French Connection 2: Marseille

July 20th, 2023

Saturday, June 3 – June 20, 2023

The French TGV – High Speed Train 2N2

June 3rd was another travel day for me, from Lyon to Marseille on the TGV. This is the famous Train a Grande Vitesse or “high-speed train” operated by France’s national rail service. With speeds up to 186-mph, it whisks passengers from Lyon to Marseille in just one hour & 46 minutes.

I just happened to have booked on SNCF’s newest train – the Euroduplex aka TGV 2N2. This is the French railway’s high-speed double-decker model. Of course, I sat on the upper level. Great fun!

View of Marseille From Nicole’s Balcony

My cousin, Nicole and her husband Tony, met me at Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles. The plan was to spend two glorious weeks with them in the south of France. They live on the 8th floor of a high-rise apartment building with a fabulous view of Marseille all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. I had an unforgettable time with Nicole and Tony and their extended family. Highlights are below:

La Corniche

La Corniche is the road that runs along the Mediterranean Sea from the Vieux Port (old harbor) in the center of Marseille out to a string of beaches and finally ends at Les Calanques National Park. The views are spectacular. Good seafood restaurants line the road, as well as beautiful seaside houses.

We passed villas on the Mediterranean and tiny towns with seasonal beach-houses and old fisherman’s shacks.

Les Calanques

Dinner one night was with Nicole & Tony’s son: Antony and Sara and their adorable almost 2-year old son, Matys.

Cousin’s Party

Marseille is the second largest city in France, with a population of about 6.2 million people. Founded by Greek settlers in 600 BC, Marseille has been a melting pot of people since its ancient beginnings.

Bourse et Chambre de Commerce

One of the best experiences in Marseille is the outdoor Fish Market, le Marche de la Peche. It’s held every morning on the dock in the Vieux Port. The intense smell of fish, salty sea breezes, and the sounds of fishermen’s wives hawking the day’s catch is lots of fun.

Marche aux Poissons

French “Open-Air Markets” are wonderful! They sell absolutely everything from fresh produce & anything edible to clothes & shoes for everyone to home goods. This one was along Avenue du Prado.

I went with Nicole and Tony, on a 4-hour road trip to visit their daughter, Aurelie and her family, who live in Plaisance-du-Touch, near Toulouse. On the way, we stopped at the medieval hilltop town of Carcassonne.

Entrance Into Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a double-walled fortified medieval city, first settled about 3500 BC. The inner wall was first begun during the Roman Empire from the 3rd and 4th centuries. The outer wall was constructed during the 13th century. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of Towers and Space Between Walls

Inside the walls is a village complete with houses, shops, narrow streets, and the Chateau Comtal castle built about 1130.

We took a self-guided tour of the castle, which was a lot of fun. We climbed up and down the staircases within several towers, and walked across the top of the ramparts connecting them. It was a glimpse into medieval life.

View From a Tower

The narrow streets were crowded with tourists when we arrived. We walked around and looked in at some of the shops. By the time we left, it was raining and the medieval streets were empty of people.

We stayed at Aurelie and Vincent’s house for several days and played with their adorable son, Louis. Plaisance-du-Touch, a lovely town named after the Touch River, is a suburb of Toulouse.

Indoor and outdoor shopping is always fun in France. The modern supermarket was inside an air-conditioned mall and was bright and festively decorated with balloons and streamers.

We walked around the town lake which had a jogging path, picnic areas, athletic fields, and a restaurant at one end that has live music on weekends.

Lac Francois Soula

We drove to the beautiful historic city of Albi, about an hour northeast of Toulouse. Albi is famous for its 13th century cathedral and is the birthplace of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Sainte-Cecile Cathedral

The medieval city and the cathedral are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Medieval Street in Albi

Sainte Cecile Cathedral is a “masterpiece of southern French Gothic style.” The gigantic structure was built from 1282 to 1480 entirely of bricks. It is one of the largest brick buildings in the world.

Another View of St. Cecile’s

We had a tasty regional lunch at a cafe looking across from the cathedral. We entered the church and took a self-guided tour. We saw the room with religious artifacts and treasures, the chapel, the large choir area behind the Rood Screen, and the highly decorated sanctuary.

The elaborate colorful interior of the cathedral is in stark contrast to its stark red brick exterior.

A vast painting of the Last Judgement fills the entire front of the church. A Rood Screen divides the central area of the cathedral and is one of the few remaining Rood Screens in the world. The area behind the screen is reserved for members of the clergy and the choir.

Chapel Behind the Rood Screen

Next to Albi Cathedral is Le Musee Toulouse-Lautrec which was the 13th century Bishop’s Palace.

Musee Toulouse-Lautrec

The museum owns over a thousand works by the French painter. They were donated to the city of Albi by his mother in 1922. The collection includes many paintings, lithographs, drawings, and posters.

The old bridge across the River Tarn in Albi was originally built in 1035 and is still in use today.

Le Vieux Pont – Old Bridge

Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France, with a population of over one million people, and is the capital of the southern Occitanie region. We took a fun ride around the Old Town on a little tourist train.

Tourist Tram

Toulouse is known as “La Ville Rose” – The Pink City because of the color of the terra-cotta bricks used in construction of many of its buildings. The city is the European capital of space industry and exploration and it is home to the world’s largest airline manufacturer, Airbus.

Old Town Street

Toulouse is classified as a “City of Art and History” because of its rich architectural heritage of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance buildings.

Aurelie and Louis

The Garonne River runs through the center of the city. The Hotel-Dieu Saint-Jacques and the Hopital de La Grave helped plague victims during the 12th century and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One evening we all went to an outdoor African music and dance festival. There was African food and vendors selling crafts and clothing. Families picnicked on the grass and it was lots of fun. Aurelie takes African dance lessons and we watched her group’s performance.

Here are a couple of photos of the ever-changing amazing view from Nicole’s Marseille balcony!

One day, Nichole and I went to the Old Port in Marseille. We saw the impressive Cathedrale La Major, whose foundation stone was installed by Napoleon III in 1852.

Cathedrale La Major

We walked past the modern Cosquer museum to the MuCEM – the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. We took the elevator to the roof where the views are spectacular!

Cosquer Mediterranee and MuCEM

It was a gorgeous day!! We took a “selfie” and admired the beautiful Marseille harbor.

From the roof of the modern MuCEM we walked across the bridge which connected the MuCEM to Fort Saint-Jean. The historic fort is part of the museum.

Fort Saint-Jean was built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port to guard the harbor.

Fort Saint-Jean

We explored the fort and enjoyed amazing views of the harbor and the Mediterranean Sea. The fort was used during the French Revolution and much later, occupied by the German military during WWII.

The Vieux Port with Notre-Dame de la Garde on the hill:

Nicole drove up to the Hotel Dieu Intercontinental so we could see recent renovations. The building had been Marseille’s main hospital since 1593 and Nicole’s mother had used the hospital decades earlier. The valet let us park in front and allowed us to tour the public areas of the 5-star hotel.

Another day, Nicole and I drove to L’Estaque, along the northern shore of Marseille. It was an area where Armenian immigrants settled after WWI, after the genocide, when survivors were deported from Turkey. Workers from the factories and shipyards of Marseille lived in L’Estaque.

Coastal Road Along the L’Estaque District
Les Plages de Corbieres

Nicole and I had lunch at a wonderful seafood restaurant called L’Hippocampe (the Seahorse), which was located right on the shore. Lunch was incredibly fresh fish! So much fun!

Then we explored the fishing port of L’Estaque. There are only a handful of stands left, like Chez Magali, which sell Marseille’s original street food: “chichi fregis” long fried dough fritters topped with chocolate syrup.

One afternoon, we picked up Matys from his primary school and took him to the park:

One Sunday, we went shopping in Marseille and had a wonderful lunch at a Tunisian restaurant called La Fontaine. The decor was traditional and the food was hearty and very delicious.

La Fontaine – Tunisian Restaurant

The Association for the Research and the Archiving of Armenian Memory (ARAM) is an organization of volunteers who collect and archive artifacts relating to Armenians who settled in Marseille. Their objective is to safeguard as many documents as possible to preserve the history and culture of the Armenian diaspora in France.

ARAM’s artifacts are available to researchers and historians. Volunteers were rebinding old Armenian books and manuscripts when we visited.

Nicole is an active member of a Gospel singing group in Marseille. They had a performance on Sunday, June 18th in the town of La Ciotat. Nicole’s group joined with another Gospel group from Aix-en-Provence. Below is a photo of the flyer for the event:

June 18th was also Father’s Day in France so Tony, Sara, and Matys joined us in La Ciotat at a Lebanese restaurant to celebrate.

It was a beautiful day with a nice breeze so Matys wanted to throw rocks into the Mediterranean.

The Gospel performances were amazing! Most of the songs were in English. The two groups joined together at the end of the show and over 100 voices sang together for a rousing finale! Fantastic!!!

Monday June 19th was my last day in France. My cousin, Francoise, came over for lunch and we visited another cousin on the other side of Marseille.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Marseille on June 20th – Nicole and Tony drove me to Marignane Aeroport. I am forever grateful to my wonderful cousins. They are kind, loving, generous, wonderful people. Thank you, Nicole and Tony…..

Our running joke is that it rains a lot in Paris! Sure enough, when I changed planes at Charles de Gaulle Airport, it was raining in Paris….

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