Travelling back from La Ciotat to London (with an overnight stay in Paris), I had an hour and a half between trains in Marseilles, so decided to bound down the grand staircase outside Saint Charles station and see what I could find.
The first thing you notice on exiting the station is the church Notre Dame de la Garde, situated on a hill overlooking the city – an imposing building that I hope to see if I come back and stay here another time. At the bottom of the staircase you’re straight into the hustle and bustle of the city – people, cars and mopeds all in a rush to get somewhere; loud conversations, car horns. It was a bit of a culture shock from the tranquil time I’d had in La Ciotat and Aix.
Fifteen minutes or so later I arrived at the old port – another hive of activity, both on the water and around the market stalls that line the marina. All shapes, colours and sizes of vessels are moored here, and the market traders and their customers were no less interesting. It’s a cacophony of colour and noise, and quite the spectacle.
Taking a circuitous route back to the station I found markets down side streets, huge shopping malls, impressive churches and the occasional quiet lane and trickling fountain. There’s definitely a “rough and ready” feel to the place – it may not be very beautiful, but it’s full of life and you can’t help but be energised by the whole experience.
Soon I was on the TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon, which is incredibly quick at 3h 20m to cover a huge swathe of the country. I decided to try a new area to stay in this time and landed on Montparnasse, there seemed to be a vibrant café scene in the area and there is the Montparnasse Tower, which affords amazing views over the city.
I enjoyed a couple of glasses of beer at a café near my hotel, served by a friendly waiter. People say Parisians are snooty but I haven’t found that – smiling, being polite and trying as much French as you can (and I don’t have much) goes a long way. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Then it was time to get the lift up to the top of the tower. It’s a horrendous building to look at, but fortunately when you’re at the top looking down you can’t see it. And Oh, what a view.
I got to the viewing gallery about 7pm and spent the next few hours watching the sun set over the city picking out famous monuments on the skyline, with the most famous landmark looking breath-taking in the fading light. I sipped a glass of champagne and took photos, a few of which are below, marvelling at the view.
The next morning I went up the tower again for a daytime perspective (I’d bought a 24 hour ticket), and then took a leisurely stroll towards Le Jardin du Luxembourg – another delightful place to spend a few hours. There are long tree-lined pathways, among which are people practicing yoga, playing tennis and petanque, there’s a lake with fountains overlooked by the Palais du Luxembourg. Even a few four-legged Parisians…
All too soon it was time to say au revoir to France and Paris, catch the Metro to Gare du Nord and my Eurostar back to Blighty.