A Soulful, Soul Food Sunday in Marseille

My breakfast began with my cereal, no sugar.  There was a Sunday Marche’ directly in front of our hotel. I strolled along, checking out the wares of the  various vendors and then finally sat on a wooden bench and did some “people watching” occasionally looking at KISMET, the Superyacht which still remained docked in full view.

Later,  lunch was with one of my favorite couples; Mike and Patricia Nicholson, who I call the “globetrotting Nicholsons” and who have been traveling with me since the early 2000’s.  They shared memories of past trips with, “Kat do you remember when you said this or what about so and so that went to Montreux in 2015, or the Italy trip or the Dubai trip”. It was a nice afternoon of reminiscing and I was ready for a nap before the group gathered to take the short 10 minute walk uphill to Martin’s where he was preparing a table for us.

Upon our arrival, as our host escorted us up his winding staircase, we were also met with the fragrant aromas that had drifted down from his kitchen.  He put on the finishing touches of the meal while a few assisted him in setting up the selections of wine or found a hammock (Kat, NOT ham hock) to relax in on the patio  Martin said, “Kat, they gotta wait to eat ham hocks when they get home. I said I was hanging hammocks not ham hocks”. LOL.     Finally, dinner was about to be served and our most gracious host had everybody join hands as he led us in a soul stirring vocal rendition of blessing the food.  The menu consisted of: West African Black eyed peas with okra and shrimp from Togo, Pesto Peas, Steamed white rice cooked with coconut milk,  rotisserie chicken and a green salad with a vinaigrette balsamic dressing with soy sauce and shallots.  As we broke bread,  he definitely had shown  us what he was workin’ with. This was a wonderful culinary experience, everything was seasoned purr-fectly.  What a purr-fect way to end a purr-fect Kattrax week in marvelous Marseille.

Bouillabaisse on The Corniche

Bouillabaisse, originally a stew made by Marseille fishermen using bony rockfish they were unable to sell to restaurants or markets. The word stems from to boil and simmer.  There is an art to preparing and a true experience being served.  What makes a bouillabaisse different from other fish soups is the selection of Provencal herbs and spices in the broth, the use of bony local Mediterranean fish, the way the fish are added one at a time, and brought to a boil; and the method of serving.  In Marseille, the broth is served first in a soup plate with slices of bread and “rouille” slightly different from aioli.  Rouille has cayenne and the most expensive spice on earth — saffron.  Then the fish is served separately on a large platter then served together in large soup plates.

There is a Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter which ensures restaurants use precise ingredients, respect the art and so the valued customer does not get cheated. This began in the 80’s and currently only 7 restos are included; LE RHUL is one of the 7.  LE RHUL faces the sea and sits on a cliff.  The view is to die for; with a view of the sea and The Corniche, the service was impeccable and the bouillabaisse— ooh la la!  Before the feast, my starter was steamed mussels stuffed with parsley and garlic. Martin  had the grilled cuttlefish with pieces of garlic which is similar to calamari.  Both, were excellent choices.

My introduction to Bouillabaisse was in 1983  further south on the Riviera in Nice, as   part of Lionel Hampton’s entourage. Yes, quite an  enjoyable and unforgettable intro and experience.

Stay tuned…. tonight is the group’s farewell dinne at a bistro  but tomorrow  the group will have “soul food Sunday’  complete with a gospel singalong.

SECRETS AND CODES OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD – Quilting by Martin Grizzell

As you may recall Martin Grizzell, resident of Marseille,   led our Black Marseille Tour.

Martin Grizzell is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area who has made France his home away from home. He’s been here for 5 years now.    A familiar personality on the American theatrical stage, Mr. Grizzell has performed at the Lincoln Center for the Arts in New York City and the Nice Jazz Festival in Southern France.
Martin is also a textile artist and historian His work is in the permanent collection of the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. Grizzell has represented the United States in the annual ConsulArt Exposition at the prestigious Maison de l’Artisanat et des Metiers d’Art Gallery of Marseille.

Our group was invited to spend an evening of wine, jazz, appetizers and good conversation at his apartment/studio about a 10 minute walk from our Hotel at the Vieux Port. As we made our way up his winding staircase to the top floor, most had no idea of what was in store. Martin is a master at his quilting craft, quite an historian and storyteller.  As Gregory Porter belted out his tunes softly in the background Martin gradually schooled us in depth on how quilting played a major part in assisting slaves to escape to freedom and just how he became involved in this art.

Sitting in his comfortable,  lightly incensed fragrant, compact apartment decorated with African art, artifacts, wall hangings of quilts, and Kente cloths and listening to him break it down  about the secret codes,   Terms like “As above so below,”   and “Hidden in Plain View”, etc. It was mesmerizing and most educational. At times with my eyes closed, It actually transported me back to slavery times as though I was a participant planning to escape the cruel treatment meted out by the plantation owner.

I’ll share with you some of the meanings of the symbols : Wagon Wheel – A signal to the slaves to pack the items needed for travel by wagon or to be used while traveling or to actually load the wagon for escape. Some records indicate that this symbol meant a wagon with compartments in which slaves could hide.

Crossroads – A symbol referring to Cleveland, Ohio which was the main crossroad with several routes to freedom . On a less literal level the term also means reaching a turning point in one’s life where one must make a choice and then carry on.

North Star –  This  was a symbol with 2 messages:  One to prepare to escape and the other to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada. North was the direction of traffic on the Underground Railroad

Shoofly – A symbol that identified a person who could guide slaves and help them escape along the Underground.

Bow tie- A symbol indicating that it was necessary to travel in disguise or to change from the clothing of a slave to that of a person of higher status.

Bear Paw – This code meant to follow a mountain trail, out of view and then follow an actual bear’s trail, which would lead to food and water..

This was a most fascinating evening. Of course, I had to cut early simply because I’m working and work was waiting for me.  I understand it was past midnight when they  reluctantly said farewell to Martin and a fabulous evening..

If you plan to make a trip this way to Marseille; you must contact Martin for a tour.  You will not be disappointed.  Martingrizzell@gmail. com

Kat’s Kibbles and Bits

Its been a drizzly day today in Marseille but what docked in front of my 2bdrm penthouse suite surely brightened up my day.  I slept til noon and 2pm lunch was at Miramar. They boast making the best Bouillabaisse of which I will try this week.

With this year’s birthday yachts in place in Mykonos and next year’s birthday yacht in place in Negril, I guess one could say that I’ve got a serious case of Yacht Fever.  So when I saw this bad azz yacht so close I could almost reach out and touch,  I almost melted.  KISMET –  definition: Fate, Destiny.    She was built in 2014 to be the most luxurious yacht around.  Resting on her bowsprit is a 4 ft black jaguar ….. yes that’s Kat.  She can be chartered for 1 week for a mere $1,400,000.00  She can accommodate 12 guests so for 12 ballers, that’s only $117,000 apiece .  Dreaming always brightens my day.   Make it a great day!
****Fast forward :  Further research found the next summer  Jay Z & Beyonce’ leased it for awhile, owned by their friend, Shaid Khan owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars****

The Naked City

Do you remember “The Naked City”, a tv police series, and at the conclusion the narrator would say the iconic line, “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them”.  Well here’s one from me

Marseille is a real, down to earth, naked city, with real people stories; a very diverse city steeped in history. Don’t expect to see the flashy Ferrari’s, McLarens and Bugatti Veyrons zipping up and down the Corniche like in Monte Carlo or St Tropez. It’s not that kind of party. At any rate, I feel a connection and I love it.

Today, I had an emergency to deal with. I had done the Black Marseille tour in 2015 with Martin so I knew the group would be in good hands.   I waited until he  arrived to give his overview/orientation, introduced him to the group and then I was off in a Uber to the Police Station on La Canebiere (remember my daddy’s street, lol).  Unfortunately a group member lost her passport. There was only one thing to do; try to get a replacement so she could go home next Monday.    Before going to the US Embassy we needed to get a police report. It helps when reservation forms are completed for me with passport details.  I always bring them with me just in case.  Without them or a copy of the passport it makes it more difficult to replace. Thankfully Ms Bailey was in the office and was able to immediately text me the info.

There is nothing more intimidating than  being face to face with a police officer who answers NO to my French question if she spoke English.  So now I’m forced to reach back to high school and college days using words and sentences I haven’t had to use.  So they finally let us in after a search and we waited our turn. We got the report and then off in another Uber to the Embassy. It was in a very obscure place… like really in the cut with a different address than what we had. SMH

Thankfully these officials spoke a little English, tells us we need to have passport photos, gives us a map to continue on this goose chase walking and the sun is blazing.  In addition to that we had to be back within 45 mins because they would be closing for 2 hrs.  We made it back with photos in 10 minutes.  You can imagine the security was tight but we had no problems.  They took our devices, we went through a total of 3 locked doors and finally got inside. The rest was relatively easy. She had to pay $145 for a 1 yr temporary. I sat comfortably, closed my eyes while she waited.  In an hour it was ready, she took the oath and we were on our way.  All I could think about was my favorite seafood restaurant Chez Toinou and enjoying the giant seafood platter.  By the time we arrived Martin and the group were ready to leave for part 2 of the tour.

At the end of the day, I polled the group to see what they had learned. This port city was a gateway (trading with Greeks, Romans and Africans. People of color were not held in much oppressive slavery but prized for their skills. They learned the importance of the African influence on the city and the Continent of Europe.  The group followed the footsteps of authors Claude McKay and Alexander Dumas. They saw the building from where Dumas could see Chateau D’If when he wrote The Count of Monte Cristo.. McKay is believed to have lived in the neighborhood behind our hotel and he wrote Banjo there.  Banjo is a celebratory chronicle of the lives of ‘beach bums’ living and experiencing life in this port town including African American soldiers who fought alongside French soldiers and experienced their 1st taste of egalite amongst the French.

There was quite a lot covered; The Lady at the Crossroads who is clearly of African descent, Josephine Baker’s performances, architecture here abounds with an African influence and what was happening on Booty Lane.  Perhaps we will repeat this tour next year and you will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with this naked city.

 

Marvelous Marseille

If you love France but have never made it South; you are missing a treat.  Marseille is in the south of France and lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea .  We are a small group mostly from the bay and including Marilyn Gainey from Atlanta, Nicole Robinson-Hamilton from Tennessee and Denise Alexander from Florida.  It really seems like another Kattrax mini reunion joined by the globetrotting Nicholson’s; Michael and Patricia, BJ Johnson, Joan Morris, Toni Hill, Wilemma Bradley, Carol and brother John Motte.

Four of us flew in a day earlier on Virgin Atlantic which was nice and smooth, however landing in London to change plans had its challenges but we thugged it out. Our amazing guide, Cedric Tuzzolino was at the Marseille airport when we landed. Check in was quick and easy and I was happy to be back in my 2bdrm penthouse at La Residence  Du Vieux Port.  Everybody’s  room has a view facing the vieux port (old port). I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Here as night falls we can see the sights of the fishing boats with the docks lit up in beautiful blue lights.

The first night, I dined solo at L’Hippocampe, a few steps from our hotel.  The soupe de poisson (pwa – sone) fish soup was excellent with toasted bread rounds and aioli (eye oh Lee)  as was my rouget fillets with grilled eggplant and risotto.  This foodie has been off fried foods and sugar since February but could but not resist 2 tarte au citron (lemon tarts) while in Paris in April nor could I escape the warm apple tart with vanilla/brandy ice cream my first night here in Marseille. It was absolutely, freakin divine!

I was about 8 or 9 when I first heard the name Marseille (mar say). My dad would bring up how he was an MP in the Army, stationed in Marseille and he directed traffic somewhere on La Canebiere.  It happens to be the most famous street in the town. In 92 on my way from Portofino, Italy on the train back to Paris, I stopped in Marseille to take a picture of the Street sign for my father.  When he saw it, His hair was blown back, as he never even imagined that I was paying attention.  This is my 4th visit and it won’t be my last.

The rest of the group began to arrive the next day, all through the day.  Most had already met our guide because he picked them up at the airport.  He would be escorting us to the restaurant, L’Escapade Marseillaise for our welcome dinner.  Cedric negotiated with them to open up on their normally closed night just for us. I really love it when we have that kind of favor.    I must say, Chef Yannick Stein and his team “showed out” for us.  The food from the amuse bouche to the dessert was beautifully presented and the taste made all of our mouths and  tummys happy. The wineaux were in heaven because the wine continued to flow.  Now  Y’all know I couldn’t pass up the sinful “Pavlova” –  a shell of meringue filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit.  I’ve got one more dessert to go on Wednesday and then I’m back on track.

Our full day tour the next day, began with a 30 min drive to Aix en Provence.  The locals just say, “Ex”.    It is a delightful town with a popular marche’ (mar-shay) French for  market,  with everything imaginable from soaps to herbs to leather goods, cooked food, fruits, vegetables and you name it.  Today there were a few cruise ships in port so our guide wanted to get us there to beat the crowds.  We had a lovely time in Ex at the Marche’ and wandering through old town.  Our Lunch was at a local bistro back in Marseille before we resumed part 2 of the tour.

Tomorrow will be Ricki Stevenson’s Black Marseille Tour, led by Martin Grizzell.  Stay tuned….

 

Egyptian Sights and Sounds

The ROYAL LOTUS would be our home for 4 nights and 5 days.  The dock where we boarded the boat is located less than 12 minutes from our hotel in Luxor.  So we were there in a flash.  We wouldn’t be setting sail until the next day at noon so we were free to come and go off the boat if we so desired. Once we set sail, it was most relaxing to be up on the pool deck enjoying the sights and sounds as we saw Egyptians going about their daily routines along the riverbank of the Nile and hearing the “Call to Prayer”.    Up on the top deck,   as I did my normal “work” thing with 2 devices and a borrowed hot spot, keeping up with the upcoming Kattrax Tours; I observed some of our folks reading, listening to music, engaged in deep topics of conversation or stretched out napping.

Darlene donned her swimsuit, had plans to lay out by the pools but inquired, “where are the umbrellas “?  She was informed, “No umbrellas on that end. Thats the tanning section”.  LOL.  6 years ago, this same time it was in the 70’s not the 90’s.  I’d  say yes it’s definitely global warming but nevertheless,  it’s been wonderful and enjoyable.    I will always avoid the hottest times of May – August.  Next year when we return in November it shouldn’t be as warm.

The boat docks by night and glides along the Nile by day stopping at various places to sightsee like Edfu, Kom Ombo and going through the Esna Locks.  There was the cultural night on board with a belly dancer, some drummers,  a male  Tanoura dancer whirling and swirling around like a spinning top. A few of our ladies were pulled up on the dance floor to participate but Georgene from the Bay Area really showed the belly dancer what she was working with and showed her a thing or two.

Tonight was our Galabeya party where everyone dresses up in Egyptian galabeyas for the evening.  The Kattrax group showed up and showed out. Everybody had that look you want to  know better. Phillip Peoples had all eyes on him looking like a Sheik from head to toe.   After dinner the dining room staff, played drums, and marched out singing happy birthday and  presented a cake to Ms Mary Jacobs of North Carolina.  They went 1 step further and one of the handsome waiters got her up to dance.  She was quite surprised and delighted.  I did my usual exit stage left, straight to my cabin  while the others retired to the Lounge Bar and got their dance on.  I could hear the Dj spinning a little bit of everything from James Brown to the Wobble. One thing about a KATTRAX tour is that  no matter what country we’re in, our groups are always quite diverse with Generation X, Baby Boomers and an occasional Millennial whose parents started them with me at the tender of age 5 or 6 and are now accustomed to the style of  yours truly, The Ambassador of Luxury Travel.  They don’t want anything less.

Well, we are almost to my favorite place….ASWAN –  home of the Nubians and where I feel most at home   Stay tuned….

 

Up, Up and Away in a Beautiful Balloon

 

At 4:40 am  while the majority of the group slept peacefully, 16 brave ones left our Luxor hotel to sky up in a hot air ballon.  After a 15 min drive they were at the Queen Joy —- the boat that would take them to the balloon park.  After a brief orientation and safety talk by the pilot they were up up and away. Once up, they spent 45 mins gliding over the east and left banks, viewing the valley of the Kngs and Queens,  Temples of Karnak, Luxor and Queen Hatshepsut.

Upon their return, the only comments that could be heard from each participant ranged from:  Awesome to Fabulous any other synonym that may come to your mind.

Later that afternoon the entire group was driven to the boat dock where we boarded  the ROYAL LOTUS  for our 4 night cruise to Aswan  —— Home of the Nubians.

Goodbye Cairo, Hello Luxor

 

Our last day in Cairo, I chilled while the group visited the Museum of Antiquities, Old Cairo where early Judaism and Christianity flourished in Egypt, the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the church where the Virgin Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus took refuge.  From my balcony, I intently watched workers setting up and preparing for this elaborate wedding; even creating a bridge over the pool for the wedding party and serenading musicians to walk across.

We had an Early morning wake up call for our early morning check out for our early morning 50 minute flight to Luxor. I was ready to hit it donned in my Islamic Abaya.  It seemed wherever I went, whoever I came in contact with, I was given the royal treatment.  It was magical. Then it dawned on me…. In the early 2000’s I had my past lives read.  I didn’t put too much into it at the time but I was told I was from Egyptian Royalty, perhaps a “Queen”.  Really?  Well, I cannot count the ones  on this trip that have referred to me as  “my Queen”; from Business people to the littlest child on the street. It’s mystical and magical and I’m loving it.

Today the security at the airport was tight again. Check after security check and our guide and his team had it all under control.  The flight to Luxor was 50 minutes and soon the group was walking among the pillars of the temple dedicated to the God of Amun Ra and along the avenue of the Sphinxes at KARNAK and Luxor Temples.

Our welcome dinner was on hit…something for everyone. I especially dug the pasta station where the chef had it going on. The next day was spent visiting the great Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens where generations of Pharoahs, kings and queens were buried in splendid crypts cut into the cliffs and guarded by the huge Colossi of Memnon.

Of course the shoppers continued to do their thing with the purchases of Alabaster, and gold and silver jewelry.  While they were out and about; I had one of the best massages ever in the hotel’s Key of Life Spa.  It was called the Anti Stress Massage.  It was definitely quite what the doctor ordered — 90 mins/ $60.    Our last evening reminded some of our Paris by night in 4 stretch limos.  In the Land of the Pharoahs it’s done a little differently. Think of Tupac and “Picture Me Rollin’”.  When I tell you “we was deep”, trust and believe… WE WAS DEEP.   I could be proper and say, “ We were deep” but something gets lost in that translation. At any rate….. We rolled through the city in 18 Horse Drawn Carriages. The sun was beginning to set and the hot Luxor sun had cooled down a bit.   Yeah, picture us rollin’.

At 430am several brave souls will climb in a Hot Air Balloon and glide over the Valley of the Kings and Queens as they watch the sunrise and  hear the Muslim early morning Call to Prayer ring out through the city.  Later we board our boat for our 4 night Nile Cruise.  Of all the  88 cruises I’ve been on, some 14 and 10 nighters; nothing compares to a 4 night cruise on the Nile River where along some riverbank Moses was found hidden in a basket.

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Egypt, Land of the Pharoahs

BREAKING NEWS!  I just received the updated safety protocols from my contact  for entering Egypt.  Unlike Europe, we as Americans are now welcome provided individuals are in possession of a NEGATIVE COVID-19 Test.  That being said; all remaining 16 travelers still on board with me will receive the protocols. You can’t imagine how this news brightens my day.  The past 5 months have been very bleak for me; banned from Europe…heartbreaking;  where I first touched down in Switzerland 1983.  My mother has always said, “One monkey don’t stop the show”.  So Egypt here we come, a year out and I, along with the prayer warriors  will continue to pray for better days  ahead for the world.

We were all flying to New York in order to fly nonstop to Cairo on EgyptAir. It was another reunion of sorts with so many reuniting with past Travelers they have met on other Kattrax Tours, as far back as the early 2000’s.  At least 6 of us would be in Business Class and Business always excites me, no matter the airline. With my Priority Pass – a great lounge pass to have  (thanks Simon) I was able to invite 4, got them situated and then I made my way over to the Business Class Lounge for EgyptAir.  With Priority Pass it matters not who you are flying unlike some airlines.  On board the aircraft, when it was time to go nite nite, I stretched out on my lay flat bed seat, wrapped up in an ultra soft blanket and managed to sleep the majority of the way. No internet so I was happy to wrap it up.

Another part of my excitement was just in returning to Egypt for the 3rd time and remembering being here during the protests in 2011.  We had excellent security then and even so now; from arrival through Immigration (my contacts had our visas ready for us upon arrival, ushered us to baggage claim, through additional security checks and a final check out the door to our waiting bus which had to wait for our 2 police car escorts —- 1 in front and 1 in the rear. Having that extra layer of security always feels good.  We had my same guide from 2011, “Mo” and it was so good seeing him again and to know he would be with us not only for 3 nights in Cairo but flying to Luxor,  then 4 nights cruising the Nile, then on to Aswan – home of the Nubian’s, a day trip to Abu Simbel then returning back to Cairo to prepare for our flight home.

All of our hotel rooms for everybody in each city have Nile views.  That’s the only way to go.  It is my goal for all that travel with me get the BEST possible experience.  I’ve been unofficially named the “Ambassador of Luxury Travel” (Thank you Casso) and I strive to live up to that name.  Our hotel in Cairo, the INTERCONTINENTAL SEMIRAMIS is landmark luxury on the banks of the Nile with Japanese, Thai, Italian restaurants, tons of shops and even a Duty Free shop for your shopping pleasure.

Our welcome dinner was a hit. The buffet had something for everyone, including sushi.  After a good night’s rest, everyone was ready for whatever the day would bring,  We boarded our private bus, I took the mic, welcomed everyone and gave thanks to God, the most high one for getting us here safely and of course I  gave my short spill on “ bus etiquette”, no seat hopping!  Riding directly behind the driver was a very handsome suited and booted armed guard. Then later we had a police car escort (two more handsome cops in white uniforms) zipping us in and out of traffic with blue lights and sirens as we made our way to the STEP PYRAMID of King Zoser, the PYRAMIDS OF GIZA, THE GREAT SPHINX, MEMPHIS (the old capital of Egypt), a carpet factory/school and a visit to a papyrus showroom. There was some fantastic shopping going on and a lot of happy campers.

More excitement for me was to see everybody in the specially designed tee shirts by yours truly. Oh they looked so good!  A few have said, “after all these years of taking folks around the world in grand style, Kat is still killin the travel game”.  0FA8B19B-4943-4764-AA73-161F985BB757

DELTAS  and AKA’s Together —- Doing the damn thing at the Pyramids! Reppin’ the Bay Area, Gainesville, Raleigh, and New Orleans.  Hey, that looks like Phillip Peoples in the background.4CAFDF02-62C8-4C92-A170-B2646B0D6247 Joey Smith and James Portlock- friends for over 50 years from back in the day in Fillmore, San Francisco