Sunday, June 24, 2007

Day 9 – June 3, 2007 - Marseille, France

An early arrival into the Port of Marseille. Marseilles is first of all, ancient. Started by the Phoenician around 600-BC (ignoring of course the Ligurians who already lived here), taken over by the Greeks in 540 BC, and conquered by the Romans two thousand years ago, it is full of sites and artifacts of ancient times. Marseilles is the second-largest city in France.
This is a day of two Shore Excursions, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. The first excursion was a bus tour of the city in the morning and in the afternoon we went to a winery and the el castle. But first it was Parrots Cay for breakfast our new favorite breakfast dinning room. I did not get to eat much because we had a very talkative sever. He was from the Philippines and I mentioned how well his fellow country man did in the talent show. Well after that I thought he was going on the tour with us. It was okay though, it’s not like I needed more food.

We made our way to meet up with our morning tour and boarded our bus. The morning tour was a ride around the city of Marseille. The tour was on a double-decker bus with the top deck being open. Although the morning air was a little chilly we took the upper deck.

Our journey started with a drive through the Vieux Port. This old harbor is filled yachts and fishing boats. The bus traveled along streets of Marseille as we made our way up to the focal point of Marseille - the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica.

The Basilica is at the highest point in the city and was built in 1853 by architect Jacques Henri Esperandieu in the Romanesque-Byzantine style. As our bus got to the top of the hill it broke down. At that point we all exited the bus and made our way to the stairs leading to the Basilica.
We made our way up the 120 steps to the golden statue of the Virgin Mary gracing the top of the bell tower. When you reach the top you have a magnificent view of the city.

After we walked around the Basilica, a new bus picked us up and continued the journey along the rocky coastline and lovely views of the islands and the rising hills of the Marseilleveyre Massif.
We were to have an hour of free time along the Old Harbor but that never happened. I assume it was due to the bus problem but there were other spots listed in the tour descriptions that we did not see. The recorded audio tour guide on the bus was poor. I would give this excursion a rating of good; however we did cover a lot of area and did get a glimpse at many city sites, we just did not know what we were viewing.

We were taken back to the ship where we had time for tacos and pizza at the pool before we made it out for our afternoon excursion. It was a sunny day at the pool and that made it difficult to leave.

Our afternoon excursion was a trip through the southern French countryside to a winery and a wine tasting venue. This trip gives you and a hint of the leisurely lifestyle in the south of France.
The beautiful winery and olive oil producer was set in the hills of this peaceful area. After a tour of the grounds we were taken to the tasting room were we tasted wines and olive oil. We purchased both wine and olive oil but only the olive oil will make it home.

The second leg of the afternoon excursion was to the village of Le Castellet. Le Castellet is a typical hilltop village in the Provencal area, a large region in southern France boarding the Mediterranean Sea. This hilltop village is perched on the wooded hills of the Var Region which is dotted with vineyards and olive groves. Var inland is rich with vineyards, olive groves, spectacular lavender plantations and charming medieval villages up to the striking beauty of the mountains. This region is well positioned between the mountains and the sea. It stretches from the 250 miles of magnificent sun-drenched coastline of the Mediterranean across impressive hinterland landscapes.

The well-preserved walls of Le Castellet once served as a stronghold for the feudal Lords of Les Baux. The village features a restored 12th-century church and a castle built in the 11th century that now serves as the town hall. The village has two fortified gates, Le Portail or Le Portalet that allows access to the village. Our guide provided an interesting guided walking tour of the narrow cobblestone streets of the medieval town. There are now numerous arts and crafts shops and traditional French cafes throughout the village.

The Mediterranean climate of this area provides around 300 days of sunshine per year. This was an exceptional place to visit and provided a wonderful example of southern France to ‘experience and adventure’ with all the attractions on offer.

Tonight’s show was “When Mickey Dreams” another new show. Mickey’s dreams come to life, including nightmares. This show had little dialogue and was more of a mixture of Cirque de Soleil® La Nouba, EPCOTS millennium parade and Dreams. It was quite a production.
The dinner theme this day was Pirates IN the Caribbean, although were in the Mediterranean. As I learned the Mediterranean had its share of Pirates. After dinner its Pirates IN the Caribbean Deck Party. The party, and the buffet, seemed to be well attended. Having the late seating, you miss the start of the party and you are too filled to enjoy the buffet. Tomorrow it is our last port. It is hard to believe.