Winter Break was the perfect opportunity for an adventure! I set off for Marseille by myself before meeting up with a friend in Barcelona. Marseille is an absolutely gorgeous city, and I had an amazing time.
Because I took a night bus, I got into Marseille at 5:30 in the morning. It turns out very little is open, even in a train station, at 5:30 (Travel tip – the bathrooms open at 6). I had brought my breakfast with me, so I ate it there before heading out to a church that opened at 7. The sun had not risen yet, so I climbed up to the church in the dark. I was not previously aware that Marseille is a hilly city, but it certainly is. (The church being named “Notre Dame de la Montée” might should have given me a clue) I could just barely make out the sea from the entrance. The church itself was lovely and quite colorful, in a very different style than the Bordelaise churches I’ve been in. When I came out, the sun has risen, and in the early morning light I could see the sea, the city, and the mountains surrounding it, all spread out before me. It was surreal to go from the dark to the light, and oh so worth the climb.
Although it was sprinkling when I left the church, I decided I would not melt if I went to the beach. However, by the time I arrived it was nice and sunny (a welcome change from Bordeaux’s rainy winter) and I had a delightful walk around the coast. The water was bright blue and contrasted magnificently with the white and sometimes pale pink rocky coast. I couldn’t stop myself from briefly wading in the still chilly water. In addition to the beach, I visited a woodsy national park on the other side of the road and walked through a small fishing village. At the end I could have kept going, but the route got very steep and I had no water left nor any one to contact if I fell and hurt myself, so I decided that sometimes it’s okay not to be stubborn and to just enjoy what I’d already seen – which was plenty gorgeous.
After a refreshing night of sleep that was not on a bus, I was able to fit even more into one day. I visited the art museum and the history museum, both free for students. Marseille has a really long history, and I would highly recommend the history museum to learn about it. (If all malls had museums in them I might go more often). While walking around the harbor, I realized I could catch the last boat out to the Château d’If and the Frioul Islands! I had only been on a boat a couple of times before, and I had forgotten how exhilarating it is. The islands were beautiful, despite the ferocious wind that nearly blew me over. I have got to read the Count of Monte Cristo now!
Other than the coast, one of my favorite parts of Marseille was the churches I got to visit: Notre Dame de la Montée, Cathédrale la Major, and Abbaye St-Victor. They were quite distinct, both aesthetically and in their personal significance. Climbing the hill to Notre Dame de la Montée, reflecting on my life and God’s will for me, and coming out to such a marvelous view was just really joyful. Cathédrale la Major is the resting place of St. Eugène de Mazenod, a missionary Provençal-speaking bishop in the poor and rural surrounding areas. I have to admit, my very Protestant self was becoming rather uncomfortable with all the saints, and this was an encouraging reminder of why it’s good to have people filled with faith from the past to look up to. Abbaye St-Victor is the oldest church in Marseille, and it’s far simpler yet still grand. I got to sit in the chapel and pray while listening to beautiful organ music and admiring the stained glass. I am so glad I had this break to reflect on my future, what with culture shock making me question what I was doing, next year being my senior year, and my unexpected trip to the hospital (yay peanut butter) making me think about life in general. I love planning, which is very handy when traveling, but it’s even better when I get a glimpse of how God has been planning things all along.
I really love traveling by myself. The adventure, the independence, the time for reflection – it’s refreshing to my soul. Setting off down that sunny coastal highway, treating myself to the Moroccan restaurant next to my hotel (tajine and mint tea!), and daring myself to ride a ferris wheel despite my terror of heights were all moments that reminded me who I am and the boldness I want to have, even when it’s limited by culture shock or other, unrelated anxieties.