07.12.2012 5 °C
At first blush Marseille can leave you wondering about where exactly it's reputation comes from. After the dizzying beauty of Paris, many of Marseille's building look a tad shabby, the graffiti tags prevalent throughout some districts add to the ghetto feel. Combine that with the seemingly endless traffic snarls and cramped streets and it can be overwhelming to those not used to it.
That is until you get out and walk those streets. There is a sense of life and vibrancy to this city that has to be experienced to be understood. From the people you meet to the boutique shops and amazing local cuisine there are wonders to be discovered for those willing to venture out. No trip to France could ever be complete without a stay in Marseille.
Hailing from the far flung reaches of Australia as we are, we were completely unprepared for European lifestyle or experiences. In Australia most of our shops are in shopping centres, all under the one roof, with plenty of parking available. Here in Marseille there are small shops scattered throuout the streets, down little alleys and tucked away in backstreet locations. Parking is at a premium, if you are not used to skilfully inserting your car into a space that leaves a hairs breath between it and other vehicles, give it a miss and use the public transport instead. If you want to experience the heart and soul of this city, go wandering the streets for an afternoon, be adventurous go into those shops in the side alleys and back streets, you may just be pleasantly surprised.
As for touristy things, there are more than enough to satisfy even the most ardent snap happy photographer, from the Notre Dame to the Chateaux d'If. On a whim I decided to take my family across the waters to visit the Chateaux d'If, not knowing anything about it other than a having taken a few long distance shot of it from the Notre Dame. We found that a quick trip on a shuttle boat can transport you back in time six hundred years to the first Royal Fortress in Marseille.
Being a sometimes literary buff and enjoying a good swashbuckling adventure every now and then ,I was well aware of the story by Alexander Dumas, "the Count of Monte Cristo". What I was not aware of was that the prison that the main hero is wrongfully incarcerated in is the Chateaux d'If. Now that I have been there and seen the cells and can imagine the conditions for the prisoners, I can see why Dumas chose this location to convey the sense of finality and hopelessness needed.
There is a quiet quality to the place, one that pays silent tribute to the history contained within its walls. Well worth a visit, don't expect much there, it is almost as bleak as originally intended, but it does convey a sense of intimate timelessness.
Marseille stands out as a study all that life can contain, stunning beauty and sobering reality. This city is alive and vibrant, and has the ability to make me feel like an awe struck tourist and right at home at the same time. My wife and I were hesitant at first about how we felt being here in Marseille, now we are talking about what we will do when we come back. Warning bells do tend to go off when she says "I could live here", with her, this is not an idle comment...
I could see it happening...