europe,  france,  travel

Scaling the hills of Marseille – Day 4


It was our last day in France, so we tried to get going in a timely manner. We dressed and primped and packed our things up and checked out of our hotel. We had an evening flight to Rome, which meant we had the day to do a bit more exploring and some shopping around the city. We headed in the direction of the Notre Dame de la Garde, the basilica atop the large hill that overlooks the city. Upon looking at it this morning, we were somewhat apprehensive about making the climb, but set off up the hill. At first it seemed a pleasant enough walk, but soon the grade became rather than challenging, and we were panting and puffing away. We were exceedingly grateful that we decided to do this first thing in the morning, before the heat of the day had really set in. After many, many stairs and with burning legs, we finally reached the basilica.

It was a soaring, striped building, with remarkably accessible facilities (including an elevator!) and cafe. We caught our breath over a couple of drinks before heading up to see the inside of the basilica. I suppose I was used to the interiors of cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris, so I was surprised to see the colour and ornateness of this place. Beautifully intricate mosaics, gleaming with gold. We craned our necks for a time before taking a tour the terraces outside to admire the stunning views of the city and the surrounding islands, including Chateau d’If. The southern view had a distinctly Mediterranean feel, with its red-roofed homes dotting the tree-laden hills. We ran across a pair of very intensely-focused dancers rehearsing on the terrace, which I thought was an interesting place to be rehearsing, given the steady stream of tourist traffic, but they didn’t seem to notice. The number of people had definitely picked up, and we were glad to have gotten there early enough to have avoided the crowds.

Our next stop was the Abbey of Saint Victor at the Vieux Port, which meant making our way back down the hill. We sort of half-skipped our way down, as it was more effortful to maintain a sedate pace of descent. I spotted a nice looking boulangerie/patisserie on the way down, so we stopped in for a bit of lunch. It had a beautiful interior (complete with a chandelier) and a tantalizing array of goodies to choose from. I opted for an individual quiche lorraine with a small chocolate tart thing for dessert, both of which were delicious. Angela had made a list of shops that might be interesting to check out, and we ran across one of them on our way to the abbey. Le Four des Navette is the oldest bakery in Marseille, dating back to 1781, known for making navette biscuits, which are a signature of the area. They’re these little boat-shaped hard biscuits, flavoured with orange blossom, that were traditionally used to celebrate Candelmas (which I discovered actually falls on my birthday, Feb. 2). They only sold them in larger packs, but thankfully had a little sample basket so we were able to snag a taste. They weren’t anything particularly interesting, but it was nice to try something so local.

The Abbey of Saint Victor was just down the street. It’s an imposing, medieval structure, with an interior similar in style to cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris. Standing in stark contrast to the elaborateness of the Notre Dame de la Garde, which we’d just seen, there was a quiet austerity to the place that was very soothing. We went down into the crypt, which was much larger than I expected. I was also startled at how old many of the artifacts were, some dating back to the 3rd and 4th century. We eventually made our way back out and were off to do a little shopping. We stopped in an artisanal soap shop, as Marseille is known for its making of soap from vegetable oils (apparently they’ve been doing it for the last 600 years). It was a lovely little shop, and remarkably reasonably-priced, so we picked up a few souvenirs and moved on. We wandered back through Vieux Port and discovered a very fashionable couple of streets running just off of it, with lots of stylish folk and shops. We checked out a chocolaterie and a few clothing stores before finding a patio to grab a drink and a snack. We had some delicious cheese croquettes, and I had a tasty mojito, before continuing on with our shopping. We stopped in to a hat shop, where Angela was very pleased to snag a charming grey cloche hat. Finally, we stopped by Sephora for a bit to grab some lip gloss to keep ourselves prettified.

We headed back to the hotel to grab our luggage and do a bit of re-distributing, as I was carrying some things for Angela so she wouldn’t have to check her bag. Luggage in hand, we made another climb to the train station. It was the day of hills it seemed, as I somewhat awkwardly pushed my luggage up the hill. But we made decent time, and we grabbed a snack at the station to recover. It wasn’t long before we hopped on the shuttle bus and were whizzing away to the airport. We were a touch earlier than we’d planned, but I figured there was no harm in not being rushed and relaxing at the airport for a bit. The flight was fabulously short–I didn’t even notice we were landing (as they didn’t ask to turn off electronics) until we thudded onto the runway.

We grabbed my bag and headed out to the train area to catch an express train to Rome’s central train station. After some confusion about how to get our tickets validated, we were soon on the train and trundling along into town. We were grateful to have figured out how the machines worked to validate our tickets, as we overheard another traveller receiving a 50 euro fine for not getting it validated. We happened to be sitting across from an Englishman who we discovered was a PhD student in mathematics on his way to a conference, funnily enough. I was somewhat spacing out during the conversation, sleepy and half-concerned about the last leg of our journey. I always have a small amount of anxiousness about finding our accommodations, particularly when there are cabs involved. We hopped off the train and headed out in search of a cab, which were no where to be found on the side of the train station that we exited. We did avoid taking the cab offered by a couple men who approached, asking if we needed a cab, and ultimately flagged one down that happened to be driving by. Thankfully, he was able to find the street without incident, and after a momentary panic at not seeing the appropriate buzzer label, we were safely inside and meeting our host. It’s a fabulous little one-bedroom apartment, complete with a bright orange kitchen, modern bathroom and living room. We chatted for a bit with our super-friendly host before she headed out.

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