After getting lost in Madrid, I came back to my comfort zone for a week then headed out the next Saturday to Marseille. I was very anxious about this trip to France because it was going to be loooooong. When I say long, I mean very long. Why? Because cheap is expensive. As a newbie, I am not an expert at looking at the best flights with the shortest layovers, neither was my friend. Plus we let these flight booking sites trick us with their cookies. So much so that we later discovered that people who booked different flights months after, all got even cheaper rates and better flights. SMH. So it’s not even a matter of cheapness, it’s inexperience.
Anywho, the day came and I got relieved a bit. Etihad Airways is a cool airline with female and male cabin crew that sport very striking lipstick and perfect hair cuts respectively. And it was my first time on such a large plane. I sat next to this American girl who was quite chatty at the beginning, with some braids on her blonde hair. LOL. Total hippie. Plus since we booked these flights via Alitalia originally, I could not book seats in advance so I ended up next to the lavatories. LOL. So you keep hearing that loud vacuum flushing all the time. I can’t seem to remember what I watched during this leg. I think it was The 15:17 to Paris. I had to Google the title now. I was not sleepy yet, the best was yet to come. I got to Abu Dhabi at some minutes to 9. A few minutes into walking into the terminal, I met up with this other Kenyan who had an even longer layover, but we lost each other at the security check.
Abu Dhabi International Airport is a real swanky airport. They have poured a lot of their abundant money into making it the airport of choice for layovers. I was going to spend 6 hours here, so I decided to find the best seats in the terminal of my next flight. If I was sleepy, these would have been very helpful. I was not. Yet. I grabbed something to eat and chat up my people. I am not exactly sure what I did for the rest of the six hours. What I remember is too much a/c and people running across the terminal to their flights. I finally moved down to my gate about an hour to my flight. I was obviously starting to get real tired, so I did not like the next flight much. But hold that thought.
I think this is when I watched The Greatest Showman in my utter fatigue. And even then, I was so enraptured by the movie, even in this poor airplane quality amidst that continuous annoying drone, I cannot stop playing the soundtrack album now. A Million Dreams is playing in my ears right now, while I’m in the belly of a different drone — a hairdryer. I will not deny I watched it on and off, between dozing off, trips to the loo and munching some bits and pieces of Etihad supper. That notwithstanding, I really had to fight off my tears, an endeavour I failed at miserably. I ended up with a serious lump of pain in my throat by the end of it. If you’re into musicals or looking for a movie you can watch with little ones, I think this is it. I am definitely rewatching it in better quality soon.
Off to Fiumicino, Aeroporti di Roma (Rome) a.k.a. Leonardo da Vinci, my last and longest layover before Marseille. And the 8 hours were tortuuuuuure. I got there some minutes to 7AM, Sunday. And let us not forget crossing time zones just makes it even more confusing. Abu Dhabi is an hour ahead of us. Rome is 2 hours behind us. I think. And remember, I have not really slept since 8AM, Saturday. We all squeeze into the transfers hall which seems a bit too cramped for my liking and I already know I will not like my stay at this airport. The only flashy things that could not help me one bit were the luxury stores across Terminal E on two floors. I was in Italy, after all. Dolce&Gabbana. Pandora. Gucci. Burberry. The seats were not going to help in my sleepy misery, so I just sat there and played with my phone until my flight was finally displayed on the screens. I went through passport control as I was now really entering the Schengen area and went on to more shops and uncomfortable chairs. Try as I might, I could not sleep. So, again, I do not know what I did with those 8 hours. This is also mixed with the fact that I could have sworn I watched Modern Family for hours on Netflix but I can neither confirm this from my watch history nor from searching on Netflix. I was definitely not day-dreaming because my Google history tells me I was on Netflix all afternoon. But the other Google says Modern Family has never been on Netflix. Wacha tuachie hapo kwanza. What I am sure about is that I finally found myself inside a small Alitalia flight to Marseille in the early evening. I sat next to a polite boy who was all Bonjour on me. That was the first time I acted like I learnt French from my mum.
Marseille is definitely hot. It’s a coastal town. I have never been happier to alight from anything in my life like I was when we did at Marseille. I just wanted to sleep! The immigration lines were so long I almost gave up. But since I had already got the stamp in Rome, the guy did not look at my passport twice. I ventured out into the Arrivals hall to wait for my people to get me. We headed out into the Alps (Alpes in French) some minutes after that. This is where we were going to spend most of the time in France. Destination, a little village called Saint Jacques. Why? Wedding Bells!!!!! How? All under the auspices of my dear loving friend Leilah and her very beautiful family. Just writing this almost made me tear up, so let me stop and will pick that up later. In private. Where no peering eyes are wondering why this crazy black girl is crying on a plane. LOL. I have clearly written this post for many days in different places and spaces, so don’t even try to envision my writing pattern.
So from Marseille, the capital of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region (south-East France basically), the roads are a delight. They literally pay for them highways at toll gates. Cars stick to the right here too. I will never get used to that. The drive was a feast for my sore eyes as we drew nearer to the Alps. I temporarily forgot I was tired and sleepy. My new road trip friends offered some very sweet bread too. I mean, how else was I to really know I was in France? There was a bit of a drizzle too. Darkness had covered the mountains by the time we got to the village. And that is to say a lot considering the sun goes down late. Again, a warm welcome awaited us as the family ushered us into the most ageless home I have ever walked into right next to a church. I remember walking in and commenting on how I smelt history around. And great food! And books! And French! Oh my goodness. Was I not supposed to be sleepy btw?
After the warm dinner, mamé walked us to what we would call home for the next few days. I was in awe. This was the second most antique home I had ever walked into. She showed us everything and kept apologizing because she believed this was not good enough for us. I was confused. Why was she apologizing? This was like walking through a dream for me. Like walking into one of those fairy tales I had read as a kid. Red Riding Hood, perhaps. Or living inside the set of Once Upon A Time. Just look at these pics and tell me I am wrong?
Anyway, I finally got over my awe and slept like a log. I think we woke up at 11 the next day. On a Monday. I mean, what else would I want in life than to wake up like that and open wooden shutters into the most awe-inspiring view of the Alps outside. Sigh. I want to go back.
Monday was chill, with more bread, cheese, chicken and sausages. We had lunch outside in the luscious green compound outside the main house. Then we attended mass in the church. Legitimately the most ancient church I have walked into. The experience was made all the more exotic because most of the mass was in French. I could not wait for the next day, wedding day!
And it came! A beautiful summer morning with everyone getting ready for the occasion. Leilah looked exquisite! She has always had a way with elegant gowns. Speaking of elegance, the wedding was the epitome of admirable simple-elegance. Sorry, what did you say? I can’t make up words? Not today. It made me rethink my whole wedding dream. I do think that the fact that we were already in a naturally beautiful place that needed no expensive and unnecessary decor contributed to this. And the people who streamed in to share in this joy. What else do you really need? Nothing. It was a lovely ceremony which included the baptism of the couple’s adorable baby girl. You should have seen me singing along to French hymns! 😀 You would have thought I had been there for months.
After the church ceremony, we spent some time out in the sun on some drinks and snacks. We then headed out to the wedding party. It was an intimate affair, not much different from the Kenyan ones we know with speeches and good food. Let me not talk too much about this from here. I will let the pictures do that for us.
The evening was wonderful! I never thought I could dance in public until this night. I guess I was still in a dream. We danced for hours in the open to all kinds of tunes, from African to pop, to reggae and samba. Suffice to say, my limbs were in pain the next day. I got over that real quick though as we headed out for a little hike in the Alps that afternoon. The views here are to die for, even when you’re not into climbing stuff. Worry not. You can just come here to stare.
The weather has a funny way of communicating, because after all the sun, the Alps decided it was time for rain on Thursday. So we tucked in and spent the rest of the day just making some Kenyan noise and eating. I could have sworn I had gained many kilos during my stay here but I actually didn’t.
We headed back to Marseille, with a short stopover at Gap. A little town that left nothing imagination, especially after experiencing dreamy Alps, but I did love these!!!
I got to experience Marseille for a few hours when the temperatures had dipped a little this time. The sights from Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde were amazing, including the sunset.
I also got to feast on the biggest burger I have seen in my life. Generally the short experience in France encouraged me in my quest to learn French. And to experience the love of a people brought together by love that supersedes all the many unnecessary complications we insist on bringing upon ourselves. The next time I am back there (because there will be a next time), I will have more to say about the city. Or maybe even drop by Paris. No, not maybe. Definitely. By then, I will be a master of French.
For now, I bow out, with a dreamy smile on my face.
À bientôt, mon amis!