The European project and national reality


A garden in Aix

Three countries in one day – a typical European travel plan. I started this morning in sunny Aix-en-Provence, landed in Amsterdam and now I climbed off the train in Düsseldorf. I am still not sure what to make of the fact that I felt the greatest culture shock was in Dizzel where once again a car driver had parked in an area designated for another traffic participants, namely the tram that had to stop because the car was parked on the tracks. Seriously, how hard can this be? In Amsterdam, on the other hand, I felt immediately somewhat at home – such a nice place, really.

When I studied my Master’s in European Studies, one buzz word was always part of our discussions: closeness to the citizens. What is a European citizen and how can the EU work towards making a difference in her citizens’ life? Well, today, I got to experience how policy influences real life first hand. In France, a country formally at war with heavily armed guards patrolling the central station of Marseille, we were forced to go through border control and they looked at our passports closely. This is something I’ve known from flying to London but once I was on the train from Amsterdam to Dizzel, I really got a taste of the “we don’t do Schengen anymore”-decision. A couple of plainclothes policepeople suddenly came in and demanded to see our tickets and passports. They searched the bags, asked why one had been in Amsterdam and for how long and then called some authority to verify our documents. While I luckily can travel legally, it still felt very odd. I almost felt insulted in my Europeaness. The EU member states decisions have, at any rate, suceeded in terms of closeness to citizens.

Living as Cézanne’s neighbor


Aix – mon amour! Just when I thought I was not cut out for holidays down south, we encountered this little town. We made our way here with the bus yesterday, listening to Wise Guys songs, only to find the last bus to our airbnb room had already left two hours ago. The nearly three kilometres uphill with our bagagge became a first city tour – and what a buzzing delightful place this is! Literally every square has its own fountain with a mix of young students, Asian tourists and locals sitting around the ripply water. The sun drenched the big tree-lined boulevards as well as the little picturesque streets of the old town that we wandered. Unlike Marseille, Aix-en-Provence seems devoid of big city stress and full of joie de vivre.

We were received by our airbnb host who is very lovely and has provided us with the best room during my trip this far. After a night in a bed that we would fit into even sideways, we found that we stay right next to where famous painter Paul Cézanne used to live and work. We see Mount Saint-Victoire, the motif of many of his paintings, from our window and both his studio and his terrain de peintre are some minutes away. I quickly informed Anna about Cézanne’s life and work during breakfast (thanks to Wikipedia) and we set out to discover his town.

After our Cézanne-seeing, we went downtown and Anna linked arms with me and stated, „You are really good to travel with because you sleep in, you’re relaxed, you don’t have to go to the bathroom a lot but you are never hungry!“ Anna wants to eat every two hours while I didn’t get hungry until five hours after breakfast – a fact that distresses Anna. I conceded to eating crepes with her.

As good tourists, we also visited the tourist office and were surprised to be served by a lady who knew German. She handed us a map in Danish and German (are there that many Danish people visiting?) that among other things offered „Free tours to Sainte-Victoire on foot, by bike or on a donkey“.

In the afternoon, I successfully got Anna into visiting the Art Center showing a Turner exhibition. We marvelled at his colors and tried to make sense of the French explainations. (Reading actually works very well for me.) Unlike Cézanne, Turner was acclaimed already during his lifetime, with Andrew Caldwell calling „his paintbrush magical“. The Art Center was a former palais that was absolutely gorgeous and we also got to watch a movie about Cézanne there as well in their own cinema. The film dramatically recaped what we learned at breakfast (did you know Cézanne was best friends with Emile Zola who also was from Aix?) and ended with Picasso’s quote, „If I know Cézanne? He was my one and only teacher“.


Anna in the Art Center


Being a good Catholic, visiting church on Whit Monday, and walking through the Door of Mercy



In Aix, dachshunds are kindly asked to walk on the right side of the street



Anna at a random leftover gate




Why not have a whole laundry rack at your window?


In an inspired mood, we ended up at my favorite square (yes, I already have one) and were lucky to get a table at „Chez Jo“ in the evening sun along with a delicious salad and a good pizza. It felt very vacationish! Even this time, our last bus had left early and hitchhiking proved fruitless so we walked up the hill once more. It’s a shame we’re already leaving tomorrow but maybe we’ll come back. I for one have alreadystarted trying to talk Anna into attending l’Université d’Aix!

Attendez le signal

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(Ce rapport incl. des citations est authorisé de Anna.)

Marseille did not meet my expectations – in both good and bad ways. The first thing that was not as expected was the beauty of the city. I was told that Marseille was “not that pretty” and “more of a bad kind of harbor town”. As a person who loves the water, I beg to differ: the Mediterrean Sea was glittering in turquoise shades right outside our window and the Vieux Port’s boats picturesquely lined up in the middle of town. Marseille is surrounded by green hills and above it all thrones the Church Notre Dame de la Garde.

What hugely disappointed me was the lack of interest Marseille showed in one of her most famous daughters, Désirée Clary. No museum, no house of birth, “we ‘ave a métro station called Désirée Clary!”, they informed us. If there was a woman born in Dizzel who later became queen of a country, there’d be memorials all over. I mean, Heinrich Heine left Düsseldorf as soon as he could and still, the university is named after him, the central street is Heinrich-Heine-Allee and there is an institute in his honor. Watch and learn, Marseille! I am starting to suspect it has to do with the fact that Désirée was a woman.

Something that was unexpected as well was that no place in all of the second-largest French city showed the Eurovision Song Contest. And yes, we even went to all the gay bars! That way, Anna, my 16-year-old travel companion, learned what the rainbow flag signifies, so I assume we must enter the endeavour on the educational credit site after all.

While the European countries strutted their stuff on Stockholm (and I got countless texts from everywhere asking what I thought even though I could not watch it), Anna and I ate some traditional galettes. It became obvious during our meal that her teachers had neglected to thoroughly inform her about the French Revolution so the next half hour I tortured her with Richelieu, Ancien Regime, the Storming of the Bastille, Citoyen Louis Capet, the Tennis Court Oath, Robespierre, the Declaration of Human Rights and Boneparte crowing himself. “You forgot the guillontine!”, she just commented as she read what I typed. So you can tell my effort got across to her!

I also tried to  leave some of the navigating to her since she speaks fluent French but she made a point out of letting us end up in a locked tram in the depot so I realized she did not want to take on the role of chief guide…After a while,  with me constantly reminding my co-German to “attender le signal” at the traffic lights, we finally made it to the park we intended to go to (because Anna wanted to itemize birds). This public garden was graced with a giant statues and fountains, called Palais Longchamps, in the front with engravings of famous men: Lamarck, Buffon, Linné. Trying to arouse Anna’s curiousity for natural history, I asked if those names rang a bell to which she replied, “Yeah, isn’t Buffon the Italian goalkeeper?” Well, yes, he is. As I started to explain Lamarck’s and Linné’s role in science, she sighed and said:“Helen, you’re too interested in things”.

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The Désirée station

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In th Notre Dame de la Garde, you could offer candles for 10 – ten! – euros each

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Because you always wanted Merkel on your phone

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In the Mucem

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Grandmas knitting histperware

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We were strolling through the Old Town Le Panier when suddenly a Zumba class was held right in front of us – very entertaining!

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Lavender chips and Orangina – feeling very Provencal.

Enchanted Port

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Maybe it is compulsive blogging disorder that I am suffering from because I felt I could not commence my Marseille stay without reporting about Portugal first. The last four days, my friend and travel companion Michelle and I followed the recommendations I had obtained from friends, coworkers and family. We went to Sintra, we listened to Fado and we ate at the Ponto Final restaurant.

It was also my first airbnb experience which was interesting. The hosts barely spoke to us but their apartment was impeccably clean and rather high standard. However, their elevator frequently stopped and refused to release its passengers and the room was so cold I could hardly fall asleep. I think the fact that the Portuguese do not have radiators is some kind of weather escapism: they want to believe it is always 20 degrees and higher in their country. But it’s not. We got our fair share of rain and what puzzled me was that the rain felt lighter when coming down on one’s skin. So odd…! I was walking home the first evening when I noticed that but I could not pay attention to this circumstance for a long time because dozens of young people in black capes appeared around me. One of them carried what first looked like a broomstick and I concluded that a previously unreleased Harry Potter volume must be currently filmed in Lisbon („Harry Potter and the Erasmus Student of Portugal“). On closer examination, I found the broomstick was in fact a giant wooden spoon and the cape-wearers had ties with spoons attached to them. Back in our room, I googled, „weird Portuguese rituals with spoons“ and found it was part of the praxes, a (controversial) student tradition. 

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The Pink Street

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In Portugal, meat is apparently never served with vegetables

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Lisbon has the “Sexiest WC on Earth” as Renova calls its public toilet

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We met lots of stray cats

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The metro system had quite good displays.

During our stay, Michelle and I closely observed the people around us and switched languages accordingly. If Germans were close, we guarded our privacy by switching to Swedish, if Swedes were to be heard, we became all German. At the Fado restaurant, a Norwegian couple overheard us and it made the Scandinavian’s day to meet us. He was very friendly and super happy to have met someone from the North who also was on „ferie“ in Portugal. We were also happy because you can hardly listen to Norwegian without being happy.

Despite our linguistic disguise, we were frequently mistaken for locals. People kept asking us for directions or information on public transport. We must have appeared very competent. Our foreignness was quickly demasked though when we replied – in English or Spanish. In four days, the only words I actively picked up were „bom dia“ and „obdrigada“ (the longest word for thank you in any Western European language?) and my brain worked hard to make sense of what I read and heard. Portuguese is a complete mystery – it looks like distorted Spanish and sounds like Polish or another Eastern language. Completely impossible to understand anything at all! My brain seemed to not concede to this fact though but instead built its interpretations: the supermarket chain „Pingo Doce“ because „Pinguin Twelve“ before my inner eye.

We did not make it to any museums but we took a trip to Sintra where you can see two castles and a Moorish fort. The bus trip up the hill was adventurous for German standards and up there it was considerably cooler. We wandered through what looked like a jungle and tried to educate ourselves by reading the „Talking Heritage“ signs. I have to say Sintra has a long way to go when it comes to those. More than once the sign read, „Stones from probably 10th century. We don’t know what they were used for.“

Despite our lack of self-education on Lisbon’s history, I managed to learn that the name of the city means „Enchanted Port“ which I find very poetic, and we got a glimpse of Portuguese culture when we listened to the very nice Fado songs. (On the first evening, I also listened to depressing Portuguese poetry but I did not understand a word.) Fado is special and beautiful and it made me wonder why the Portuguese are excelling in melancholic ways of expression. I’m guessing it has to do with history.

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Lisbon had many interesting ads. If you use this detergent, you will get a nice sixpack/a lover with a nice sixpack

And now I am in Marseille! Getting here from the airport took three times as long as normal because of an AC/DC concert-induced traffic jam. On the motorway, a house had giant letters saying in French, “JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS”. What a welcome.

Our rooms looks literally right onto the Sea which is wonderful. Marseille happens to be the birth place of Desiree Clary, who happens to be the mother of the currently reigning Swedish royal house of Bernadotte. So far I’ve only seen a metro station named after her but tomorrow we’ll try to find out if we can find more traces.