Marseille – Mediterranean gritty euphoria

A street in the old city
View from the Gare St Charles

When i wake, the first light of the sun passes through a gap in the range of rolling hills. Green fields with creeks and oak groves become slowly visible. The isilines bus stops near Montelimar, at an oak-lined rest area, and the air feels cool yet dry.  I had slept deeply.

Sunrise near Montelimar
Around 11 am, the bus stops at Gare St. Charles in Marseille, my destination. The air is warm and dry as I descend the steps toward the city center, next to a big palm tree and with the iconic church Notre Dame de la Garde on its hilltop far beyond.  My couchsurfing host lives in a top floor apartment over a bakery, in walking distance of Le Vieux-Port. During café we talk of a walking tour of the old districts.  He says that presidential candidate Mélonchon is speaking today down at the port and it may be crazy, but we could go and check it out. First, he takes me to a flea market at a plaza in the neighborhood, where i find a scarf and dress to use for a photo shoot idea. 

Sunday flea market scene
Mélonchon rally on screen

Mélonchon post rally at Le Vieux-port
The rally ends about the time we get to the port, but a lot of people stay around marching and holding signs for various causes.  Hervé, my host,  leads me up the narrow streets on the north side of the port…the Greek city, he says. (See top photo) The streets wind in strange ways and the mural art is impressive. 

 There are not many tourists due to the  city’s reputation for crime, and the locals like this association. They don’t want it to be crowded with tourists like Paris or Barcelona.  It is gritty and multicultural, and has been for much of its history as a port city, Massillia, starting with the Greeks from Phoacea, through the era of Louis XIV when cannons pointed at the port were installed on Fort St Jean, to the present times. Trade with other Mediterramean nations has brought olives, dates, hemp, spices, and other goods here, along with a large population from North Africa.  

Fort St Jean at the port entrance
Cathedral St Marie, shaped like a saint lying down

There is an open market near the port daily  (Marché de Noailles) and fresh affordable produce is easy to get.  Due to the hemp trade, the main boulevard from the port is called the Canabière.  There is even a song about this street,  lyrics found here:


From the tower of Fort St Jean,  one can see the endless sea and mountains all around.  There is a breeze but it’s not the fierce mistral, the Alpine wind that comes occasionally. Two days later,  I will witness the awesome Marseille sunset with Anis,  my next host,  from the Notre Dame de la Garde, looking out at the sea.

Anis and I at the Notre Dame de la Garde

Le Vieux-port after dark

A favorite street food i find here is half pizza with olives and anchovies,  folded,  for 2 euros. Shops selling this can be found along the Canabière and Marché. Thanks to Hervé for showing me these cool spots. 

On my third day,  I visit another market, the Marché de la Plaine by the Champ du Mars alley with some more street art, and a trans woman comes up to me. She’s been sleeping on the beach and hasn’t eaten in two days, and today is her birthday. So i buy her a slice of quiche and she takes me to an LGBT center, where today they are open and offering breakfast and health services.  It is neat to be a guest here with the queer community of Marseille.  

On the Champ du Mars alley
Association Autres Regards sign

There is even a little water taxi that crosses the port. It costs less than a euro for me and is free for locals.

Marseille is working class, not so much typical tourist things but it’s a really interesting place, and very Mediterranean.  The Calanques park is just to the south, where i will go to do the photo shoot on the second day.

Arianna,  9 and 11, April 2017


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