Tag: expat living in France

Marseille, Resilient After All

Admittedly, my old view of Marseille came from mob and war stories in books, on TV and movies.

Now after visiting the city, I’m impressed. To me Marseille’s story is one of resilience. It shows how perseverance conquers adversity.

Marseille’s Story: Prehistory and Ancient Massalia

Marseille’s StoryThe earliest settlements in the area, now know as Marseille, date back to the Paleolithic period (60,000 BC). Residents lived along the Marseille basin which was about the size of the current city. The location was ideal for all types of sea activities. It was protected on the opposite side from the strong northerly wind, Les Mistral, by a range of tall mountains.

Around 600 BC the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, arrived in the area to be close to their trading partner, Gaul. They named the city “Massalia.”

Marseille’s Story

Remains of Greek temple

A popular legend is that Massalia was a wedding gift from the Gallic king, Nannos, to his daughter upon her marriage to a Greek sailor. The story supports the belief that the nations were peaceful at that time. We do know the blending of the two cultures resulted in the introduction of olive oil, wine, ceramics and Grecian gods into the Gaelic world.

Marseille’s Story

From 600 BC to 49 BC the independent Greek city of Massalia grew into a prestigious seaport. Its sea trade, its infrastructure and its political system dominated the trade routes. They distributed goods along the coasts of Gaul to Iberia.

Marseille’s Story

Model of early Massalia

Marseille’s Story: The Roman City

Caesar captured Massalia in 49 BC. Artifacts unearthed at a site where the History Museum now stands attest to the Roman influence on the town. Massalia’s habits and customs, however, remained strongly Greek. Even the language.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: Sacked, Ravaged, Back on Track

From the Roman age through medieval times, the city that became Marseille saw great prosperity and near-total destruction. The Visigoths captured Marseille and the Franks sacked it. In the early 10th century, Marseille experienced a revival as part of a Provençal territory which was divided in two. Arles and Marseille were the capitals.

During the twelfth century, Marseille was an independent republic with strong trade relations and naval prowess. A currency of its own boosted the city’s stature as well.

Marseille’s Story: A French Center of Commerce

Marseille’s StoryMarseille maintained political autonomy until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in 1481 along with Provence. Through years of religious wars and changes in French rulers, Marseille maintained its role as a major center of commerce and a vital port for defense. The city had an arsenal and fleets of warships.

Marseille’s Story

Fort Saint John

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was given “free port” status. To affirm his political power, the king ordered a new urban plan for the city. The size of Marseille went from 65 hectares to 195. Straight streets lined with mansions appeared, including the Canebière that leads to the Old Port. The new city had a fort and a new town hall.

The Great Plague

Thought to be carried from Central Asia through ship crews, the Great Plague of 1720 devastated Marseille. Over 30,000 out of the city’s population of 90,000 died from the outbreak.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: The Revolution

The people of Marseille supported the Revolution sending hundreds of men north to Paris to fight. Along the way the rebellious marchers sang a song that is now the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

Marseille’s Story

Troops from Marseille as depicted on the Arch de Triomphe in Paris

Marseille’s Story: Boom Time and Gangs

The middle of the nineteenth century was a “boom” time for Marseille. The port became a maritime hub for the rest of the world. Trade with the Far East and major shipping lines boosted the creation of a modern culture. At the same time, prosperity cut a deep wedge between the already divided city. The rich against the working class.

Marseille’s Story

Refugees, expelled or fleeing from their countries after WWI, brought droves of Italians, Corsicans, Germans, Armenians and Spaniards to Marseille in search of work. The world of gangsters and the underground grew under leaders such as Carbone and Spirito.

Marseille’s Story

Paul Carbone (top) and François Spirito

Marseille’s Story: Modern War and Destruction

The image of Marseille as a den of violence, drugs and crime is persistent in the eyes of many. Big screen movies and TV series, still today, such as “Marseille” help perpetuate the city’s reputation. Marseille is the second largest city in France today, so an element of such activity can be expected.

It’s how Marseille survived the apocalypse during World War II that is nearly incomprehensible.

Marseilles’ Story

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The Old Port and surrounding districts were bombed and destroyed. The Germans, the Vichy government, the Militia and the French Popular Party actively suppressed the people. In January, 1943, more than 2,000 Marseillais were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 

Like a phoenix, Marseille thrives. 

Marseille has an enduring charm. The metropolitan area of 1.5 million people consists of a melange of people of all races, creeds and nationalities. It is a place of huge economic, social and cultural significance to France. Marseille is proud and it shows.

Marseille’s Story

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

3 Days in the Loire Valley: Château Clos Lucé and Leonardo Da Vinci

On a three-day visit to the Loire Valley, my friend Nancy McGee and I made up our itinerary along the way. Nancy, destination guide “extraodinare” of Absolutely Southern France, was on vacation. That meant no set schedule, just a home base near Amboise. 

After seeing Château Amboise which is in the middle of the town of Amboise, Nancy and I walked a short distance to Château Clos Lucé. The attraction of the small chateau was , to us, that it was where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years.

Château Clos Lucé in Amboise

Château Clos Lucé in Amboise


The chateau was built in the fifteenth century by Hugues d’Amboise. It was acquired by Charles VIII for his wife, Anne de Bretagne. Later, it was used by Francis I who invited da Vinci to stay and work there. Da Vinci remained at the chateau until his death in May 1519. It is now a museum dedicated to the memory and inventions of the master artist and inventor.


Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci at Chateau Clos Luce

Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci at Chateau Clos Luce


An Experiment. Please comment!

In the spirit of the visit to Clos Lucé, I’d like to experiment with a different format for sharing photos with you. I really need your feedback, please. There are many pictures I’d like to show you from the Loire Valley trip. However, I don’t want to make my posts too difficult for you to view. So … how do you like to help me decide.

For example, do you like slideshows that you can view from YouTube? (The quality is not as good as the slideshow through WordPress) … or do you prefer the imbedded slideshow that has better quality but requires more time to download? Other options are below.

Let’s give this a try and please, please, let me hear from you on your preference:

  • Slideshows from Youtube
  • Imbedded slideshow?
  • Photos (6-10) per blog post? (as usual)
  • Photos and slideshow?

Here’s Château Clos Lucé … enjoy!


(Imbedded slideshow)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Youtube slideshow




The Best Way to See the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Whenever you are on an extended trip that takes you to many destinations, you’re bound to go to certain places just because they’re on the way. That’s how I ended up in Pisa, Italy. It was sort of on the way to Cinque Terra.

Friends from the Carolinas were visiting me in Uzes and we were making our way on a  tour of France and Italy.  After a visit along the south-western part of France, with stops in the towns of Port Vendres and Collioure,  we flew from Girona, Spain to Pisa. It appeared to be the closest way for us to get to our first “real” destination in Italy — Cinque Terre.

Including the Leaning Tower and surroundings,  Pisa is great for a day trip.

For the first time in my traveling experience with AirBNB, I made a mistake. In our defense, we made this part of our tour plan at the last minute. So there were few–almost none– places listed to stay in Pisa. We pretty much booked what was available.

For a twenty-somethings our lodgings would have been fine. For the “Golden Girls,” it was bleak and noisy.

To begin with, the room we booked in the “B&B” was tucked away in a scarey alley in the oldest part of town. When we arrived the cab driver wouldn’t even take us down the street.

After we got over our shock and disappointment with our location, we lugged our bags up three flights of stairs to our room. The bedroom we had chosen because of three beds was stark and dreary. But clean. One double bed, one single bed, and a side table. That was it. No lamps, pictures or decorations of any type. Beds and pillows were hard as rocks. Bath towels resembled large kitchen towels. It was adequate, though — and I repeat, it was clean. But it wasn’t exactly what we’d expected.

One of the good things about traveling with friends is that we try to make the best of everything. Just minutes after taking in the situation, we were laughing hysterically.

I think it was right after we discovered our room was on top of Pisa’s “party central” — the square where college kids meet to drink and dance. All night.


When daylight came — after a long, long night — our surroundings didn’t look so bad. We agreed the B&B would be a good choice for young people. There was a nice living area and kitchen. It could be fun if we were forty years younger.

The Leaning Tower

Close to everything” was a true description of the B&B in the AirBNB listing — and it was the best part. Just a short walk down the road that runs beside the Arno River, we were within sight of the Leaning Tower and the cathedral.



Soon we found the crowds we’d imagined.





Pisa Italy


For some reason, I wasn’t expecting all the ornate buildings around the tower. Even though I’d done a “ride by” on a “Europe on $5 a Day” trip in the late ’60s. The area is truly beautiful.

The Best Way to See Pisa

I’m certain many people find Pisa to be quite a nice play to stay. I’m sure we didn’t do enough research. But if you’re on an extended tour and just want to see the leaning tower,  I suggest you drive to the historic city square, jump out of your car or cab, then walk around to your heart’s content.

You can join the multitudes of tourists who want to “hold up the tower” with their hands.


Or you can try to hold up the leaning tower with the brim of your hat … like silly me.




For more information on Pisa:

The Leaning Tower

Pisa, A Touristy Quicky by Rick Steves

Visit the Barefoot Blogger and hear her tales about life in France at barefootblogger.fr

Istanbul: A Turkish Bath

Istanbul. A Turkish Bath

For the last few weeks, Mon Fils and I have been walking in the footsteps of the ancient Romans: touring Ponte Gard, Carcassone and the amphitheaters in Nimes, Arles, Orange, and more. So it’s only fitting that we would give ourselves a Roman treat while in Istanbul.

A Turkish Bath
There are almost as many Turkish baths in Istanbul as rug dealers. Choosing which “hamami” is the “best” is hard to do. One that was highly recommended is Çemberlitaş Hamamı. Built in 1584, it is one of the oldest baths still in operation today.


My first
Having never experienced a Turkish Bath, I didn’t know what to expect. First of all, I didn’t have to take the swimsuit I’d carried along in my suitcase. When I checked in, these are all the “supplies” I was given.


From the front desk I was told to walk upstairs into the “women only” side to claim a locker for my belongings.


There I changed into only in the contents of the small bag; I wrapped the checkered towel around me; and I braved it back downstairs. A few of the lineup of similarly clad ladies sitting around on benches in a damp room motioned me to go through the big wooden door into the hamam. There I was not-so-gently grabbed by the arm by a little lady half my size. She pointed me to the huge, circular, heated stone.

Already there were a dozen or so mostly nude women stretched out on the stone. Most were positioned so they created a circle around the outside edge. Some were laying and some were sitting up towards the middle of the circle. Quickly I realized the women inside the circle were “resting” after their baths. The outside circle was in the “work zone.”

I lay flat on my back on my towel on the warm, wet stone for a few moments . Then I felt warm water being poured on my belly. My “attendant” was finishing up with another client and didn’t want me to feel abandoned.

While in this position for awhile, I marveled at all I heard around me in the mist-filled room: water splashing; tin pans clanging on stones and fountains; and the happy voices of women talking among themselves in many different languages.

I almost forgot I was waiting when a huge splash of water poured over my head. The little lady attendant was ready for me next.

The scrub
You’ve surely guessed the little lady with the strong arm gave me quite a workout. Not exactly a “massage, ” the treatment was about as rugged as I would like. The Turkish towel in her hand felt almost like Brillo. But then, it did as advertised and took all the dead skin away… almost to the bone.

Just kidding.

The Turkish bath was better than any facial, any massage I’ve ever had. And another reason to return to Istanbul.

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