• Sintija Tocs-Macane

A City of Street Art - Marseille

In the spring of 2019, me and some of my closest friends decided we deserve a proper break after finishing our second year at university. We knew we wanted sun, amazing food, the beach as well as cheap flights and a cheap stay. We were pretty much broke at that point, but still felt like we needed a little getaway trip. Then, one day I was looking up cheap tickets and stumbled upon a £35 flight to France, Marseille. French Riviera? Well then ...we must go! Luckily, my friends approved and got as excited as I was.

When people think of French Riviera, they often think of places like Nice, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, not Marseille. We felt like we hit the jackpot with booking tickets to the less visited Marseille. To be honest, all we wanted was some sun. We planned what we wanted to see, one of my friends booked us an Airbnb and we were on our way.

The airport was tiny and super empty, we were confused. Turns out Marseille in spring isn’t touristy at all, actually it felt like we were the only tourists in the whole city of Marseille.

We got off the airport bus and started looking for our Airbnb, but we realised we were not the biggest fans of the city. It felt really gritty and unsafe. Old furniture on the streets, numerous broken mirrors next to them, rubbish and empty buildings everywhere.

However, when we finally found our Airbnb which was beautiful in the ‘touristy’ area of Marseille, quite close to the Old Port (Vieux Port). The Old Port is the heart of Marseille, with lots of cafes, shops and the marina. There were some amazing street performers and a carousel, which we obviously had to go on.

The area we stayed in was stunning. Old colourful buildings, small, empty streets with cool independent shops, numerous bakeries and art everywhere! The touristy bit without any tourists was full of art. Graffiti's, paintings, a little outdoor art gallery with no entrance fee, with nobody but us there. Wellies filled with all sorts of plants in an old shopping cart next to a shop. Plants in old Crocs sitting on a window sill outside someone's humble, but colourful, house. Big plants, small plants, all sorts of different plants put on the walking streets of Marseille. I was so impressed, so happy.

Our impressions of Marseille changed completely. Every time we went for a casual walk just near our house, to explore the colourful streets, there was new graffiti, a new painting, a new frame for a painting, a new sculpture, something new to tie your eyes to and chat about. It was pure bliss, sitting in a French café, the sun out, and we’re just looking around at the art on the streets and the buildings, it was all around us. It is the city of amazing street art.

Once we got more comfortable with the city, we decided to revisit the gritty bit of it. This was when electric scooters started to appear everywhere and we decided that it would be the best way to get around the city. There was this graffiti covered staircase leading up to a really cool urban market with independent cafes, craftsmen and women selling their handmade jewellery and paintings. We hopped off our scooters and went to explore by foot. We walked around for ages, munching on cheese and baguettes. Marseille is hilly and we got tired quite easily but we didn’t care, we were loving the city. We loved the atmosphere, we loved getting lost, we started loving everything about it.

As I mentioned before, we had very limited budgets for this trip, so we didn’t really go to any restaurants, although we couldn’t resist cafes and a bar or two. We preferred buying groceries and then cooking up a storm in our Airbnb and drinking wine on our little balcony.

We loved our little balcony, we had breakfast, lunch and dinner on it. The first thing when we woke up was to sit on the balcony to catch some sun and one of my friends always had a French breakfast - black coffee and a cigarette. Our morning routine was the same as the guy across the street, so we’d have a cup of coffee in the morning, wine on the evening, whilst he’d have a smoke on his balcony.

I don’t regret missing out on the restaurants. We had great ice-cream from a shop next to Old Port, bread, wine, cheese and the ‘Navette’ biscuit, a boat shaped biscuit symbolic of Provence. We did find a shop dedicated to this biscuit, with different variations and flavours of it. It was like a Navette pick and mix. The shop was in this stunning shopping centre which for some reason was completely empty, which we found odd, but oh well, we basically got the shopping centre to ourselves, the artsy streets for ourselves and the whole city for ourselves most of the time. It was strange how empty it was at all times. The only places that were crowded was the beach - Plage des Catalans and the market. The market was in the gritty part of the city, so we didn’t spend loads of our time there.

On the last day we decided that we must see the city from its highest point Notre-Dame de la Garde. It’s a stunning basilica on the top of a mountain. You can see it from most places in Marseille. It’s a fantastic viewpoint and the inside of it is truly stunning. The Basilica was filled with tourists and we were confused, where did they all come from?

We spent our last day sitting at a beer garden, admiring Abbey of St. Victor we were able to see from our window and had a meal at Burger King.

Marseille really changed my impressions of it. It’s so stunning and special with it’s art, diverse society and landmarks. It was so relaxing but surprising at the same time and never boring.


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