A Postcard From Marseille

We had to get away. There was only so long we could bear living in our squalid new house. However excited we were at finally moving to Gloucestershire and living on the canal, our new home was undeniably squalid.

Moving-in day last August was all sorts of emotional. We unlocked the front door to our forever-home only to be smacked in the nose by the stink of the previous owner’s smoking habit – a forty-four year, sixty-a-day habit. The house had been empty for nine months, the windows shut tight, that noxious smell maturing fatly over a hot airless summer.

Jim and I spent two days filling a skip with noisome, sticky carpets and badly made, nicotined shelving units; and then we set to: stripping wallpaper, sugar soaping walls, ceilings and woodwork. If it didn’t move it got sugar soaped. And then we began painting. If it didn’t move it got painted; all the while hosting plumbers and plasterers, electricians, a floor sander man and a steady stream of curious, aghast (if trying not to show it) friends and family. But after six weeks of hard graft, Jim and I crumpled and fled to the South of France. I mean, you would have done so too. Whilst we were away we had the old central heating system ripped out and a new boiler, radiators and under-floorboard piping installed. Call us soft lads but we couldn’t face living through all that disruption as well.

oooOOOooo

Arriving at our rental apartment in Marseille, after a swift flight from Bristol, was like a warm tight hug. The little flat was clean, it was comfortable, it was uncluttered and it didn’t smell. And Marseille, in those dying days of September, was far more beautiful than I had supposed.

Relax, relax, relax.

Airbnb Apartment Marseille

Our flat – two windows top left

On the fourth floor of an ancient block, our home for a week had brilliant views;

Airbnb Apartment Marseille (1)

but at a price of 96 sixty steps, no lift. Nip out every morning to fetch croissant? 96 steps back. Reach the pavement only to realise that you’d left something in the flat? 96 steps. Return after a night out? 96 steps. I learnt to take them two at a time. 48 steps were less of a personal affront.

Old Port Marseille

Old Port Marseille

From the living room window, we looked down at the Old Port to our right;

Old port area Marseille

directly below us were restaurants and people to watch;

Bum bum Bistrot

(though the restaurant opposite didn’t appeal much);

Marseille (2)

whilst to the left, marched a handsome line of mute-colour apartment blocks and rooftops,

Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard Marseille

with high up on the skyline, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard or, if you rather, la Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard Marseille

One evening, we climbed several steep streets and long flights of steps to the church (so you don’t have to). C19th Romanesque architecture isn’t my cup of tea really but it seemed churlish not to take a closer look. High on the tower is a gigantic, golden statue of Mary and the baby Christ. Because that’s what Jesus would have wanted?

Marseille

Still, the views are definitely worth the climb.  Swivelling, I looked out over the city as the sun slipped away, hankered after ferries slipping off to Corsica or Sardinia, and listened to a hundred bars calling out my name.

President John F. Kennedy Corniche

A cycling view back to the city from the President John F. Kennedy Corniche

Over seven days, we walked Marseille into the ground. But we also used the brilliant Le Velo cycle hire. Pay a Euro to register, use an app thing, get a code thing, tap it into a keyboard thing at a bike station thing, take a bike, use it, then leave it behind at any bike station thing. The first half hour’s bike use is free and then it’s one Euro per additional hour; which is my kind of bargain. We zipped about daily, exploring and sightseeing – even though Marseilles, unlike Amsterdam or Berlin, is not a cycling city for the not-quite-ready-to-die-yet sort.

Frioul Islands

Frioul Islands

One day, we followed the coast road south, stopping to look out over the Frioul Islands and deciding we would visit them. (And we did and I recommend that you do so too, but I can’t include all of our jaunts in this post or else we’ll be here all day).

War Memorial on the Corniche Marseille

War Memorial on the Corniche Marseille

The beauty of cycling is that you can just stop, almost anywhere, without worrying about where to park or which bus stop to use. And we did that often – just to catch our breath, to chat, or to gaze at a nicely framed moon above a splendid melodramatic bronze.

le velo marseille

Stick me on a bike and I’m pretty happy. Give me a bike for virtually nothing and I’m happier still.

jardin botanique marseille

I decided to cycle to the Jardin Botanique – given that I do like a botanical garden and I do write a gardening blog (mostly). But having risked the murderous disregard of some drivers and cycled a jolly long way indeed, we skidded to a breathless halt at very shut gates. “Damn!” wasn’t the word I used.

Marché Centre Commercial les Puces

Marché Centre Commercial Les Puces

So instead, we went to a huge antique/flea market – which is as magnetic to me as a closed botanical garden.

Marché Centre Commercial les Puces

We hunted high, we hunted low, we browsed and we rummaged. But given the constraints of Easyjet cabin baggage allowances, we didn’t buy anything.

Marché Centre Commercial les Puces

I wasn’t surprised that this disturbing doll hadn’t sold. Were it in my house, I wouldn’t take my eyes off it. In case it moved.

Marché Centre Commercial les Puces

And if this fellow appeared at my front door, I’d immediately pound him to bits with a cricket bat. And feel no remorse, just mighty relief.

Le Panier Marseille

If the botanical gardens were closed, then simply wandering the streets of Le Panier, a neighbourhood to the north of the Old Port, was a charming horticultural substitute;

Le Panier Marseille

and I enjoyed sticking my nose into the homely, sub-tropical displays and muttering forlornly about my lost tropical border at The Priory.

Jim

Perhaps on reflection, it’s just as well that the botanical gardens were closed. I know from sad experience that Jim can’t always be trusted in an open public garden. (You may have to enlarge the photo to get my point).

Old Port Marseille

Old Port Marseille

As much as we loved Marseille, its history, charm and solid good looks (why, we even became accustomed – almost – to the regular wafts of urine from side streets and alleyways) after several days we needed to escape the noise and crowds. And that smell of wee.

Calanques National Park

Calanques National Park

An hour’s bus trip away and we were in the Parc national des Calanques. From the bus stop, it’s another hour’s walk under sweet-smelling pine forests, on gritty paths,

Calanques National Park

through limestone hills

Calanques National Park

until we glimpsed the sea.

Calanques National Park

Jim’s brother had recently been here and urged us to come. Good call. I’d have walked two or three times further to see this.

Calanques National Park

It is magnificent and, for a place I had never heard of, quite startling. Who knew? (Apart from Jim’s brother). The views tumbled away into the haze,

Calanques National Park

and down to rocky coves and inlets. (If you don’t fancy the bus trip and hot walk, join a boat trip from the Old Port in Marseille).

Calanques National Park

We planned to walk down to one of the small fishing villages for lunch

Calanques National Park

until we realised just how high we were and how low it was. We grimaced at the thought of a long descent, followed by a punishing climb back in 30°+ heat. Call us soft lads again.

Calanques National Park

And that scene from Ice Cold in Alex – auto-playing in my head – faded away; along with an imagined seafood platter to go with icy beer. Holidays can be so cruel.

Calanques National Park

Jim having a disappointed moment

Dry-mouthed and hungry, we drank warm bottled water and ate warm plums and oranges – which was nice if not quite the same – and watched spellbound as climbers crawled up that massive rock face.  (The climbers are visible by Jim’s elbow and at the foot of the cliff in the enlarged photo).

Seafood Marseille

But please don’t fret about me. I did get my seafood lunch with beer. Indeed I had several. The bouillabaisse, the mussels, the mixed crustacea were fabulous (though Jim couldn’t bring himself to eat a whelk. He did try pulling inches of an elasticated, rubbery body with its attached toenail-like thing, from the shell but, groaning and shuddering and grimacing, passed it to me. Gee thanks, Jim).

Cheers

As is traditional at the end of one of my postcard posts (having done it once before), here’s a photo of me enjoying a final beer.  But I’ll pass on the whelks next time.

Cheers.

oooOOOooo

Lunchtime beer quickly became a distant memory, as we returned to painting window frames and planing doors that didn’t shut properly, putting up shelves, moving in our belongings from the storage centre piecemeal as rooms became habitable, making endless decisions about power points, light fittings, taps, rugs, new furniture and all the rest.

Stroud Garden

Oh, and yes, we had to tackle the overgrown garden too. But that’s a tale for another time.

57 thoughts on “A Postcard From Marseille

  1. I really can’t blame you for escaping the dreadful nicotine-scented house and what a great destination. I laughed out loud at your description of hammering that second ‘doll’ (Chucky? Urgh!!!!! Enough to give you nightmares.) Naughty Jim! I hope there were no fish in there.
    Incidentally – it’s so good to see you posting again; I look forward to seeing the house improve but can’t wait to see what you can do with the garden. That’ll keep you quiet for a long time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Rosemary, glad you liked the post and I rather wish I’d bought Chucky for you now. Still busy on the house so the garden is still a wealth of embarrassment but we’ll get there one day/year. D

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  2. It’s somehow beggars belief that Marseille is the same latitude as where I’m living, Milwaukee. Although obviously, we have waterfront too, and people often confuse them.
    Well, no, not ever. Southern France looks wonderful, pee-scented lanes or no, and enjoyed your story and top-notch photos.
    The shot of the war memorial, to any American, is a referee declaring “Touchdown!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funnily enough, Robert, we met several confused tourists in Marseille who believed they’d booked weekend breaks to Milwaukee only to end up in southern France. They were very disappointed. Just goes to show it must be a common error. Thanks for the touchdown interpretation (needless to say that isn’t something I would have picked up on!). D

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Me too! Cassis/Calanque 1986, I guess. Glad they finally declared it a National Park! Thanks for the beautiful pics!
    Does the house groan with relief after this cure? Sounds like it’s been given a second life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marcie, Cassis is where Jim’s brother stayed last summer, swimming every day. It was his tales and those of three other members of our family that convinced us to go! Really glad we did, though we didn’t get to Cassis itself. We were groaning enough ourselves at the house to hear anything else. I think our new home now is a bit startled by all the white walls and light after years of sepia. I like to think so anyhow. D

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  4. You do know how to do an escape properly—gorgeous sunlight, colors, and scenery, and good food to boot. (From here it’s easy to ignore the steps, the whelk, and the wee.) (And those super creepy dolls! What’s up with those?!) I initially misread the part about the hundred bars calling your name as a hundred bats (progressive lenses are not always helpful) and thought, “Oh, that doesn’t sound good.” Glad you kept more sanity than that during the move and renovation. Hang in there! You will conquer the kitchen soon! S

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    • Drat, you didn’t like the dolls, then Stacy? Erm, best return the big parcel you’ll be receiving. Sorry. Drat.

      I’m studiously ignoring the kitchen but still painting gloss work upstairs. Which seems to have been my hobby since 1835. Almost done though (except for the kitchen). Hanging on, Dx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great to hear from you again and glad you got a break last summer. Loved your photos and descriptions and now I want to visit myself. Those cliffs are not like Sussex!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Parc national des Calanques is glorious.
    You absolutely have to get away. House renovation can totally wear you down and sometimes (mostly) it feels like it’s never going to end. But.. Spring is coming..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aha. Sounds like somebody else who was keeping the Calanques (I love saying that word) secret from me! Spring is coming indeed and I have started gardening for money again. I’m really enjoying it! D

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  7. Oh, my goodness……. what a delightful holiday from the work that was going on at home. Thank you for sharing it with us. At 74 and pretty well gone as far as walking and being in the States, I was thrilled to live through the trip vicariously through your travelogue. I love to travel, but for the most part those days are done for me so I love to see and hear of another’s wonderful trip. I am so happy for you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Anne. Glad our trip appealed to you. We’re a bit skint now (having spent so much on the house … and whelks) but as this trip was almost 6 months ago, I am getting itchy feet again rather. D

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  8. Lovely to hear from you again. Sharing your holiday pics was a delight and l’m sure your home and garden will be great. Look forward to further blogs.

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  9. Great to hear from you again with your travel tails and your “squalid” house. It is so not and it suits you two down to the ground, you will makd it your own and make a stunning job of it as you did with your previous places!
    Fyi
    I do think that Jim was exerting just about the right amount of pressure too much he might have overspill and no-one wants that. I know your photography skills too and I do reckon you aimed to get the climbers in there!!

    Lovely to hear from you and you are always welcome to come to Spain or Yorkshire now! It will be great to have a catch up. Hugs to you both xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, dear boy, but when you visited we had progressed through the truly squalid phase. It really was, you know.

      Can’t wait to see you in Yorkshire this summer. If Gloucestershire wasn’t God’s Own Country, then perhaps Yorkshire could have been?

      Dxx

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  10. You disappear into the ether and then give us 26 blog posts in one. The photo that didn’t need to be enlarged was either a random luck shot or so carefully composed. Who knows. Though if the latter, Jim needs to exert more pressure ;). OK it’s an age thing. We need to stand further forward as we get older.

    Part the first – you got a red herring house? C’mon, you viewed it, you knew what you were getting and, no doubt negotiated the price accordingly. So sob story falls on deaf ears. Indeed, I bet you really enjoyed having something to do. Cos at the end of the day you’d have YOUR place. Which you don’t necessarily get if you move into something modern, clean, tidy, unsmelly and unadaptable. You’re lucky that, at the end of the process, you’ll both be able to look around you and say “this house is us” just as you can say “we are us”. And you’ll love the house all the more for that.

    Part the second – you clearly had a fabulous time in Marseilles. Lovely photos. Great scenery. Must admit I snorked at the photo of the place across the street. Be grateful for the physical benefit of those stairs.

    Part the third – given your accounts of exploits past (folks, plough back through the blog) I anticipate that you’ll be ready to open your garden for the NGS in June (maybe July if you’re slow). And you’re within a day trip for me so when you open, I’ll be there.

    Probably before Charles, who’s closer! He’s too busy displaying his balls in the meadow. Which is another story entirely!

    (Info – post more frequently and my comments will be shorter)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello John, the not to be enlarged photo was sent to me about a week ago by a friend who took it (non-posed) a couple of years ago. Anyway, it made Jim & I laugh – esp as we hadn’t seen it before. It only occurred to me at the last moment of posting to include it.

      And all very wise re the house. We visited it for only the second time (for me) a little prior to moving in day. We’d decided, actually, to pull out on the drive over from Sussex – the purchase was painful and dragging on and as you might remember we had to complete early on our old house – but yes, you’re quite right, on second viewing and despite its state, we decided to go ahead. But that doesn’t really take away from how bloody horrid it was and that we couldn’t sleep there for the first few nights. We’ve always bought houses that needed work but this one was er, the most challenging and easily the most sordid.

      Thanks for this (long comment) John. It made me chuckle and I do hope to post more regularly. And I do hope your comments will not be shorter. NGS? Ha!

      D

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  11. You are the BEST blogger! While I sit in the midst of snow-filled Vermont, USA, I got to travel to a warm & beautiful place, thanks to you! Best of luck with the renovation….can’t wait for the next chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Well as a Francophile I have to say its good in France. Smokers – god I remember getting lifts in the cleaners car to work. He had a smoking habit and over years had filled all the car storage sections on the doors brim-full of ash. The back seat was a big ashtray for the butts he flicked over his shoulder. Did it catch on fire – you bet and the seats had fire burns. But he wasn’t phased. To be honest I probably got passive smoking from the few lifts I took in that car! Looking forward to your restored garden and photos of the new place please. BTW – I bought an ATCO Club mower in the end for the garden. Drove to UK to collect it and now looking forward to stripes even down the edge of the roads here! Enjoy your sunny vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great post, and good to have you back. I’ve been very semi-detached myself and still am but have relatively little excuse. The garden has benefitted, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You guys deserved a vacation from all you have had to deal with. I hope that you were refreshed. Maybe this spring you will be able to tackle the garden and post more about your new home and garden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lisa, well I’ll certainly try. I’m also trying to build up a client list for gardening so, all in all, pretty busy. But yes, I want to write the blog more than I have been. D

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  15. So much fun to travel this way through you and your sense of humor. Being a DYIer (is that even a word?) I feel like I am in the thick of your remodel too. I love before and after pics…of houses, gardens, people….etc. etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow- just loved all of that, start to finish! Great post and glad you’re posting again- though I THOUROUGHLY understand blogging falling on the priority list with all the home repair!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Lovely to have you back. Your house will be great soon and all the bad bits will just become a distant memory. Your holiday share was very enjoyable. Look forward to your blogs in future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Patricia. The house is already transformed mostly and yep, some bits are just photos and memories now. Normally we take our time with renovation but this was so horrid we had little choice but to crack on. I shall try to do some more writing now, D

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  18. Wow, such beautiful pictures !! Looks like Summer over there ! I hope your new house will feel like your home soon, it takes time and a make over of course 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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