Destination: Marseille, France- Part 1 (2017 Edition!)

Bonjour!

As you might have recalled (or not, I won’t judge), I spent a few days on vacation during this past February holidays in the south of France, specifically in the city of Marseille. Although it was only for three nights, and even though I’d already been last March (post here), it was a much-needed break from the doldrums of my life in a middle-sized town in Normandy. Plus, I really wanted to escape the gloomy cold, so with that, I packed my bags and was off!

I woke up super early the day after Valentine’s Day (after a low-key night of hanging out and drinking wine with my flatmates) and headed out the door to catch the train at 6h30 to Paris, getting in close to 7h30 and waiting for the other teaching assistants with whom I would be traveling to the south of France. We’d planned this a month in advance, so that we could split costs of accommodation while there. Besides, it would be nice to have people to travel with and share the same experiences together, so I was cool with that.

Any case, the others–five of them in total–arrived about 10 to 15 minutes later, and together, we took the metro over to Gare de Lyon, the train station that has the direct TGV line to Marseille. We were actually an eclectic bunch, with a mixture of English teaching assistants (American, British, South African), German, and Spanish (Costa Rican and El Salvadoran). During our entire trip, we mostly spoke English as the lingua franca, although we did try to speak French with each other as the “other” lingua franca. Although we didn’t know each other that much at first and it took some time for us to warm up to one another, we got along for the most part on the trip.

Our train for Marseille was at 9h30, so we boarded it then and soon enough, we were zooming all the way down south. Usually, it would take 7 hours by car (12 hours by bus) to go from Paris to Marseille (literally, north to south of France), but thankfully, we’d found pretty inexpensive tickets for the TGV, aka the “French bullet train,” that would get us there in only 3 1/2 hours (and for only 30 euros; normally, ticket prices would be twice or three times that, but we lucked out!). The cabins were comfy, too, as I shared a row with the British teaching assistant. Due to the lack of proper sleep the night before (again, Valentine’s Day), I dozed on-and-off as the train sped over to Marseille.

We arrived in Marseille close to 13h00 and once the group was together, we set off for our hotel, which was not very expensive and conveniently located in the city center between the train station and Vieux Port, the touristy harbor. Checked in, and got settled in: I roomed with three of the teaching assistants (the British, the South African, and the Costa Rican) while the German and the El Salvadoran were in another room. It turned out to be a cush crib, as it was more of an “aparto-suite” with an actual kitchen, microwave, refrigerator, and everything; we ended up using the appliances to cook breakfast and dinner whilst staying there.

After an hour or so of settling in, we decided to head out together to explore a bit of the city before the day was over. We set out on foot towards Vieux Port, which was bustling with tourists and locals, despite the somewhat overcast day. But to be by the water with the ships and the smell of the sea, it still reminded me of home in Los Angeles. 🙂

Vieux Port.
Vieux Port.

After walking along the quay for a bit, we were thinking of where to go next. Originally, we hadn’t thought about visiting the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica (we’d intended to save it for another day), but since we were right at the base of the city, we decided to go. Granted, it would be quite the trek uphill to the top of the hill (on which it’s located), but nonetheless, we went for it.

Unlike the last time I was in Marseille, I’d sort of had gotten lost making my way up to the basilica (then again, I was traveling solo and have a bad sense of direction, so go figure), this time around was much more straightforward. No idea why, but perhaps getting lost the first time helped me orient myself better on the streets and whatnot- I’m really not sure.

All the same, even though the route was not confusing, it remained quite challenging with the hill. We made a small detour at the St. Victor’s Abbey halfway up, where we got a decent view of the port, before continuing up the main street and reaching the base of a long flight of stairs that took you directly to the basilica. If the uphill street hadn’t exhausted us already, then the stairs up to the top certainly did! Proof is here:

Stairs with the basilica in the distance.
Stairs with the basilica in the distance.

The climb up sucked, but eventually we made it up, sweaty but feeling accomplished. Again, it was an overcast afternoon, but the views were still spectacular: I could see much of the city, with the red-roof buildings tiny like dollhouses. Also saw the sea, dark and somber from the cloudy skies: in the distance, I could make out Château d’If, a small fortress on the island of If that served as inspiration for Alexandre Dumas’ epic novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The nave inside the basilica was a gem as well, being large and colorfully gilded.

View from the top.
View from the top.
Inside the basilica.
Inside the basilica.

Eventually, it was starting to get cold later in the afternoon and, considering that we were quite tired from a long day of traveling, we decided to head back to our hotel and rest for the night. We descending back down to Vieux Port, popping into a grocery store on our way back for some dinner stuff to last us the next few night, and returned to our hotel around 18h30-19h00. The Clic-Clac sofa bed turned out to be very comfy as I fell into a restful sleep after dinner…

Although it was only our first day in Marseille, we managed to do a good amount; again, I was surprised that we’d made it to the top of the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica! No wonder a good, long rest was needed- the following day, we would be doing just as much exploring, if not even more!

Stay tuned for the next post of my adventures in Marseille this past February holidays! 🙂

— The Finicky Cynic

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