Tuesday, September 8th 2015
Another peaceful night put us in a good mood for the journey home though I was, as usual, a little anxious about getting to the station on time. Our train, the TGV, would depart from Marseille Saint-Charles at 8:40.
We showered for the last time in the telephone-kiosk-sized bathroom, finished packing and handed our room key to the cheerful clerk on the desk. That was that. Shall we return to this hotel another time? Probably not but, apart from our disrupted sleep on the first night, I have no complaints. I have stayed in worse places.
As we were carrying a bag each, we did not fancy walking to the station and then climbing the steps. Instead, we took the Métro, having bought tickets yesterday evening on the way back to the hotel.
We reached the station with plenty of time to spare, of course, so early, in fact, that our train was not yet showing on the departures board. What should we do to fill in time?
We believed that we would be given a meal on the train and so there was no point in going for breakfast now. (In the event, this turned out to be a false expectation because no food or refreshments were served aboard the TGV.) We could at least have coffee to ease the passage of time. There was only one problem with this: unusually, we had run out of euros and I would have to find a coffee shop that would accept credit card payment.
Some years ago, when I was a relatively new possessor of a credit card, our car was damaged during a trip to France and needed repairs. I tried to pay for these with my credit card but the garage owner turned me down: he didn’t trust credit cards issued in the UK. Those days are long gone and credit cards have become the universal currency whether you are spending a fortune or making the purchase of a couple of cups of coffee.
We sat on a bench in the main concourse and drank our coffee. There was still no indication of a platform for our train so we picked up our bags and went for a little walk just outside the station.
From here, as from most points in Marseille, we could see the Cathedral, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, dominating the skyline and catching the morning sun. Strange to think that we had been up there only yesterday evening…
They eventually revealed where our train was waiting and we went aboard. We completed the 3-hour journey on empty stomachs, having mistakenly thought that Eurostar rules applied to the TGV. They don’t. We’ll know better next time.
This return journey was of course a mirror image of the journey to come to Marseille. At Paris, we had an 88-minute stopover, as they call it, during which we had to travel on the RER from the Gare de Lyon to the Gare du Nord, find the Eurostar station and then submit to the baggage and person search and passport control. This activity all fitted comfortably within the 88 minutes. The Eurostar departed promptly at 13:13 and we at last had something to eat.
Two and a half hours later, we found ourselves disembarking in the familiar surroundings of St Pancras International Station. A short bus ride, and we were home.
On starting this trip, I did not know what to expect. I had heard tales of Marseille, some good and some bad, but had no direct knowledge of the city. Discovering Marseille turned out to be an entirely positive and enjoyable experience. It is a varied city with rich and poor quarters but the atmosphere seems relaxed and the people friendly and helpful. There is much to see but it is also pleasant just to wander and explore the streets.
During so short a stay, you can only scratch the surface of such a large city and Marseille holds much more of interest than we were able to touch on. That, however, acts as an incentive to return one day and continue the explorations we started. I look forward to it.