We decided that this Easter, we really needed to get away. We have a lot of travel planned for the year, but it is going to be generally active and Heather needed a sunshine-hit. After a bit of research, we agreed on Marseille. Neither of us had been there, although we are pretty familiar with other areas of France. A quick hunt on Expedia found us a good deal: flying from Gatwick to Marseille by EasyJet and staying at the Radisson Blu
, in the centre of the Old Port.
Oops, sorry about that
Being an EasyJet flight, the time of take off wasn't exactly sociable. Never mind, Gatwick is serviced by a number of hotels so I made sure to book us into one for the night before. Sadly, an error on my part meant that we ended up at the Premier Inn in Gatwick North, and our flight was from the south terminal. Fortunately, the Gatwick shuttle runs all day so we planned to get it at 05:30 the following morning.
Having checked into the hotel late (as we had stopped off on the way to the airport to have dinner with friends), we drunkenly tiredly stumbled to our room. Swiping the key card, nothing happened. I tried a couple more times, then Heather did and still nothing. At this point, we just needed to lie down as quick as possibly, so Heather went back to reception, returning with a member of staff who promptly let us in with his key. It was to his (and our) astonishment that we had woken up an elderly sleeping couple. After much profuse apologising by all parties, and a return to the reception lobby, we were presented with an alternative room (which fortunately was not occupied) and were able to get some much needed sleep. Hopefully this was not a harbinger of the weekend ahead of us.
Much, much better
Friday morning started for us with 3 different alarm clocks going off near-simultaneously at around 5:00. A quick run through morning ablutions and throwing on clothes, meant that we were able to get through to security by the planned 05:30. This gave us around 40 minutes to kill in Gatwick and normally we normally we would head to our favourite airport hangout location, but as we were likely to be overdosing on seafood in Marseille, we killed time in the pub. Eventually, boarding was called and we were on our way to sunny Marseille.
On arrival, we went to the reception but given it was only 10:00 or so, we didn't expect our rooms to be ready. However, we decided to leave our luggage (although I took along my camera as I planned to go click-happy) and look for something to eat as we were starving. Fortunately, we found a place close to the hotel and were able to grab a coffee and bagel, although a croissant would probably have been more appropriate. Feeling nourished, we set out to explore the old port of Marseille.
Marseille is an interesting city which has been around since around (in some form) since 600BC, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe. It has cultural influences from Africa as well as France, plus a bit of Moorish influence thrown in for good measure. As such it is a real melting pot, and is quite colourful. As culture vultures, Heather and I loved soaking up this atmosphere and it was only when sitting down to lunch, I checked my Fitbit and saw that we had covered 7 miles that morning alone1. Following lunch, we headed back to hotel for a quick nap before heading off to dinner at L'Épuisette - one of the finest restaurants in Marseille. A perfect end to a very pleasant day.
We didn't mean to, it just kind of happened
Saturday started with us heading to Notre Dame de Garde - a church built on the highest point overlooking Marseille. Feeling active, we decided to walk to it, rather than getting the tourist hop on/hop off bus. What seemed like a good idea at the time soon started to lose some appeal and when we eventually reached the top, we had climbed around 30 flights of stairs. Nevertheless, the views were spectacular and we were able to enjoy looking out across the topaz-coloured Mediterranean Sea. As we hadn't eaten at this point, we were starting to get a little peckish so we headed down to the main part of town and had a well deserved brunch.
It was at this point somebody's bad ideas bear took over their entire frontal cortex, and we somehow managed to start our own pub crawl. Our check-in history on Foursquare shows that we stopped into at least 9 different watering holes - sometimes it was just beer, other times it was wine. At some point, we decided we needed dinner but most of the places that we had spotted earlier as potential eateries were closed - at 20:00 on a Saturday! Finally we found somewhere and to be honest, I can't even remember what I ordered, let alone how good or not it was.
After a bit more of a walk, we wandered into a nightclub called the Darkside which was incredibly dark inside. It was also empty, although I suspect that is because we were there at 21:40 and the regular clientele had not made an appearance. It was at this point we decided to call it a night, and headed back to the hotel - stopping in hotel bar for a night cap (naturally).
Wherever we are, everything gets suspended for Stevie
Sunday morning started with a cleaner knocking on the door of the room next to us. My immediate thought was "why on Earth are they cleaning at this time of the morning?". I was about to roll over and go back to sleep, when I noticed that the time was 11:00 - the exertions of yesterday had taken their toll. We darted out of bed, and (after ablutions) headed out. We didn't have a tour of the Calanques planned, this was more important: Liverpool had a match on and we had to find a pub that was televising it. Fortunately, a chat with the duty manager at the Queen Victoria pub and we were all set for the game. We took a couple of seats at the bar, and settled down to watch the game. Following the far from convincing win, we decided a bit more exploring was required.
First port of call was the Panier district, which is actually the oldest part of town and was a mish-mash of buildings and cultures - all very bohemian. After this, we wandered through some of the markets as it is always a good way to see locals in their own environment. This also gave us the opportunity to pickup a couple of souvenirs, including buying some of the famous savon de Marseille (soap). As evening drew in, it dawned on us that we had not partaken of the traditional Marseille dish of bouillabaisse; naturally this had to be remedied. Unfortunately, Easter Sunday with nowhere booked meant that we spent a fair amount of time wandering from restaurant to restaurant hoping for someone that could take us in. Fortunately, we did eventually find somewhere, and we fulfilled our tourist obligations. Bouillabaisse is an interesting dish - basically a fish stew in a fish soup and (certainly the one we had) was very salty. Following dinner, we headed back to our hotel for the last night, bring our short break to a satisfying close.
Marseille is an interesting city. It offers a lot of cultural differences, is pleasantly warm (although most locals were wrapped up, while we wandered around in t-shirts) and offers good dining & entertainment options. I would certainly recommend it for a weekend visit, although the less mobile may well struggle with some of the steeper streets and paths.
1 I would strongly recommend a Fitbit to anyone that spends a lot of time walking and exploring when travelling.