A trip to the beach in Marseille...goes very, very wrong.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

We landed in Marseille a little before midnight, happy to have escaped the London Tube strike drama.  Marseille was just a glorified stop-over; it wasn't in our initial itinerary but once we found a super cheap flight out of London, we decided to spend one night there and lay at the beach the next day, before taking an overnight train and making our way to Salzburg.  Once we took a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, we were faced with the first of many challenges: fitting both ourselves and our backpacks into the elevator.

We awoke in the morning and headed to the beach!  Our bus took us from the hotel straight to the beach and was 30 minute ride with a beautiful oceanside view.  On the walk from the bus stop to the beach, we stopped for a snack: a tomato, basil, and mozzarella panini.  We are still talking about how good that 'snack' was and ate it so quickly that we don't even have a picture to show for it.  We stayed at the beach for 4-5 hours, during which time we became unbelievably hungry and thirsty (I know, I know, we should have seen it coming).  

We left the beach around 2:30 to walk to a grocery store that was just a few minutes away, planning to grab a snack, some water bottles, and then catch the 3:00 bus back to the hotel, so that we could be on our way to the train station by 4:00.  Wellllll....you know how it's unadvisable to grocery shop while hungry?  It's probably even less advisable to grocery shop when you're absolutely famished.  Things got a little....out of hand.  Chalk it up to 'excessive grocery shopping' if you will, but we missed the 3:00 bus and had to wait for the next bus.  By the time we finally made it back to the hotel to grab our bags, we were super rushed and stressed, a feeling with which we were not altogether unfamiliar.  So imagine our reaction as we turned the corner and arrived at the train station, with only minutes to spare before our train left, prepared to sprint inside, only to see these stairs looming ahead:

Not only were there over 100 steps, but the heat was unbearable and our backpacks were awfully heavy.  Unfortunately, by the time we made it inside and to the platform, our train had left.  We had just missed it.  It was frustrating to realize that a few extra minutes at the grocery store (which caused us to miss the bus) had ultimately cost us our night train. 

So we sat at the Marseille train station and evaluated our options.  As we sat, I decided to eat some raisin bread that I had bought from the grocery store's bakery (during the now-infamous never-ending grocery store trip).  As I swallowed the first few bites, I said to Jenny, "This tastes terrible."  A few more bites later, "No, really -- this is not good.  I used to buy this bread in Salzburg all the time and loved it.  I don't know why this is so different."  That's when I discovered that the loaf of bread was packaged and sold on a thin layer of paper, and that I had been eating the paper along with the bread.  As Kayla would say, "Low point."  Realizing I had swallowed several bites' worth of paper seemed pretty fitting for the day as it had apparently taken a turn for the worse.

As we weighed our options, we realized that Jenny and I (especially Jenny) were pretty sunburned.  Jenny's face looked like a lobster and my shoulders, now bright red and tender, were bearing the weight of an awfully heavy backpack.  We temporarily compartmentalized our pain, however, as we deliberated each of our three options: (1) We could stay another night in Marseille at the hotel and leave in the morning.  In hindsight, this was the most logical of options, but I did not want to pay for another hotel room and I also did not want to delay our arrival in Salzburg another day.  (2)  We could take trains as far east as possible and see how far we can get before they stop running for the night.  With that option, however, we ran the risk of getting stuck sleeping overnight on a bench outside of a train station, which obviously wasn't very appealing.  (3)  We could take a train to a bigger town and then look for an overnight train from there.  Marseille is so small that it doesn't have many incoming/outgoing trains so our options seemed limited as long as we stayed there.  Deciding that the third option was our best option, we hopped aboard the next train to Avignon, France, without realizing that this location offered just as few options as Marseille.  There was, however, one overnight train leaving at midnight, which would take us to Strasbourg, France (the border of Germany and France).

We waited for what felt like an eternity in Avignon, although I think it reality it was just under 5 hours.  In my memory, though, our time there stretched on for days.  We sat on the benches of the train platform, sore, tired, weary, and hot.  You know that sunburned feeling where you're just radiating heat from the inside out?  Yeah, that is how we felt.  On top of that, there was still a chance we would not be able to board the train; we had to make sure there were still reservations available and the one employee manning the desk inside spoke absolutely zero English or German (and neither of us speak French).  We eventually stopped a German-speaking employee who happened to be stepping of a train and walking through the station.  She told me we would just have to wait and buy our reservation on the the train, and even that was contingent on whether they had any to sell.  Thus, we waited there in Avignon for the midnight train, not even knowing if we would have a place on it.  Thankfully, they did!  And we didn't even have to buy them.  We think the conductor felt sorry for the two young, seemingly helpless, sunburned, panic-stricken American girls.  He let us choose whichever seats we wanted, no reservation necessary.  We found 2 seats together, reclined them, and fell fast asleep, giddy with appreciation.  And when we awoke, we were in Strasbourg.

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