I’ve made so many photos during this visit to Provence that I almost failed to identify some of them. Where was I? Ah, right… Probably next time I should pay more attention to what I’m seeing rather than to what I will then see on my computer screen. And yet the fact that I was travelling on my own made me feel each moment and each destination more closely, more vivid.
I know it’s hard to ‘grasp’ the city or any place (but especially the city with its maze of streets and buildings) by just watching the photos. You do need to go there and experience it. But I will at least try to render the feeling I got from each of the places I visited during my trip. Here’s Marseille, the city I didn’t initially want to go to at all but then succumbed to its being a port and a place with such a long history. After all, if you arrive in the city’s airport (and even spend there a night – a whole experience! Like living in The Terminal) why not visit the city itself?
Once I left the airport building I could feel I was somewhere close to Greece, which to me equals sea, magical aromas and colours and sights. Marseille was quite far from what the air and the temperature outside the airport promised, but it is a huge port with lots of traces left by the Greeks too. Marseille met me with rain and wind but at the same time the warmth and the overall aura of a Mediterranean city with the rich and inevitably neglected past that you tread upon and the no less neglected present (it’s dirty, what can I say). It’s just that it’s so huge and touristy that you somehow get lost and can hardly imagine the city as it used to be in the 1920-1930s when Marcel Pagnol wrote his plays (namely Marius, which I’ve just finished reading).
I liked the Vieux-Port area (Old Port) with its numerous fishers’ unions, yachts and the view over the city crawling in all directions, here, there and everywhere.
The old lighthouse, the fortress, the ships at the horizon, the brand new museum of the Mediterranean civilization, the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Cathedral surveying the city, somewhat undecided tourists, ridiculous tourist trains and rare ever-in-a-hurry locals, the fish being cooked in every tavern and the mistral. The Greek Piraeus is Marseille’s sister-city – and this is a very accurate choice I should say.
The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds but in the end the weather did let me swim in the sea. Right within the city limits, the first official beach to the left of the port – and yet it was amazing… and there among hard-skinned locals was – of course – a Russian-speaking couple to keep me company :) By the way, there is a free shower and stuff at the beach so that you can feel more human after a night at the deserted airport.
At first when I was walking in the city I couldn’t really get the picture, what IS it, Marseille? But after going around the port and having a swim, seeing the city from a high view-point and eating some fromage blanc (which is a perfect kefir substitute in France :) I think I did ‘get’ Marseille eventually.
The city itself is such a labyrinth with traces left of all those civilizations, gone and still living. So many different people and so much information springing on you from all sides – a bit tiresome! The very and less old remains are interspersed with new buildings, and the usual French-city components add to the picture. I walked quite a lot in the city, seeing most of its sights attainable on foot – mostly guided by curiosity and not the frequent signs leading you in all the most popular directions.
At that point I already had my ticket to David Gilmour’s concert in the pocket, printed out at the airport as soon as the FNAC boutique was open. In a way I was living those two days before the concert, well, as the days before the concert! In a way I was preserving my emotions and energy for the days to come (my usual mistake but sometimes it proves useful).
I didn’t get to see Le Corbusier’s curious creations, so I think I will leave it for the next time :) I would also love to visit the calanques (the closest I got to them was last year in Cassis) and the islands close to the city. I skipped the museum-going too, was too tired to consume any of extra information. I liked the railways station with its immense staircase and the palm trees reminding you of the city’s location. It had a completely different look when I saw it so rainy and windy in the morning!
By the way, the ladies sitting with their backs to each ‘column’ have red cloth tied over their eyes. The justice is blind! Also noticed these sprayed ‘prints’ around:
The Marseille’s trip checklist:
No markets visited or postcards bought, although I got myself stamps to various corners of the world at the post office in advance as I knew I would get nicer postcards elsewhere. No local food sampled either, nor museums to tell you about. And yet I would advise you to pay Marseille a visit, just to soak in the atmosphere and roam in its layers and layers of history on foot.
Travelling alone is not all about me-time (and definitely not about feeling insecure!). It’s also a chance to get to know other people who would probably never approach you were you travelling in a company. It’s a chance to discover things in a sort of individualistic and yet a very insightful and intimate way. Will try not to forget that when planning my next trip somewhere.
Adding this to my Travel collection.