Saturday, September 5th 2015
Our best way to get to Marseille1 would be to take the Eurostar service from St Pancras to the Gare Saint-Charles, Marseille. For this, you need to book well in advance and we, unfortunately, were a little late in ordering our tickets, so we had to make do with a two-part journey: Eurostar to Paris, TGV2 to Marseille.
As usual, we ordered our tickets online and collected them from the ticket machines at St Pancras Station. When changing trains in Paris, we would arrive at the Gare du Nord but depart from the Gare de Lyon. Given the distance between these two stations, we would need to use public transport.
We got up bright and early this morning because our Eurostar would depart at 7:52 and we would first have to submit to the luggage and body search, followed by passport control. Once again we had reserved seats in Standard Premier class on the Eurostar to benefit from the extra leg room and the meal they serve en route. Everything went well and we reached Paris two and a half hours later at 11:17 local time.
Next we had to make the transition from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon, having 80 minutes in which to do so. The Eurostar Website helpfully provides instructions on how to do this. A train service called the RER (Réseau Express Régional) connects the two stations. You need to buy Metro tickets to use this service. Eurostar sells Metro tickets in the train’s buffet but only in books of 10 – useful if you are staying in Paris but not if you are travelling to another destination – so we bought return tickets from a machine on the station. This would all have been fun but for the anxiety of getting to our destination on time. In the event, we did it easily.
We spent a little time at the Garde de Lyon waiting for our TGV to be announced, then boarded and relaxed for 3 hours, 19 minutes, the time it took to whisk us to our final destination.
Marseille Saint-Charles Station
When we stepped off the train at Marseille Saint-Charles Station, my first impression was the heat. We had left London in the throes of autumn cool to return to summer in Marseille!
The station is large, as befits a major city (and the second largest in France) but what impressed me most was the trees growing on the concourse. I think this is the first station I have seen with trees. If only they had birds as well, it would be perfect! The city’s first railway station was built in 1848 but the current one dates from the 1890s. It is perched on a hill and so you literally have to ‘go down to the town’ from the station.
If you are on foot as we were, you start your descent by walking down a monument. This remarkable flight of steps deserves a grand name but seems to be known only as Les Escaliers de la Gare Saint-Charles (The Stairs of Saint Charles Station). If you are hale and healthy, these stairs present no difficulty; otherwise, before starting down – and even more so before starting up – you might care to reflect that there are 7 flights, comprising 105 steps in all.
It would be natural to think that station and stairs were conceived and built at the same time but it was only in 1911 that the first project to build the stairs was mooted. A plan by Eugène Sénès and Léon Arnal was adopted but work was interrupted by the First World War. Prompted by the Exposition Coloniale de Marseille in 1922, plans were brought back to the table and building began in 1923.
Because of the delay and the changes in outlook brought about by the war, the steps have a dual character, partaking of things ancient – in the Classical styling – and things modern – in the use of reinforced concrete and metal handrails.
To my eyes, this is a very French building, exuberant and boastful, yes, but elegant in style and form, so that you cannot but enjoy and admire it. (If you wonder why the female figure has been given a blindfold in red serge, I am sorry to say that I do not know. Maybe someone can tell us?) (Update Oct 16th 2015: Big John has solved the mystery of the blindfolded statues. See his comment.
The steps were to celebrate the status of Marseille as the ‘Gate to the Orient’ and also to France’s standing as a colonial power, hence this sculpture group by Antonio Bottinelli entitled Colonies d’Afrique (‘African Colonies’).
As a large city that has grown and developed over a long period, Marseille today presents a varied and complex picture. Narrow streets here and broad thoroughfares there; buses and trams mixing with the traffic on the streets and the Metro running underground. Poor districts alternate with affluent ones and the shops give a good indication of which district they belong to.
We had booked a hotel online and set out to look for it on foot. We dumped our bags and had a rest before setting out again. We would also have had a cup of tea but discovered we had forgotten to pack the travelling kettle…
We set out again without any plan except to take a preliminary look around. The following are a few random sights encountered on our way.
Designed by Pascal Coste and inaugurated by Napoleon III in 1860, the Palais de la Bourse (Business Exchange) was the centre of business life in Marseille. Today it is the seat of the Chamber of Commerce. As with the station steps, the style is French Classical and exuberant at the same time. The interior is said to be splendid also but we were not able to see this for ourselves.
Allegorical group representing Commerce
Eugène Guillaume, 1859
You would expect such a building to be decorated with figures expressing the nobility of commerce and, of course, such expectations are fulfilled. This work by Eugène Guillaume, for example, is an allegorical representation of Commerce, and, above it, is a companions piece (not shown), symbolizing Navigation.
Experimental Diving Bell
In a completely different style is this object that stands in front of the Palais. Standing on three legs, it looks like some alien vehicle from a sci-fi film. It is in fact one of a pair of experimental diving bells, called Castor and Pollux, made by Comex (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises) in 1967, intended for deep-sea work. Were they ever put to the test? The notice doesn’t say.
Le Palais de la Bourse faces Place Charles de Gaulle where another old-style structure is found. Carousels have remained popular and most fairgrounds include a real or replica Victorian one but this is an 18th-century Venetian carousel. It has two peculiarities that I have not seen elsewhere. Firstly, it has two levels and, secondly, it rotates left-to-right whereas all other carousels that I have seen rotate right-to-left. It is called La Belle Epoque Carrousel.
Thus we arrived at the Vieux Port (‘Old Port’). Once it would have been alive with merchant shipping but that has all gone. Today, the port is devoted to leisure.
The harbour serves as a marina and where once the quays stood is now a broad open area where people stroll and take their leisure. It also acts as a market place on certain days of the week.
The Vieux Port is also the site of this strange construction that seems to be known simply as the Pavilion. It was built by that busy British firm of architects, Foster and Partners, responsible for other peculiar structures. While I admit that it is unusual (and it is fun to stand underneath it and look up to look ‘down’ on yourself), I think it’s an eyesore spoiling the seafront. Here is another, partial, view of it:
I don’t know what purpose this mirror on legs is supposed to serve. Perhaps it forms an easily spotted landmark where people can meet, as under a station clock, and a shelter from the hot Marseille sun while they are waiting. Apart from that, I don’t know what is the more remarkable, its huge inappropriateness in the setting or the fact that Foster managed to convince the authorities of Marseille that building it was a good idea.
I remember a time when Indian restaurants were a rare novelty in France but have noticed that in recent years they have become more popular and have proliferated. I am not sure whether this is because of growing French acceptance of exotic cuisine or because of demand from tourists, particularly those from the UK. Perhaps it is a mixture of both effects. We happened upon Govinda’s and were invited in despite it being a little before opening time. We had a good meal, a pleasant finish to the day.
On the way back to the hotel for the night, I took this photo of the elaborate sculptured surround of a window. This seemed to sum up my first impressions of Marseille as an old city that is still developing and thriving in the modern era, in which old and new jostle side by side, tolerantly if not always harmoniously. What forgotten dreams were once invested these neglected sculptures?
1Until recently,the British always wrote the name of this town with an ‘s’ and called it Marseilles (‘mar-sales’). Nowadays, it has recovered its proper spelling and most people now call it Marseille and pronounce it approximately correctly (‘mar-say’).
1The TGV – Train à Grande Vitesse – is France’s high-speed inter-city train service. It links major cities with few stops in between. It has no equivalent in Britain’s lack-lustre range of rail services.
Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.
Sunday, September 6th 2015
Our hotel (Hôtel de l’Ariana) is off the main road in what seemed to be a quiet area. Last night, however, there was some sort of ‘event’ nearby and all night until dawn, people were queueing for taxis under our window, talking and calling to one another, and cars were driving up and driving away again. We did not get much sleep. Let’s hope that the performance is not repeated tonight and tomorrow.
The Vieux Port in morning sunlight
We set out to look for breakfast. The neighbourhood of the hotel is somewhat run-down and we found nothing to our taste. I think, too, that I was subconsciously looking for the sort of ‘typical’ French cafe that I like, and nothing we found fitted the pattern. Not, that is, until we had walked all the way to the Vieux Port.
At last, I spotted hopeful signs on a corner, a large cafe restaurant called La Samaritaine. We hurried there and found exactly what I had been looking for, a traditional French cafe with aproned waiters busy among the tables like bees in a flower bed. This turned out to be my Marseille equivalent of Brooklyn’s New Apollo Diner (see New York 2014 – Day 2), the place where I feel content and at peace with the world.
La Samaritaine was established in 1910 when its founders bought a defunct lingerie store and converted it into a bistro. It survived until 1945 when it was burnt out by an incendiary shell fired by beleaguered German forces on the hills overlooking the port. Rebuilt, it opened its doors again in 1948 and is still going strong. If you read French, you will find an outline of its intriguing history on the Samaritaine’s Website.
After a satisfying breakfast of coffee and fresh croissants, we strolled along the northern edge of the harbour and found a market in progress. The usual sort of stuff was on sale and I was particularly interested in this stall where I had a chat with the owner, Jean-François Naudon. His wife, Maryse Naudon, is an artist and the couple use her work to make a range of useful and decorative articles. I bought a bookmark as a souvenir. You can find examples of Maryse Naudon’s paintings on the Galerie page of their Website.
We strolled on and admired the 17th-century Hôtel de Ville. Built in 1653-73, its relatively small dimensions indicate the correspondingly modest size of Marseille at the time.
Along here, the ground floors of the buildings incorporate an arcade that is lined with cafes and restaurants. Noted for future reference!
If you thought, from reading yesterday’s description of the station’s monumental staircase, that Marseille is a hilly place, you would be right. Flights of steps, long and short but mostly long, are a common feature of this town, whether incorporated into buildings or as part of a thoroughfare. The above are just a couple of samples.
The massive fortress called Fort Saint-Jean was built in 1660 by Louis XIV to protect the port of Marseille. It is huge and somewhat forbidding but the light colour of the stone is quite striking compared with the usual dark colours of British castles and forts. We tried to take a look inside by entering through a gateway but were shouted at by uniformed guards. Nice to see the fortress still doing its job of repelling foreigners!
A walkway (Promenade Louis Brauquier) leads around the fortress and along the edge of the water. Here one has good views that beg to be photographed in panorama. Marseille faces straight onto the Mediterranean but its harbour provides good shelter for shipping.
We also get a good view of Notre Dame de la Garde perched on its rock. Then again, it is visible from most points in Marseille.
Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée
The fortress is connected by a long bridge to what looks like a big basket made of layers of chicken wire. Not exactly beautiful but at least not as ugly as some of the incomprehensibly monstrous constructions of modern architects, this is the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean), understandably often known as MuCEM. The white building on its right if called the Villa Méditerranée which is described on its Website as ‘International centre for dialogue and discussion in the Mediterranean’. It seems to have its own museum too.
Cathedral of Saint Mary Major
If you are a Catholic and a church-goer, the respective roles of Marseille’s two major churches perhaps make sense to you. They make sense to me only as long as I don’t think about it too hard. The church up on the rocks is called Notre-Dame-de-la Garde and it is a basilica but not a cathedral. The church near the fortress is called Sainte-Marie-Majeure and is a basilica and a cathedral. So, we have two basilicas dedicated to St Mary of which one is a cathedral and the other one isn’t.
So what is a basilica? That’s not an easy question to answer. Having looked this question up in the Catholic Encyclopaedia I am left with the impression that a (Catholic) place of worship is a basilica if the Catholic Church says it is. There are no defining qualifications though there can be both major and minor basilicas.
The present church or cathedral or basilica was built in 1852-96. Looking at the complexity of the decor, I am not surprised it took so long. The style is called Byzantine-Roman and it is quite spectacular in its own way. We did not go in (I don’t think it was open) and contented ourselves with a look around the outside.
These three worthies are no doubt important and pious figures from the history of Christendom such that the cognoscenti will have no difficulty in naming them. I, however, will sit this one out.
Most churches like to boast that they have an ancient lineage on the site and in this case there is some substance – literally – to the claim. Within the precinct of the cathedral stand the remains an an earlier cathedral dating from the 12th century. Not all of it, mind: a large part of it was demolished to make way for the new building. It is known as the Vieille Major (Old Major) to distinguish it from its 19th-century successor, the Nouvelle Major (New Major). (Why ‘Major’ and not ‘Majeure’? Don’t ask me, I’m just a tourist…)
Kajaman, date unknown
We spotted this street art gracing a flight of steps. Happily it is signed and we can therefore identify the artist. Kajaman is a Brazilian artist also known as André Lourenço. I don’t know whether he deliberately sought out a staircase for this work or simply happened upon one. If he had wanted a staircase, they are not hard to find in Marseille…
We had a light lunch in a small cafe in a narrow street and then continued exploring this hilly part of town. I collected a few more staircases. Not that that was difficult at all…
Musée des Docks Romains
Roman Docks Museum
We next popped into the Roman Docks Museum, partly for our own interest and partly because friends had asked us to obtain a copy of the guidebook for them. The museum is based on the ruins of a Roman docks warehouse. Among other items, it contains some large jars, some of which were possibly made on the premises. Around the walls are glass cases containing exhibits of Roman artifacts, including some domestic and personal items.
Unfortunately, no guidebook was available. It is no longer printed. Talking to the staff, who seemed somewhat discouraged, I get the impression that the Museum is not receiving the attention and funding that it once did. That is a pity.
Les Îles du Frioul
Click for Google Map
A short distance off-shore from Marseille is a group of islands known as Les Îles du Frioul or L’Archipel du Frioul. Marseille once suffered an epidemic of yellow fever brought by a ship coming from foreign parts and after this used the islands as a containment area where ships could be kept away from the town and sick mariners quarantined until they were no longer infectious. Those days, happily, are in the past and visiting the islands now constitutes a pleasant excursion. We boarded the Edmond Dante for a visit to just one of the islands, Île Ratonneau, which contains the port of Frioul.
Looking back over the stern as we enter the harbour of Le Frioul
The crossing takes about 35 minutes but I was so busy looking at (and photographing) the scenery that it seemed to take less time.
Boats moored in Frioul Harbour
Conditions were so warm that as soon as we disembarked we made for a cafe with a pleasant garden and indulged ourselves with a dish of ice cream each. Then it was time to look around and explore.
The Chapel of the Port of Frioul
Perched on the heights you can glimpse this quaint Classical style building. It was built in 1828 to enable ships’ crews detained under quarantine rules to attend church services.
We climbed up to take a closer look. It is obviously no longer used but is in good condition.
The island we were on, Île Ratonneau, and the one next to it, Île Pomègues, are joined by a dike called La Digue de Berry, built 1822 to enlarge the harbour. Walking along this dike is a pleasant promenade and gives good views over the port.
We had to keep an eye on the clock as it was nearing the time of the last crossing back to Marseille. I don’t know whether there are any hotels on the island but we didn’t want to stuck here for the night.
Back on the mainland, we passed under the (in)famous mirrored Pavilion and strolled the streets for a while.
As the sun went down and evening came on, we started looking around for somewhere to have supper. We already had an idea.
We had spotted the Jaipur during earlier investigations and decided to give it a try. Indian restaurants are a good bet for vegetarians as they have a wide variety of vegetable dishes, all very tasty, unlike the dull ‘vegetarian options’ that other restaurants try to give us. I noticed an interesting feature of this restaurant. Many ‘Indian’ restaurants are in fact Pakistani and, though they don’t try to hide the fact, they usually don’t advertise it either1. They leave you to guess. The Jaipur has a pukka Indian name but boldly informs potential customers that it is ‘Indien Pakistanais’ (for example, see its Website). Either way, we were happy with our meal.
Night was coming on but in this part of town the night crowd were taking over from the day crowd and the scene was as lively as during daytime hours. We had had a long day and made tracks for the hotel.
Would we be able to sleep tonight our would our slumbers be disturbed again by shouted conversations and car engines? Time would tell…
1What is the difference, if any, between Indian and Pakistani cuisine? I am not expert enough to give an though one Indian (not Pakistani) restaurateur we talked to asserted that while Indian chefs use ghee (clarified butter), Pakistani chefs use oil. Is he right?
Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.
Monday, September 7th 2015
We were relieved that no ‘events’ took place during the night and that there were no conversations or revving engines under our window to disturb our sleep. We enjoyed a peaceful night’s rest.
Our hotel is quite small but apart from that, tolerable. The people who relay one another at the reception desk are unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful. The hotel is old and this is perhaps why there is only one electricity power point in the room, intended for the bedside lamp. Fortunately, we brought our trailing socket with us and taped it to the bed headboard so that we could share it to charge our respective phones, cameras and geotagger.
We set out in search of breakfast though there was no doubt in my mind as to where we would go: La Samaritaine! It had lost none of its charm and we again enjoyed coffee and fresh croissants.
Although it was quite early, we noticed that there was some activity on the quay. It turned out that in the mornings there is a fish market.
I did not want to pay close attention to this, especially as on some stalls at least the fish were alive, flapping about in shallow bowls and I didn’t like to think what fate awaited them.
We had a special visit in mind and to reach our destination, took the Métro for the first part of our journey. This underground railway system is quite small, compared with the Paris Métro or the London Underground, but seems efficient and very useful. We later transferred to a bus for the second leg.
La Cité Radieuse
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris aka Le Corbusier, 1947-52
This is what we had come to see. It is an apartment block known both as L’Unité d’Habitation de Marseille and as La Cité Radieuse (The Radiant City). ‘L’Unité d’Habitation’ refers to a style of building apartment blocks developed by the architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, generally referred to as Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and this one is considered the prime example of its kind. It was designated a Monument Historique in 1986.
Le Corbusier received a commission from the Minister of Reconstruction in 1947 to produce a new apartment block on land owned by the city. The result is this large structure containing 337 apartments deigned as 23 different types with ‘interior streets’ running between them. All modern comforts and facilities were provided.
The massive building stands on legs or pylons and these, and other external features, are in ‘Brutalist’ style, that is, the reinforced concrete of which they are made is left raw (or ‘brute’), showing the outlines of the caissons in which they were cast. Unfortunately, this material is showing wear in some places (see the picture of the pylon above).
A garden with trees adds pleasantly to the amenity and discreetly veils the car park, though the top of the building of course rises high above the tops of the trees.
The public is allowed to visit parts of the building (including a rather genteel cafe – part of the building’s shared facilities). We were interested to see that there was a museum in the building and set off in search of it.
I was glad to see that the Brutalist elements were confined to the exterior and did not follow us indoors. The interior is pleasant and even beautiful in places. Communal facilities do give the impression that this is a community rather than simply an apartment block containing only dwellings.
But what about the museum? We wandered around looking for it. We asked the lady in the shop and she shrugged and said it was on the top floor. We went to the top floor but could find no sign of it. We asked a group of three men who looked as one another as though our question were a little simple-minded and then said ‘Sur le toit’ (On the roof).
We found our way onto the roof where we found strange shapes which, though they were not Gaudiesque in any real sense nonetheless conferred a sort of ‘Gaudí aura’. We also found what we thought might be the museum but it was closed and looked as though it had been closed for some time. Perhaps that was why people reacted oddly to our enquiries, not understanding why we would want to see a defunct museum.
The roof, of course, provided good views over the city and above are two examples of what we saw.
Brutalist end wall and staircase detail
After a final look around the outside of the building we started back towards the centre of the city.
Changing from bus to Métro, we passed by the elaborate gates of the Parc Chanot. Established at the beginning of the century and named after Amable Chanot, twice mayor of Marseille, the park has been the site of important fairs and exhibitions, including the Colonial Exhibitions 0f 1908 and 1922. The wrought-iron gates were made in 1924 by Trichard of Marseille.
We took the Métro back to town and discussed what to do next. We wanted to visit the Cathedral which seemed to beckon to us from any and all points of the town. It seemed that one way of doing this would be to take a trip on the tour bus. The open deck would provide a viewing platform from which we could take our photos… or so we thought.
The Cathedral from the tour bus
Riding the tour bus was fun and at times nerve racking because it had to negotiate narrow streets with sharp turns and steep slopes, sometimes places where I would not have thought a double-decker bus could go! We saw the Cathedral from the bus but never came near enough to it for a good picture and the shaking and bouncing of the bus as it twisted and turned made photography difficult. The above was as good as I could get it. Another solution was called for.
But first we took a little detour. Disembarking from the tour bus in town, we made our way to the coast at a place called Les Catalans. For casual visitors, the most noticeable feature of this neighbourhood is the large sandy beach upon which there seems to be every kind of amusement and seaside amenity.
The name comes from a group of Catalan fishermen who established themselves here after the plague of 1720 had greatly reduced the population. They were given permission to stay and to fish and sell their wares in the markets of Marseille in direct competition with the native fishermen. Relationship between the two groups were somewhat bitter at times. The last remaining Catalans moved out in 1858 when the area was redeveloped as a resort.
The Mediterranean, blue and clear
We walked some way along the coast beyond the beach and enjoyed the sea air, the sunshine and the seaside atmosphere. We were impressed by how blue and clear the water was here.
We now returned to the port, ready to take a second shot at visiting the Cathedral, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. We joined the tour bus for another white-knuckle ride through the narrow streets and up the hill. We had already picked out the stop where we wanted to disembark. When we asked the driver to let us off, he was concerned. He pointed out that this was the last tour bus of the day; there would be no others. He said it several times, obviously concerned that we did not understand and would be stuck on the hill. When I told him we would go back by public transport, he relaxed and we got off.
The Cathedral, seen from the street below
If you arrive by car, you can drive up to the car park beside the Cathedral, but if you come by bus then you have no option but to climb the hill on foot.
There are steps called Les Escaliers de la Bonne Mère. I don’t know how many steps there are but quite a lot!
The Cathedral, which was inaugurated 1864, was designed by Henri-Jacques Espérandieu (1829-74) who was also responsible for Sainte-Marie-la-Majeure (see yesterday’s post).
Mother and Child
Eugène Lequesne, c.1870
The statue of the Virgin and Child on the bell tower was made by Eugène Lequesne and was put in place in 1870. It was made in four parts by the Christofle company and was plated with gold by a then ground-breaking method called galvanoplasty. It is regilded every 25 years.
The higher you go, the taller the building seems to be. This is an illusion, of course, brought on by the fact that you have to crane your neck ever higher to see it as you approach.
We took a quick look inside but the place was crowded and we preferred to walk around the exterior.
It is common in Catholic churches to find votive plaques when not gruesome little models of body parts whose injuries or diseases have supposedly been cured through the kind intercession of the saint and the Cathedral is no exception. There is a separate loggia set aside for the purpose. I wonder, do the faithful ever leave messages of complaint when their diseases have not been satisfactorily dealt with?
Of course, this is a good place from which to get photographs of the surrounding countryside and town. As long, that is, that you manage to avoid those silly people who seem to think that the purpose of historic monuments and grandiose landscapes is to be photographed in front of them. The ‘selfie stick’ is surely the most stupidly inane invention of recent years.
We made our way down to the road again and found the bus stop. The bus came at least and we could sit and relax as it threaded its way through the narrow streets and steep slopes back to town. By now it was time for supper. When it comes to restaurants, there is a lot of choice in Marseille, as you might imagine. We were quite happy to score an Indian hat trick for our last supper in Marseille and chose the Sri Ganesh. If you think it strange to go to France and eat in Indian restaurants, I will simply say that France has not yet really caught up with the concept of vegetarian cuisine whereas the Indians have been doing it, and doing it superbly well, for centuries.
Though the sunshine and heat felt like summer, it was nonetheless autumn and the sun set correspondingly early.
Tigger had a yen to photograph the sunset and we thought that Les Catalans would provide a good viewing spot. It turned out that we were right.
This was our last full day in Marseille and we managed to fill it quite well. Tomorrow we return to London, taking some good memories with us.
Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.
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.
Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde dominates the skyline
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.
Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.