Sadly, we said goodbye to the Cote D’Azur yesterday and left for Marseille via Le Lavandou where we stopped for coffee and a stroll through the pretty streets. Next up was Toulon -a drive through only. I am sure there are pretty parts to the city, but surely didn’t see them. On the outskirts we passed hundred of decaying and run down tenement blocks which are obviously still inhabited.
We are now ensconced in our quirky but delightful B &B, Casa Ortega in crazy Marseille. It is like going from the sublime to the ridiculous from a huge four bedroom villa to a small place like this, but nothing is better than being right in the thick of real life to see how a city works, and Casa Ortega allows us to do this. It is perfectly placed for seeing how different cultures, races and religions can co-exist peacefully and successfully, though personally I still feel uneasy in certain places.
Casa Ortega is run by Caroline, a delightful and very attractive Parisian woman who moved to Marseille a few years ago. She fell in love with the building and has since turned it into a smart and colourful B & B. She provides a nourishing breakfast, and is a mine of information regarding the area.
The area around Casa Ortega has a lot graffiti like so much of the city, run down buildings, homeless people sleeping rough on doorsteps, and there is a huge ethic mix. The smell of freshly cooked breads and pizzas wafts through the air each time we step out into Rue des Petites Maries, where the B & B is situated. On the walk to and from the Vieux Port, we noticed there are fewer women on the streets up here, but clutches of men sit drinking strong coffee and smoking (still so common in France it would seem). While it is probably not unusual to feel disquiet walking the streets in this milieu, Caroline assures that there is no need. Nevertheless, the feeling that anything could happen still lurks and returning to our cosy third floor room with a terrace is like returning to a cocoon. We feel safe.
The port itself is beautiful – boats of every kind are crammed into the marina, with cafes and restaurants lining each side of the docks and two old forts intended ,in past times, to guard it. The sun was shining and the water was deep blue and sparkling. We decided to take the walk over to Fort Saint-Jean and the MuCEM – both stunning in their grandeur. Views like those from the Fort have to be savoured, and we took our time, even though we were being buffeted the strong winds generated by the Mistral. At one stage I could barely stand still enough to hold onto my camera.
The MuCEM is yet another example of the lengths to which the French go to display and celebrate their history – everything is well sign posted and there is plenty of documentation to help you understand the past that unfolds before your eyes. It will remain a memorable experience.
We took dinner close by in a very ordinary looking restaurant with a simple menu which appealed. The food was very average but we had a wonderfully attentive waiter who was rather “Manuelesque” at the same time. We had a bit of fun with him and returned to our cosy room with terrace on the third floor. As we prepared for bed, we could hear that there was a thunderous fireworks display going on at the port. All in a day’s work in Marseille apparently….
Tomorrow we get up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde.