We’re here! We made it to Marseille – the first stop on our year-long European adventure!
After landing at the airport, we took a coach shuttle bus to the Gare St. Charles near the city centre of Marseille. The trip took about 25 minutes and was a convenient and affordable way to get downtown. As we left the station, we passed several ornate Romanesque statues and buildings. It was our first taste of a beautiful old city that is part French, part Latin, and is entirely different from what we’ve ever seen before.
As an ancient port city, the monuments and buildings contain a lot of ship imagery.
Marseille is the oldest and the second-largest city in France. It is located on France’s southern coast along the Mediterranean Sea, and is part of the French Riviera. The city was founded in 600 B.C.E. by Greek settlers in a location known now as the Vieux (Old) Port. The city was known to the Ancient Greeks and Massalia and Romans as Massilia.
The streets are narrow and the coloured shutters on the buildings are a little weathered. Graffiti peppers the alleyways. Every time you turn a corner, there is another beautiful old church or grand stone building. It’s fair to say that Marseille looks a little grittier than Paris, but it is definitely quieter and more relaxed.
Like Paris, the Republique neighbourhood of Marseille has several Haussman-style apartments (shown below).
They are intermixed with other Mediterranean-style buildings the colour of sand. Many of the buildings have orange terracotta roof tiles.
Also like Paris, Marseille even has its own Arc De Triomphe! The arch below is known as the Porte d’Aix and marks the old entry point into the city on the road from Aix-en-Provence. The arch was first proposed in 1784 with the intention of glorifying Louis XIV (the Sun King) and the Peace of Paris, in which representatives from Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty that ended the American War of Independence. (If there’s one thing I learned from Paris and all of the miniature Statues of Liberty we found around the city, it’s that France felt it had a bit of a personal stake in the success of that war). A few minor delays (such as the French Revolution, the Napoleonic era, the re-establishment of the monarchy) prevented the first stone from being laid until 1825, and the project was finally finished in 1839. However, the intervening political circumstances between conception and completion of the monument meant that the arch could no longer celebrate a specific political campaign or figure. (Sorry Louis). As a result, the Porte d’Aix is representative of a more general theme of French victory.
History lesson complete, we then found our way to Le Panier, the neighbourhood our apartment is located in. Like Le Marais, where we stayed in Paris, Le Panier is an older residential area that hosts some of the city’s oldest buildings. We can see the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde (Our Lady of the Guard) from our windows.
After nearly 24 hours of travel, we were (well, more like just Leah was) too tired to do little more than make it up the stairs of our five-storey walk-up. Neil picked up some groceries and made dinner while Leah tried to remember what it’s like to feel human. The night became velvet, we blew a breaker when we tried to plug in a cheap power bar, and we settled in for a dark night’s rest.
Not too bad for our first day – we are definitely excited to see more of the city in the next two weeks.
Neil made a video that documents the beginning of our adventure. Check it out below, and subscribe to our channel on YouTube!