We left our once again noisy hostel for the bus station just a few minutes away to catch a bus for Aix-en-Provence. We had checked out the main station previously and found the bus we were looking for like the organised tourists that we are. Plus, with all the issues we had had with transport in Nice we didn’t want to leave it to chance. We turned up at the station thirty minutes early to find it closed, and with no sign showing where our bus would be stopping. We asked one bus driver who said we needed to be far, far away at some other stop, waiting for a bus that would be arriving in approximately two minutes time. Flag that. We’d had enough of busses and their useless ways. We’d had enough of noisy, useless hostels and carrying our bags up all the buildings in France without elevators. We’d had enough of being unwell with colds, sunburn and mysterious eye infections. We had loved Nice, but it really didn’t love us back. We went back to the train station instead, hoping to find a train leaving that day for Marseille, where it would be easier to get to Aix. Instead we found a train leaving directly for Aix, at a cheaper ticket price than the bus. Go figure. With our spare time and money we went to ‘Flunch’ for lunch – a Dennys-esque diner that we frequented while in France on a school trip in 2006. We can now report that absolutely nothing has changed – even the way they laugh at you for asking for your steak well cooked. We somehow dragged our bags through the streets of Aix-en-Provence a few hours later, up to the lift-less top floor (of course) of the new hotel. We immediately lay down on our double bed (it was bound to happen at some stage) and rested. It was a couple of hours later that we realised our tiny room with tiny ensuite bathroom had no door between the two. This was just night one of two we would have to enjoy this interesting new extravagance.
We spent our only full day in ‘Axe’ doing what we do best – eating, wandering and looking at souvenir stalls. We both bought giant tubs of strawberries at the fruit market and got lost in the streets eating them. There were a surprising number of tourists for such a pretty wee place, though perhaps they were all visiting the oldest café in Europe that we didn’t know about until after we had left. Probably walked right past it. Hayley’s eye was no longer scary to look at and it was our turn to be told to be quiet at 11pm because we were playing Glee episodes too loud.
Finding our way back to the train station we bought tickets in “parfait” French (thank you lovely ticket lady who spoke English anyway) for our next and last destination in France, Marseilles. Our hostel was another of these highly rated ones, and just a minute’s walk away from the train station, so we were already big fans. We were first to our dorm room of six beds so got to pick to the two beds up on a loft above the others. With two entire bathrooms (doors included) in the single dorm room this was easily one of the nicest places we have stayed. There were also free lollipops at reception. They really do know how to win us over. We left to explore the area, realising quickly that we were in a shadier part of town where women were near extinct and men gathered in doorways, cafes and on street corners to do absolutely nothing all day long except for discuss old man matters and watch lost tourists idle past. We found the marina at the heart of the city, which offered a pretty view and some pretty interesting smells wafting off the sea. We found our way home with very little difficulty considering Marseille is the second biggest city in France – no prizes for guessing the first – and had a quiet night enjoying our essentially private room.
At sometime during the wee hours of the morning two of the men in our room had a snore-off. Apparently Nice was just a warm up. Fortunately we managed a bit of a sleep in to make up for it. It was a sticky hot day so we grabbed a bus headed for one of the nicer beaches in Marseille, according to the man at reception. We found it by following some girls in bikinis – probably a little creepy but a good enough punt. In the car park area we were asked for cigarettes by a preschooler, France is really starting them young these days, though to be fair he may have actually been nine or ten. Suddenly, beach? Dotted amongst the rugged rocky shoreline there were patches of ‘fake beach’ that could’ve been mistaken for sandy car parks. We found a cosy possie on a less jagged patch of rock and managed not to get too sunburnt while lying in the sun this time around. Dinner was once again bought from the supermarket on the way home, though we treated ourselves to an award winning (3 Euro) bottle of rosé to share over some episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
We dedicated our next day to the local area for some souvenir shopping, treat trying and wandering. We picked our way through the hordes of beggars, through the streets of the old town and along the waterfront before walking up the hill in some serious heat and sunshine to see the Notre-Dame de Garde. There are lots of churches in France but this one is particularly funky looking because of its zebra-like tiling patterns looking more art deco than anything built a casual few centuries ago. They had also left a lot of the bullet wounds up around the walls of the building from a battle there in the Second World War. It was a sticky trek uphill but the view was gorgeous and we had all afternoon to walk back down. When we did find our legs again to walk back home we passed by beggars who were moving from table to table at a restaurant shaking cups of coins at people. As pretty as Marseille is, it is not the place to enjoy a peaceful dinner outside.
Even though we had intended on checking out the ‘Calanques’ on Friday we had a look at the weather report and noted the pretty pictures of black puffs with blue pebbles falling out of them and decided to reschedule. Instead we relaxed at our cosy hostel reading all day. The only rumbles to be heard were those of our tummies as we ventured out into the sunshine under a clear blue sky for an assault on our favourite supermarket.
On Saturday we got up early – 8am – for a full day at the Calanques. A natural formation of inlets near Cassis around past the coast of Marseille and currently featuring on approximately fifty percent of all postcards sold in the region. We went to buy tickets for a bus and again ended up buying some for the trains, once again due to the fact that busses are useless and trains are amazing. With a bit of time to spare we went back to the hostel for a proper bread and jam breakfast buffet, with both of us returning for seconds and indulging in thirds of coffee. From the train we took a shuttle into Cassis to find yet another pretty little place full of terracotta playhouses and minty green shutters. We spent only a little time looking along the main street before checking out the boats that visited some of the Calanques. Within minutes we were climbing aboard a little vessel with a handful of other tourists and a guide who we couldn’t understand in either French or English. We visited three of these perfectly green-blue clear watered beaches, getting very snap happy along the way before being dropped back off into the village. After souvenirs came ice cream, and after ice cream came an afternoon in the surf and in the sun. We were much more careful with our sunscreen application than in Nice, yet after a few hours of exhausting time spent lying in the sunshine we were certain that it would be still winning somehow. We caught the shuttle bus back to the train station, where of course, since the bus was late by several minutes, we had to wait another hour for hour train. It’s a good thing after three years of university each we had both learned the meticulous art of time wasting. It wasn’t long before our train took us back to Marseille, and our feet carried us to our supermarket once again for some serious spending on goodies for dinner. It was our last night in our loft, we’d blown the budget and due to a 95% accurate sunscreen application we ended up looking a little like crosses of leopards and zebras with splotches and stripes of pink in odd areas. It was on many accounts, a perfect last day in France.
Marseille is seriously hot all year around and on our last night a girl tried to suffocate us by closing the windows. Seriously, and unfortunately, some people are just born idiots and we can only hope we are not forced into cohabitation with this strange breed. Waking up to sweat and heat at 3am was not ideal and violently wrenching the windows open again was probably a far too passive-aggressive approach. Morning came and we packed our bags, left them at the hostel and went for a final walk around the town. When we were accosted by coin-in-cup shaking beggars on the main street we told them we were hungry too and went to find some lunch. Later another woman approached us asking for money with her child in tow, crying about her baby and asking for money. Hayley offered a piece of the plain baguette she was eating only to have her continue asking for money. We glared at her and she took the baguette. We wasted away the rest of the day back at the hostel using their wifi to watch movies and tv shows. At 7pm we pulled our bags out in the hostel kitchen, changed into jeans and brushed our teeth before heading out into the big wide world again for our next adventure.