Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marseille - There and Gone



Well I went to Marseille and left.
The metro and buses are clean. The Gare St Charles train station is virtually glistening. The city is huge - France's second largest - but without the charm of Paris. In its favor it has a very diverse population.
The hostel however, was gruesome - definitely not recommended. It is not in the city - it is a 10 minute metro ride to a 10 minute bus ride plus a short walk that seems long if you are toting any luggage. The cinder block structure is relatively clean, but very dark and grim. The group bathrooms leave something to be desired. The extremely competent, but overworked woman who works evenings was on duty by herself so everything took longer or required waiting thirty minutes. There is no wifi and the internet is cumbersome - it took a while for her to connect one of the two decrepit computers to the internet. She told me the owner wasn't interested in getting wifi (I think maybe he is just too cheap). She then designated me an id and password which was only for the one time use. You pay when you are finished, which was pretty quickly since typing was excruciating. I had to think way too hard and type so slowly since just about every letter is in a different place on the French keyboard.
The room was small, but adequate - enough beds for four, but only three of us. There was one young French woman and an older French woman with white hair - although she was probably my age. When I first arrived she was typing furiously, copying a hand written magnum opus that took her hours of particularly noisy keyboarding. When she was done with that - completed while I was on the internet - I returned to find the Apple blaring the worst English-language pop music. I don't know in what country or planet she found this selection but truly the most pathetic lyrics and bad bubble gum music I have ever heard. She thought it was wonderful. I don't know what the young French girl thought - she was reading and seemed to be ignoring everything. When I tuned in the computer was singing, “ Come to the Butterfly lounge… big girls you are beautiful, big girls you are beautiful, big girls you are….” get the idea?
I was so tired I could barely move from hauling my two back-packs all afternoon. I crawled into bed while she played the delightful music until about 10:30. I put my eye mask on and my arm over my face and practiced giving into the whole experience. She finally turned out the light - the young French girl had long ago put her arm over her head- and I thought we were good for the night.
Somebody had other ideas. Somewhere by my head a late night construction project started, or dance lessons, or a washing machine knocking against a wall - I will never know. The loud beating went on and on, then stopped and I thought ahhh, relief, only to have it start again. As if this weren't enough, the acoustics of the cinder block made the noise travel throughout the hostel, so even though its location was in a quiet suburb of Marseille, it was far noisier than the in-town Nice hostel (which was amazingly quiet in the bedrooms). There was hooting and hollering, loud footsteps, showers, and at some point a scream that sounded like a woman was being murdered (lovely) and then after a pause, laughter. Some joke.
As I am working on diving into the full experience, bed number two with the other middle aged woman was harrumphing, heavy sighing, grunting and her noise actually woke me up more times than all the other as I was able to put my New Yorker skills to work for me - that is after contemplating three times whether I should get up and complain to the overworked girl at the desk. I thought better of this once I realized that all complaining would get me was out of bed and my horizontal position - there was nothing she was going to be able to do. The pounding, and did I mention constant water trickling noise and toilet flushing (I think we were right underneath the 2nd floor bathrooms) went on until the wee hours of the night and I dozed in and out for most of it except hearing the loud whispered complaints of my roommate. The night was short as at 6:30 or so the young French girl got up. She was quiet as these things go, but in the hostel rooms every noise is amplified- the crinkle of plastic, zippers and Velcro are all especially loud.
Having already made up my mind to vacate this morning, I got up, used the marginal facilities - the toilet I used had a make-shift flush mechanism - a large piece of wire to pull - and went to use the internet to line up my next accommodations. Well, the young man at the desk didn't know how to do that, could I come back later?....getting more frustrated by the minute…then another young man who can set up the internet (talk about unnecessary complicated systems) came along and wouldn't you know it - he didn't really know how to set up the internet. He pulled out a loose-leaf binder with the instructions - well then they asked me for my passport! To use their crummy computers for 5 minutes of internet time for a total of maybe 1 euro. I had left everything in my room to quickly email about accommodations. I just said, “No, forget it” - how hard can it be to write one email!
The Nice hostel was like the George V compared to this! They had free wifi if you had your own computer, and if not, an inexpensive and simple system to use their computers. Ah Merde!
I had already packed my bags, so was back out in a flash to check out (the hostels keep your hostel member card when you check in as some sort of security deposit). Well now they couldn't find my card. What was my name? What room had I been in? Was it a paper or plastic card? Can you say I-N-C-O-M-P-E-T-E-N-T? I was ready to run, not walk to the bus. I had no idea where I would sleep, but only knew it would not be there. I was not offered a refund on the rest of my stay and decided to not even ask as that might have taken the rest of the day to sort out. I figured I would email in the evening when at least the competent woman would be on duty.
Whew. Now the bus and metro into the train station. I put my heavy large pack into a storage locker - thank god they had them - and purchased a ticket to Avignon. The truth is I had only chosen Marseille as a base camp to explore Provence. I never had an interest in Marseille per se, but it was the only hostel open this time of year in the area. Once I realized how far from the train the hostel was, it made more sense for me to make my base in the heart of Provence - not to mention the above mentioned short-comings of the hostel.
With just under two hours before my train, I took the metro two stops to the Vieux Port - the old port. Here the fish market was just getting started - talk about fresh - fish never have smelled so good and the boats were pulled up behind the vendor stalls. Some of the fish were so fresh they were still jumping!
From here I went to the tourist information office and got myself a map, and walked up the main boulevard. I had hoped to find the Arab markets I had read about, but there was no activity this morning. I wandered through a few back streets, found the rue des Arts - full of small artists studios/ateliers then made my way back to the metro. At the train station I went out the upper entrance for a full view of the city - quite impressive, and felt that was all I needed of Marseille.
Now I am happy to report that I found a darling little stone Hotel du Parc on a backstreet in Avignon with a private room and double bed. The shared bath in the hallway is like the Taj compared to last night and I have a large window looking into a little garden. Needless to say I cried when I walked in - too perfect and squeaking by in terms of budget.
Avignon (one of the gates into the walled city in photo above) is a delight and I have spent the afternoon wandering the back streets and finding the natural restaurants and health food stores. I had a plentiful and delicious lunch at the Kafezen Bio mini café (16 rue Henri Fabre) - a large bowl of soup (almost too much to finish) and a large salad made with organic and vegetarian ingredients for 6 euros. Next I stumbled onto a crammed-full art store with the most darling French owners - we played charades about some pastel crayons in the window.
Next I found the beautiful Terre de Saveurs - a natural foods restaurant that I will try for lunch before I leave. I am now happily at a great little cyber café where I can use my own computer - relief.
Off to explore some more before I return to my sweet, sweet room. Au revoir for now.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

Dorian, How fun that you are blogging your travels-I feel like I am traveling with you! Thanks!
Colleen