Monday, March 4, 2013

Marvelous Marseille - France

When Matt asked me where I wanted to go next, I had a quick, easy answer. Somewhere where I can see the sun. This winter has had the least amount of recorded days of sunshine ever in this part of Germany. I had counted five since Thanksgiving. Things were feeling pretty gloomy around here. We decided that Marseille, Avignon, Cannes, and Nice sounded like a nice place to go. And if we had time, Monaco. 

It was snowing and cold when we left Heidelberg. As we drove down through Germany, the snow stopped. When we hung a right toward France, the clouds started to lift. And when we hit Orange, France, the sun appeared. Palm trees were waving on the sides of the road. Birds were chirping. Flowers blooming. Paradise.

We rented the top floor of a private home in the town of Aix en Provence. They had a beautiful little homestead that looked out over the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of France.

As we drove from Aix en Provence to Marseille, we noticed the architecture of the homes had a much more Mediterranean feel than the typical French architecture we saw in Paris. In fact, it wasn't that different from what we saw in Tuscany.  

Marseille is the second largest city in France, located in south eastern France on the Mediterranean coast. It is the oldest city in France, having been founded in 600 BC by Greeks. Looking around Marseille, it seemed like a mix between France, Spain, and Italy.  

The first thing we saw in Marseille was the Cathédrale de la Major. It is a large scale cathedral built in 1852. Cathedrals have been built on this site since the 5th century. 

Marseille is built in a valley that opens to a natural bay with the Massif de l'Étoile mountains to the northeast. There is a large limestone hill that rises in the center of this valley. This point was used as a fort and a lookout for thousands of years due to the fact you can see for miles in every direction. Here is some of the view.

The sprawl of Marseille.

One thing about Marseille is that there are very few English speakers compared to Paris. I don't want to seem like an ugly American and expect everyone to speak English. I don't expect them to. One of the funnest parts of travelling is picking up and learning new words and phrases. We always try to learn important phrases, numbers, polite language like excuse me, thank you, your welcome, and so on in the language of the area we are going. But once most people hear our accent (or see the way we are dressed, or see how many kids we have) they know we are American and slip right into passable English. In Marseille, communication was difficult. It took all of my 8th grade French, and then some to get along.

Looking south.

Looking west.

As you can see from these pictures, we had great weather. Sunshine galore. But it wasn't something that we were used to.

We felt like a bunch of vampires squinting in the sun and holding our hands over our eyes to keep from being blinded. None of us hissed or bared our fangs though.

The Notre-Dame de la Garde or Our Lady of the Guard. We ducked into the cathedral for a quick peek.

The alternating stripes of color are not paint. They are red and white marbles quarried from France and Italy. It was cold in the cathedral without the sun to warm us, so we ducked back out.

We could see way out into the bay from this hill. There are four small islands out in the bay. 

This is the Château d'If. A real place where the fictional character of Edmond Dantès was imprisoned for 14 years in the book The Count of Monte Cristo. I remember reading that in my senior honors English class. I must say that being here is much more interesting than reading about it.

After enjoying the view from the hill, we ventured out into the city. It was Saturday and there were fresh fruit and vegetable markets set up all over.

It was near this square, the rue Longue-des-Capucins, where we stopped and sampled all the different foods that were being cooked here. Armenian pizza, Moroccan lamb, and olives. There were olives everywhere. There were two French policeman on this street watching everyone. I watched them watching the shoppers. They spoke with no one. But when I walked down the street with my four children, they turned around and made sure they made eye contact with me and gave me a quick "bonjour". After walking up and down this street three times I got it. They were watching us to make sure we were safe. We were obviously not from Marseille and as Americans I guess we stuck out like sore thumbs. Not five minutes after I realized that the police were keeping an eye on us because we were Americans, a dirty, little, dark haired girl ran up to us and with a mouth of rotting teeth said "Give to me money, please."

Matt gave her a €1 coin and she shouted "Merci!" and ran off. 

This brings me to a delicate point. Marseille is a rough town. It has a much different feel than Paris. Due to it's position in the Mediterranean and it being the largest port in Europe, there are a large amount of immigrants that come to France here. We heard many different languages and saw turbans, scarves, and hijabs adorn the people of Marseille. And matching velour Adidas track suits.

Although Marseille was rough, we always felt safe. We actually loved that it was less touristy than Paris and that we had more chances to actually experience what a real life in Marseille might be like.

Looking towards the Vieux-Port, or Old Port of Marseille.

Around the Vieux-Port, there are all these ancient stone buildings and fortifications. 

This is the Abbey of St. Victor, a monastery founded in 415. In the eighth and ninth centuries, the Saracens (a European name for Muslim, Arab, or desert dweller) destroyed them. They were rebuilt in the eleventh century and that is the structure you see in this picture. Just ignore the traffic sign lit up by my flash. 

Marseilles is said to be the place where the first Christian saints landed in Europe in order to spread Christianity to the Pagans. Around Marseille, you hear the legend of Les Trois Maries, or the three saints named Mary who with St. Lazarus (the one and the same who was raised from the dead) came here to Christianize ancient Provence. In commemoration of the voyage, you can find little cookies and breads called les navettes baked in the shape of a boat and spiced with orange.

Here we are eating our Christian-boat cookies. Tasty!

Matt and I wanted to see more of the countryside, so we loaded the kids up in the Volvo and headed east down the coast toward Cassis.

Cassis, France coming up next!


  1. How fun! I thought the stripes in the cathedral were so interesting and the story about the police watching you, equally so. I love hearing about your adventures!

    1. Thanks for coming along with us Christy


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