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Treeplanter, trouble maker, vagabond, musician and writer straight from the deepest darkest coldest centre of Canada. Currently living in Belgrade, Serbia.
The ‘must sees’
Musée d'Histoire de Marseille (2 rue Henri Barbusse)
Plage des Catalans (summer beach)
Jardin des Vestiges (archeological remains), (Rue de la Reine Elisabeth)
I never thought I'd spend a St. Patrick’s Day rolling into Marseille, France’s second largest city. I had been on the move since the day before, taking a ferry from the island of Sardinia to Genoa, Italy where I hopped on a bus bound for the city in the south of France. It was mid March so no beaches to look forward to but knowing it as a major port for Northern Africa I was excited to experience a new, multicultural atmosphere.
I checked into Hostel Vertigo St. Charles (42 Rue des Petites Maries) which is only minutes away from the bus station Gare St. Charles. It’s a smaller hostel but has a full, functional kitchen where I met a great group of people to split meals during our stay. If it’s not a cooking night be sure to check out El-Bahdja (86 Rue Bernard du Bois) for some delicious kebabs, sandwiches and chips.
I spent my first night down near the Vieux-Porte (Old Port). Irish themed bars are usually a no go for me but I had a feeling the French were ready to be festive in the name of my personal patron saint. O’Malley (9 Quai de Rive Neuve) hosted a traditional Irish music group and judging by their website they still have regular weekly live music events and DJs'. The view across the port is stunning and is a great central meeting location.
If you think that view is good, then it’s time to get your legs prepared for the climb up Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde (Rue Fort du Sanctuaire). It’s steep so if hiking isn't your thing, bus number 60 stops very near to the top. If you want the full workout though I’d recommend starting at the staircase just beside 15 Chemin du Roucas Blanc. It’s an arduous 400 meters but the view from the top is one of the best you’ll see on the south coast.
Another less touristic area of the city to relax and enjoy the waves is in Parc Emilie Duclaux near Palais Pharo and Aix-Marseille University. Behind the palace you’ll find the “Monument aux victimes et héros de la mer”. From there you can see across the Gothic and Baroque inspired skyline of Marseille. Afterwards, why not enjoy a coffee or beer from Bar Tabac Pharo (2 Avenue Pasteur). If you’re feeling bold ask for a "pastis" which is an aniseed-flavoured local liqueur. If you’re having a few I would suggest diluting them with water because it packs a punch. I know from experience.
To meet some locals or experience some more Southern French culture check out the local park within Place St. Jaurès. You can expect some jam sessions, soccer kick-abouts and just a general atmosphere of community and well being. The surrounding area is full of quaint outdoor cafes, bars and music stores.
As for nightlife, there’s a huge reggae influence wafting through Marseille. I was fortunate enough to be there during the time of the Babel Mediterranean Music Festival located at the revamped warehouse venue Docs des Suds (12 Rue Urbain V). I saw several musical acts from all corners of the globe.
I experienced a wholesome day at the Musée d’Archéologie de la Méditerranée which is located at 2 Rue de la Charité inside a 17th century almshouse. The setup of the museum is beautiful due it’s large central courtyard and two stories worth of material. Be sure not to forget Le Musée d'arts africains, océaniens et amérindiens which is housed on the second floor. Both charge 5 Euros but state on their website that the unemployed and students can have free access.
After the museum why not wind through the backstreets of the Panet Quarter which is the oldest in the city. I stumbled upon a few wonderful back yard art spaces and had some great conversations about Marseille. I had to agree with the locals of it’s wonderful scenery, rich history and ornate beauty. I’ll for sure venture back one day to reminisce… and lie on a sunny, sandy beach.