Attendez le signal

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(Ce rapport incl. des citations est authorisé de Anna.)

Marseille did not meet my expectations – in both good and bad ways. The first thing that was not as expected was the beauty of the city. I was told that Marseille was “not that pretty” and “more of a bad kind of harbor town”. As a person who loves the water, I beg to differ: the Mediterrean Sea was glittering in turquoise shades right outside our window and the Vieux Port’s boats picturesquely lined up in the middle of town. Marseille is surrounded by green hills and above it all thrones the Church Notre Dame de la Garde.

What hugely disappointed me was the lack of interest Marseille showed in one of her most famous daughters, Désirée Clary. No museum, no house of birth, “we ‘ave a métro station called Désirée Clary!”, they informed us. If there was a woman born in Dizzel who later became queen of a country, there’d be memorials all over. I mean, Heinrich Heine left Düsseldorf as soon as he could and still, the university is named after him, the central street is Heinrich-Heine-Allee and there is an institute in his honor. Watch and learn, Marseille! I am starting to suspect it has to do with the fact that Désirée was a woman.

Something that was unexpected as well was that no place in all of the second-largest French city showed the Eurovision Song Contest. And yes, we even went to all the gay bars! That way, Anna, my 16-year-old travel companion, learned what the rainbow flag signifies, so I assume we must enter the endeavour on the educational credit site after all.

While the European countries strutted their stuff on Stockholm (and I got countless texts from everywhere asking what I thought even though I could not watch it), Anna and I ate some traditional galettes. It became obvious during our meal that her teachers had neglected to thoroughly inform her about the French Revolution so the next half hour I tortured her with Richelieu, Ancien Regime, the Storming of the Bastille, Citoyen Louis Capet, the Tennis Court Oath, Robespierre, the Declaration of Human Rights and Boneparte crowing himself. “You forgot the guillontine!”, she just commented as she read what I typed. So you can tell my effort got across to her!

I also tried to  leave some of the navigating to her since she speaks fluent French but she made a point out of letting us end up in a locked tram in the depot so I realized she did not want to take on the role of chief guide…After a while,  with me constantly reminding my co-German to “attender le signal” at the traffic lights, we finally made it to the park we intended to go to (because Anna wanted to itemize birds). This public garden was graced with a giant statues and fountains, called Palais Longchamps, in the front with engravings of famous men: Lamarck, Buffon, Linné. Trying to arouse Anna’s curiousity for natural history, I asked if those names rang a bell to which she replied, “Yeah, isn’t Buffon the Italian goalkeeper?” Well, yes, he is. As I started to explain Lamarck’s and Linné’s role in science, she sighed and said:“Helen, you’re too interested in things”.

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The Désirée station

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In th Notre Dame de la Garde, you could offer candles for 10 – ten! – euros each

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Because you always wanted Merkel on your phone

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In the Mucem

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Grandmas knitting histperware

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We were strolling through the Old Town Le Panier when suddenly a Zumba class was held right in front of us – very entertaining!

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Lavender chips and Orangina – feeling very Provencal.

Enchanted Port

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Maybe it is compulsive blogging disorder that I am suffering from because I felt I could not commence my Marseille stay without reporting about Portugal first. The last four days, my friend and travel companion Michelle and I followed the recommendations I had obtained from friends, coworkers and family. We went to Sintra, we listened to Fado and we ate at the Ponto Final restaurant.

It was also my first airbnb experience which was interesting. The hosts barely spoke to us but their apartment was impeccably clean and rather high standard. However, their elevator frequently stopped and refused to release its passengers and the room was so cold I could hardly fall asleep. I think the fact that the Portuguese do not have radiators is some kind of weather escapism: they want to believe it is always 20 degrees and higher in their country. But it’s not. We got our fair share of rain and what puzzled me was that the rain felt lighter when coming down on one’s skin. So odd…! I was walking home the first evening when I noticed that but I could not pay attention to this circumstance for a long time because dozens of young people in black capes appeared around me. One of them carried what first looked like a broomstick and I concluded that a previously unreleased Harry Potter volume must be currently filmed in Lisbon („Harry Potter and the Erasmus Student of Portugal“). On closer examination, I found the broomstick was in fact a giant wooden spoon and the cape-wearers had ties with spoons attached to them. Back in our room, I googled, „weird Portuguese rituals with spoons“ and found it was part of the praxes, a (controversial) student tradition. 

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The Pink Street

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In Portugal, meat is apparently never served with vegetables

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Lisbon has the “Sexiest WC on Earth” as Renova calls its public toilet

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We met lots of stray cats

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The metro system had quite good displays.

During our stay, Michelle and I closely observed the people around us and switched languages accordingly. If Germans were close, we guarded our privacy by switching to Swedish, if Swedes were to be heard, we became all German. At the Fado restaurant, a Norwegian couple overheard us and it made the Scandinavian’s day to meet us. He was very friendly and super happy to have met someone from the North who also was on „ferie“ in Portugal. We were also happy because you can hardly listen to Norwegian without being happy.

Despite our linguistic disguise, we were frequently mistaken for locals. People kept asking us for directions or information on public transport. We must have appeared very competent. Our foreignness was quickly demasked though when we replied – in English or Spanish. In four days, the only words I actively picked up were „bom dia“ and „obdrigada“ (the longest word for thank you in any Western European language?) and my brain worked hard to make sense of what I read and heard. Portuguese is a complete mystery – it looks like distorted Spanish and sounds like Polish or another Eastern language. Completely impossible to understand anything at all! My brain seemed to not concede to this fact though but instead built its interpretations: the supermarket chain „Pingo Doce“ because „Pinguin Twelve“ before my inner eye.

We did not make it to any museums but we took a trip to Sintra where you can see two castles and a Moorish fort. The bus trip up the hill was adventurous for German standards and up there it was considerably cooler. We wandered through what looked like a jungle and tried to educate ourselves by reading the „Talking Heritage“ signs. I have to say Sintra has a long way to go when it comes to those. More than once the sign read, „Stones from probably 10th century. We don’t know what they were used for.“

Despite our lack of self-education on Lisbon’s history, I managed to learn that the name of the city means „Enchanted Port“ which I find very poetic, and we got a glimpse of Portuguese culture when we listened to the very nice Fado songs. (On the first evening, I also listened to depressing Portuguese poetry but I did not understand a word.) Fado is special and beautiful and it made me wonder why the Portuguese are excelling in melancholic ways of expression. I’m guessing it has to do with history.

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Lisbon had many interesting ads. If you use this detergent, you will get a nice sixpack/a lover with a nice sixpack

And now I am in Marseille! Getting here from the airport took three times as long as normal because of an AC/DC concert-induced traffic jam. On the motorway, a house had giant letters saying in French, “JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS”. What a welcome.

Our rooms looks literally right onto the Sea which is wonderful. Marseille happens to be the birth place of Desiree Clary, who happens to be the mother of the currently reigning Swedish royal house of Bernadotte. So far I’ve only seen a metro station named after her but tomorrow we’ll try to find out if we can find more traces.