In Toulouse now – where I know the place well and don’t have the strong feeling of wide-eyed wonderment that I felt the entirety of the five-day stretch in Marseille.

I’m really glad I got to see Marseille. It’s an amazing city. Most of my French friends were either lukewarm or negative on it but its status as the country’s second largest city by population (860-thousand) made it must see for me. It exceeded my expectations by a lot.

On arrival a week ago today (10-1-19), I lumbered down the large staircase pictured above at Gare St. Charles, the main train station in Marseille. The view of the city from the top of that staircase is amazing. It’s a hardcore first impression. At the bottom you filter into the busy free-for-all that is the city’s center. A significant number of people from the Arab world, north Africa, Turkey are concentrated in central neighborhoods. My first stroll the evening of my arrival, I walked down a street and passed by a hodge-podge of small businesses run by people with ties to all of those places including a bustling restaurant serving Iraqi cuisine.

The centerpiece of the city is Vieux Port, an active harbor for fishing boats as well as recreational vessels and ferry service. I went there each morning to see fishermen present their catch on ice-packed tables for sale to the public. The modestly-sized Daurade is the most popular fish it appears – and it cost more than most of the other types but was still only 10-12 dollars a pound – sold whole and cleaned.

The cruise ship business feeds a lot of tourists into the Vieux Port area. These people stick out like a sore thumb, walking in herds – exiting tour coach buses – but their presence must play a large role in keeping this district economically healthy. They get off the boat looking for bouillabaisse and a glass of wine overlooking the port and probably drop a couple hundred euros. One day from a high altitude near the beaches area, I could see three massive cruise ships at port to the north of Vieux Port.

The weather is ridiculous in Marseille. Sunny and 75 every day I was there. A sharp cool-down at night. A salty, gusty wind off the sea. It’s said to be sunny in Marseille at least 300 days a year. The water is a deep blue and at all vantage points I saw nothing but crystal clear. The combination of intense sun, blue sea and crisp breeze made going to the Port a really rewarding experience. Given new vigilance about car and truck-driven terror, there are concrete barriers encircling the popular parts of the port which made for plenty of places to sit and stare at the beauty.

The new museum “Mucem” is in this Vieux Port area and is totally worth checking out. Even better than the art inside it (which included an interesting and expansive exhibition about the subject of islands), there are several stunning spaces to lounge in and take in the view. The ticket with art included is 9.5 euros but you can see most of the good stuff without paying anything.

A city bus that passes by the Vieux Port takes you south along the sea to the beaches area. I went out to Plage du Prado on Friday. People were swimming, sunning and biking in massive spaces set aside for recreation. I had a couple of cheap lagers and took it all in before making the 20 or 25 minute bus ride back to the city.

My best meal in Marseille came at La Tete de Chou, a newish place owned and operated by three friendly young guys serving classic but reasonably-priced French food. I had the Cabillaud, a thick filet of white fish which tastes of the sea. Spinach on top and a cooked grain mixed with dried tomatoes and other morsels. The restaurant’s terrace is especially nice because there’s no vehicular traffic on the street in front.

Most thrilling in Marseille was the Castellane Market on Avenue du Prado. The vendors selling produce, fresh seafood and flowers covered I’m guessing three or four hundred yards or more. You know the fish are gonna be plentiful there but I forgot how important and how good the farms growing veggies and fruit are in the region. The Friday market at Castellane was especially impressive and busy. The growers selling flowers shielded their product from the sun with a haphazard setup of canopies – so you had to watch your step – but the presentation was amazing. Older people especially were buying big bunches of flower arrangements displayed with great thoughtfulness.

On Saturday – I got caught a bit outside of the center after attending an exhibit at the Friche la Belle de Mai, an old tobacco warehouse converted into a giant arts space. After exiting the Friche, I waited for the bus only to be told by a young woman that the bus “was not coming today.”

OK. I walked ten minutes to the Tram to again be told by a guy that “there is no tram service right now.”

That brought me to a Metro station another ten minutes away where the escalators were powered off and the interior of the station was pitch dark. At that point I did a Google search to learn that public transit workers across all sectors of service had walked off the job at midday after a Metro operator was attacked in the morning. There were no updates either on Marseille’s public transit web site – or on their Twitter page.

Riders I encountered didn’t seem too rattled. The sidewalks bulged with pedestrians. I walked about 25 minutes to Cours Julien where I found a place serving decent IPA.

I stayed at an Ibis property in Marseille near the train station in a small room at a good rate. Just before I left the states, I double-checked all of my arrangements and learned that somehow the reservation had been cancelled. I spent a good week going back and forth with the Ibis reservations and “customer care” staff to get it reinstated but got nothing but runaround. They literally did nothing more than repeatedly confirm my reservation was cancelled and promised to examine why. Two days before I was to arrive in Marseille, I finally got a guy to tell me I was out of luck and that I should find another place to stay. It was at that point I made a last-ditch effort and called the local hotel desk directly. I explained my situation, they understood and they offered me five nights at the same rate I originally booked at. Wow. Thank you. I should have gone that route to start.

Just when I was ready to swear off Ibis forever, the local hotel staff saved the day. And I can now drink the fresh-squeezed orange juice famous as a fixture at free Ibis breakfast buffets in French hotels for years to come.

Greetings from Marseille. It’s Wednesday the second of Rocktober and now day 7 of the 23 day vacay.

I took the high-speed train from Paris leaving Gare de Lyon at midday yesterday. The train whistles through 500 miles in just 3.5 hours. It’s an impressive transport feat going from near the top of the country to the bottom in such quick order. The fare was 24 euros.

The hotel situation in Marseille got ironed out last minute but induced anxiety for a week. I’ll describe that situation in more detail once I complete my stay at the hotel but it was through no fault of the local innkeeper that the reservation got messed up. Rather, it was the outsourced third party reservations bureaucracy that botched all aspects of the simple transaction.

Five nights in Paris were just enough to gain footing, see key people/sights and depart on terms that leave me feeling a strong pull to return before too long.

I got lucky with that previously mentioned En Attendant Ana gig last Friday.

I wouldn’t have learned of it without Facebook. Yeah, the world’s biggest social media platform is a bad actor on several levels but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve learned about arts, food and drink-related events and spots through their site. In France especially, Facebook seems like a primary conduit of information about music. If you let the technology know your tendencies, it’s amazing the list of options it creates on any given day for all of France’s big cities.

So, after seeing a quality card of turf races at St. Cloud Friday afternoon, I made the long trek up to the gig at a converted industrial space on the northern periphery of the city. As I mentioned in the previous post, En Attendant Ana is my favorite French band and I’ve always wanted to see them. They toured the states last fall but I was in France. They were the first to play Friday night with all profit from the event going to organizations providing direct aid to the few thousand refugees, exiles and people fleeing desperate conditions now living in tents near the venue around Porte d’Aubervilliers. To reach the venue, you pass the temporary outdoor structures crammed together on sidewalks above a motorway. The stench is stiff. This is Paris, although not the part frequented by tour groups.

Admission to the gig was 10 euros. I drank Picon Biere (basic lager with a couple ounces of mildly flavored syrup that spikes the A-B-V). The venue: La Station – Gare des Mines was well run on all fronts. According to their nicely-crafted web site, the venue (outdoors) has a capacity of 960.

En Attendant Ana unveiled several new songs which sounded great. They also played “Night” which I’ve listened to over and over and over again since getting the record “Lost and Found.” Camille Fr├ęchou’s trumpet lines were expectedly awesome. The closing guitar jam on Night lacked the snap it has both on the record – and from the footage I’ve seen so I chalked it up to the sound mix. It was later that I learned that Ana’s guitar player Romain Meaulard has been replaced by Maxence Tomasso which explains the textural differences on Night and other numbers.

The set lasted 50 minutes. The outdoor aspect made it great and frontwoman Margaux Bouchaudon (pictured above right – holding guitar) was fantastic.

On Saturday, I had lunch with Seb near his book shop in the Marais. We ate at a great place called Le Bougnat which has for decades been serving food influenced by the owner’s ties to the Auvergne. We both had a sausage/potato/salad dish with a glass of red wine and a plum tart for dessert.

That night, I drank Picon Biere at Chair de Poule, a great bar that sits on a three-way corner near the Belleville neighborhood. While waiting for Seb, Marie and her friend Audrey to arrive, I sat outside and got a thrilling Saturday-night-in-Paris view of the world walking by.

On Sunday, I want to Invalides to see people line up for the chance to say goodbye to the former French President Jacques Chirac. It was raining but I covered a lot of territory.

And then on Monday, I got to know the 13th which is where my hotel was. I walked all over it. It’s a mix of old, working-class Paris and efforts in parts to build ugly new stuff. I’d recommend the 13th for travelers on a budget because it’s real Paris – and the 7 line on the Metro gets you to a lot of the key places in quick order.

That night was my final night in Paris. I went with Seb, Marie and Audrey to the final night in the short existence of Black Star, a rock club near the Bastille. It was a short run for Black Star (less than a year says Seb) but they closed it with a rough performance from a guy who’s probably seen a hundred Black Stars come and go. Patrick Eudeline has been writing and performing rock and punk music for more than 40 years. He struggled through a short set which featured at least 75-percent of the small audience talking loudly as if he weren’t there.

As I walked back to the Metro to return to my hotel, I randomly bumped into Julien a friend from Toulouse who now lives in Paris and works at the Opera as a stagehand. We had a drink, caught up and laughed at the chance of meeting up without planning it.