This time the waiter at the restaurant spoke English. He was actually from Ireland, travelled all over the world, and ended up in Southern France. He was very helpful when we asked what we could see that was close by, and suggested Vieux Village (Old Town), though most of Marignane and Vitrolles, he said, are industrial areas. He also mentioned a path behind our hotel leading down to the marsh where there are flamingoes and a beach.
We ordered coffee. Lesson One – coffee is a tiny cup of very strong espresso. They add water if you say Coffee Americano. They ask if you want your milk for coffee or tea warm or cold – nice. We had flank steak and baked potato for lunch. The potatoes here are sweet and delicious and served with a scrumptious cheesy/sour cream sauce, but the steak was chewy and liver-tasting. Thomas had a burger and pasta, which he said was very good. I had crème brulee for dessert. It was served cold with the caramel sauce on the bottom, and it was good but didn’t compare to the chocolate gateaux and chocolate mouse I had yesterday for dessert – that was beyond decadently delicious.
After lunch, we talked to a taxi driver just parked in our driveway. He did not speak English, and he did not understand our pathetic French, even though we said Vieux Village, Vitrolles. He was trying but he just could not understand where we wanted to go. Finally, he called someone who spoke English and handed the phone to me. She could not understand either.
At the hotel reception, they looked confused when we asked about old town, and suggested Marseilles or Aix or another small town, however, in order to get there, we would have to take the shuttle to the airport, and then a bus from there. We just wanted somewhere close by and easy to get to. They had no idea where old town would be in Marignane, and they said old town in Vitrolles wasn’t much. “Nobody goes there.”
We just wanted a simple close place to go so they called us a taxi and told him to take us to Vitrolles old town. The taxi driver was a sweet older man who had his dog in the passenger seat, a big fluffy dog, perhaps a collie mix. The dog sat up looking out the window like a person, and the man would occasionally reach over and rest his hand affectionately on the dog’s back.
The taxi drove around the bay zigzagging and looping around numerous round-a-bouts through lots of industrial area, then some residential, and finally up steep hills and narrow roads between old stone buildings into a charming old French village with ruins at the top of the hill. The taxi to Vieux Village was $25E (40C).
We started walking up the hill to the ruins, and a young man came along asking if we were “perdue?” (lost). Then he showed us how to get up to the ruins along a dirt road and up steep stairs. From the top you could see about 8 km in all directions, with hills in the East and North, and the town and the inland sea of the Mediterranean called the Etang de Berre. It was a lovely village! Why did they discourage people from coming here?
Wandering around the narrow streets and quaint shops, we got very thirsty. We had climbed high, and walked down steep streets and narrow sidewalks.
We stopped at a little restaurant and tried to get a drink but they said they were closed. Lesson Two: most shops & restaurants in France close from 2-5 pm or even later. We tried to ask for a bottle of water, but they said they cannot sell. Lesson Three: Always carry a bottle of water with you.
As we walked down the street, a young man called us back to say we could have a drink. They must have took pity on us – the weather was quite warm. It was quite lovely sitting in the café with the breeze blowing in, and the French woman bustling about cleaning up and wiping her brow.
We walked out of Vieux Village to the main part of town, browsed in a vegetable market where we saw Coeur de Boeuf Tomatoes shaped like fanned hearts and asparagus the size of my wrist, bought some cheese and olive and wine in another shop, and some croissants and a bagette in a Boulangerie.
After we got back to the hotel, we went searching for the path to the marsh, and took another walk through natural foliage to the canals in the marsh where we saw black and white ducks, a stork, and lots of wild flowers, but no flamingos.
That night we had a traditional French picnic for dinner.