Oct 4, 2012
Marseille, if it were larger in size, would’ve been the perfect sister-city to Bombay – it’s full of bylanes, traffic and people crossing the streets without obeying the signals. And, it’s a port city, there’s construction everywhere and they are new metro stations coming up. There are traders on the street – especially African immigrants – selling sunglasses, scarfs and other knick-knacks.
Marseille is a working person’s city – Most people seem to be in a hurry, and no one’s out taking that leisurely walk. I also do not find the locals here fashionable as the French are known to be. No buskers on the streets here. In fact, the pavements hold no space for them. There are either scooters or cars parked on the pavers, or tables from a restaurant spilling out, or people, or construction work. Several buildings, I notice, are old and marked down for rehabilitation. No French romance here!
There are shops everywhere. The harbour-front at the old Port Vieux down La Canbierre faces some of the most expensive hotels and the long curving street is packed with restaurants. I saw a lot of obnoxious American tourists around and a bunch of Indian uncles ambling about with their potbellies and vacation caps. But the majority of the tourists are senior, retired folks, enjoying their walk along the harbour-front.
I am, right now, waiting awhile at Gare de Marseille Saint Charles. This train station – large and in the centre of the city – is like a mini airport from the inside and international trains to Italy leave from here. Suits walk around with black bags and eat sandwiches on the go. In Marseille, I see signs on an active life in France. Finally. There are antennae and water tanks on home terraces, and junk stored in balconies. From the good vantage point here at the station, I see that the skyline is made of red roofs and spot a prominent castle.
I don’t know whether or not I like Marseille, yet, but it does feel like home and reminds me of Bombay. Only, nobody honks here!
Where next? What can I expect there? How to get there?
These were three questions I found myself asking strangers and new friends often, in the month I spent travelling solo in Europe recently. I only had my return flight ticket sorted in advance – Mumbai (India) to Geneva (Switzerland) and back – and gave Europe a chance to surprise me. It led me to gorgeous Swiss villages, lively towns in France and a bustling city in Spain, and Lichtenstein and Monaco.
I met several interesting people along the way, a lot many locals helped me, I assisted some travellers with directions myself, and a few asked me out for drinks! I stayed in a fancy hotel, couchsurfed, shared dorms with 30 other travellers and was offered a bed by friends of friends. I had an extremely unplanned trip, with the liberty of spending as much time as I wished in whichever place that caught my fancy.
I practiced broken French, have brought back some Catalan words and discovered that there actually are places where people absolutely do not speak English. I ticked off many items from my bucket list, which include wearing a bikini to a beach and setting off on an unplanned trip. I would consult the map, the hotel receptionist, my Couchsurfing host and people on the street, and come up with a place to go to, for the next day. I spent 3 days in Nice because I loved the French Riviera, a whole week in Barcelona and yet couldn’t get enough of the city, and merely half a day in Lichtenstein, because well, there’s not much to do.
I ate the best croissants in France, drank pitchers of spicy Sangria in Spain and sampled some of the best cheese in Switzerland. I saw impeccably dressed grannies smoking away in French cafes, snazzy cars in Monaco, sunsets in Switzerland that made me appreciate clouds and some insanely cute boys in Spain. I caught my train to France in the nick of time, almost missed all my luggage in Barcelona merely a day before my flight back to India and kind of ran out of money toward the end of the trip!
But I did have an exceptionally excellent time and would urge everyone to visit these parts of Europe and let them dazzle you. I am in the process of pitching stories about my travels to editors of various magazines and I’ll have some stories surfacing here, on the blog, too. Between that, we should have a complete picture of my experiences and the culture of the countries I visited.
Also, due are many thanks to my Schengen visa (I didn’t know Lichtenstein existed until Swiss locals told me about it), EuroLines buses and the French train system. I don’t know what I would’ve done if they weren’t in place.
One of my biggest dreams is about to come true – I am going to Spain! 😀
Beginning over this weekend, I leave on a month-long trip, visiting Hong Kong, UAE, Switzerland, France, Monaco and Spain! While it’s not my first time in Europe, it’s definitely the first in these countries. I’m travelling solo and hope that you guys have useful tips to offer. My schedule for Hong Kong and UAE is pretty much fixed; it’s only with Europe that I need help sorting. Any must-do’s and don’ts are highly appreciated… As are any other recos or people to meet. I have no particular itinerary or places in mind presently, and will make plans upon reaching a destination. Anyone around here on CouchSurfing?!
I’m sure that I’ll probably end up ticking a lot of items off my bucket list and I’m totally kicked about that. If you are in Switzerland, France, Monaco or Spain, I’d love to meet you. I’m going to be in Zurich from the last week of Sep and then follow the order in the previous line till about 3rd week of Oct.
So yeah, let me know – where to go, what to do, what to see, who to meet!
*So super excited!*