10 – 12/09/2016
When we arrived at our Airbnb, which was a compact attic apartment, we were met by our host in a flurry trying to clean. She told us the previous guest hadn’t cleaned. Amy and I just looked at each other. “Umm, what do you mean he hadn’t cleaned?” Turns out we needed to clean the entire apartment and empty out the bins before leaving. Wicked… We double checked our booking receipt later that evening. No cleaning fee included. *Sigh*.
Anyway, after dropping our bags, we headed out. We moseyed down to the port and old town, via La Canabière (Marseilles’ answer to the Champs Élyseés). I liked Marseilles’ old town. It felt quite different from the other old towns I’d seen so far in France and Europe. It was picturesque, yet cool and funky. Thanks to the various artworks adorning walls and doors throughout the streets. The potted plants sitting outside doors and lining the streets added to the allure of the town. It’s like the locals wanted a bit more of a garden than a few pot plants hanging from their shutters.
After traipsing through old town, we headed back down to the port in the hopes of finding somewhere for dinner. We settled on Restaurant Le 13. Amy ordered the steak, while I was dead-set on getting a bouillabaisse. I wanted to try something local. While I knew it was a fish stew, I’d never had one before. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect. What I got was a pot of three different kinds of fish, mussels, and potatoes. It also came with a side of croutons, some sort of mayonnaise (maybe Marseillaise, which we’d seen written on a few menu boards), and grated cheese. One type of fish was cooked perfectly. So light and fluffy. I wasn’t a huge fan of the other two. I quickly got over picking out all the small bones. I’ve since learnt that that was the whole idea behind the bouillabaisse though – it was to use up the bony fish that fishermen were unable to sell at market or to restaurants. The mussels were good, which made up for the average ones we had in Nice. All in all, a pretty filling meal. I think I’m done with seafood for now though.
Tonight’s dinner entertainment was watching the port gradually light up as the sun set, and being amazed by the local standard of driving. I feel like people in France just do what they like on the roads. We saw a number of cars simply stop in the middle of the road and chuck their hazard lights on while they fumbled around with the GPS or waited to pick someone up. We saw other cars suddenly swing into a three-point turn across three lanes of traffic.
While we were walking home from dinner, we passed by a free flamenco show. It took me back a little to when I watched a flamenco show for the first time in Seville several years ago. I was feeling rather sleepy just after dinner, but the fast and loud toe tapping, feet stomping, hand clapping and finger snapping certainly picked me up.
We had a slow start on our second day. After lunch down by the port, we jumped on a boat and went for a cruise around Les Calanques National Park. 29€ for just over three hours on the water. Les Calanques are a stretch of coves formed and sheltered by steep cliffs made of limestone and dolomite, with small, idyllic beaches. While the cruise was lovely, I was super envious of the people chilling on the boats, swimming, snorkelling at the base of the cliffs, and paddle boarding. It was bloody hot in Marseilles. Felt like an endless summer. There were also a few young dare devils jumping off the cliffs, from at least 20 metres high! Les Calanques reminded me a little of Freycinet on the east coast of Tasmania. But with less trees.
It felt refreshing being out on the water, but as we were returning to the port, the blanket of heat settled over us again. Craving something cool, we went back to old town to get a sundae from the glacier we’d stumbled upon the previous day. Amy had a banana split. I ordered the “Navettissimo”; which came with two scoops of orange blossom gelato, a scoop of vanilla gelato, a generous swirl of chantilly cream, and the Navette (boat) biscuits that I kept seeing around town. That ended up being our nutritious dinner.
Unfortunately, Amy had reached her limit of Vitamin D for the day. She was a bit pink when we hopped off the boat. Seeking shade, she headed back to the apartment. Me? I still had a bit of gas in the tank (and luckily, was less struck down by the heat), so I headed up to the Notre Dame de La Garde. It took approximately 30 minutes to walk up the hill to the basilica from the port. Sweeping views of the city and out towards Les Calanques were what welcomed me once I reached the top. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to walk right round the basilica to take in the 3600 views, or even set foot in the basilica. Within ten or so minutes of me arriving at the steps, the guards were already blowing their whistles and ushering people out.
I think we only scratched the surface of Marseilles. It’s a pretty big city, second biggest in France, after Paris. Highlights were definitely the flamenco show and the cruise around Les Calanques. I’d love to come back to Les Calanques, hire a boat, and spend a few easy days sailing between the coves, swimming, snorkelling, paddle boarding. Bliss.