Sunday, 28 September 2014

Au bord de la mer...

It’s official. I have now been in Lyon for just over a month, and it’s been a pretty great first month. But rather than talking about Lyon this week, I thought I’d tell you about my first real adventure: a weekend trip to Marseille.

There are a lot of rivalries between the cities of Lyon and Marseille. Arguments over the better football team, the better food, the better weather, and which city is France’s second city behind Paris. As a city, Marseille is France’s second largest, but if you include all the surrounding urban areas, then Lyon is larger. Food hands down goes to Lyon, the weather is debatable but Marseille stays warmer for longer in the year, and football changes from season to season. I had never been to Marseille before, and as an adopted Lyonnaise I was a little sceptical, but it was certainly worth a visit.

Calanque de Sugiton
Getting up at 5.30am on the Saturday, I met two of my Australian friends at the train station to catch a 7.20am train. I drifted in and out of sleep during the journey south, but the times I managed to keep my eyes open long enough I was rewarded with the views of beautiful hills and sparkling lakes. We arrived at about 10.30am and after finding our three other friends, stopping by the hostel and grabbing some lunch, we headed straight to one of Marseille’s most naturally beautiful attractions: the calanques. A calanque is a steep-walled inlet, cove, or bay often surrounded by limestone mountains and valleys, and the only two ways to get to the ones in Marseille is to either pay €9 for a boat to take you right there, or to catch a bus to the end of the line and then hike down the valley. Naturally, being an adventurous group we decided to go for the hike. It’s a massive cliché to say I felt at one with nature, so I’ll just say that the views from the top of the valley down onto the Mediterranean Sea were incredible, and the hike itself was a fantastic bonding experience. The terrain was a little tough, it was quite warm and at times I felt like we’d gone rock-climbing instead of hiking, but what we found at the bottom of the valley was well worth the effort. Beautiful blue sea surrounded by trees and rocks to jump from, and it wasn’t overcrowded either. The water was a little chilly to begin with, being sheltered from most of the sun, but after the climb down it was refreshing and so welcoming!

After another hike back to the top which made me think I was travelling to the Eyrie in Game of Thrones, we went back into the city, made ourselves some dinner back at the hostel and then went out to find a nice bar where we could reward our day’s exertions with a drink.

Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Inside the Basilique
Sunday started with breakfast from the boulangerie around the corner from the hostel, and then we headed off to visit Marseille’s cathedral on the hill, la Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. Looking at it from the outside, you can see the southern/Mediterranean influences on the building. The colour of the stones wasn’t that dissimilar to the Duomo of Florence. There was also a very obvious marine theme inside, with paintings of boats and the sea on the walls, and model boats hanging from the ceiling. It was beautiful, and unlike any church décor I had seen previously. The views of Marseille from the church weren’t bad either, despite it being a rather misty morning.

Vieux Port
The call of lunch brought us back down the hill to the Vieux Port, where we bought scented Marseille soap and spent the next hour or so eating at a restaurant in a little square just off the main tourist area. I then spent a bit of time enjoying the scent of fresh sea air and admiring the yachts and boats that were docked in the harbour, (goes with the territory of being from a naval family), before we headed to the station to catch our ride home.

On the whole I really liked Marseille. It has got a lot of things going for it, never mind the fact that it’s right by the sea, but I prefer Lyon as a city to live in. I was glad that after a really enjoyable weekend away I could come back to somewhere I’m really happy to be able to call home. I’m also especially looking forward to this next week as I have some people coming to visit and I cannot wait to show Lyon off to them. 

Left to Right: Marie-Laure, Me, Johanna

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