Marseille, Second French Connection

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter I

Marseille, Second French Connection

City: Marseille
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Travel date: 4/9/2008 – 6/9/2008
Couchsurfing: 2 nights

Though I wouldn’t say that it was a shoddy planning due to the extra lengthy working hour during my internship in Indonesia and England, the entire planning of the summer trip was pretty much resembled the idea of assembling scattering pieces for greater picture formation.

Nevertheless, the summer trip had successfully kick-started at Marseille, my second French connection, with a brand new travel experience; travelling alone and couchsurfing. Though it would be better if I have got companion, I savoured the greater freedom and flexibility offered by unaccompanied travel.

Caption: Entrance of navigational channel and Chatédrale.

Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris. The city is huge, but my time allocated for Marseille was scarce. And supported by the idea of having more relaxed travel compared to my winter trip, most of the tourist destinations had been aborted intentionally.

Being one of the candidates for cultural city of Europe, the ethnic composition of the population in the city of Marseille has certainly tailored it for the title. Culturally rich is almost automatically linked with Marseille due to this factor. However, to be crowned the cultural city of Europe? I have reservation.

Caption: Vieux Port day and night.

Not that Marseille was lacking the x factors that make it top the chart, but it was somehow unnatural in my opinion. If you have travelled to the city, you would definitely be dazzled by its offering of celebrations and activities that originated from cultures galore. But it just made me felt that these were all forced out.

It was interesting to witness how people of various skin colour tolerating each other for co-existence. But the connections of these people were in serious shortage with isolated living zones. Very often, it conveyed the message that these people are living together because they share the same space and not for greater interaction. Such a shame, indeed!

Caption: "Old Town" for the first three and Modern Town for the last.

Despite the fact that Marseille couldn’t be more cultural naturally interesting, attractions remain plentiful. Certainly, a walk along Vieux Port all the way towards Fort Saint-Jean or Bas Fort Saint-Nicolas is a must, especially during evening time when all the fishermen gather around Vieux Port, shouting at passerby for their products.

Vieux Port at night, however, has a totally different atmosphere in store for tourists than its blatant business and the chaotic manoeuvre of traffic during daytime. Accompanied by the refreshing late summer breeze from the sea, Vieux Port was beautifully decorated with colourful neon lights that sketched the liveliness of the city.

Vieux Port was nice, but it was not enormous for an entire day. Visiting to south of France and getting closer to the warmth of Mediterranean, what could be more relaxing and rewarding than a walk through the ancient hub of Marseille around the second district, especially in the proximity of Vielle Charite (the “old town” of Marseille) for its Mediterranean and Greek-like construction before diving oneself to the arms of sea at Catalans Beach?

Caption: Notre Dame de la Garde, inside and the way up.

Visiting to the “old town” of Marseille brought me to an entirely new world. The architectural value at the old town was distinctive from the modern Marseille. Surrounded by buildings which I believe were living quarters normally of three to four storey high and painted in different colours, there was a constant demand for a climb on fairly large step concrete staircase. It gave me a very strong sense of Mediterranean construction which surprised me in great order.

Satisfied with the old town, Catalans Beach or Plage des Catalans was however a shocking disappointment. The seawater was crystal clear and was in lovely sky blue colour if viewed from top and the temperature was surely a lot better than North Sea. However, the bay was so narrow that my search for a wide sandy beach unfortunately became a total nightmare. Luckily it wasn’t crowded for a nice late summer tan.

Caption: Another new and old comparison.

My only day in Marseille though was not inundated by tourist hot spots was quite tiring after a swim in the sea and a climb to Notre Dame de la Garde. Thus, there was no night life for me. However, hospitality offered by my host had got me to a night walk in Marseille which I appreciate very much.

Marseille, whether it is an official cultural city of Europe, surely has something to offer. But whether a tourist knows how to appreciate its charm, it depends.