After spending a very relaxing, pleasant week in Vancouver, visiting with family and old friends, it was with great reluctance that I awoke at the ungodly hour of 5 am to head to the airport (made all the more painful for having been at a friend’s wedding until midnight). I was in for a long haul of a journey, with 2 connections in Toronto and Frankfurt before landing in Marseille. Mercifully, the flights were relatively uneventful, and I was able to get some sleep in. The connections were very brief (each about an hour), which definitely has its cons. I was doing an undignified jog-run through Toronto International to reach my gate and managed to get there just as boarding was starting. The connection in Frankfurt was so brief, or perhaps they believed that the airport was so difficult to navigate in a timely manner, that there were attendants waiting for us when we disembarked to guide us through a back route, through security and the briefest customs in the history of travel (no wait and not a word said). We then took a bus to the gate, went up the stairs to scan our boarding pass at the gate, back down and onto another bus to take us to the small regional plane. Definitely the most convoluted connection I’ve had, but I at least was confident that I would make it since I had a tour guide.
It was a beautiful morning plane ride over Marseille, and it wasn’t long before we were off the plane and I happily collected my luggage (pleased/relieved that it made it through both my connections). I grabbed a ticket for a shuttle bus into town and was soon on my way to Marseille’s central train station. It was surprisingly hot for so early in the morning (28 C at about 9:30 am). In the interest of not being a sweaty mess and getting to the conference in a timely manner, I decided to grab a cab to the hotel. A somewhat regrettable choice as the cabbie informed me in somewhat broken English something about minimum distances/fares which resulted in my paying 20 Euro for a 10 minute cab ride. Ah well, nothing like a likely unscrupulous cab driver to start things off! After 16 hours of travel, I was just happy to be at my hotel, Adagio Marseille Vieux Port, which is basically a little studio apartment complete with a small kitchenette.
After discovering that one of the keynote speeches at the conference was set to start in a half an hour, I hurriedly got dressed and freshened up as best I could before setting off in search of the conference site. In several guidebooks, Marseille had been described as being somewhat gritty, and I definitely got that sense as I made my way through the streets. Coming in on the bus, the outskirts seemed worn around the edges–perhaps dilapidated might be a better term. There was a fair bit of graffiti, at least in the area I was walking through. I managed to find the university fairly straightforwardly and managed to squeeze in just as the keynote was getting started. I connected up with my travel mate (the other Angela in my department), and we grabbed our boxed lunch. We could learn a thing or two from the French about boxed lunches–fresh vegetables with a small bottle of balsamic/olive oil, chicken with dijon mustard, roll and even some Roquefort cheese.
We sat outside in a shady courtyard of the university, where I was surprised to learn that the poster sessions were to be held. I’d never had an outdoor poster session, but given that we were in the sunny south of France, this seemed like a good idea. We wandered around the poster session for a time before ultimately heading back to the hotel. She was tired from the night before, and I was definitely in need of a reprieve before the conference dinner later that evening. After a longer-than-expected nap, we both felt a bit more refreshed and ready for a bit of exploring. We headed down towards the Vieux Port (“Old Port”), which was a relatively short walk from our hotel.
This was the picturesque Marseille that you write home about–sun-soaked buildings lining a harbour packed to the brim with boats. The impressive Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde loomed in skyline, perched atop its hill overlooking the harbour. We strolled down the wide boulevard that encircles the port, dotted with brightly-painted animal sculptures and a handful of Dali replica sculptures. We made a brief pit spot at a gelato place (which I think I’ve been to in Paris) and made away with some tasty raspberry and tiramisu gelato before heading over to the conference dinner site at the Officer’s Mess at Fort Ganteaume. The site afforded a beautiful view of the Vieux Port. We toured the battlements and watched the setting sun bathe the harbour in a beautiful pink light. Cocktails and scrumptious little hors d’oeuvres were served, and we were soon mingling and munching away. All in all, it was an exceedingly pleasant evening–friendly people, tasty eats and a little bit of geeking out. As the evening wore on, there was even a dance floor, much to my amusement, with a decent amount of thoroughly un-selfconscious dancing. Definitely a long first day, but a good night’s sleep will hopefully refresh me for my conference presentation tomorrow.