The final sunset of our holiday draws near. We awake on yet another brilliant, blue Tunisian morning, back in the capital of Tunis for a couple days before our separate flights to separate countries. Before that, let us at least finish words and images for one country!
After our road-trip around southern France, we returned to Marseille and settled into a centrally located Airbnb for a comfortable week. Anytime we travel, we tend to alternate between speedy visits to a number of places (like the road-trip) and simply grabbing a place we like in a large city so we can enjoy the creature comforts of home: Netflix in bed, bottles of wine, plenty of snacks, loud music on the stereo, cooking in the kitchen, candles, and visiting all of the supermarkets in the area…
On our first day, we visited the neighborhood of Noailles, a multi-cultural mix of North Africa, France, left-leaning politics, street art, and much more. The entirety of Marseille has a kind of dirty, gritty charm (not unlike NYC in some ways), and it is on display nowhere better than in Noailles: where open air fish markets blend with exotic spices of the Maghreb, where crude long-term encampments have been built by protestors seeking better rights for refugees, minorities, and other disenfranchised peoples, where the walls and streets are covered in both huge professionally contracted murals and smaller paint-can scribbles of graffiti.
Onward and upward through the city, eventually making our way to the cities highest point – the huge Notre Dame basilica. Marseille’s “Mother” smiles down at her children from far above, protecting the many colors and ethnicities of citizens in the heterogeneous city. Special protections are afforded to the port and those who work upon the seas. As Marseille is a port city, the church is a place sailers go to both receive blessings before voyages and offer thanks upon successfully returning home. Inside, the walls are adorned with numerous images of ships and the seas, and a variety of model boats hang from the ceiling.
The next day, we took a short ride out of the city and arrived in the mountains of Calanques National Park. (A calanque is similar to a fjord, but on the Mediterranean.) Sweeping vistas of jagged mountains and valleys lead directly into the pearl blue of the Mediterranean. Stunning. We wandered around the park all day, scampering up and down the cliffs, before ending the hike in a gorgeous calanque where the locals were grabbing the last rays of late afternoon sun.
We spent the rest of our time in the city wandering through the streets, hanging by the port, and visiting some of the many museums. Our favorites were MUCEM (Civilizations and Mediterranean history) and the Contemporary Art Museum. MUCEM’s design is extraordinary just as itself; the main museum’s intense modernism connects seamlessly with the 400-year-old Fort Saint-Jean via an elevated walkway. It’s a clash between new and old, but it doesn’t feel jarring at all since you can flow easily between both sections. Perhaps it’s also something of a comment on Marseille itself; it’s an old city that is constantly blending and adapting to the new kinds of people (and their ideas) that come to it from across the many seas.
Talk in a bit.
D + M