And now I know the French word for 'tow truck' (A Day in Marseilles)
Marseilles. First thing that pops into your mind. Go. If you’re a fan of Alexandre Dumas (or Jim Caviezel), perhaps the first thing you thought of was “The Count of Monte Cristo”. I’ll admit, the prospect of getting a glimpse of the famous Chateau D'If was a big draw for me in visiting this beautiful southern city. But Marseilles has a powerful draw for everyone; from literature and history nerds (*raises hand*) to foodies and shoppers to adventure enthusiasts. Since Marseilles was about a 90-minute drive from Montpellier, we made a day trip of it and ended up having quite the adventure indeed.
The adventure began not long after we embarked on our excursion when, about an hour into the trip, one of the two vehicles in our caravan blew a tire. That set us back about an hour but we arrived, safely, and in good spirits, ready to see what Marseilles had in store.
Our guide took us straightaway to one of the historical highlights of the city; a cathedral at the literal peak of Marseilles: Notre-Dame de la Garde. Given the location and vantage point, the cathedral has been nicknamed “La Bonne Mére” as she watches over her city day and night.
Descending the peak, we found ourselves in need of nourishment and again followed the leading of our guide to lunch in a chic little bistro, L’Ecailler. Throughout my time in France, I strive to enjoy cuisine local to the different towns and cities visited. For Marseilles, that means seafood and more specifically, bouillabaisse (say that five times!). Our whole meal, entree, plat, and dessert, with complimentary aperitifs, was only 17 euros so I would certainly recommend this restaurant for affordability and a nice introduction to the cuisine of Marseilles.
We spent the rest of the day visiting more historical sites including perhaps my favorite of all the cathedrals, Cathédral La Major. The interior archways were breathtaking with their intricate designs and colorful patterns. Every square inch so intentionally constructed and decorated to create a powerful visual and emotional experience.
In stark contrast to the loveliness of the city was the unpleasantness of the heat. I have yet to comprehend why the French have such a hostile relationship with air conditioning but alas, they do. We, like the French, combatted the heat with copious amounts of la glace (ice cream) which was available on every block. Bolstered by cold treats we made our rounds to the gift shops to collect Marseilles classics: lavande (lavender) and savon (soap). I chose a soap dispenser for my sister-in-law which, mercifully, made it back to the USA undamaged (although my liquid soap was confiscated as I mistakenly put it in my carry-on).
Replete with gifts, food, ice cream, and photos, we set off for Montpellier tired but happy. Unfortunately, it was our turn to have vehicle issues. We barely made it out of the city before our van gave up on life and stopped in the middle of the highway. Our driver managed to maneuver the vehicle to the roadside where intense negotiations began about what could be done. It was finally agreed that no one wanted to attempt to continue the drive in that van so one member of our group was transferred to the first van and the rest of us waited, roasting, for the tow truck to arrive...so we waited...and waited...and waited. Finally, the beautiful sign of rescue appeared and that's when things got really bizarre. The tow truck lifted the van up off of the road, while we were still in it, and continued to lift it until the van was completely off the ground and on the back of the truck. And then, off we went, riding in the back of a van on the back of a tow truck down a highway in the south of France (anyone else feel song lyrics coming on?)
Our return trip time was augmented by an additional 90 minutes of waiting in the (air conditioned, hallelujah!) trailer of the tow truck place watching a French crime drama about a nun who worked with the police to uncover crime. Finally, a taxi arrived and drove us back to Montpellier. Comment est-ce-qu'on dit 'tow truck' en Français? I enquired of the native French speakers in our vehicle. 'Dépanneuse' was the reply. One of my fellow adventurers, Juliette, was a native Frenchwoman and former ambassador to Australia (I know, awesome!). Although it was after 10 pm when we finally made it back to Montpellier, Juliette thought we should celebrate our safe return with a late night dinner. So, we enjoyed pizza at an outdoor restaurant in the plaza to close out what had been an eventful and memorable day.