Marseille and Arles

Survival tips for navigating the streets in Marseille.  These notes may be applicable to other cities, however, given my brief time in a metropolis setting, I do not feel qualified to make such a generalization — so — this only applies to Marseille:

  • Navigating streets – Have a goal in mind, whether the goal is 10 feet or 100 feet  – focus and walk.  Retract shoulder to allow others to pass by, no need for eye contact.
  • Navigating less traveled “rue’s”(streets) – Keep above in mind, however, to glance down  frequently, because dog excrement is prevalent and owners DO NOT remove waste from public areas AT ALL.
  • Street lights – May be ignored, but do so with great diligence.  Electric trains are very quiet, so they are unsuspecting missiles……………………..splat.
  • Shop hours – Totally dependent upon the owner or shopkeeper of the day, w/the exception of larger endeavors.  Typically, shops are open from 10:00 – 2:00 & 4:00 – 7:00pm, give or take 30 minutes or hours.


On the home stretch for the French lessons.  Brief scene(no accents in text because it is a too much of a hassle to insert them).

Teacher:  “Tu”

Lisa:         “Too”

Teacher:   “Tu-u”

Lisa:           “Too-oo”

Teacher:     “Ecoutes bien(listen well)(Lisa thinks: I AM)  “Tu-u”

Lisa:            ” Too-ooooo!”

Teacher:      “Alors(common word that means “OK” basically).  Make your tongue like a boat, purse your lips with an O and soften TOO-OO – to –TU.” (Lisa thinks “s**t”   – but smiles) says “OK.”

Lisa:              Minutes pass while trying to figure out how to make tongue into a boat (rowboat or Q.E.  F*&^&G II , BUT purses lips into an O and rowboat at the same time. Teacher looking on with an expression of  “oh, you poor idiot”.   But, finally, out comes “TU-oo”.  Oops, Lisa knows she is in trouble.

Teacher:        “Alors, Lisa.” (Ah-ha – patience level is leaving, first name is added to correction!)  “Encore (again)……..Tu-u. ”

Lisa:                Patience level is g-o-n-e – and thinks, I will say it if you can say LISA and not LIZA!  After 1 minute of tongue forming a small rowboat sorta, lips pursed in a  “ROUND O”, not “OVAL O, LIZA”   (oh-h-h-h  yeah THAT makes all the difference) — out comes “TU”

Church bell rings, fingers unclench, legs uncross & Lisa expects deserving praise and gets….


Teacher:         “Repetez — Tu as une voiture.”

Lisa:                That’s IT?  After all that,  just “repeat after me..”….!@#….  OK, no praise, just move along, accept people the way they are, this is not America where we praise people for EVERYTHING.. move on, move on, move on  = “Tu as une voiture.”

…..and so it goes…4 hours a day for a total of 10 days…but, I can survive in France, understand most things if spoken slowllllly, read most things w/a basic understanding, and buy pasteries from the shops. WHEW!


The public sector workers in France are on a major strike.   I am learning that strikes in France are so common that nobody pays much attention to them.  Workers take vacation days, bands play in the street, professional JUGGLERS(!!) provide entertainment, some private sector employees go on vacation, and store sales go up.   Flares are lit by the strikers to provide various colors of smoke for a more emphatic demonstration.  It is a party!   Take a look at my photos in The Album which I took from my balcony.   It was a massive party on the street below.  People went about their day — just w/out public transportation!  Banks and the post office were open.  I think the only people who weren’t working were the drivers of public transport which also translates to no garbage pick up.

I did not think it was that big of a deal, until today. The garbage is starting to pile up on the streets and alleys.  Most of the food stores are small little stands with fresh veggies and fruit, so you can well imagine the odor that is starting to emanate when one is walking down the streets with 6 and 7 story buildings on either side, holding in the smell.  Oh, and let’s not forget the slime on the streets from all the mini compost piles.   Navigating the streets is a challenge.

Train and bus tickets are only being sold for that day only and for only the few trains that are running.   This has resulted in higher gas prices, rental car agencies are sold out, and tourism has stopped.  So it goes….


Prior to the above, I took a 45 minute train ride to Arles(of Van Gogh fame), pop. 14,000, a great little town, albeit lots of tourists.  (FYI for future reference:  Rick Steve’s Guides have taken over from Lonely Planet Guides.  Michelin Green Guide is great for driving tours/hotel recommendations and place descriptions.)  Lots of Roman ruins pulled out of the Rhone – one forgets that the Romans were here in 1 a.d.(I guess +/- a few years!!)..anyway, ruins in the center of town, trendy shops, Rhone River goes thru the town,  and calm and friendly people.  I rented a car, drove to the Camargue and finally saw the white horses of the Camargue marsh region that I have known about since the 80’s.  A movie was made about these horses, “The White Mane (1953).

Easy driving, and I never thought I would thank Taos for putting in the roundabouts, but I did, because they were everywhere. Definitely helped in the navigation factor of how to get on, off and not keep going around in circles!  Saw lots of little towns, and renewed my faith that not all of Provence is inundated with tourists.

I am on my way to Flers, Normandy this Sunday, October 17, that is, if the train is running.   I signed up with WORKAWAYERS.COM, a UK website.  On this site,  people whom need help with various things, advertise, and, provide accommodations and food for the workers.  If an ad interests you, send an email and go from there – basically, a modern-day indentured servant!

I did respond to one ad and received a positive response.   My hostess had a knee replacement 8 weeks ago, and still needs some help on her little farm feeding her Shetland ponies, goats, chickens,  and winterizing her garden.  WIFI and my own apt. is provided, so, I will be there for a couple of weeks.   She is a retired English woman who has lived in Normandy off and on for years, and my final correspondence from her was this:

“I will be in yellow plastic raincoat with a hood, and my dog will be with me.  We will be on the station platform waiting for you. ”

A bientot……(see you later!)I hope this picture changes on Sunday at 07h45….



Lisbon to Oporto, Northern Portugal

Arrived in Oporto on 9/10 at 3:00pm after a 3 hours train ride from Lisbon.   Trains are clean, well maintained, connections to just about everywhere in Portugal, easy to manuever, meals served(1st class), cocktails, espresso, comfortable seats, pull out tray for lunch and laptops – definitely the way to travel.

On-line apt rental — went from the 17th century renovated nunnery turned hotel, in Lisbon, to an 18th century renovated old house turned oh-so-trendy weekly apt. rental w/ Pottery Barn type furniture and the most hideous purple glittery rug(think bordello, make that cheap bordello) to add contrast to the white – I suppose — windows overlooking the River Duoro and non-stop traffic below. Close to the city center – it was all good.  Itty-bitty cafe 2 doors down, with fresh grilled fish & seafood salad(owner was born in Oporto, but lived in France most of his life, so “I know how to cook”…..) and he was right.  Bicyclists everywhere,  men fishing in the river all day long, darker that Lisbon – smoke soot on the buildings, windy tiny cobblestone streets on hills, people at cafes 24/7, accordion player and his wife with a tambourine on the riverwalk, people of all nationalities sip espresso, beers or Vino Verde(light white wine), tourist river boats movingg up and down the Douro River, grandmothers w/socks and open sandals and their grandkids in the parks, cafes on both sides of river, and the bars open at 10:00am.  All of Portugal seems to open at 10:00am — the bakeries open earlier — but not a lot of activity before then.  Blue and white tile are the facade de rigour for the old buildings.  New buildings are slowly taking their place in the architectural scheme.  For the past six mornings, I walked up the hills(no need for Taos Spa here) and pass women hanging their clothes to dry on the balconies, men starting their card games, the stalwart tourist ready to be the first on the “Hop On and Hop Off” See Portugal bus, and eventually find my way to the cafe with the best custard and apple filled pastry and coffee, to start my morning.   Did “Hop On and Hop Off” City Tour bus(wish I had the franchise for THAT) and saw the sights, ate dinner at various places with the solo traveler’s greeting by waiters, “Oh, just one?” with disappointment highly visible on their faces knowing the tip would be small since dinner was for one only.  “Deal with it…” I think, “..and “yes, I will take that table by the window with the really nice view” I say. Fish soup w/rice – fabulous!   The occasional conversation w/another solo traveler – usually English or French traveler.  Every store sells some type of wine or Port(hence the name PORTO) and was told a little known fact — “the third most spoken language in the world is Portuguese?” Believe that?  I did not, but nodded and said “oh, ok..huh.” After being in Goa, India, a couple of years ago, I realize no matter what the time, what the century, we bring what we know to where we settle.   The Portuguese were in Goa from the 17th century on and built the same stone houses with tile floors that I see here. Great old mansions still line some streets in Porto, competing with the high-rise weekly vacations-lets.

Tourism is the money generator for the economy and Portugal is catering to it big time. The phrase “American consumerism” is interchangeable w/European consumerism — world consumerism – basically.  Difference is that here, instead of the MALL, one has the shop that sells JUST the Marc Blanc pens, or the Philippe Patek(sp?) watches or the $2000 handbags.  And shoes, both sexes love their shoes – never seen so many shoe stores in my life. Food and drink are the primary socializing tools — the best coffee I have had in ages.     Bangladeshi immigrants have lots of shops here — wonder why they settled here?  Why does one go to No. Portugal — see the country, tour the wine country, see the rivers and experience a “rural Portugal”…

Left this am(9/18) on the train at 9:40am — arrived in Faro, So. Portugal at 5:21amtake good care,