Jan 01 2008

Marseille: no Evian, please

Published by at 7:43 pm under France,Southern France

Because we are painfully behind on our updates, I am not going to go into too much detail about our time in Marseille. I’ll start off by saying it does not deserve its reputation as a seedy, working-class city, unworthy of a stopover. Our time spent in Marseille turned out to be some of our favorite days in France. Ben was sold on the city as soon as we broke out the guidebook (once it became apparent that we were stuck there for a couple days), and discovered that the Chateau d’If is in Marseille. The Chateau d’If is the island prison made famous by The Count of Monte Cristo — you know, the protagonist is framed by his best friend, sent to prison, where he meets an old man, yada, yada, yada.

Fish for sale at the fish market. This picture has little
relevance to the written material, but is awesome.

So our first morning in Marseille, after visiting the old port’s active fish markets, Ben and I hopped a boat to the island. The Chateau d’If was actually built as a fortress to protect the port of Marseille (which has been an active port for more than 26 centuries), but was shortly thereafter turned into a prison (because it’s hard to escape when you’re stuck on a rock in the middle of the ocean). There were several other famous, and nonfictional, tenets of the Chateau, including the notorious man in the iron mask and the captain of the ship that brought the plague to Marseille. Oops!

Since the fortress was not originally intended to hold captives, the rooms on the first and second floors are actually quite spacious and nice, with fireplaces and windows looking out onto the Mediterranean (of course all the non-wealthy riff-raff prisoners were kept in the below-ground dungeons). I considered inquiring about the upper rooms as a cheap accommodation option, before realizing there probably wasn’t an outlet to plug in my laptop or a wifi connection, so I discarded the idea. (By the way, the French call it weefee.)

the chateau d'if
Chateau d’If

Upon returning to the mainland, Ben surprised me by suggesting that we splurge for our four-year anniversary by going out for a nice seafood dinner on the waterfront. Since I can’t remember ever eating anything other than street vendor sandwiches and spaghetti cooked on a hostel’s hot plate, I was elated by the idea. That night we scrounged together a couple of semi-decent outfits — a task harder than anticipated as all nice clothes I brought have been ruined by constant wear and sink-scrubbing. Oh wait, Ben will want me to clarify that he was not wearing an outfit. He was wearing pants and a shirt.

Money-saving tip for those considering European travel: many French restaurants offer fixed price “menus,” three-course meals that often turn out to be cheaper than ordering items a la carte (the best deals can be found at lunch!). I quickly ordered the menu that included the poissons du jour, when I found out that the fish couldn’t be fresher: the owner had picked it up herself at the fish market that afternoon.

As Americans who regard free water as a basic human right, we’ve been surprised by the cost of water in European restaurants. Only occasionally will it come free in a small carafe. More often, they charge exorbitant prices (up to six euros!) for a tiny bottle. Our guidebook informed us that in French restaurants, the water is generally complimentary, but Ben wasn’t taking any chances. Unbeknownst to me, one of the first French phrases he’d picked up was “de l’eau du robinet,” or “tap water.”

When our waiter brought us our bottle of house wine, he asked if we also wanted some water. “De l’eau?” he said.

“Oui,” Ben replied, and then after a moment’s hesitation, “um, l’eau du robinet, s’il vous plait.”

The waiter stopped, looked curiously at Ben, and started chuckling to himself before turning to retrieve our tap water. He was still laughing when he returned.

“L’eau de robinet!” he said, setting the carafe and two glasses down with a flourish. I buried my face in my hands, trying to remember a time when guys used to take me on proper dates and what it was like to actually splurge.

The next day was spent looking up Prague’s temperature, subsequently buying more warm layers, visiting a few more Marseille highlights and attempting to communicate with the city’s large Greek immigrant population (although they were mostly just confused when Ben greeted them with a “yiassou!”)

We’re doing our best to catch up on the blog, but here’s an enticing tidbit to keep you reading: on New Year’s Eve, a Barcelonian police officer whacked Ben with a nightstick. Happy New Year!

NEXT: Life on the Lam »



3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Marseille: no Evian, please”

  1. Allisonon 02 Jan 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Happy New Year! Sounds exciting, I can’t wait to read more!

  2. Nate's Momon 02 Jan 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I’m betting on Janet in the Barcelonian police officer vs. Ben encounter.

  3. Hollyon 03 Jan 2008 at 2:31 pm

    NM- VERY safe bet!!
    PS- Charlotte is one of the top choices on our list of names for the new baby girl :)

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