Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Marseille, France

Hello, Jeff here. It’s Tuesday morning (6/26) and this is the last full day of our cruise, which is a day at sea. Speaking of seas, we’ve got white caps on the water today and it’s very windy outside. We dock at Barcelona, Spain tomorrow morning and will be disembarking the ship after breakfast. We will be spending the day touring in Barcelona and hope the weather there cooperates.

On to Marseille…up to this point, we’ve been on tours that I’d arranged with tour companies. For Marseille, I’d been communicating with a nice lady named Jodie on the DIS cruise message boards and we’d agreed to join up with her family - husband Mike, son Cary (9) and daughter Jill (7) - on a tour of Aix en Provence and Cassis. Marseille is not a tender port so we were able to depart the ship right onto the pier where our driver, Olivier (pictured with Susan and Katy), was waiting. The tour company is Rendezvous Tours and is based in Aix. I have to say right up front that Olivier has the BEST touring van we had all cruise. It was very roomy for the seven of us, was immaculately maintained and had pull up screens for the windows one could use to block out the bright sunshine. We used those screens as, once again, the weather was spectacular…bright blue, sunny skies with warm, but not hot temperatures. One of the first things that struck me as we started touring was how dry it is in the area. I asked Olivier about it and he confirmed that was their normal climate. I would compare this whole area (including Villefranche) to say Santa Barbara, California. Lots of rocks, scrub brush, etc.

Our first stop was to be Aix and we were soon off on what was the equivalent of one of our interstate highways. Being that it was Sunday morning, there was very little traffic and we arrived in Aix in about 45 minutes. There was very little activity in the town as it was just waking up. Olivier took us to the old part of town, much of it dating to the 15th and 16th centuries. He gave us a map and then took us a walking tour of the main square, the church and through the narrow streets. We found out some interesting things: 1) the French love their dogs; 2) the French hate to clean up after their dogs. There was dog poop all over the place and one had to be careful where they stepped. We were also warned about pick pockets, especially around the markets. Olivier told us to carry our backpacks in front or on the side. He then gave us some free time to explore. Since it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed. That combined with the dog poop and warnings about pick pockets seemed to drain my excitement for Aix. It is a pretty city though and I love how the city is so pedestrian friendly. One can walk to church, to the corner café, to work, etc. and never have to use a car.

Next, we were off to Cassis, which is on the coast. This place was BEAUTIFUL. When one looks up picturesque in the dictionary a photo of this Cassis should be right there. We first had lunch at a sidewalk café where Susan, Katy and I all had what seemed to be a common dish for the French…meatballs and French fries in a bowl. It was yummy! Next we went on a boat tour of what are called calanques, which are basically tall, white limestone cliffs carved over the years by rivers that empty into the sea. We also got to see some other white things but unfortunately they were the private parts of nude sunbathers lying out on the rocks and/or on their yachts. After the boat ride, we loaded back up in the van and Olivier took us up to an amazing overlook of the Cassis area and the view was breathtaking as you can see.

We finished up the day by touring a beautiful medieval, hilltop village called Castellet. This place was so pretty and quaint, with narrow, winding, cobblestone streets and flowers all around. We looked around in some of the shops, visited their church and then found a place to get some cold desserts. The one thing Castellet was lacking was a public toilet. After searching for quite some time we finally found the public “water closet” which consisted of a hole in the ground. This was totally unsuitable for Katy – even though she had to go really bad. We finally do what is traditionally done in France – buy something in a restaurant in order to use their real toilet. Olivier delivered us back to the pier to end a wonderful tour on our first day in France. Tomorrow – Villefranche!

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