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Posts tagged ‘Marseille’

No. 178: Bullet Trains


High-speed trains or TGVs are definitely one of the things I love about France.

With Paris as the main hub for the bullet-train network, it makes it very easy to avoid the highways and the airports when traveling around France or Europe. It also makes it very easy to go, go, go and discover new places. The key of course is planning and booking early, although last minute deals can sometimes be had.

Believe it or not, every day an astonishing 450 trains traveling to 230 destinations crisscross the network traveling as fast as 201 mph (322kph)! Nine hundred kilometers from Paris to Marseille in only three hours is ridiculously fast, and ridiculously pleasant. Barcelona is only six hours away and Zurich just four. Plus, with the added bonus of often arriving right in the heart of a city, it always seems like we have an extra day for holidaymaking rather than traveling. Three-day trips are actually three-day tips. Train travel, j’adore.


Meanwhile back at the homestead, I’ve lost track of the various roadblocks the US Congress has thrown in the way of high-speed travel in America, but I sure wish they’d all just get along and get on board and let us get on board, literally. Imagine traveling the 2,500 miles from LA to NYC in a half a day. One can dream…but right now I’m enjoying the high-speed reality in France.

No. 153-154: Cinemas and the UGC Illimité


I love going to the movies. I always have. My daddy was a big filmgoer and I have many fond memories of us watching movies together. One of my best memories with him is sitting through JAWS three times on Denver’s largest movie screen in the summer of ’75 and, by the way, still being scared out of our wits when the credits rolled for the final time.



Well, luckily for me, I now live in a country with the highest number of movie screens per million inhabitants: 89…versus 60 in Germany, 56 in the UK, and 24 in Japan. In Paris, the weekly what’s-on-in-Paris guide, the PariScope, usually has 50-60 pages listing all the films showing in the city. That’s a lot of movies, my friends.

The number of Art Houses in France also seems much higher than other places I’ve lived and there are lots of exciting film festivals held around the country throughout the year.

And here’s a small bit of history that I just discovered: France is also home to the world’s oldest surviving cinema. The Eden Theatre in La Ciotat (in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region near Marseille) just re-opened a few months ago after a massive and spectacular overhaul. The Eden is the theatre where the Lumière brothers showed the very first moving picture to a dazed and frightened audience in 1899. The 50-second black-and-white silent movie, filmed in 1895, shows a train pulling into la Ciotat station and passengers getting on and off. The audience was so spooked by the train hurling towards them that they dove from their seats in horror, at least that’s how the story goes…

…oh, the French, they do love their stories and films (and everyone else’s too)…and boy have we’ve come a long way, Baby, since that first chugging choo-choo.

In 2014, we English speakers in France have to be patient as we wait for the new releases from the US and the UK to arrive, but eventually most everything comes our way. They’ve even started running French films with French subtitles for the hearing impaired, or the linguistically challenged (comme moi).

On top of that there are several cartes de fidélité which allow you to watch as many films as you want to (or are able to) for a monthly subscription. The best deal I’ve found is the UGC Illimité. Every month for a 20€ inscription, I can see a movie at one of 600+ different salles in Paris, as well as use my card when I’m traveling throughout France.

C’est super, génial, formidable, et chouette, n’est-ce pas? It’s hard not to become a film fanatic in France.


cartes de fidélité: frequent viewing/buying cards

C’est super, génial, formidable, et chouette, n’est-ce pas! That’s super, great, terrific and cool, don’t you think?

comme moi: like me

n’est-ce pas: isn’t that so/ don’t you think

salles: room, hall, screening room

And, by the by….


les Césars (the French equivalent of the BAFTAs and Oscars) are being handed out in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet as I publish this. François Cluzet (Intouchables) is hosting and there’s lots of French political drama unfolding as Julie Gayet the new “First Girlfriend” (sort of?) to the President  is up for a supporting actress award for Quai d’ Orsay. Stay tuned.

No. 32: Blue-and-White Stripes

One of the many happy surprises of our p’tit week-end down south was our encounter with stripes. I was thrilled to see that particular French cliché alive and well and wandering the streets of Marseille. En fait, les rues were bursting with stripes. Once we saw our first friend dressed in stripes, we started to see them everywhere. It was good fun stalking and photographing the best stripes, turning into un jeu du chat et de la souris. The cat holding the camera while the mice scurried through town.

The more blue-and-white stripes I saw, the more I wanted to learn the history behind the stripes. I always associated the stripes with the French sea and it turns out that the striped shirt was indeed part of the official uniform of the French Navy. The theory was that if there were a “man over board” he would be more easily spotted among the waves and brought to safety if he was wearing stripes. Originally the uniform had 21 stripes, each one symbolizing one of Napoleon’s victories. At the time the uniform was conceived, the majority of the French Navy was located in Brittany, so the shirt became known as the “Breton”.

The “Breton” became popular with the non-military crowd once Coco Chanel, enamored with the sailing shirt, made it part of her fashion line for the modern woman. By the early 1930s the blue-and-white stripes were considered haute couture, and in the decades that followed, the “Breton” featured prominently in French cinema and Hollywood’s motion pictures, until it reached a sort of iconic status.

Today in Marseille you see mostly blue-and-white stripes, with a healthy handful of red-and-white ones thrown in…such a playful break from the black-on-black of Par-ee!

If you haven’t already seen Audrey Tautou in Coco Before Chanel, take a look at this teaser. Moi, j’adore ce film! Maybe you will like it too.


En fait, les rues…  in fact, the streets…

Moi, j’adore ce film! Me, I adore/love this film.

un jeu du chat et de la souris: a game of cat and mouse

 un p’tit week-end: long weekend get-away (literally a small weekend)

No. 31: Savon de Marseille

IMG_8425I love the world famous soap from Marseille. The authentic product is made from vegetable oils, mostly olive oil, and must contain 72 percent oil to be stamped as savon de Marseille.

Marseille and Provence have been associated with soap making since the 16th century. According to The Insiders Guide to the Most Beautiful Part of France, “in 1900, 60 percent of the population was involved in soap-making in some capacity and records from 1908 state that the city then had 81 factories producing 140,000 tons (308 million pounds) of soap a year.” That’s a tremendous amount of soap!


Being crazy for color, I love to look at the colorful displays of soap found at every market in Marseille and Provence, but as far as washing up, I go for the natural miel et citron. With no artificial colors or dye. It smooths and nourishes and smells heavenly to boot…



savon de Marseille: soap from Marseille

miel et citron: honey and lemon


No. 30: Marseille

IMG_8137When Superman first decided we were going to Marseille for un p’tit week-end, I was a bit skeptical. But since he was planning and paying, I decided to just go with it…come what may. After all, my only experience with Marseille was a 4-day homestay in high school when my shockingly mature and impossibly gorgeous chain smoking host sister talked me in to cutting off most of my hair and buying a very expensive pair of pink and black striped pirate pants.

But during the month leading up to our visit, whenever I told my friends (both French and foreign) we were headed to Marseille, most of them asked, “Why?” and several told me, “Ce n’est pas une belle ville. C’est dangereux!” They wondered if I knew about all the crime in the city and was a prepared to fend off the pickpockets.

Feeling a bit discouraged I decided to checked my two “go-to” France guidebooks: Rick Steves’ FRANCE 2009 and Fedor’s FRANCE 2014. Turns out Rick doesn’t even mention Marseille, France’s second largest city, at all (at least in the 2009 version), and Fedor’s 800+ page book only gives the city seven pages, three of which list hotels and restaurants. What the heck??

So I went with very low expectations this past weekend and sadly, upon arrival the city seemed to match those expectations. On first appearance Marseille was gritty, dirty, poor, crowded, and loud, very, very loud. It reminded me of some cities we have visited in Egypt or Israel. Vibrant, but a little sketchy, dingy and rundown.

But within a day, the city began to grow on me because, frankly, Marseille is the real deal, not the cleaned up and polished deal, you find in Paris.

As a port city Marseille was heavily bombed during WWII and then rebuilt in the 1950, serving as an entrance for millions of immigrants during the ‘50s and ’60. There are French citizens from many different cultures, particularly North Africans, mostly Algerians. Refreshingly the people of Marseille come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. There was a lot of smiling going on, while at the same time wizened looks of lives intensely lived. The population looked genuine. No living in a bubble going on there. It seemed to me like hardship combined with ease, the residents taking life in stride.

I absolutely loved the colors of Marseille, from the clothing and cars, to the hair and jewelry and the shoes and the skin. The beautiful Mediterranean backdrop compliments it all.

It’s an active city with lots of runners, cyclists, volleyball clubs and, of course, sailors. The beaches aren’t filled with tourist, but rather local families playing silly games with their children in the surf. People say, “Excuse me,” when they collide. Even the waiters were friendly and kind (always a bonus in France).

I’m so very glad we went.

Bravo Superman and listen up all you travel writers: Marseille is guidebook worthy. Give it another go!


Ce n’est pas une belle ville. C’est dangereux! It’s not a nice city. It’s dangerous.

un p’tit week-end: a long weekend get-away 

No. 29: Autumn Colors in Provence

No. 27: Les Calanques, Cassis


So, this is how the conversation went:

Superman: “I want to go to the calanques!”

Nancy:  “What are the calanques?”

Superman: “ Fjords.”

Nancy: “What’s a fjord?”

Superman: “Fingers in a bay.”


calanques: a steep-walled inlet, cove, or bay that is developed in limestone, dolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coast. This calanque is Port Miou. Located in Cassis, 30 km southeast of Marseille.