Dateline: Port of Marseilles, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera
Our ship sailed into Marseilles early yesterday, accompanied by excellent weather.
Marseilles seems to lack the charm of our first ports though: Monte Carlo, Cannes and St. Tropez. This could be due in part to its relative size, with a population approaching one million. Yet the city does have an ancient heritage, founded by the Greeks around 600 BC.
With less time docked here we decided to take a taxi into the old town rather than wait for a slow shuttle bus. This ride initiated our exposure to the Marseilles personality quickly. The Russian couple we had met earlier suggested we share a cab. The first couple in the taxi line before us had asked the driver if they might share a cab with other passengers, and we four being the next passengers to arrive were asked if we minded sharing. (The taxi was an SUV which could accommodate all of us comfortably.)
When the next driver in line saw this he flew into a rage, accosted our driver for taking all the business for himself, when actually our man was simply trying to comply with all our requests. He asked our party if we would mind sharing with the first couple, and of course we were fine with the idea. No matter how many rode in the taxi the charge was going to be a flat twenty euros. When the next driver saw all of us start to amble into the first car he became apoplectic, cursing our driver, who returned the favor with his own caustic fusillade. The first couple had by then decided to wait for another pair. The argument went on for over a minute before we got on our way. Our Russian friend sharing with us was becoming a little annoyed with the theatrics; I was more amused. The heated exchange continued even as we were pulling away.
So once on our way into the old town we asked the driver where he would go for Marseilles’ classic Bouillabaisse dish, which is essentially a poor man’s fish stew. He summed it up that they were all pretty much the same though you could pay less than twenty euros or as much as nearly sixty. I kept an eye out for the lesser priced menus once we got out of the cab but did not quite have the appetite for the dish this early in the day, no matter the price.
By the way, speaking of prices: yesterday I had quoted an absurd price for apples noted in St. Tropez. I stand corrected; they are not four euros each. The four euros was a price for a kilo of apples. Even at that price, not a bargain.
My hunt today in Marseilles was for cheese shops however. Sadly, although Marseilles is surrounded by agriculture, cheese does not have the focus it has in others parts of the country. This city is much more maritime – fish is the thing. As France’s busiest port you might suspect that cheese has been an important export commodity. Most of the cheese exportation leaves France from Rungis, north of Paris. The menus I read around Marseilles did not mention fromage.
This was okay, since I still had a little cheese in my stateroom left over from Cannes and St. Tropez. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have found a few more young raw milk cheeses in Marseilles knowing it would be my last stop on French soil this trip.
We returned to the ship in the early afternoon, with our sailing for Sardega scheduled late afternoon instead of late night – the overnight voyage being longer than the previous ones. We were able to catch a free shuttle bus back to our pier and as soon as we pulled away from the platform our bus driver displayed the same confrontational attitude we had seen in our taxi driver earlier in the day, though at the command of a large bus he exhibited an even more aggressive demeanor. When making tight turns around the narrow Marseilles streets he launched a tirade against any car driver who got in his way. This tough attitude among drivers appeared to simply be the way it is here.
I have no doubt that they would be calmer if they included more cheese in their diets.
Sailing east that evening we watched the sun set over the sea from the ship’s main dining room. The sun appeared to descent into the sea while the stars began to appear one by one. I finished my meal with a cheese plate that included a raw milk Camembert, an aged Manchego, and a Gorgonzola Cremificato.
There were no fights getting on the elevator.
- Max McCalman