IMG_4662Marseille is such an interesting city. New nestles against very, very old. Even in the rich areas, grit never feels far away. All kinds of art is everywhere.IMG_4599IMG_4601I already knew to beware of cars with 13 license plates. The départements of France are numbered, in alphabetical order, so Aude, where I live, is 11, and the Bouches du Rhone, home to Marseille, is 13. Cars with 13 plates treat red lights as mild suggestions. Right of way goes to the biggest car or the driver with the steeliest nerves. Turning left from the right lane, in front of other cars, is normal. Any space big enough to fit the car is a legitimate parking place, even, say, a sidewalk. Turn signals on cars with 13 plates do not work except when they are in the left lane on the autoroute, blinking impatiently for cars ahead of them to move over so they can pass, pedal to the metal.

Note the traffic. Big improvement.

Driving in Marseille is thus a white-knuckle experience. But the city fathers have made much of the city center off-limits to vehicles. As a result, where it’s bad, it’s very, very bad, but where it’s pedestrian it’s wonderful. Except for the motorcycles and motorbikes, which do what they please. I was happy for the GPS to guide me to an underground parking garage, so I could relax a little.IMG_4602It was mid-December, but the weather was mild. A small Christmas market was next to the ferris wheel at the port, encircled by barriers and guarded by security officers who tried to strike a balance between stern and holiday-jolly. Fake firs flocked with fake snow juxtaposed with apartment balconies dripping with brilliant red geraniums, real. A few veiled women pushed strollers through the mostly deserted market, whose stalls were exclusively dedicated to provençal santons.

New next to old everywhere…

IMG_4630IMG_4620IMG_4629Marseille has a rich selection of the universal Instagram/Pinterest-driven all-female restaurants featuring vegan poke bowls and cafés roasting their own coffee served by burly men with beards and buns. Such places haven’t yet turned up in Carcassonne, so it was fun to try them out. Brooklyn is everywhere but in France most profonde.

Dr. Max Ginger Healthy for a very satisfying and tasty lunch. Mostly vegetarian but not only.

I’ve wanted to see Mucem since it opened in 2013. The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations incorporates part of the 17th century Fort Saint-Jean, with a very cool cube designed by Roland Carta next to it. The cube looks like it’s made of laser-cut paper doilies, but it’s actually fiber-reinforced concrete. IMG_4648IMG_4646

I don’t know whether I would feel comfortable in that cantilevered building. 

The outdoor spaces at Mucem are open to the public for free. Clean, quiet, beautiful. I was surprised there weren’t throngs of people, especially on a mild December afternoon. If I lived in Marseille, I would get nothing done because I would spend all my time on a chaise longue, admiring the vista and watching people. IMG_4649

I’ll take that spot.
Note the chaises longues at the base of the wall in the garden.
Oh, the views. And from the top of the fort, too.

Mucem had these exhibits: a collection of toys made in Marseille between the end of the 19th century and the late 1970s; an exhibition on Afghanistan, including one of the blue burqas that imprison women there, its yards of knife-pleated fabric going round and round, and many multi-media installations; an abécédaire, or A-to-Z, on the theme of luck and chance; and a retrospective on Jean Giono, whom I’d never heard of but who was a noted novelist whose experiences in World War I made him a pacifist to the point of being accused of collaborating with the Nazis in World War II. There was another exhibit, very surreal, with famous paintings remade as, say, a puzzle or a refrigerator door, and books whose titles twisted the those of the classics. It was fun to spot the jokes.

The old fort was amazing to see up close. As Marseille goes, it isn’t very old–the oldest bits of the fort go back to the 1100s. By contrast, the city was founded by the Greeks around 600 BCE, though there are traces of human habitation well before that.IMG_4635IMG_4627IMG_4638

What looks kind of like a slide on the right is  passerelle over the highway below.

IMG_4640IMG_4622Afterward, I strolled through the neighborhood called le Panier, or the Basket, the oldest part of town, settled by the intrepid Greeks.

People leaving Mucem put their admission stickers on anything. 


Note the creative planters on the left.

IMG_4661Going back toward the ferris wheel, the architecture was a feast for the eyes, an open-air museum of sculpture.IMG_4664IMG_4665IMG_4666IMG_4613IMG_4618IMG_4607This isn’t a very useful post–no recommendations other than Mucem and Dr. Max Ginger Healthy. My only recommendation is to walk and look and smell and walk and walk and walk. You will not lack for places to eat and drink and shop. I like serendipity, a sense of being an urban explorer. IMG_4603





30 thoughts on “A Day in Marseille

  1. Wow – what a great post! Every photo has something fascinating. I love these little trips around France over my morning coffee at my desk in my office. Keep up the great work:) You are really inspiring me to start my blog…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am enchanted by the bandstand that looks like a slightly melted old-movie space ship, fifth photo. At least, I assume it’s a bandstand, but maybe not.
    What a great place to explore!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting look at the old blended with the new! I’m not big on driving in any foreign country… even NYC! I have friends who drive every day in NYC, and I keep asking why? Parking garages are the price of a small apartment. No thank you! I particularly love the first photograph you posted and love your description: “New nestles against very, very old. Even in the rich areas, grit never feels far away.” Wonderful! xoxox, Brenda

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So interesting, we have a lot of the same photos. It is a gritty city, but I think that is part of its charm. The cathedral at the top of the hill is quite gorgeous, did you wind your way up there? There are a few parts of the city that we were told not to go near, even in the day.
    We have not visited the city for a few years, I think it’s time for at least a day trip this year.

    I love the train station. It looks like something out of a movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the grittiness does add to the charm–it keeps it from being too perfect or artificial.
      No time to get to the hilltop cathedral, nor around to the very interesting building on the opposite side of the entry to the port. It was just a day trip. have to go back.


  5. What wonderful photos! It sounds like you had a lovely day out. Flâner over fresh fields for me … Marseille looks more beautiful than I’d imagined and, curiously, incredibly clean for a “gritty” city whose reputation as a colourful port city precedes it … I love the relaxed approach the French have to outdoor seating – a chaise longue for all! We could spend hours in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris ensconced in its tilted metal chairs. A simple tweak to an unyielding material makes it suddenly so comfy. Genius.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They even have options–one can lounge in the shade or bask in the sun. So thoughtful.
      The city is less gritty than on my first trip more than a decade ago, but while some of the rough edges have been smoothed, it doesn’t feel Disneyfied.


  6. It’s been years since I visited Marseille, but I remember finding it a fascinating place, a city of contrasts, and one very different to my (rather negative) ideas about it. Any city by the sea tends to attract me but this one, and its people, had such a reputation that I had assumed it would be tough to love. Not so. You certainly have captured quite a bit of its personality in this post. I’m with you when it comes to just strolling around and being open to what the place throws at you. Definitely worth a revisit, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am just so enamored with your countryside and cities, in particular the old streets, the ancient architecture, the culture. That graffiti stairway is gorgeous too – The man -buns are something I’ll never be enamored with, I wish men would just say no, LOL.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. IT is always a pleasure visiting you, I always learn something new or see something new. This looks like a wonderful way to spend a day. Have a great week.

    Liked by 2 people

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