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.
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.
We got lost on the only road running through Gordes, France but discovered a story of Nazis and murder in a tiny cemetery at the top of the town. After we took a wrong turn, we ended up stuck on a narrow street. We got out of the car to admire the valley of vast lavender fields hundreds of feet below us and to figure out how we were going to turn around in the impossibly narrow gravel path we found ourselves on.
When we turned from the beautiful mountain view, we discovered the cemetery and strolled in for a look. We saw ceramic wreathes of flowers decorating most of the graves.
But to the left of the entrance, we found a small fenced in area with a dozen headstones bunched together. Curious, we moved in closer to learn why these headstones were situated differently than the others in the cemetery.
A typed list located in the cluster read “Les Martyrs de Gordes” and listed 12 names of people who died within days of each other in August, 1944.
The Germans invaded the homes of Gordes because the town was one of the major centers of resistance during WWII. The village was bombed, destroying a dozen homes. Many other homes were blasted, burned and looted; the few people who could not get away were shot and five people were sent to prison camps.
Finally, a monk from the Abbey Senanque intervened with the commander of the Germans to make the killing stop. The village received the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star after the war for their resistance (http://www.ajpn.org/commune-Gordes-84050.html).
The beautiful village has long recovered from the war and become home to artists such as Marc Chagall. Artists continue to make their homes in this mountain-top retreat.
We carefully turned our car around and continue on the Lavender Road. We felt richer for knowing of the sacrifice of the dozen people buried in mountain-top graves so long ago.
The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is so much more than the mother church of the Franciscan Order. It’s really a living memorial to the teachings of St. Francis plus an accessible gallery to the extraordinary paintings by Giotto and Cimabue.
Note: I’ve written a separate blog about the hill town of Assissi.
As we approached the Basilica after a rain-drenched walk through Assissi, we were surprised to see soldiers guarding the church. We had felt protected as we strolled through the town, never realizing that soldiers guaranteed our safety. The soldiers were carrying out Operazione “Strade Sicure” (Operation Safe Streets) as part of activities in place throughout Italy.
The irony of soldiers guarding this area just steps fom a statue of St. Francis, spiritually exhausted, returning from war was not lost on us. We are grateful for these soldiers and all the men and women who protect us during our travels. Thank you!
We were advised to tour the Basilica late in the day in order to avoid crowds. But we arrived so late that guards were slowly closing down the church. We started in the top level — apparently, we should have started in the lower level — and had to make a mad dash to the lower level before it was closed. We had allowed for 30 minutes in each of the levels but that was just not enough time to take in everything. The exhausting run from the upper to the lower level in the pouring rain was absolutely, 100% worth the sprint: when we arrived in the lower Basilica, mass with a full choir was being sung in Latin! It was absolutely gorgeous.
But let me start with the Upper Basilica. As we entered the upper level, a monk in a small booth to the right sold us entrance tickets. A haphazard scatter of crowds walked up and down roped-off aisles, eyes aloft, admiring the frescoes that covered the walls of the church.
When we visited Giotto’s works in Padua, we entered a sealed chamber to normalize our breath, then we were admitted to the Scrovegni Chapel in small groups for just 15 minutes. This was done to protect the Giotto frescos. But large crowds wandered at will around the St. Francis Basilica frescos and no measures were taken to protect the art. The feeling seemed to continue the themes of St. Francis that people were more important than stuff. Nevertheless, there is a controversy about the protection, and even the restoration efforts, of the Basilica’s wall paintings.
There was also controversy for many years about whether or not the paintings in the Basilica were by Giotto or by a variety of other painters. During the restoration process in 2012, however, restorers discovered a signature of Giotto proving that at least some of the frescos were part of Giotto’s early body of work.
Despite the controversy, it was a thrill to see the cycle of 28 frescos up close. They depict the life of St. Francis – the cathedral was started the day after Francis was named a saint so the stories of Francis were vivid. I was not permitted to photograph the cycle; I think it was more because of crowd control than fear of damaging the paintings. So I refer you to wikimedia for a full telling with photos of the cycle.
When we arrived breathless to the Lower Basilica (guards closed the church for the day right after we raced through the doors), the guards put their fingers to their lips to indicate silence. We tiptoed into the Lower Basilica and we were greeted by a mass featuring a full choir with music. It was glorious!
Every surface of the Lower Basilica is painted with scenes from the Bible. The body of St. Francis is buried down a stairway discovered nearly 600 years after his death. We relaxed into the calm of mass, satisfied with a full day of peace and beauty thanks to St. Francis of Assissi.
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.” — St. Francis of Assissi
Things don’t always go smoothly on vacation. But sometimes what goes wrong makes for the best memories. Enjoy my sister Lyn Purtz’s account:
So, Monday morning in Umbria. Did we mention it’s raining? The weather is odd. We have needed to layer every day. But we never un-layer. When it rains, the temperature seems to drop 20 degrees. We are chilled to the bone.
Market day is in Marsciano. Everywhere we drive we do not know where to park, but in Marsciano we find a place right in front of the market! Vendors are selling more fruit and vegetables than you can find in Whole Foods. There’s also sausages, salted fish, anchovies, cheeses. Food trucks with a roasted pig splayed out; the porchetta vendor slices off a hunk of meat and places it on a hard roll with a little salt.
The vendor trucks have awnings that pop up from the roof like an RV. They display their wares either on tables or risers that unfold out of the side of the truck.
A shoe vendor has about 150 boxes of shoes with one shoe displayed on top of the box. Bigger than some shoe stores. Pajamas, underwear, cashmere socks, sweaters, skirts, etc. etc. etc. We are in shoppers heaven! And then…I decide to take the packages to the car.
Whoops! What’s that green paper flapping on my windshield? A ticket. I put the items in the trunk, take the ticket off the car and head to find Barbara & Terry. Then we move the car…up a hill where the parking is free. And then we need to find the police station. We ask a tall man at the sausage stand for directions. Our lack of English doesn’t phase him at all but he gives up on our Italian. “Mama! Mama!” he calls to his mother in the sausage truck. “I’m taking these ladies to the police station,” and then he walks us all the way to the police station.
We follow him around curved streets, across piazzas and then to the government house that doesn’t have a sign outside. How were we to find this? “Sausage man” waves arrevaderci and leaves us there. All the Polizia are women dressed in severe black uniforms. But they are nice. They smile. They shake their heads in sympathy. They try to use our credit card for about 10 minutes before they shrug – “Allora!” – We pay the $28.00 ticket in cash. No one wants our credit cards, not even the police.
We decide to head to Perugia, about 15 miles west of Marsciano. We hike uphil to the town center to visit the wonderful Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria – a museum that features six centuries of art and historic artifacts in chronological order. WOW! An elevator! We get into the elevator but it will only go to the 5th floor instead of the 3rd floor entrance. We take the elevator to the 5th floor and office workers rush out to tell us: The museum is closed. No reason why. It’s just closed.
We drive around the old town aimlessly lacking the incentive to walk in the rain and worried about our car. Since Day 2, our VW Tiguan flashed a symbol that we do not understand but does say that in 700 km if we do not add-blu the car will not start. Also, our GPS isn’t working correctly. We stopped at a gas station two days before to see what Ad-blu means: an additive to go in the car because it uses diesel. A man at the gas station we stopped at shrugs his shoulders when we ask about AdBlu so we call Eurocar, the rental company. We go to Eurocar and they try 3 GPS’s before they find a Tom-Tom that works, but they cannot put the AdBlu in. They send us to the airport in Perugia where someone speaks English and will take care of the additive.
But before we go to the airport…McDonald’s! Diet Coke with ice! A bakery and coffee bar inside. Clean restrooms with toilet paper AND hand dryers that work! But the crew works at the pace of Italy. Even though we are the only customers it takes about 15 minutes for a small hamburger and two pastries plus Diet Coke — which, in Italy, is Coke Light.
Refueled, we go looking for the tiny Perugia airport. This is difficult because our new Tom Tom works no better than the previous one. Tom Tom’s do not like hills. Or cities. Or water. Our little advisor does not advise “recalculating route.” Instead, the screen of death reads “GPS signal lost.” I swear the Tom Tom gets lost more than we do. We decide to just drive downhill away from the city centers of hill towns when leaving a town and uphill toward the duomo when arriving in a town. To get to the airport, we follow five camouflage-painted trucks full of soldiers downhill, out of town, while we look for signs that will point to an airport. We see one. No, really, we see one sign to the airport. Just one.
Our sister Terry goes into the airport, the Eurocar attendant shuts down the desk, and tells us to follow him in his car…for about 15 minutes…to a gas station. But the attendant and the Eurocar guy can’t figure out where to put the AdBlu. Under the hood? No! In the gas tank? No! Look for the manual in the car? No manual. Make a phone call. While making the phone call a big lorry pulls up. He needs AdBlu. We move our car away from the nozzled hose poking out of the back wall of the fuel station and let him fill up. Back to our quest for to find the hole in our car for the AdBlu. Where do we put the additive? Ohhhhh, in the trunk, under the carpet. Of course! Move everything in the trunk aside. Did I say we were shopping? AdBlu…who knew?
Relieved to be on the road again. Happy that the car will not stop unexpectedly (and we were told that YES it will stop without it).
How to end a lost day filled with travel mishaps and rain? How about a great dinner in Deruta at a Mom&Pop trattoria? Terry checks out Trip Advisor and comes up with a name. Tom Tom calms down and gets us to the tiny hole-in-the-wall on the first try. As we drive, the rain finally stops for the first time in six days. As I look to the left, a huge rainbow appears touching the hills in a perfect double arc. We see both ends of the rainbow as it shines in front of the mountain! Being Italy, there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just the incredible beauty of the green and dirt hills of Umbria.
We arrive at Osteria Il Borgetto in Durita and a gentleman our age greets us at the door with a welcoming smile and open arms. People in Umbria are so happy to serve you. Love this Place!
It’s been a long day of frustrations and fun. What else could go wrong? As we exit the freeway for the long drive around Marsciano, we turn the correct way towards town, we take the right turn on the rotary as we duck past cars trying to merge into our back seat, no drivers tailgate us an inch from our back bumper, no drivers bright us or honk the horn as we drive the speed limit, we take another rotary and make the correct turn the first time, we drive past the graffiti-covered centro sportivo, make another right turn on the uphill side of the sports center, take anther round about and head away from town (another correct turn), wind up the 1 1/2 lane wide road past the two huge houses set 12 inches from the roadway, spy the pink house near the top of the tall hill, turn right into the long and rutted gravel driveway, drive straight downhill on a slope that looks like it would be tricky to ski on, the rain starts – again – and the ruts overflow their already full capacity, we drive into the valley and lose our Tom Tom signal, we head uphill in the dark, dark night, we miss the first attempt up the steep driveway so we back up and make a running start and make it up the driveway, and we are home!
Hoping this packing list is helpful to you as you plan your next dream trip! The list has evolved from a list used for Girl Scout packing, to a list used for packing for college, to this current list which was used for a 72-day summer trip to Europe, including a river cruise and a trans-Atlantic cruise. The only thing I had to purchase was an additional flash drive to store photos – an expensive purchase when I had a bunch of flash drives at home.
Believe it or not, I wish I had packed more ramen soup. There were a couple of times we were just too tired after a long day to go out and get food. The ramen is small, can be crushed, and is pure comfort food.