Sunday, March 29, 2015

from La Napoule to Marseille

On my last morning in La Napoule, I am up before sunrise. [Today the sun breaks over the horizon just after 6. Tomorrow, Europe moves into Daylight Savings Time and so it will be just after 7. I think it's quite unfair that I have to lose an hour twice this year, having already "sprung forward" once in early March!]

I walk along the coastal path toward  Theoule-sur-Mer. To the east, the sky is a burning red. I see the tip of the Cannes peninsula and, too, Sainte Marguerite island.

France -4.jpg

Behind me now are La Napoule's harbor, the castle and of course, the Alps.

France -6.jpg

The sea is calm. A ripple of a wave, the noise of a gull, nothing else. I reach a higher point on the trail and I pause to watch.

No matter how many times I witness a sunrise, it never ceases to thrill me.

France -10.jpg

Time to turn back.

As the sun moves quickly, seemingly gaining speed on its ascent, the town of La Napoule wakens. A fisherman stands at the pier, another boat sets out toward the sea.

France -22.jpg

Yes, I'll have a beautiful day on the coast of the Mediterranean.

But I'm leaving La Napoule. I tidy the apartment, finish packing and catch the 9:47 to Cannes.

I need to go back to Cannes to catch the speed demon from there to Marseille. I have a bit of a layover in Cannes and I use it to find a breakfast. This isn't hard: the Cannes station, unlike for example the one in Nice or really in any other city, is not remote to pleasant strolling neighborhoods. Within a block I find Da Laura's (the same place I had an espresso yesterday), where the waiters speak (some would say sing) French and Italian interchangeably and the atmosphere is both funky and very pleasant. It helps, too, that many of the tables are in full sun.

Oddly enough, this will be my only breakfast of the trip in a cafe (all others are included in the price of the room except, of course in La Napoule and we know how happy I was not to seek out any place there other than my balcony for my morning meal).

France -8.jpg

But there is something pleasant about joining humanity for the morning send off and I quite enjoy my cappuccino and my pain au chocolat in Cannes.

France -4-2.jpg

I check my phone clock frequently. I don't want to miss my train to Marseille.

I'll be in Marseille only one night. Honestly, I'm stopping there only because I want to visit Odile, the inn keeper at Les Acanthes. Sometimes, in the course of a stay, you just get close enough to the host that you wouldn't think of passing through the area without a return. That surely is the case with Odile.

We have a pizza date for this evening, but in the afternoon, I use my few hours here to go down to the Marseille port. I had not seen the new museum recently opened at the water's edge - the MuCEM, focusing on European and Mediterranean civilizations. And so after checking in and greeting Odile...

France -15.jpg
(Les Acanthes)

France -12.jpg
(blue room this time)

...I once again go down to the sea. Same sea, same sun, different port!

But, too, different weather patterns! This is the part of Provence that is occasionally buffeted by the furious wind that runs down the Rhone River valley -- the mistral -- and Marseille is this week experiencing such an event. I had left my jacket behind, noting it was in the mid sixties. Not so the populace of Marseille! They know better, as they zip up their winter coats (you'll notice this in the photos).

(Here's a photo of a girl on a rather wild looking horse of the merry-go-round. I imagine he's fighting the Provence winds!)

France -19.jpg

The Old Harbor is abuzz with people. Musicians playing, families, couples, friends -- out for a Saturday stroll.

France -70.jpg

France -56.jpg

France -69.jpg

I don't pause. I have a lot of ground to cover in my one afternoon here. I head straight to the old fort that juts out to the sea. It has been incorporated into the MuCEM complex and this whole area of Marseille is now stunning in its presentation (it's an architectural masterpiece combinging the old fort, the latticed in steel new structure, gardens walkways and platforms -- all of it just opened in 2013 and it is possibly the most beautiful museum complex I have ever seen). Between the wind tossing me about and chilling me just enough to want to keep moving and my inability to take in the whole from any one vantage point, you'll not see great photos. Here are some, giving just a hint of an impression of the place.

France -42.jpg

France -54.jpg

France -30.jpg
(new pants!)

I climb the old fort tower to look down to the Old Port (which right now is filled with sailboats, as opposed to the new port further down the coast which is filled with cargo ships and the occasional cruise vessel).

France -39.jpg

But I don't have photos from inside the museum. The exposition is a fascinating interactive display, depicting agricultural and scientific developments of the Mediterranean basin and, too, tracing the three religions that dominated and viewed Jerusalem as their holy city. There is no point in photographing any of it, though I spend an hour catching bits and pieces of the stories articulated through words, films, canvases, old relics and sculpture here.

Outside again, I am close to the open waters and here, the wind gusts really play havoc with you.  Here's a trilogy of a girl, running to her dad as the wind picks up. The first photo is a funny one, as I could not keep my hair out of the camera's lens! By the third photo, the gust had come and gone.

France -51.jpg

France -52.jpg

France -53.jpg

(Here's another way to photograph the wind:)

France -58.jpg

I walk then into the old town itself. My pain au chocolate from Cannes is wearing thin -- I want some refreshment, preferably of a warm kind. I walk to the square with the numerous cafes and restaurants, but nothing seems right (I have already rejected the dozens of places that spill out onto the Old Port. I can get really fussy about these things.)

France -59.jpg

I walk on and then, in an indifferent set of blocks, I come across this place -- you'll see, too, that it looks very ordinary on the outside.

France -68.jpg

It's a cafe tea shop and I want to remember it for the future because it is just really delightful. Tiny inside -- only four tables, so hope for a vacant one or go on a warm day!

I have a wonderful pot of tea and a small cookie and the world looks good again!

France -67.jpg

And again I walk, past the port and into the commercial center of Marseille. I wont repeat what I already once wrote about this city, just this basic fact: it's France's second largest city, by far the most diverse and diversity here has both served it well and has not presented the same issues faced elsewhere in France. But Marseille is also the poorest by far of French cities and every time I am here, some older, wizened type comes up to me and reminds me to watch my purse and camera. The snatching of property here is very very common.

But I like my walk through it. And I tell myself I should remember it as fondly as I always remember Nice. And especially in the immediate years while Odile is still running the guest house in her mother's former home. Because as Odile tells it -- she herself is getting old. In another few years, Les Acanthes will move on to new owners and that wont be the same for me.

It's nearly evening when I return to the neighborhood of Les Acanthes. I pick up a bouquet of flowers for Odile in a beautiful local flower shop (the florist is putting on the finishing touches)...

France -72.jpg

... and I join Odile and her friend Pierre for an evening of very animated conversation (I worry about this each time I am with them, as they are quite impassioned and I'm always afraid of getting lost in all that rapid fire French -- they make no allowances for my slower ear!). At the end, I come out knowing just a little bit more about where the French anxieties lie about their country, their leadership, their future.

A simple dinner of vegetable soup, pizza, liquorish ice cream.

France -7.jpg

A couple of photos of Odile and her dogs: she has three, plus a cat and they all completely love each other.

France -8-2.jpg
(count the three pooches)

France -3.jpg

We lose that hour tonight and so it feels especially late when I finally give in to sleep. Such a beautiful, windy, fascinating, lively and very long day!