Paris is quite dreary this time of year. Even if it is not raining, the sun is never not buried behind thick, dull gray clouds, and the days are so short it barely registers as a day anyway. I find myself exhausted and ready to go to sleep at 6:30 pm because it's already been dark for hours. I rally. I fight. I try not too be too crabby. I take my vitamin D pills.
Happily, there is a lot going on, from the holiday markets to tons of good museums having great exhibits. Like this gem at d'Orsay. Feast yer eyes:
That will warm you up nicely.
A friend in town is as good excuse as any to take a short trip. It wasn't much warmer in Marseille, but oh, the sun! It's almost always sunny and dry in the south, cold be damned.
We tried the new budget train service to get there called Ouigo. For a mere 50 euros, two round trip tickets on the TGV can be had. There are several catches: good luck if you need customer service. They have none, and despite the fact that you can access the site in English, no one will respond to you via email in anything but French. Not such a big deal for me, but it could put a big damper on your trip if something goes wrong. You have to pay extra for luggage bigger than what will fit under your seat. You have to print your own tickets in advance or face a 5€ fine, there is no cafe car which means no social scene on long trips, and there is generally just a cattle-car mentality about the whole fiasco. I half expected to share the train with chickens and assorted livestock, but the crowd was a bit rougher sort than the regular TGV. But hey, for €10 you can be whisked away and be on the Mediterranean coast in three hours, and that's practically a miracle. I had several emails announcing "schedule changes" that were all over the place- one saying my train in January 2013 has been changed, which is funny because the service didn't even exist then. They are still working out their system it seems. Also, last minute they emailed me with a seat assignment change, which I couldn't print out in time, and yup. They charged me 10€ to print out the last-minute tickets that they changed, with no way around except to miss the train.
Oh, the other inconvenience: the train from Paris leaves no where near Paris, but from the end of the RER A at Disneyland. It ads another 12€ for train ticket to get to the train, which is more than I paid for the TGV ticket. It takes about 45 minutes to get there from downtown Paris. Again, worth it? Maybe, considering the regular TGV to Marseille can cost between 80-150€. We had to listen to some drunk yahoo brag about all the times he got drunk and passed out and had his wallet stolen and was arrested in all sorts of countries and now he's going to Disney, which made me want to steal his wallet and beat him with it, but it's not a bad train ride.
The trip itself was fine though...it got us to where we needed to be (and back) on time, and with no chickens pecking at me.
I found Marseille to be totally charming. I had heard it was a little rough. While it might be away from the downtown area, I didn't see it. It was a really sweet place, up and coming, and filled with art. They were doing a big push this year to call it a "Culture Capital" of Europe and bring in tourist, so there has been a lot of weird cool art stuff going on.
We spent a couple of days wandering around. While it was quiet as beach-towns get in the off season, it is also a big enough city so there was a going on anyway. I'm sure it's hopping in July and August, but we enjoyed having it to ourselves and exploring and ducking in to cafes and shops to warm ourselves.
There were lots of markets, and one exclusively devoted to people making tiny nativity scene figures. It's a specialty here, along with soaps and boat-shaped pastries.
Marseille is still a working fishing port, with a morning fish market harborside.
Boot scrapers line every stoop, and for good reason. Like Paris, absolutely no one picks up after their dogs.
I used them often.
A strenuous climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde was almost perfectly timed with the sunset. What is this sunset? I have not seen one in ages it seems.
Back down by the old port, I found my new favorite wine bar.
The food to be had was pretty good. We didn't spend much time researching or trying to find the best of anything, but it seemed easy enough to stumble upon decent food for not a whole lot of money. Also...kebap stands were everywhere, and open very late. This is always an endearing to me.
We spent an afternoon exploring La Panier, the old town.
It has winding steep streets and cute old Provincial homes and friendly neighborhoody places to explore. And explore we did.