Written by TianjinPaul on 17 Apr, 2012
The following tale is one of pure and unadulterated woe. It details how the wonders of modern technology and globalisation can fall flat on their face and cause some old-fashioned and extremely localized problems. The story begins in my girlfriend's apartment on her couch as…Read More
The following tale is one of pure and unadulterated woe. It details how the wonders of modern technology and globalisation can fall flat on their face and cause some old-fashioned and extremely localized problems. The story begins in my girlfriend's apartment on her couch as we flicked between various websites in our search for hotels in Marseiile. It was an arduous process. We were looking for something modern and relatively close to both the train station and the Old Port - we also didn't want to pay too much. Eventually, we found a great deal - or what appeared to be a great deal - on hotels.com. We found the 3-star All Seasons Hotel (Part of the Accor chain) in Timone, which is just 10 mins from the main attractions in Marseille, for 65 Euros. That was with breakfast.Having spied such a bargain, we were quick to book. We did this through hotels.com and quickly received confirmation via email. Everything was good. Or so we thought. As soon as our virtual transaction turned real, our problems began. The money had been charged to my girlfriend's account, when we arrived at the hotel, they had no record of our reservation. They had neither our names nor our booking reference on file. And, the hotel was fully booked.The receptionist at the All Seasons - a very nice Korean lady named Clarisse - was very understanding about this. She checked all her bookings and even phoned hotels.com for us. This was where the problems began to escalate. Hotels.com had booked us into the wrong hotel. As my girlfriend argued with one of their customer service representatives they offered us a number of alternative hotels, none of which were as good as the All Seasons and none of which served breakfast. My girlfriend explained that we would not be happy unless we got something equivalent to what we had paid for. Hotels.com said they would call us back.After 20 minutes or so, we received a call from the head office in the US. A customer service representative told us how sorry he was and claimed that he would do everything to fix the problem. He said he had made reservations for us in a suite at the Holiday Inn with a complementary buffet breakfast. This sounded great. So, I asked him where it was, "Three kilometers from where you are" he assured me. At this point I hung and googled the Holiday Inn on my phone. I got two nasty surprises. First, it was 20km away. Second, it was not a special rate. The regular price was actually less than the price at the All Seasons. We called them again. The following hour was taken up with various different people putting us on hold and transferring us repeatedly. My girlfriend did extremely well to keep her cool as he was asked to explain the situation at least six times. Eventually, we decided that there was no other option than to simply cancel our reservation and find somewhere ourselves. It was a horrible process. It was made even worse by the fact that we were on a week-end break, which meant that time was very much an important issue for us. Close
Notre Dame de la Garde is a magnificent cathedral set on a mountain overlooking the city of Marseille. The mountain is located between the old and new parts of thr city. Whilst it is by no means Everest, or even Mont Blanc, getting to the…Read More
Notre Dame de la Garde is a magnificent cathedral set on a mountain overlooking the city of Marseille. The mountain is located between the old and new parts of thr city. Whilst it is by no means Everest, or even Mont Blanc, getting to the top is not that easy. Walking is not impossible. However, the route winds up from the Old Town and is a little difficult to find. There is also a regular bus from the Old Port. The service is pretty good, but it can get very crowded at busy times. When my girlfriend and I visited De La Garde, we opted to take Le Petit Train: a small train-shaped bus (the type you see at many tourist attractions) that does a small circuit of Old Marseille's tourist sites.We boarded the train on the quay in the Old Port close to the Hotel de Ville. From there, it covers all thee sides of the U-shaped port before turning off towards Abbaye St Victor. The abbey is situated a little above the port and offers a good opportunity for panoramic pictures. The train slows down - but does not stop here - to allow you to take pictures of the port. The view also takes in a palace built by Napoleon III that was built overlooking the port. The train rings around the abbey before heading towards the sea.The next part of the route is along the Corniche. In itself, the Corniche is not so impressive - having lived in Nice for a year I may have grown biased, but I thought it was nowhere near as pleasant as Promende des Anglais. However, the one thing the Corniche boasts that the Promenade cannot is a view of interesting is lands. There are two or thee forts on the islands in the Bay of Marseille as well as the island that was used by Akexandre Dumas as the basis for his famous book, The Count of Monte Cristo.From the Corniche, the trains drags itself up the mountain to the cathedral. However, on the way there are many impressive villas. The guide explained that these were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by rich ship owners who wanted to look out to sea to check on the return of their vessels. The journey from the quayside in the Old Port to the cathedral on the top of the mountain takes about 30 minutes. In is a good trip to take if you are short of time as it takes in lots of sights rather quickly and gets you to the city's biggest attraction. The 7Euro fare is also for a return ticket, so it represents relatively decent value. However, if you have plenty of time, I would recommend walking or taking the bus to the cathedral and visiting the other attractions individually as the train does not really allow you to stop to appreciate them - I found it particularly frustrating that we did not pause to allow passengers to take photographs. Close
Living in Nice on the Cote d'Azur I feel blessed in many ways. It is home to some of the very best food on the planet. The sea is one of the most wonderful shades of blue that you could ever wish to experience. There…Read More
Living in Nice on the Cote d'Azur I feel blessed in many ways. It is home to some of the very best food on the planet. The sea is one of the most wonderful shades of blue that you could ever wish to experience. There is a fantastic array of culture including scores of fantastic museums and galleries. Also, its location means that it is easy to visit many other wonderful places such as Italy and, as this journal would suggest, Marseille. I also feel lucky because Nice has one of the best public transport systems in the world.I noticed this on the very first day I arrived there. I was able to catch a clean, quick and efficient bus into the centre of the town for just 1Euro. I also discovered that there is even a faster version for 1Euro. The buses and trams are very regular and it costs just 1Euro to travel anywhere in the city. There is also even a bike rental system that is available for both tourists and residents. Whenever, I visit other cities, I cannot help but compare their transport systems. For example, in my hometown of Rotherham when I spend five pounds to travel a relatively short distance, I cannot avoid somehow feeling short-changed. Also, when I visit Paris, I am taken aback at the lack of cleanliness and regularity of much of the transport system. So, when my girlfriend and I took a trip to. Marseille, it's transport system was put under the microscope.It took the scrutiny rather well. We arrived at the Saint Charles SNCF train station. Our first journey was from our there to our hotel in Timone. We were very please to discover that this was seven stops on the metro and would take just 15 minutes. We were also please to discover that we could purchase unlimited travel on the metro system for the excellent price of 5 Euros. Over the course of our stay we discovered that the system was clean and efficient. Trains ran every five minutes on a Saturday. I was also very pleased to find that the carriages were not so crowded - we were able to find a seat every time we took it.Overall, I was very impressed with the Marseille metro system. However, there were a couple of criticisms I had. On the Sunday, the trains did not run at all regularly. We had to wait almost 12 minutes for a train. The second would be that at night, it didn't feel 100% safe. We saw plenty of teenagers who were extremely loud and were openly using drugs. This made my girlfriend feel rather intimidated. There were also rats running unimpeded around the platform in the Old Port station. My girlfriend was no major fan of this either.At the end of our trip we concluded that the metro system was very good - certainly superior to Paris. However, we also concluded that it was best avoided after midnight. Close
Written by MikeInTown on 26 Jun, 2011
Most of the dining in the vicinity of the Old Port (Vieux Port) is outdoors. With the mild evening air, the city lights, and sight of the boats bobbing in the harbor, dinner can be one of the most enchanting Marseille experiences. On the other…Read More
Most of the dining in the vicinity of the Old Port (Vieux Port) is outdoors. With the mild evening air, the city lights, and sight of the boats bobbing in the harbor, dinner can be one of the most enchanting Marseille experiences. On the other hand, outdoor dining in Marseille is not without challenges. Smoking is still allowed in public in France. Chances are good that someone is going to light up at a table near you.We were made aware of one of the other hazards of eating dinner outside in Marseille - more so after dark. While we were waiting for the waiter to bring our food my wife screamed and almost kicked our table over. I looked up to see what the problem was and caught the glimpse of a rat running from under the table beside us and disappearing between two large flower pots. Over the next few minutes, we would see the rat creep out to snatch a crumb and then dash back to its hiding place. This was happening a little too close to our table so I asked one of the waiters to move us to another table. When I told him it was because we saw a rat, he laughed and said, "Welcome to Marseille." He told us the problem gets even worse after midnight. He moved us to a table far away from the flower pots but we later had to deal with the cigarette smoke from the two tables beside us. That was the last time we ate outdoors in the city. Close
Written by artsnletters on 22 Feb, 2004
People don’t really come to Marseille for its museums, an observation that will almost certainly be borne out by the lack of fellow museum-goers if you venture into a few yourself. Nonetheless, there are those few who feel that a museum or two is…Read More
People don’t really come to Marseille for its museums, an observation that will almost certainly be borne out by the lack of fellow museum-goers if you venture into a few yourself. Nonetheless, there are those few who feel that a museum or two is good for the soul and that maybe it’s a little shallow to visit somewhere without taking a glance at the local art and history. For those who won’t be content without passing through a museum or two, here are my reviews of a couple I visited.
2 rue de la Charité, Marseille (off rue de la République)
€1.80 permanent exhibits, €2.80 more for special exhibits
This is actually a group of museums housed in a historic building complex. "Old Charity" was the crowning achievement of royal architect Pierre Puget, completed in 1745 to house the poor. It consists of three stories of rooms lined with arcades set around a rectangular courtyard, in the center of which sits a Baroque-style chapel with a dome. Later it was used to shelter the elderly and orphans. On the verge of being demolished in the middle of the last century, it instead was designated as an historic site and the museums were moved in. Nowadays, the chapel is strangely barren and scarcely lit except for its dome.
The two permanent exhibits here are the Musee d’Archéologie Mediterranee and the Musee d’Arts Africains, Oceaniens et Amerindiens. Each is entered via a door from the courtyard, runs through several rooms, and spits you back out into a different section of the courtyard. Inside, you’ll find case after case of artifacts and art objects, many under-labeled. Of these two museums, I liked the archaeological museum better, perhaps due in part to the fantastic lion mosaic near the entrance. The special exhibit during my visit was Baroque-period paintings by women artists, involving an awful lot of flowers and ruffled ladies. I suggest evaluating before buying your ticket whether you’re interested enough in the special exhibit to spring for the extra cash.
My verdict: Not all that exciting.
Musee d’Histoire de Marseille and Jardin des Vestiges
Lower floor of Centre Bourse Shopping Center, Place Belsunce, Marseille
This must be the only serious museum I’ve ever encountered located in a shopping mall. Marseille has been an important port and trading center for at least 2500 years, and the Centre Bourse is built on top of a portion of the old Greek port of Massilia, renamed Massalia when the Romans took over management. The stone remains of the ancient port can be found in the Jardin des Vestiges, entered from the Musee d’Histoire. The "garden of vestiges" can be seen from the west side of the Centre Bourse through the fence, if you’re too cheap or too busy to spring for the museum. If Greek and Roman artifacts interest you, the items excavated from the former floor of the port are displayed in the museum in dimly lit glass cases. Much of it is pretty basic – Greek and Roman coins, shards of pottery and suchlike, mostly not labeled well enough for you to really understand what you’re looking at.
The museum’s real claim to fame is the mostly intact remains of a sunken Roman merchant ship, complete with its clay jars of olive oil and preserved fish. Lucky for us the ancient Romans didn’t have dive recovery teams! I found the ship pretty impressive, although it was primarily labeled in French and therefore not adequately explained for a monoglot.
My verdict: Inexpensive, quick, and conveniently located about three blocks from the Vieux Port, this one is worthwhile if you’re interested in the ship. Otherwise, it’s "skippable". Close
Place Colonel Edon, Marseille
Beloved symbol of Marseille, perched on the highest hilltop overlooking the city and the harbor, Our Lady of the Guard has stood watch over Marseille for some 150 years. It is most easily reached by catching bus 60 from Quai des…Read More
Place Colonel Edon, Marseille
Beloved symbol of Marseille, perched on the highest hilltop overlooking the city and the harbor, Our Lady of the Guard has stood watch over Marseille for some 150 years. It is most easily reached by catching bus 60 from Quai des Belges, which will deposit you in the parking lot of the church. You will still need to hike up about three flights of stairs to reach the church. If you are the more energetic sort, it’s only about a mile from the Vieux Port, but it’s a lot of uphill, so don’t take it on unless you are in decent shape.
This Catholic church was designed in a blended Romanesque-Byzantine style by a Protestant architect. It is built of warm golden blocks with darker blocks picking out architectural details and marking a pattern along all the edges of the building. A gilded 30-foot-tall Virgin holding the infant Jesus enjoys a dizzying view from the top of the bell tower.
The interior of this church could only belong to Marseille. Sailors’ devotion is marked by the fascinating collection of votives, objects pledged to the church in gratitude for the protection of the Virgin. An entire wall is papered with paintings of ships and boats, many on stormy seas. There is also a very interesting mobile made entirely of aircraft of various sorts.
Be sure to take the time to check out the views from the front of the church. From here, you can see Chateau d’If plopped into the middle of the harbor, the ferries for Corsica moored at La Joliette, and the Vieux Port, chock-full of sailboats, as well as the entire city stretched up to the hills in the distance.
Avoid visiting at 10am, 4pm, or 6pm, when services are held. When you’re ready to leave, just catch bus 60 in the parking lot. It’s very convenient to hop off on Avenue de la Corse by Place St.-Victor. From there, it’s an easy walk down to visit Abbaye St. Victor and Marcel Carbonel Santons on your way back to the Vieux Port.
Written by artsnletters on 21 Feb, 2004
Should you find yourself with a gloriously sunny afternoon, and there are many of these in Marseille, catch bus #83 southbound from Quai des Belges and ride out to Vallon des Auffes, a charming, tiny harbor neighborhood tucked into a tiny rocky valley. The bus…Read More
Should you find yourself with a gloriously sunny afternoon, and there are many of these in Marseille, catch bus #83 southbound from Quai des Belges and ride out to Vallon des Auffes, a charming, tiny harbor neighborhood tucked into a tiny rocky valley. The bus winds along the coast past ornate mansions adorned with pots of flowers, small balconied apartment buildings, and little neighborhood-style shops. To the right are dazzling views of the glittering blue Mediterranean and the barren tan rocks of the coastal islands. Sailboats tack back and forth in the stiff sea breeze, their sails nearly transparent in the brilliant sunlight. The bus ride is a worthwhile destination in itself.Get off at the stop marked "Vallon des Auffes," and, rather counter-intuitively, cross the road to the inland side. You should find yourself standing on a bridge where Corniche John F. Kennedy crosses over the entrance to the harbor. You’ll look out and down into a tiny valley ("vallon") lined with little houses piled around an equally diminutive harbor. There are stairs down into Vallon des Auffes on either end of the bridge. Coming down to the harbor, you’ll find yourself virtually passing through people’s little courtyards, past their hanging laundry. It’s hard not to feel a little self-conscious as you pass within handshake distance of housewives chatting in their doorways."Auffiers" were craftsmen who made ropes and rigging. This little valley and harbor looks like it would be home to riggers; the boats moored shoulder to shoulder here are not pleasure craft but fishing boats and dinghies, and heaps of fishing nets and floats adorn the docks. Hard by the docks, there are little houses whose front doors are literally a half dozen steps from the water and a few shops dedicated to marine needs, plus a couple of seafood restaurants. This little harbor is a workingman’s shipyard, not a Sunday sailor’s marina, and the neighborhood is not the haunt of the well-to-do, but a miniature village of common folk. Only the somewhat upscale restaurants seem to be a concession to the appeal of this scenic little harbor to outsiders. When you’re done enjoying Vallon des Auffes, climb back up to Corniche John F. Kennedy on the opposite end of the bridge from whichever one you came down from, just to get the benefit of the views from the other side. If you have time, consider strolling further south along the Corniche on the sea side of the road. About a quarter mile south of Vallon des Auffes, you will find some nice views of the sea and rocky shore, and if the weather is warm, there will likely be a number of folks out sunning and swimming. When you’ve had enough, just cross over the inland side of the road and find a stop for bus #63 back to Vieux Port. Close
47 rue Neuve Ste.-Catherine, Marseille
Open 10am-12:30pm and 2 to 6:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday
Marcel Carbonel has a shop and museum devoted entirely to santons, traditional Provençal crèche (nativity scene) figurines. The museum is free and is reached by walking through the shop to the back,…Read More
47 rue Neuve Ste.-Catherine, Marseille
Open 10am-12:30pm and 2 to 6:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday
Marcel Carbonel has a shop and museum devoted entirely to santons, traditional Provençal crèche (nativity scene) figurines. The museum is free and is reached by walking through the shop to the back, where there is a row of glass cases against the back wall and a loft above with another row of glass cases, all holding a variety of santons collected by Marcel Carbonel. Free guided tours of the workshop (usually in French; call ahead to request English) are available Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30.
The people of Provence have set up outdoor crèches at Christmas time for centuries. The santon tradition is rooted in the post-Revolutionary period, when midnight masses and crèches were forbidden by law. Unwilling to abandon their tradition, people began to make "little saints" for display in their homes. They didn’t stop with the holy family, angels, shepherds, and Magi, however. They included ordinary people: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, merchants and musicians, farmers and fishermen, priests and nuns, hunters and housewives. Each figure bears an offering from their craft or trade.
There are two basic types of santons, santons d'argile made entirely of clay and santons habilles, dressed clay figures. Clay santons range from an inch or so tall to about six inches tall, while the larger dressed santons range from six to 12 inches tall. Both are characterized by great attention to detail. The traditional participants in the stable scene are portrayed in robes, while the village folk wear the typical dress of their occupation and place. A variety of stables and village buildings are also available.
Unfortunately, santons are not cheap. I selected several for a friend of mine, with the tallest figures being about 2.5 inches tall. The handpainted details were carefully rendered, down to the patches on the shepherd’s pants and the gold and silver spangles on the Magi’s robes. I bought Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the manager, an angel, the three Magi, a shepherd, two sheep, a cow, and a donkey for about €120, and they threw in a lamb for free. When I mentioned that my purchase for pour une amie, they carefully rolled each figure into bubble wrap, packed them in a sturdy cardboard box, and wrapped them up in maroon paper. Everything arrived home in perfect condition, even after bouncing around on my travels for two weeks.
Written by janson25 on 02 Nov, 2001
Very beautiful cathedral at the top of the hill from town. It is near the marina and one could not miss it on the top of the hill. I learned from personal experience that is a hike to the top, I would highly recommend a…Read More
Very beautiful cathedral at the top of the hill from town. It is near the marina and one could not miss it on the top of the hill. I learned from personal experience that is a hike to the top, I would highly recommend a taxi or public transportation. I was passed by many on my way up wishing I was in one of them. Very steep hill. The cathedral is adorned at the top with a pure gold statue of Mary and baby Jesus. The view from up there is incredible. The cathedral is very amazing. It is definitely worth the ride.. Close
On our first day in Marseille my girlfriend and I visited the Old Port and enjoyed a very relaxing afternoon sat sunning ourselves over lunch and doing a little shopping. We had decided to visit Notre Dame de la Garde the following day. This proved…Read More
On our first day in Marseille my girlfriend and I visited the Old Port and enjoyed a very relaxing afternoon sat sunning ourselves over lunch and doing a little shopping. We had decided to visit Notre Dame de la Garde the following day. This proved to be something of a mistake because whereas Day1 had been warm and sunny, Day 2 was exceptionally windy. This change in the weather conditions meant that visiting a cathedral on the top of a small mountain was not the wisest of ideas and would ensure we would have to endure a blustery time of things.We decided to reach Notre Dame by taking a small tourist bus that operates a small tour that culminates at the cathedral. It didn't start well. It was so windy that the 20Euro note I was paying with blew out of my hand and started to whirl its way down the street. My upbringing in Yorkshire (an English county renowned for the frugality of its inhabitants) sent me scampering a good 200m down the street before I managed to slam a foot down on top of it.Once I had managed to retrieve the money and buy the tickets, we boarded the train and found that our day would soon get even windier. We were fine whilst we were in the Old Town, but once we moved out onto the Corniche it felt as though we were in the middle of a hurricane. The Mediterranean, which had been placid the previous day, was a frenzy of white capped waves and the flags on the sea front were almost stiff in the wind. As the tourist bus was part open, we began to feel decidedly chilly.If we had thought that things on the Corniche had been a touch uncomfortable, it was nothing to the situation we would find at the top. When we got off the bus to view the cathedral the winds were so strong that (a) we could not speak to each other, (b) they almost knocked us over, and (c) they nearly blew our shirts off. The final point there is no exaggeration. On one occasion, my t-shirt almost flipped over my head. This meant that it was not easy to enjoy the delights of Marseille. Notre Dame de la Garde offers a beautiful view across the city. However, we could not enjoy it for too long for fear of being blown away.Later that afternoon as we sat enjoying lunch, we checked our smartphones for a weather report - an action we should perhaps have undertaken the day before - and found that the winds had gusted up to 90km/h. It all made for a tremendously dramatic morning. Close