Back in London now… got back last night. Damn it's good to be back in a country whose language I don't have to concentrate on too hard to understand.

Don't get me wrong – I *loved* France ! I even reckon it was worth missing Glastonbury for… but then again of course I'm gonna say that, cos I didn't get a Glasto ticket.

Now, where was I up to ? Ah yes, the sunburn.

One of the sights in Marseille is a boat ride to the islands off the coast. The first island is home to the castle, “Chateau d'If”. Nick, Yvanne, Laurent (Yvanne's b/f) and Delphine (a friend of theirs) caught a boat over to check out this impressive looking structure. In truth, I don't really know a damn thing about the place because we didn't actually go INSIDE the castle part, just wandered the grounds. I pinched the following off someone else's website: Finished in 1529, the fortress, whose first stone was laid down by King Francois I in 1516, consists of the chateau, church and a guardhouse. From 1634 the chateau was used as a detention center for political prisoners. Its most famous and romantic prisoner is the fictional inmate Edmond Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Montecristo. Imaginary or not, you can visit his cell as well as the cell of the Man in the Iron Mask who, contrary to legend, is as likely to have stayed there as the marquis de Sade.

I do know however firsthand that they have a large colony of these bloody enormous seagull things that make a funny noise.

Next we hopped back on the boat over to Frioule – another island which has a few things sprinkled about (it's a bit bigger than the other island), such as Hopital de St Caroline, which was used as a quarantine station for many years for the ships coming into the port of Marseille. But the bit where we spent the most time was down “sur la plage” ! (i.e. on the beach).

One thing about the Mediterranean sun – it doesn't feel as hot as the Australian sun, and this is probably because they've still got some ozone up here. However the whole things works pretty much the same way in that you've got to put ludicrous amounts of suncream on, and of course by the time you feel yourself burning then it's too damn late. And so for Nick and I, it was too damn late. Luckily I only got my lower legs burnt – Nick fell asleep face down on his towel and wound up with a bright red back.

Aside from all that though it was very pleasant, and probably the most “normal” beach experience I've had since I left home.

Not really much to tell about that – it was more one of those “you had to be there” type affairs.

On Friday we went to the highest point in Marseille – the quite imposing Notre Dame de la Garde. Again, I don't know much about the history of the place, but I can say that those Frenchies sure know how to decorate a church ! Aside from being quite one hell of a hike to get up there, it was totally awesome to look at. And the view was nothing short of spectacular. I attempted to take a panoramic photo, but I'm sure it doesn't do the scene any justice.

Now, what's left ? Ah yes, Sunday ! A quick TGV ride and I was back in Paris for lunch. Now I stand by the assertion that France is a land of wide ranging and flavoursome cuisine. But that does not include the awful, bland and overpriced crepe avec jambon et fromage I had at this shabby little cafe across from the Louvre. Sadly I can't warn anyone away from it cos I've forgotten the name. Alas…

I spent most of Sunday trekking around The Louvre, which is of course one of the most famous art galleries in the world. The Louvre is home to an immense number of works of art, the most interesting of which I found to be the quite extensive Egyptian Collection, the Sumerian/Mesopotamian collection (including Hammurabi's Code – an ancient obelisk documenting local laws of the time), and of course the things that all the tourists come to see, like the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.

Sadly I was stymied by low camera batteries and didn't manage to get all the photos I wanted to – I snapped off a few good ones though, such as a shot of one of the rooms housing Egyptian objects – ancient Egyptian artifacts in an ornate French timber veneered room… sort of reminded me of the Chinese restaurant in the Glaswegian Millhouse!

Another thing I failed to immortalise was the sight of a crowd milling 12-deep in front of La Joconde (what the French call Mona Lisa), staring and snapping photo after photo after photo, and all blissfully ignoring the Louvre's request that you do not use flash photography on the Objets'd'Art. The way those idiots were milling around you'd almost think it was the greatest thing ever painted, as opposed to some hyped up, dull toned portrait of a transvestite…

My final memories of Paris were that of the sheer LUNACY that is Charles de Gaulle airport, the main airport of the city. It's one of those examples of architecture over function, as thousands of people jostle for precious space in the queues, while people who have made it through travle along travelators encased by glass tubes through this weird central doughnut thing – all very arty, and quite pointless and awful.

Anyway, that's enough bitching – to sum up, my final analysis of my 2 weeks in France:

1) Wow, I spent 2 weeks in France ! I *never* imagined that I'd do that when I was planning to come overseas, and I'm extremely glad I went.

2) France has some of the most beautiful women in the world, and it was no end of frustration that I couldn't communicate with them. I reckon they're as gorgeous as the girls of Adelaide. And *almost* as pretty as a couple of the ones in Perth ! Aaaah Julia, Livia, Francine, Yvanne, Elisa, Charlotte, Audrey, Florence and Delphine – I'll remember you all.

3) Whilst I know that there's lots of other cultures out there, I feel like my eyes have been opened just that little bit wider to have scratched the surface of another one of them.

4) I really should go to the trouble of learning another language properly. Maybe French isn't a bad choice ?

OK, better go now – have to plow through this stack of photos and upload some of them !

2004-06-28 : So that was France, eh ?
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