Saturday, January 13, 2007

Marseille Day Trip

10 Jan 2007

We start our day in Marseille at the fish market at the Quai des Belges. We should have been looking to buy fishes, but it's the dried starfishes and these round orange shells they call l'oeil de Sainte Lucia that attract us. The first are happiness charms, the second are for good luck. An old woman--a Marseillaise from her accent--tells us that she's bought some of the trinkets. With the vendor right there in front of us, the dissatisfied shopper announces that she doesn't think they work.

Emptyhanded, we go up the Canèbiere. After asking a fashionable Asian lady if this is indeed the city's most ancient street, we march ahead, only to spend our time zigzagging people and construction work. The city is building a tram system. We turn left into Belsunce. This, we've read, is the Algerian district. Maybe we can find a restaurant that serves good couscous. There is road work here as well. Sandra and I will eat anything, Sarah is a vegetarian, and not one of us feel like lunching to a view of big machines and hunks of broken concrete.

We give the city map to Sarah because she is Swiss, and they're supposed to be good at these things. A wrong turn brings us to a streetcorner where North Africans have spread blankets on the road and are selling belts, leather bags, and plastic toys. We look, but nothing takes our fancy.

Our Swiss guide finally leads us through a warren of streets into Le Panier, Marseille's oldest district. The many dwellings are separated only by walls, and run a few storeys up. There are clothes hanging to dry on lines strung over the streets. I smell dog shit and cat piss, and under that something else. There is a heaviness to the air, as if here the hydrogen and oxygen molecules have added weight from being breathed in and out for so long by so many people.

Artistic types have invaded the quartier. We find a pottery workshop/boutique. I buy myself a souvenir, a pendant that reminds me of an oyster shell. I even get to meet the potter. Photos are taken at Vieille Charité, a chapel and a building so pristine you have to read the commemorative plaque to realize that in the 17th century this housed the unwashed multitude, the city's orphans and paupers.

We lunch on bouillabaise at Chez Fonfon in our dreams. We're not spending 100 euros per person today or any other day. Finding a sunny courtyard overtaken by restaurants, we choose the waiter with the warmest smile and order salads.

On a lark, we get on Le Petit Train de la Bonne Mère. We ride the funny vehicle all the way up to the city's highest point, the Notre Dame de la Garde. Making like real tourists pays off: The view is almost overwhelming. Down in the streets, you feel a certain energy, something old and layered and alive. Up on the basilica's viewing deck, you see it, looking at the sprawl of buildings (and buildings and buildings) and roads moving all the way from the Mediterranean sea to the nearby mountains. Marseille is breathing.

Back at the Vieux Port to walk beside the sea, we find street performers. We are amused by a group of teenaged Christian evangelists who decide to take the cute route to spreading the word and do one pop dance number after another. Sundown is hidden by grey clouds. We sit down at a café to drink hot chocolates.

(A travelogue without photos sucks, I know. I forgot my camera, but will filch pictures from the girl friends and post them here soon.)


mcsister said...

Oh but I felt as if I was with you on that day trip. I love how descriptive and alive this entry is, as most of your entries always are.

haze said...

Fishes in VP aren't expensive, fresh pa and since you were already in Vieux Port I guess it's worth to see Château D'If! When you want the best Bouillabaise you should have tried Le Miramar Resto (it's quite expensive but it's the real one)! Check out Le Fémina (the best couscous) they serve vegetables sauce for vegetarian).
Oh the train, buti ka pa nakasakay ako hindi pa, for tourist only! If you want to explore Marseille I can give you more tips then ;)!

Naku tampo ako sa'yo ha hindi mo ako binisita. Joke !

apol said...

It was so nice, MAYA. I can bring you there if you extend your stay :)

HAZE, I thought about going to your house, but I was with two other girls, and I didn't want to stress you with entertaining people you don't know. BUT I plan to go back to Marseille soon because I love it! You can invite me to dinner then ;)

Makis said...

Hey, glad you guys had a great time in the travaux loaded Marseille!