Inspired by their visit to Marseille last May, Hans and Cia, now married, returned to the city for their autumn vacation. The times that I was free to join them we let the weather dictate the plan for the day. It was not always the weather that was an issue. Our first plan to visit Palais Longchamp did not work as we found out that the tram taking you there was not running. Continuing on foot and finally arriving at Vieux Port with all its anchored boats and ferries, Cia thought it would be nice to make a boat tour.
That’s what we did, taking a ferry boat to the Frioul archipelago, a group of four islands, one of which is Chateau d’If, a former fortress, and later ‘prison island’, famous for the great escape story ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, by Alexandre Dumas. I was not sure if I would end up with sharp pictures as the wind was fierce and the boat wobbling, challeng- ing my grip on the camera. ISO 400 and a fast shutter speed did the trick.
Seeing Marseille from the Frioul archipelago gives quite another attractive view of the city. Like the Calanques, the four islands are of limestone, and fall under the protection of the Calanques National Park. Formerly the archipelago formed a city defence line but over time things have changed. Since 1974, there is a small village with a marina, making the islands attractive for day and weekend visitors.
It was sunny and fiercely windy but we were impressed by the low growing vegetation on the islands, which cover about two hundred species. A high variety of succulents, and one flower plant we had never seen before. When we saw cactus with its red fruits we knew they were edible, but when Hans and Cia tried to pick one their fingers got covered with tiny needles. Better to say “Don’t eat the cactus fruits!”
After a good walk in strong wind we reached a point where we decided not to go farther. The thought to go to the village for a meal made it easier to brace for the wind a second time. A curious late lunch it was, steak hachée and frites inside a baguette. On the boat back to the city it became quite stormy, it was safer to stay inside the boat instead of outside on the deck. Not exactly an escape story but an unexpected island adventure.
The next day, the tram was available but it was also raining. Still, the visit to Palais Longchamp could proceed for viewing the paintings at its Musée des Beaux-Arts. Hans and I wondered why painter Jean-Baptiste Olive was so well dressed, with hat and all while in painting pose, at an open window that has a view on the Vieux Port of Marseille. Probably to look good on the painting. Later on the day, since it was still raining, we visited the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, which gives a diverse and in-depth history of Marseille starting at 60,000 BC with an as diverse collection of artefacts.
Another sunny day made for an inviting opportunity to explore Aix en Provence. I had in mind to visit the garden of Caumont Centre d’Art, which is part of an 18th century mansion. There was currently no exhibition as they were preparing the one on Chagall that starts on November the first. Caumont Mansion is worth seeing for its quiet courtyard, ornamental mansion, French-style café and the little but beautifully designed garden. Having a cup of afternoon tea in a French garden. How very chic.
The main centre of Aix en Provence is made of historical buildings, narrow streets, numerous cafés with terraces and is vibrant with people. The old town radiates youth as it is a university centre popular with international students, while being situated in a mountainous landscape that inspired painter Cezanne, and many other artists, then and now. And, Cours Mirabeau is the most picturesque avenue in Aix for people to meet.
And then there was the second meeting, neither in Marseille, nor in Aix. Dave and Anara were on a month-long journey in Europe. They are friends from California, and had visited Zürich, Florence and would come from Arles to Cassis, which is not far from Marseille. Hans, Cia and I took the bus to Cassis on a Saturday morning and explored its alluring coastline before meeting with Dave and Anara at the Vieux Port of Cassis.
Dave and Anara came from Arles where they had stayed for a week, the place where painter Vincent van Gogh spent his last years. They had intensively explored the town and its culture, and loved it. We talked current affairs, our individual interests, drank and ate a little, and after a few hours it was time for us to fetch the shuttle bus to the Cassis train station for our train to Marseille. The next day, Hans and Cia flew back to the Netherlands. Dave and Anara continued their voyage to Paris, then to Zürich for their return flight to the USA. The following days, the weather was no good for travel.