Lights and Shadows in Marseille

My backpack firm over my shoulders, few clear ideas, many dreams. That’s how my travel around the Mediterranean keeps going, my last escape from adulthood in search for a less definitive existence.

I just left behind Cinque Terre and Genoa in Italy, and arrived to my first foreign destination: Marseille. I wanted to visit this town since a long time, this city many people talk about but only few really know, France’s most renown harbour, fabled scenery of Dumas’ intrigues. Marseille is known to be a lively and entertaining town, charming and somehow dangerous.

Once I arrived in Saint Charles Train Station I immediately tasted its grandiosity from the staircase that stretches towards Vieux Port – an elegant corner fancied by tourists and couples – but from a more terrestrial point of view I thought something in the wheels of social integration went a bit wrong. In diversified African community which enriches with its flavours every corner of the town, not everyone did find his place in society, many roam like shadows the shabby alleys of Marseille.

I must add that I never felt any danger during my visit and that the locals have always been nice, welcoming and very helpful whenever I got lost – which used to happen about eight times per day. Still, I understand that some visitors more disposed towards melodrama may feel a tad disquieted in front of some urban scenes, and the good old rule ‘don’t nose around if you don’t know who you will find’ always applies well.

Marseille, France

Not really an idillic living postcard, Marseille is a mostly grey and sharp landscape where some stunning architectural wonders appear now and then. Vieux Port – on the central coastline – hosts a refined collection of sea food restaurants. I tried to get bouillabaisse once, Marseille’s traditional soup fish – but don’t call it ‘soup’ in front of a local! – but my companion retreated once she saw it costed 63 euro per person, and since I couldn’t order it for less than two people I had to turn towards mules et frites – mussels with French fries, which may sound like some fast food’s leftovers but it’s served with great pride.

The old Panier quarter is a charming corner with ancient alleys framed by small restaurants and pleasant brasseries, while the Pharo area, next to Viex Port, offers several beautiful views over the bay, especially at sunset, beside a small beach and a gracious water hallow used as dock by the fishermen.

Marseille, France

To enjoy the best possible view over Marseille I also climbed the endless way to the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde, just to discover that this temple of christianity closes its gates at six in the evening. My inadequate shape didn’t allow me to get there before seven, so I had to content myself with the slightly less enjoyable view from the nearby car park.

I leave Marseille with only two regrets: bouillabaisse and the relentless passing of time. I just started to understand which restaurants to hit to not feel as a beggar every time the unmerciful waiters looked at me and where to find those excellent baguettes filled with shrimps and salad, as to avoid the ever present threat of a kebab, and here was already time to leave for the next destination…

Marseille, France

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