Saturday, July 2, 2011

It Pays to Remember What Day It Is

I'd relearned a forgotten lesson regarding how good an idea it is to have accommodation sorted out before you rock up to a new town you don't know so had booked a Best Western hotel in the 'business district' of Marseilles before we set out on what was a pretty long drive along the Pyrenees (right hand side) and then the Med (also on the right hand side) but arrive we did and Ali did an amazing job of actually finding where the hotel was.

'Business District' -- ha!  That would imply office buildings and some sort of business appearance.  But that's not Marseilles.  The guide book said it is a dump in a round about way but (it said) it has done a lot trying to improve its rep turning itself into a sophisticated holiday location in the process.  It hasn't made it yet but you can see it is trying hard.  However one stumbling block is the Marseilles folk themselves.  They have what you might call an 'edge' to them.

In Bermuda people suck their teeth and roll their eyes.  The Marseille folk aren't even that surreptitious in expressing their opinion/disdain.  The attitude is 'that is who we are, you live with it'.  And if you do, Marseilles turns out to be a great place.

First thing though was that we planned a 2 day layover to get laundry done and discovered it was Sunday and therefore everything was closed so tough luck!  As we were collectively down to 2 pairs of clean underwear and not even that for other clothes, this was not good news.  Fortunately it was hot so we were able to get away with wearing not many clothes however those that were worn became pongier somewhat more quickly.

Marseilles is home to real bouillabaisse so that was the trek for the evening. Everywhere had real bouillabaisse and said all other places' versions were little better than spit so it was difficult to pick a winner.  When we did the staff were of course surly and the bouillabaisse was no different to the fish soup we'd enjoyed in St Jean de Luz, La Rochelle and Le Touquet.

The Vieux Port all decked out
There was what appeared to be a Med wide sailing competition going on as the Vieux Port (the centre of action) was decked out in bunting and loads of sunburned young people in docksiders or boat flip-flops were all over the place.  It was also the night for the various fishing guilds to have their fish grill night on the harbour side so if you weren't prepared for endless grilled sardines, you were out of luck.

Sardines fresh from the sea... where's the steak?
The following day we set out to explore all that was good to explore and as Chateau d'If wasn't OK to visit due to the weather we found a tourist train (like Bermuda except waaaay better) that went all over and most importantly up to a really neat church on top of a hill overlooking the port.  That night as we'd got over fish in a big way we found a North African restaurant where we ate a really excellent cous cous followed by sweet mint tea which was just lovely.

Next day was a really long day of driving but this time I did not pre-book a hotel as we did not know how far we would make it.  We were thinking Venice or even Trieste but it soon became clear that wouldn't happen so just looked at the time which ended up as being Verona, just 100 kms short of Venice.  The drive along the French Riviera was simple but the autoroute from Nice to nearly Genoa in Italy was just spectacular with the sea vistas and the endless bridges and tunnels.  Building them must have been some technical achievement.  Ali was team photographer for the day and took endless photos from the car as we whizzed along.

Nice road barrier... and the vista
Verona is yet another World Heritage City due to its Roman arena and the medieval town centre and boy were we lucky to find another Best Western just outside the city walls as it was so late.  Again free wifi which I think is becoming a must have for all hotels these days.  Young people just need an open wifi zone for their PDAs to enable email, facebook, etc.  Anyone who doesn't realise these young people are living how life will be in the future clearly hasn't got the message about free wifi.  Mac Donalds and Starbucks have and as a result are jammed with customers.  Paying for hotel wifi is something I am no longer willing to do.

Ali pointed out that Shakespeare clearly had an Italian thing particularly Verona as it hosted The Two Gentlemen of Verona as well as Romeo and Juliette.  I forced Ali to tag along to visit Juliette's house and the balcony where she did the "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo" speech.  It was closed but I took a picture of a balcony on the house and clearly Romeo had no chance of shinning up for a snog for it was miles up in the air.  The street also is really narrow so unless you (i.e. Romeo) are jumping up and down waving your arms and calling out, the seeker (i.e. Juliette) wouldn't be able to see a thing.

Balcony at the top
We rambled around the old town and found an old osteria which was jammed and where you shared tables.  No menu so we ate what they had which was home made lasagna and drank house red.  Very nice too.  But the best part was our table mates who turned out to be Thais on holiday in Europe searching for the world's finest (wait for it)... lavendar (pronounced LAV-ENNNN-DAR).  They'd heard it was nice in Italy.  We were able to show them Ali's photos of lavendar from La Rochelle and our new friends ooh'd and aah'd appreciatively clearing wishing they hadn't bothered with rubbishy old Italy but should have headed straight for France.

Ali and I stayed out and ate our ice creams with limoncello.  Apparently the chocolate was the best anywhere.

Tomorrow we head east and into the new world of the Balkans.

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