“No, my dear Dantes. I know perfectly well that you are innocent. Why else would you be here? If you were truly guilty, there are a hundred prisons in France where they would lock you away. But Chateau d’If is where is they put the ones they’re ashamed of.” ~ Dorleac, The Count of Monte Cristo
After arriving at Marne la Vallée-Chessy train station outside of Paris to catch our Ouigo high-speed train to Marseille we are told that a surprise rail worker strike has caused that train and two prior trains’ cancellation. (The strike is eventually 10 days, the longest rail strike since 2008.) Casey and Megan were getting a truly French experience of dealing with a large-scale rail strike. We were told there was a chance of getting on high-speed TGV train still scheduled to depart in 2 1/2 hours. IF it arrived we may be able to get on board. IF we got inside and the doors were able to close we could go as far as the train continued to run. IF. We decided to “take the shot” at getting on that train. In the mean time we “camped out” at the front of the line, talked, played cards, and worked on Soduku puzzles.
The train did arrive and we were able to squeeze into the hallway of a first-class carriage. Other passengers were friendly with the “Life Boat” atmosphere and we stood or sat on the hallway floor for the first 2 1/2 hours of the nearly 900 kilometer trip. About an hour out of Marseille departing passengers allowed us to finally get seats and we enjoyed the first-class luxury for the final hour of the trip, visiting with our neighbors in the cabin who were en route to the Côte d’Azur. They were very friendly to their “refugee” seat-mates crashing first-class. One gentleman was a French engineer who Casey had an animated discussion about their shared profession. We would later read in the newspapers about people being stranded in rail stations for days and marvel that we were able to “pull off the impossible” and get one of the few remaining working trains to Marseille.
Marseille was completely unexpected. I thought the city would be a gritty, slightly run-down port town. Instead in was a clean, intriguing city that reminded me of San Francisco or Seattle. After wandering through the city I now understand why in 2013 it was awarded the title of Europe’s Capital of Culture.
Our literary adventure was taking the boat out to Chateau d’Id, the historic prison off the Vieux-Port (Old Port) of Marseille, to experience the setting of Dumas’ fictional “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The man in the Iron Mask” in real life. Reminiscent of visits to the former Alcatraz Federal Prison Museum off the coast of San Francisco.
Casey and Megan enjoyed taking the petit train up to Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde located at the highest point in Marseille, about 150 meters (490 feet) above the south side of the Vieux-Port (Old Port), visiting the Musée Cantini with a collection including Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne, and the strikingly unique Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée [Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM).]
After a too-short visit and a sample of great seafood, we committing ourselves to returning in the near future and exploring more of Marseille at a future date. We now headed by bus (the rail strike was still going on) to Aéroport de Marseille Provence (Marseille Provence Airport) to catch Ryanair for Rome.