The hardest thing about exploring Europe is definitely getting there, and then adjusting to the 5 or 6-hour time difference, so when I found out World of Beer was sending me to Belgium for about five days in August, it was a no-brainer to add some days onto that trip.
When I was deciding where I'd go after Belgium, I had a few factors to consider. 1) Where could I get home from easily enough, 2) What wouldn't break the bank, and 3) Where had I not already been. And seeing as I only had about 3 days to spend, I actually didn't want to go anywhere I'd really been wanting to visit (Romania, Croatia, Hungary), since I knew that'd never be enough time to see and do everything I'd like.
So, Marseille! All I knew about it really was that it was one of the biggest cities in France, it's in the South, and I could get there by train from Brussels. I booked my train tickets and my hostel and would figure out the rest when I got there. (I'm the sort of person who learns best by doing.)
So, what did I learn about Marseille after a few days? Let's list it on out.
1. It's hot as fuck in August though the weather was beautiful. Is Marseille the San Diego of France? I think, yes!
2. It's a popular summer vacation spot for families.
3. Many people speak English, but can be begrudging to do so (France!).
4. I found the main appeal of the city to be the architecture, the old town, and the archipelago of islands a ferry-ride away from the city's main harbor.
5. Marseille feels nothing like Paris, and in fact, felt more like Spain or Italy to me than France, due to the diverse population and Mediterranean climate and cultural influences.
6. Public transportation was pretty easy to navigate, with all signs and instructions appearing in French and English.
7. Nightlife and restaurants seem to go quite late, but for anything else, check online before going to opening days and hours, as they can be a little unpredictable.
Most people I talked to about Marseille before I went tended to say it was not that notable of a city, and that its greatest strength was its proximity to other beautiful, interesting things in the area. I wouldn't necessarily say that. I found the city and the people there to be tremendously interesting in their diversity, and there were numerous beautiful places within the city to take pictures or just hang out and people-watch in the glorious weather. The island of Ratonneau within the Frioul Archipelago, which seems to get seriously overshadowed by If Island, was definitely my favorite thing about my visit to Marseille, and I only came upon it when I was too late to purchase a ticket to visit Chateau d'If! A lucky accident in my opinion.
That said, I think Marseille does seem to be lacking in the sort of things a New Yorker like myself becomes very spoiled by and accustomed to, specifically cool and affordable bars, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. But of course, I think my standards are a little skewed in this department! And considering I'm not a huge fan of French food to begin with, I was prepared to be underwhelmed in that regard.
So, was my choice, however random it was, to visit Marseille the right one? Absolutely. The proof is in the pictures.