We were so very lucky to be introduced to Marseille by our new friends Carole and Daniel. Daniel grew up in Marseille and graciously showed us his favorite places in this French city by the sea.
It was an especially exciting time to visit Marseille because France was playing Portugal in the finals for the Europe Cup that day. Fans started celebrating early, carrying drums, wearing blue jerseys and filling restaurants up and down the sparkling beaches. Flags flew from balconies in every direction I looked. Excitement was electric in the air! Here’s a very short video of fans gathering to watch the game on big screen TVs.
I was tickled to see David standing in a traffic circle in downtown Marseille.
Daniel first took us to see the sea. We enjoyed the wind that wasn’t quite Mistral strength, but gusty winds blew steadily on us from the water and cooled us a bit on a hot and sunny day. Lots of people were strolling next to the sea on a Sunday morning so we had to wait for a break in the “traffic” to get a photo.
Daniel then took us to a huge housing tower that we never would have seen on any packaged tour of Marseille. The building is a self-sufficient city within a city with housing, shopping, a school, recreation, restaurants, and a hotel. The hallways are called streets and resident committees create a rich social life.
Swiss-French Architect Le Corbusier designed several of these all-inclusive habitats around 1950 but Marseille’s is the most famous. He strived to build modern living quarters for people in crowded cities; these were buildings where residents would never have to leave the building unless they wanted to.
I was thrilled to meet the artist Felice Varini as he finished his dizzying graphic in the building’s gym. The design offers a different perspective if you move even a few inches forward or backward, left or right. The Swiss-born artist lives in Paris and is known for his urban paintings on buildings, walls and streets.
On his website, Varini writes, “My field of action is architectural space and everything that constitutes such space. These spaces are and remain the original media for my painting. I work “on site” each time in a different space and my work develops itself in relation to the spaces I encounter.”
The designer of the building itself is LeCorbusier. He, perhaps, launched the Brutalist movement in architecture which used “raw” (brutal) materials such as unfinished concrete. (Some folks say the huge buildings are just brutally ugly but I like them.) In the photo below, the 66-year-old building is getting a bit of a face lift but the redesign still incorporates raw materials.
Brutalist buildings often incorporate repeated modular units and exposed building functions. You may have lived in a brutalist building while a university student. I can think of a couple twin towers at The Ohio State University when I was there (known facetiously by students and parents as Sodom & Gamorrah in the age of free love).
I kept thinking that this building reminded me a lot of the Habitat 67 at the World’s Fair in Montreal. Then I realized, this building was a bit of a deconstruction of Unite d’Habitation.
I’m no architect or even a critic. But I do find it fascinating that minds sharper than mine are working to explore new and better ways to live. I am thankful to Daniel and Carole for giving me the chance to tour Unite d’Habitation.
NOTE: We saw so much that I’ve split Marseille into three separate blog entries.
Daniel and Carole showed us the magic of Daniel’s hometown of Marseilles. After enjoying stunning views of the Bay of Marseilles at sea level and a panorama of the city from the top of Unite d’Habitation, we raced to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Yes! Daniel is a true French driver. That means we got to each destination quickly, efficiently, and thrillingly. Not only was it interesting to see Marseilles through Daniel’s eyes, it was fun to drive with him at the wheel.
When Daniel parked the car at the bottom of about 1,000 steps, I thought we were hopping out for a view from the bottom of the mountain upon which sits Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde on Marseille’s highest point. But, no, Carole started hiking up the stairs like voila! here we go. Sher and I looked at each other, gulped, and started climbing.
I discovered this plaque along the way. Helpfully, the second paragraph is in English.
As we climbed, I kept turning around to take photos of the expanding panorama below me (and to catch my breath). The view just kept getting better the higher I climbed.
According to Marseille’s website, “Marseille’s iconic figure, Notre-Dame de la Garde or “La Bonne Mère” watches over sailors, fishermen and the entire city…Garde Hill has three roles: a surveillance post, a military structure and a cult and pilgrimage site.” As you can see in our photos, “The Good Mother” is definitely a surveillance post.
The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, built in the mid-19th century atop a 13th century chapel, is also a place of worship. When we arrived, mass was being said. Here’s a tiny video of the mass.
Mass at the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille, France
The walls are made of white carrara marble. The red marble serves as a bridge to the intensely colored mosaics. The glorious gold ceilings lift your eyes to heaven. I’m thinking that’s probably the idea.
Several side chapels held further wonder but the smallish basilica was so crowded that it was difficult to get near anything.
The outside of the basilica is just as beautiful as the interior. It reminded me of many Florentine churches I’ve seen in Italy with striped exteriors. This church, built about 1850, features layers of white and green stone. There’s a large plaza in front of the church overlooking the city and the church is about two dozen steps above the plaza.
Going down the mountain was a LOT easier. I was so surprised when we reached our car that there was a huge tank with its turrent pointed up hill just steps from where our car was parked.
You have to look closely but the tank is in the middle of the photo behind the little square black car. In 1944, the Germans had taken Notre-Dame de la Garde. You can see how steep the streets are that the Allies had to climb from the sea to try to retake the high ground. Snipers picked the men off until a French soldier from Marseille was able to lead the men through a building and up a secret stairway to confront the Germans. A few hours later, the tanks made their way up the hill. They retook Notre-Dame de la Garde on that day, August 24, 1944.
So, next stop: the waterfront. Come with us to lunch and the sea!
NOTE: We saw so much that I’ve split Marseille into three separate blog entries.
Our friends Carole and Daniel planned the perfect day for us in Marseille, complete with sunshine and breezes in this beautiful French coastal city. After touring all morning, we were hungry! So we looked for parking and lunch in a town crowded with soccer fans and Sunday strollers.
Here’s a tiny video of Denise and Sher trying to figure out a French menu before they were brought the menu in English.
We ate outside on a screened porch but this is the interior of the L’Ecailler Restaurant in Marseille, France
Full and relaxed, we headed out to explore the waterfront of Nice. As we walked, we passed a small market, a mirrored shaded area and the huge ferris wheel we had seen from the basilica.
There was a Picasso exhibit in Marseille but we had already visited Picasso museums in Barcelona, Malaga and Paris and we had viewed his art at numerous galleries throughout Europe (damn, that man was prolific!). So we skipped this exhibit although the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations building, itself, is stunning. It’s called the J4 (the name of the pier) for short.
See that lacy work extending out from the museum? That is concrete! It encases the building and provides shade.
The walls of the Museum of the European and Mediterranean Civilisations building features quotations from the Universal Declaration for Human Rights which I teach in my ethics courses. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and set out for the first time fundamental human rights to be universally protected (United Nations). It was thrilling to see these words written on walls for all to see.
The real reason we stopped at the museum was to use the restrooms and take the exterior spiralling walkway to the roof. Once on the roof we climbed round and round the building to a bridge that connected the museum to an old sea-side port. The port has been rennovated into a relaxing space for concerts, cocktails and relaxation next to the sea.
As we crossed the bridge, several young teenagers were stopped in the middle of the bridge calling down to boys diving into the sea and urging them to “Jump!” Here’s a little video of their antics. And here are the boys, below, swimming. And here’s a very short video of a boat coming into port.
We often stumbled upon choirs singing in unexpected places. This choir was singing in the courtyard of the old port next to the Marseille waterfront. Here’s a little video.
The bridge/walkway is a beautiful place to view Marseille. Here’s a city view I took while strolling.
Now here’s why we were going to skip Marseilles. Back home in the states, just before we left, I binge-watched the European crime drama series The Last Panthers. The series is set in Marseilles and concerns Balcan jewel thieves called the Pink Panthers. It shows a dirty, gritty harbor-front city where no one is safe. Ever. Alors, that’s television for you. Thank goodness Carole and Daniel changed my mind entirely about this wonderful, clean, happy city of Marseilles.
At the end of our very long and rich day in Marseille, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunset at our swapped home in Mallemort thanks to Pascale and Renee. We also swapped homes with Carole and Daniel in Paris and I look forward to lending them my home next spring. Homeexchange.com gives us such a rich experience when traveling in Europe because we get to live in real homes in real neighborhoods. More important, we meet the most wonderful people!
We are forever grateful for this wonderful day with Carole and Daniel.
NOTE: We saw so much that I’ve split Marseille into three separate blog entries.
We wanted to see how mustard is made so we drove to the tiny town of Doesburg about 90 minutes east of Amsterdam near the German border. We traveled for the mustard but ended up being totally charmed by the 13th century Hanse village of Doesburg. (Keep reading and I’ll share a mustard soup recipe, below.)
The Hanseatic League (now referred to as “Hanse”) was a group of merchant guilds and merchant towns in nothern Europe that banded together for commerce and defense beginning in the 1400’s. They had their own armies and legal systems but they were not a government. Their trade routes extended from London to Scandinavia to Estonia. They fought pirates, built ships, and controlled trade in the region for more than 300 years.
Because they belonged to the Hanseatic League, little Doesburg became a prosperous medieval town until the River IJssel silted over. Today about 12,000 people live in the beautifully preserved town. Doesburg is popular with Europeans and more than 4,000 camping spots are located just outside of town for visitors.
Right in the middle of town you’ll find the Doesburg Mustard Factory. They’ve made mustard in Doesburg since 1457 and still sell it in grocery stores today. According to their website, “Mustard is offered at every meal and is used with most vegetable and potato dishes” in Doesburg.
Mustard seed. Doesburg, the Netherlands
We dashed into the factory in the late afternoon and joined the last tour of the day with an entrance cost of about $3. A mustard maker explained how the seeds are removed from the dried bushes and soaked in a mixture of vinegar and water and spices for several days. The seeds soak up all that goodness and then they are ground into mustard.
The factory uses millstones that are hundreds of years old to grind the mustard. Here’s a video I made of our tour. Not the greatest quality, but you’ll get to see how mustard is made.
The best part, of course, was the tasting at the end of the tour. We were so busy gobbling up fresh mustard and Gouda cheese that I forgot to take photos! Here’s the Mustard Soup recipe I promised earlier.
Doesburgsche Mosterdfabriek Mustard Soup
200 grams smoked bacon (1/2 pound)
40 grams butter (2.5 tablespoons)
60 grams flour (1/2 cup)
1/2 litre milk (2 cups)
1/2 litre water (2 cups)
3 tablespoons Doesburg mustard
Cut the bacon into small cubes; slice and finely chop the onion and leek. Melt the butter in a soup pan and gently fry the bacon, onion and leek until soft. Add the flour, stirring all the time so that it does not burn. Let this cook for a few seconds. Gently add the milk and the water. When this has been thoroughly sitrred, add the mustard and season to taste. For an extra luxurious soup: Add a couple of tablespoons of cream with the mustard.
What better way to discover the south of France than by planning our two weeks around the market days of the charming towns and villages scattered one next to the other throughout Provence? It was Thursday, so it was time to visit Aix-en-Provence (locals call their town “Ace”). Not only would we get to shop, we’d also get to see where Cezanne hung out, see the local cathedral and visit the “most beautiful tea room” at Caumont. We’d also learn that Aix is so much more than we had expected.
As usual, we got turned around and lost as we approached town. Sometimes we just had a hard time believing our GPS really wanted us to travel left down a tiny little street next to a crucifix attached to a wall in the middle of a road.
But we did find our way to the center of the old town. One of the very first things I spotted was a landmarker in the midst of sales booths and vendors’ cars.
Here stood 22 August 1944 one of Sherman tanks of the armed Allied liberation of Aix in Provence , surrounded by the population of the city in jubilation . Landed 15 August on the beaches of the Var , the armies lost more than 2,000 men before reaching Aix , while the provencal resistance saw 140 of its guerrillas die under enemy fire, often summarily executed. They joined forces August 19, 1944, to all liberate the city from Nazi barbarism.
These men, those of Aix , those of the American 3rd Division , and those of the 1st Armee Francaise Libre, leveed in North Africa and Corsica , commanded by the Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny. These men coming from all walks of life, had all skin colors and all religions. They mingled their destinies and their blood for human dignity in the defense of democracy and the liberation of Provence.
This is the beauty of the south of France. Next to a profound statement is the fruit of struggle. People are free to explore the countryside and meet one another thanks to the sacrifice of others. I am grateful.
Market day has been held in the same area for centuries. The Romans traded on these very streets before Christ was born.
The Cafe du Palais
We arrived at the market hungry and bought up clusters of fresh fruits and vegetables for our home fridge, then we went in search of a cafe for lunch. We were more than happy to discover the Cafe du Palais with its hearty lunches for about $15 plus wine. Lesson learned from this restaurant: Before collapsing into chairs at the closest cafe, take a moment to see how the servers treat the guests. If the servers look like they are going to spend as little time as possible with you because they’re Jonesing for their next cigarette break, you might be better off somewhere else.
After lunch, we strolled and shopped, enjoying the windows and gasping at some of the exorbitant prices.
Enough shopping! On to some culture.
Based on collections once owned by leaders of Provence, the Granet Museum houses about 12,000 works of art in the former Palace of Malta and at a chapel down the street and around a corner. You can actually take a virtual tour of the Granet Museum on their website but these are a few of my favorites from the collection.
Cezanne is the star of Aix-en-Provence but the Granet displays just 10 paintings and owns another dozen, not displayed. Still, restaurants and shops are named after the all-star impressionist and you can see metal plaques capping cobblestones throughout town where Cezanne once painted. The capstones lead from the house where Cezanne was born to St. Jean Cemetery where he was buried.
Caumont Center for the Arts
The Caumont Center for the Arts is recommended for its elegant tea room but the place is extravagently expensive. We stopped in for for a cup of tea and a dusty-looking pastry only to be shocked when we were charged twice as much for the “tea of the day”. Two cups of tea and a bottle of water came to just under $30. Service was very poor and we had to track down a server to take our order. They simply could not be bothered to bring us our check and we had to find a manager to help us with that. Luke-warm tea and a close and humid room on a hot, sunny day contributed to the discomfort and rude atmosphere in the beautiful tea rooms.
The restrooms were the real treat at the Caumont. We avoided the lower-level restrooms and used the first-floor toilet tucked into a small passageway near the outdoor formal gardens. Best restroom in all of France!
The gift shop is another delight. Tables are elegantly staged and everything is for sale.
So my advice for the Caumont is to peek in the tea rooms – but don’t bother eating – tour the verdant gardens, enjoy the gorgeous gift shop, and leave with lovely memories.
The Cathedral of the Holy Saviour
The Cathedral of the Holy Saviour of Aix-en-Provence was built atop an ancient temple to the sun gods on the Via Aurelia, the Roman road built through the south of France. Begun in the 1200’s when Aix was the capital of Provence, the cathedral was completed just about the time Christopher Columbus was discovering America in 1492. The carved doors to the cathedral are made of wood and were commissioned in the early 1500’s. You can see the four old testament prophets surrounding the doorway and a dozen pagan fortune tellers above – they foretold the birth and death of Christ.
The altar piece painting is a masterpiece of the 15th century created by Nicholas Froment of nearby Avignon. Moses, guarding his flock, is astounded to see Jesus and the Virgin Mary rise from a burning bush. I’d also be pretty surprised if it happened to me. The people painted in the left and right panels are the folks who paid for the painting, King Rene (left) and Queen Jeanne (right).
This is an altar built by Audinet Stéphani for the Aygosi family. It used to be in a Carmelite church that burned down in the French Revolution so it was moved to the cathedral along with the altarpiece, above. You can see Saint Maurice in his coat of armor to the left of St. Anne, the mother of Mary.
I’m a fool for stained glass, and while I have no information, you can see that the window tells a story. Looks like maybe its the story of the female icons of the church, complete with a dog symbolizing loyalty.
End of the Day
At the end of every day in the south of France, we leave tired, happy and full of new memories. We take photographs of the parking garage and the cross streets where we left our car earlier in the day so we can find our way back. This may be the most important tip I give you in my blog! Simply pop your ticket into the machine located somewhere near an entrance to the garage and pay with your credit card. Your ticket will be validated and you can insert it into a second widow-height machine as you drive out of the garage.
Have a great day in Aix-en-Provence. Just eat somewhere else.