The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Taste of Marseille

Monday, April 27

We arrived in Marseille in the late afternoon, and since we'd been unable to print our directions to the hostel beforehand, I popped into the train station bookstore to check out Marseille books and maps. I was hoping that one of them would have a reference to our hostel and show it on a map, and fortunately I found just that. It turned out that the hostel was basically right across the street from the train station, which was really lucky, but unfortunately there were *lots* of little streets all around the station, and we spent several minutes wandering around trying to orient ourselves. I was getting frustrated really quickly, because it seemed like it should be so easy to find, and I was getting sick of walking up and down hills with my backpack. Just before I started to breathe fire, we found it. We got checked in and found ourselves in a four-bed room, which we were sharing with two young American girls. The room was nice and had an ensuite bathroom and big windows, so I was pleased.

After throwing our stuff down we went out in search of dinner, and though it was nearing 7:00pm by the time we got down to the Old Port area, I noticed that no one was eating. When I arrived in France I learned to figure out cultural things by a simple process of monkey-see monkey-do, and it has served me well. I've learned to turn to observation first when trying to figure something out. Anyway, even as 7:30 approached, no one sitting around had food on their tables; everyone was just drinking beer and wine. Still, we figured that 7:30 *had* to be late enough to at least be served dinner, even if everyone else thought we were extreme early birds. Turns out that was a negative, and at the first restaurant we tried, we were brusquely told by a server that only drinks were being served at that time. We decided to walk around and try out luck elsewhere, but it was the same story everywhere we looked. Indoor restaurants were completely deserted, places with outdoor seating had a crowd enjoying an "early evening" drink.

I knew that in the south the lifestyle clock would be pushed back even later than in Paris, but I suppose I hadn't expected it would be *that* late. We walked around the entire Port, and finally settled on a place after the sun had mostly gone down. There were a couple of tables eating there and the hostess was really nice, so we figured we might be able to beg some dinner there. I had salmon pasta, which was amazing. I usually hate salmon; I've never had a piece of salmon I liked in the States. In Marseille, however, it was absolutely delicious, tasting mostly of salt and smoke. I had salmon a few times while I was there. We split a carafe of rosé and had a really lovely time. Then it was back to the hostel, to sleep off our tiring travel day.

Tuesday

The next morning (afternoon?) we made our way up to Notre Dame de la Garde, a basilica situated on the highest point overlooking Marseille. Climbing to the summit of the highest thing around was quickly becoming a tradition for us. We picked up sandwiches on the way and carried them to the top (528 feet up, in case anyone's counting). I think it was one of the best sandwiches I've had in all of France, though the breathless climb before it could have influenced me some. It was bacon with chèvre and a bit of sauce and salad. I washed it down, of course, with peach iced tea. After catching our breath and several photos of the port, we explored the basilica. The inside was ornate, the ceiling covered in brilliant tile mosaics and trimmed with plenty of gold. We sat for a while, trying to take in the overwhelming detail. It was quite impressive, but a bit gaudy for my tastes.

We took a different route down the hill (mountain) and wound our way through a park before ending up back at the old port. From there we wandered through the Panier (basket weaving) Quarter, and another old cathedral. We then walked back down to the port, where I looked out over the ocean and danced around in the wind, claiming to be "queen of the sea" or some such while Daniel took pictures of old things.

After rainy Avignon, I was really enjoying the sun, and as always the views of the sea put me in a good mood. Being around water always makes me happy. Even in Berck, where it's almost always cold and grey and gloomy, walking down to the waves cheers me up a bit. When the water is blue, the sky clear, and the sun shining, I'm happy.

Tired out, we decided to complete our last errand, which was to go to the train station and figure out our travel plans for the next day. We decided to go to Nice and possibly Monaco, so we bought tickets for an early train ride to Nice. Hungry, cheap, and lazy Americans that we were, we decided to eat at the McDonald's in the train station. I was well satisfied by my cheeseburger, fries, and dessert, be he was hungry enough afterward to pick up a kebab wrap of some kind and devour it in naught but a few seconds. We went to bed relatively early, so we'd be ready to wake up for our train the next morning.

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