Posts Tagged ‘ strike ’

Leaving Marseille

I finally moved on from Marseille earlier today, after 4 days it’s definitely time to do something new but I’ve enjoyed myself here and it’s been nice relaxing in the sun shine.

Yesterday I went to the Art of Africa, Oceania and Amerindia and the Mediterranean Archaeology museums which are in the same building.  They were OK, nothing to special other than the scary masks in the Africa, Oceania and Amerindia museum, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend some time.

marseille african masks


At lunch time I met up with a friend of a friend called Justine who’d been living in Marseille for the last 6 months.  She didn’t know me at all, so it was very kind of her to take some time to have lunch with me and explain a little bit about Marseille.  We went for couscous in a small restaurant where people were all sitting shoulder to shoulder.  The food was good and incredibly cheap, and we just chatted and got to know each other.

After lunch we went for a wander in Marseille, which seems to be what I do every day, and she explained a little about the city.  The area we went for lunch in is called Belsunce, and it’s one of the more downmarket areas on the south side of Marseille, south of the train station.  It’s full of narrow streets crammed with little shops, and Justine told me that the mayor had been trying to get rid of the people who lived and worked there for a while to renovate the area and make it more in keeping with the rest of the city centre, but he hasn’t succeeded yet.

From there we walked along the coast on the south side of the city which is called La Corniche.  It has really nice views over the city and the sea, but has a busy road right next to the pavement so there’s the constant buzz of traffic whizzing past you.  On the way there’s the Palais du Pharo which is a huge residence built by Napoleon, and eventually ended up being owned by the city.  The building itself is quite pretty, but at the back of it away from the road is a small paved area and paths where you can see the sea without all of the distractions (boats, tourists – like me, buildings) that you get when trying to look at it from the Vieux Port area.

We joined all the other people looking out to sea, and Justine noticed that there were two small boats at the entrance to the harbour, then she remembered that she’d heard something about a strike by the port workers, so those small boats were actually blocking the exit and stopping any ships from leaving or coming in.  This was the first that I’d heard of it, so we kept watching and talking for a few minutes then saw a medium sized cargo ship moving towards the barricade.  Everyone around us was staring at the boats and trying to figure out what was going to happen.  There was no way the cargo ship was going to stop in time, even if it wanted to, but the port worker’s boats were holding firm too.  At the last minute when we thought there was going to be a collision the blockade was moved, but there couldn’t have been more that 2 or 3 metres between the cargo ship and the boats.  Justine told me that the Marseillaise were crazy, but they stood up for what they believed in.

After the excitement on the high seas we kept going along the coast and Justine remembered she’d found a pretty little area of fishermen’s houses when she’d been exploring the area, so we tried to find them again.  She told me that she had a photographic memory of the place she was trying to get to, but the actual route to take to find that place was a little more of a mystery.  It’d taken us 10 minutes to find the couscous restaurant that she goes to regularly, but she was on form with the fisherman’s houses as we found them first time.

Once again it was a really pretty area, not on the tourist trail, which made me happy that I’d found someone to guide me around a little.  It sounds like I’m repeating myself, but the sea was gorgeous and blue/green again, and the huts looked very cute.  She also pointed out that the rocks along the coast around Marseille were all white like Dover rather than the more standard grey.  I have to admit that I hadn’t really noticed, but now that I’d been told it stuck in my memory.

marseille fishermens houses

Small houses (but not the huts) on the water

Time for a change of scene, so we took the bus to Parc Longchamps.  The bus was packed to bursting but we couldn’t really figure out why until a few stops later when a whole class of little school children got off and there was instantly room to breathe!  A short trip on the métro followed the bus, then Justine told me that we had to find the correct entrance to the park as there were many of them.  So we made it to the right one, and it was worth it as there’s a huge water feature overlooking the street, from there you climb up the stairs to the top and go through to the other side where the park falls away back to ground level, which is actually a little strange.

marseille parc longchamps

The "correct" entrance to Parc Longchamps

Last stop on the tour was La Friche La Belle De Mai, which was an abandoned factory before it became a cultural melting pot for Marseille.  The main building where it’s based is huge and houses an art gallery, a radio station and lots of other things that I can’t remember, and around this there are concert venues, a skate park, a restaurant and more.  We went to the gallery which had collections of art from a number of different local (I assume) artists, all modern, mostly funny, quite political and highly sexed.  It’s the type of thing that you don’t see in a normal gallery and was quite cool to see exhibited.

The most important thing that I learned from Justine was that in Marseille there aren’t a lot of blockbuster tourist sights (which I mentioned once or twice already), but the charm of the city is in the changing areas and seeing the different ways that neighboring areas live.  Seeing the North African and Middle Eastern area, then a few streets further east there’s the more creative Cours Julien, and seeing the Nouveau Riche moving into the Panier and living next to poorer families that haven’t been priced out of the area yet.  I’m a very bad people watcher, but she pushed me into paying more attention to the people that were in the area that I was visiting.

Today I decided to use that new knowledge and sense of adventure to walk somewhere, but without using a map.  I had two and a half hours to spare in the morning after checking out of the hotel, so I went east.  After 90 minutes of walking through some areas that I’d already seen and others that looked totally anonymous, I ended up back at Parc Longchamps.  That might not be considered a success, but it wasn’t a bad place to end up and I had a play with RetroCamera on my phone.

My plan for the afternoon was to take a boat trip out to the Calanques, which are like coves or fjords that have naturally been eroded in the white rock of the coast.  The boat tours take between 2 and 3 hours and take people out to see up to 12 of the calanques.  It’s also possible to hike out to them, but it’d take way more time, skill and effort than I had available.

The first calanque looked nice, and had twenty or thirty houses and small buildings at the bottom of a steep rocky hillside.  Not exactly idyllic or practical, but it did look good.  Most of the calanques looked pretty similar, some of them were little villages, others had boats collected on the waters edge, and one or two were beaches.  There wasn’t a lot of variation between them though, and I ended up taking photos of trees instead.

marseille sormiou calanque

Sormiou calanque

It was nice to head out onto the water to see a little more of the coast, but it felt bitterly cold for the three hours that we were out there.  It was warm in the city, but on the boat even with gloves on and my jacket buttoned up I still had the shivers.  So my top tip is to take a zip up jacket with you when you go on a boat in the Mediterranean.

marseille calanque tree

Gorgeous skies and trees on top of the cliffs


Under siege?

I keep reading the British news reports about the strikes in France, and they all paint quite a bleak picture.  It’s as if the whole country is grinding to a halt because of the actions of the 1 million (or 3 million depending whose counting you believe) workers who are on strike.

While there sounds like there are many parts of the country affected by fuel shortages, and places like Lyon where there are riots or cars are being burned, in Paris it’s business as usual.  The métro, buses and trams are running normally, it’s only the suburban trains that go outside of the city which are disrupted, and today which was a strike day announced at short notice even they’re running normally.

There are protests in Paris on the strike days, but I’ve only seen one large protest and a couple of times 200 school kids marched past our office, but I get the feeling that as long as I don’t leave the city and I don’t have to drive anywhere then everything is fine.  On the other hand my parents are coming to visit next week and want to go to Versailles which is outside of Paris, so I’ll have to try and find out which trains are running there and when.

I think there’s a little more worry over the truck drivers strike, but even then one of my colleagues told me that French people hadn’t gone hungry since the revolution, so it wasn’t likely to happen now.  Everyone in the office is convinced that it can’t last much longer, especially as all the striking workers don’t get paid for the days they aren’t working.  Whenever I discuss it with someone they always say “Oh, it’ll be over in 4 or 5 days”, or “It can’t last more than another week.”

So it’s kind of like a siege,  but without the fear or being conquered or dying.  At least Stephen Segal isn’t here, the last thing we need is everything blowing up… oh wait a minute, there’s a terrorist threat too!

Another week, another strike

Well 2 weeks after the first strike to be honest, but it doesn’t feel like so long ago.

I recovered from the cold that I had during the first strike (which made me decide not to take the métro that day), so this time I decided to go to work as normally as possible. This time the lines that I take weren’t so badly affected as the first strike, which also made me decide to take the métro. I prepared myself for squeezing into a carriage, left my huge messenger bag at home and took a smaller one and packed some reading material just in case it took a long time to get there.

I got to the nearest station at the normal time, around 8am, and it looked pretty empty. Maybe even quieter than normal, which was strange. I looked at the electronic sign with the train times, and it said that there was one every 4 minutes or so. Also normal. Maybe the strike wasn’t today. I was a bit confused, but I got to work in about the same time as normal.

An English woman in my French class told me that the previous time she had got to work OK but it was a nightmare getting home, so just before I left work I got myself mentally ready for public transport hell again. Once again, I had no problems. It’s clearly not the métro drivers on lines 4 and 12 that are on strike, I think it’s those good for nothing teachers 😉

So the whole day had passed without encountering any strike related problems, or so I thought. As I was leaving my métro station there were some RATP employees telling us that the exit was closed and that we had to use a different one. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I followed the crowd through tunnels, up stairs, down stairs, and through more tunnels, passing 20 or 30 police officers on the way. I was getting a little worried as the threat level for a terrorist attack has been raised recently, and although I didn’t think that anything bad would happen, I was worried that other people might be worried about it.

I shouldn’t have been so nervous though. The reason the police were around was because there was a protest by striking workers in the square outside the métro station. It was technically a protest, but people were having fun, and you could’ve easily called it a street party too if it wasn’t for all the political placards. Lots of music and dancing, and people lounging around on statues.

Twas actually quite fun. They turned a quiet area of Paris into a lively hive of scum and villany! Just kidding. But they did liven the place up a bit, which was nice.

Musical bikes

Prisoners of work


Pink nurses want to retire at 60

First strike

So now I’ve been here for the annual September tradition, according to my colleagues, of a strike or grève.  I’m not sure why it always happens in September, maybe they introduce controversial laws while everyone’s on holiday.

A lot of public services were shut down.  I heard that the post offices were closed, and maybe the banks too.  The only place I would have noticed it though was on public transport.  The night before, posters went up all over the métro network to indicate how many trains were running on which lines.  If you were lucky 2 out of 3 trains were running, but if you weren’t then it’s only 1 in 3 which is a slight problem at rush hour.  The situation on buses and suburban trains was apparently worse.

I was told that these days it’s just an inconvenience as the RATP, the public transport company, is required to put on a certain percentage of services when a strike happens so the country doesn’t grind to a halt.  Apparently 15 years ago there was a strike so bad that it lasted around 6 weeks, with no public transport at all.  Traffic was terrible and people abandoned their cars on the roads and walked home, either because they were fed up or ran out of petrol.  At least things aren’t that bad anymore…

Normally I’d take 2 métro lines to get to work, a “1 in 3” followed by “1 in 2”.  I decided that it might be an interesting experience to take the métro and be packed like sardines, but my socially responsible side got the better of me and I decided not to spread my cold with everyone else in the carriage.

I ended up cycling (again), and if I didn’t already know then I’d have no idea that there was a strike on.  So I had a pretty good strike, apart from having the cold.

Everyone turned up at work eventually, although it took one guy until 11 o’clock.

As I mentioned, my colleagues said that September is always the month of strikes, but they also said that December is the month of burning cars so I’ll wait and see if that happens.