On Saturday, Sept. 29, we ambitiously lugged our heavy suitcases to the station on foot - repacked carefully to distribute weight! The weight of checked luggage on the flights has to be under 50 lbs - now we could switch some things around. To the subway on crooked cobbled streets we wheeled the suitcases, down the steps and awkwardly through the narrow wickets; changed at another subway - up more steps, and down some more - to finally emerge at Gare du Lyon, ready for our train. It makes me tired just reliving that.
Next to us on the train was Pauline, a girl from Marseille returning home. She was great company and answered many questions for us about things like cell phone companies, where to live, etc.. The train was a high speed one, getting us to Marseille in 3 hours. In Paris, we'd arranged an "Air BnB" for Marseille - this is a vacation rental that people can post themselves, often where you stay with the owner in their extra room. We are staying with Emy and Mikael, a young couple who are exceptionally kind, and when they discovered we were moving here, got right into helping us any way they could. They live close to the train station, and in an apartment on the 3rd floor. Their apartment is an interesting design: the rooms are all connected on one side by a hallway, and on the other by the balcony - so you can access each room from the balcony. Probably common here because it's so warm.
Honestly, our first impressions of this city weren't so nice. There is graffiti everywhere - and not the nice artistic kind, but the defacing kind; there is a fair amount of litter, and garbage bins remain out in the streets for emptying; many of the buildings are in various states of disrepair and many are quite dirty. We were not in the Old Port tourist area, but nonetheless, we were a little surprised. The next day was Sunday, and despite the rain, we made a point of walking around to explore. Our impressions didn't improve, but then we've been told that the rain makes everyone from the South sad and so they stay home. Also, there are no shops open on Sundays, so it's difficult even to stop while out walking in the rain for a coffee or a bite to eat. This was discouraging.
With Monday came the sun though, and our spirits brightened. We toured the Old District and walked around some of the nicer waterfront areas, though unfortunately the waterfront is under major reconstruction right now and is quite torn up. Since the sun was out, we decided to head for the beach, where we also wanted to check out one of the only parks, it seemed, in Marseille. While this park lacked a formal field, it had green space - something we both felt we need, having spent so much time in highly dense and populated cities for the past week. We finally got to throw a disc! :D
This week, we got into a great habit of buying groceries for dinner and a baguette for sandwiches the next day for lunch; this meant we could stop at a bar (or bars) during our day for drinks Wine of course, is so cheap!
Over the week, we visited some of the sites in and around Marseille, including:
- Notre Dame de la Major - an enormous cathedral in front of the main port in Marseille. It wasn't open, so no going inside, but the outside structure was quite photogenic even though it wasn't in a super nice part of town.
- Notre-Dame de la Garde, on the top of hill in the centre of the city that provided an absolutely stunning 360 panoramic of the city and the coast. The church itself was a marvel, with the floors and ceiling done elaborately in mosaic. This was the prettiest church we've seen so far, the interior being very colourful from the floor right up to the ceiling, with models of boats hanging in rows along the sides. We were pleased with ourselves that we made our way here via public bus rather than taking the silly tourist choo-choo train to this spot. This is the Isle d'If (The Island of If - with the prison on the island being the setting for the Count of Monte Cristo. This is the view of the island from the top of the hill. This is the Notre Dame de la Garde as seen from town.
- Les Calanques - a hike we did along the coast with many small inlets and bays (calanques) that you hike around. The coast, of course, is breathtaking with unobstructed views of islands and ridges with rough rock formations all the way along. We hiked for a little less than an hour and came across a small village, so we stopped for a drink. The food smelled so good that we decided to order some. The spaghetti bolognese was the best we'd ever tasted - too bad this place wasn't a little closer to where were staying! With a long way to go, we reluctantly moved on and further down the trail, found a private little calanque for a swim and sunning on the rocks The hike was scented the whole way with pines and wild rosemary, and we continued hiking through the afternoon in the sunshine with golden views of the coast.
I had thought I'd left the map at home, so we weren't exactly sure where we were headed, though the directions from the tourism office seemed pretty clear. It turns out, we were off. At 4:30, we found a family on the trail with a map and we discovered that we'd missed a turn (there were no signs, only coloured paint) and so we found a road, hitchhiked our way to civilization where we got a bus and finally made our way back home, very tired. While waiting for the bus, I was rooting around in the backpack and discovered that we had the maps with us the entire time. Sometimes getting lost is part of the fun Thanks being adventurous with me Luke! (And great suggestion Kent - absolutely beautiful hike indeed!)
- Aix-en-Provence - a town about a half-hour bus ride from Marseille, but older, it seemed, with many street markets, fountains, and cobbled squares. Quite a pretty place to wander through. We boarded a bus in Marseille with the last of our cash, and suddenly we were worried - could we get back with only visa? It turns out, we could pull out cash from the machine with our bank card....no charges yet
These musicians serenaded our bottle of wine in one of the squares.
On Friday night, Emy made us a traditional meal from her region of Dijon, called Boeuf Bourguignon. She had the aperos (sort of like appies) our with drinks before the meal, she made a point of getting a good couple bottles of wine for the meal, and did the liquors after dinner with desert. She had a couple of friends join us in the meal, and it was a great evening with many laughs. Luke made sure to defend Canada against jokes made about alcohol consumption - it was a valiant fight.
The next day, we boarded a train to Nice, where we hope we'll be successful finding jobs this coming week.