Or is this just fantasy?
I’ve been in Lyon for a couple of weeks now. Every day feels so long, but at the same time the week seems to pass by so quickly. We did a week of intensive French classes (3 or 4 hours every day) and start classes tomorrow. Lyon had a quirky-fun biannual parade (that honestly, I didn’t understand. But it was fun nonetheless!). AND !!! I took my first trip out of Lyon! I went to Marseille with a few friends.
This post will be more photo-heavy than my previous posts, for good or bad. I really want to show you photos of Marseille! But first, I need to make you see why I thought the biannual parade that everyone else was excited for, was weird.
So that was that. We left feeling really confused. But at least we saw it, right?
Anyway. On to the good stuff.
Marseille was AMAZING! So much fun. We only had a couple days. We arrived on Saturday morning, and left Sunday afternoon. That’s a lot of stuff to pack into two days!
We first arrive, and the train station is beautiful. It has a view of the city, and the lights on the side are so charming. But from the bottom looking up, it definitely seems like we just came down a never-ending case of stairs.
The first thing we see on the way to the hostel: A Saturday morning market! I’m always down for a market.
I didn’t realize it before, but from walking through the market, it seems that there is a strong Moroccan/Algerian influence, as well as Italian. Pizza and paella were sold next to moroccan bread stands and boulangeries (bakeries). I tried some Algerian food on Sunday, on our way back to the train station. I got a Pastilla, which looked like an spring roll, but the wrap was wheat-based, and inside was an egg, almond, and chicken mixture. I also tried the Mahjeb, a square pan-fried stuffed wrap (the same wrap as for the pastilla). Mine was stuffed with a spiced beef and vegetable mix, but they also had spinach, or cheese-stuffed ones. You see it as a big square, but then the stall rolled it up to serve to me. So it was like a burrito.
Anyway, we made our way to Le Panier after dropping off our bags at the hostel. Le Panier is the old part of Marseille, filled with tiny cobblestone streets and old apartments.
Le Panier was absolutely stunning. Sure it was old and the paint was peeling and the streets were confusing and weren’t on the map. But it definitely felt like there was character.
I’m not sure how much I would want to actually live there, but I wouldn’t mind seeing what it’d be like.
There was also another shop we saw right around Le Panier. The inside looked like this
What is it? Why, soap, of course! Apparently soap is one of the things Marseille is known for. It’s made with olive oil or palm oil, and it’s been made in Marseille that way for 600 years! There’s even a law dictating what can or can’t be called “Savon de Marseille” (Marseille soap). I’m not sure if the soap bars above are “real” Marseille soap, but I’ll just pretend it is, because I bought a couple of bars (not both for me, I’m not that smelly) and because I spent so long smelling them and trying to decide that my head started to hurt.
Also around that area was this gorgeous dome. It’s the Centre de la Vieille Charite. I’m not really sure what it’s about, but it was beautiful. High dome ceiling in the center, flanked by three levels of walkways with arched walls.
Well, after wandering around for hours in Le Panier and Vieille Charite, we finally made our way to one of the main goals of the trip: the BEACH!
The sand was so so soft. Nothing like the tough faux sand in Seattle, littered with shells and twigs. This wasn’t very finely grained, but it was soft and cool. The water was beautiful, but freezing. That didn’t stop many people from going in, though.
Funny thing about the French. Well, a couple of funny things. First, some of the women like to go topless. I saw a fair number of topless women sunbathing. And the men like the really tight Speedo-type shorts. I saw more than enough of those.
Secondly, it’s not true, what people say about the French being mean. Maybe in Paris, but in Lyon and Marseille, I didn’t encounter any mean French people. Some boys called out “Ni Hao” as we walked by, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were just trying to greet us in what they considered our native language. But for most part, the French are very open to talking to strangers.
Point is, I (ME!) talked to a complete stranger on the beach. IN FRENCH. I watched this older man’s stuff while he tested out the water, then when he got back, we talked. For a long time. Guess what? The guy works in the travel industry, he gets crazy discounts on plane/boat/train tickets. He the tenth in a family of FOURTEEN. Nine brothers and four sisters. He sometimes works from 6 am to noon, then goes to the beach for the rest of the day. He’s been to New York, Italy, Spain, and Japan, but always came back to Marseille. He considers the Chinese the most respectful (don’t know if it was because he was talking to me). What else? Oh, he told me he dances salsa, and usually swims about three kilometers in the summer, in about an hour’s time. Ah, and I need restaurant recommendations? He’s horrible at remembering names and street names, but he can take us to the best restaurant for bouillebasse after we’re done at the beach. Oh. And I have his phone number.
I know what this sounds like, and I can assure you that is not what was intended. I was just trying to be friendly, and then it got creepy. Partly because he offered to show us to dinner and dancing and drinking, and partly because he was clearly much older. I think it started getting weird when he had me try a suntan oil he had. (It didn’t seem to help. I’m still as white as ever.) And it didn’t stop until after he actually called my phone during dinner and left a voicemail.
But again, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was VERY friendly. It’s just that my comfort level is not quite what his is.
So I made my “a toute a l’heure” and “a bientot” to my new friend, and we got going to dinner. The sun was setting, and we walked right along the port.
The dinner rush was starting, and we ended up at a place that featured a relatively cheaper bouillebasse (pronounced boo-ee-ah-bah-se, which we learned after asking and forgetting multiple times). Bouillebasse is a seafood fish soup that’s a specialty around Marseille. It’s a very intense dish.
You have the soup, which is very fragrant of fish, the baguette, with some mustard sauce and cheese, and the seafood. You assemble the bread, with the sauce and cheese, float it in the soup, then put in the seafood. Wait for everything to take on the soup’s taste, then eat. It was quite the project.
I chose instead the moules frites, which is, in short, a giant pot of mussels, with a side of fries. There were so many mussels, I almost couldn’t finish. I also ordered a green pepper sauce on the side, which was very creamy and tangy. Delicious.
We had a wonderful dinner. We got rose and red wine to accompany our seafood, and ended with an ile flottante (meringue in a condensed milk sauce) and tiramisu. The food was great and plentiful, the waitress was very helpful, and we enjoyed ourselves. We arrived around 8pm or 8:30, and left at 11:40. True French dining experience, if I may say so. Good food, good company, good time.
The next day, we woke up early and made our way to the basilica of Marseille.
It’s absolutely beautiful at the top, you get a view of the entire city, the water, and the hills in the distance. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
My pictures can’t even do the view justice. There was absolutely so much you could see. And the weather was so amazing, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, so even better!
But the view INSIDE the basilique, wow. My camera pooped out on me right then, but I did manage to get a shot of it.
Beautiful stripes and arches. Golden ceiling and detailing. A very nautical kind of cathedral.
After the cathedral, we made our way back down, back to the market where we got lunch (1 euro pizza, and the Moroccan/Algerian food we’d seen the day before) and dessert (lemon meringue tart, flan tart, and almond tart) and climbed up the steps back to Gare Saint Charles.
There are so many little details I haven’t told you about, like how my friend’s flip flop broke so she walked around barefoot for half a day until we finally found her shoes at the Monoprix on Canebiere, the shopping street. I haven’t told you about the scary security that walked up then down the 3 hr train ride back. Why, I haven’t even told you about the people I went with!
I will have to leave you hanging for now, until I can at least figure out what happened to all our group photos, so I can show you the awesome people I went with!
This will do for now. A toute a l’heure!