Woke up this morning at around 7.30am to find ourselves docked in the port of Marseille. We had never visited this part of France before, so we’d booked a half-day excursion. Looking across from our balcony, we were intrigued by the sight of a huge cathedral on top of a steep hill; we hoped we would have the time (and the energy!) to climb up there, where we imagined the views over the harbour would be amazing.
We enjoyed our breakfast in the Windows Café as usual then, at 8.30am we made our way to the Cabaret Lounge to sign in for our excursion and receive a numbered sticker each. We were then called to disembark at Deck 3, and we walked the short distance through the cruise terminal to the line of waiting buses outside.
Off we went through the bustling streets alongside the marina, where there were hundreds and hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes moored up. Our guide, who was called Christelle, told us a little of the history of Marseille, which is the oldest city in France. It was founded in 600BC by Greek settlers and soon became (and still is) a major maritime trading hub.
Our first stop was at the amazing Palais Longchamp, a monument in the 4th arrondissement of Marseille. It houses the Musée des beaux-arts (Museum of Fine Arts) and Muséum d’histoire naturelle (Natural History Museum) de Marseille. The surrounding Longchamp Park is listed by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France. The architecture was wonderful and ornate, and there was a small lake which was filled by waterfalls and fountains, which glittered and made fleeting rainbows in the sun.
Back on the coach, we were happy to hear that our next visit was to be to the “church on the hill” that we’d seen from our balcony. However, we wouldn’t have the steep, difficult climb (I am no good at all walking uphill!) but would do most of the ride in the bus.
Our driver, Pascal, skillfully manoevred the large coach up the narrow roads which twisted and turned their way up the hill, with the view opening out beneath us. When we got to the top and parked up, Christelle advised us that there were 160 steps to climb to the door of the church, with another 62 steps to get to the viewing platform. She said those who didn’t feel they were physically able to climb all those steps could wait in the coach. Never mind that – I would take my time and go up the steps at my own pace; it wasn’t a race after all. 🙂
We were told that the church was called Notre-Dame de la Garde and was the city’s best known symbol. It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 489 feet limestone outcropping on the south side of the Old Port of Marseille. Construction of the basilica began in 1853 and lasted for over forty years.
As we climbed higher and higher, we paused at intervals to get photos of the amazing views. We could see the whole of the city as well as many ships and boats in the harbour, including the Pursuit.
Eventually we completed the first 160 steps and took a breather by opting to go inside the main nave of the church. The architecture and decor were lavish and breathtaking – what a beautiful building!
Afterwards, we climbed the remaining 62 steps to the upper church and went out onto a sort of gallery. From up here, we had 360 degree views of the city and the sea, and we could look across and see the famous football stadium Stade Velodrome, the home of Olympique de Marseille. The stadium holds 67,394 spectators which makes it the second largest football stadium in France, after the Stade de France. It has hosted competitions in both the 1998 World Cup and the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
I was also able to use the fantastic zoom facility on my phone camera and get a great shot of the Pursuit far below us.
Once we had made our way back down again and met up with the rest of our group and our guide, we took our places in the bus once again as Pascal drove carefully through the narrow, winding streets. At one point we found ourselves going along a street with cars parked bumper to bumper on both sides of the road, and some drivers foolishly attempting to drive the other way, despite there being no room to pass. At one point Pascale effortlessly reversed the coach quite a way back until a car could pass; I was very impressed as I cannot reverse our Vauxhall Corsa accurately, never mind a bus! 🙂
When we eventually arrived back down to sea level, Pascal received a round of applause from all his passengers. 🙂
Once we’d parked up, we now had about an hour and a half of free time, to have a look around the harbour, shops and souvenir stalls, many selling hand-made soaps. We walked along looking at the boats and gazing back up the hill towards the Notre-Dame de la Garde; it looked so high up it was hard to believe we’d been up there! 🙂
We arrived back at the Pursuit at around 1.00pm, after a thoroughly interesting morning. Dumping our bags in our cabin, we went up to the Windows Café and enjoyed a light lunch before going out onto the sunny rear decks, where we had an amazing view of the large Roman Catholic cathedral, the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure. It a national monument of France, and has been designated a a basilica minor since 1896. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille (formerly the Diocese of Marseille until its elevation in 1948). This is one of the wonderful things we love about the smaller ships; they can dock almost right into the town, instead of being so large they have to berth in a container port, miles away from any attractions.
After lunch, we reluctantly decided we had better make a start with our packing. 🙁
Dragging the suitcases out from under the bed, we put in anything we wouldn’t be needed again this cruise, leaving out what we’d need to wear tonight as well as our wash bags, cosmetics etc. Then we went up to the pool deck to have a couple of drinks and watch the sailaway at 4.30pm, taking our time and looking around at our fellow passengers and thinking how much we had enjoyed this cruise.
For dinner this evening, we went to the Windows Café once again, where tonight’s special offering was Indian. Not surprising really, due to the large number of Indian crew. We love Indian food and have it once a fortnight at home. We enjoyed a good selection of starters; samosas, bhajis etc. followed by a delicious Vindaloo in my case and some sort of prawn curry in Trevor’s. It was all washed down with the inevitable cold beer. 🙂
Then it was along to the Cabaret Lounge for tonight’s show, which was called “His Song” and was an excellent tribute to the songs and flamboyant costumes of Elton John. We really enjoyed the show a lot, and looking around, we could see people’s feet tapping with some singing along to the well-known lyrics.
Afterwards, we went back to our cabin and finished off the packing, changing out of our smart clothes into those in which we’d be travelling tomorrow. Then we locked up the cases and left them outside the door of 6062 to be taken off the ship, where we’d collect them at the cruise terminal in the morning.
For the last time, we went up to the Living Room and sat on our ‘usual’ bar stools, but there were not many people in there at all; maybe everyone else was packing too! So we just had a couple of drinks and went down to The Den, where Derek the pianist was playing and singing for us.
As we had to be out of our cabin by 7.00am (!!) we knew we’d have to be up around quarter to six, so we didn’t want a late night tonight. Enjoying one last cocktail, we returned to cabin 6062 for about 11.30pm and settled down for our last night on board the beautiful Azamara Pursuit.
But our holiday wasn’t over yet…