Sunday, July 10, 2011

Close Plays on Opening Day

Marseille is a way point for us, a place with an airport near the end of our journey from the U.S. to Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes. Sister and I arrived a day before the tour, as did the three tour leaders, Lisa, Beth and Amanda, and two more of our ultimate group of 15.

Would you like your baggage delivered to your car by chariot?

As transportation and pickup arrangements shook out for allocating three cars and drivers with four passengers each for next day arrivals, Sister and I would spend the day in Marseille with Beth for a late afternoon airport pickup.

Marseille is France's second largest city, with a metropolitan area population of 1.4 million. It has been, formally, a trading crossroads since its founding in 600 BC as a Greek trading port, Massalia. It lost its independence to Rome in 49 BC.  Signs of human habitation go back 30,000 years. It was heavily bombed during World War II and rebuilt afterward.


It's eclectic, it's vibrant, it has something of a rough and tumble reputation, and Sister cited one of her tour books that warned us to look out for pickpockets in the tourist-crowded Old Harbor area.

Chateau d'if, well known through
 Alexandre Duma's Count of Monte Cristo

Charmed to wake up in this delightful room in the B&B

We had a morning to spend before we had to take our baggage out of the bed and breakfast where we stayed, leaving a little time for touristing. In a city that large, we decided to get a city overview with a Petit Train ride. We talked about taking a bus to the Old Harbor to get the train, but heck, it was downhill all the way so we walked it.

Congenial crowds at the Old Harbor

Tourists milled everywhere in the bright seaside air at the harbor. We stood in line to buy tickets for the train, then moved into the line for pickup by the next train. Sister, Beth and I were chatting when a woman with a baby came up to us, head covered, eyes pleading out of a madonna-like face, hand out begging. "Please, please help," she implored, leaning into us with with haunted eyes.

Suddenly I heard a plop and saw Sister's wallet drop to the pavement. I immediately stepped on it and kept my foot there. Beth had been suspicious of the woman and was watching her closely, but never saw her make the move.

In retrospect, we figured there was no baby in the blanket, that it probably concealed whatever the woman stashed her loot in after the hidden hand had snagged it. The madonna face and upturned hand thrust at us had been her distraction.

The corker was that she had the gall to continue begging even after she'd been found out.

Shoulda: shouted "pick pocket" or "voleur" right away, as a warning to other tourists.

Sister said she had not felt the woman unzip her purse, but the wallet was so heavy she immediately detected that her purse had lightened.

How easy it is to let your attention lapse for a moment when you need to be constantly alert.

"Gypsy," she was labeled, and I want not to look at the many colorfully-garbed African or head-scarved Moslem women as "gypsies" or prospective thieves, based on that fleeting impression.

Le Petit Train takes us up the mount of
Notre Dame de la Garde

It's obligatory to get off the train so those who have previously
 stayed to enter the church can ride back down first.

Then le Petit Train takes us back down
the narrow roads to the Old Harbor.

With a lunch break mid-route, we managed to walk back up to the B & B, although I admit I was reaching "the end," having lost every bit of tone I'd developed on my May trip.

I believe this little fish restaurant where we ate is La Boite de Sardine,
Restaurant poissonnerie et coquillage de tradition à Marseille

(We'll skip the little part about how first we couldn't open the big gate to get into the B & B for our bags, and then we couldn't get out.)  (Well, not exactly)

After someone finally lets us in, the lovely Beth
hauls our luggage down flights of stairs.

It is shuttled from the B&B doorway
to the building doorway/gate.

Where Beth still can't get it open and I'm not telling
this story because I don't remember HOW we got out.

The next challenge was for Beth to unpark the car. Our B & B hostess had guided Beth into an impossibly tight parking spot the night before.

Parking assistance provided by Madame S at the B & B,
with particular attention to how close the back bumper is
to the bumper of the car behind.   Photo by Elaine

And, to the front.
Photo by Elaine

No kidding, the French will pull up to a parking spot that's no more than four inches longer than their car, and they'll park there!

The extraction had to be done gingerly. The rental Volvo was brand new, to Beth's dismay, not a scratch on it. There was an inch in front and four inches in the back. Madame was not available to help, but the owner of the car behind came out to supervise the first couple of back and forths, then he disappeared and Sister and I took over guidance.

Nothing had changed between late afternoon
the day before and 2 PM this day.
Photo by Elaine

Not in front either.
Photo by Lee

(Much excitement. It worked. We left.)

We had an afternoon plan to visit Salon-de-Provence, a smaller city north of Marseille but not too far from the airport for the next pickup. It's a hilly village and parking is none-too-easy under normal circumstances. Beth proposed to let us off while she went to park the car, but Sister and I were dubious. Looked like a place where we could get lost and never find the meet-up spot.

So we stuck to Beth, whether she liked it or not. Parking looked pretty impossible, but Sister chanted "parking karma" and a place appeared right on the main street.

It looked like some of the stores in Salon had jumped the gun on the July sales (this was June 25), so Sister and I made it a mission to prod Beth into buying a swimsuit. Beth critically rejected everything she tried on without even getting our opinions, so we all finally gave up and took a pause at an ice cream shop until it was about time to head to the airport.

Sister and I don't look a bit jet-lagged, do we?

We started for the car when Beth decided to take a final shot at getting a bathing suit top at one of the stores we'd been in earlier that she could wear with a suit bottom she already owned. While she was trying on, Sister and I heard music from a street in Old Town and out came a medieval or renaissance band, which turned and marched onto the main street.

Gosh, hope the parade is short because it's marching past our car and we don't have time to get stuck. Beth came out, the band had gone by and we made a beeline for the car. The shopkeeper behind the car came racing out to warn us that the police were towing cars. Fifty feet down the road there was a small, very small sign that, as I recall, was in handwritten form, warning that cars would be towed at 4 p.m. because of the festival parade. (Festival?  Parade?) Indeed, the tow-truck was two cars away from ours. It was 4:07.

Yikes! Suppose we'd come back and the car (and our luggage) was missing, and Andrea would soon be waiting at the airport for pickup ...


One hopes for fewer exciting moments in the days to come.

Greeted at Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes by our growing troop of fellow travelers.
Yes, I  have showed this before,

See you soon.



  1. You write it so well.. another link to your writing.

  2. Your hotel reminds me of an old - I think Eagles' song: Hotel California - where you can enter but you cannot leave!

  3. wfm, one of my favorite songs. Those photos really do work with it.