Marseille, Cassis and the Calanques

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August 3rd 2015
Published: May 31st 2017
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I wake with a knot in my stomach. Today we are booked on a tour, and the tour includes a boat trip. The last time we went on a tour that included a boat trip it did not go well. Issy ended the tour wanting to kill someone. I hope that this tour will be better.

Issy decides she wants to conserve her energy for the tour, so I set off for a quick walk around Lourmarin on my own. I go into the Chateau de Lourmarin. The Chateau dates from the twelfth century and is on two levels. Some of the rooms are set up as they would have been a couple of hundred years ago, and others have museum pieces on display. It is very attractive, and there are good views from the second floor over the village and the surrounding countryside.

I walk back through the village. Someone has been taking their pet pig for a walk. They have left it outside a restaurant with its lead tied around the leg of a table. I don't think I've seen anyone take a pig for a walk before. The pig looks quite happy. It has its head down and is running its snout over the ground looking for any crumbs that someone might have dropped from the table.

We leave for Marseilles two hours before our tour is due to start. It is supposed to be just under an hour's drive, so we have left ourselves plenty of time. The GPS gets us to within a couple of kilometres of our pickup point without any problems. It then starts providing strange instructions. It tells us that we need to turn right in 800 metres, but 50 metres after telling us this it tells us to do a U turn. This doesn't make sense. We make the U turn and go around a long circuit until we find ourselves back where we started. We repeat the circuit three times looking for clues as to what we're doing wrong or where we should really be going. We have no idea. I am not happy. I'm not very happy at all. All this time I thought that only watching football and playing golf caused me to throw my toys out of my cot. It seems that I can now add listening to a GPS to this list. I find myself wanting to do unspeakable things to the GPS. I find myself screaming words that I didn't realise I even knew existed.

Eventually we see a sign to the hotel that we need to get to to join the tour. We follow the sign, but end up going around the same circuit yet again. We now have only fifteen minutes until we need to join the tour. We decide to park the car and walk to the hotel. Issy's phone GPS tells us that while the hotel is only a few minutes away by car, but this is via a tunnel under the harbour. It seems however that pedestrians aren't allowed in the tunnel, they need to walk several kilometres around the harbour. We find a taxi rank. If a taxi turns up in the next five minutes we will get to the hotel in time. Five minutes pass and we have not seen any sign of a taxi. I ring the tour company. They say they can wait ten minutes for us. A few minutes later they ring back to give us the option of joining a later tour. Disaster averted yet again. We breathe a sigh of relief. We walk around the harbour and eat lunch at a cafe next door to the hotel.

Our tour guide is Marie, and our fellow tourists are a couple from Toronto. We start our tour at the old port. This looks very familiar. We soon realise that this is where we spent half an hour driving around in circles listening to inane instructions from the GPS. Marie tells us that Marseille was founded by Greek sailors, and was a key location from which refugees tried to leave Europe during World War Two. The Nazis found it very difficult to find people here in the maze of streets, and eventually solved this issue by blowing up the whole area with dynamite. It was all rebuilt shortly after the war. We pass the Marseille Cathedral which dates back to the twelfth century. It looks very similar in style to the Siena Cathedral, with lots of horizontal black and white marble stripes. The tour is supposed to include another old church, but when we get there there is a funeral in progress. We don't think tourists would be too welcome at a funeral so we bypass this one. We continue on, and stop at a war memorial overlooking the beach. The water is an emerald green colour. There are a couple of restaurants on piers over the water where patrons sit on sun lounges and take dips when they get too hot. Issy says she thinks it would be good to work in Marseille. She says that if she worked here she would walk over the road every day at lunchtime for a quick dip.

We climb a hill to the Basilica of Note-dame de la Garde, which is right on top of the highest hill in Marseille and can be seen from everywhere in the town. Marie tells us that it is the symbol of Marseille, and was the site of a pivotal World War Two battle after which Marseille was retaken by the Allies. The views from the Basilica are spectacular, and we can see the whole town from here. There was a church on the site of the Basilica as early as the 13th century. This was destroyed in the 16th century, and a fort was then built here in the 17th century. The current church is built on top of the fort, and was consecrated shortly after it was completed in 1864.

We drive along the coast into the Calanques National Park and on to the village of Cassis, which is a based around a small yacht filled harbour surrounded by restaurants. It sits below some massive cliffs which Marie says are the highest in Europe. It is clearly very popular with both tourists and locals. The streets and beach are packed. We get into a small boat for a cruise around three of the Calanques which are otherwise known as the ‘fjords of the Mediterranean’. The scenery is spectacular. Each calanque is surrounded by tall white cliffs. There are boats moored in each of them, and lots of people are swimming and canoeing.

We drive up to the top of the cliffs above the village. We could see a single small cloud forming on the highest cliff from down in Cassis, in an otherwise cloudless sky. When we get to the top of the cliff this cloud has become much larger. There are strong upward air drafts, and these seem to be forming the cloud as we watch. It looks really spooky. It has obscured most of the view that we came to see, but it is a great sight in itself. We ask Marie if this is a common phenomenon. She tells us that she has never seen it before.

We think that it will be too late to eat by the time we get back to Lourmarin, so we decide to eat in Marseille. We find a restaurant with a menu in both French and English. The waiter speaks some English as well, so for the first time in three days we will have some idea what we will be eating before it arrives on the table. We are very happy. We decide that we will never again take menus and waiters that we can understand for granted. I order mussels in a blue cheese Roquefort sauce. It is very rich, very French and very nice.

We head back to the car. We program the GPS to take us back to Lourmarin. If only we'd known what was ahead. The GPS tries to take us onto a freeway. The freeway it wants to take us onto either doesn't exist or is closed for maintenance. Every time we fail to get on the Freeway the GPS takes us in a big loop so that we can try and fail again. It is now dark. We have no idea which direction is which, and we don't have a map. The GPS is our only available navigation tool, and it seems to be working off a roadmap from Roman times.

Eventually we decide to just drive on in any direction to get way from the endless loop, in the hope that if we do this the GPS will eventually find another route that doesn't involve non-existent freeways. This approach proves to be completely unsuccessful. The GPS keeps taking us back to the same spot. Along the way it takes us along a street that is reserved for trams, into a construction site that it thinks is a roundabout, and the wrong way down a one way street. I can't see. The windscreen keeps fogging up and we can't work out how to clear it. An angry local pulls up next to us and tells us our lights are on high beam. I expect to be arrested any minute. We hear a siren behind us. Issy asks me if this is the police wanting me to stop. The GPS has made me break enough road rules to warrant several years in jail. Issy is clearly thinking the same thing. I wonder if she will visit me in jail. I wonder how she'll find the jail. I don't think she'll be abel to rely on the GPS. Thankfully the siren is an ambulance. We try to break out of the loop, but find ourselves back in the port in exactly the same place as we were two hours previously. We are stuck in a never ending nightmare. Hopefully we will wake up soon.

I suggest a new strategy. We think that the GPS has just enough of a sense of direction to tell us whether we are travelling north, south, east or west. We decide that we will just drive north along whatever roads we can find. Hopefully this will eventually get us out of Marseille, and by the time we get far enough away from the GPS's imaginary freeway, it will hopefully be able to find us a route that consists of actual roads. We get back to Lourmarin at 1am. It was supposed to be a one hour drive and we have been in the car for four hours. I am brain dead. If I ever hear a GPS again it will be too soon.

I fall asleep. I dream. I am reading a newspaper. The headline reads ELDERLY GPS MURDERED. A GPS has been found murdered in Marseille. The body of an 87 year old Marseille GPS was pulled from the harbour at 1pm today local time. A police spokesman said that the body had suffered severe trauma and appeared to have been struck with a blunt instrument multiple times. It also appeared to have been brutally crushed and kicked, before being thrown into the harbour. A sixty year old Australian male has been taken into custody and is helping police with their enquiries. There are no other suspects. The man is understood to have made a full confession, and has shown no remorse for his actions. Australian consular officials are assisting the man, who is understood to be from Melbourne.......I wake up. Alas it was only a dream.

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