Saturday, October 07, 2017

A Gritty French Levantine San Francisco

I left Aix in the morning to Marseille, hopping a bus for 45 minutes to the Mediterranean seaport.  Marseille is France's second largest city and the one of busiest port on the Mediterranean.  Its history dates back to Greek sailors from Phocea arriving in 600BC to found Masillia.  Lots of interesting history on the wikipedia page I linked above.  Anyway, I arrived to the bus/train station Gare St. Charles and found my way out of the station.  From outside the palatial train station, I was greeted with a stunning view of the city and Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde on high.  I liked the city immediately.


After a slight bit of wandering, I found the Hostel Vertigo, a charming spot not far from the train station or the city center.  I dropped my stuff in the luggage room, since it was too early for check-in.  Then I went off wandering down to the city center. 

I loved the city immediately.  As the title of this blog suggests, the city reminded me of a lot of places including San Fran, Paris and Algiers all wrapped up into one.  I wandered down the wide Hausmannian boulevard to the Vieux Port, whose history dates back to the original Greek settlement.  Down by the port, the brackish air wafted alternately smells of fish, sea and cigar smoke. 

I wandered around the port before heading along the corniche to grab a picnic lunch near the Plage des Catalans overlooking the sea.  I followed the corniche down until I spied the Chateau d'If, Marseille's version of Alcatraz prison--made famous by its guest the Count of Monte Cristo.

I followed the corniche back into town and checked into my room.  After a little rest, I went back out through the city, admiring the Hausmann architecture amid the changing autumn leaves.  I passed cafes filled with fellows drinking afternoon coffee or pastis.  I made my way to the beautiful Palais Longchamp, with its giant fountains and colonnaded walkway.  I sat in the park for a bit, admiring the beauty of the leaves and the sun beginning to set across the city from the fountains on high.

I spent the evening at the hostel, chatting with fellow guests; some of the other guests had been to the market and prepared dinner and they were kind enough to include us.

I got up early the next morning and made my way to the MuCem.  I climbed up the Fort Saint-Jean, but I arrived too early and the museum was not open yet.  I killed some time in a nearby cafe over a croissant.  I returned shortly to the fascinating MuCem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations).  In the Templar-built Fort Saint-Jean, there was an interesting film on the history of the fort and its environs.  From there, I crossed the foot bridge to the J4, a fascinating building of intricate lattice-like shell of fibre-reinforced concrete.  Inside the museum, there was a fascinating exhibits on seafaring through the centuries.  There was another interesting exhibit on the staples of the Mediterranean diet: olives, grapes and cereals.

From the Museum, I wandered on to the Villa Mediterranee--the white structure in the picture above.  I took in the view before heading on.


I returned to the hostel to start getting ready for Yom Kippur.  I had planned to get a nice dinner before starting my Yom K Fast but mismanaged my time, and was forced to have a kebab as my final meal.  But I arrived on time to the synagogue and ended up being honored with holding a torah around the synagogue during the Kol Nidre service.  It was kinda funny, I had a tiny little torah in my arms.  But thanks to the honor, I got to stand next to the rabbi as he sang the Kol Nidre service--and he had a beautiful rich voice.  It was both an honor and treat.

I returned the next day to the Yom Kippur service and stayed until the Musaf service before returning to the hostel to rest for my fast.  I had made my plans poorly, and was traveling that day to Nice.  So I was fasting in transit, which was no fun.  But after some rest, I made my way to the train station, where some ladies were playing festive tunes on the piano in the trainstation and with a tambourine.  Yes, almost all French train stations have pianos that are free to play.  Anyway, I caught my train from Marseille along the coast of the French Riviera past Cannes and Antibes until I reached my home (for October) in Nice.

Thus ending my Toulouse-LaTrek across southern France.  Toulouse to Montpellier to Avignon to Aix to Marseille to the final stop in Nice.  It was a lovely little two week adventure.  I love southern France, it is a beautiful and charming part of France.  It was even more beautiful in the Autumn foliage.  The weather was much better than Paris or Central France, and I liked the more tranquil vide coming off the Mediterranean. I would happily live in a place like Toulouse or Montpellier or Marseille if I could figure out a good reason to put down some roots there.

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