In the last few days of our grand tour of Europe (otherwise known as the Ryanair jaunt) we were residing in Aix-en-Provence at our friend Phil’s house, We all decided to take a day trip into Marseille as it is only a short bus ride away.
En route to the bus stop, we were walking towards the spot we knew there to be a lovely fountain, confused about why we couldn’t see it. Getting closer we realised that the view was being blocked by several large tractors. Drawn by a never-ending need to stick our noses in, we wandered over to see.As we walked around the fountain we found out what was going on. “PAS DE T.G.V” was scrawled on a large sign attached to one of the tractors. The local farmers were protesting the building of a new high speed train line through the area.
Naturally we posed for a photo or three before catching sight of an Aston Martin stuck amidst the chaos. Although we secretly laughed at the self important chap, Karl took pity on his beautiful car.
DRESS SHOPPING IN MARSEILLE
When we finally reached Marseille, 45 minutes later, we took a stroll down one of the main shopping streets Rue De La Republique. I had to nip into H&M. Being so frugal for nine days was really putting some strain on my consumerist tendencies. I picked a polka dot dress that I thought looked very French. I still have it, I still wear it, I still love it.
Arriving at the port front we bumped into another protest. We were a little more wary of joining in with or pushing past this one as they looked really quite annoyed.
THE PUFFING AND PANTING
Instead we head South towards a church perched atop a hill. At first we bounded up the hill towards Notre Dame de la Guarde, but as we hit the stairs, our lack of fitness became all too evident. We puffed and panted our way up the rest of the staircase.Phil on the other hand does very silly things like running marathons for fun. He was still bounding, even showing us up further by throwing in some gymnastics.
The view from outside the church made the climb worth it. Overlooking the bay, in the bright sunshine, with a gentle breeze blowing we almost managed not to look like the unfit sweaty messes we were.The church itself is a beautiful piece of architecture. It has been rebuilt several times, but the current model dates from the 1860s. They had just completed a seven year renovation so we got to see it in its new gleaming glory. I really liked the organ, it seemed a perfect little specimen.
Marseille has a bad reputation. It still comes 3rd on Europe’s crime index. Mind you, Manchester comes 8th and I’ve had some great times there without feeling threatened, The last time I heard about violence in Marseille, it was football riot and, as the rival team, we were equally to blame. The port itself seemed lovely with lots of room to wander, some gorgeous French buildings and lined with many a bistro proffering bowls of bouillabaisse. This steaming stew of seafood and vegetables is a warm hug in a bowl. I am such a sucker for seafood though.
Walking just a tad farther from the port to catch the bus, and we could see a roughening around the edges. Buildings were left derelict and the walls were daubed with hastily scrawled tags, with no sign of the street art that is eternally snapped by photographers elsewhere.
Wondering what the real city was like, and what it feels like to be out after dark, we were whisked back to the entirely un-intimidating Aix for yet more french over-indulgence. Is it any wonder we struggled to climb that hill!?
THE WAY HOME
In all to brief a time, we were homeward bound. We had become accustomed to a much more casual attitude to all things Ryanair on the continent. Security in the smaller airports had been little more than vaguely interested, and the size of some of the carry on luggage left me flabbergasted. You would be charged a small fortune for trying take that from Stansted!! I was so paranoid about the tiny extra bulk of my dress, that I had to convince Karl to take it. At the boarding gate, my emergency travel document was subjected to the most intense scrutiny yet. After what felt like a full ten minutes, we were permitted to pass through the gate.
We had managed to see six towns in ten days. The seeds of an incurable wanderlust were sown.