Saturday, February 9, 2013

Passage to Marseille

"To stray is human. To saunter is Parisian."
from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo


In his travels in the notorious port city of Marseille yesterday, the author of this blog was not brutally beaten, robbed, offered drugs, Shanghaied nor killed.

Marseille - the seedy underbelly of France with more than 1,000,000 inhabitants making the second largest city in Gaul behind Paris and ahead of Lyon.

Some consider it to be France's answer to New Orleans, Louisiana. Famed French author Alexandre Dumas once called Marseille "the meeting place of the entire world." We will revisit Dumas and his writings about Marseille later in this blogpost.

The city is ancient having been founded by the Greeks in the 6th Century B.C. I read that I would find a mixture of unique sounds, smells and sights. I also read that while Marseille had seen more of its share of war and destruction, trade would always keep this lively Mediterranean port city alive.

Marseille is the home of many North and sub-Saharan Africans thus creating a lively bouillabaisse, if you permit me, of races and creeds. About 25% of the population is of North African descent.

All of these things I had read about in guide books. My friends also mentioned that Marseille was known for its illegal drug trafficking, smuggling, corruption, the Mafia and some racial tension.

With all of this as a preamble, why wouldn't I want to go to Marseille?

Let's saunter.

I had to get up very early to catch the 5:00 a.m. bus to Gare Part-Dieu for my high-speed TGV train to Marseille. It was the first one of the day leaving from Lyon to Marseille and I wanted to make the most of my day in the South. 

The ovens at Paul's Boulangerie
in Gard Part-Dieu

They would not be opening for another 20 minutes but that is not to say that they weren't hard at work before sun-up.

Pain Chocolate with my name on it!

I bought First Class tickets

Why Not? With my Senior Discount and Frequent Rider cards, it only cost four Euros more than Second Class.

It was only an hour and forty minutes to Marseille, I was ready to explore.

"Welcome to Marseille"

Historic Arch

Over the many centuries, France has been involved in countless wars both great and small. Monuments like this one honoring those who fought for their country are everywhere in France.


Lots of people in a small space

She must be a plumber

Now, the first thing that I noticed upon leaving Marseille's Gare St-Charles was that the sky was blue, the Sun was high in the sky and the temperatures, though not hot, were decidedly warmer than in Lyon.

I decided to walk from the train station rather than take the Metro to the Vieux-Port, Marseille's boat harbor, which is the hub of Marseille's tourist area. It would afford me a better chance to get the lay of the land and see the locals in action.

A restaurant on the Vieux-Port

It was tempting but it was also closed for repairs.

Marseille's Hôtel de Ville

What was with all of the smoke, whistles and yelling going on here at Marseille's City Hall?

FO and a Red Kangaroo

The FO is a labor union from what I could gather.

The red kangaroo was not real.

FO Demonstration

It was a loud but peaceful assembly of workers with a grievance. Of course, you just have to burn something at one of these gatherings to show that you are serious.

Guarding the Vieux-Port

Perhaps the Vikings
vacationed in Marseille

Sailing Ships in Vieux-Port

Église St-Laurent

It sits in rugged majesty overlooking the Vieux-Port.

World War I Memorial

The Vieux-Port in the morning
as seen from Église St-Laurent

Marseille is famous for her fragrant soaps

Of course, I purchased a bar of lavender for old times sake.

Marseille is a sea port, so it made perfect sense to see sea food on sale along the Vieux-Port.


Is he smiling at me?

It is a BIG Harbor indeed!

Not Real

It is titled "Navigation"

Mr. and Mrs. Neptune
Basking in the Mediterranean Sun

What percentage of female statues
in Europe are sans top?


I mentioned the strong North African influence in Marseille.

That reminds me . . .

I wonder how Craig McKenzie is doing in his new house back in San Jose, California?

An interesting looking play

Books implanted in a giraffe

The giraffe is not real.

Monument to the Fallen of the
Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871

Such Detail

Fontaine des Danaïdes

How do they make stone look so soft?


Not Real

L'église des Réformés

St. Joan of Arc
Front and Center at L'église des Réformés

Inside this interesting Church

Excellent Mosaic Floor

Ornate Baptismal Font

A wounded wolf on the Church door

Not sure why though?



This unassuming shop on Marseille's main street, Rue La Canebière, serves truly amazing pain chocolate! Heavily laden with chocolate, warm out of the oven, flaky crust . . . I was in Heaven!


More Temptations farther down
Rue La Canebière

During World War II, those wacky, lovable American GIs called this street Rue "Can of Beer."

Pete and Sherlyn's new business?

Fine Buildings on Rue La Canebière

The Capucins Market

A great place to see the locals in action! If you like bartering, yelling and cajoling, then this is the place for you.

It was awesome! 

The Fish was Fresh

The Fruits were Spectacular

The Veggies were Fresh

She Overviews the Capucins Market

She does it fully dressed I might add.

It was time for a break so I opted for a cafe bordering the Capucins Market.

Cafe Prinder
From Father to Sons since 1925

I needed a café and this man made a good one. Though not crowded, the cafe was full of energy and loud talking people enjoying each other's company.

Licorice flavored digestive

The first one was good, the second one was excellent.

Long Shot of the Cafe Prinder

Meanwhile, back at the Capucins Market . . .

Olives for Laurie

Hot Peppers for me

North African Cooking Implements

 Oh the memories of life in Catania

The arancini was NINE EUROS! 

Our first sign of crime and the Mafia in Marseille was the prices in this taverna.

I moved on without entering before getting caught in a web of intrigue.

A Marseille Landmark

They sell marvelous, traditional cookies in the shape of small boats. This is in tribute to the old story that St. Mary Magdalene accompanied by two other women also named Mary, Les Trois Marieslanded by boat in Marseille to spread Christianity to Provence.

Le Four des Navettes
Founded in 1781

Check out those three long spatulas. The boat cookies are on the right.

A dozen would do the trick for me.


Weathered but I still liked it for some reason.

Two Ladies Enjoying the Sun
outside of Basilique St-Victor

 Inside Basilique St-Victor

Relics of various Saints

A great place to study bones to be sure.

A Tapestry 

 Basilique St-Victor's Crypt

It was cold in the Crypt


Another Contreras Family favorite.

This Cross of Gold . . .

Having now toured all three sides of Vieux-Port, I now retraced my steps to take a boat ride to a special place.

Lots of boats

Classic Lines

These were all nice but I was looking for a commercial craft, one that would take me out to . . .

. . . the Château d'If

This infamous real prison housed two of Alexandre Dumas' famous fictional characters . . . The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask

When I got to the boat dock, they explained that because the waters were too rough today, they would not be going out to the Château d'If.


Was the sea too choppy when the Count was forced to make his escape? Damn, I was robbed of a great experience!!!

Not Real

What to do now? Easy, I hopped aboard the 60 bus for the trip up a steep hill to the vistas of the . . .

 Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde

Great View of Marseille's Bay

Jesus and Mary

The Château d'If is in the distance at the lower left. 

Marseille's Urban Sprawl

The Basilique up close 

Nice but nothing unusual so far for this Romanesque-Byzantine edifice.

 Nice woodwork as you enter
and then . . .


 It was GORGEOUS inside
to say the least

The Main Altar

What an amazing surprise.

After all of my sauntering, I was getting hungry and I really needed to try some of Marseille's famous bouillabaisse. That's where I hit a bump.

It was almost 3:00 p.m. and, as it turns out, the good restaurants close between the end of lunch at 2:30 p.m. and the start of dinner at 7:00 p.m.

Since my train back to Lyon departed at 8:14 p.m., I was out of luck.


It's a good thing that a I noshed my way through the city all day.

I decided to see a man about a hat


I tried to purchase a traditional French Béret. I didn't see any laying about the store but I always liked these so-called Newsboy-styled Caps.

Now, I own one.

I still need a French Béret.

 Rue de la République

Another Café before eating a simple
but tasty falafel nearby

Karl was such a cutie and
a Mouseketeer to boot!

 Weathered Faces

Weathered Wood

 The walk back down to the Vieux-Port

 Down to the Sea in Ships

A smoke-free Hôtel de Ville
in the afternoon Sun


 I was strong, no caramels for me

Of course, for the sake of international relations, I graciously accepted the salesgirl's offer of a free sample.

If it is a French city, then it MUST
have at least one Merry-Go-Round

Although peaceful and joyous now, this sight has a dark side as well . . .


On October 9, 1934 King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was felled by an assassin's bullet on this very spot while riding in a car with French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou on a visit to Marseille.

The King and his chauffeur died instantly while Minister Barthou would pass away later.

If you want to see a video of the actual assassination, click on this link:

King Alexander I is the man wearing the hat, sitting on the right side of the car. Minister Barthou is on his left.

Thus ended a wonderful day for me in Marseille. I liked the architecture, the food, the drinks, the hub-bub and mostly the city's energetic people.

Still, I will need to return with Laurie later this Spring for the bouillabaisse to be sure.

Not Real

With all of the sauntering I did today, I may slowly be becoming a Parisian at heart.

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