Marseilles, France

After Mont St-Michel, Lizzie and I were able to drive our rental car back to Paris. It was on this journey that we looked back at our paperwork to confirm the location of where to drop off the car that we realized that the rental company gave us the wrong rental! We had specifically rented a tiny electric car (cheapest option) for two nights, picking up and dropping off the car in Paris. When we picked up the car, we realized it was a somewhat nice car – and it wasn’t electric… But we figured perhaps something got lost in translation and we just rolled with the punches. However, upon closer inspection of the paperwork on the way back to Paris, we realized the rental company gave us a rental that was supposed to be dropped off 9 hours away from Paris! Oh – and it was a 4 day rental… My only guess is that the rental company mixed up our order with someone else’s, so somewhere in Paris, some poor chap drove off the lot with the cheapest car available (think: a little bubble-type car, smaller than a Smart Car) for an overnight rental thinking it was actually for a 4 day cross-country trek. Thankfully, when we brought the car back to Paris, the company was super apologetic and worked everything out.

From Paris, we caught a high-speed train southbound to Marseilles on the southern coast of France for our first experience of the French Riviera.

The train systems across Europe are incredible! The stations largely resemble airport terminals with restaurants, multiple waiting areas, and incredible architecture. Nearly every country has its own set of high-speed trains, and France is no exception. In the screenshot above, you can see our car-driving route from Mont Saint-Michel in the top left to Paris. This little route took us close to 6 hours! Now check out that giant route from Paris straight down to Marseilles on the Southern shore. That entire route took 2.5 hours on one of France’s high-speed trains. Each train is equipped with a fair-priced cafe car, outlets at each seat, and typically free wifi as well.

Walking through Marseilles at night

We arrived in Marseilles after a full day of travel ready to crash in bed. We were only staying in Marseilles for one night, and we came in pretty late (around midnight). Even though we were so late, the city was alive. There were families walking around, people playing soccer in the public squares, and restaurants were still open.

Streets of Marseilles at night

We arrived at our AirBnB to find that it was in a good central location of town. The only problem? We couldn’t get in! The check-in instructions were completely in French which normally isn’t a problem for us with Google Translate. But this time, something was lost in translation and we were stuck in the stuffy stairwell trying to figure out what the lockbox combination was. With it being so late, our AirBnB host was already asleep at their own apartment and wasn’t answering their phone. After 30 minutes of trying different combinations (close to 1AM now), we called an audible and got the last room in a hotel just down the street. It was a bit more expensive, but at least we had a place to call home for the night.

Our impulse-purchase hotel room

The next morning, we woke up to discover a completely different Marseilles than what we saw the night before. The streets from the train station to our failed AirBnB experience were very vandalized, dirty, and run down. There was also a low fog that rolled in from the Mediterranean that blanketed the city in an ominous haze. In the morning light however, the city took on a completely different meaning.

Public Saturday morning market
Selling fresh fish in the market

There is a beautiful cathedral overlooking Marseilles called Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. From the center of Marseilles, it was a quick 10 minute bus ride to the top of the hill where incredible views were waiting for us to enjoy.

Overlooking the city + the Mediterranean!
Inside Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

One of the highlights of our time in Marseilles was stopping in for a quick coffee and bite to eat at 7VB Cafe. When ordering our coffee, we asked the barista in French if they spoke English. He responded, “Sure do!” in a suspiciously American-sounding accent. We ordered our coffee, and I asked him, “Are you from America?” He said, “Yeah man I’m from Houston!”

It turns out this coffee shop was a part of the only Protestant church in Marseilles, and the barista was the son of a missionary family that was serving the church. He sat with us and ate lunch with us before we caught a train. We learned he was an aspiring short filmmaker (what better part of the world to live in for short film producers, right next to the Cannes Film Festival!?). He made a short film illustrating how the church was founded back in the 90s – we’ll embed the English-subtitle version below if you want to take a look.

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