Tuesday, 12 October 2010

From the Count of Monte Cristo to the Count of Calories – a top weekend in Marseille…


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Team Taylor is back in England and back in the gym, although it was a less than stellar performance in the Land’s End Challenge. For some reason my foot is hurting again (just slightly), so I took to the bike today for 32KM in an effort to a) burn off some of the 10,000 calories I consumed this weekend and b) minimize impact.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the recap of Jenny’s birthday trip – 3 days in the concrete jungle that is Marseille…

Friday: THIS is our hotel?

So the trip over was an easy one, as Team Taylor took a ride on BA, who is AWESOME (when they’re not striking, of course). The only “slight” hiccup was the 45 minute delay that resulted from a “minor mechanical malfunction. Here’s the direct quote from the pilot: “Ladies and gentlemen, from the flight deck. Well, we were ready to go, but, well, you know that little tram that brings the stairs to the plane? Well, that’s stuck on the plane right now and the battery’s dead. And since it’s attacked, the wheels are in lock mode, which means we can move it. We’re trying to find someone to replace the battery but, well, there’s no one around.” Full stop.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Can somebody go out to Waitrose and buy the guys at Gatwick some Energizers or something? But anyhoo – I digress…

En route we met a very nice fella from Aix named Thomas (who’s hopefully back on good terms with his gal by now), and we had a GREAT conversation. Turns out this good is a HUGE American sports fan, and we spent a good 30 minutes talking about “pro wrasslin’.” This guy knows more about John Cena, Sheamus, The Undertaker, and Edge than even Chuck Powell – it was impressive.

The cab ride in was fine, even if it did cost SIXTY EUROS. And when I tried to explain what I wanted to leave for a tip, I realized that, unlike Paris, these cats do NOT speak English. Consequently, Sammy started communicating in the lengua franca, and it was HILARIOUS.

We checked into our hotel – called the “new” hotel of Marseille – and it was AWESOME!!!! Seriously – we had funky trendy black lights in the hallways, a terrace for the bar that you could launch a space shuttle from, and a room big enough to sleep 50. We actually had a California King!

We celebrated that night by having a pint down by the pool. The weather was warm, the view was stunning, and the Heineken was AMSTERDAM quality. Seriously – how am I going to cope with life post-Heineken? Oh, the drama….

We sacked out around 1 AM, and thus began a 3 day sleeping and eating binge…

Saturday: This hill’s a little steeper than I’d reckoned…

So Team Taylor rolled out of bed around 10:30 or so (more like “or so,” but you get the drift – it was before noon) and wandered down to the Old Port. This port, founded in 600 BC by the Greeks, was the only port for the city between its founding in 2600 BC (making it the oldest city in France – mom, this is the perfect time to answer the question: “U be est Galia?”) and 1850, at which point the “new” port was built beside it. Seriously, you have NEVER SEEN so many ships in one place – it was CRAZY! We walked around the harbor, stepping off to a side street to find a nice lunch at Simon’s café. Once there, JT tore up some salmon whilst I had a salad (Elaine style) covered in enough cheese to feed an army. To be fair, I might have picked something else, but there was no English menu, and I was NOT gonna have another tartar incident. JT also got chocolate mousse for desert, and it was EXTRA AWESOME.

After that, we went for the “casual stroll” to the Notre Dame de la Garde. This church, situated at the top of the hill, has AMAZING views of the harbor islands, the old port, and the city. It is said that Marseille is a “concrete jungle,” and from the church’s vantage point, you can see why – there isn’t a SCRAP OF GREEN IN THAT ENTIRE CITY. Seriously – there was ONE STREET lined with trees. The rest was an endless sea of buildings.

After milling around the church, we wandered down to the sea, checking out the World War I memorial by the beach. Then, to reward ourselves for a solid 3 hours of exertion, we sat on a bench to overlook the Frioul and If islands, at which point Perfect Pumpkin PASSED OUT. She caught a nice 20 minute power nap before we headed back into town for dinner.

So the interesting story – prior to setting out that morning, we asked the concierge where he would recommend eating. He pointed to 2 spots (both of which we’d seen before), but then said there was another area that was “fun for young people,” filled with music and lots of bars. That sounded great and off the beaten path, and so we said we’d try that. As we turned to go, however, he grabbed our map to stop us and said (again – DIRECT QUOTE): “Um, in Marseille, is not so safe to, um, walk around with anything on you. No rings, necklace, money, (sidebar – WHO THE HELL CAN JUST WANDER AROUND A FOREIGN CITY WITH NO MONEY?), nothing to show to anyone.” He then proceeds to make motions and gestures of rings being RIPPED OFF HIS HANDS. After that he promptly smiled and said, “Enjoy your dinner!” Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight…

Unconvinced that we were going to get knifed, we started to the walk to this place that was “fun for young people.” Well, let me just say that if he considers this place fun, then I bet he finds Baghdad to be a HOOT. WOW – what a journey.

The walk up was through a place that was one step shy of an Algerian bazaar (bizarre might have been more appropriate), ultimately leading us to the “fun place,” which was:


B. Filled with cats who did NOT look friendly

C. covered in graffitti

Consequently, Sammy and Jenny made a BEE LINE back toward the harbor, stopping to breathe outside the police station.

All was not lost, however, as we ended up finding a GREAT place right on the water, where we KILLED some cheese, salmon, and fish. It was all SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies). We then stopped for a pint to watch the first half of France vs. Romania (2012 Euro Cup qualifier) before catching the second half at the hotel (I had a GREAT Bordeaux and France won 2-0 – all in all, a great night). We then hit the sack and PASSED OUT around midnight.

Sunday: No, babe – I want to walk this way…into North Africa…

After an 11 hour sleep, Team Taylor work up and headed out just after noon. Not wanting to stray too far from the path (as they would say in “Into the Woods”), we decided to take it easy and just check out the other side of the harbor. That lead to a GREAT meal for lunch and then a pleasant stroll by the water, stopping along side one of the old forts of the city.

As we rounded the fort, I noticed a walkway to the city’s Cathedral. I mentioned that this was the path, but Jenny had other ideas, as she saw a VERITABLE WAR ZONE in front of us and felt compelled to see what was there. Thinking nothing of it, we strolled that way.

Our first sign indicator should have been the fact that there was NO SIDEWALK. Our second sign indicator should have been that there were BARRICADES EVERYWHERE. However, that didn’t slow us down – not one bit. Instead, we kept walking in the mud past on-coming traffic, convinced we would find something (a pot of gold perhaps) just around the bend.

What we found instead was a dead end and 3 tents beside an old shack. Beside the shack was a sign that said: “Entry Forbidden – Restricted International Trading Space.” Thinking it was a good idea to turn around at that point, we spun around to see the HUGE SIGN directly over our heads that said: “Ferry for Algeria and Tunisia.” Basically, we were the LONE PEDESTRIANS walking in the middle of the zone for the car ferry to North Africa. Quality…Puma – this sounds like something you and I would get into…

We managed to walk (briskly) back out of the zone and to the ORIGINAL walking path, where we found the original Cathedral. This was truly an AMAZING church, and it was almost TOTALLY EMPTY inside. JT said it best when she said it was like something out of a movie. I kept waiting for Robert Langdon to jump out and tell me he’d cracked some code.

After that, we strolled around a bit before dinner, where Team Taylor KILLED some grub. We had an AMAZING cheese plate (shocker, I know), and I think polished off another plate of…wait for it…wait for it…BLACK SPAGHETTI, BABY!!!!! Who loves spicy squid ink? THIS GUY!!!!! It was classic – I ordered the food, the waiter nodded, and then he came back and said in English: “This spaghetti is black – is okay?” Aaaaaaaaaaahh, yeah…..

Monday: In the footsteps of Edmund Dauntess – sailing to Chateau D’If…

We rolled out of bed after another 11 hour sleep, stopped for a DELICIOUS salmon and cream cheese bagel (complete with capers – YEAH, BABY), and then rolled to the old port, where we caught our boat for the day’s activity. We’d actually planned to sail on a three hour tour (a three hour tour…sorry – couldn’t resist) to Cassis and the Calenques (rock formations), but it was too windy. Instead, we took a journey deep into my imagination: a sail past Chateau D’If.

For anyone who doesn’t know, this is the infamous prison which features in “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I will confess that, prior to seeing it on a map on Friday, I didn’t actually know that it was a real place (P.S. Let’s not tell anyone that part, especially my retired librarian grandmother, okay?). Once I saw it on the map, however, I knew that we HAD to go.

The castle is currently under renovation, and so we couldn’t go to the island. That being said, we did get to sail around it, and we got some great shots of the rock (it was basically the Medieval equivalent of Alcatraz). We also got about 49,000 gallons of saltwater to the face, as it was CRAZY WINDY OUT THERE. Seriously, we sailed past Chateau D’If and onto the Frioul Islands, and it was like something out of “The Perfect Storm.” When we got back to the shore, I felt like I’d been slapped in the face repeatedly by a wet mackerel.

We then rolled up to Fort St. Nicholas, where we had some GREAT VIEWS of the port (as well as watching some cats who were MASTERS of bacci ball – it was AWESOME). We then rolled over to Victor Abbey, the oldest church in the city (dating back to 977 – some of the original stonework was STILL THERE!). After that, it was a farewell pint (or 2) before rolling back to the airport, where a half-full flight turned out to be AWESOME when we arrived 30 minutes early. WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!

We got home just after midnight and passed out around 1. Well, Muffin did, at least. I COULD NOT sleep to save my life, and so I ended up staring at the clock until well past 3 AM. So it goes…

All in all, it was a GREAT TRIP, especially if you are just looking to relax. If you want to go hard, then 2 days is plenty. However, should you fancy a long weekend, you could definitely spend 3 days in Marseille, especially during the summer when it’s warm (there’s a beach for swimming down by the old port, and the water is AMAZINGLY CLEAR.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

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