The day we left central Provence for Marseille was hot. Literally and figuratively. Frenchie and I would be traveling as a twosome from here on out and in some ways it was a big relief. I had grown weary of feeling misunderstood by both the French and the English speakers among us. The subtleties of friendship are complex, and I believe that good friendships will endure the oversights and misunderstandings that can arise, but feelings can still be hurt. And under the blistering sun of the south of France there were some hurt feelings. On our own Frenchie and I got to explore these feelings. No blood, but some sweat and tears transpired before we boarded the train. [For a moment our timing suited us both not too early or too rushed and things appeared to be running on time.]
Up and on board, we moved on out of Nimes and began the two hour journey to Marseille.
And then we stopped.
For a really long time.
Apparently, there was some mishap with the tracks and we would be waiting until it got sorted out. It was incredibly warm and there was little shelter outside, and the electrical system had been shut down so there was no air con on the train either. Things were getting sticky. Really, really sticky.
We ended up sitting there for nearly two hours. The train employees were as hot and frustrated as anyone trying to explain what was happening. I am pretty sure no one really knew. There was a tour group from Japan who were losing their shit about the heat and kept telling everyone how hot it was and that someone must do something about the heat. That communication with the French train employees was particularly interesting. At one point hand trucks of warm bottled water were wheeled out to at least try to calm the increasingly agitated crowd. Frenchie never got out of the train, which was really impressive in some sort of medieval torture challenge sort of way. She must have been really enjoying those magazines she was reading.
When the train finally started moving again there was still no air con and we were not at speed. Ah, the perils of travel.
When we arrived in Marseille we sort of forgot all this.
After dropping our things at our hotel, Mama Shelter (more on the hotel later), we headed out for a walk. Frenchie and I have competing senses of direction, which I always thought had to do with our totally divergent (though generally -strangely – compatible) world views. It turns out that our senses of direction are diametrically opposed because of the things we orient to: in this case, Frenchie to the tourist office; me unabashedly to the Intercontinental. In my bougie defense, it had been a long day and I was not interested in hunting down the tourist office which I suspected would be closed because France. I was very interested in cocktails.
As another vignette that will be added to my upcoming compendium How You Know You Have Become Middle Aged, the young lady at the front desk of our hotel recommended several places to us to try out for dinner and drinks in town. We enthusiastically noted them and headed out. With each place we looked at that she had suggested it became clear that they were the most expensive places in town. As a cute young thing would do when speaking to middle aged women traveling together in a way you’re not entirely sure you understand. Frenchie was not amused by this, and I get it, because the five-star life is not a very accurate way to see the world, and Fenchie does not want to be seen as that kind of traveler. And in general, I don’t either.
But after a hundred degree day and a train ride that took three times as long as it should have without ventilation, I was down to be that middle aged lady of means (or not) at the five star hotel.
Still, I was patient (ish) as we walked around checking out the marina and looking for the tourist office (it was closed). We did find out about a boat trip Frenchie wanted to take the next day, so when I subsequently insisted that we go to the highly recommended Hotel Dieu, she acquiesced. As we walked into the hotel, she looked at me and said, “This is why you always dress how you do, isn’t it?” I guess I never really thought about it, but yes, I believe being ready for anything is a good strategy, pls you can always take it down a notch if you look too fancy. And, hey, what better place to be ready than the French Riviera?
The Hotel Dieu was originally a hospital built in 1188. The last patients left the hospital in 1993. It opened as a hotel in 2013.
How lucky for us.
In spite of her initial dismay with the reality that we would end up at the Hotel Dieu rather than somewhere more quaint (authentic?), I noticed Frenchie got over it pretty darn quick. And really, how could you not?
We would only be in Marseille for three days and two nights… and JM’s partner had given us a bunch of tips so this was really Frenchie’s show. We made plans over a glass of rosé. And then reassessed them over another glass. By the third glass we were really getting ambitious. Our plans included a boat tour of the Clanques, the MUCEM, a sunset swim, checking out the church we were staring at from the Hotel Dieu, eating bouillabaisse, and buying soap. Seemed totally doable in a couple of days. Sated in several ways, we left the lovely Hotel Dieu and headed back to our hotel.
Mama Shelter is quite a kitschy little place. It was a nice enough hotel, but the most hilarious element was the in-room camera’s that they have. Guests can take photos of themselves and then subsequent visitors can view the… well, yeah. And the headboards light up.
We started our next day headed to the Calanques. As far as I can tell calanques is the French word for fjord. Which is clearly not an English word, but anyhow, high walled inlet. This is something Frenchie had wanted to do for some time, and I am hardly going to complain about a boat trip in the south of France. The trip would be about four hours and the only sad part was there was no disembarking or swimming and we would cruise out past the Château d’If where Edmond Dantès was imprisoned in the novel The Count of Monte Cristo and along the coast to Cassis.
It was gorgeous and hot and geographically stunning. I would do it again by kayak given the chance, and the little towns along the coast would be fabulous places to stay if you were looking for a real getaway.
On our return to the harbor we had lunch at an outdoor cafe and directed our energies to the MuCEM. This was a perfect choice for the heat of the day and one of those places where it is hard to decide what is more impressive, the inside or the outside. Seriously. Currently there is an exhibit on panoramic photos, so clearly, it is a place after my own heart. The building was designed by Rudy Ricciotti and is awesome. The whole time I was there I was also watching the locals swim off the side of the building which seemed somehow perfectly incongruous.
We were so glad to get to the MuCEM as a respite from the heat… but it was a fabulous museum as well, much more than we could see in a day.
On leaving the museum, we headed back through the old part of town. The streets were narrow and winding, replete with street art and soap shops. Marseille was interesting in that it had the provincial feel of other parts of the South of France, but it ale had the edginess of a port city with a dynamic and diverse population more akin to that of Paris insofar as I saw in France.
…to be continued…