Adieu Provence



Via the magic of the internet, we'll combine Days 3 and 4 in the south of France. Largely because Day 3 was mostly uneventful, unless you consider Noah's Ark-esque rains in one of Europe's sunniest regions eventful.

A comfortable train ride from Avignon to Marseilles takes you through rolling hills and meadows and quaint small towns, as you can plainly see here:

Arriving in Marseille to a beautiful train station - modern on the inside, old-fashioned on the outside - some two hours later, you're greeted by a helpful information center and get pointed in the right direction to your hotel.

It's on the 15-minute walk to hotel that you get a sense that Marseilles (* you'll see various spellings, avec ou sans "s" - so we'll go with both here to appease both the s and non-s camps) has fallen on some tough times. It is one of the poorest large cities in France, and you can feel a bit of the edge when walking around, especially at night.

Still, it is France and that means there are some very nice-looking buildings, some great cafes and a bustling street market, mostly all centred around the Vieux Port. The trade-off: you lose Paris' polish for friendlier people in stores and restaurants in Marseille.

A meandering 30-minute uphill walk (you can also take the bus or a trolley from the Vieux Port) takes you to a stunning church called Notre Dame de la Garde, with a bona fida how-the-&%#*-did-they-do-that monument as it's crown jewel. It's a huge gold statue, weighing 9800 kilos and standing 11 meters high on top of a tower. It was erected in 1870. The entire site started as a small chapel in the 1200's.

The trolley from the Vieux Port to the church

Irrespective of your denomination, this is well worth the trip for the 360-degree views of the city and the ocean in addition to the impressive church.

Overall, Provence lives up to its sterling reputation. Oui, it can be a bit too touristy, but with any kind of patience and with an appreciation for the sights and tastes and smells, one can easily overlook the tourist hordes and be charmed a hundred times in just a few days.

Marseille train station

The view from the hotel room terrace

Le Vieux Port

Le hotel elevator

Notre Dame de la Garde

Below, views from the courtyard of the church and the interior

Parking, only 2 bucks! Cheap!