We have *finally* arrived at the last stop of my week-long journey in the south of France, after having passed through five other towns along the way. I finished in the large and diverse city of Marseille, known for its beautiful beaches, jaw-dropping views of the calanques, and its long, maritime history.
At the same time, however, Marseille is also known for being one of the most, if not the most, dangerous cities in France, as it is notorious for having all sorts of mafias– French, Italian, Russian– running the place, as it is an international city port with all sorts of trade and whatnot. However, keeping one’s wits about oneself while wandering the streets of Marseille is a good one to have: of course, I did not go out at night while there, making sure to be back in wherever I was staying before it got dark.
In any case, I arrived in the evening, and headed over to my Couchsurfing host’s place. Was a bit of a walk from the train station, as Marseille is so enormous that it is spread out into several arrondissements, just like Paris. Another thing that I hadn’t known was that it was quite hilly! Had to go up some inclines along the way, with all of my belongings and whatnot- wasn’t the most pleasant walk…
Made it to my host’s flat, rang the bell, and was let in. My host (let’s call him “Nigel”) pleasantly greeted me with a handshake, and I got settled in. We made some chit-chat about literature, Marseille, and France in general, before I decided to freshen up with a shower. We had a simple, but nice dinner afterwards around 20h00-20h30, and a couple of hours later, we turned in for the night; I slept in the living room, on a mattress that he had provided me.
Woke up the next morning, and was in the middle of washing my face when Nigel came into the bathroom and said that I had to leave soon, and couldn’t stay with him anymore (I had proposed to stay three nights, which he had accepted), due to a “family emergency.” Very strange (even to the point of bullshit), but I wasn’t going to argue with him; I finished freshening up, packed up, and left that morning (I will probably dedicate another post to the details of this extremely odd event, but until then, let’s continue with Marseille…).
While I was searching for a back-up host for Marseille, I explored the city during the day. First headed over to Palais Longchamps, which was near Nigel’s flat; it is a lovely palace that houses the city’s beaux-arts museum, as well as its natural history museum. Didn’t go visit the museums, but the architecture alone was enough to blow me away. ❤
Afterwards, I headed over to Vieux Port, the touristy part of town with views of the city’s port, of course. Walked along the grand, long boulevard in the heart of Marseille, stopping by a savonnerie (a soap store) to purchase a bar of famous savon de Marseille (made from olive oil). Just like with the lavender soap that I had purchased from Aix-en-Provence, I am not sure if I’ll have use for such a huge block of soap, but hey, at least it smells good! 😛
Made it to Vieux Port, which was bustling with activity. Plenty of tourists and locals mixing together, and I spent some time walking along the quai (as it was quite long!) before deciding to head to the Basilique du Notre-Dame de la Garde, a spectacular basilica located at the top of a hill in Marseille. Now, there are buses that can take you up to the top, but I was being cheap and decided to walk all the way up, passing by the abbey of Saint Victor. The way up sucked, especially in the warm weather and carrying all of my belongings, but eventually I made it to the summit, where not only did I get the nice view of the basilica, but also lovely views of Marseille.
Any case, after visiting the inside of the basilica, as well as getting the shots of the city from the top, I descended the hill and returned to Vieux Port, where I got lunch at one of the restaurants along the quai. At first, I was worried that it would be over-priced and a touristy trap, but the restaurant that I ended up going to wasn’t too bad! Ordered pastis for starters: pastis is an apéritif (aka alcoholic drink that one has before a meal) that is aniseed-flavored, which doesn’t sound pleasant, and in truth, it wasn’t my favorite. You’re supposed to mix the shot with some water, as drinking it straight would be too concentrated. Tasted a bit like medicine, if you ask me… 😛 At least I can say now that I’ve tried pastis, which is a local thing in Marseille!
I ordered a glass of rosé wine and bouillabaisse afterwards. Now, bouillabaisse is a type of fish stew, made with an assortment of different types of local fish and cooked in a rich broth made from ingredients like olive oil, pepper, and saffron. I have had it before while in the States, but to have bouillabaisse in the place where it originated made it an even more authentic experience! I can’t say that it was the best one that I’ve ever tasted, but it was pretty good.
After having both pastis and rosé wine, I definitely felt tipsy afterwards- had to rest a bit inside of the restaurant before going out and exploring again. 😛 Any case, I was fine, and headed to check out the Cathédrale de la Majeure, the “major cathedral” of Marseille (the “minor one” is located in the city center). Wasn’t very impressed with the exterior, but the decorated flags inside gave a nice touch to the place.
Headed out to the train station to 1) rest my feet, and 2) use the Wifi to continue my surf in finding a place to stay while in Marseille. Reached out to a ton of Couchsurfers, and even received a couple of acceptances- unfortunately, by the time that I had found out, it was already too late, as I had resigned myself to a hostel for the night. However, I think a hostel was a good idea, as I had know way of knowing whether the Couchsurfers who had accepted my offer were to be trusted, especially after what had happened with Nigel (which I’m still quite shocked about). And the hostel itself was very nice, conveniently located in Vieux Port, with large rooms and a wonderful included breakfast.
Spent one night in the hostel before checking out the following morning and heading out to the calanques of Marseille, which had been at the top of my bucket list of places to see. Now, calanques are limestone inlets located along the Mediterranean coast, and on a nice, sunny day, they make for absolutely gorgeous photo material. Luckily, I went when the weather was bright and warm; I took the bus over from the city center, about a 40-45 minute ride. After arriving at the terminus, it was still a 45-minute to an hour’s walk to the nearest calanques. Set off on foot through the wooded trails, hiking a couple of inclines before arriving at the views of the Calanque de Sugiton, which was a sight to behold. Climbed to the top of this narrow, unevenly-stepped summit, for photo opportunities. Really, words cannot describe the natural beauty of the calanques:
Once I saw the calanques, I was pretty much done there. Walked all the way back to the bus stop, took the bus back to the city center, and visited the beach (wasn’t very impressed) and le Panier, the old quarter of Marseille with the quaint, narrow streets and local flair to it.
Returned back to the Vieux Port, back to the hostel where I grabbed my belongings and headed to the train station. Originally, I had planned to stay three nights in Marseille but, after the *uncool* changes to my stay with Nigel, as well as the stress that came with trying to find another place to stay, I was pretty much done with Marseille. Also, I pretty much saw what I wanted to see (in the city center and at the calanques), as well as eat/drink (pastis, bouillabaisse) during my two-night stay there. I had booked bus tickets to leave super early (like, 5h40 early) the morning after my third night, but ended up exchanging them for an earlier ride– an overnight one– back to Paris. Didn’t cost extra, as I was refunded and used that credit towards the other journey. All worked out in the end!
Caught the bus at 20h20 or so, and spent overnight on the bus, getting less than three or four hours of sleep before finally arriving in Paris at eight in the morning. Had the whole day to spend there before needing to catch the train back to Normandy, back to my flat.
All in all, Marseille was at once a hit-and-a-miss for me: while the city is absolutely gorgeous with its grand architecture and Vieux Port, it is also an incredibly large and diverse city that has the reputation for being rough around the edges (especially with the mafia activity, from what I’ve heard…). Not that I’ve experienced anything like that while there, but I definitely felt a bit overwhelmed and not one-hundred percent safe being out on my own. Generally speaking, the south of France tends to be, as a French friend had told me, quite racist, as many of the French who live there identify with the National Front party (a political party which are not, well, sympathetic to foreigners and immigrants, preferring to preserve the “French-ness” of their country over change. They’re traditionalists, and not necessarily in a good way). But before I go off on a rant there, I’ll stop myself and said that, basically, I felt out of place in the south of France. Still, it was a week well-spent seeing another part of France, and for that, I’m glad.
This post is getting long, so I’ll stop here. While this ends my time spent in the south of France, it does not signal the end of my week-long trip away from Normandy.
I’ll leave you for now with my photo of Vieux Port at sunset. Look forward to my day visit in Paris tomorrow, and see you soon! 😀
— The Finicky Cynic
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