A Travellerspoint blog

Back on track

I try to bounce back from the previous day's events and enjoy France's second biggest city. Plus some big blog-related news - read to the end (or just skip to it...)

sunny 27 °C

Nothing turned up, much to my disappointment. I eventually got to Marseille, had some food, checked in to my room and made contact with Australia before wandering the streets for hours looking for some toiletries to replace those that were lost. I passed seventeen pharmacies – yes, seventeen – before I finally found one that was open in the evenings.

Freaking annoying day. I wasn’t really in a position or mood to appreciate the pretty little port town, and I went to bed tired and irritated.

I went to the police station the following morning to report the theft, and they took my details, put me in a virtual queue and told me to come back in a couple of hours.

So I went off to explore. I started by climbing the hill up to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, a second ‘Notre-Dame’ after the one in Paris. It was a fair walk up to the top, and the weather was sunny and warm, so it was taxing on my weary legs.

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But oh so worth it. The views over the city, the Mediterranean and the mountains behind were absolutely spectacular. The church itself wasn’t bad either, certainly a nice place to cool down, though I’m not sure that was its original purpose.

The Notre Dame

The Notre Dame

The Notre Dame church

The Notre Dame church

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I was required back at the police station, though, and so I walked back downhill and tried to speak to the new officer on duty. “Parlez vous anglais?” I asked, in my best schoolboy French. “Non. Pourquoi, tu ne parle pas francais?” she replied, meaning ‘No. Why, don’t you speak French?’

If I knew the French for ‘Of course I speak French. I just like to practice my English with police officers when I’m reporting a theft; I find it keeps me on my toes. Oh wait, sorry, no, I don’t speak French – why do you think I would ask you if you spoke English if I could speak French? Given that we’re in France? What would be the freaking point of that? Are you insane?’ then that is the occasion on which I would have used it. Bloody French.

Anyway, I managed to obtain a statement from an officer who did speak some English eventually, then I went back to my room and reported my passport officially missing over the internet.

I went for a walk in the evening, taking in the sights and planning my route for the next morning, as well as attempting to buy some more of the stuff that I’d lost.

Dinner was at the local kebab joint, then I caught some sleep.

The old port at night

The old port at night

I packed up and checked out the following morning, and managed to buy some more toiletries before going sightseeing.

I walked along the Vieux Port (old port) to Le Major Cathedrale, which was quite nice. Certainly not as nice as some of Paris’s, say, but there’s no need to queue and to deal with the crowds.

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I then had a stroll through the devilishly unnavigatable old town, enjoying the serenity and the ancient buildings, and then eventually, by some complete fluke, coming back out to the Port.

The Notre Dame on the hill behind the Vieux Port

The Notre Dame on the hill behind the Vieux Port

A gallery down a side street in the old town

A gallery down a side street in the old town

Back to the hotel, where I picked up my bags and got ready to catch the train to Lyon.

The staircase up to St-Charles station

The staircase up to St-Charles station

In other news, in either this entry or last, I have officially passed the 100,000 word mark! My strike rate has slowed down a bit – the first half of those were written by the start of April (that’s four months), and it’s taken me until mid-September (a further five and a half months) to write the next fifty thousand. But it has still a solid, grafting effort.

Thanks to everyone who has read/speed-read/scrolled/slept their way through one or more entries – it’s nice to know that I am writing for someone, rather than just sending my notes into the vast emptiness of cyberspace.

For comparison’s sake, a book of 100,000 words would be longer than ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, much longer than ‘A Catcher in the Rye’, nearly twice as long as ‘Lord of the Flies’ and getting up to the count of 107,945 for Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. Yep, I could have written a literary classic with this time, if only I’d had the ability. Bah. It has however, more than five times shorter than 'War and Peace'.

Posted by sammyhez 22:54 Archived in France Tagged marseille Comments (0)

A bit of a blow

Everything had gone pretty well up to this point, so I can't complain too much.

sunny 27 °C

I woke up early and packed, then took the Metro from Drassanes, then a regional train to Cerbere, on the French border. We all had our passports checked, and I jumped on another train to Perpignan, where I wanted to catch the train towards Narbonne.

Looking out of the window on the way to Cerbere

Looking out of the window on the way to Cerbere

But then, while we were still on the platform, disaster struck. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

--

Bugger. In a bit of a pickle. I had a bag stolen from me when I was on a train (I put it on the rack above my head and when I next looked up it had gone). Luckily I had my interrail pass, British passport and ATM card in a money belt on me, and my laptop with me. Unfortunately, I had £420 in cash, my Australian passport, my driving license, my iPod, all my travel documents (including, ironically, my travel insurance policy), my crappy phone, my entire bag of toiletries, and a collection of DVDs and books all stolen. Nothing that’s not replaceable with time and money I suppose, but all incredibly annoying to lose.

My fellow passengers told me to stay on the train and speak to the conductor, who, when I eventually found him, told me to get off at the next stop and take the train back to Perpignan (where the incident had occurred). He said it would be coming in ten minutes, but the next train wasn’t due for three hours.

Thankfully there was someone at the station, and while I hardly spoke any French and she didn’t speak any English, we managed to work it out and she gave me directions to the police station in Perpignan, which may or may not be closed by the time I get there. Not entirely sure how I’m going to get to Marseille, my next destination where I have a hotel booked, before nightfall.

Obviously I should have been more aware of my bags, but equally frustrating is that I wasn’t planning to catch that train in the first place. And just as frustrating is that it had my last scraps of food and water, so I’m sitting here, on the outskirts of a tiny town which might take forty minutes to reach on foot, having hardly eaten all day, with only €10 in cash and no way to get any more, and nowhere to spend it even if I did.

There’s not even any internet access so that I can get in touch with home. As I said, bugger.

I had crappy advice from my fellow passengers, who tried to help but failed miserably, telling me to stay on the train when it would have been much better to get off immediately. I had even worse advice from the conductor, who didn’t try to phone anyone, but told me to get off at the next stop – if I had have stayed on the train until the end of the line and then gone back to Perpignan, I would have saved around two hours.

I’ve just got to hope that the police in Perpignan, the gendarmerie, can be of some assistance. It’s wishful thinking, I know, but there’s got to be some chance that someone picked it up by mistake and has handed it in. Or at least handed in the passport and wallet, even if the cash is gone.

UPDATE: I’ve just been told to go to Narbonne instead, and speak to the transit police there. I hold very little hope of retrieving my luggage at this stage. Probably close to $1000 worth of stuff if you include the money it’ll take to get back the license and the passport. Just hope I can get the rest of it back on the insurance.

UPDATED UPDATE: At Narbonnes they weren’t much help either, but they did have someone who could speak English. I managed to communicate my problem and they told me the best thing I could do would be to catch my train as planned and speak to the Marseilles Gendarmerie tomorrow. Perhaps my passport and travel documents will have been handed in?

Posted by sammyhez 22:37 Archived in France Tagged marseille Comments (3)

Churches, art, architecture and beaches

Barcelona has it all

sunny 30 °C

On Wednesday morning I’d organised to have a conversation with Nana in Melbourne on skype – not only had we not talked for months, but I was visiting her home town of Mannheim in a few days and I wanted some tips. We had a nice chat, but it was time for me to get going.

I walked to the Barcelona Cathedral, the main cathedral in town, and more of a traditional church than the amazing Sagrada Familia. It certainly had a few nice touches, though, such as a courtyard garden with a small pond inhabited by ducks, all in the confines of the building. There were some brilliant chapels and some magnificent stained glass stuff, as usual.

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After grabbing some lunch I made my way to the Picasso Museum. There was a bit of a queue, but it stretched down an old narrow, shaded road, and it was a great place to stop and stare for a bit.

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The museum itself was pretty good, too. I’d never realised that Picasso had started his art career so young – he was producing ridiculously amazing works as a fourteen-year-old, and then moved more or less permanently to Paris when he was just twenty-three, where he really took off. There were sketches from his childhood that showed his prodigious talent even from his teenage years.

There was also an exhibition about Paris as a centre for artists, which was pretty good, with Van Goghs and Matisses spread amongst other impressive works.

I cruised along the busy tourist strip, The Ramblas, with its street entertainers and souvenir shops, then took shelter from the heat at the Palau Güell, the former home (or palace) of the upper class Güell family, and now a museum.

The main point of interest was, once again, Gaudi’s architecture, as it was his first major work. He seemed to have distorted and manipulated everything, from benches to windows to roofs, and yet it looked so natural. The parabolic arches were completely different to anything I’ve seen; everything just seems so unique.

And then there’s the magnificent organ, with a fold out chapel next door, and the hilarious-looking chimneys on the roof. A brilliant building.

Gaudi's parabolic arches at their best

Gaudi's parabolic arches at their best

Colourful chimneys on the top of the palace

Colourful chimneys on the top of the palace

But after spending so long in the UK, the heat was taking its toll, so I had a bit of a rest back in my room before heading out for the evening. It was my last evening, too, and I hadn’t even been to the beach, so I walked over to the nearby fishing village, Barceloneta, with its grand harbour and pristine sandy shore, and touched Mediterranean waters for the first time since our Israel trip.

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Kicking the sand out of my shoes, I walked back towards the hotel, picking up a falafel on the way.

The pink sky sets on my Barcelona leg

The pink sky sets on my Barcelona leg

Posted by sammyhez 00:09 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona Comments (0)

Spanish religion

If Sri Lanka's major religions include Buddhism and cricket, then Catalan's include Christianity and futbol

sunny 30 °C

I started the next day with a long walk, across the city and up the hill to Montjuic, the area to Barcelona’s west, with great views overlooking the rest of the city. I started at one of the many parks, then decided that it was too warm to stay outside and so walked to the Foundació Joan Miró, an art gallery housing many works of the artist of the same name.

The view from Montjuic

The view from Montjuic

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Being brutally honest, as is my wont, I didn’t think much of Miró’s pieces. It was like a very poor man’s Picasso, but that’s clearly just my opinion, and unfortunately it doesn’t count for much against those of hundreds of people who actually know something about art.

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There was, however, a very good exhibition with art from around the world relating to AIDS. Some very good stuff there, though I’m not entirely sure what the relevance was.

I walked from there to the Olympic Stadium, first built for 1936 when Barcelona was bidding for the Olympics but had to give it up because of the Spanish Civil War, and then finally used in the 1992 Olympics. It’s still occasionally used for sports events and concerts, but in other times it’s open to the public.

The Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Stadium

I had some lunch there and walked to the nearby Sports Museum for a look at sport (covering everything from chess to boxing to football to winter sports) through the ages. There was a one-line mention of Australian Rules, and a tiny section on cricket, though I daresay it was written by someone who has never seen a game.

The vernicular (a tram-like vehicle that specialises in going up and down hills) took me back to the city, and from there I caught the metro out to Parc Güell. It’s a long walk from the station up to the park, but luckily there are escalators to take you up the steepest parts. Yeah, these escalators are outside, in the street, uncovered. It’s cool.

The trek up to the Parc Güell

The trek up to the Parc Güell

The park is pretty cool, too. It also affords great views over the city, from the north rather than the west, and so you can see out over the Mediterranean.

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The main attraction, however, is more Gaudi architecture. From ridiculous-looking houses to sheltered halls, to furniture from the man himself, there’s just about everything. But I didn’t have much time, so I rushed back to the metro station and back to the hotel to have a shower and freshen up for the evening.

A house with Gaudi's name written all over it (not literally)

A house with Gaudi's name written all over it (not literally)

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I’d blown twice my unofficial daily budget on a ticket to a Champions League football/soccer match with Barcelona playing Italian side AC Milan.

I arrived very early to take in the crowd and the build up, and it was brilliant to see such a huge stadium (99,000+ seats) go from nearly empty to very nearly full as the sun set over the city.

Arriving at Camp Nou

Arriving at Camp Nou

The sun sets as the players warm up

The sun sets as the players warm up

Night falls over the stadium

Night falls over the stadium

Unfortunately, things didn’t start brilliantly for the locals, with Milan scoring in the first thirty seconds. There was a gasp of shock across the stadium as the thousand or so AC Milan fans (who were confined to a small section of the upper tier, surrounded by fifteen-foot high fencing) celebrated wildly.

The_crowd.jpg

The next 91 minutes of playing time belonged to Barca, with Milan having very few chances to increase their lead. Indeed, a Pedro goal from a genius Messi cross and a brilliant David Villa free kick put the home side 2-1 up just after half time.

A David Villa free kick

A David Villa free kick

It looked for all money as though that was going to be the final score, until one of AC Milan’s very few corners was converted in the final minute, and there was stunned silence once again from the crowd. Barcelona had dominated, and yet only come away with a 2-2 draw. A very entertaining game from a neutral’s view (i.e. mine), but I can see that it would have been disappointing for a supporter.

Pushing and shoving our way out of the concourse

Pushing and shoving our way out of the concourse

The crowd takes over the street in an attempt to get home

The crowd takes over the street in an attempt to get home

What disappointed me, though, was the smoking. There must have been six people around me, all of whom were puffing away at one stage or another, and I felt as though I was inhaling smoke all night. Still, can’t have it all.

It was a very crowded street that took me back to the metro, and then a very crowded train that took me home.

Posted by sammyhez 00:02 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona Comments (0)

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