Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Day 1: Kicking off Plan B in Marseille

My plan at the beginning of the summer was simple enough. I would be based out of Amsterdam for two months, therfore I'd have the opportunity to knock off two more countries from my dwindling European list. July, I would hit Lithuania (#98) and August, I would spend some time in Barcelona and use it as a base to get to Andorra (#99).

As you may have noticed from my last post, the first part of this plan went off quite well. I loved Lithuania and the very cool people I met there. The problem arose when I began to research things to do in Andorra. Had it been winter, I could have watched people skiing (note: Cubans raised in tropical climates are not genetically engineered to put planks on their feet and careen headlong down snowy surfaces. To paraphrase Lucille Bluth: I don't understand this and I will not respond it. But I will hang out in a lodge like nobody's business). But this was August and all I could find were suggestions for duty free shops. I envisioned Guam (aka Asia's duty free mall and gun range) all over again. Not even for my 99th country was I willing to subject myself to this.

I needed a Plan B. The few European countries I haven't been to were all too expensive or time consuming to get to. I looked towards cities I had not been to. At some point, Marseille popped into my head. I envisioned beautiful beaches, lavender fields and mouth-watering cuisine. The flights were both short and cheap. Marseille, it was.
I also looked forward to a language that was both more melodious and more comprehensible (for me, at least) than Dutch. That excitement didn't last long, when my broken French managed to get me on the wrong bus from the airport and deposited me in a very non-beachy, non-lavendery suburb.

Eventually, I made it to my hostel, which was right by the harbour.  The location was both a hindrance and a curse.  Sure it was picturesque and easily accessible by public transportation...but too much so.  I was staying on the equivalent of Miami's Ocean Drive.  It was tourists and overpriced bars and restaurants as far as the eye could see.

But the day was beautiful, I had managed to drop off my bags and there was still time to do something.  I wanted to visit the Calanques, a series of limestone formations east of Marseille.  Given the choice of hiking in 90+ degree heat (the terms "sturdy footwear" and "plenty of fluids" kept getting thrown around) or riding in a nice boat with a company offering a generous byob policy, it took me .000000001 second to buy that boat ticket.




Soon, we were cruising past the harbour and I was wondering at what point they were going to offer the English version of the narration they had going in French.  That point never came.  The language was sounding decidedly less melodious to my ears.





No harm done though, the star attraction here was the scenery.  I was curious what they could be saying for over 3 hours about a bunch of rocks but I was enjoying the ride nevertheless.







At one point, I began to long for the sunscreen that was in my bag back in the hostel but then I recalled that a month in Amsterdam had left me with a complexion somewhere between Nicole Kidman's and Caspar's and chose to bask in the burning rays.


















This mirrored canopy covered the metro station by my place and like a particularly gullible kitten, I was drawn to it every single time.
Upon my return to the hostel, I was starving and ready for some of that famed French cooking.  I asked around and as I suspected, all the places near me were mediocre tourist traps so I walked over to the funky Cours Julien neighborhood.   There were tons of restaurants so I went from menu to menu trying to find a vegetarian option amongst the roughly 5000 seafood dishes.  I quickly concluded two things: that this was not going to be as easy as I thought and that the south of France is a terrible place to be a fish.  Left with few choices, I had Mexican nachos. C'est la vie.


So, the food was a bust and I had not paid nearly enough attention in high school French but there were still beaches and lavender fields to look forward to. And, nowhere- I repeat nowhere- did I have to deal with duty free shops. 

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