Marseille in a Basket

In April 2012, I joined Leger’s Highlights of Provence and the Dordogne tour. All the places I would be visiting were new to me – the only place I’d been before in France was Paris – so I was looking forward to seeing what the area had to offer.

As soon as I jumped off the coach, it was the smell that hit me first. Our drop off point was just by the Quai des Belges and the Marché aux Poissons du Vieux Port – the old fish market – which had a real hustle and bustle about it as people gathered around the stalls set up along the harbour side, drawn in by the shouts of the stall holders. Fishing boats arrived with ruddy-faced fisherman in bright yellow, rubber outfits bringing in their days’ catch to add to the stalls.
 

The daily catch at Marché aux Poissons

A sea of tails and fins flipped about in water-filled trays, shielded from the warm sun by bright blue umbrellas, as customers pointed out their chosen fish – swiftly prepared by the friendly stallholders and dropped into blue plastic bags. Sales must have been good that day as blue plastic bags dangling from people’s wrists was a common sight around the port. Some stalls were bigger – and busier – than others: one old man had just a wooden box containing a few fish propped on a bucket.
One of the smaller ’stalls’ at Marché aux Poissons

Further along was another old man standing over a tray of huge eels, slithering around in a big blue tray with slices of eel on display and ready to purchase. One of the bodyless eel heads moved right in front of me, which I wasn’t expecting!
R-eel-y slippery!

After my eel experience, heading along the Quai du Port I got some excellent views up to the Basilica de Notre Dame de la Garde, perched high on the hilltop. The April weather was fantastic, with clear blue skies and bright sunshine twinkling on the water as I continued my explorations of the city. On the day we visited Marseille, there was a fair bit of work going on around the port – the city was undergoing a major clean up and facelift ahead of 2013 and its status as ‘2013 Capital of Culture’.
The Basilica de Notre Dame de la Garde stands high on the hill

I passed the little train which takes sightseers around the city, choosing not to climb aboard – I prefer to walk around a place, I always find it easier to get my bearings that way – and instead followed the road around to Marseille Cathedral, or ‘La Major’ as it’s also known, the oldest church in the city. The large Cathedral stands on its own – you can’t miss it – next to the former commercial port. A mix of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic styles of architecture, its striped façade is created from local Cassis stone and green Florentine marble.
The stripy cathedral of Marseille

Taking a right turn at the Cathedral, I found myself walking through little backstreets with no-one around, just the smell of coffee and pastries wafting through the air. A sign in the square at the top of the hill said ‘Place des Moulins’, ‘Square of Windmills’, once site of 15 flour mills and now a pretty little place with trees and benches and lined with pastel-coloured houses with bright shutters. Again, there were very few people around, other than a few locals going about their daily business. It was so much quieter than the port area.
The pretty ‘Square of Windmills’ was once home to 15 flour mills

The streets around there and down to the port are shaded and narrow, with washing lines drooping between high, biscuit-coloured buildings, holding clothes which flapped gently in the breeze as I passed beneath. My map told me I was in ‘Le Panier’ which translated means ‘The Basket’. The name apparently comes from an old inn, ‘Le Logis du Panier’, on the street now known as the Rue du Panier. This is a place full of character – it’s one of the oldest districts in Marseille and the area where ancient Greek seafarers first settled, giving the city the name Massalia.
Exploring the cool, narrow streets of Le Panier

Following steep steps, I caught a glimpse of the port, so I knew I was heading in the right direction, then the Notre Dame de la Garde came into view once again, confirming my route. I passed a woman beating a rug and hanging it out on the wrought iron balcony of her house, and a couple talking about a ‘tasse de café’, which I remembered as being a ‘cup of coffee’ from my school-days French. I felt as if I was immersed in the ‘real’ France!
Pastel coloured buildings in the streets of Le Panier

I’d had a great time, strolling around, exploring this lovely city, particularly around Le Panier. Given more time, I would have taken a boat over to the Chateau d’If (best known as one of the settings in Alexandre Dumas’ novel, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’), or taken the little train up to the Notre Dame de la Garde – as some of our group did – for panoramic views over the city.
The Château d’If on one of the Frioul Islands, just off the coast of Marseille, is best known as one of the settings in Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.

 
But my time in Marseille was up. It was time to leave the ‘2013 Capital of Culture’, and head off to the next destination on our tour.
Have you been to Marseille? What was your favourite area?
 
 

10 facts you may not have known about Russia

Find out what made our list of facts about Russia below:
 

  • Moscow has the busiest Mc Donald’s in the world (30,000 people entered on the first day of opening)
  • There are more than 600 universities in Russia
  • Russia is home to the world’s largest active volcano Klyuchevskaya Sopka which stands at 4,750 metres.
  • Russia is the second biggest oil exporter in the world
  • 10% of St Petersburg is covered by water
  • Russia is the only country in the world to have 12 seas
  • Russia is so vast it spans 9 time zones
  • The first man into space was Russian, his name was Yuri Gagarin
  • Vitaly Petrov is the only Russian Formula One driver to date
  • Life expectancy in Russia is 59 years for men and 73 years for women

 
Do you have any facts about Russia? Please share them in the comments below. For more information on our tours of Russia take a look at our Tours of Russia page.
 

Leger Holidays launch new Grand Explorer website

Here at Leger we are pleased to announce the launch of our new Grand Explorer website.

The site houses our great range of Grand Explorer Tours, which cover a vast array of countries and take in some simply breathtaking scenery,
These tours are carefully planned right down to the very last details; we can even pick you up from your home with our door-to-door service, so there is absolutely nothing for you to worry about.
With destinations including places such as Russia, India, China, Norway and even the Arctic Circle these tours really are not to be missed.
For more information on our tours visit our new Grand Explorer website
 

Delicious Falafel Recipe

Falafel was officially adopted as the national food of Israel. In recent years, it has lost a bit of its popularity, although is still quite ubiquitous.
These are small fried balls of mashed chickpeas, usually served inside pita bread.
This recipe will allow you to experience this amazing dish from the comfort of your home.
 

What you’ll need

  • 1 cup of dried chickpeas (or 16oz can of chickpeas)
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oil for frying

 

How to cook it

Soak dried chickpeas in a bowl overnight in cold water (don’t do this if using canned Chickpeas)
After draining the Chickpeas, place them in a pan of water, and bring to boil.
After boiling them for 5 minutes, let them simmer for an hour on a low heat
Once again drain and allow cooling for 10 minutes
Now add them to a bowl with Garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper.
Before adding flour, mix it all together, until a thick paste is achieved.
Once paste is achieved, make small balls with the mixture and slightly flatten
Then finally fry them in 2 inches of oil at 350 degrees until golden brown (5-8 minutes)
For more information abour Israel or to take a look at our Tours of Israel visit our website
 
Image courtesy of Flikr user yummyporky
 

“Remember that time when…”

…it’s a phrase used by so many of us with our travelling partners in the days, weeks, months, even years after we return from holiday:

“Remember that time that I got an electric shock from a fence in the Swiss Alps whilst talking to a cow”; “remember that time when I rode around Greece on the back of a motorbike in a bikini” (ok, so we’ve all done stupid things!); “…when I hurried to get to the other side of the ‘Broken Bridge’ in Avignon before getting half way and realising it was broken” (ditto last comment!); “… that time I climbed aboard one of Elvis’s jets on a visit to Graceland” …the things we do in those days away can leave imprints in our minds that last much longer than the holidays themselves.

The road to nowhere
The road to nowhere

It’s all in the detail

I remember sitting with my dear old Grandma – who’d had her fair share of holidays with my Grandad – as she relayed stories of the things they’d done, places they’d been and things they’d seen on their travels, despite not remembering what she did last week! She’d remember times, dates, people – so many details of her experiences whilst on holiday in Germany or Austria or Switzerland or wherever, and it was almost as though, for a few minutes, she was transported back there, reliving the experiences over again. I always found it fascinating how she could remember things so vividly from 40 or 50 years ago!

Lasting memories... Grandma in Pompeii
Lasting memories… Grandma in Pompeii

Time to turn off ‘auto-pilot’

Have you ever had that feeling when you’re at home and going about your daily routine where you sometimes switch to ‘automatic pilot’? You don’t even really think about what you’re doing – whether it’s getting ready for work, cooking the evening meal, dropping the kids at school or doing the weekly shop – it just seems to happen. Yet when you travel, you come back with bucket-loads of memories from even a weekend away. Sound familiar? If you asked me what I did last week, like my Grandma, it’s hard to always remember. Each day of the daily routine blends into the next: Monday becomes Friday; Friday becomes Monday and before you know it another month’s passed. So why do we seem remember so much more when we’re way?

The ‘eyes’ have it (and the noses, mouths and ears too!)

When we’re surrounded by different sights, smells, tastes etc, our senses are kick-started and we actually take notice of what’s around us (although, I have to say it would’ve been pretty hard to not take notice of that electric fence, no matter where it was!). When we’re on holiday, we’re constantly exposed to new things which is why they leave that impression in our minds so much more than the familiar sights and sounds of our everyday lives.

The cow continued to graze as I received a shock!
The cow continued to graze as I received a shock!

Packing it in

It’s also pretty common for us to return from our holiday feeling like we’ve been away much longer than we have – another result of us being much more aware of our surroundings. Each moment of our time away is packed with memories, making the days seem much longer than the same period of time back home. These memories become etched into our memory, stored for years to come, as my Grandma proved to me, time and time again.
Whilst on one of my own travels last year, I met a guy who shared with me something his father used to say to him:

“When you’re at home, you exist. When you’re on holiday, you live.”

What an excellent way of summing it up.
So, remember, life is for living! Soak it all up, take it all in – the new sights and sounds and smells of any new place you visit and any new experiences you have – whether it’s at home or away. And when you can’t actually travel any more, like my Grandma, hopefully all your experiences will carry on through your memories, to be relived time and time again. And that’s another one of the many reasons that thousands of us love to travel each year… the memories of our travel experiences can keep us going through the times in between our adventures… and beyond!
Have you got holiday memories you’d like to share? Be sure to let us know!

Road to Remembrance for UK Youngsters

It’s been a hot topic in and around Leger Holidays HQ. As battlefield touring specialists, we were delighted to hear that around £50 million has been set aside to mark the WW1 Centenary across the UK. Having toured with thousands of Brits over the last 30 years, we know that this moment in history is as close to the nation’s heart now as it ever has been.

Remembrance Day and the sea of red poppies displayed on lapels across the country demonstrate that better than anything.

We’ve seen first-hand the impact that battlefields and memorials, so steeped in history and sacrifice, can have on a person. And, whether it’s a personal pilgrimage or an educational expedition, we’re not sure there’s anything quite as powerful as taking a trip back in time with a battlefield tour.
We’ve seen customers respond in all manner of ways to a battlefield tour. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that they will walk away with a deeper understanding of our history and a greater appreciation for those that lived through the wars.
For those of us who are slightly more mature (ahem), we may well have heard tales passed down through our families that help to make the wars feel more relevant, or personal, or just bring home that these were real. But, with each generation, those stories become fewer and farther between.
On the initiative, Paul Reed – head specialist battlefield guide – said: “I’m delighted about the government’s promise to help the next generation learn about the Great War by experiencing the awe of visiting the battlefields for themselves.
“Learning about our ancestors in the classroom or through a text book is essential, but to bring history to life there needs to be another dimension to that study, so that students really grasp what the past was all about.
“During my 15 years at Leger it has been amazing to see how great an impact the experience can be; iPads and state of the art graphics all have their place, but when it comes to real interactive learning, nothing beats walking the ground where these battles took place, guided by someone who can help you appreciate what it was like to be an ordinary person in extraordinary times.”
All of us at Leger can’t wait to see how this initiative unfolds.
For more information about our battlefield holidays visit our website

The 24 Hours of Le Mans – See it live!

The 24 hours of Le Mans has been held annually from 1923 near the town of Le Mans in France. It is the world’s oldest active sports car race in the endurance racing category.
The first race was held on 26 and 27 of May 1923 and has run every year apart from 1936 and from 1940 to 1948 because of World War II.
The race is commonly named the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance’, although the 24 hour Le Mans is not just about having a fast car and a it’s drivers ability, it is about being able to produce a car that can complete the race in its entirety without sustaining any mechanical damage whilst also keeping an eye on the cars tyres, fuel and brakes.
The drivers are also put through their paces. At first there were no rules surrounding how many drivers were in a team, with a few drivers in the races history looking to save time by attempting to complete the race as the only driver. It wasn’t until the 1990’s rules were introduced to make the teams have a minimum of three drivers per car, with even more rules introduced around the length of time one driver could be behind the wheel.
This is just a taste of the 24 hour of Le Mans and it’s amazing history, to get a real life experience of the race and take in the amazing atmosphere surrounding a race day, why not take a look at out Le Mans tour by coach and join in the 90th anniversary celebrations.
Photo courtesy of Dave Hamster

How to Beat Those January Blues

When every last bit of turkey has been stewed, curried, and sandwiched, the Christmas decorations are back in their box and the New Year’s Eve ‘bongs’ are a distant memory, it’s not unusual to feel a bit deflated… but fear not! Help is at hand!

The month of January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doors, doorways, archways and openings of various sorts – a god known for his ability to turn one face to reflect on the past and the other to look to the future…. and so, as January marks the start of the new year, it’s time to turn your attention to the year ahead. Here are ten great ways to kick start the new year and stay positive.
 

1. Out With the Old: Time to Declutter

‘Tidy house, tidy mind’ as the old saying goes, so get rid of unwanted clothes and other belongings you’re never going to use – recycle them, throw them in the local charity bin or sell them online; sort out your paperwork; spring clean… basically, get your life in order – you’ll feel much better once it’s done!

2. Reset the Clock

After all those Christmas lie ins and late nights, it’s not surprising your body is suffering from some kind of Christmas version of jet lag! Readjusting your sleeping patterns by going to bed and getting up at regular times will fix you in no time!

3. Attention Please!

Take time to think about the areas in your life that need attention and do something about it! We’re talking small changes here – don’t make unrealistic plans that will just leave you disappointed when you don’t achieve them. Whether it’s to do with your job, house, car or relationships with friends or family, work out what you want to achieve and go for it.

4. Move It

Time to exercise… yes, I can hear the groans right now, but even if you’ve already dipped in your new ‘healthy regime’, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just try and find something you like doing – it might sound obvious, but if you don’t like it, you’re not going to stick to it! Even if it’s something as small as going for a 30-minute brisk walk in your lunch break, taking the stairs instead of the lift or even dancing around your kitchen while you’re cooking, it’s better than nothing. Just get moving! You’ll have that ‘feel good’ factor in no time.

5. Plan your Getaway

With a couple of months left of dark nights, what better time to start flicking (or clicking) through those holiday brochures? (Well, we would say that, wouldn’t we?!) Get your next holiday organised now so that there’s no stress sorting it out nearer the time – you could save money by booking early too – plus, it’ll give you something to look forward to later in the year.

6. Take Time Out

January is a time when social calendars tend to be a bit on the empty side, so make the most of it. Take time to treat yourself: buy yourself something with the vouchers or cash you received for Christmas or enjoy reading a book in a long, hot bath full of the bubble bath you got for Christmas.

7. Do Something Different

Now is the time to do something you’ve always wanted to do: start a new hobby, learn a different language or learn a new skill – think of all those things you’ve said “I’ve always wanted to ….” about, and see which ones you can realistically achieve. It could be something fun, something extreme or something less intense… it’s up to you to make it happen!

8. Embrace the Darkness… and the Light!

If you work indoors all day, take whatever opportunity you can to get outside during the daylight hours. Research shows that experiencing the ‘great outdoors’ has benefits on our health and wellbeing, so get outside and breathe in the fresh air. When darkness falls – and it IS getting later, gradually – make the most of the season by staying cosied up on the dark nights and watch all those DVDs or read the books you got for Christmas.

9. Save Money/Make Money

With bank balances a little lighter following the festivities, make the most of free activities such as walks or reading and save money by inviting friends round for drinks instead of going out. As this is the time of year to ‘declutter’ (see No. 1), you can make a bit of extra money by selling all those things you don’t want or need any more. There’s sure to be loads of things hiding in your drawers and cupboards that you don’t use any more, or clothes you haven’t worn for ages, and, as the saying goes, ‘your trash is someone else’s treasure’. Make use of sites like eBay or visit your local car boot sale – someone out there might just be looking for what you’ve got.

10. Escape!

If you can’t wait ’til summer, why not make the most of what this season has to offer? The scenery of Austria and Italy are especially wonderful at this time of year, so take a holiday in January and get the year off to a great start!
Well, there’s our list of suggestions… let us know how you get on. And if you have any other suggestions of your own, be sure to let us know!