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2 weeks in 3 of France's "2nd" cities - Lyon, Dijon, and Marseille

2 weeks in 3 of France's "2nd" cities - Lyon, Dijon, and Marseille

Oct 21st, 2019, 03:12 PM
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2 weeks in 3 of France's "2nd" cities - Lyon, Dijon, and Marseille

I am just finishing posting a trip report about 1 week in Italy and two weeks in Croatia. After that I spent another two weeks in France. As with many trips to places like Croatia, which are costly and time consuming to get to from the US, I’ve found flying in/out of places like Italy and France not only breaks up what would otherwise be a multi-connection, long and expensive flight home but lets me combine some ‘different’ places. From Split we flew EasyJet to Lyon, France (for 45€ each, including ‘upfront seating’). My husband, who isn’t crazy about cities in general, and for some reason not to crazy about France either, flew home from Lyon and I stayed on to explore more of Lyon, plus Marseille and Dijon. Since I doubt many people are planning to combine the places we went in one trip I think it would be more helpful to post this as a separate report. So here it is.

The photos are here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/f667172952 (photos and trip report combine if you prefer to read it that way are here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/blog/20...ance-july-2019
https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/blog/20...rseille-france

LYON
I spent 3 nights in Lyon, one day doing a day trip to Perouges, another a half day trip to Vienne.

LYON – population of 500,000 the 3rd largest city in France. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site for its old town, Vieux Lyon, and it’s traboules. Lyon has a nice setting at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. The large island between them, Presque’ile, has several squares linked by pedestrian streets with a vaguely ‘Parisian’ like look. Unfortunately most were in the process of being re-paved and everything was torn up with construction equipment and a lot of jack hammering going on. Even without that, the comparison with Paris would be marginal. But the view of old Lyon across the Saone River is lovely.

Vieux Lyon - Reached by one of the three passerelles (footbridges) crossing the Saône from the Presqu’île, Vieux Lyon is made up of what was once three villages - churches and the ‘neighborhood’ around each (now all blend together) - St-Jean, St-Georges and St-Paul, at the base of the hill of Fourvière. Cobbled, pedestrianized streets lined with Renaissance and medieval facades really does have ‘Old World’ ambience. Place Neuve Saint-Jean, is the main square. The cathedral’s main façade lacks most of its statuary as a result of various wars but is still impressive and the 13th Century stained glass and rose window are in perfect condition. The most interesting thing is the 14th C astronomical clock, capable of computing moveable feast days (such as Easter) till the year 2019.

Traboules – The highlight of Lyon for me was the traboules – they are essentially shortcuts linking streets, which provided shelter from rain when reams of silk — a key industry in historic Lyon — were moved from one place to the next. Many are various shades of pastel colors, with medieval stonework, arches, loggias, spiral stone staircases. Other cities have them but Lyon has the most, and many are open to the public even though they are the entrances to private apartments. Most of those are marked with the bronze plaque that indicates anything in Lyon of historic interest, but not all. I had googled the addresses and the ones I found were all indeed open to the public as long as you were brave enough to push open a door that looked like a private entrance, and then push the light button. 6 Rue Trois Maries (actually enter from other side), 3 Place St Paul, 54 rue St jean, 28 rue St Jean. While tourist maps have locations and many tour groups visit them, most had very few people in them when I was there, you are expected to be quiet and respectful for the sake of the people who actually live there. They are so ‘hidden’ that they were used by the French resistance during WWll.

The other highlights of Lyon are up on Fouviere Hill. Reached by a funicular (same ticket as the metro) – or a steep walk up streets or stairs – at the top is a hulking, ornate wedding cake of a church, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière which was built, like the Sacré-Coeur in Paris, in the aftermath of the 1871 Commune to emphasize the defeat of the godless socialists. And like the Sacré-Coeur, its hilltop position has become a defining element in the city’s skyline. The interior has marble statues, stained glass and gold and turquoise mosaic wall panels. The crypt has some nice stonework and an ornate turquoise mosaic ceiling in the apse.

Halfway down the hill is Musée Gallo-Romain. Alongside the museum, dug into the hillside, are the substantial remains of two ruined theatres – the larger of which was built by Augustus in 15 BC and extended in the second century by Hadrian to seat 10,000 spectators. The theaters are free to enter and you can walk all around and in them (except for the section with the staging, as in every Roman theater in Europe these days, the centers are filled with staging for performances during the summer).

The only museum I did was The Musee Conflulences, one of the best anthropology museums I’ve seen. It’s not huge, the permanent exhibit is on the top floor and consists of five large rooms: The Origin of the Species and our world (big bang theory and evolution), Species (who are we and what is our place in the world?, definition of human identity and the link between humanity and animality (some wonderful taxidermy animals); Societies (how we organize, exchange and create everything); and Eternities (visions of the beyond and how humans view/treat the passing between two worlds (death). A wonderful look at most aspects of physical and cultural anthropology. Everything in English as well as French. Knowing I had limited time and not knowing how big it was I did move relatively fast – I read all the main plaques but not the many smaller ones. It took me a bit over an hour but I could see if you really wanted to read everything it could take 2 or 3. I spent very little time on the lower floor in the temporary exhibits (Himalayan festivals, Japanese, Headdresses of the world, and insects.) But between the building itself (ultra modern, built in 2014, looks like a space ship) and the permanent exhibit it was certainly worth the €9.
isabel is online now  
Oct 21st, 2019, 05:45 PM
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Bookmarking this for a leisurely read. Fabulous pix and you did the cities justice.
TDudette is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2019, 05:45 AM
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Looking forward to your time in Dijon as We will be there soon.
TPAYT is online now  
Oct 22nd, 2019, 09:36 AM
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Excited to see your report-we are always trying to get friends to see more of France's "second cities"
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 09:48 AM
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Happily following along!
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 10:06 AM
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Very nice report on my beautiful town Isabel ! I'm very happy you enjoyed your stay in Dijon. Beautiful pictures that make you a great ambassador of my town.

I even noticed the little angel on the wall of my back alley (rue des Bons Enfants) and where my main entrance is (rue Rameau right in front of the Dukes Palace).

Next time don't forget to visit our newly renovated Fine Arts Museum where you can almost spend a full day there. Bravo !

TPAYT welcome to Dijon and have a great time!
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 01:59 PM
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I really enjoyed your blog, and you’ve sold me on Marseille, now.
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 04:07 PM
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SOME DIJON QUESTIONS

I just located Isabel's photos and commentary on Dijon in her original post above.
It all looks so lovely. I wish we were staying in the center pedestrian streets.
We are with a tour staying at Hotel Oceania Le Jura
14 Ave. Marechal Foch
Near Jardin Darcy

We have a dinner reservation at
Gril’Laure
8 Pl. Benigne

It looks like a bit of a walk so we’ll probably take a taxi to dinner and back. Will the restaurant call a taxi for us after dinner?
is this a good place or should we cancel and go elsewhere?
Several places looked good in the city center, but if it’s in pedestrian streets, how would we get a taxi back to the hotel?

Any suggestions from those who live, or have been there, will be much appreciated.

TPAYT is online now  
Oct 22nd, 2019, 05:16 PM
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Glad you are enjoying the photos (and trip report).

To answer TPAYT's question - I think your hotel is right near the train station. I walked from the train station to my hotel just off Rue de la Liberte in less than 10 minutes. From there to the Palais des Duc (Place de la Liberte) was just another five minutes. That's pretty much the other side of the pedestrian part. So depending on where you want to go for most people it's very walkable. The old center is quite small. Did you google map it, looks like from your hotel to the restaurant is only about 6 minute walk. But I do think both the restaurant and the hotel are on car streets. I don't think staying in the pedestrian center would mean less walking.
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 05:17 PM
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PEROUGES

On my husband’s one full day he requested we do a day trip to Perouges and it was a good decision. An easy enough day excursion by train from Lyon Part-Dieu train station to Meximieux Pérouges station, 30 minute walk from old town, flat except for the last 5 minutes up the hill. There are trains every 2 hours or so. The station there looks to have been shut for years but has kiosks to buy tickets, though given how well they work it’s best to get return tickets before leaving Lyon. About €8 per person each way, takes about ½ hour. We ended up getting the 10:12-10:45 there and the 16:16-16:48 back. No signs at the station as to where the town is but turn left and eventually you see signs for “Medieval Perouges”.

As we were walking towards the old town a French couple must have thought we looked lost because they started to tell us which way to go and walked with us. When we said we didn’t speak French he said “London?” and I said ‘no, United States’, he really lit up, pointed to his hat (which said “Seals”) and said he was a French GI. Then he made some remark about Trump, and DH said, in French, that Trump was a pig (his French is limited and this was all he could come up with) which this guy thought was hysterical. This man and his wife (who smiled a lot but never said anything) kept walking with us for several minutes, chattering nonstop, most of which we didn’t understand (he did say Bill Clinton had been there). Anyway, they seemed to really like Americans, shook our hands as they were turning down a different street, wished us a good trip.

Pérouges is a village on a small hill of cobbled alleyways and ancient stone houses, an immaculate work of conservation (including all utilities buried) that really makes you feel like you stepped back into medieval times. Its charm has not gone unnoticed by the film industry. The streets and the buildings are all kind of a light grey/honey color stone. There are two gated entrances “Porte d’en Bas” (bottom door) and “Porte d’en Haut” (upper door) and a street that encircles the village, a couple of alleys and a main square, La Place de la Halle. The main square is the site of a majestic linden tree planted during the French Revolution, 1792. Because of this, the plaza is also known as the liberty tree – La Place du Tilleul. Some buildings in the village are clearly not in use but everything is very well cared for. A few tourist shops but nothing tacky. A few restaurants, no fast food. One museum/tower (€5 entry) with so-so views (it’s not very high) and a nice medieval interior (several huge fire places), some weaving paraphernalia, various old objects.

We ate lunch at ‘Relais de la Tour’ on the main square. The price fixed lunch included a ‘buffet’ of charcuterie and crudités, main dish of ham and mashed potatoes in a mushroom cream sauce or chicken and green beans, and a dessert buffet (dark chocolate mouse, Chantilly, ice cream, tarts). DH got a “Pression medieval” (medieval beer), Total €37. One of the best meals of the trip.

We were there 5 ½ hours but at least an hour included the walk up and back to the train. You really ‘need’ about 3 hours to see the village (we walked around it 3 times) and have an hour-long lunch. There were a few other tourists around, but no crowds at all. As we were leaving we wondered why tour groups didn’t invade this place, it’s so picturesque. Then we saw two Viking River Cruise tour buses heading in as we were walking back to the train.
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 05:32 PM
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Isabel......thanks for the feedback. That doesn’t seem far to walk at all, but what about at night? We will be 3 ladies. I did the google map walk down the streets but it looked like a lot of buildings and kind of dark.

Loved your Trump story. Perouges sounds like a lovely place. I wish we were on our own and could go there.
TPAYT is online now  
Oct 22nd, 2019, 06:06 PM
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TPAYT - I walked around the pedestrian areas after dark and I was solo at the time (my husband had returned home after Lyon) and I felt perfectly safe. You could pretty easily walk the block or so from the restaurant to the main pedestrian street - that will be well lit and shouldn't be deserted till quite late. That main street (rue de la Liberte) goes all the way to Jardin Darcy and then it was a pretty main street to the train station. Unless you plan to be out till midnight or something I think it would be fine. I was there in July and it didn't get dark till well after 10 and I was in the main square in front of the Palace till the lights came on so it was definitely dark walking back. If you walked the shortest way between the restaurant and the train station you would be in maybe a less 'comfortable' area but I didn't get the sense that any of the area we are talking about was unsafe, just that there would probably be less people and darker than taking the only slightly longer pedestrian rue de la liberte.
isabel is online now  
Oct 23rd, 2019, 05:49 AM
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Just the detailed info I was looking for....thanks again.
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Oct 23rd, 2019, 11:37 AM
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I agree with Isabel who seems to know the area pretty well ! If you usually don't feel secure in unknown towns I suggest you take the "longest" way, along rue du Dr Maret (you'll pass next to St Benigne church and the archeological museum) then Place Darcy and Avenue Foch to your hotel. https://goo.gl/maps/Ds7CbYm9ohWTSnSy5 No need of a taxi at all.! Enjoy Dijon!
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Oct 23rd, 2019, 02:00 PM
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VIENNE is another very easy day trip from Lyon (train stops in both Part-Dieux and Perrache stations in Lyon), ½ hour to Vienne, €7, two or three trains per hour. The gare in Vienne is a short walk from the sites. Vienne is known for its abundance of Roman ruins, many of which are just fragments but there are a lot of them, scattered about the city and able to be seen for free. The most exceptional is the Temple of August and Livia, on Place du Palais (site of the Roman forum), 1st C BC, completely intact just sitting there like any other building. Along with the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, it is one of the two best examples of a Roman edifice of this kind in France. It was well preserved because the temple became a church around the 6th C and the portico was bricked up, restored in the 19th C.
There’s also a theater but it was ‘closed’ for performances so I couldn’t even look at it. But free and always open is the Jardin Archeologique de Cybele, a public garden littered with Roman fragments including a large wall, various terraces and the foundation of several houses, and two large perpendicular archways that would have opened onto the forum.

There’s also a couple of impressive churches, Cathedrale St Maurice is huge with intricate stonework on the front, and St Andres le Bas has a very pretty cloister with some well preserved stone carvings. Vienne the city is kind of a dump, not horrible but if it weren’t for the roman ruins it would not be on the tourist map at all. Two hours was plenty.
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Oct 24th, 2019, 04:32 AM
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MARSEILLE

From Lyon I took the TGV to Marseille. As the train traveled south it passed vineyards, wheat fields, and fields of sunflowers, hill towns with and without castles, the Rhone (lovely shade of blue), the mountains Cezanne painted, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and on to Marseille.

The train station, Gare St Charles, is beautiful 19th century (but totally modern inside, bright and clean). As you exit there’s a view of the city below you and a ‘monumental’ grand staircase – art nouveau with gorgeous lampposts and statues and palm trees. At the bottom of the stairs Boulevard d’Athenes is a bit gritty but lively with every imaginable ethnic market and eatery, the aroma was exotic and enticing. Short walk to La Canebiere, the main thoroughfare that runs down to Vieux Port. And then there’s the port, really huge for an ‘old’ harbor. Rectangular shaped with a wide promenade on three sides and full of every imaginable kind of boat. Marseille has the feeling of a commination of Palermo, Genoa, Athens, Paris and New York.

I checked into the Residhotel – a one minute walk inland from the port (20 minute walk from the train – or 2 quick stops on the metro). Not exactly upscale or fancy, room quite large, kitchenette with fridge, microwave, 2 burner stove, kettle, dishes, etc. Plenty to make simple meals for a week. Wi-fi ,AC. There is a huge Carrefour grocery store a two minute walk away, ( Brioche Doree, Starbucks and a bagel store all around the corner). €82/night

I decided to give myself 6 nights in Marseille – a rather slow pace for me. But it’s on the water and I love the Mediterranean in the summer, and there were a couple day trips I wanted to take. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and could have even used more. But if someone’s time is limited, a couple of full days in Marseille is enough to see the highlights.

Le Panier – the ‘old town’. When the Greeks landed in Marseille 2600 years ago this is where they landed. No signs of Greeks today (there is a mural depicting their arrival, near the cathedral) but it is the oldest neighborhood with narrowing, steep (and more often than not, stepped) streets lined with tall houses in various states of disrepair giving the area that ‘colorful shabby’ ambiance. Lots and lots of street art – murals everywhere. Lots of regular graffiti as well but there is so much of it, and most of it so well done that it really ads rather than detracts. Flowers in flower boxes and pots, laundry flapping in the breeze. Several small tree lined squares. A few cafes, some art galleries, a few shops – mostly quirky, nothing very upscale but all very interesting. Le Panier means ‘the basket’. This area was a melting pot where immigrants from Naples, Corsica, Catalonia and rest of the Mediterranean coast mingle with the French West Indies, Africa and Vietnam. The Panier became a working-class district when the Marseille middle-class decided to move out in the 17th century to relocate in the new districts, the people who remained largely made their living from the sea – fishermen and sailors.

The streets of Le Panier themselves are the “site” but the Cathedrale de la Major - Roman Byzantine, largest built in France since the Middle Ages and right next to it the 12th century Romanesque Church it replaced. The other major site is the Vieille Charité, Marseille's architectural gem. Italian Baroque, a rectangle of arcades on three stories nestled around a courtyard with a Baroque chapel in the center. The complex houses several museums for which you need a ticket, but you explore the building (all three levels) and courtyard for free.
isabel is online now  
Oct 24th, 2019, 04:34 AM
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Vieux Port – The head of the port is Quai des Belges where fishing boats still unload their catch for sale every morning. There is also a new modern ‘feature’ – a huge mirror canopy suspended high above the pavement– “Le Ombriere” provides shade and adds visual interest. In the evening this quai is full of people selling stuff on blankets – hats, electronics, etc. as well as hair braiding, henna tattooing, and people selling mint tea. Also street performers. The north side, below Le Panier, Quai du Port has a large pedestrianized promenade, lined with craft tents of people selling local produce and crafts (soap is a BIG thing in Marseille). The first few buildings are very Parisian (La Samaritine) looking, the rest are 20th century, except the Hotel de Ville, 1673, Genoan Baroque with a huge bust of king Louis XIV and colorful flags. The opposite side, Quai de Rive Neuve has more car lanes, less sidewalk but both sides are lined with restaurants, bars, cafes. The buildings around the harbor are for the most part not terribly interesting. I did find Bar de la Marine, (#15 Quai de Rive Neuve), a 1930s sailor's haunt with an old zinc bar and a mezzanine that was the scene of the salty barkeeper’s saga in the 1932 film Fany and of Jamie’s proposal in Love Actually. A ferry boat crosses the harbor midway, from in front of the Hotel de Ville, takes 10 minutes and costs 50 cents. And it does cut down on a good bit of walking if needing to get from one side to the other.

The major ‘site’ on north side of the harbor is Notre Dame de la Garde, high on the hill which can be seen from virtually everywhere in the city (in fact it was the first thing I saw coming out of the train station). Neo-Byzantine finished in the mid 1800s. Great views from the terrace and the inside covered is glittering mosaics and, an interesting touch, models of sailboats (and one airplane) hanging rom the ceiling. Abbaye St-Victor dates from the 11th to 14th centuries and looks like a fortress, but the main interest is in the spooky 5th century crypt. Marseille's oldest church (1600 hundred years, one of the oldest in France), The crypt is a fascinating, crumbling warren containing several chapels and passages, and a series of antique, pagan and Christian sarcophagi. Much larger than most crypts, it’s essentially the same size as the church above. Free. Crypt €2.

Both sides of the harbor are guarded by massive fortresses. The north side has Fort St Nicholas, massive but largely in ruin. Just beyond Fort St Nicholas is the Palais and Jardin du Pharo. Château du Pharo, built in the 1860s by Napoleon III for his empress (now a convention center) is surrounded by a nice park with drop-dead gorgeous of the whole port and the much more impressive Fort St Jean across the harbor. Fort St Jean was built in 1660 by Louis 14th and is beautifully restored. It houses the Museum of European and Mediterranean Cultures, for which you need a ticket, but you can explore the whole fort, including climbing the keep and ramparts and courtyard for free. More fabulous views. The site of the fort has been occupied since Antiquity and in the 13th C the order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John (future Knights of Malta) built the original fort.
isabel is online now  
Oct 24th, 2019, 07:41 AM
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I am a big fan of Marseille so I am very happy to see you promoting it. Too many people are stuck on its rather shabby reputation of 20 years ago and they incorrectly think that they will get a better Mediterranean experience on the Côte d'Azur. Marseille is so much better!
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Oct 24th, 2019, 09:36 AM
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Continued thanks, isabel! I'll add Baltimore to the city combo you described! Julia and Paul Child were stationed there after Paris and she loved it.
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Oct 24th, 2019, 02:19 PM
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Calanques National Park Boat trip. €30, 3¼ hours, departs at the top corner of the Vieux Port (2 minute walk from the hotel). There are two options, the ‘grand’, which I did, and the ‘petite’ (24€, 2¼ hr). About 3 of each per day unless the seas are too rough and then they cancel. Boats holds between 150 and 200 with upper deck outside and lower deck in and outside seating. Goes right by, but doesn’t stop at, Chateau d’If, famous as the site of the prison in the Count of Monte Cristo. The National Park consists of the coast between Marseille and Cassis and much of it lies within Marseille city limits which makes it the only European National Park within an urban area (though after the first ten minutes of the boat ride you would never know).Fjord like, steep inlets. Cliff faces overhang the sea attracts rock climbers and deep-sea divers. The coves cut deep into limestone rock walls, forming pools of seawater that are as calm as lakes. Because the light reflects off the white limestone, the water appears a stunning turquoise color. It has the highest maritime cliffs in Europe.

One day I took Bus #83 for the ride out to the Vallon des Auffes, along the Corniche President John F Kennedy. The vallon is a three arch bridge over an inlet from the sea to a tiny harbor, which is the nearest Marseille gets to being picturesque, with small fishing boats beached on the rocks and narrow stairways leading nowhere. There are steps from the road down under the bridge to the harbor. I had read that the Corniche was ‘dominated by elegant late-19th C. belle époque villas’. Not quite, there are a few but mostly it’s 20th century rather homely buildings, but the view of the water is fabulous, multi shades of blue and green, white rock. There are a couple of small ‘beach’ areas (the one actual beach is further down the road), some boats, views out to Chateau d’If. Worth taking the bus to the area and walking along the cornice for a ways but would be a boring walk to try to walk there from the city center or to walk further than the Vallon des Auffes, as it goes inland for quite a ways. Bus 83 is frequent and takes 10 minutes from Vieux Port.

Other parts of Marseille: Le Panier may be where centuries of immigrants settled, but the neighborhood between the port and the train station (east) is where the newest immigrants are. A neighborhood with fast food and cheap clothing stores and run down buildings. There is an “Arc d’Triompe” smack in the middle of it though. It becomes a little more ‘colorful’ south of La Canebiere. Interesting how within a block or two a neighborhood completely changes character. The area between Cours Julien and Capucins has a large street market with fruit and vegetable stands and stores selling meat and fish and all manner of ethnic foods. But rue Sainte Ferreol becomes a pedestrianized shopping area with all the international chains (including one of the nicest H&Ms I’ve ever seen). On Le Canebiere, the main boulevard running east-west down to the Vieux Port, there are chain stores but also some more interesting local stores. So a real mish-mash – some streets totally run down and quite ‘sketchy/hang on to your bag type’, others quite upscale, some buildings boring and run down, others beautiful Parisian like.

I considered going to the Museum of European Civilizations but reviews said you really need an audio guide if you don’t speak French, and I don’t like audio guides. Reviews in general were mediocre so I decided instead to try the Musee de Savon (museum of Soap) since soap is such a big thing in Marseille. Savon de Marseille is a traditional hard soap made from vegetable oils that has been produced around Marseille for about 600 years. The first documented soap maker was recorded there in 1370. By 1688, Louis XIV introduced regulations limiting the use of the name savon de Marseille to olive oil based soaps. By the 1920s there were 132 soap companies but today there are just 5. Traditionally, the soap is made by mixing sea water from the Mediterranean, olive oil, and the alkaline ash from sea plants in a large cauldron, then heated for several days, stirring constantly. It is then poured into a mold, cut into bars and stamped. The whole process can take up to a month. The museum is privately owned by a guy who has had soap makers in his family for generations. He charges €2 but gives you a ticket you then take next door for a bar of soap worth €1.75 so the museum is effectively free. Small but well done.
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