Sunday, January 25, 2009
Marseille, and my first lesson in dealing with travelling mishaps
My time in Marseille, a city in the Provence region of France, would have been remembered as nothing more than a fun (albeit windy) weekend getaway if it weren't for the single word flashing down from the Departures board at Gare St. Charles on Saturday evening: supprimé.
"What does that word mean?" asked my friend and travel companion Amy. I tried to ignore the fact that I had only seen that word once before here, on my cell phone - when it asked if I would like to delete my old text messages.
Yes, delete - or cancel, when you're referring to French trains, apparently. And yes, the last word my tired, wet-footed, tourist-attraction-weary self wanted to hear, especially after we realized that cancelled train was our last exit out of the city until six in the morning, the next day. After stomping around in defeat (and my purchasing of the proper antidote for distress: Vogue Paris, a huge bottle of water, and a McDonalds cappuccinno), and after briefly considering sleeping in the station before I pouted (yeah, it was the wet feet that sent me over the edge), we set out to find a hostel.
The hostel we stayed in the night before was clean and high-quality, but a little over our emergency-expenses fund. Amy had remembered seeing a sign the night before boasting beds as low as 18€ a few doors down. We approached the door, even though it was dimly lit inside. Much to our surprise, it opened, and we stood dumbfounded in the foyer, peeking in a common area where a few older people sat, watching a sort of reality show on a TV bolted to the wall. It seemed as though there had been a restaurant there beforehand, and vestiges of its past prosperity - a dusty bar, a doorway to a kitchen, a board of mismatched room keys and (my favorite) a chalk sign with a single word: REVEILS and a blank numbered list - the old school method for wake-up calls, I imagined. A woman watching tv shouted out "Viens!" along with some other indistinguishable words and a boy around our age came out, explaining that a room for us both would be 30 euro - a steal at 15 each, and we could even scope out the room before laying down the cash.
We did, and figured anything was better than a hard, cold, train-station chair at this point, so we happily agreed to spend the night in our room, which was outfitted with zero plugs and a single flourescent light in the ceiling. We had no ensuite bathroom (that was in the hall, with a lock that didn't work and no toilet - just two rectangles to stand on and a hole in the floor. Aah, cultural immersion) but our room was outfitted with a sink, bidet, and an ashtray advertising U.S. War Bonds. Yeah, like from WWII. The room smelled like that was probably the last time it had been cleaned, but I appreciated its quirky character and went to bed...with my coat on, because the window kept slipping open throughout the night.