17 & 18 August – Marseille

Here’s my route and stats for the ride from Saint Martin de Crau to Marseille on the 17th. No stats for the 18th as I only used Smaug to pedal around Marseille a bit, and to visit Luminy and Les Calanques.

–> 17 August – to Marseille
Today’s ride turned out to be a bit longer than expected, covering 99km through some lovely Provence countryside and along La Cote Bleu before reaching Marseille. It’s been about 17 years since I visited Marseille, so I was pretty excited.

I'm excited about pedalling to Marseille; Lobster is worried about Bouillabaisse

I’m excited about pedalling to Marseille; Lobster is worried about Bouillabaisse

I set off in good time, keen to meet up with Sophie on her electric bike at 15.00, near where she works at the Brasserie David on the Marseille seafront. I met Sophie 17 years ago, on a return visit to Marseille to see Christophe and Stephane. She and Stephane have since married and have two lovely children; I met up with the latter at Stephane’s parents in Ruoms, great kids.

I pedalled to Istres, listening to a bit of Red Hot Chilli Peppers to distract from the noise of passing lorries, then on to Martigues next to the Etang de Berre. Martigues is a pretty town and harbour, with lots of boats. Unfortunately I passed an accident on the way through; a pedestrian had been hit by a car and was lying in the road, however the police and ambulance were quick to arrive so hope they are alright. It’s always sobering seeing an accident, and reminded me to take extra care with all the traffic; sometimes holiday traffic can be a bit random, with tired drivers, or worse – distracted drivers looking out of the window and chatting.

From Martigues the road climbed, along with the temperature, up and over to Sausset les Pins, then it was a ‘simple’ case of pedalling along La Cote Bleu to Carry-le-Rouet, up a long climb to Le Rove, before descending to L’Estaque. The climb up to Le Rove was pretty tough in the heat, however I received several encouraging shouts from road cyclists, and passed a few cycle tourers going the other way; waves and ‘Bon courage/routes’ were exchanged.

It’s not that easy to get into Marseille from the West, due to motorways on which cycling is not allowed, so I had to wiggle around a bit to make it to the Vieux Port. My Garmin helped for a change, although it did send me via some slightly dubious looking neighbourhoods, and I had to take my panniers off once to fit through a narrow gate; lucky I’ve lost some weight on this tour! I paused for a break in the Vieux Port, which looks as lovely as it used to, and slightly different to 17 years ago with the waterfront having been widened. I took quite a lot of photos.

After being spotted on the Vieux Port webcam by the ‘stalkers’ from home, and a few friends from work, I grabbed Steak/Frites baguette, before riding around the coastal road to meet up with Sophie. The ride brought back loads of good memories from my student times in Marseille, studying Oceanlogie at the Centre d’Oceanologie de Marseille, and at Cite Universite based in Luminy. Marseille has a wonderful coastline, with lots of little beaches and small islands just off the coast; looked great in the sunshine.

In case you’re wondering Chateau d’If is an old fortress and more recently prison, that’s the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ Le Compte de Monte Christo. I stopped off in Endoume, cycling down to the Foreign Legion base then around to the Centre d’Oceanlogie for a look; it’s still there and seems to be going strong. Sadly the little bar where we used to have the ‘odd’ beer is now closed; there was a sign suggesting the closure was due to a fracas – not that surprising since loads of legionnaires also used to drink there.

From Endoume it was a short ride to meet up with Sophie, then on to Pointe Rouge and their flat. Unfortunately Steph, being a ship’s Captain, is away at sea at the moment and not back until the end of September, so I’ll just have to come back next year to see him! It was good to hear all their news from Sophie, and a bit about their future plans. It was also quite amusing looking at a few photos to see how we’ve all changed; like me, Steph has less hair now, or hair that has migrated from head down to chest! All this talking in French is definitely helping me remember how to speak the lingo; when I get back to the UK I’ll have to find some French people to speak to so I don’t forget it again.

After a relaxing evening over a few beers and good food (Sophie is a chef, but I helped make the pastry/anchovie thingamyjigs and didn’t completely ruin them, win!), I slept very well, in preparation for a day off in Marseille.

–> 18 August – rest day in Marseille
Sophie had to go to work early in the morning, but left me some keys, with helpful arrows noting which ones were for which doors. Unfortunately, being a bit of an idiot at times, I picked up the keys before I noticed the arrows, thus making them completely redundant, but was able to muddle through.

I spent a great day in Marseille visiting a few old haunts, as well as a bike and camping shop. Unfortunately the workshop at the bike shop was closed, so I couldn’t get a service done, and they didn’t have the right tyres in stock so I drew a blank there too; found another shop near Toulon which I’ll try tomorrow. I had more luck in the camping shop, finally finding a hammock, along with a map of Slovenia and Croatia which will come in handy. I’ll need to pick up some other maps of Eastern Europe however hopefully I can get these in Croatia; gonna try and just use my GPS and sense of direction in Italy, with the phone as back up.

After grabbing a sandwich I headed off to Luminy and Les Calanques in the afternoon, for a bit of a walk; nice change from cycling. I used to live on the Cite Universite campus in Luminy, back in ’95/96, so the visit brought back yet more great memories. We used to spend a lot time not studying, and instead walking into the Calanques to go climbing, or down to the beach for a swim or party. I might not have been studying but I did learn to speak French well, and reckon it was a cultural learning experience!

The walk also gave me a chance to test out my hammock, which works superbly; I took at 30 minutes siesta to try it out properly. The hammock will come in very handy whilst it’s still warm, as supplies me with a seat as well as a bed, as long as I can find two suitable trees. It gives me more wild camping opportunities too, as a tent isn’t always practical, and a hammock much quicker to pack up should the need arise.

After a taxing day with lots of wandering about, and a few Desperado beers to aid with muscle recovery, I met up with Sophie back at the flat. We watched an old video taken in Tahiti back in ’96, when I stayed with Stephane and his family, along with Christophe and another friend, Delphine, for a few weeks; hilarious video and I must dig out my copy when I get home, we all look so young, and happy, with lots of tom-foolery going on.

The evening was spent at a beach party down on the seafront with a few of Sophie’s friends, several glasses of wine, and good company; chatted to Greg, a kite-surfing instructor, and might learn myself back in the UK, with my brother – they teach it at Hunstanton, just down the road from Norwich, but bit chillier in the North Sea. Gonna be hard to leave Marseille in the morning, however I’ve got a tour to finish, and I’ll definitely be back next year to visit again.

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