Saturday, May 12, 2007

Passing Through Marseille (France)

From the Côte D'Azur, we headed to Provence for a few nights. We were staying in Aix-en-Provence, and so decided to do our day in Marseille on the way through. After dumping our luggage at the station lockers, we grabbed a map from the tourist office and headed down to the old port.

The guide books had raved about how Marseille had a wonderful gritty, edgy vibe and pulsed with energy from the meeting of French, Mediterranean and North African cultures. But we must have got it on a quiet day, becuase to us it just seemed like Naples without the character and charm.

The city of Marseille had set up a walking route through Le Panier district, highlighting the artisan craft and food shops which sounded right up our alley. The Lonely Planet had commented that the red line painted on the footpath to mark the trail was a little erratic - occasionally going down dead ends and at one point straight into a tree. We found it was in even worse condition - road works had destroyed the line in places, occasionally it forked in confusing directions, turned corners not marked on the map and seemed to avoid most of the interesting looking shops in the heart of the district in favour of the closed auto repair shops around the edges.

In the afternoon we took a boat trip out to the Château d'If, a former fortress turned political prison, and was made famous by The Count of Monte Cristo. The museum on the island seemed to be a bit confused about whether it was trying to explain the building as a historical monument or a literary one, and so didn't do either particularly well. But it was a fun visit, even with the dangerous giant sea gulls and the huge primary school group on the boat back (where the teacher decided the empty seat next to Karina was the punishment seat, and so kept sending naughty kids to sit there).

That was about it for Marseille, so after a lazy afternoon tea, we caught our train to Aix-en-Provence.

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