrift, we continued on our walking journey and made it two miles down the coast drenched in salt air and sun kissed skin. I think the photos do a pretty spectacular job depicting the beauty of the coast, but you’d have to experience it with your own being to soak in every ounce of its beauty. I was snapping photos all day. We hopped on a public city bus when our bare feet felt sore from hot concrete streets and spent the early evening laying in bed reading and enjoying the cool breeze from the open window in our hotel room.
JAW DROPPING BEAUTY IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FRANCE + MEDITATING WITH STRANGERS
That evening we tracked down a vegan friendly restaurant in Marseille called "L'Usyne" and enjoyed two spectacular curries with a pot of fresh made tea. There was a live band playing at the bar beside our small dinner table and we took our time sitting, sipping tea, enjoying the evening atmosphere (and devouring the sweetest vegan ice cream for dessert.) There must have been something in the air that evening because I could not manage to fall asleep. I decided my only option would be to go for an evening walk and take it upon the city streets to tire me out. Marseille after dark is an entirely different vibe. During the day, the city center is jam packed with tourists from around the world, lugging suitcases over concrete dividers, and hauling down taxi cabs. At night (12:45 am to be exact) the city was lit up in with golden light and beaming with funky techno music and aromas of french wine. Every single table, bench and chair was crowded with young adults smoking cigarettes, drinking wine and conversing with one another underneath the stars. I fell in love with France this evening.
The next day, we woke up early and hit the streets to catch the local bus as far down the city as we could go before re-routing out of Marseille and and heading to Calanques de Cassis national park outside of Marseille. Although the national park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this area, we arrived by local transport and were surprised with how little hikers there were on the road that morning. Collectively, we all headed uphill as a group (Matt and I not surprisingly, the only two in sandals,) before splitting off the main road to explore a small trail gone unnoticed by other hikers. We walked along a coastal ridge line and were brought to the tip of a mountain peak overlooking one of the most stunning views I’ve experienced in this lifetime. I could not get over how incredible our surrounding area was. Again, I know photos will depict this beauty better than my words are able to, but even photos will not do it justice.
After spending time playing around with the self timer on my camera (balanced on a stack of limestone rocks,) we sat for some fruit and then headed back on the trail. There is a popular beach down at the bottom of one trail that is accessible by hike or car. The water that lines this beach is absolutely stunning from above, but looked crowded and a bit tourist-saturated for me, so as Matt hiked down for a quick swim, I headed up to the mountain to explore the ridge and find a shaded place for my daily mediation.
The view from higher up was even better than I could have imagined. I sat to the side of a dusty trail overlooking the turquoise waters and set a timer on my cell phone for 20 minutes to mediate. I’ll never forget how delicious the contrast of the blaring, southern France sun paired so sweetly with the powerful, cooling sea breeze. I sat in a cool, shaded area and closed my eyes before melting into mediation. My timer went off 20 minutes later and as I peeled open my eyes slowly to shut off the blaring beeping, I noticed a hiker standing still a few yards away from me. I smiled at him and lazily half waved as I sat cross legged. He walked over to me and spoke in a thick french accent. I could not understand one single word he said. He began using hand gestures to point to the open earth next to me and begin to take his backpack off. He was asking if he could sit and meditate with me. I finally pieced it all together. I said “yes of-course!" and scooted over to make room for him underneath the shade. I grabbed my phone again and set the timer for 15 minutes. I turned it on, closed my eyes, and sat still next to him for 15 minutes before hearing the alarm ring. It was such a beautiful, peaceful, out-of-the-ordinary moment to enjoy and I’m so grateful I have the memory from this moment. He both stood up and shook dirt and limestone dust off our bums and embraced in a really lovely bear hug. We both smiled and said goodbye in english and french before I descended down the hill to meet Matt at the beach for a swim.
We left the national park in the afternoon and feasted on falafels and citrus seltzer water before heading on our way. That evening, we grabbed our bags and headed to Saint Charles train station in Marseille to jump on an extended flixbus from Marseille to Genova, Italy. We sat, slept, chatted and edited photos on the bus for five hours until we finally arrived.
We pulled into Genova (or Genoa? It seems to go both ways here) late at night and were unable to get a taxi cab to our hotel, so we hit the streets barefoot (until two large city rats scurried past my walking path and I put sandals on) and only stopped twice so I could “take this faaaaking backpack off for just a second” and allow blood flow back into my shoulders. After we checked into our hotel (Matt accidentally said “Gracias” to our Italian host rather than “Grazi” which made me basically pee my pants from laughter in the lobby) we showered and slept. We work up late the next morning and re-zipped our backpacks before leaving them downstairs in storage and walking the streets of Genoa for the first time.
BENVENUTI IN ITALIA
WELCOME TO ITALY
We sipped on soymilk cappuccinos (I had an actual real adult size cup of coffee for the first time in almost 7 years!) and fresh squeezed orange juice while people watching and exploring the cobble stone streets. By midway we were feeling ready for some pasta. We found an adorable Italian restaurant and fine-dined on linguine pomodoro, fresh bread and white wine (and water. A lot of that.) Genoa is famous for it’s handmade pesto sauce, which unfortunately is not normally vegan (which Matt learned the hard way.) But other than that one mishap, the food in Genova was unreal and so incredibly fresh.
For the next three days we walked the cobblestone streets, ate spaghetti, cheese-less thin crust pizza, smashed in some juicy, ripe italian stone fruit, sipped juice, tea, espressos and wine. We managed to score on air BNB and paid $90 USD a night to rent out a room on an incredible 75’ wooden sailboat right in the central harbor of the city. Fortunately for us, there were no other bookings that week (the boat had seven bedrooms) so Matt and I lived luxuriously onboard with a private staff/crew member who served us water, drinks and fresh breakfast each morning. I looooved being on the boat. It was such a treat to enjoy some down time, reading, journaling and blogging from the upper sun deck and enjoying slow sunsets on the bow of the boat, admiring the Italian Riveria as the sun sank into the water.
This week, as part of my curriculum for the Sura Center online mediation coach training, I’ve been reading (and absolutely adoring) a book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I highly recommend it to all. Whether you identify as an artist or not (yet,) this book is a good one. I can tell. And I’m only half way through.
LIFE ONBOARD LADY ROSA + PORTOFINO ON A BUDGET
We would wake up in the warm cabin bedroom, eat breakfast, go for a run and then enjoy a few hours working online or relaxing before exploring the city in the afternoon.
On our last day on “Lady Rosa,” we explored the coast line by boat and spent the afternoon in the iconic Portofino. If you aren’t familiar with Portofino, picture a very small, quaint and colorful port town that is tucked away amongst the Italian mountains. Then imagine a small ocean front town lined with five star restaurants and shops like Dior, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. It was wild. We rocked up by boat and felt out of place almost immediately (thank goodness I brought shoes with me!) but managed to find some stellar vegan gelato and a fruit stand where we bought peaches and berries for less than two euro. We also found a public bathroom that costs 2 euros to enter (I, of course, ended up accidentally entering the men’s toilet and had to squat high and strong as I peed very hastily and very confused over a fancy french urinal.) We laughed that our Portofino spending totaled at around twelve euro (1/4 of that being the cost of the public bathroom) and were back on the boat enjoying the late afternoon breeze before making it back to Lady Rosa by sunset.
We managed to find a vegan friendly restaurant tucked away in the back roads of central Genova (I believe it was called “Soul Food”) and experienced the most delicious vegan ricotta and tomato focaccia bread with pasta and veggies for dinner. We spent one final night on the boat and then enjoyed a final “food tour” throughout Genoa (hitting up our favorite coffee, juice, lunch and dinner spots) before heading to the airport in the evening. Locating the airport in Genoa was a faaaaaking ordeal. I won’t even go into detail because I know many of you reading this are also out enjoying current travels and planning future expeditions, (and I do not wish to plant any negative seeds or manifest any future travel hardships for any readers,) but let me just say this - sometimes (most of the time, actually) paying the extra money for a taxi to the airport is so much better, easier, more enjoyable, more comfortable and relaxing than hopping on the local city bus. At one point in our airport chaos, Matt and I stood with (what felt like) 100 pounds of luggage on our backs in the sweltering heart in center of the Genova city highway and looked at the watch to discover we had less than 5 minutes to get to the airport on time. We had absolutely no idea where the airport was or how we had managed to f*ck this situation up so badly. Matt turned to me in a moment of panic and told me “I think I’ll just starting running! If you miss this flight, catch the next one and I’ll wait for you.” I laughed aloud and then quickly explained to him that no one would be leaving anyone on the side of a foreign Italian highway and reminded him that neither of our phones worked. Chill out, dude. By the grace of the universe we managed to pass a city hotel and sprint in to request they call us a taxi ASAP. We made it the airport just in time and we’re on our way to Athens for a new chapter to begin!
OFF TO GREECE
Greece is where the girl’s trip officially begins! Matt and I landed late at night in Athens and managed to finally find our AIR BNB apartment with little help from our very confused, very geographically challenged, very Greek taxi driver. The host at the apartment was especially hospitable and told us that if we were starving (which we were) he could drive us to a nearby restaurant that would be open late.
We rocked up to a small town down the road from our apartment and were surprised to see how lively the streets were. Not only was the restaurant still open, it was absolutely slammed and well lit with music and an upbeat vibe. We sat right on the water (literally, feet in sand) and managed to get a dinner order in around 12 midnight. I thought the food in Italy was incredible, which it was, but this restaurant managed to basically blow everything I have ever eaten out of the water. We ate steamed local greens, tender grilled mushrooms, fresh herb bread with olive oil and spaghetti underneath the Athen’s night sky. We took a cab home and were in bed by 1 am before my alarm went off at 4:30 to wake up and head out on my way.
It is currently 7am and I writing this blog post on a notes page on my iPhone while flying to a small island 30 minutes off the coast of Athens to meet my two best girlfriends, Marissa and Ashley, for our month-long Greece adventure. Matt and I said farewell at the airport this morning (he’s on his way to Indonesia before he flies home to Australia and complete’s his two month backpacking journey) and I managed to squeeze in a quick FaceTime with my sister at the airport before boarding this plane.
The plan for Greece is - not much. Today we’ll celebrate Marissa’s birthday and spend the next five days exploring the island before deciding where to go from there. I have decided that in the spirit of the intuitive traveler, I will not be specifically naming all of the locations/islands the girls and I visit here in Greece, as half of the fun of exploring a new place is to travel/act/relocate intuitively and in alignment with the adventures and opportunities that present themselves to you while abroad. At this time in my life, traveling is my outlet of creativity. And as we all know, your art will never be the same as someone’s else’s. Naming every single individual island and town we visit may be helpful for some planning a future trip to Greece, but it feels hypocritical for me, as it is the exact opposite of how I choose to respect and experience new places and locations. When I am home in Hawaii, I avoid at all costs to promote and advertise certain spots that absolutely do not need more tourists, pollution, destruction, construction than they already have. So it only feels right that I do the same for these islands. I will be sharing photos, tons of information and all of the hints and tips you could ever need to discover on your own where many of the places we experience will be. If you have any other questions, you can send me a message!
I’m so grateful I have been able to experience the contrasts of the French/Italian city scene over the past few weeks, as my expectations for Greece include not much other than crystal blue water, blazing sun, fresh food made with local ingredients, boat rides and Greek men. All of the Greek men. As much as I want to experience all of Greece, I’m learning to enjoy staying still and steady in one area for a few days to few weeks time to experience the richness and density of one certain location.
LOOK FORWARD TO SHARING MORE NEXT WEEK. ALL OF MY LOVE