This is a longer post than usual, but then it's a recount of six rather fun-filled days spent in and around Marseille for what was my 2018 Holiday with H.
Thursday: Travelling and Marseille
Being woken every two hours for a thirty-minute pit stop on a nine hour coach trip can be both a blessing and a curse: it meant I stretched my legs as I needed too, but didn't really get much continuous sleep. We eventually arrived, on time, in Marseille at 8.15am and sat down at the first bakery we found. It seems that any bakery sells yummies.
Walking towards the sea, we made our way through the centre of Marseille to the Old Port where 'hanger' (hungry anger) struck me while standing under a mirrored hangar. We promptly went to McDonald's so I could have something quick to eat, and we could both use the bathroom! It's nice to know Mc D's are always there for the rescue.
Once the 'hangry' episode had passed, I discovered I had not only forgotten to pack our holiday hats and picnic blanket, but also transfer my holiday money across. After attempting to transfer my money with my app, I had problems connecting my app and banking app, then resorted to another transfer method, ending up blocking my money into an online account which I can only access once home: the fun of technology and finances! Thankfully, travelling with H meant it wasn't the big crisis it once would have been when I travelled alone.
Back on our feet, we headed back inland to make our way slowly to our apartment. Passing by a church, we sat for lunch on the steps and remained there for over an hour. It was here that I then remembered I had also forgot to pack my driving licence: no hiring car to explore the Calanques for us! As I was feeling slightly annoyed, H managed to stay patient as we continued to walk up the hill.
It turned out our apartment was a ten minute walk from the Palais Longchamp, a palace with a huge fountain and large gardens. As we still had our suitcases with us, we remained in front of the palace in the shade of a tree to pass the time, rather than going up the steps into the garden. The breeze and shade was a welcome respite.
On reaching our room we had to use our broken French to correct the owners who thought we were staying four nights, not five as we had booked. Once all had been resolved we discovered the room really did have everything you could need. It had a little kitchen area with fridge, microwave, sink, and the bathroom was reasonable. All good for resting!
A lazy start to the day, enjoying One Tree Hill episodes in English in the TV in our room! After eating the last piadine we had brought with us from home for lunch, we set off via metro for the Old Port to book tickets for our planned trip on Sunday to Frioul Island. We didn't get the tickets though as we were a day early: you can only buy the tickets the day before, which I had read on the website, but forgotten shortly afterwards.
It wasn't a wasted metro trip as we continued on to the Basilique Notre Dame du Gardin, a twenty-five minute walk up hill. We bought peaches and cherries on the way so we had a fresh snack for when we arrived. Greengrocers are still a common sight on the streets of Marseille.
Once at the Basilique there were three main areas to see for free. First we walked through the Crypt, a space under the main church itself with a chapel and shrines at which to place a candle for €2, €5 or €10 depending on the size of the candle. Then we headed to the Terraces. Here we stopped for our snack: the shade of the Basilique and a soft breeze were both welcome refreshments after the heat of walking. Once revitalised, and with cherry-stained finger tips, we wandered into the Basilique itself to find a mass about to start, so a security guard hurriedly closed the central doors and put out 'Silence' signs. Needless to say it was a beautiful church, with striking mosaics of many colours, surrounded by gold tiles.
After our Basilique experience we headed back down the hill to the area of Marseille known for its street art: Cours Julien. This area was dazzling, with colours everywhere you looked, on poles, walls, screens, we even saw a street sign with a pole that had a knitted cover. As this area was also full of restaurants of different ethnicities, we settled for dinner in the outside area of a Libanese restaurant, which was on the same street as an Indian/Pakistani restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and what appeared to be an actual French restaurant, a rarity in the area!
We met Robert at Marseille station for our first BlaBla car experience as he drove us to Arles with a girl from Toulouse. H and I found out about this town from the brochures we picked up in Marseille, as it has a roman amphitheatre, but as we looked up more about it, it turns out it is also famous due to Van Gogh and it's big street markets. As H loves a good market, we were grateful that Robert ended up dropping us off right in the middle of it!
Picking up a few bargains (linen dress for €2, prayer mat for €4...) we sat for a coffee and croissant before tackling the other half of the market. It really was massive, and the biggest market I have ever wandered around. It was the usual hustle and bustle with sellers vocalising their wares and pick pockets to look out for.
Lunch consisted of paella, olives, a fresh tomato and delicacies from various market stalls that we ate in the Public Gardens next to the market. There was a sign at the entrance with a Van Gogh painting that was showing the perspective from which he had once painted. It was a different scene now however as the market ensured the gardens were full of people seeking shade from the hot sun.
Arles is where we bought a few postcards in a souvenir shop opppsite the Roman amphitheatre. The shop owner was very friendly and explained some features of the surrounding area, including an area nearby that has flamingoes. Unfortunately we had other things scheduled to see so didn't add a flamingo excursion to the list, but I bought a flamingo scarf instead!
As there were no BlaBla cars heading back to Arles when we needed one, we got the train back to Marseille and headed back to the Old Port to get the ferry tickets. After queueing and successfully getting tickets, we decided on burgers for dinner and found out that the #2 burger bar in Marseille was just around the corner from where we were. It was a great discovery as the burgers were very yummy, with 'french' chips that had herbs de provence on them: H rated the meal 4/5, not bumping up to 5 as the bun was slightly bigger than the burger and so was a little bit too soft!
On the way home, via the metro, we checked out the International Jazz event in the Longchamp gardens. It turned out it was a ticket event, and as we didn't know any of the artists playing, we didn't think it was worth the €35. Heading home to sleep off the busy day was the preferred option.
Sunday: Frioul Islands
Our 'official' 1st wedding anniversary was celebrated by a gift exchange over breakfast then the day exploring the Frioul Islands. These islands were around thirty minutes away by ferry from the Old Port of Marseille and was €10.80 return each. Once at the port of Frioul we decided to head to the left, and cross the walkway to the second Island.
The sun, we discovered later, had an index of eight, which explained why we both got sun burn during our walks. There were pretty coves all around the island that were popular with sunbathers and boats alike. The water was a crystal clear blue and looked so refreshing, however our object for the first half of the day was to walk about.
While meandering we saw lots of nature that we had read about in the information brochure: crystal veins in the rock walls, low bushes with succulent red berries, prickly pear cactus, however the only birds were saw were seagulls. It was quite sparse at times, and involved walking over shingles and up rocky hills. Thankfully we had our walking boots on so even though we looked a bit odd trapsing through the swimwear clad sun seekers that had arrived to the coves wearing flip flops, it meant we reached the most southern point of the Island without any problems.
Our lunch location was stunning: we perched ourselves on a cliff shelf just above the water line, but with an overhang that gave us shade. Here we stayed for over two hours, both to eat our panini that we had bought at the port, and to relax. I had brought Margaret Atwood's book Oryx and Crake with me which turned out to be a page turner so I was more than happy to sit for an hour whilst H bounded off to explore.
On returning from his expedition, H proudly presented me with some quartz crystals, and sea shells, natural souvenirs of our (his) adventuring. We then headed back up the rock face to the military base on the top of the hill that marked where the real road started. It was while walking back to the port that we caught the sun: I have no idea what the temperature was but the rays were fierce and the backs of my knees got burnt, as did the back of H's neck.
Mid-afternoon sun, plus a forty-minute walk was thirsty work so we stopped at the port in Frioul for refreshment. It was here that I rediscovered my love of mint syrup. It brought back memories of our honeymoon last year when I had rediscovered it there, having previously enjoyed it as a squash alternative in Pescara, and before that I think it was sometimes a drink option at my Grandma Pakes' house.
Finally we set off for some beach time. The main Frioul Island had a larger creek that also had a beach. It was a bit of a walk to get there, but was pleasant. The usual pebbles (or huge, sharp, rocks as I tend to view them) were strewn along the waters edge prooving problematic for anyone without jelly/sea shoes, however our bare feet managed it and we both enjoyed a quick splash around before collapsing in exhaustion in the last of the sun.
To mark our first anniversary properly, we washed off the sea water using the hose pipe tap and dressed up in the smart clothes we had packed for the occasion. We then headed back to Frioul port where there were a few restaurants. We ended up sharing a four course meal starting with a mozzarella salad, then salmon tagliatelle, followed by grilled prawns with rice, and ending with a creme brulee. It was delish!
Catching the 10pm ferry home meant we eventually reached our apartment around midnight. Another long day, but worth every minute.
Monday: Cassis and Les Calanques
By now our legs were hurting when we awoke, averaging three hours a day on foot was taking its toll! Even the toes on my left foot were having a revolt against Marseille life and were causing me a few tweaks, but, we ploughed on and set off for the 9:32 train to Cassis. This location had been recommended to us at my friend's wedding by the bride's brother and his partner, with the words 'most beautiful area of southern France' also included in the conversation.
Beautiful it certainly was, close to the train station it certainly wasn't! It took a good twenty-five minutes to walk from the Cassis train station into Cassis itself, then a further hour and ten minutes to the first Calanques. Calanques is Google translated as creek, which are apparently dents in the shoreline that are longer than coves. Makes sense as that is indeed what we found.
We visited only one of the Calanques, as walking up and down yet more stony hillsides was not as appealing as staying in the creek we first arrived in: it was stunning. Again the water was crystal clear, unnervingly so, with children and adults alike swimming with their faces down and snorkles up. As I'm not a fan of swimming in water that might have animals in (since the crab snip of August 2014), I managed an eleven minute dip once I'd plucked up enough courage to get into the water, by sliding down H's back from the rocks! I'm definitely someone who needs to do something often to keep fear at bay and living far from the sea is taking it's toll on my level of comfort when in 'open' water.
As it was just too lovely, we stayed at the Calanques for over two hours, enjoying lunch, and relaxing. I managed to read through a good chunk of my Atwood story which had got me gripped. So much so H had to wait for me to finish a chapter before we set off back towards Cassis.
It was on the way back to Cassis that something magical (Godly) happened...we found a bus. Now we knew shuttles buses existed between the station, Cassis and the Calanques, but when everything is in a language you don't fully understand, it was easier just to go on foot. However, when a bus is just sitting at a stop, with its door open, who wouldn't enquire! With our limited knowledge of French, and the luck of a kind bus driver who didn't charge us, we ended up getting a bus from the Calanques to the town centre, with not only knowledge that the shuttle to the train station was a real thing, but also vague directions to its stop, and the words 'navette gare' (station shuttle bus) to repeat confidently to any poor shop assistant.
It was the assistant at a ticket booth for boat trips to the Calanques that got my bad French/English/Italian sentence looking for the bus stop. I was relieved his English was better than my communication attempts as he gave me clear directions, with sign posts ("right bar, then supermarket, then crossroads with pharmacy"). When I returned victoriously with the directions, H proceeded to laugh at how bad my speech was becoming.
Once on the bus to the station it was an easy return to Marseille with a train arriving shortly after we arrived at Cassis station. For dinner we stopped off for a pizza from a kebab shop on the way home, getting two so we could take what we didn't eat for lunch the next day. I also enjoyed a cherry coke, something I haven't had for a really long time!
Our last day in Marseille started with a quick clean of our apartment that had served us well during our stay. We then dropped off the keys and headed for the train station where we had scouted out the left luggage options when we had got off the train from Cassis. It was great to know we could walk around Marseille for one last day without our suitcases in tow.
We spent our last few hours walking around the area of the new port, and also spent considerable time just sitting: first in a Starbucks, then in a Burger King, very original I know! I can safely say it was a super holiday with a good balance between adventuring and relaxing. I even finished my Atwood book, eager to read the next one in the trilogy, although knowing it was part of a trilogy before starting the book would have helped me with the rather abrupt ending!
Overall Marseille ended up being a really liveable and likeable town, in my opinion. It had streets that were full of phone shops, and bars serving tea, and lots of grafitti, then other streets of boutiques and designer shops, then the more typical high streets with everything. As it was hot, the shopping centre in the middle of town was a great supply of air conditioned bliss! And that is that. Our 2018 Holiday done and dusted.
I wonder how long my shins will ache for?!