Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Trip to Marseille

When Anne discovered that our new favorite opera, Rossini's "Le Comte Ory," was being performed in Marseille, we wished that we could see it.  When we realized that the TGV bullet train could whisk us to Marseille on the south side of France (yes, to the French Riviera!!) in just 3.5 hours, we thought, "Pourqoi pas?" (why not?)

We took advantage of a new marketing gimmick by the French train system called iDTGV.  You get to choose your ride experience with special train cars.  This method customizes the ambiance of the ride to the individual tastes.  Some lively families like lots of activity (especially those with kids), and some like quiet cars where one can catch some ZZZZZZ's in peaceful quiet surroundings (where cell phones are supposedly even banned).  We went for the latter, or the so called "Zen Train," which was fairly quiet.  But the real advantage was the easy online ticket purchasing capability.

TGV bullet train

We left the Paris Lyon train station at 9:10 a.m., and as promised, pulled into Marseille St. Charles at 12:28 p.m.  The first thing we noticed was the surprisingly ornate features of the train station -- the white buildings, and the palm tree.  Welcome to the Med!

Marseille has been France's number one port city since Roman times, and unforunately, has a bad reputation that probably dates back to the days when untamed sailors roamed the rough streets.  Today Marseille still has some gritty edges, but it is perfectly safe.  We checked into our cheap (but well-located near the harbor) chain hotel called an "ETAP" and did some sightseeing.

The prettiest spot in Marseille is the precipice above the city where the basilica Notre Dame de la Garde stands watch over the city and the harbor.  This church could just as easily have been in Florence -- it felt and looked so Italian.  Much of Marseille reminded us of another Italian port city, Naples, and we later discovered that many Italians emigrated here during the 18th century.

We also had a marvelous view of the city and the boat-filled harbor guarded by a fortress on each side of its entrance.  Inside the church had a nautical theme with many paintings of ships and wooden models of boats hanging from the ceiling -- all giving thanks for a safe voyage home.

The opera performance was outstanding, and we were so glad we decided to make this crazy side trip to Marseille.  We haven't talked about the French people, but as always, they have been exceptionally welcoming.  Even in Paris, all of our neighborhood shop owners treat us like friends.  And here at the Marseille Opera House, the chicly dressed woman sitting next to us shared chocolates with us at intermission!

The marvelous cast of "Le Comte Ory."

Before returning to Paris the next day, we wandered through the fish market by the Vieux Port (old port).  Even though Marseille is France's 2nd largest city (after Paris), it felt like we were in a seaside village.

The market was really hopping with local residents haggling over the day's catch.  The fish were so fresh that many of them were still flipping around on the vendor's trays.

We took one last look at the lovely harbor and walked to the train station for our train ride back to Paris.

One odd thing that happened on this overnight trip is that Anne was actually homesick for our appartment in Paris!  Amazing how attached she has become in such a short time.  Frank wonders how he will ever get her back home!

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