Boulabaisse, Boats and Petit Trains
25.04.2007 - 26.04.2007 23 °C
Marseille - 25 April
Just over one hour from Avignon on train and we arrived at Marseille train station. The train trip was on a TGV express line, unfortunately we had an old rattler of a carriage, but the track was so smooth the only indication we were carreering at 130 kms/h was a slight woft of the window curtains. Looking outside gave the speed away also as the blurred countryside flashed past.
From the grand staircase of the train station overlooking this incredible port city we descended to our hotel. Swinging a cat may have been fun in the small room but with not room to do so this pasttime will be left till later. Through the back streets around our hotel right next door to the theatre there are restaurants with specialities such as Senegalese, Morrocan and Tunisian.
Down to the water was exactly how we pictured it however Steve had the impression it was smaller. Bigger in real life is often better with the thousands of yacht masts filtering the view out towards the fort on either side of the harbour entrance. Eeniee, meenie, miney moe, we turned right and strolled out to the northern headland for a pack lunch. Tuna fish flying everywhere and there was still enough for Camilla's pants and sandwich.
Steve put a thumb in the Mediterrean for the first time and exclaimed that it was definetely swimming temperature. How decieving enthusiam can be when we found out later that it was barely 19 degrees. Needing a mission under the full pretence that we refuse to walk any further we boarded the tacky (ok, fine - efficient, clean and reliable) tourist train for a easy climb up the hill to Notre Dame de Garde.
Commentary over the speakers of each carraige were translated (we use that term loosely) into English by what sounded like an out of work cockney British actor that spent his childhood in South Africa, schooled in New Zealand and took holidays in Texas. Go on, give that a go.
The towers of Notre Dame de Garde are made up of alternating black and white marble which contrasts dramatically against the blue skys and rocky mountains. An imposing sight from below it is the greatest vantage point to absorb the sprawling Marseille. Steve gave up counting boats pretty quickly while Camilla explored the crypt.
A snack was in order by the time we had dealt with our commentator on the trip down so we wondered off into the south bank back streets to find the equivalent of a boost juice. With luck we found the only one in Marseille according to the very friendly owner (could be a market in that?)
The final vantage point of the day was found alongside the Palace overlooking the eastern harbour fort with a view over the busy parade of boats returning for the day. On the way home we went into the cluttered yet fascinating model boat and maritime bits and pieces shop. A little like Whitworths only the range included expensive mediterrean taste and too many options for a boat fitout.
Finding that we were short on supplies our final conquest for the day was to survive the local food market in the square at closing time. A flustered Steve emerged with an assortment of bananas, tomatos, zuchini, carrots and strawberries spending just short of 2 euros. Ahh the excitement of self catering, our produce produced the first fried rice extravaganza which would be repeated twice more until the stocks were depleated.
A full day in Marseille - 26 April
Marseille is known for its variety of fresh seafood delivered to the banks of the harbour as it has been for hundreds of years by fishing families known in the area. Totally unlike the Sydney fish market with the multimillion dollar trawlers, dozens of colourful 20 foot long wooden boats arrive to sell their catch. Setting up little blue tables with haste the men unload the fish while women help sort the catch, much of which is still flapping or trying to make an escape (cheeky octopus).
All this excitement before breakfast, we made poached eggs on the window sill then packed for the day. Determined to see some sights we went eagerly to the Palace Longchamps via the historic quarter and short detour to the train station for a ticket out. At Longchamps were arrived in front of an enormous fountain (3 stories tall) with raging bulls and all that jazz which celebrates Marseilles royals securing a reliable water supply during a long drought. The gardens behind the palace inspired us to do nothing more than sit in the grass and watch children playing (did we mention cook up more fried rice, yum).
Full of beans we strode entirely across town through the northern streets of port to the largest cathedral in Marseille. We hope to be forgiven for not commenting on the name but unfortunately we are a bit overwhelmed with the number of churches etc. It was big none the less and impressive in its own right, unfortunately it did not look particularly well used a little soulless (pardon the expression). There were only one or two other people visiting at the time and yet the structure, architecture and art is a contemporary of any other religious building we have seen so far.
Fully equiped mobile 'Cafe Hall' set up shop on the side of the harbour entrance next to the travelling circus tent to deliver hot cups of goodness to its only patrons. Revived, it was now time for the exciting first sea leg of the European experience. The ferry in Marseille helps shoppers, elderly, commuters and boat mad tourists to cross from one side of the harbour all the way to the other (approximately 100 metres).
As seen on a documentary we can't remeber the name of by an grumpy English chef we thought was painful to watch it was advised that when in Marseille it is mandatory to eat Boulabaisse. Every second restaurant sells this sordid affair originally cooked by the youngest child in the fishing families as a way of using the unsold fish. The name boulabaisse translates to 'before it boils', the instructions given to the child before being left to turn down the heat to simmer. For those intellects that have already guessed that a culinary delight which was cooked by children of sometimes impoverished fishing families may not be gourmet you beat us too it. Thankfully we had aparatifs at a devine little bar before venturing onto dinner.
A quick explanation excluded from conversation with Camilla before Steve ordered the dish, the whole fish, let us be specific, the ENTIRE fish was used and they are usually small and red from the bottom of the Med. Boulabaisse is now considered a culinary masterpiece by some chefs, Steve however suffered nightmares about choking on small fish bones whilst drowning in fish guts. Maybe the 50 euro version would have offered something better than the 15 euro version but the soup part comes out of the same pot, need we elaborate further.
All in all, Marseille is well worth visiting. The view from the top is excellent, even good enough to justify walking up. A history of fishing families, boats galore and historic maritime forts are all great to see in the flesh. Boulabaisse...