Hiking report

Weekend trip to Marseille

The whole thing started when Kartik said some time last year that he’d love to go to the south of Europe in the winter. So he asked me if I had a plan to organise a weekend trip there, and I said no. Nevertheless, I didn’t totally throw away the idea and started looking into different possibilities. And now, two long weekend trips over Easter were brutally destroyed by corona over the last two years, I was still not totally let down, and I put all my hope into this third time. And it paid off; it was indeed taking place this year.

If I can be very honest, however, this trip was much more difficult to organise than I had initially imagined. It comes mainly from the fact that in my head all famous cities around Marseille, e.g. Avignon, Montpellier, Cannes, Nice etc. are all easily accessible. As it turned out, considering them just as “Provence” was a very skewed view of someone who lived farther in the north, as the area was actually vast, and going from one city to another was both expensive and time-consuming. Then there was the problem that many of the famous things in this area are also exorbitant, like in Monaco or Nice, which are not only out of reach for us, but also not really interesting in the end.

After a long consideration and with a lot of support from Zaman, it came to this plan: two hikes and one city trip in between, leaving the last day entirely free.

The planning was more or less solid in January, 3 months before the actual trip. Then came a hard time for me to figure out what would be needed. After all, this was the very first long trip, with a destination so far away from Düsseldorf. I was also not really sure if it works out to not organise train tickets to and from Marseille. Frankly, from the moment the planning finished, it haunted me so much that I had to think of possible problems in Marseille in my daily life over and over again, and I even started casting doubt on the whole plan as we neared the trip, although the Bacharach trip, which took place without Zaman, gave me quite some confidence that I can make it with these people.

In my initial plan, we were supposed to be in Marseille from Thursday (Apr 14) to Tuesday (Apr 19). With the apartment I booked in the beginning, it was over 300€ per person solely for the accommodation. With Zaman’s suggestion of reducing one day (Apr 18 instead of Apr 19 for the departure) and a new booking, we came to the final price: 170€ for a single bed and 240€ for a double bed. I’d say reasonable price for a stay of 4 nights. On the other hand, I took a large margin this time because there was no possibility of cancellation. It was a large amount of money to lose for me if the trip was not to take place, but then the fact that there was no possibility of cancellation was the same for most of us anyway for the train journey. What an audacious move after so many cancellations in the last years.

Until a few days before the event, there was hardly a movement in the Telegram group (viva Telegram btw.), but then there was Inna who suggested to go to a bar in Marseille on the day we arrive. This, unexpectedly, gave us the meeting point. I was also glad that there was someone other than Zaman or me who spontaneously organized something.

Day I (April 14, Thursday)

My trip started relatively early in the morning (actually on the 13th, because I stayed over in Avignon). At 8:12am I took my Thalys towards Paris. The weather in Düsseldorf was more or less okay, although it was raining in Paris incessantly. I walked all the way from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon, passing some tourists who started returning to this once touristic metropole. There was a nice restaurant on the way, Caffé Créole, along the Boulevard Beaumarchais, where I had a quick lunch. Then I continued my trip to Avignon. I took OUIGO, which is the low-cost version of TGV, for the second time, the first time being right after it was introduced. No internet and no electric socket. I don’t think I’m gonna take it again (at least not actively).

In Marseille, it felt like I arrived in a totally different country – the sun was shining above me and it was too hot to keep carrying my jacket. Since I was the first one to arrive, I went to the local Decathlon to get a small bag for the hike. After that, I went back to the main station to meet up with Christine, who had an extremely long bus trip behind herself. We then started looking for a restaurant for lunch, roaming around randomly starting from the main station, until we arrived at Cours Julien, which was a large market place right behind our apartment. This place turned out to be the square for artists, with graffiti everywhere on the walls. We chose a random hippie restaurant, which turned out to be a good one, although that’s not very surprising here in France. An amazing thing about France is that every restaurant makes their own food in the way they are the best at it, so that you get different things in different places, but then each time you get fairly good things.

We then walked around and went to the apartment. The owner was hardly available before our arrival and I was getting suspicious, also because it was significantly cheaper than the other places nearby. In the end the apartment was totally okay. Most of the people arrived in the 2h or so that followed. We then went back to Cours Julien to buy stuff for the days to follow, mostly for breakfast, but then also for lunch etc. In this trip, I was the only one who spoke French among the ones that came from Germany. There was Julien, an old friend of mine who now lives in Toulouse, that joined later, but since he was not particularly good at English, I often had to do the translation.

I got this funky shirt in a random shop at Cours Julien. Isn’t it amazing?

We then went for dinner to a Senegalese restaurant, which Zaman had spotted in the internet. It was also right around the corner from the apartment. It was amazing to see that from one street to another, France turned into Afrika, although this is maybe the New France nowadays. We got so much food that I thought I’d explode afterwards.

After the restaurant, we continued our way towards this famous church on the hill. We stayed there for a while. It was such a magnificent view over the city and the Mediterranean Sea, which somewhat defined our entire stay in Marseille.

Carry Nation, the bar that Inna suggested to book, was right below the hill. It had the Prohibition style interior, with the entrance door pretending to be a souvenir shop. It was a nice shop, but we couldn’t afford many drinks since they were selling mostly cocktails.

Since we left the place relatively early, we walked around the old port, which is the most lively part of Marseille and also the touristic center. We met Julien there, who was the last person to arrive in Marseille. We then went back home and kept drinking some random stuff. The apartment had a nice living room where we could stay in the evening. I wonder whether we were not causing too much trouble to the neighbours.

Day II (Apr. 15)

Either this group is so perfectly synchronised or people couldn’t sleep anymore when there were other people moving around, but everyone got up some time between 7am and 8am. Julien and I got some croissants and chocolate bread in the morning, and we had a large breakfast. Amir prepared sunny side ups (brilliant ones, somewhat reminiscent of Iran :D).

We left the apartment around 9am and took a bus from Castellane. Here in Marseille, apparently you can buy a ticket on the bus, which is more expensive than the one that you buy outside beforehand. So Julien and I organized tickets for the 11 of us (3x4p-tickets, because Niloofar and Sarah didn’t join). We went to the end of the line 19 and started hiking from there.

The coastline of the Mediterranean Sea is very special, as there’s hardly trees and white rocks cover much of the surface. I had an extremely difficult time figuring out how the hike could look. With Zaman’s support, I created one that looked more or less acceptable, but also that would allow us to visit some Calanques. Essentially the most difficult parts were to be at the beginning, then I thought we’d more or less walk along the beaches.

It looked like the plan flourished at the beginning. As we climbed up each slope, we were getting a better and better view. We had such a perfect weather that it was essentially sunny, but there was a thin layer of cloud that inhibited a direct sunshine, so that we didn’t need to suffer either. The temperature was a little higher than 20 degrees. What a perfect condition.

Well, so far so good, things started to fall apart first as some slopes started to become seriously steep, and at some point it was a real rock climbing scene, so that the least prepared ones started suffering. When we reached the first summit, Zaman suggested to take a detour, while I said I’d take a look at the original path. This original path turned out to be so complicated, that I didn’t feel like going back to the group anymore. From this moment on, the main group and me with Shrijal and Amir were separated til the end of the day.

On the other hand, the three of us, Amir, Shrijal and I were having such a great time, precisely because the track was extremely complicated and therefore super exciting. We were also talking about random things about life and ourselves. I guess anyone who would have seen us would have thought what a stupid collection of idiots. Well, that was not the only one time that happened that was anyway going to happen several times in this trip.

Anyway the terrain changed also a lot during the hike. After the initial up and down, we had also some long straight tracks, and then sometimes again huge up and down. Anyway there were brilliant views over the Mediterranean over the course of the day. What other reward do you want.

We thought about waiting for the others a few times, but apparently both the internet connection and GPS apparently totally failed, so that at some point we thought they had totally left the plan. When we reached the first Calanque, we decided to stay and wait for the others there, also because Shrijal started swimming. This was the first place since the beginning of the hike which was accessible by car. And not surprisingly it was totally overwhelmed with tourists. I wonder what it looks like in the summer here.

For the entire hike, I had just 1l of water. I was seriously concerned that there wouldn’t be enough water for the day, especially because it’s an extremely dry area here. Luckily for me, there was a restaurant at the Calanque, where I could first drink more water than I needed and fill up all the bottles.

With still no information about the others, we simply kept going. Before the hike started, I had vaguely in mind that it was relatively flat after the first Calanque. This turned out to be extremely wrong – we had to climb up yet another hill, but the view was just as magnificent, so I frankly didn’t mind.

We visited a few Calanques more on the way. In the last one, I was lying on a large rock while Shrijal was swimming. In this wind, on this warm rock, with the sound of waves, under this endless blue sky, I realised how much I loved and still love the south of France.

Some time past 6pm we made our way to the university, where we took a bus back to Marseille. Actually, I could somewhat already feel the tensions in the Telegram group, but it was only when I reached home that I realised I left quite some trouble to Zaman for leaving the group during the hike, as people were simply not up to such a difficult hike. When they reached the home they were already in a good mood, but the atmosphere was apparently extremely strained and full of frustration. On the one hand, I’m super sorry to Zaman for having had to lead the group nevertheless. On other other hand, I’m also somewhat glad that I wasn’t there, because we three in the other group were having such an amazing time.

As Cláudia twisted her ankle and couldn’t properly move, she decided to order dinner. As I was feeling bad, I decided to join her along with some other people. Zaman et al. decided to go to a different restaurant.

I was so tired that I didn’t really know what I was doing while eating the Brazilian food. And actually we also started drinking in the living room after that. This time again we kept drinking sometime past midnight. It took me maybe 3 seconds to fall asleep XD.

Day III (Apr. 16)

After such a hard day, I was really glad that there was essentially one day of rest.

The plan of the day looked like this: First take a train to Avignon, where we change to a bus to go to Pont du Gard, where we walk around, after which we take another bus for Nîmes to do a city tour. Then back to Marseille. It was essentially organized by Zaman and revised by me, and we organized the train tickets beforehand with enough time in between, so there was hardly any possibility that something could go wrong.

Our train from Marseille was leaving at 9:40am. We were already ready to go even before 9am, so we simply left the apartment quite early and waited at the train station. There was just Khaled, who joined separately (meaning he was not staying in our apartment), who needed a ticket, so we organized it on the spot and went to Avignon.

We had a stay of a bit more than 20 min in Avignon. It took us some time to figure out where to take the bus and how to buy a ticket, but after figuring it out we still had some time there, so we walked through the city, with one group led by Zaman and the other by me. There’s anyway not much to see around the train station, so we just walked through the wall and back. And not surprisingly, I miscalculated the time and my group had to hurry to catch the bus. Sorry Kartik you couldn’t get lunch… Anyway, the bus had a few min delay so it didn’t matter. By the way, at the entrance of the terminal, we were told that we’d have to buy the tickets on the bus, and on the bus we were told at the terminal. There’s a problem here (we could get the tickets on the bus though in the end).

We stopped at Vers-pont-du-gard and walked towards the bridge (by the way “Pont du Gard” means “Bridge of the Gard” with Gard being a river). As a matter of fact, it’s a relatively touristic place, even if it’s not the most famous place in this area. Again, it was such a perfect weather.

This bridge was made by the Romans in the 1st century. It is impressive that the Romans had such a high level of engineering skills and how well it was conserved. We walked around the area for some time (the group photo was taken there). Initially, we were planning to go to the restaurant there, but we quickly found out that it was way more expensive than we had thought (I mean, I knew it so I had something to eat). But it turned out that they were also offering sandwiches for 6€ for takeaway. That’s all of a sudden a rather normal price.

From what I could see, this place was quite a hit for us. Together with the brilliant weather that we wouldn’t able to have in Germany in this season, it was amazing to see the clear water of the Gard and the beautiful landscape. I could also collect some thyme to take back to Germany.

We then took a bus at 4pm to Nîmes. Nîmes is a Roman city and is also what Pont du Gard was originally made for. It still looks very much like a Roman city, with a beautiful boulevard that goes from the train station to the city center. We were there for sightseeing, organized by Zaman again. There were still some places that were well conserved.

If you are in Nîmes and not in a hurry, then you should visit the park in the North West of the city. It’s a relaxing place with a few historical artefacts. It was also the right moment to be in a park, because I could see the exhaustion on everyone’s face.

When Zaman and I planned the trip to this area, I was thinking of taking a train back to Marseille at 20:25. Then Zaman suggested to take the very last one, leaving at 21:25. Both of them were to take around one hour to Marseille, but the latter one was slightly more expensive. Luckily, I followed Zaman’s suggestion, because it was exactly the right timing when we decided to have dinner when we left the park. Since we were too many, I suggested to split up, according to whatever everyone wanted to have. Inna and I said quickly we’d want to eat mussels. Julien and Christine followed. Some people simply skipped the dinner and all the others went to a Spanish restaurant.

The place we chose actually didn’t have mussels, but still we had an amazing dinner there. Apparently the other group as well. For my part, I got rabbit in chocolate sauce, which was the Easter theme. And quite surprisingly it was actually quite good.

Our train went just according to the plan. For someone living in Germany, it’s amazing to see that trains run according to schedule.

And I guess needless to say that we kept drinking into the night. Chris actually went to bed earlier, and was obviously not very happy following morning that we were so loud :D.

Day IV (Apr 17)

I must have been really tired after the city trip. I couldn’t wake up at 7am this morning, so that I couldn’t go buy croissants in the morning. Shrijal in the meantime did it, for more than twice the price that I had paid. Doesn’t matter; we’re on vacations.

There was a large discussion for the plan of the day. The original plan, going to Etoile, was rather quickly cancelled, because we didn’t know what it could look like and there seemed to be no plan B available. Zaman was actually having issues with his legs, so he first suggested to go to Cassis by bus. I was ok with the plan. On the other hand I also wanted to hike a little bit more. Everyone else seemed to be somewhere in between. In the end, I decided to hike from the university to Cassis, which is where we stopped last time, without really thinking anyone would join. In fact, quite some people joined me to hike, the others joined Zaman for Cassis. Niloofar and Amir stayed in Marseille, because apparently Niloofar didn’t want to go to the nature and Amir was taking a train at 4pm.

I didn’t promise anything to anyone about the track, because I simply didn’t know much about it (just like for the first hike). However, when we arrived there, we found out that there’s this track called GR 98, which was perfectly fine. GR is a system of hiking trails in France, with moderate difficulty and relatively well maintained paths.

So throughout the day, from the university to Cassis, we followed GR 98, with varying difficulties on the way, but nowhere too difficult like on the first hike. In fact, even though the track looks somewhat dull on the map, it was actually really impressive throughout the day. Well, the only one drawback was probably the fact that there were quite a lot of people on the way as well.

Here are the brave ones of the day. They might look a bit sad but that’s because the sunlight was pretty strong. As I had a cap, my face is now burnt on cheeks that were not well covered.

There was a kind of weird trend on this trail: whenever we were going up a slope, there was a long stretch of flat path. So we could enjoy the views for quite some time. This being said, you can see on the Komoot trail that there are some “black” slopes, indicating that it’s seriously steep. While I still claim that they were fairly manageable, it required some pause each time.

After three intensive days, we were surprisingly still quite fit. At least in my case I have to admit that I was dead tired in each evening and hardly remember things we talked about, but still because I had such a good night sleep every night, I was fit the next day. And so, until we reached the last hill, we were doing super well.

The problem came, however, in that part. We were about to reach Cassis and were somewhat tired. I was hoping to arrive early, but then there was this hill, which was more like a wall. I mean, it was still not quite as difficult as on the other hike, but it was extremely steep and above all slippery. There was apparently also a woman who was seriously injured and had to be rescued. We all managed it fairly well, although we needed a short break afterwards.

Fortunately, going down was way easier. And then we arrived at a beach in Cassis. The other group led by Zaman was in the end also walking around, apparently doing an easier track. Anyway they arrived not much later than us. We waited for Shrijal to swim (who was freezing afterwards) while I was lying around. I also thought about swimming during this trip, but didn’t take swimming stuff in the end. What a pity.

We then headed to the city of Cassis, which obviously was a super touristic place.

In our original plan, we wanted to stay in Cassis until the end of the day. Zaman, however, pointed out that in the morning there were way too many people travelling on the bus, so much so that there were even people who couldn’t get into the bus. With this in mind, we went to the bus stop around 30 min earlier than the bus that we wanted to take, which would have a follow-up bus 30 min later. And as a matter of fact, there were indeed so many people at the bus stop when we arrived there, and indeed we couldn’t get the one we wanted to take. The one that came 30 min later arrived quite timely, and we could at least get this one. Nevertheless it left me a super weird feeling that there were people still at the bus stop, realising or not realising that it was actually the last bus for Marseille for the day. There’s really a problem here.

At the same time, there was a small contribution from our side: four of us went back to Marseille on David’s car, whom Inna met somewhere in Marseille even before we arrived. He and Inna were apparently seeing each other nearly every day and followed us to Cassis. So at least we had four people less on the bus (so that four other people could come back to Marseille safely). Well, I should have taken this into account, when Zaman and I decided to go to a restaurant directly from the bus stop, because Zaman had the key and the other one was with Niloofar (we had only two keys). Fortunately Kartik informed them so things didn’t get worse. Thanks Kartik.

We were in a Syrian restaurant with a few more people on Cours Julien, which, again, lies right behind our apartment. We were told we had to wait 40 min until we could order. The place looked anyway crowded, so that we thought it’s worth waiting for 40 min. It’s impressive to see how many people stay outside in France in the evening, while in Germany the cities look kind of totally dead.

From the beginning of our stay in Marseille, I always told that we can go party in the city center in the last evening. When the last evening came, however, we realised we had hardly any energy left. So we spent our last evening in the apartment. Didn’t matter, because we still had so much fun :).

Day V (Apr. 18)

Just like every evening, we were up past midnight. Still I could wake up at 7am and could get croissants on the market. In the apartment, Amir was already gone. Inna and Niloofar were about to leave. So there were only 10 of us remaining. All of a sudden the place looked so empty, and was getting emptier, as people started leaving for different places.

In my personal case, there was pretty much nothing to do: as I couldn’t get a nice train connection, I had decided to stay in Marseille a day more, so I could control everything in the apartment. Cláudia did most of the job to clean up the apartment, but many of us also did a good job. I had hardly anything to say. By 9am everything was pretty much done. There was just one problem: There were people leaving in the evening who had nowhere to leave the luggage. I contacted the owner of the apartment. He kindly allowed us to leave the luggage in the apartment, and I was allowed to take the key with me. There was a quick control at 10:30am. Then we started walking around.

I consider the rest of the stay in Marseille more as a personal thing so I skip the details. We essentially walked through the city, seeing Arabic shops, walking along the coastline etc. After some more people left, there were only Shrijal, Christine and I left. We had a huge dinner near the port, with bouillabaisse and mussels (nailed it!). We then spent a night there and Shrijal and I took the same train back to Germany.

As I stated at the beginning, this was the very first long weekend trip. And it was also the first group trip to France that I organized. Despite the stress before the event, things went extremely smoothly, but also blazing fast. There were two very much equivalent phrases from Kartik and me: “It was like we prepared four slices of tomato and ate all of them at the sam time” (Sam) “It was like I just opened a package of cookies and when I thought about it the next time it was already gone” (Kartik). And indeed, compared to all the discussions Zaman and I had, the trip was really extremely short. And before this trip, regarding weekend trips we kept saying “a weekend is too short for people to start fighting” – in reality four days were still too short for anyone to get angry at anyone. It’s probably a good sign.

Nevertheless, there are still good things and bad things that I should keep track of here. There’s one thing that I did (not do) for the first time: it was up to everyone to reach Marseille. I thought it would cause only problems (which it did, at least to Felipe and Soumil, as they couldn’t find a cheap ticket right before the event), but in reality, it turned out to be super useful, as some people decided to arrive earlier and some others decided to leave later, which allowed them to combine several trips. I guess this is going to be the standard model for trips taking place abroad from next time on.

The choice of apartment is still a tricky point. This time we had one for maximum 16 people, but then we had only two bathrooms. Still, I think the fact that we could stay for less than 200€ for 4 nights is not so bad.

I guess the program of two hikes and one city tour was pretty good in the end. To be honest, I had imagined that people would want “more”, in the sense that they’d want to see totally different places around Marseille. Instead, we went towards Cassis twice, so that in the end we hardly saw anything in Provence. Maybe I was too much focusing on maximising the yield within a short period of time. Maybe going to one place twice within one trip isn’t quite as bad as I had imagined.

The success of the city tour was largely attributed to Zaman, as he looked into every detail of the day and had a perfect program. I might have had an incomplete program, which in the hindsight I can see would have been catastrophic.

And frankly, having a program of one day less was a huge relief. Even though I might organise another weekend trip with more days, I see that I wouldn’t be able to do so without help.

There’s one thing that I noticed during this trip: I guess it would have been useful to have foldable cups, dishes etc. I have actually one, but I forgot to take it. There were some plastic cups that we could take, but I’m sure that having one ourselves would be useful.

In the end, this one was also an extremely expensive trip. Some people have to transfer around 300€. It’s mostly because the food was expensive. Other than that, I think it was reasonably low, with around 200€ per person. I still think it was fine that it was so expensive, since Marseille is also a culinarily famous area, but it might have been good to have a better plan B for each situation, in case people didn’t want to spend as much money.

Since the bookkeeping is usually not so complicated, I just prepared an Excel sheet this time, just like every time. This time, however, there were a lot more entries and I made a lot of mistakes. Next time I should probably use a proper software to do this. Let’s see how it’s gonna look.

Anyway, this huge success opened a door to various new possibilities. Maybe Italy, maybe Spain. Let’s see where we are going to be the next time!

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