Tomorrow the bicycling portion of our trip begins after we decamp to
Avignon St.-Remy-en-Provence, and I’m really excited for that to happen. I love France, and being here would be enough except that bicycling is the whole reason that we’re here. Our itinerary is light on distance and heavy on experience, which will be a new thing for me . . . not that I mind.
After a couple of days of wandering all over Aix-en-Provence, making our way down every picturesque rue and past every sidewalk café, we thought it would be a good idea to see more of Provence than we would otherwise get on our tour. So we decided that Marseille—just an easy, inexpensive bus ride away—would be a good day trip.
But not a great “after dark” trip according to the friendly guy behind our hotel desk. “Marseille at night is not very safe.” And it feels quite a bit different than Aix. Actually walking from the Gare Saint-Charles train/bus station to the heart of the touristy section can feel downright ghetto. I half expected to run into the ghost of the reputed mobster-turned-bank-robber Jacques Mesrine or to see a “French Connection”-like drug bust go down. If Aix is trendy college students and farmers’ markets selling local produce and lavender, then Marseille is pensioners and grafitti and streets that frequently smell of urine.
If you can hold your nose and look past its faults (during the daytime, of course) then Marseille is actually quite enjoyable. We walked all around the vieux port, which has been in continuous use for 2,600 years—though I suspect in Roman times it had far fewer (if any) pleasure yachts and ferries to take day-trippers to secluded beaches along the rocky coast. Our trip took us to the commanding heights of the Fort Saint-Nicolas, whose guns are turned inward on the city for some reason or another; up to the top of the Panier district, which is now heavily Arab, to see a 17th century poorhouse; to the fantastic Cathédrale de la Major; and to the older, but still sumptuous, Église des Réformés.
At the last church we stumbled into a small wedding. Fortunately it was a big church, and no one really noticed us at the back. (Which is good, because I took some video, which I will post when I can remember my YouTube password.) We actually happened upon at least six weddings today. Brides are pretty conspicuous wherever you go, so it was certainly easy to find them, but I hadn’t expected to see so many. Let’s see, there was the one group walking away from the fish market. And then another on the ramparts of the old fort. And yet one more at the town hall as we walked into the cathedral and a different one as we left. And the one at the Église and one outside another church on our way to the bus. Most—all?—were Middle Eastern or North African. I’ve never heard so much ululating and car horn-honking before in my life.
After we got back to Aix, everything just seemed so . . . I dunno . . . sedate compared to Marseille.
Oh! and I bought Lisa the first of what will undoubtedly be several presents. But I’m not telling what it is now.
Anyway, here are some photos: