Marseilles (and the Paris Lights) - Dec 2013

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  1. Slow_Mustang
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    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

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    We arrived at the Gare de Lyon for our trip to Marseilles, picked up some food and proceeded to Hall 2 for our train. Since it did not show up on the monitor listing, an inquiry from the Information desk revealed that due to a partial strike, our train had been cancelled and the next one that we could take without the benefit of the reserved seats (that we had on the original booking) would be 3 hours away. However a second inquiry from the reservations folks put us back on the track as there was a train to Nice about the same time that we had originally planned to leave and it would stop at Marseilles. We got into this train to Nice, looked for empty seats and found a couple in the same row. The train ride was pretty uneventful and some 4 hours later we arrived at Marseilles. IHG has two properties in town - a Holiday Inn Express, which is a bare bones hotel conveniently located across from the train station side exit, and an Intercontinental Hotel which is close to the old port and approachable from the train station via a taxi (or the metro/bus).

    The train station (front entrance) sits 101 steps above the street level
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    Highest point in the city - Notre-Dame de la Garde
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    Mediterranean Ocean from the Notre-Dame
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    The Old Port Vieux Port from the Notre-Dame
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    Old Port, the water front bends at the far end and connects to the Mediterranean
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    A city bus (#68) from the Old Port takes you to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, but that too had been cancelled due to some partial bus strike on the day that we wanted to go up there. So, we ended up taking a taxi and walked back down to the town. A block from the South side of the old port (down from the Notre Dame), there were quite a few good restaurants. Bouillabaisse, the local favorite/speciality did not impress me much.

    The downtown area has been taken over by the North African ( mainly Algerian) immigrants and the West facing Southern coastline constitutes the suburbs. The beaches are accessible by bus or during summers, by a ferry (botabus) from the Old Port. Boats run once an hour, the journey time is around 40 minutes and the boat ticket holders can use their tickets to transfer, free, on to a bus when they arrive at Pointe Rouge or the Old Port. The beaches, by and large are pebbly and not sandy.

    Marseilles has the reputation of being a high crime town with lot of pickpockets and gangs, but they take a break during the lean winter months. So, we did not run into any unpleasant situations.

    The Old Port Vieux Port is a nice area to walk around. It is used for small private boats and the ferry shuttle service, with the nearby new harbor being used for ships. Due to itinerary constraints we spent only two days there before returning to Paris.
     
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  2. Slow_Mustang
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    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

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    Back in Paris.....

    Xmas market along Champs Elysses with Arc in the distance
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    A building on Champs, all lit up for the holidays
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    A corner on Champs
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    Delicious Parisian desserts - macaroon cake
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    Dosa - crepe made with rice/lentil flour and stuffed with spicy potatoes - in the Little India section of Paris
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  3. Slow_Mustang
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    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

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    We had decided on and made reservations just 3 months before the trip. By that time, all that was available was award Biz on Air France for the outgoing flight and award Biz on Air Canada through Montreal for the inbound trip. For hotels, we each had a free anniversary night with IHG with our Priority Club CC's, and paid for one with points for a 3 night stay at the Intercontinental. The last three nights, on return from Marseilles, we had award reservations at the Marriott on Champs. Being at the center of activity during the holiday season made it convenient to enjoy the lights late into the nights. This trip was just a 'chill out' trip, so we did not do much sightseeing. A 'Paris by Mouth' food tour was a kind of fun and educational activity. It was quite cold but we were fortunate to not have had any rains during our entire stay in Dec weeks 2-3.

    There is an ongoing effort by the French Govt. to turn Marseille into Europe's cultural center by opening some museums and reducing crime. But I doubt that, that would ever happen. It does not even have the feel of a city in Europe. It is perhaps an attempt to reclaim it as a Parisian city - a bit too late.

    On our flight to Paris, I watched the first two French movies of the Marius-Fanny trilogy set in the early 1900's Marseilles. At Marseilles, I kept looking for the fish market and the bars on the shores of the waterway at the Old Port, used as sets for those movies, but no such luck. That early lifestyle has been long gone (with the wind) and been replaced with fancy restaurants, private yatches and tourists. The only landmark from the movie that still exists today is the Notre Dame de la Garde, perched atop the highest point in the city.

    For online train reservations, http://www.sncf.com/en/passengers
    Selecting France under the 'Ticket collection country' during purchase process would probably give you cheapest fares. The reservation confirmation with all the details is delivered via email.
    The fares also vary quite a bit between non-refundable, refundable till a day before the departure with an administrative fee, and the one which is fully refundable till the departure time with no extra charges.

    And the last picture
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    Last edited: Feb 21, 2014
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  4. Sweet Willie
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    Sweet Willie Gold Member

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    (bolding mine) Did you read/hear something to this effect?

    a suggestion for the French gov, focus on Nice to be a cultural capital, at least for S France.

    Edited to add: forgot to say thanks for the trip report & photos !
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2014
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  5. Slow_Mustang
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    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

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    An older fellow Parisian train traveler from Paris told me so, and there was a new museum at the end of the Old Port in Marseille, which I did not have time to visit. I agree that Nice would be a better choice in S France.
     
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  6. daninstl

    daninstl Gold Member

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    I was in Marseille with my wife last January (on a port call from an MSC cruise ship) and we did see a visitor center and museum near the port but I wasn't too impressed culturally. The shopping centers and port tourist area was not very crowded that time of year but we did have some odd fellow yell after us down some alley as we walked around town which was a little scary. I thought it was a nice town to visit for an afternoon but they could do so much more with it. We did enjoy some of the shops. I guess we ended up being classic tourist by buying soap and french lingerie :)
     
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