Not only did the weather turn cold in Paris, but I, also, (for the first time in my life) ‘lost’ my voice, and needed dental work that entailed two weeks of appointments. By the time we left for Marseilles on October 1, I had better teeth, and we both had our voices back.
It was a 5-hour train ride to Marseilles. Although we’d planned to picnic and watch the scenery (our first time in the French countryside) our ride was not what we’d expected, due to a couple reasons: 1) we’d been up until 3:30 a.m. saying our goodbyes to Terry, even though we had to arise before 7:00 a.m. to make our 9:00 a.m. departure time in S. Paris train station, and 2) we’d waited until the day before to purchase at tickets (hoping for some other, less expensive means of transportation to appear) and were obliged to accept the smoking section to get two seats together. We did have a picnic (standing up at the counter in the dining car) as planned – soft cheese, tomato, and avocado slices on fresh baked bread and some bottled water … yum, a favorite meal. The smoking car was intolerable for Eileen, but she was able to find a seat in a non-smoking car; I stayed with the guitars and packs since we couldn’t sit together, anyway. We both napped off and on as we rode through the French farmland, arriving in Marseilles at 2:00 p.m. only slightly more rested than when we’d left Paris.
We did have lodging arranged, but weren’t expected until 8:00 p.m.… we hadn’t discussed what we wanted to do in the afternoon! Although we’d only traveled through France, our first day in Marseilles was similar to our first day in Paris – we were wandering around in circles with all of the gear; without a map or direction/focus. Even though we decided to go see the Mediterranean, finding it and walking the 1.5 miles to where we could sit on a bench and look at it was draining, and even confusing. We were sitting on a bench in south France looking out over the Mediterranean, but we were not having a good day – amazing! Once again that first day in a new city had become an ordeal of disorientation and exhaustion. (In the future we would change our approach to arrival in a new city).
At 6:00 we decided to head for the address we’d been given – Marie-Pierre’s apartment (Terry’s ‘Ex’). We’d picked up a bus route map and although it was incomplete, we found our street and a bus that went to it. We put our packs back on, walked the 1.5 miles back to where we’d gotten off the Metro, and got on our bus. We rode almost 5 miles to the end of the line and still hadn’t found address (although we were on the proper street)… so close and yet so far away, as it turned out.
We showed the bus driver our address; he said we had to transfer to another bus and go further. We did that, but after more than a mile the bus left our street! We stopped the bus - this driver told us to transfer again and go back, then drove off. We were frustrated, still exhausted, and it was also getting dark as we began walking back the way the bus had just come. We spotted a group of teenage boys, and although none of them spoke English, they pointed us down a street and told us it was a long way in that direction at the top of a hill. (This road had very few streetlights and ran next to a railroad track). We started off, noticed a street sign (we were on the right road) and started watching for numbers. We spotted one and confirmed that we were going in the right direction (we just wanted to be at the apartment and out from under our packs!). Although it looked like a long walk ahead of us we were glad to be back on track. Little did we know that our situation was about to take yet another unexpected turn!
A motor scooter stopped nearby, and one of the teenage boys we’d ask directions from alit and began walking with us – presumably to help us find our address. As we walked, Eileen tried to communicate with him but he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) speak much English. Eileen became suspicious when he led us off our road, under a train trestle and across a bridge (over a freeway) to a virtually unlit road, indicating it was the way to go… then he got back on the scooter that had just shown back up, telling us to continue on, and road away. Ahead we could see the light of a fire in a 50 gallon drum, and a trailer half lit by flames. We decided to return to the road we’d been on when our ‘guides’ showed up – post haste! They came by on the scooter, upset that we weren’t following their directions; when we ignored them, they drove off, only to return again after we’d gotten ourselves back on course! This time they were coming straight at us… on the scooter… on the sidewalk!! As they rode between us, the passenger grabbed Eileen’s purse strap as they went by (but didn’t get her purse). When they turn around about 20 yards away, we knew they were going to continue bothering us. This was a barely lit section of road and a car had not passed for some time. We still have our packs on, were carrying our guitars, and were very tense and fatigued.
When they were 6ft. away the passenger jumped off, used his hand in his coat pocket to pretend he had a gun, and strode straight toward us, pointing his pocket at us (we could see the outline of his fingers and knew he did not have a gun). As I charged him with my guitar case, the scooter’s driver was trying to run down Eileen!! I was on my way to help her as she got free, crossed the road, and flagged down a passing car by standing in its lane and waving her guitar in front of it (this car stopped 40ft. up the road, and a second car stopped next to us). “You have to help us!!” she said to the driver as she opened the door and threw her guitar inside.
He pulled over, close to the curb, and with help from the English speaking girl in the first car was able to understand our need for help (he didn’t speak much English). The boys/assailants left on the scooter; the first car wound up taking us to Marie-Pierre’s apartment, not far away, where the dropped us off and continued on with their evening’s plans.
Marie-Pierre was very gracious and understanding. She listened to our story and then made us a wonderful salad while we took showers. After we ate and talked a little more with Marie-Pierre we crawled into the first real bed we’d been in since our hotel in Paris and held each other extra close until we fell asleep.
This startling occurrence was a real jolt; we were so glad to have our awareness adjusted without personal injury or loss/damage to our property. We adjusted our approach to the first day of arrival in a new city and locating addresses, refining our techniques of dealing with travel stresses and challenges.
We stayed in the Marseilles area for 2 ½ weeks, using Marie-Pierre’s apartment for our home base. She and her sons were fun to stay with. We were able to help with child care, cooking and cleaning… just like we were part of the family, even though we’d just met!
In fact, Marie-Pierre took us to her sister’s house in the countryside that weekend! What a treat! Finally we were driving around the countryside on small rural roads. It was wine country, but there were also some small farms amongst the vineyards. It was wonderful to be in the country after more than two months in big cities – truly a breath of fresh air for us.
We got along well with Francoise (Marie-Pierre sister) and her family. To our surprise, they invited us to stay as long as we’d like! They even had a car we could use! We stayed two more nights after Marie-Pierre and the boys returned to Marseilles. We had a great visit due to these people’s generosity (they even had a baby-grand piano for Eileen to play!) and got our first taste of small town French living and countryside.
We had a wonderful time. One day we went to Les Baux, a medieval village and castle (now a ruin - photo to right) built into and on top of a huge rock promontory (the first streets we walked in Europe that truly felt ancient and foreign were the streets in the village of Les Baux). The castle and town were constructed using the same rock that they were built upon, and even though the houses and shops had terra cotta roofs, the town was barely visible from across the valley - the structures blended in almost seamlessly with the natural rock promontory they sat on.
Another day we strolled 3km to the town of St. Remy en Provence (and back) on a farm road along a canal to pick up some groceries for dinner.
We also used a day to drive to Tarascon – a village on the Rhone – to see and walk around inside a medieval castle, the Chateau de Tarascon, protected on one side by the Rhone and on the other by a deep moat (no longer filled with water.) The solid castle resisted every siege and attack right up to the bombardment by Allied forces in 1944, which damaged the outside of the tower, visible in the photo. We wandered through the interior rooms, many hung with tapestries made long ago, relaxed in the shade of some trees in the interior courtyard, and even walked around the ramparts on the top of the castle wall and looked out at the Rhone river, the town of Tarascon, and the surrounding countryside. Impressive!
We went to two other small towns in southern France: Aix en Provence and Cassis. Aix had been recommended by several people and was friendly, ‘touristy’, and had outdoor cafés where we entertained dining customers, as we’d done in Paris. But the nights were too cold; we wanted warmer places, so we left Aix after only a one-night stay.
We found ourselves in Cassis two days later. It was just what we needed – a tiny village on the coast with a sandy beach, turquoise water, lots of sun and blue sky! Yea! It was time for us to rest and recuperate. We stayed a couple of nights; hiked to nearby cliffs, played guitar by the Mediterranean (we even did a little busking for people eating dinner at the tables outside of several local restaurants,) walked barefoot in the sand, and relaxxxxx’d… a great place to ‘recharge our batteries’ …but then it got cool there, too – we had to go further south.
We returned to Marie-Pierre’s, did some laundry, developed some film, purchased train tickets, and said our goodbyes.