Marseille. Or, for many English speakers, Marseilles. Everyone has heard of this city, which is the second largest in France. It evokes images of the Mediterranean Sea and its famous harbor. Like many others, I associated Marseille as a glamorous city, a marvelous town perched on the edge of a sunny coast and the wide open ocean.
What I experienced was a dirty, unsafe city…where it rained for four days straight! It was also in Marseille that I spent time in a prison cell and was attacked by a giant seagull (I’ll explain how I ended up in prison a little while later). I stepped off of the train and I immediately knew that Marseille would be much different than I had been anticipating. The sidewalks were cracked, construction was everywhere and there was so much dog poop. Yes, doggie doo doo. Strange people were standing on every corner, looking like they were up to something dark and dangerous. This was not the Marseille I thought it was.
I set my bags down at the hotel and went about exploring with caution. My first stop was the museum of Mediterranean archeology, which I was able to get in for free. This was a very interesting museum that held artifacts not only from ancient Greece and the Roman empire, but also Egypt, Mexico and Africa.
I went to the Vieux Port, which was smaller than I imagined it. Along the harbor, I found a fort that was under construction, but also a massive cathedral. I headed inside and checked it out. From there, I found another church. This church was very old (12th century, Saint Laurent).
My last visit of the day was to the Cours Julien, which is a famous street known for its artistic people.
The second day, I was in Aix-En-Provence, which you can read about in my previous blog entry.
The third day, that’s when I ended up in prison and was attacked by the seagull. My day started off pretty normal. I went to Notre Dame, which is this church on top of this hill. I knew it was one of the highest points in Marseille and I knew it would give me a great view of the city. I climbed up a massive hill and thought, Okay. It’s right here.
Nope. Not at all. I had to climb another hill and about a million stairs. I asked myself if it was really worth it. In the end, it was. Even though it was horrible day and I couldn’t get a good view, I got the idea. Marseille is a huge city, sprawling everywhere. And it was surrounded by giant mountains. The church itself was beautiful, very ornate…and very popular with the tourists. I saw so many people! And all of them took tour buses, taxis or buses to the top. I envied all of them in that moment. I was the only one to climb the path that I climbed. I was the only one crazy enough to do it. Note for next time: take the city bus.
I ate a nice lunch, saw a fish market and took a boat ride…which landed me directly in that prison cell I mentioned before. What prison was I taken to? The Château d’If. That’s right – the famous prison from the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas! I took the ferry to the island, which is right off the harbor of Marseille. I walked inside the prison (free admission again for students) and discovered that it wasn’t always a prison.
Maybe I learned this in high school, but I was still a little surprised. The château was first built as a defense for Marseille. It was later converted into a prison and made famous by the tale of Edmond Dantes, the young man unrightfully imprisoned and his daring escape…and the buried treasure! Can’t forget the treasure! It’s a delightful tale and I first was introduced to it in high school. In my high school French class, we read an abridged version. Okay, it was super abridged and it contained really simple words, but we still got the idea of the intricate tale. I still remember a lot of vocabulary words from that story (I learn vocabulary best if I learn in it in a book or in a real life situation). Since then, I’ve read an abridged version in English, but I have yet to read the full version in English or French. I do love the story though. So, visiting the Château d’If was very exciting…especially when it was rainy and the sea was stormy. It added to the dramatic effect.
The Château d’If has a room which they call the Edmond Dantes room (which it obviously can’t be, since he was a fictional character), but it does have a hole leading to another room (which fits swimmingly with the story). Speaking of swimming….how did Dantes survive that fall into the ocean? I saw those cliffs…he must have been one great swimmer!
His room: http://youtu.be/mwfDNhoxUYk
His daring escape: http://youtu.be/ECymhE2uNn0
It was also on these cliffs that I was attacked by a giant seagull. I read a sign early saying that the seagulls were aggressive and to be careful, but there is a difference between aggression and pure blood lust. I wasn’t even near this seagull when I heard this horrible war cry. I was like, Oh my goodness. I’m going to die. This is it. This is the end of Kellene O’Hara – pecked to death by a seagull. It wasn’t even a regular seagull. It was huge…and it had a little speck of red on its beak, probably from another one of its victims. It swooped down and began to beat its giant wings. It was screaming for my blood…also it was trying to summon its friends to come and feast on another yummy tourist. “I’m going! I’m going!” I shouted as I ran away.
I didn’t do anything to the seagull. I didn’t even look at it. I wasn’t even close to it. That is not aggression. That’s pure madness.
I took the boat to the Frioul islands, which are right off of the coast and next to the Château d’If. I wasn’t sure what I’d find on these islands. What I found was even worse than being in prison and being attacked by seagulls…I found the creepiest island ever. First, it was Sunday. Second, it was raining. This meant that I was the only one walking around the island (although, apparently, a few people live here because I saw a small apartment building, although I have no idea why anyone would want to live here). I found a series of abandoned buildings with signs saying not to enter. It looked like something out of a horror movie. I was like, let’s not go there. I found a sign for a fort, so I climbed up a giant mountain thinking I was going to see a fort with some historical information. Nope. Not at all. I got crumbling ruins. I was the only one here and it was very spooky. I thought to myself, This is how tourists die. And there were the seagulls again. Those deranged seagulls. I got off that mountain quickly.
I saw a sign for a historic monument, a hospital, and I decided that was a safer bet. I went to the hospital…only to discover it was in terrible shape and no one was allowed in it! It was abandoned and incredibly spooky, like the fort. This was a historic monument? Apparently, they plan to renovate it and finish the renovations…in 2018! More blood thirsty seagulls.
On the bright side, I did get to see two calanques, which are unique to the Mediterranean coast. They are inlets, usually made of limestone, and they are beautiful.
But, then, the rain began to pour in earnest. It was a terrible rain and I was quite scared. What if they cancel the boat because of the rain? What if I am stuck on this island for the night? Oh. There is no way I’m staying in that abandoned hospital for the night, which probably was the inspiration for Shutter Island (I haven’t read the book, but I saw the movie and that scared me enough). I cannot describe to you how creepy this island is when you’re the only one there in the rain. Even Stephen King couldn’t make this up…it’s so scary it has to be real!
I got off the island with my life and soul intact. My eyes were not pecked out by a seagull. I lived to see the next day.
The next day, I went to visit more calanques because they are so unique and they are just beautiful. I started off by going to one calanque which was really easy to get to. Believe it or not, these calanques are within the transportation limits of Marseille, meaning that I didn’t have to pay anything special to get to them. I took a bus to one place, which a tourist helper said was within easy walking distance. Only 35 minutes she said.
35 minutes…for who? Lance Armstrong on a bike? First, there weren’t any signs. I didn’t have a map so the trail markers didn’t help me. I walked for a while in the woods until I reached this mountain. I could see the ocean and, since calanques are inlets of the ocean, I decided to head in that direction. But it was raining…and it was cold. I only saw three other people, crazy enough to come out in the rain. There was this couple and they started to go down the mountain, but turned around. The old man, who looked like a crazy scientist, didn’t even go near the mountain. The calanques are a national park though, so maybe he was headed somewhere else.
I started to go down the mountain and started to doubt myself. I couldn’t see anything. The rocks were too high. There were too many trees. But I was half-way down the mountain, so I kept going. I seriously doubted myself though because while I navigate well in an urban setting, I am pretty much useless in a wilderness setting. I don’t know anything about plants or trees and I don’t have an internal sense of the northern star.
Luckily, my instincts were right. I found the calanque after a very, very long hike. I could have touched the water, but the trail further down looked too dangerous. I’m a Mountaineer at West Virginia University, but I’m not a real mountaineer. I could have probably done it, but I was completely alone. I have one rule when traveling alone (or traveling in general)…don’t die.
Beautiful view: http://youtu.be/wmg5Y9rOf_8
It was a lovely view, but then I had to climb back up. That was fun. It was certainly not 35 minutes.
I headed back into town, ate lunch, then headed to the next calanque. I took a bus and then needed to take another bus. However, the other bus didn’t run for like two hours! I’m not even kidding. Luckily, I just had an hour to wait. But I was dropped off in the middle of this neighborhood and I didn’t know what to do. I remember passing some beaches though, so I went down this street and found a rocky beach. It was small and clearly not popular (there were only a few people there), but I got to sit and watch the waves for an hour. It was quite relaxing…and the sun actually made an appearance! I was so happy it stopped raining.
Then, the bus arrived. I say “bus” lightly. It was actually a small van, with enough room for ten people! I took the bus, which went around and around these winding twists and turns against the cliffs of the Mediterranean. It gave a great view, even if it was slightly scary at times. The bus ride was pleasant, since I was with a bunch of old people and they all chatted with everyone like we were all best friends. It wasn’t a long bus ride and I was dropped off at my last calanque. It was bigger than the other calanques and not as cool, but it was worth seeing just for the bus ride and for the little village at the base of the calanque.
There was only one restaurant…and it didn’t have a name. It didn’t need one. When you’re the only restaurant in town, there’s no confusion!
I headed back on the next bus, since I didn’t want to stay for another hour or two. I returned to Marseille and ended my last day in Marseille. It wasn’t what I imagined, but that’s not a bad thing. Marseille provided a more urban view of France…at the same time provided some spectacular views of nature! It’s marvelous in its own way. I enjoyed my time in Marseille, even though it was wet, dirty and strange. I’m glad I came, but I’d like to leave now for the next part of my adventure.
I’m waiting for my train to Nice…but it’s been announced that it’ll be four hours late! Four hours! I’ve seen trains five or ten minutes late, but four hours! Yikes (I talked to a train person and she said there was an accident). I guess Marseille doesn’t want me to leave quite yet.
Update: In Nice now. In French class a few weeks ago, we had a “scenario.” Your train is late, you must ask for a new train ticket. Well, this is one scenario that was actually true. Due to an accident, the train was supposed to be four hours late. I later looked up to see it has a funny name beside it. I asked the SNCF (train people) what it meant – it meant that the train was delayed “indeterminately.” Well, that didn’t sound good. So, I asked if there was another train and there was. I got in later than expected, but I still got here. This further proves that although my French isn’t perfect, it gets me where I need to go.