Mar 1, 2005
|1st Mar. 05
Three train rides and two hour changeovers later I disembarked in Marseille without a clue about where a cheap hotel or hostel was located. The only two in the guidebook were out of town and the metro had stopped running. As I walked towards the exit I looked for any sign of other travelers, none. I stood in the station hoping a pension owner would be there, none. I left the station and asked two guys waiting for a taxi if they knew of a budget hotel in the area. Luckily one of them spoke a bit of English, although only a bit. He walked me to one side of the station and pointed down a set of stairs and voila! a few hotels were in sight. Before he left he told me to watch my bags in this area of town. This made me feel safe I walked down the dark stairs.
The first five hotels I asked were all full. Well, one had a room, but it was 54 euro. I kept walking, staying on major roads. After another failed attempt I found a hotel for 24 euro. I was not in a place to keep looking for something cheaper, so I bit the bullet and took it. It turned out to be great because the hotel had a phone and I was able to talk with my parents for a while, whom I hadn't talked to in over a month.
2nd Mar. 05
This morning I set out to see all of Marseille that I could. I stumbled across a fruit, vegetable, and flower market and bought a baguette at a nearby bakery. I sat on a bench in a park where kids played and mothers gossiped. I finished the chorizo and gouda and ate a clementine. Afterwards I found a extremely hip area of town with great murals and graffiti. Vintage shops, record stores, tattoo parlors, and bookshops lined the streets. If it had been the weekend I would have stayed another night to hang out there and see what the crack was. On a street near this young neighborhood I saw the Notre Dame cathedral for the first time. Situated on a large hill in the center of the city, the cathedral is quite an interesting sight. This was my next stop and I walked in the direction of it. As I got closer signs pointed me up the hill. I was winded by the time I made it to the top of the hill. The benches facing out towards the Mediterranean were a savior indeed.
The basilica itself was much smaller than I thought it looked. Lavishly decorated, yet small. It was the perfect opposite for such a large setting. I spent an hour walking around the church taking in the views of the city and relaxing watching the distant boats in the Mediterranean. I sat down at a bench next to a woman about my age and commented on the beauty of the location. She agreed, and thankfully spoke English. She had some time off from her master's program and was in Europe for three weeks. She had been to Switzerland and Italy. She knew a bit about Marseille and was visiting a friend. She was heading down to the harbor where there was supposed to be an amazing view of the sea. She asked if I was game to come, which of course I was.
We got a bit lost on the way, but quickly got back on track. The view wasn't as great as billed, but we sat on this extremely comfortable bench, which made it all worth it. Okay wait... the view was absolutely stunning, but in relation to the view from the hill, it was not any better. After chatting for a while, we walked around the harbor in search of a large cathedral. Along the way we were enticed by a street vendor selling roasted almonds covered in... something sweet.
The cathedral was more what I thought the cathedral on the hill was going to be... huge. It was not as lavishly decorated, something which I have come to appreciate after seeing so many gaudy (no pun intended) cathedrals and basilicas along the way. Another stroll back towards the harbor brought us to a vibrant immigrant market filled with goods I saw in Morocco. We weren't offered hash and I only saw two men in robes, so I was not pulled back into the North African culture completely, but it was quite fun.
Melanie's friend stayed near the train station, which was not far from my hotel. After exchanging email addresses I retrieved my backpack at the hotel and walked to the train station. Luckily the mist that started as we were leaving the market only got a bit worse and I did not get soaked. I arrived just after a train departed for Nice, and the next was not for another 90 minutes. I sat down on a bench in the station and waited.
The following is taken from my hand written journal:
I've become completely comfortable with and used to people talking directly to me when I have no idea what they are saying to me. It's going to be quite odd to be back in a place where I understand everything.
For example: Right now I am sitting in the Marseille central train station. I know it probably seems obvious, but the reality is much more overpowering. An announcement comes on, the only word of which I understand is 'merci.' I look up to relieve some boredom, but can't read the billboard in front of me or the train station improvement sign. I hear two security guards laughing and talking loudly, but I can only insert a story from my imagination. A custodian breaks my gaze from their direction as she groans about an orange peel on a rail next to me, but I don't know if she is bitching at me or life in general, so I just smile. On the other side of me a father converses in baby-talk with his infant, and she understands more than I do. On the one hand it sucks I guess to not hear all these things. On the other, I don't really have to deal with all the stupid things people say all the time or the repetitive information that comes from an overhead announcement. Not hearing has become the norm and the idea of what is going to happen on a daily basis when I leave my pension or hostel. It is definitely going to be weird going home. And this is just a miniscule difference I am going to face when I step of the plane in Chicago.
Most of the last paragraph was from the entry, although I added a bit more just now!