Marseilles is not as bad as I've heard.
The overnight flight via Lufthansa was more comfortable than any of us imagined, because we were on a new A380 (plane's maiden voyage) and there's leg room in coach, a friendly crew, fully featured seats with a personal video screen and WiFi which I avoided in order to read the new France Guide that I got from the French tourism office. So nice to see that my friend Becca Hensley from last summer's Scandinavia trip has written about her travels in Le Comte, a yummy cheese producing region.
At 5am, when shops are closed, Frankfurt's Fraport is not as glamorous as I recalled. I drag good-natured husband and son to the far reaches of Terminal 2 to find an instant massage and it is certainly not worth the 20 euros I spend there.
Vieux Port and New Marseilles
But we have spent the day in Marseilles. This is the slow road to the Cannes Film Festival, our goal for this family vacation in the south of France in May. Yummy trip.
Fun getting the manual shift Renault from the Europcar lot onto the streets teeming with French drivers who cruise right on your tail (no teaching of 'safe stopping distance' here?) Startling view of new and old architecture; quite tall green glass highrise that twists like a Provencal cheese bread in a basket of croissants.
Our son, Regan, uses an old school Michelin map to navigate us to the Vieux Port for some sightseeing.
At 70kph we realize there's nowhere to park and it's too early to eat so we veer uphill through wonderful neighborhoods and so many boulangeries crowded with children carrying the lunchtime baguettes to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde. Wonderful views of the bay and the city, France's second largest, spreading out for much farther than we imagined. And from our 500+ meter perch the blue of the sea is quite dazzling. The cathedral is raising money for a museum and, from the charming collection of model fishing boats and WorldWar II era planes that hang from the ceiling — one assumes votives — this will be a really interesting museum.
Le Corniche de Marseilles and on to Les Goudes
From this vantage we roll downhill till we hit the seafront drive, Le Corniche, then turn south and east to the village of Les Goudes where we have read there is good fish soup. True. Snaking lines of teen beach traffic, maybe no one's in school, and lots of single file children following sexy French teachers along the lanes of these small towns.
We park in Les Goudes at some sort of official security office for the marina but miraculously we do not find a ticket when we return.
At Auberge des Corsaires there is a chalkboard menu: today it's Dorado grilled with garlic or a Loup fish on a bed of local vegetables. Regan orders this and Ron gets the soupe du pecheur.
The lovely waitress who giggles at my French brings a big bowl of stale baguette pieces and a glass full of mustard and a second glass full of grated gruyere. While she helps the cook, Ron must slather each 'crouton' with mustard and then heap cheese onto it, and arrange them nicely at the bottom of the bowl she has brought him. When she returns with the soup, she explains, she will pour it on top, the cheese will melt, the mustard will add the last of the needed spices and he will be able to eat.
I go for the grilled moules et frites, delicious tiny mussels like button earrings. Doused in sweet young garlic cloves, mussels with barnacles on their shells as if they are pulled straight from the boat pier next to our deck.
Marseilles is slated to be a European cultural capital for 2013 and tying in their museums will help consolidate the attractions and focus visitor interest.
We hear the prosperous port city is plagued by strikes among the dock workers, causing many businesses to forego this beautiful natural harbor in favor of Antwerp or Hamburg.
Nonetheless, the charme de France is visible here; we hope Marseilles finds its tourism mojo and puts on a better face for the world.
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