Posts Tagged ‘ market ’

I’m not sure what to make of Marseille

I’ve been in Marseille for two days now, and I’m still not sure what to think of it.  I’ve been endlessly walking about, and the biggest attractions that I’ve found are the sun, sea and fish.  It’s not as bad as it sounds as the warm weather puts you in a good mood, but I wish I could find more things to do that didn’t involve wandering about outside.

marseille fish

Fish being sold at the Vieux Port

Before I even made it to my hotel on Sunday night, I could see that the city had a very different vibe.  Lots of Middle Eastern and North African fast food outlets and people all over the streets.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that my route from the station took me straight through the area called Noaille where the shops are grouped.

I went to the Tourist Information centre yesterday morning, and they gave me a map, a city guide and a shopping/eating booklet.  They’re not bad, but also not really helpful, and I don’t have much else to go on.  A friend of a friend lives in Marseille, and she’s been giving me lots of information to work with too luckily.

When I looked out of my window yesterday morning I decided to take my sunglasses with me, and it was a good decision.  The first sight I went to visit was the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica which is 150m above sea level, which made it a good look out point in the past as it has a great view over the sea and pretty much everyone in the city can see it.  Unlike Lyon there wasn’t a funicular railway to take me there, so I walked.  By the time I got to the top it was sunny and hot, and I ended up in my t-shirt and sunglasses with my jacket slung over my bag.  Second church of the holiday, and it was OK but very different to the Fourvière Basilica in Lyon.  The interior is very busy with lots of memorial plaques and model ships which make it look quite messy, and it’s also pretty small.  I suppose it only serves a small part of the city that live close to it and can get to the top of the hill.

marseille basilica

Interior of the basilica where the walls are covered with messages

A colleague once told me that he wished that he had a gigapixel camera, but unfortunately neither he or I do.  There were some great views over the city and I hope they won’t go too fuzzy in my memory.

The city feels really laid back.  I’m not sure if that’s what happens to life when you live near the Mediterranean or if it’s the large number of people who seem to live and work on the streets.  There are lots of men, young and old, who are sitting around in squares smoking and drinking, so guess there’s more unemployment here than the other cities that I’ve visited but I haven’t really looked into it.

In the afternoon I went for a walk around the Panier, which is the Old Quarter of the city.  It’s filled with narrow streets and old buildings, and also lots of churches.  I walked past one at the end of a funeral ceremony, and saw that the priest was quite young and was wearing thick black glasses (as is the inexplicable fashion at the moment) and a goatee, and I found it hard to take him seriously.  Would you like a guy with glasses like that overseeing your funeral?

My overriding memory of the Panier was avoiding all the crap on the streets, I feel like I spent more time looking at my feet than at the stuff around me, and someone else agrees.

marseille merde

"Pavement of shits"

Today I went to visit two areas that were recommended to me by my friend of a friend, Noaille which I already mentioned and La Plaine which is the artistic or creative area of the city.  The first view of Noaille that I had this morning was of the market that takes place on the Longue des Capucins which looks just like a normal market taking place in a city square, except that a majority of the shoppers are North African or Middle Eastern.  When you start walking into the side streets you begin to notice that all of the shops are selling Moroccan or Lebanese or Algerian food, and they cover quite a big area.  I’ve been to Edgware Road in London lots of times, but there it seems that Middle Eastern shops mix with general shops, but that’s not really the case in Marseille.  I didn’t take many photos when I was there as I’d read that it wasn’t such a safe area and that there were dodgy people around, and when you’re told something like that you begin to see people acting strangely such as the guy who had 2 packs of cigarettes hidden on top of a tourist information sign, which was bizarre.

Afterwards I went to the neighbouring La Plaine area where I started off by walking along Cours Julien which is a wide pedestrianised street.  I realised it was the first place in Marseille that I really liked.  It was quiet and clean, had cafés opening out onto the central area and a nice looking water feature.  All the other people around me were also enjoying it, and maybe they were exiles from the dirty, noisy parts of the city too.  The streets coming off it were different but still interesting as they had the feel of an artistic area, with lots of graffiti and ‘modifications’ to the standard street furniture and some alternative shops.  Lots of restaurants too, but most of them were closed even in the early afternoon which was weird.  If I get a chance I’ll head back there in the evening to see if it’s a bit more alive.

marseille cours julien

Lunchtime on Cours Julien

marseille la plaine

Shops in the La Plaine area

After lunch I ventured out of the centre of the city to an area called l’Estaque which is around 30 minutes away by bus.  It was apparently an inspirational place for artists and writers such as Paul Cézanne, George Braques and Émile Zola, and I can imagine that it was a beautiful little town built on top of a rocky seafront.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) at the turn of the 20th century satellite dishes, television antennas, cars and telephone poles were not common landscape features so they don’t appear in the paintings inspired by l’Estaque.  Even if they did exist back then, artistic licence can remove things that shouldn’t be in a composition, but with photography it’s a little more difficult unless your Photoshop skills are up to removing things.  Now you can see that it’s still a beautiful place, blue sky, terracotta roof tiles, boats in the marina, but technological progress has blotted the landscape.

I also read that there are two types of food that are unique to l’Estaque, and maybe I should have taken that as a warning, Chichi Freggi (like a doughnut the size of half a baguette and covered in sugar) and Panisses which are fried chickpea paste disks.  I decided to try the Panisses because the Chichi Freggi looked *huge*, like eating 4 or 5 doughnuts I imagine.  The Panisses were odd and I can understand why they haven’t caught on anywhere else.  They taste like salty chickpeas, imagine falafel with more salt and without all the lovely coriander and other herbs and you’ll be close.  They’re not bad, just not very good.

I escaped l’Estaque a couple of hours after I arrived, and went to buy a little present for my mum.  I started speaking in French to the woman who ran the shop for a few sentences, but when I went to pay it turned out that she was American.  She said that she used to live in Paris but had moved to Marseille many years ago, but there wasn’t much to do here and she missed the cultural life that you get in Paris.  That pretty much echos my view of Marseille so far, although maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow.  I also mentioned to her about shops and restaurants being closed, and she just replied by saying that Marseille was like that and didn’t explain any further so it’s still a mystery.

Finally I had Aioli for dinner, which is like a French-Mediterranean ploughmans lunch, with cod, mussels, potatoes, green beans, carrots and cauliflowers all cooked separately and put on the plate, and it’s served with lots of garlic sauce which is the part that I would normally call aioli.  I still feel stuffed 3 hours later and it’s time to go to bed…


Friday 6:30pm

Pack up
"Bon weekend"
"À lundi!"
Grab headphones
Pickup bag
Put on jacket
Colleagues, young, old
Beer, wine, peanuts
Terrace, smoking, gossip
Long night ahead
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-┼--┼- Going home, going out
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-┼--┼- Happy, bored, tired, relieved
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-┼--┼- Concentrating, playing, texting, reading
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-┼--┼- Friends, planning
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-┼--┼- Couples, chatting

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--┘           └--
Activity, energy, bustling, almost home
Shopkeepers, shuffling, packing, impatient
Baker, greengrocer, cheese seller, butcher
Fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fruit, dinner

One last Xmas market…

It’s definitely going to be the last one, honest.  I feel a little less Christmassy since I came back from holiday and it stopped snowing, so I decided to try and get myself back on the Xmas wagon with a walk up the Champs Elysées.

After the disappointing market I walked through at La Defense I wasn’t sure what I’d see when I got to the Champs Elysées, but after the good experiences of the last week I was feeling optimistic.  I’d read in the newspaper that the market was 1km long and that the street had been lit with 1 million LED lights for Xmas, so I at least expected it to look impressive.

They also had what they claimed is the largest temporary Ferris wheel in Europe (maybe it was the world).  Given all the trouble that they had getting rid of the last wheel after the Millennium if I remember correctly, I’m not sure why they bothered.  It did look nice though behind the obelisk at Place de la Concorde.

Paris xmas market ferris wheel

Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde

When I got there I saw that the market went up both sides of the street, with lots of traffic in the middle, so not exactly the same atmosphere as the pedestrian squares that I’d seen in other cities.  Still lots of people walking around though, with the occasional burst of car horn interrupting the shoppers.

Paris xmas market huts

No real snow was left on the market huts

Little differences again compared to the markets in Germany and Strasbourg.  Paris was very foody, and not just the regular fare of deep fried snacks and there were very few bratwurst/sausage stalls.  I saw stalls selling cheese and cold cuts like salami and ham, wine, and I even saw one place selling caviar!

Paris xmas market salami

One difference from the other markets I'd visited

The other difference compared to the more traditional cities was that it was very family friendly.  Slides and rides for the kids to go on, so it’s not just the parents enjoying themselves.

By the time I decided to go home I didn’t feel any more in the Xmas spirit than when I started, but it was still nice to have a wander around.

Paris xmas market lights

Some of the million or so LEDs

Berlin is cold!

I made it to Berlin this afternoon after a 4 hour train journey from Cologne that I yawned all the way through after not getting enough sleep and a 6am alarm. Nothing terribly interesting today, apart from checking in to a seemingly dodgy hotel, so you could stop reading here and not waste your time…

If you’re still reading, I checked out of a basic but nice hotel in Cologne that was close to the main train station that I arrived in Cologne at and left Cologne from.  It’s one thing that I look for in a hotel more than almost anything else, it’s gotta be convenient.  When I arrived in Berlin my hotel was a 10 minute walk from the station, so not too bad, and it was the only hotel in the area that wasn’t over budget – in fact it was way under budget – and had free wifi as well as having reasonable reviews on the website I booked it on, so that swung the deal.  However when I got here I found that the reception is 2 floors up and all of the rooms are on a single floor of a 6 storey building, so after passing a fitness club on the bottom floor and a physiotherapist (I think) on the first floor I made it to the hotel.

At the reception little things put together started to give me an uneasy feeling.  First the credit card machine’s out of order and they asked if I could pay in cash – OK I could manage to do that tomorrow – then I saw that the room key looks like something a 5 year old could make in a metalwork class with a vice, some tin snips and a mallet, and finally I was told that the wifi signal wasn’t very good and that I should leave the door of my room open to improve it.  Hmm I think not, so now I’m sitting in the hall rather than letting everyone see into my room.

I’ll have to reserve judgement on breakfast until tomorrow, but it’s served in the bar next door apparently.  Hopefully it’s not a liquid breakfast.

So other than the hotel, I just walked around a couple of areas of Berlin which the guidebook calls the East of the City and North of the City which used to be in East Berlin, and also took me past the cathedral.  It looked OK from the outside, but I decided not to bother going in.  I think I have Cathedral Fatigue.  It seems to be something that almost every European tourist destination has, and to be honest I can’t really appreciate the differences between them.  I can see the differences in style, but at the end of the day most of them are big stone buildings with lots of stained glass and if you asked me what a cathedral that I saw a year ago looked like, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Berlin Dom

It was pretty cold when I got here, and there was a biting cold wind that whipped up ever now and again.  Luckily the snow blizzard that I saw on the train stopped before we got to Berlin, and it probably wasn’t a blizzard, it just looked like one because we were going at 200kmph.  A lot of the pavements are frozen around the city though, with paths cleared along part of the pavement to allow people to get where they’re going.  When I came back to the hotel earlier though I could see that the cars on the road outside were already frozen, so there might be more ice tomorrow.

Other than the cathedral I just spent my time wandering about.  Most of the things in the city are quite new, so there’s lots of information like “this used to be an xyz until it was destroyed during the war.  After the war the area was regenerated and now there are lots of little shops.”  Maybe it’ll be different during the day, but I felt that it was lacking a bit of the character that an old fashioned city has.  I’ve heard that that’s one of the attractions of Berlin too, that it’s young and dynamic, so hopefully I’ll see some of that while I’m here.

Berlin fernseturm

I also unintentionally ran into 3 Xmas Markets during the day, but (almost) avoided the need to eat more fatty food.  The food at the markets is different here, as in addition to the standard wursts they have stalls which proclaim to sell authentic Dresden style food which is something that I hadn’t seen before in the West of the country.  Apart from the food the things they’re selling are pretty similar though, so nothing really caught my attention apart from the photo below.

Berlin xmas lights

Tomorrow is the first real day in Berlin and I’m planning to go on a 6 hour walking tour of the city, so I hope my feet survive.  Tonight’s gonna be an early night though as I’m hoping to catch up on some sleep.

Berlin gedenkt

Cologne day 2: Gluhwein and tango

I’m not sure if every day’s going to end up as a blog post, but today was fun too so here’s another one.

This morning my friend Laura arrived in Cologne from Amsterdam and we hit the famous Cologne Christmas markets.  Last time I was in Cologne it was 2007 and there were 6 markets around the city, but this time the city map I got from the hotel only showed 4 although we found a 5th one that wasn’t on the map.

Laura arrived pretty early and most of the stalls were just starting to open at 11 in the morning, so we headed to the furthest away market first which is the Medieval Market.  On the way we stopped to have our first sausage of the day at the Altermarkt.  Yum!

As it happens the Medieval Market is located right next to the Chocolate Museum, so we went into the shop to look at all the weird and wonderful types of chocolate.  It was much quieter than yesterday so we splurged on chocolate (well not quite), and I bought some chocolate with figs that’s a little disappointing and a 99% cocoa Lindt bar which I haven’t tried.  I’m not sure how you make 99% cocoa chocolate as I have no idea how you bind it, but I’ll find out when I remove the foil fresh seal.

After finishing our shopping we went to the market, which is loosely themed on medieval times.  The employees are dressed in gowns, there are some old fashioned trades on show such as ironmongers, and most importantly the Gluhwein is served in terracotta cups.  The novelty factor is pretty much the only reason to go to this market, and some of the other features are not so nice such as the unhappy looking camel that was being petted by all the kids passing by.  I’m not really sure how a happy camel looks, or if they smile, but this one was just standing in one place and wasn’t going anywhere.

Cologne medieval cups

Cologne medieval camel

So after the novelty wore off it was onward to the Neumarkt Christmas Market which is also called the Angel Market.  It’s one of the bigger markets by the number of stalls, and we stopped and had some reibekuchen (potato fritters) to complete our well balanced lunch.

After the Neumarkt we headed to the Heumarkt which has a huge ice rink in the middle of it and a ferris wheel, where we met up with another friend from Amsterdam that we hadn’t seen in a while and shopped to have a chat, and of course another Gluhwein.  Half an hour later we said our goodbyes and headed to the Cathedral market which is overlooked by the huge Cathedral.  For us this was the last market of the day and as usual I didn’t buy anything other than food and drink all day.  For me the market experience is all about eating and drinking, and if I find something else interesting to buy then that’s a bonus, but this time it wasn’t to be.

After we finished visiting the markets we came to the real reason for Laura’s visit to Cologne, a Tango Milongo which was taking place in the suburbs of the city.  Laura’s still learning to tango, but she was excited to be going to a foreign tango event and this one was special because we were going to catch the end of a 24 hour tango event.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there, but I was assured that people didn’t have to dance continuously for 24 hours, only that at least one couple had to be on the dance floor at throughout the milonga.

Cologne tango sebastian

The milonga took place in a dance hall dedicated to tango, and it was full of people when we arrived.  The dance floor was around 20m by 10m and there were sofas and chairs around and a bar, so it was a pretty big hall.  I found out later that there was also a sleeping area on the mezzanine level for people to rest during the night.

It was the first time that I’d seen people dance the tango in person, and I’m really impressed.  It looked like fun.  I’m not sure that I’d have the dedication or ability to do it myself, but maybe I’ll try some day.  We looked for somewhere to sit, and being uninitiated in the ways of tango, we inadvertently sat in the chill out (or do not ask to dance) area.  This was good news for me as I wasn’t dressed for dancing and I also have no idea how to tango, but not so good for Laura whose teacher eventually explained this to us after around an hour!

Laura and Sebastian

At the end of the milonga it was time to head back to the city and find dinner, but I’d enjoyed watching everyone else dancing and I got to play with my camera in a new and difficult situation.  I also ended up with lots of blurry photos again…

Gotta go pack now as tomorrow I’m off to Berlin.

La Defense

It’s been such a busy week two weeks that I’m only just getting round to writing about last weekend two weekends ago. I visited my first Xmas market of the winter at La Defense just outside of Paris, the first of many to come over the next month or so.

I went to La Defense with the photo group that I joined and I thought that we’d be going to take photos of the market, but we actually spent most of our time taking photos of the office blocks, statues, sculptures and other artwork that we came across. Not the most inspiring stuff, and I think the freezing temperatures didn’t help.

La Defense Cinema

It wasn’t all boring office blocks as most of the buildings and public spaces there are quite modern, so it did make a nice change from grand old Paris, but it was really quiet even though there were apartment blocks nearby.  Not many people wandering around on Friday night.

La Defense Lights

La Defense Lights

There were a few interesting things to take photos of, but I learned an important lesson when shooting at night:

  • Always take a tripod no matter how inconvenient it might be

I didn’t take mine so ended up with blurry photos. I’m heading off to Germany in a few days time and I know that I should take my tripod, but the idea of lugging around an extra 2 kilos all day really puts me off.

La Defense Xmas Tree

At the end of the night we made it to the Xmas market, and we got there just as the stalls were closing down for the night. It was the weirdest market that I’ve been to as in addition to the normal stalls selling sweets, slippers and gluhwein, then was a wooden kebab hut and another one selling sushi. Definitely not traditional, and even though Paris isn’t really a Xmas market region, a bit disappointing.

Hopefully Cologne, Berlin and Strasbourg will be better.

Hopefully I’ll get back into the rhythm of posting things in a kinda timely fashion too.

La Defense Stripes