Thursday, August 19, 11:00 p.m.
It is now almost three days since our last entry. Our itinerary has been so packed that we return to our lodgings after a long day — still not quite adjusted to the time change — and collapse into bed. Tonight my (J) internal clock has me wide awake, and while I wait for the Benedryl to kick in, I thought I’d catch up on our log. D is fast asleep upstairs.
We spent yesterday touring Chateau d’If and the isle of Frioul. After nagivating our way into the vieux port of Marseille (which was a challenge given all the construction) and finding parking (another challenge), we hopped on the first ferry to the two islands. Our first stop was Chateau d’If, the fortress made famous by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Christo). The site itself is fascinating for its legendary status, but there really isn’t a whole lot to the island or even the castle itself. There was sadly little information provided about what we were looking at, and most of the castle itself consisted of barren rooms, which we were unable to determine whether they had been prison cells or lodgings (if they were all cells, they were the best prison cells we’ve ever seen!) BUT THE VIEWS from the top of the chateau were spectacular! Marseille is an amazing city, and the mist rising off the Mediterranean, obscuring some of the cliffs near the city, gave it a mystical air as if we were looking at some enchanted isle undiscovered by the outside world. Magnifique!
We then took the ferry to our second destination, the isle of Frioul. This was more inhabited (they even had a sad little hospital (mostly roofless) and fire station), and offered more exploration than the chateau. Darren and I braved the mountain and hiked in our sandals up to an old fortress at the top of the island. From there we took in breathtaking views of not only the tableau of Marseille, but also Chateau d’If against it. The ancient fort with its stone walls, looked like it had been repurposed at some point in the ‘70s, for there were the ruins of steel cable/cement columns marking the remains of more recent buildings in the fort. We thought it ironic and telling that the ancient stone seemed to have weathered time better than the more recent cement. There was a gorgeous beach on Frioul, but as we had not brought our suits, we splashed around up to our knees a bit, then took the ferry back to Marseille.
Getting dinner was an adventure! We had decided to try out a place, Café des Epices, recommended by our Guide Michelin — a wedding present from some friends in France. We managed to find the place (not easy in itself), only to discover that it was closed. So we opened the guide again, found another place that sounded decent, and hiked halfway across town, only to discover that it (and most every other restaurant in France) did not open for dinner till 8:00. (It was then about 6:15 and we were starved.) We slipped into a grocery store to slake our hunger and thirst, walked back to Café des Epices to see if it was open closer to 8:00 (it wasn’t), and finally ate at what is probably one of the most touristy restaurants in Marseille, complete with street musicians playing La Vie en Rose on accordion above your table. The food was fairly tasty though, and we had our first kir of the trip, along with a half bottle of wine.
This morning, Thursday, we tried to wake up earlier so as to get some good time at the beach before we left Marseille, but it seems the time change wasn’t done with us. So we dragged ourselves out of bed around 10:00, made a quick breakfast to use up some of the food we had bought, packed most of our bags, and took off for a few quick hours at L’Estaque once again. It’s a small community just to the west of Marseille, and it goes down as one of our favorite spots in Marseille, simply because it’s sans tourists!The water was warmer than it had been on Tuesday, which made for great swimming, and our shortened visit meant we could do without sunscreen. A quick nap, broken by the laughing of children. (My favorite interruption was one young boy who proudly claimed, “Je crois que les dinosaures existent ici!” — I believe there are dinosaurs in existence here!) Back to the apartment, our bags loaded into our little Fiat rental, and we said goodbye to Marseille!
An hour and half up the Autoroute du Soleil, we found our new home for the week: the village of Rochegude, population (maybe) 1600. After locating our house, and knocking on the closed shutters, we were informed by the neighbors across the street that the house was fermée. I responded that we were renting the house for the week, so it could not be closed. The old gentleman leaning out the window said, “Je ne comprends pas,” so I again explained that we were renting the house for the week. His wife then leaned out and said that the cleaning lady was not there, at which point I again explained that we were expected. Finally, in a British accent, the woman asked, “Do you speak English?” After responding that we did, she retorted “Oh, thank God!” at which point we all laughed. The couple very kindly invited us in, offered us drinks, and let us use their phone to call the housekeeper, who met us around 5:00 and showed us around the house. In the meantime, we staked out the town a bit, and found our way to the only open establishment at that particular hour - a little bar called Café du Cours, where we got some ice cream bars to tide over the hunger, and a drink called the Monaco (beer + lemon + grenadine = yummy!!)
We returned to the house at 5pm to meet Ruth (the housekeeper). It’s a beautiful little three-story place, on a quiet, one-way street. The house, they estimate, is 300-400 years old, and has the quiet, cool feel that the thick, stone walls provide. There are three bedrooms, and it would be a fantastic place to rent with a group of people, except for having only one bathroom.
We decided not to wait around on the French dinner schedule, and instead bought a pizza to go from the local pizzeria. We set up the cafe table and chairs on the front stoop of the house, opened our local, organic wine (which we bought in Marseille at the grocery store), a round of La vache qui rit and some jam, and set to work. It was a perfectly relaxing meal! Our British neighbors, Anne and Keith, came by later and invited us to dinner next Monday, which will be a real treat! They’re also giving plenty of helpful advice about where to find things, what to see, etc.!
Well, it is nearly midnight. I’m hoping the Benedryl will have taken effect by now. And, having just stopped typing to flush a scorpion down the toilet, I think I will leave the house to the lesser creatures and go to bed. Tomorrow it’s up early for the village market at Suze la Rousse!