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Trip Report Looong trip report: Aix, Carcassonne and Arles last week

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This was my first trip longer than 2 days anywhere by myself. I'm a 34 year old city-dwelling woman. No problems whatsoever, and I had a fantastic time.

Flew Air France SFO-Marseille (layover in Paris). Cost was $520 including taxes through flycheapabroad.com (thanks to Ira, I think, who had listed discount airfare sites). Uneventful flight with pretty good movies, better-than-average food and service.

After much internal debate I decided that I wouldn't be comfortable driving by myself. The tiebreaker was the expense of car rental for one person. Thus train schedules sort of determined my (imperfect but enjoyable) itinerary.


Aix-en-Provence on the fly:

I liked Aix'thought it was very pretty and elegant (beautiful doors!), but my decision to stay mainly in smaller towns was a good one for me this time.

Aix was the only place where I was mildly hassled when walking around alone in the evening. I live in a city, so it was no big deal, but it does feel a little different/more offputting when you don't understand what the homeless person and/or drunken teenager is saying to you. I should say I'm remarkably tall, thin and beautiful so of course it's inevitable that I attract a lot of attention.

Just kidding.

Le Manoir was closed until Feb., so I ended up staying at the St. Christophe. Nothing fancy, but a convenient location and pleasant staff. It wouldn't be my first choice should I return again mainly because the room was a bit charmless. Still, it was plenty clean, warm and big enough for me. I think it was E69 for a double-single-use.

I was pretty tired after long flight day and then long walk through the city, so I decided just to eat at the hotel. It was good.

This was my big 'dining alone in France' debut, so I was curious to see how it would go. No problem.

I spoke my horrendous 'French' to my waiter and he very patiently spoke French back to me and somehow I ended up with wine, dinner, a glass of Armagnac and the check when I wanted it. I had brought a book but never ended up even glancing at it.

Everyone else at the brasserie was French. Fancy that, in France of all places! Including a cocker spaniel eating with the couple next to me.

I had arugula salad with hazelnuts, parmesan and an herb vinaigrette. I'm a salad person and I really liked it.

Also had the plat du jour, which was agneau with some kind of sage sauce. And a gratin of pommes de terre with artichoke and sage leaves baked around it (?). Oh, I love herbs, especially sage and rosemary, so I was in luck. I think there were vegetables maybe too, but I always tend to forget my veggies unless they're phenomenal. Maybe it was a stuffed tomato? Not tomato season so it was just okay.

Stuffed and exhausted, so I skipped dessert in favor of Armagnac, which I hoped would keep me asleep all night. I'd never had it before.

Actually, I'd ordered Gran Marnier but I tend to speak very very softly when in France, hoping no one will notice my abysmal pronunciation. The result is no one can hear me and they sometimes guess at what I've said. Depending on how tired/inhibited I'm feeling, sometimes I just go with whatever they think I've asked for. Hence the Armagnac. I liked it. And I slept like the dead.

Next day I tooled around the city a bit more. I had intended on hitting a museum, but instead I just wandered around, had some coffee and a croissant, marveled at the loveliness of the architecture, bought some callissons, and packed up.

Carcassonne:

Took the train. I think it was a long ride, but I don't exactly remember'I fell asleep. I thought French trains were somehow easier to deal with than Italian trains, but maybe I think so because I'm a 'grown-up' now?

Out the train window I saw all this white stuff on the cars. Snow! I live in California, so to me this was very special.

I stayed at the tres budget Hotel du Pont Vieux. I had read all the negative reviews on Trip Advisor, but call me perverse, I still wanted to stay there. Not sure why'the Best Western Donjon (or whatever) didn't appeal and Hotel de La Cite is waaaayy out of my reach.

I liked it! They spoke to me in French and Spanish there'it was funny.

I had a room on the top floor with a fantastic view of La Cite. I was the only one staying up there. My room had an uneven floor, some loose tiles in the WC, plastic curtains. I thought it was charming and had character. It's not for everyone, though.

I know Carcassonne has its detractors, but mid-week in late January, all the rooftops dusted with snow, it was absolutely magical.

Have to go back to work now, will finish up later.

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