So there I was... (the best stories always start out this way – but this one is quite uneventful) in Marseille at 1 AM, fresh off the bus that takes you from the Provence airport to the Saint Charles train station inside the city. I always heard that Marseille can be a bit of a rough place, so I decided to haggle for a taxi – you know, I just returned from the haggling capital of the world, of course this would still work here – and fondly enough, it did. The taxi driver decided to have me wait for my extra discount, until he could fill the rest of the seats. Ten minutes later, a rush of elderly tourists arrived from another bus and we were off. I thought the scariest drivers in the world (that I’ve experienced so far) were those in Marrakech – with their weaving lanes and driving inches from oncoming traffic. But this taxi driver had a serious death wish. There was no traffic, luckily, but he obviously saw the world from the eyes of a television screen, playing Gran Turismo or something. He dashed from street to street, barely missing the red lights as they turned from yellow, and proceeding at FULL SPEED through active intersections and then almost two wheeling it to one side as he turned corners. Every time he slammed on the gas, the taxi shook, the wheels squealed and my back and head slammed into the front seat.
Around noon, I walked a path that I forged on the map, that would take me down to the famous port of Marseille. It was refreshing to be back around the Western styles of Europe, and to my little heart's contentment and my wallet's shame, copious amounts of Belgian beers were available at every bar, at every turn I made. I went to a little market and snatched up a couple bottles and went on my way to the port. I’ll be honest, I loved the port, but I hated the shops and like-restaurants that lined nearly all the way around it. I tried to imagine how the port looked during the times of the book that intrigued me to visit here, and mixed with the light sea breeze, I walked around, picturing the scene. I proceeded to the old quarter of the town and my initial happiness turned to serious disappointment, as it was empty and rundown, with maybe 10 people in the entire neighborhood – there was nothing here to be seen.
The beer never stopped flowing, nor did the wine that joined the table, and after four to five hours of eating, boozing and bull-shitting, we decided to call it a night – but not before we jammed to a lot of rock tunes that he loved so much – to my surprise, he had quite a few songs that I hadn’t heard in maybe five to ten years – it’s funny how music can bring back old memories, and even more interesting how you can still remember the words and the drum beats from such a long time ago. He untied his long hair and hilariously started playing air (metal) guitar while circling his head so his long hair would whip around his head (AKA headbanging). However, we soon crashed after the rock session and the next day, he was off to work and I was left with a hang over. I slept most of the day, recovering as best I could, because he told me the night before that he planned a real-party with his friends for this evening. All I could think was ‘Oh, God. Not another night of drinking.’ I went from fasting on fruit and orange juice, with no alcohol in Marrakech to binge drinking in Marseille.
I was a bit worried about my next couch host (and I’m sure he will be reading this – so I hope he takes no offense), because he emailed me reminding me that he was a Naturist. I typically would have declined the accommodation offer, but I thought that ‘I travel to experience the entire world, as it really is, and if I’m too immature for this, then I can’t cut it and I’m a hack.’ I was also intrigued because my host was an accomplished and publish architect and had an interesting and wise air about him. So I accepted and arrived a few hours by train – oh and avoid trains in France, as they are obscenely overpriced. I arrived in the hills of Nice by local bus from the train station and I realized my host lived in a very posh part of town.
The next day, the sun shined and I was off by foot to walk from the hills down to the riviera. Nice had a completely different feel than Marseille. It was easy to see that Marseille was once a rough place (and some parts still are), but Nice is definitely its posh cousin. Most of the streets were lined with gated housing and curated lawns. I walked about an hour down to the sea, through little tourist strips and street markets – there’s just something about the little markets of Europe that I love, and wish that more places back home in the states would do the same. It’s refreshing and you feel a connection to the local people and the products they sell, when you buy from a local market – plus, the food is typically much healthier, as it’s straight from the farm. My favorite part about Nice was the little park that at first seems hidden above the coast, but reveals beautiful panoramic views of the entire city and the coast line. I could sit there all day, every day and just think and write, and connect with myself – but it’s too bad that all of the tourists had to find my perfect sanctuary too (it’s funny, I talk as though I’m not a tourist).
I wandered for a few more hours, as I always do, and then I made my way back to my host’s house – I made it there just moments before a large rain cloud covered the city in shade and rained out the area for the rest of the evening. My host made another fabulous meal and life felt quite good. The next morning, I had to continue on, so I set off on down the coast to Monaco.
More travel updates coming soon! Next update = Monaco & Florence, Italy
Other travel updates:
Travel update I – Barcelona, Spain
Travel update II – Madrid, Spain
Travel update III – Granada, Spain
Travel update IV – Ronda & Sevilla, Spain
Travel update V – Marrakech, Morocco