Travelling to Marseille, at first it appeared as nothing more than a lesser version of Nice, which I know sounds harsh. It was generally a bit grottier as the area surrounding the train station, while offering great views due to it’s height, was rough.
As with most places, the good and bad areas usually make themselves apparent quickly. I felt a compulsion to be near water, as had been my situation for several weeks now. Walking about twenty minutes from the station area to the docks or ‘port’, I sat on the water’s edge listening to a band play behind me in front of the line of seafood restaurants. It was pretty serene and I spent the evening here before going to a restaurant closer to my accommodation, the Vertigo Hostel.
Arriving at around one in the afternoon, this first day went quickly as I rested up and found my feet. On my full day here, I had quite the climb! After a croissant breakfast and espresso, I headed towards Marseille’s Notre Dame, which is the highest Cathedral I think I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve been to Montmartre to see the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur! Scaling this was intense on the knees as it was both steep and long. Taking a breather before the final steps up to the building, I appreciated how big Marseille actually was by doing a 360 degree turn.
This Notre Dame isn’t actually a huge departure from most cathedrals, but is still worth seeing and venturing inside. The views are the obvious draw with many visiting to see the city from a great height – most got the bus, metro or even the little mechanical train that journeys up the hillside.
From here, I plotted the rest of my day by utilising the view as a map. I’d visit the Abbey about three quarters of the way down the descent, grab a crepe by the water and then visit the market on the other side. After passing the oldest bakery in the city and stopping for lunch (said crepe), I wasn’t prepared for how fascinating the other side was! Yes, there’s another church, cathedral, gallery, narrow streets, brightly coloured buildings etc etc, but it’s when you take a couple of steps past the cathedral that the whole place opens up beautifully onto a modern promenade.
What caught my eye was the view of the islands, the clearness of the water and the mix of old and new; the cathedral and old fort were hundreds of years old, sat next to a very modern museum that had been respectfully built to add rather than take away from the area. As a result, I stayed here watching the boats and fishermen for some time. At one point it got a little hairy…
En route, I should give mention to some spectacular localised graffiti and the huge palace resting at the top of an outdoor stairwell. However attractive the buildings, the heart of Marseille is without a doubt the harbour, where I once again spent my evening, feet over the water. A lovely spot to people watch and observe the world going by, it had also been a good place to admire dogs playing football the day before!
A sentence to sum up Marseille would be a rough around the edges city with lots of historical points of interest and a much loved harbour that’s a charming social hub. I did also note that everyone here was smoking, all of the time it felt like, and there were an unusual proportion of men. I’m not going to Google this and see whether it’s fact, just my observation! Thinking on stranger things, the hostel had an open policy whereby it was never locked and the room couldn’t be locked. During the first night, either a laptop or a girl went missing, or a girl’s laptop went missing and it woke the whole place in a bizarre and confusing event for three in the morning. I’m not sure of the details but it is of course much better to have security for accommodation to avoid these situations and let people rest without doubts regarding their safety.
Onward to Lyon, my last new destination!