Sunday, April 11, 2010

All around Marseille

It took us forever to get started. My companions are not early risers, to say the least. One of them would have been happy to stay in bed until noon, though we did eventually leave earlier than that. Thank goodness! Day's a-wasting here while we stand around in this generic hotel lobby. I do go out for a short walk while the others get ready, just around the train station, down to the metro where I buy us all day passes, and a bit of browsing at the newstand.
And we're off!
Marseille is a grungy place. That's more or less expected in the neighborhood we've chosen to stay in. Station areas are not usually the nicest in town, but they do have plenty of budget lodging. In fact, most of the lodging we saw was too budget; it was downright scary.
Farther from the station it is still grungy. There's a lot of trash everywhere. A lot of graffiti, and places that haven't apparently been cleaned in decades, if not longer. Buildings are falling apart. Homeless people inhabit doorways and alleys.
Underneath the grime, the old, old city shows through. Everywhere you look there are contrasts - old & new - old & very old - clean & dirty - rich & poor.
At one end of the industrial port sits this elaborate cathedral. It's not very old, being from the 19th century, but from this side it's like an alien spaceship set down among the cars and half-abandoned buildings.
I do love the details.

Inside the Easter service was nearing its end. This didn't stop tourists from going in, wandering about taking flash photos, and wandering out again.
Personally, I would never tour a church that was actively engaged in a sacred ceremony. It's not respectful. So I stayed outside, but I don't think anybody noticed.
A few blocks away, near the waterfront of the old port, is this 12th century church. It seemed to be locked up tight; certainly there was nobody around.
A detail of that church. From the lack of windows, it must be pretty dark inside.
Turn around, and it's the old port, overseen by that symbol of Marseille, the Basilica of Notre Dame. The strip across the water is where all the restaurants and tourist boutiques are, that we toured the previous evening.
Rather than tiring out our feet early, we hopped a bus around to the other side. There's good bus service here, even on a holiday Sunday. And a lot of the shops are open, which is unusual, given it's against the law, for the most part, to make people work at shopkeeping on the Day of Rest. Only in tourist areas, and the Jewish neighborhoods of Paris, are things open.
We tried to connect to a second bus to take us up the hill to the Basilica, but couldn't find where it stopped. The map was utterly uninformative, and with all the one-way streets and those too narrow for a bus, we just gave up and hoofed it. That's how you discover the unusual corners, anyway!
Inside the Basilica services were over, but we were still elbow-to-elbow inside. I only took this one photo - you can imagine the rest: every surface was carved, tiled, painted, gilded.
I have my issues with the Church, and the disconnect between the mission of giving, and helping the poor and unfortunate, and the incredible amounts of donated cash that go into building and maintaining this sort of opulent structure. Time to turn around and find sunlight again.
The view from the summit is quite spectacular. There are ferries out to the islands, and with another day we would have gone out to the Island of If, here, with its prison fortress.
To the north lies most of the city; toward the left is the coast, and to the right the city continues around until hitting the coast again.
What happened to my picture?? I just wanted to say, that with a long zoom I could see the train station and our hotel, standing out on the sea of roofs.
Along the coast, the map advertised a series of beaches. From what we'd seen so far, it was all rocks and inlets. Here is apparently what they mean by "beach": a concrete area for you to spread out a towel and order a cool drink from the bar, under a sign that says "Plage", French for beach.

From a bridge crossing one of the many inlets.
It was turning out to be quite a nice day. Hazy, but bright. Nothing at all like the heavy rain predicted! Mev and I had our anti-rain devices with us - they really do work.
Farther and farther east we went, looking for a real beach with sand. The houses along this stretch of coast are very nice.
They don't want you coming in to join them on the terrace, though!
Actually, I can imagine that's a real issue with the residents, because for miles from the Port where tourists stay in the hotels, there's no access to the water except for a couple of postage-stamp sized areas. I've seen the summertime hordes on the news, and can believe that defending their privacy is a major concern for the people who live here and have their own, personal, bit of water. Another two miles farther on, there are in fact several man-made sandy beaches, where in a month or two you'll have to get up a lot earlier than we did to stake out towel-space.
We did come to a larger bit of accessible coast. Laisheng here is from the Chinese interior, and had never seen the sea. He was fascinated, to say the least. I grew up in a coastal city and can still spend hours mesmerized by the water. We made a deal to go to Biarritz, on the Atlantic coast where there's the best surfing in continental France, to show him what a real ocean is. This Mediterranean Sea, it's just a salty lake! No wave action at all!
There they are for another photo session.
On the way to the sandy parts, the road hugs the coast for a mile or two, overhanging it in some areas. Below the promenade are several spots used for near-private sunbathing or even as makeshift residences. We went down to one, once, where there was a stairway. Mistake! I do confirm that not all the excrement that lines the streets and parks and lanes of Marseille comes from dogs (and not just here, but even next to the Cathedral, and in every corner of the city we'd yet been to). We did a quick turn-around.
The view from afar was very nice, and didn't smell at all.
Towards the end of the afternoon, all the sailboats that had been way out on the horizon turned around and started heading for port. A real parade, like cats hearing a distant dinnerbell.
We kind of heard our own dinnerbell. Tired from a long day of walking around, we looked for a nice place to stop for a beer. Didn't find anything. The places on the coast weren't open for the season yet, or just looked icky. We took the bus to the metro to get back to the center of town, again seeing only dingy holes in the wall. We took the tram to the end of the line in the last light of day, just to see a bit more of the city. By the time we got back, walking down to the port for a cold one in a nice place seemed too much trouble, and nobody was really hungry for dinner (having grazed on this and that along the way), so we thought there must be a clean place to sit down for a glass at the station. The station had at least two bars, after all, and they looked alright. Alas, they were closing when we got there, so we did what we promised not to do: had a glass in our own hotel. Actually our hotel bar was quite nice, and it was a comfortable end to a long day.


steven said...

nanu what a fantastic tour!!! i wish ic ould see inside the very old church no matter how dark it is!!! thankyou for this!!! steven

marc aurel said...

Very useful. We are going there for four days in June. I have Google Earthed it to death, but had not imagined the dirt and graffitti, although the graffitti in Paris impressed us on a trip two years ago. I grew up in Paris and Malraux much improved the city, but I miss the crumbling plaster and uneven floors of my childhood.In a way, the modernity of the sixties, ruined for me much of the France I knew as a child.