While I’m trying to keep in good spirits with all this cold weather and feeling like a bit of a shut in I was fortunate enough, on my first weekend, to go to Marseille! It seemed so strange that I got to visit the second largest city in France before I even should venture around my own little village but somehow that’s just how it worked out!
The idea was presented early in the week and despite my best efforts to bring up the subject daily so I’d know whether or not to buy a ticket, trying to avoid expensive fares since I’m the only one who doesn’t have a discount card (…next time remind me to be 25) nothing really seemed to take shape, until early Saturday morning that is!
Nathan, Jenna, Heather, Claire and myself were running out of the house hoping we hadn’t forgot our wallets, phones, mittens, scarves or anything else we’d need for the day. It was still dark out and Heather and I had missed our opportunity for breakfast. We all piled into the Clio and you could sense the panic in us all, “Thank goodness Jenna is driving!!” someone said and then still another exclaimed, “Drive like the French!” We raced through every roundabout we could until we got caught behind someone actually following the speed limit and we each seemed to squirm in our respective seat with anxiety. As we pulled up to the train station we were arrived only minutes before grabbing whatever was nearest to us for one another, locking the car and running for dear life for the train was due to arrive in less than 10 minutes! 10 minutes is tight when you HAVE tickets, except that we didn’t… Nathan took charge as the only French citizen among us to book seats on what is possibly the dumbest automated ticketing machines I have ever encountered with the worst screen sensitivity but somehow we managed to get them with, literally, one minute to spare and we RAN to the other side of the train station where we were due to be leaving from and we jumped into the first car and found seats just moments before it pulled out. As we’d been running for the station Jenna, through heavy breathing said her favourite part of traveling was running to make it on time and while it’s exhilarating, it did feel a tad early to be huffing it!
We were all dressed in as many layers as we could like little matryoshka dolls trying to hold it all together in an effort to fight the bitter cold we would be stuck in the rest of the day. We arrived in Marseille and walked down the many stairs from the station and started with coffees and croissants, or “pain au chocolate” for those who prefer the chocolate filled versions just across the street in a brasserie that smelled too much like bleach for my liking. We suffered through the awkward server who made every interaction an uncomfortable one and parted ways with Nathan for the day while he went to enjoy the sales at his favourite outdoor store while the girls and I decided we wanted to explore!
We walked down some run down streets toward the old port and it’s true, you can tell Marseille is rough as you walk through it. I held tightly onto my camera bag and we stuck together tightly. Along the way to our right was a chocolate shop. I know I said I’ve been enjoying chocolate these days but it’s still not like me to go into a chocolate shop, nevertheless we all thought it worthwhile to see what the stunning display of color was all about! I was delighted to find what turns out to be a provencal treat – Chocolate “olives!” The Olives are really just chocolate covered almonds that are made to look like the local produce. I couldn’t help it and I picked up a few for good looks!
From there we wandered along the port and past the many cafes we could imagine being flooded with tourists during the warmer months. We climbed a hill until we arrived at a cathedral that overlooked the ocean down the small road that felt more like alleyways around Panier. We also discovered a little ceramic atelier where I found a cute little pair of black and white earrings that seemed like the perfect take away! We stumbled upon a hippy region and were happy enough to walk without a set destination, past and convent and into and then into a little soap shop with the most perfectly French man making soap and so happy to chat with us! I wish I could have snapped a photo of him working because he just seemed like the real picture of the city and culture. Somehow we ended up in three different soap shops all very different from the next and it wasn’t until the third one we finally found the legitimate “Savon de Marseille” instead of all the copycats! Along the walk Jenna showed off her graceful rail sliding abilities, we peeked into the Olive Tree pots that required we stand on our tippy toes to see inside to see they were filled with empty wine bottled and we stopped for a wonderful lunch with a friend Claire had made through her European work program in a small little cafe that was no warmer than outdoors and sipped on wine that cost us less than 1 euro! Jenna and I split a phenomenal tiramisu that showed up in a little glass canning jar while the rest had a tasting option that came with coffee that was a stunning little plate of goodies!
The day passed relatively quickly and we never made it to the Le Corbusier house that we’d seen on the map, or the cathedral on the hill overlooking the harbour on the east side but we had fun and we raced back to the train station and again we had to run, only this time up all those stairs, and even more running ensued when we had to go to the very last car on the train so as not to end up in the wrong city when the trains split! On the ride home we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean, a nice ending to a last minute day trip.