6 June 2012 11:00 

A round up of a few recent activities.

The Calanques

The calanques are a series of limestone inlets to the east and south of Marseille. They end near the town of La Ciotat.   One sunny, cool Saturday we took the metro to the Prado stop. We then got on bus #19, which heads down the coast.  At the end of that bus line we switched to bus #20, which is the size of an airport hotel shuttle. After a fifteen minute winding ride, the bus ride ended at the little town of Callelongue.  Happily Annie had not barfed during the bus ride. There’s not much to the town: a few restaurants, a little cove with a few boats,  and a few houses.

We took a trail out of the town around towards the water. That was a bad idea, because the mistral was up. After we rounded a bend and came in view of the water, we were hit by the wind. It was really blowing – easily forty miles per hour. We held on to Catherine to make sure she would not blow away. The views were spectacular and the wind blew the air clear. But the wind was too strong so we hiked over a ridge where it was calmer. We munched ham, cheese, and baguette sandwiches among the pine, juniper, and rosemary shrubs. The return hike on the protected side of the ridges was much nicer.

A lot of the good trails in the calanques require a car, which we don’t have. Our next trip will be using public transportation bus #21, which ends at the Écoles Supérieures des Beaux-Arts etd’Architecture. From there it is a one hour walk  to the Calanque de Sugiton.

A cruise

Never say never: I went on a cruise. I love boats and the water, but I’ve always considered a cruise something that undertaken by the lazy, the retired, or the handicapped. Sort of a floating, bloated Hometown Buffet meets slot machines, bingo, and daytime tv.

In late April the kids began a two week Spring break, and for the second week of it we took a six day cruise. The boat was the Costa Serena, sister  ship to the Costa Concordia (shaken, stirred, and on the rocks). On a Sunday we took the train from Marseille to Nice, then got on a bus which took us to Savona, Italy. We went through a check in process not unlike boarding an airplane. The boat terminal in Savona was very nice: modern, laid out like an airplane terminal.

We had two adjacent, ocean facing cabins on the eighth deck, port side, all the way forward. Each cabin had a little outside deck with tables and chair. The cabins were very nice, and the bathroom and overall plumbing were much better than those in our Marseille apartment.

The Costa Serena is a monster ship: restaurants, shops, stages, bars, casinos, work out room, pools, and so on.  While we were on the boat we never saw the boys (part of the point of the vacation). There were few English speaking guests and we met no other Americans. The decor was a variation on a theme from Caesar’s Palace amplified by psilocybin mushrooms.

Our first night we sailed from Savona to Civitavecchia, the port city an hour north of Rome. After a day trip to Rome, we sailed overnight to Palermo, Sicily. A hot day in Sicily, then a full day at sea. We spent a day in Palma on the island of Mallorca, then a full day in Valencia. The trip ended in Marseille.

Besides being surprised that I enjoyed the cruise, the most unexpected part of the trip was the Oceanografic in the new City of Science in Valencia, Spain. It’s as good as the Monterey Bay Aquarium  – they even have one of those crazy Sun fish (mola mola) there. The aquariums and exhibits are first class. This was a great last stop on our trip, and a refreshing change from all the churches, castles, and all that other old stuff.


Cassis is a town I had heard of before coming to Marseille. However, I never realized how close it was: just twelve miles away. It’s mostly a vacation destination, sort of like Carmel, but not at all depressing like Carmel is. Cassis was originally a fishing village and grape growing region (a happy combination) with a very nice beach.  It was a nice change from the main beach in Marseille –  Plage des Catalans. This beach in downtown Marseille looks like Linda Mar near Pacifica: trash, rubber gloves, and other nastiness. The last time Catherine and I were at the Plage des Catalans there was a life sized plastic baby doll, with the head, arms, and one leg missing; it was disturbing.

On a Saturday we took the train with an Australian family, the Whites. The Whites are renting the apartment across the street and are in Marseille until November. The train ride was only twenty minutes. At the train station in Cassis we hopped on a little bus which shuttled us in to town. It was rainy and windy that day, and it didn’t look like a good day for travel.

We went into a Franco-Mexican restaurant for an early lunch. The pizzas and local wine (a fruity red delivered in a no label bottle) were perfect. When we emerged the day had turned sunny and clear, not a hint of rain or clouds.  I spent the rest of the day on the beach with the kids while the adults shopped in town.

Chateau d’If

We’ve been out to the Iles d’Frioul, but we had not yet been out to the Chateau d’If.  Again with the Whites, we took a ferry from the old port of Marseille out to the island.  It’s a ten minute boat ride.

The chateau is an old fort turned prison turned fort again, and now a tourist stop. Most of the exhibits are devoted to Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. For this reason it feels like a small town in the Midwest that was the birthplace of someone famous. But for that lucky accident, no one would ever visit that town. So it is with d’If; but for Dumas’s book, there would only be a fraction of the displays.

Still it’s worth the trip. Like that other island prison, Alcatraz, there are good views of the surrounding area.

 La Baguetterie

Daily trips, always open, never disappointed.

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