Europe France Lifestyle slow travel

A sneak peek into life in Marseille

Two days after arriving I was going through real estate websites looking for apartments to buy. I mentally moved in by the next day and started planning logistics of bringing our things from Australia. Three weeks in I walked around with the biggest butterflies in my stomach, my face looking like the heart-shaped-eyes emoji. I think you get the gist – I REALLY liked Marseille.

Our neighbourhood & accommodation

According to my research St Victor, Pharo and their neighbouring parts of Marseille were most suitable for us – close to the Old Port, shopping, city centre and the major things we wanted to see. Also, they were among the safest areas of town.

I found a nice Airbnb apartment in St Victor, 5min walk to the Old Port and after confirming some important details (WiFi speed, washer in the apartment etc) we booked it for 4 weeks. In reality, it turned out not to be as great as I expected.

The building was quite old and not a single wall in the apartment was straight. It was on a small but very busy street so there was a constant noise from the traffic, street cleaning and rubbish collection – even at night, the street had only slightly less-busy periods. Then there were missing forks, a stinky storage/water heater room (I’m still not sure what exactly the purpose of that space was) and a clogged washing machine that I had to fix myself which resulted in a flooded floor. Ah, and while the bathroom was the nicest part of the apartment the toilet was separate and kind of inside a closet. I also stupidly agreed to get an apartment without a dishwasher again, which was a real bummer because I cooked a lot this month.

The St Victor neighbourhood was great though. Narrow, mostly one-way streets with plenty of boulangeries and small shops (including Four des Navettes selling my favourite orange blossom flavoured treat). The area is quite hilly so there was a lot of climbing up and down (plus climbing a spiral staircase to our 2nd floor apartment – no need for a gym).

Our morning routine for the first two weeks was to find a different bakery and get a croissant each. For the next two weeks, we were visiting our favourite two bakeries and continuing the croissant-a-day tradition. There was also a bottle of local red wine for the evening tradition, often paired with a DIY charcuterie board. I really did enjoy myself a lot in that part of the world.

Impressions about Marseille – likes & dislikes

Disclaimer: This part is harder than usual for me to write because I was in love with Marseille from day one and may be inclined to say too many nice things. I’ll try to keep it as neutral as I can.

Pastis time

Afternoon (even just after 12) is for Pastis. It is an anise-flavoured, strong (over 40% alc) spirit that mixed with cold water creates a white liquid. It’s a delicious thirst-quencher and I absolutely subscribe to this. Bonus points if you can drink it at a place with a view.

Mix

Marseille is a diverse city that has always welcomed immigrants from many different places (Italians, Algerians, Armenians just to name a few) and now is a great combination of all those cultures and flavours (I attended an excellent walking tour that I highly recommend if you’re interested in learning more about Marseille and its history of immigration).

Road rules

Or rather the lack of. Whether it comes to driving or parking, Marseille couldn’t be more different from the rules-obeying Germany where we spent the previous month. The streets in the older parts of the city are narrow, often one-way and are shared between cars and motorbikes. There aren’t too many parking spaces in those areas so people get creative. It seems to be absolutely normal to park a car on a pedestrian crossing, on a footpath, in the middle of an intersection or on a traffic island. Also, if you’re planning on parking in the city, you’ll need a small car, otherwise even more creative skills are required. Red lights don’t mean much, especially to motorbikes. I’m surprised we’ve seen only one small accident in those 4 weeks.

Meal time

We’re quite relaxed when it comes to lunch and dinner times. Marseille isn’t at all. It is in every other matter, like road rules or opening hours, but food is a serious business. You get your croissants in the morning, if you sleep in, don’t expect to find any at noon. Lunch is from 11.30am to 2pm – after that kitchens/restaurants are closed. Oh, you want your late lunch at 3.30pm? That’s cute. NO. Dinner is from 8pm or 7.30pm if you look harder. Want it earlier? Cook it yourself. It’s good to have a schedule and keep to it, but this felt really strict. Between the “official meal times” you need to rely on your own cooking skills or fast food – most kebab and pizza places as well as well-known fast food chains are open.

Graffiti

Marseille seems to be a good place for street art fans. There are a lot of beautiful pieces around the city, especially in the Panier & Cours Julien areas. I went to both more than once just to be sure not to miss anything. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of tagging and other spray-can-vandalism going on.

Big and tiny

Two absolutely unrelated things but I put them together for contrast. Marseille has the biggest freaking seagulls I have ever seen. And what’s the deal with those tiny beers people drink? 0.2l seems to be the acceptable norm.

Side-walks

I guess the term sidewalk could have been created by someone who visited Marseille. The footpaths are so tiny sometimes 2 people have to walk sideways (side-walk) to be able to pass each other. While my pun might be not as funny as I hoped, the footpaths are an issue in the older parts of the city. There is no way someone on a wheelchair or a parent with a pram could use them. And as a side note (no pun intended this time), I don’t think the St Victor side of town was very baby or wheelchair friendly – tiny footpaths, cars blocking crossings, no lifts in the old buildings and narrow spiral staircases.

Open? Closed?

After visiting Poland, Czech Republic and Germany it felt nice to have shops open on Sundays. Some had shorter opening hours but I’ll take that over not being open on Sunday at all.

But to balance things out in the universe, many bakeries, restaurants and coffee shops were closed on Mondays or Tuesdays instead.

Language

Oh the embarrassment. As a child, I used to visit Paris for summer school holidays. Then I had French in high school for 3 years. Hubby also learned at school, and apparently was quite fluent. All that went out the window and we both felt embarrassed on a daily basis.

We usually went places together, so if one of us couldn’t understand the other was there to save the day. Except when we both had no clue what’s going on.

Locals were either switching quickly to English or speaking slowly in French, carefully pronouncing every word. That worked. We learned some new words, remembered some things we learned ages ago and we both feel like we would learn quickly if we’d move there (yes, I’m still keen for this).

Many people we passed on the street or stood in a queue with were very friendly and chatty. It was sad to have to resort to my least favourite phrase “Je ne parle pas français”.

English seems to be spoken by many – unlike what I used to experience in Paris (that may have changed there as well, haven’t been in 5 years or so) – especially in shops, cafes and restaurants. That definitely made our lives easier but didn’t change the fact we felt embarrassed for not speaking French well enough.

Prices

It seemed easy to find products, meals and drinks for every budget. Except for beer, which felt expensive after the outrageously cheap stuff in Berlin (and also the choice was rather poor). Wine, on the other hand, was delicious and not much more expensive than bottled water.

Exchange rate

In October 2018 100 EUR cost us around 162 AUD (at the same time, it would be around 114 USD).

Grocery prices

For day to day grocery shopping we were mostly visiting Carrefour, as that was the biggest supermarket in our area. The hypermarkets were too far for us to visit (except when we went on a road trip but that wasn’t in Marseille. I also liked Monoprix although it was slightly more expensive. For cheaper shopping, we visited our local Lidl but it was always busy and didn’t make much sense to queue for 20 minutes if we were buying just a bottle of water or an apple.

How much we paid for our groceries? For example:

  • 1.5L sparkling water: €0.42 – €0.95
  • 6 eggs: €1.57
  • 250g pack of cherry tomatoes: €0.99
  • 100g of ham: €2.49 – €3.49
  • butter: €3
  • red wine: we had a lot of great ones under €5/bottle
  • croissant: €0.80 – €1.10

How much you should expect to pay for:

  • one small flat white in a cafe: €2.50 – €4.20
  • a slice of pizza: €1
  • for 0.5L beer in a craft brewery: €7
  • a kebab: €6

How much we spent in 4 weeks (2 people)

Accommodation: €1112.04 = 1774.43 AUD

Groceries: €405.34 = 657.86 AUD

Eating out (we went out for meals, snacks or ice cream 14 times): €193.57 = 324.36 AUD

Coffee: €97.70 = 158.65 AUD

Alcohol: €186.76 = 302.79 AUD

Transport (public transport, Uber, Taxi): €32.09 = 51.84 AUD

Entertainment (cinema, museums etc): €18 = 29.27 AUD

SIM (used the one from Germany, recharge only needed): €30 = 48.67 AUD

Total: €2 075.50 = 3 347.87 AUD

Random thoughts

Not just about Marseille but France in general.

Cheese & wine love

Cheeses and wines are always available even in a small supermarket and if you don’t know what exactly you’d like then you’ll be stuck looking at all the choices for ages (like we were). Not complaining though, I loved having this problem (as opposed to the usual Australian choice of “tasty cheese” “vintage cheddar” or “extra tasty”).

Patisserie?

Great pastries and cakes usually come from patisseries but hypermarkets are worth looking at as well. Some of them have big patisserie sections with as good looking cakes for half the price of the fancy ones.

The flavours of my childhood

I got to taste all my favourite childhood things (lollies, Orangina and LU biscuits) which made me even happier to be in France. Also, I always remembered milk and butter tasted exceptionally good in France and just proved myself it’s still the case – I never drink straight milk but in France, it’s a must!

Tips

More info

Love Spots is a great source of information about new openings, cool places to visit and more (perhaps kind of like Broadsheet in Australia).

Other things that happened this month

Road trip

Blog post about our Southern France (plus Monaco and lunch in Italy) road trip is coming very soon. It was one of my favourite road trips to date!

Anniversary

We celebrated our anniversary with a brunch at InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu with a view of Marseille and amazing food.

Bee sting

After all those wasps and bees in Czech Republic and Germany that I was scared of I got stung in Marseille where I haven’t seen a single bee until it happened. I was sitting by the Old Port, people-watching and resting after a photo walk. Suddenly, I felt something on my back so I reached with my left arm and got stung.

As it was the first time in a really really long time I didn’t know if I’m allergic or not. So I walked home, closely watching the now red and painful hand and google translating “I got stung by a bee, please help” on my phone in the other hand just in case.

Didn’t need professional help after all. We had antihistamines and some itching-relieving cream in our first aid kit for emergencies like this one and that was enough for me. It took a week to heal though and was rather annoying.

Cooking class

Marseille Tourism invited us to take part in bouillabaisse cooking class (bouillabaisse is a fish dish that Marseille is famous for) It was a fun, hands-on class with lunch at the end of it.

Next stop: Kuala Lumpur

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