Saturday May 25, 2019
We catch up on some sleep this morning and then enjoy our pastries and coffee. We are not used to leisurely mornings on our travel days so this is unusual and pretty pleasant. Sandrine had insisted on driving us to the train station and shows up on time at 1115. We discuss where we went and tell her that her religiosa pastry recommendation was very good but that telling us about the nearby bakery was not good for our weight. She drives us to the station and we thank her for everything, especially her kindness. We walk into the station to find the track number our train will arrive on and our day takes a turn. Our train is showing a delay of 4 hours and 45 minutes. That is not good. I get in line at the information both to see what is going on. A nice girl in front of us asks if we speak French or English and we say English, my French is not very good. She tells us that there was an accident with the train so the line is closed right now. She says there may be other options and the info man should be able to help. The info man speaks a little English and writes down the new trains we need to take with a connection in Avignon. It doesn’t leave Nimes for another hour and should get to Marseille at around 1445 instead of the 1259 of our original direct train. They do not need to issue new tickets as the ones we have will be honored. It is not ideal but at least we won’t be stuck here for almost five hours. We send Christophe who we are renting a room from, our new situation and estimated time to meet him at the room. He responds with a no problem and good luck! We hang around, writing and reading for the hour and then board the alternate train. At Avignon, we get off, find the track of the connecting train, and wait with a large crowd of people. This must be the best connection from different areas to get to Marseille and points beyond and it seems everyone has been rerouted through here. The train arrives about 5 minutes late and we do a good job of hustling our way on and finding a seat. It fills up fast and some people are left to stand. We make it to Marseille just a little late, get our bearings and walk to the apartment building where our room is. We have a code to get in the front door and directions up to the room.
We open the door and are not sure what we have gotten into. The building looks like a communist era building, drab concrete walls and hallway, concrete steps up to the first floor and beyond. Very interesting. We arrive at the apartment and a man is coming from the opposite side of the hallway and asks if I am Charlie. I am apparently known worldwide.
Christophe greets us and opens up the apartment and shows us our room. The place is really nice and clean with some really cool antiques. He shows us a map and where we are and how to get to the different areas of Marseille. We chat for a while and then get ready or to explore a bit. Since it is a nice day and we got here late, we decide to change our plans of climbing up a hill to The Notre Dame Cathedral here and instead head down to the harbor area. We stop at a local bakery which specializes in a local biscuit called Navettes. We get some and another biscuit that is made with anise.
Continuing our walk, we spot a large church down a side street so we go to check it out. It is the Cathedral de la Mejor, which is very beautiful on the outside. When we go in, we see it is beautiful on the inside as well. There are flags hanging from what I think are different regions of France. There is both grey and white stone and arches of red and white stone.
We also see a beautiful marble sculpture of the Pieta, with Mary holding Jesus. I am not sure who the sculptor was. We discover a chapel dedicated to Saint Eugenio who was canonized as a Saint in 1995, a 134 years after his death. He founded a congregation, known as Mission Oblates of Mary Immaculate, dedicated to charity and helping the poor. This congregation has spread to 60 countries. His tomb is in this chapel.
As we are leaving, I notice two things, a stone plaque to St Martha, which reminds me of my nana, as that was her name. We also see lights along the side naves with Royal crowns on them, obviously celebrating royalty of years past.
Outside, we find a nice bench to sit on and try a few of the biscuits that we bought. They are both very good and we manage to not eat them all, saving some for tomorrow. We walk along a pedestrian promenade to our next stop, a museum called MUCEM. We are not interested in going in but the exterior architecture is very unique. You can also walk up a series of stairs and ramps to the rooftop and then along a bridge connecting it over the water to Fort St Jean.
All this is free and after enjoying a water view, which includes Notre Dame de la Garde high up on a hill, we climb along the edge of the MUCEM to its roof. Crossing the bridge, we get to see many sailboats and other vessels returning to harbor after a day out on the water.
Reaching the fort, we explore it, finding interesting art work and phenomenal views in every direction. The Marseille harbor and port is extremely large and the number of boats we see from our high perch is astounding.
When we leave the fort we descend down to the harbor waterfront and stroll along there. It is a cool area to explore and on one end is a large covered area with a mirrored ceiling that reflects everybody walking underneath it as upside endows. It is really cool. Rather than return to our room, we hang around the waterfront enjoying the good weather and people watching before heading towards a restaurant that we had picked for dinner tonight. It is uphill from the harbor and in a more local area of Marseille. It also happens to be in an area that Chrstophe told us about that he says has a lot of interesting graffiti art on the walls. Walking up to the area was an adventure in the microcosm of Marseille. We pass Arab areas, African areas, where people are wearing Tunisian type tunics and garb, and a small Jewish area. Made for an interesting and somewhat paranoia infused walk. It is hard to shed the American preconceptions that our media portrays as unsafe areas of color and culture. Christophe told us all of Marseille is safe except the very north part 10 to 12 miles from us. Like most of Europe, violent crime is very rare, but petty theft is something to be wary and alert about.
We arrive at the restaurant about 15 minutes before their opening, so wander the surrounding area. We walk along a very lively square with many bars and restaurants that are packed for happy hours. We also notice the graffiti that Christophe talked about is everywhere. We go back to Chez Nous and are given a nice table inside. The owner is very nice, apologizes that her English is not good, and brings us a French menu.
I had already scoped out what I was getting, an entree of baked razor clams. Carol opts for the 3 course set menu. Her entree is a charcuterie board of meats with bread. We share this. Her plat of choice is a steak with potatoes and salad, and her dessert is chocolate cake with Chantilly. They bring the charcuterie first so we can share and hold off on bringing my technically an appetizer dish, until Carol gets her steak so we can eat together. Very thoughtful. A young girl shows up to help and she speaks English and checks up on us. Everything is excellent and we are both happy with our dishes of choice.
The owner also check up on us and I tell her in French that everything is excellent and to complement the chef, who is her husband. The dessert comes with two spoons and is enough to feed both of us. It is excellent as well. When I go and pay the bill, she tells me to sit back down for an aperitif digestive. Carol is wondering what I am waiting for as I fidget so she is surprised. We get a nice tall shot of creme de menthe on the house. She did not give this to other diners that paid and left so I guess my smile and poor French compliments have paid off.
On our walk home, we pass some interesting painted steps that I take a picture of. Marseille has surprised us, as being a big city, we did not know what to expect. Tomorrow the weather is not supposed to be that great so our plans have changed. We were originally going to take a bus to the Calanques National park and hike some trails that go to secret coves along the rugged coast. Instead, we will just stay in town, walk up to the Notre Dame Cathedral and see what else Marseille might have in store for us.
Train from Nimes to Marseille. 26E
Marseille City Room 60.66E
Local Navettes Biscuits 4.80E Cash
Dinner at Chez Nous
Walked 5 Miles