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Forty Days Celebrating Forty Years!
Fall 2002

Bremen | Hamburg | Berlin
Potsdam | Dresden, Bautzen and Gorlitz
Nürnberg | Karlsruhe | Zürich | Strasbourg | Bern
Annecy | Avignon | Marseille | Aix-en-Provence | Paris


We had a reservation on the 10:20 TGV to Marseille from Avignon. Up early and rearing to go, we were at the TGV station in time to board the 09:26 train. The controller on the platform gave us permission to board even though our reservations were for the next train. There were plenty of empty seats so no problem. It's only a thirty-minute ride to Marseille. The TGV stops at the main Gare St.-Charles. The metro stop below the station goes to Vieux-Port where we were headed. We took the metro when we left Marseille.

We were anxious to hit the streets to get to know the first urbanized city of France, which was founded by the Greeks, twenty-six centuries ago. We had read that every large city building project results in excavations that reveal multiple and fascinating archeological remains. This city is twice the size of Paris, spreading over fifty-seven kilometers of coastline protected by the surrounding hills.

The train station is undergoing extensive renovation so we were a bit confused as to where we exited and the direction of Vieux Port. We asked two young security guards outside for guidance and they cheerfully sent us on our way. It was a fifteen to twenty-minute walk south on rue d'Athenes to the famous La Canebiere, turning right directly to the port.

We had wanted to sample Marseille for some time to determine if we would want to return for a longer stay. We were intrigued by its physical location and its cultural and artistic heritage. We were immediately struck by the, always appealing to us, ethnic diversity, the old architecture, the current renewal along Canabiere and the hustle and bustle along the way. But nothing compared to our first sighting of Vieux Port. It was a glorious day and the sun shone brightly on the surrounding stunning buildings and the countless boats and masts rising from the sparkling waters. It was a sight to behold!
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Hotel La Residence du Vieux Port is located on the north side of the port. We would spend the week-end here and this hotel is one of the partner hotels in the Have a Good Weekend in Marseille program, which entitles you to two nights stay for the price of one, plus other goodies. A super deal!

The ever-present Emmanuel welcomed us with the same big smile as the helpful security guards at the train station. Emmanuel's smile was always there along with his special charm, warm nature and good looks! When he learned we were celebrating the big 40, he generously upgraded us to the honeymoon suite. Upon entering, we were greeted by a huge frosted glass enclosure with an enormous round blue bathtub, the centerpiece of the large bathroom complex. The king bedded room was tastefully furnished and included a sitting area near the sliding glass doors, which opened onto a balcony with a panoramic view of the port with Notre-Dame de la Garde high on a hill in the distance. The suite also had a second small bedroom plus all the extras to make us comfortable: soundproof doors and windows, air conditioning, satellite TV, bathrobes, slippers and a safe for our valuables. This is a terrific three-star value. The same family owns the two-star Hermes Hotel, just around the corner.

We were looking forward to enjoying a taste of the North African culture so prevalent in the city, which included enjoying a couscous lunch. Rue des Convalescents, which runs east between Cours Balance and rue d'Athenes, is a narrow street jam-packed with tiny shops, themselves packed with merchandise, spilling out onto the sidewalks. The street was filled with shoppers and the air was filled with aroma of herbs and spices from the food shops and restaurants along the way. Deep in my files I had found a note about a restaurant at 2 rue des Convalescents names Sur Le Pouce that had marvelous couscous at very comfortable prices. Would it still be there? You bet, and what a treat! It's just a simple, family-run, neighborhood favorite that lived up to my notes. The tables were filled with locals and we were salivating from the look and smell of the food around us while anxiously awaiting our couscous, one with chicken and the other lamb. We didn't have to wait very long to enjoy the tender, tasty grains. The breast quarter of chicken was enormous and delicious. The lamb was not quite as good. The value was exceptional - with coffee it was 12 EUR for the two of us!

The next day our dear friends from Genova, Stefano and Nicoletta and their three-year old daughter, Shaila, would be joining us for the day. We had not seen them since Shaila was born so it was to be very special for us. We would probably visit the old city just north of the port with them so we decided to do the area south of the port today.

Rue Breteuil runs east of the port and at #117 is the main synagogue. There are 70,000 Jews in Marseille and numerous synagogues. We met two young men and the father of one of them out front. They were on their way in and graciously offered to show us around. They welcomed us warmly and fortunately one of the young men spoke enough English to act as interpreter.

The synagogue is one hundred forty years old and is stunning. The high-ceilinged main sanctuary has two balconies incorporated into the striking arch design. The towering half dome with stained glass windows houses the Torah Arc. We were so fortunate to meet these very kind people and learn a bit about Jewish life in Marseille.
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The south port is an area of impressive buildings, charming squares, historic landmarks and theatres all linked by narrow residential streets and grand views of the port and the picture postcard scene of the Town Hall, Hotel Dieu and the Accoules steeples across the way.

Le Palais de Justice on rue Breteuil fronted by a golden sculpture in a sparking pond was bathed in sunlight and quite eye-catching. Inhabitants of Marseille have always been theatre and opera fans and the gorgeous art deco opera house nearby is a tribute to this passion.

Bordering the port Place Thiars is an adorable little square in the heart of the former arsenal quarter, reserved for pedestrians who appreciate the Italian charm of the neighborhood with its many restaurants, cafes and art galleries.

The nearby Place Aux Huiles also is a charmer with wall-to-wall restaurants of many varieties. There are so many places to eat all around that port that it is a challenge to make a decision except, as we would discover, on Sundays, when almost none of them are open!

Rue Sainte leads to Saint-Victor Abbey. Along its length are beautiful private mansions next to warehouses that have been transformed into boutiques and restaurants. From rue Robert there is a fine view of the old port and the cupolas of La Major Cathedral.

At the corner of rue d'Endoume and rue Saint is the famous Four des Navettes, the oldest bakery of Marseille. The recipe of the Navettes has been kept secret since 1781. These orange blossom flavored biscuits are in the shape of boats, symbolizing the legend of the boat in which Sainte-Mary and Saint-Lazarus are said to have arrived on the shores of Provence. On February 2nd, the first day of the Candlemas Octave the Four des Navettes is blessed by the Archbishop of Marseille.

The Abbaye Saint-Victor is a massive stone structure at the foot of the old port with a storied history. The abbey was made part of the port defense system by Gregoire XI. In 1739 it was secularized by order of the pope. The revolution transformed it into a fodder store, a prison and a barracks, thereby avoiding its demotion. In the nineteenth century, it again became a place of worship, becoming a minor basilica in 1934. Nowadays it is used for concerts. From the esplanade there is a superb panorama of the old port, the forts, Saint-Laurent Church and La Major Cathedral. Fort Saint-Nicolas and Fort Saint- Jean across the way are formidable stone guardians of the old port.
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One of the restaurants Emmanuel recommended, Chez Madie des Galinettes was a short walk down the Quai du Port at number 138. There's lots of outside seating but since it was a cool evening, we chose to sit indoors. Everyone else made the same decision thus shortly after the place opened every seat was occupied.

The house starter was crostini with goat cheese, salmon and parsley. Linda nursed her Campari orange while I enjoyed a very nice glass of red, Cote du Rhone Les Colombes. A traditional fish soup with sides of cheese, garlic mayonnaise and rounds of toast was good enough for Linda to accept the second portion that was offered. My tatin rouge, ground fish and tapenade on a pastry shell was divine. Linda's liver would have been perfect if it was medium rare as ordered, rather than medium. I had the opportunity to look my sea bass in the eye before it was grilled. It was very good indeed. Both mains came with potatoes au gratin and a mushroom and pine nut mousse. Crème Brule for the lady and pistachio ice cream for her mate. In general, the preparations and presentation were not top of the line; all-in-all a fair value, in our opinion.

We had breakfast both mornings at the Grand Cafe around the corner on rue Republic. The owner is a sweetheart of a guy who makes great coffees and had no problem with our buying fabulous olive bread at the boulangerie next door. In fact, the coffee man happily helped us polish off the loaf.

Our friends arrived at 10:30, as expected. We had seen pictures of Shaila but, oh boy, what a doll! Add to that the fact that she's smart and a talented artist in training. She draws spectacularly well for a three-year-old. It was so great to see Stefano and Nicoletta with whom we have shared precious time together in Genova.

We decided to take the little train tour of old Marseille locally called Panier (the basket). The ancient area is not just a collection of museum-type buildings, most of which are national heritage sites, but it is a bustling energetic neighborhood of hilly, narrow, winding streets, pretty squares and the aromas of local delicacies being prepared for lunchtime.
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The Marie (town hall) is a beautiful baroque building on the quay. The highlight of the building is the arcade, which separates the two main sections of the building with a vaulted ceiling that is a masterpiece of stone work.

La Grand Rue follows the ancient road from Jardin des Vestiges to Place de Lenche, the ancient Greek marketplace. The original Greek road lies three meters under the modern street.

At the corner of Grand Rue and Rue Bonneterie is Hotel de Cabre, a private residence built in 1535; it is one of the oldest in Marseille. The house was saved when the quarter was blown-up in 1943 and later was lifted in one piece and rotated ninety degrees in order to align it with the present streets.

Another National Heritage Site since 1963 is l'Hotel Dieu Hospital. Originally built in the twelfth century, it was reconstructed in the eighteenth. Since antiquity Marseille has always occupied an important place in medical practice and scientific research.

La Maison Diamantee (the diamond studded house) is so named because its unusual facade is decorated with raised diamond-shaped tips. Since 1967, it has housed the museum of old Marseille.

Saint-Laurent Church sits over the tip of the port. It is built in the Provencal-Romanesque style with three naves separated by square pillars. Again a storied rise and fall history resulting in a recent restoration. It is built of the pinkish stone from the quarries at Couronne.

The Vielle Major is built of the same stone in the Provencal-Romanesque style. When the Nouvelle Major was built, it lost two of its bays. The new Cathedral was consecrated May 6, 1896. It is a stunner in Byzantine-Romanesque style in the shape of a Latin Cross.

The Vielle Charite was designed to be a public hospital for beggars and the poor. It was completed in 1749. The building has four wings that are closed to the exterior. A chapel was built in the center courtyard between 1679 and 1707. The chapel, with its egg-shaped dome is a fine example of Italian Baroque. After the revolution and until the end of the nineteenth century, it was a hospice for the elderly and children. A restoration began in 1968 and since 1986, it has fulfilled a variety of scientific and cultural functions.
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Place des Moulins (Windmills Square) lies at the highest point in the Panier. For many years, the square was occupied by fifteen windmills until the use of water made them obsolete. In the nineteenth century, only three were still operating and their stone bases can still be seen. The square was rebuilt in the middle of the nineteenth century in basically one architectural style with trees, benches, play area and a school that gave it a village-like atmosphere.

Next visit we will have to slowly stroll through the Panier, get touchy-feely and find out where all those wonderful aromas are coming from.

We had not had our fill of couscous and our friends were in complete agreement so La Kahena it was! The little train departs and returns from the quay just across from our hotel and the restaurant was conveniently across the street. It's bright blue and white, sparkling clean and smells wonderful. Our couscous, lamb and vegetables were outstanding in every respect. The service was top notch and we enjoyed the leisurely, unrushed environment - excellent value!

Shaila returned to her hotel for an afternoon nap and we took the opportunity to enjoy the warm afternoon patrolling the port, sourcing out a place for dinner. It's true, every restaurant shuts down after lunch on Sunday. We were accepting the fact that we would have to order in pizza and eat in the pleasant hotel bar. We had walked by Le Cafe a few doors away from the hotel at 34 Quai du Port numerous times and thought it was for beverages and pastry only. In desperation we took a closer look and found that they did salads, crepes and grilled fish. By the time our friends returned they were sold out of salad and crepes but they had five sargo left. They were nicely grilled and served with whatever vegetables were left and with a bottle of wine, it was just fine. There is outside seating only, but fortunately it was not uncomfortably cool.

We walked with our friends to the metro, happy to have been together again and retreated to the big, round, blue tub for a bath for two. Marseille is high on our list for a long return visit.
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Bremen | Hamburg | Berlin
Potsdam | Dresden, Bautzen and Gorlitz
Nürnberg | Karlsruhe | Zürich | Strasbourg | Bern
Annecy | Avignon | Marseille | Aix-en-Provence | Paris

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