It’s Not Always Sunny in Marseille

Marseille, FRANCE // Friday April 22 – Sunday April 24, 2011

With the sound of waves rushing up against the sandy beaches, the breathtaking views from the Notre-Dame de la Garde and the mouth-watering, seafood rich cuisine, what’s there not to love about Marseille? I really wish this was a rhetorical question, but unfortunately, I have an answer for it – the smell – and no, not the smell of the salty Mediterranean Sea, but the smell of garbage – and it was everywhere! I had high hopes for the “ville du soleil“, but they were dashed about 20 minutes into my trip, and it had nothing to do with the rainy weather. Walking down the streets, if it wasn’t a pile of garbage I was constantly dodging, it was a pile of dog poop. I really hope I had arrived in the middle of a garbage strike because honestly, it was disgusting. To say the least, the allure of this Southern French city is deceitful. However, I didn’t make the multi-hour trek for nothing, and so made the most out of my stay in Marseille, and in doing so, I discovered that beyond its reputation for grungy, crime-ridden streets and racist residents, there are some things to love about Marseille.

The “Four des Navettes” Bakery

With a history spanning 230 years and counting, this bakery is Marseille’s hidden gem.  While museums and famous monuments tend to top tourist itineraries, there is no better way to immerse oneself in a new city (or country) than through food. At the Four des Navettes, the pièce de résistance is its signature navette biscuit.  I bought a dozen biscuits and they came packed in a yellow tin box – a perfect souvenir.

Navette biscuits

The “Borne de Livre échange” (Book exchange terminal)

Located on rue de la Canebière are two large statues of giraffes. At a first glance, they appear to be some sort of art installation, but upon further review, their function becomes evident. The first (and largest) giraffe contains several cut-outs, each filled with books. The second giraffe has a large gap in its torso with the words “Borne de livre échange” written above: Book exchange terminal. The idea is that you can take a book as long as you leave another in its place. Unfortunately, the drop-box was empty that day. This concept is similar to where registered members engage in “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” On March 19, 2011 while waiting for a train at Mâcon’s train station, I spotted a book on a bench. As the platform was empty, I decided to investigate, thinking that perhaps this book was purposely left behind. I picked up the copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, flipped through its pages for a code (which allows for the book to be registered on the website) but found nothing but unsigned postcards from the UK. I decided to keep the book – I figured, why not?  I could place it next to  my copy of Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and its sequel Pigs in Heaven – but the deciding factor was the coincidence of me finding the book on my Birthday!

The View of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde

Pearched high above the city is the imposing structure of the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde. The nautical roots from which the city of Marseille grew are well represented in the Basilica’s architecture: from the beautiful boat ceiling and wall mosaics  to the hanging miniature boats in the upper church. In the past, sailors and fishermen would carry their boats to the Basilica in order to have them blessed, with hopes of safety  and success in the waters. Today, thousands of tourists make the hike up to take in the beautiful panoramic view of the city.

Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde

The Frioul Archipelago as seen from the Notre-Dame

The Vieux-Port as seen from the Notre-Dame

The Beach

What’s a post about Marseille without any mention of the beach? Of course, at the time of my visit, the beaches of Marseille were vacant. However, I couldn’t help imagining the crowds of sun-kissed bathers at the beach-side bars and cafés, the laughs of children building sand castles, and the rush of waves embracing brave swimmers. A true shame that my work visa expires before I can experience the care-free days of Summer.


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