Marseille was the only city that I didn’t explore extensively on foot (or by bike). Instead, I went to specific places by car, chauffeured around by a friend I made from HelloTalk. HelloTalk is a language learning app where you talk to real people, as opposed to Duolingo in which you learn phrases and words through a robot textbook. HelloTalk is a lot more organic and forces you to be more proactive with teaching and/or learning. I was fortunate to have connected with a good teacher named Florent. He’s a native Frenchman who grew up in Marseille but lives in a smaller town a little ways away. It was just so nice to have someone I could converse with in the same time zone and he was available (for the most part even though he was useless) whenever I ran into some trouble and needed advice!
Florent offered to pick me up from Marseille Saint-Charles after he heard about my pickpocketing incident in Paris. We’d never seen each other’s pictures except for whatever our profile picture is on HelloTalk, but it shouldn’t have been hard for him to miss me. I’m a single Asian girl traveling by herself. After 5 minutes of confusion on the platform, we found each other! Florent ushered me to his car and then took me to an arts district in Marseille, sort of near Old Port, where we got lunch at a fast casual place before wandering around streets that had stunning graffiti.
Florent also advised me on authentic shops to buy soap handmade in Marseille. Apparently, there are tourist traps that sell “Made in China” soap so it was great to have a native help direct me! I bought soap for my mom, which she absolutely adored. We then walked around Old Port for a bit and even went around the outside of MUCEM, Marseille’s famous museum of civilization in Europe and the Mediterranean. There were great views of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde in the distance. Incidentally, that’s where he took me next.
And thank god Florent had a car. Visitors could walk up to the basilica, or take a tram like most people, as it’s a pretty steep climb. The views from the building were stunning. The sun was pretty bright, but being up there gave us a 360 degree view of Marseille.
Oh look, there’s Florent wearing a “Los Angeles” shirt in my honor. He didn’t even mention it at all – I pointed it out and it was like he was waiting for me to notice!
I had a bit of check-in issues at my Airbnb, which is another reason why I was so grateful to have a friend with a car in this city. My train arrived at 1pm but my hostess couldn’t meet me until 6pm. Then she changed that to 7pm, then 8pm. So I was able to keep my luggage in Florent’s car this whole time, and I was able to get dinner with him. Basically an uninterrupted day – I was initially going to have him take me to drop off my stuff. It all worked out in the end though!
We also stopped by an old fisherman’s wharf.
So dinner. Florent took me to a restaurant called Côté Rue that he always brings new visitors to, to get a taste of what Marseille is known for. Apparently, Marseille is known for anchovy paste, olive paste, mini chickpea samosas, and another fried chickpea thing I forgot what it was called. Florent ordered a fish for his meal.
After dinner, Florent drove me back to my Airbnb (bless his soul) and we were to meet up the next morning to go see Les Calanques!
Les Calanques. A single calanque is a narrow and steep-walled inlet along the Mediterranean coast. They’re developed from limestone, dolomite, or other types of carbonate strata. You can reach these calanques by hiking 2 hours through trails connecting to a main road, or by boat from a small port in Cassis. My itinerary initially had me hiking to get there, but I had no idea that it would have been 2 hours. So Florent suggested that we pay the money to get a boat tour. We chose a tour that took us to see 3 calanques, so the boat ride lasted less than an hour and each person costed 16 euros.
The drive to Cassis took under 30 minutes. The port is absolutely charming and the tiny village is so quaint! The boat that Florent and I got assigned to wasn’t packed like other tourist groups, so that was nice. I got some very good pictures of all the boats and scenery out on the Sea.
The Calanques themselves were all very similar to each other. Some had boats docked alongside the walls, and others had a small private beach with people sunbathing or playing in the water.
Then after the boat ride, Florent drove me up the hills/mountains surrounding the little town of Cassis (again, so grateful he has a car). And here we had spectacular views of the coast. He helped take a few pictures of me and he was so nervous for my life!
If you look closely above, there were some rock climbers making their way down the cliff!
For lunch, we headed back to Old Port to try some restaurants there. I wasn’t feeling too well in the stomach (that time of the month) so I opted for a salad, which was very filling because I couldn’t finish it. Tons of shrimp and tuna as well, and Marseille is well known for fresh seafood.
After that, Florent dropped me off at my Airbnb so that I could rest. It was time for our goodbyes :’) I ventured out alone back to Old Port for dinner, which was a 30 minute walk from my Airbnb. It was actually quite scary the later it got. The roads were a bit sketchier than other cities and I didn’t feel all that safe. I went to a restaurant Florent recommended and ordered a pork chop with mashed potatoes and it was so delicious.
I usually have a small stomach but I took my time eating so that I could finish it all!
On the walk back…that was stressful almost. But the boyfriend, Erik, kept me company over the phone, though that didn’t deter some men from trying to talk to me, mentioning something about China. Anyways, I packed up my stuff that night and the next morning was able to easily navigate my way back to the train station by public transit. Then I was off to Nice!