Cassis: Day 1

After offering us a glimpse of spring, the weather suddenly turned very cold here. And by very cold I mean wet snow, sleet, hail, winter-jacket and mulled-wine cold. Quite coincidentally, the wife had a trip to Cassis in south France planned out for the worst part of that week. I personally don’t mind cold (those who know me would even go so far as to say that I quite savour it), but even I was glad for a change of scene.

A short (1h40m) flight from Amsterdam got us to Marseille Airport. Once there, we figured out how to use the SNCF (France’s state-owned railway company) ticket vending machine[1] and procured ourself a train ticket to Cassis.

At roughly 9.90 € per person, the ticket wasn’t expensive, but the journey involved two stops. Our first stop was the Marseille Vitrolles train station – a short airport shuttle ride from just outside the arrival gates. The Marseille Vitrolles station is merely a couple of open platforms rather than a proper train station. Behind us was a patch of hilly land covered in rank grass, short trees and wildflowers. While in front of us was a dramatic, cloudy sky and a view of the sea beyond.

Another short ride from here got us to Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, a proper, big-city station with several lines, a mini shopping complex, and a beautiful façade. The station was very crowded. Amidst the hubbub, two boys were noodling Für Elise on the piano in the arrival hall. There was a huge McDonalds inside the station, but in a country renowned for its cuisine, it felt criminal to visit it. We settled for a fresh baguette sandwich from a small café instead.

From Marseille-Saint-Charles, our train got us to Cassis within 30 minutes. We had booked an apartment in Cassis. Our host picked us up from the station and dropped us to the apartment. It was a little cloudy and windy when we arrived. Our host apologised profusely for the weather and mentioned that much better weather was forecast for the next day. If only she knew about the weather we had just left behind…

Cassis is a small town of about 10.000 residents. Most of the town’s big restaurants are along the town’s small but busy harbour. Most buildings are 2-3 storied, their roofs covered in terracotta tiles and façades painted in shades of ochre. I found them very pleasing to look at, especially against the backdrop of the blue mediterranean sky. We walked a bit along the harbour and came across a park where people were enjoying a game of Pétanque.

There were two well provisioned supermarkets in Cassis. We procured basic ingredients for next morning’s breakfast from one of them and walked back to our apartment through empty streets just behind the harbour.

When we stepped out again after a short nap, the clouds had been pretty much swept away by a strong wind. The sky and the water looked nothing like they did just a couple of hours ago. It was almost as if our bed had gone adrift while we were sleeping and we had arrived at some other Cassis.

We paid a brief visit to the beach and we were amazed at how clear and blue the sea was.

We ended our evening at the lighthouse – surprised at how late the sun set (8:30 PM!) even this far south from Amsterdam – but nonetheless grateful for the extra light!

[1] In this day and age of touch screens, the only means of navigation SCNF’s vending machines offer is a knob that you turn to make a selection, and a button that you press to confirm it. We couldn’t find a way to change the language from French either. However, once we got over these handicaps, it was surprisingly easy to make a purchase. The screens are remarkably well laid out. The constraint of the knob-and-button navigation enforces a certain “linearity” to the flow of user through the various screens which keeps you from getting lost.

Photoblog: Photo #87 – The cat of Gouda

We had picked a warm summer day to visit Gouda. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face by merely thinking about that day. We were there simply to spend an afternoon in a city that was not Amsterdam. While drifting through the streets, we came across a cat that was wandering about with a sense of purpose not dissimilar to ours. It eventually settled down in front of a house with a poise that only comes from being a cat. It then gave us the look of a cat used to being photographed routinely by lesser mortals.