Dear South of France,
Let me continue to count the ways that I love you. Finally, we're having a hot week in Paris and all I want to do is swim in your ocean. And that's coming from someone who is afraid of sharks! Luckily, there aren't too many sharks in the Mediterranean (at least in this area, I think?).
Going to Marseille
Marseille is a huge port city with a unique past (Greek, Italian, French, North African, etc.). Here, cultures of all sorts meet and mix. The colorful, bright buildings and crawling alleyways take you back in the past. Yet Marseille hasn't become an ideal tourist spot; it is, however, a true, breathing, living city. There aren't as many façades or glossed over attractions like in Paris. But there's a bit of a problem in that there aren't as many English-speaking people; many museums do not always have displays translated either. Nevertheless, it's a good way to try and immerse yourself in real French culture. Grab a Pastis (a licorice-tasting aperitif, or pre-dinner drink) and enjoy yourself on the docks of the Old Port.
Some of my favorite things to do near the Le Vieux Port de Marseille (Old Port):
- Going to the Musée des civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM or the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations). Attached to the castle fortress of Saint-Jean, this lovely, modern architectural building sits on top of the sea like an intricate jewelry box, forged of seaweed.
- Exploring the hip (and a bit touristy) quartier (neighborhood) of Le Panier. Go find the gelato shop Le Glacier du Roi; it's as close as you can get to real Italian gelato. Check out their cutely wrapped French cheesecake too.
- Eating tapas or having an aperitif (ahem, Pastis!!) at Le Bistrot de l'Horloge, in the beautiful promenade of Cours Honoré-d'Estienne-d'Orves. With a peaceful fountain and a range of outdoor seating in the Cours, this is a fabulous hangout spot at night.
- Going on a boat cruise to some of the nearby islands. Make sure to take your Dramamine! In France, the equivalent is called Mercalm.
Petit Copain's best friends live in Marseille. Sadly, we didn't get to see them this time, but it only means we have to come back to the South ASAP. They probably know way better places to hang out in Marseille and I will have to interview them on my next trip.
This legendary prison is only 2.2 miles away from the port of Marseille. Château d'If inspired famous (super awesome) French writer, Alexandre Dumas, to write the Count of Monte Cristo. Built upon a rocky island with just one (barely accessible) port, this prison was and is still hard to escape from. Oftentimes, when the wind is too strong, Marseille tour companies cancel boat trips as the ferry can't dock at d'If due to the potential chance of crashing into the rocks. Check the weather before trying to buy boat tickets to the islands.
I read the Count of Monte Cristo in high school and adored the 2002 film adaptation. Unfortunately, the movie wasn't actually filmed at Château d'If or in France at all (shooting locations were mostly in Malta). The prison in the film was larger, depicted with more medieval-like ruthlessness. While the real prison is actually much smaller than in the movie, Château d'If is pretty formidable looking, at least on the outside.
The château was home to more prominent (political and religious) prisoners and had certain "upgraded" cells for the wealthier detainees. Our guide at Château d'If explained how one nobleman put his son in the prison for one year because his son kept having orgies. Somehow, this lucky devil still managed to smuggle women into his cell.
Château d'If keeps a cell dedicated to the fictional character of the Count of Monte Cristo. You will also see an honorary cell for "The Man in the Iron Mask," another legendary figure from Château d'If.
After returning to the home of Petit Copain's parents, I kept dreaming of the Count of Monte Cristo and even bought the 2002 film off iTunes so that I could watch it again. The movie was one of my family's favorite movies growing up and I'm glad I got to experience this part of history.
Hiking and Climbing the Calanques of Cassis
Petit Copain and his family are avid hikers, climbers, and all around accomplished sportsmen and women. I never grew up really sporty (I did do swimming and ballet for some years), so it has been a struggle to keep up on these rigorous but fabulous adventures. We hiked for about 4-6 miles to the beautiful little beach/cove at the end of the Calanque d'en Vau. Petit Copain and I took a break and swam in the soothing waters of the sea. Some spring water flows out here and you'll sometimes find nice, warm spots in the water.
Equipped with googles, I could see colorful little fish all around me. Too fast to catch, I could only admire their beauty. We had gone on a fishing trip a few days before, and I was very, very sad not to catch many fish (only 2). I'll have to work on that next time.
After the cove, we climbed up a very steep calanque. It was almost like mountain climbing. Some of the paths turned into rocky little climbing holds, which terrified and horrified me. However, at the end of our endeavors, I was very proud of myself at climbing this freaking mountain/cliff. Next time, I think I'll need better gear (Petit Copain didn't really go into detail about what our climbing/hiking would be like) but I'd like to opportunity to try it again. Petit Copain likes to point out that people climb up this place in flip-flops. Oh well :P
And so, my journey this summer has ended. It's time to go back to work in Paris and save my dreams for sunshine later. I will miss you, South of France. Until we meet again!