Marseille offers tours of the city via a tourist train (Le Petit Train). The train does not actually run on a track. It has tires and rides the same streets as the cars, trucks, and buses. Our City Pass allowed us to choose one of the trainís two tour circuits: an hour neighborhood tour or an hour fifteen-minute city tour that includes a stop at the cityís iconic hilltop basilica, Notre Dame de la Garde. We chose the latter.
The train departs from the Old Port. The operators make sure to fill every available seat before leaving. We were crammed as many as four to a row on this warm humid day. The tour was narrated via a recording in French, English, German, and Spanish. We heard many facts and anecdotes about Marseille as we made our way through the congested streets. Even though we found the commentary to be interesting, it was not long before both Traci and I had drifted off to sleep. I was still not totally over jet lag and Traci was just exhausted from working on European time and then having to still support her U.S. colleagues until 11 PM at night. The U.S. office is 6 hours behind France.
The train let everyone off at Notre Dame de la Garde where we were given as much time as we wanted to explore the magnificent basilica. Tourist trains arrive at the basilica every 20 minutes or so. Traci and I spent about an hour at the basilica and then continued the train tour back to the Old Port. We were able to stay awake and listen to the interesting commentary during the 30-minute ride back to the Old Port.
Notre Dame de la Garde is Marseilleís iconic basilica. It is the highest point in the city. Crowning this magnificent basilica is a golden statue of Mary holding Baby Jesus. The statue is known as "The Good Mother" (La Bonne MŤre). The church is especially spectacular at night when it is all lit up. We could look up and see this spectacle at nighttime as we were walking back to our hotel or dining outdoors.
For our visit to Notre Dame de la Garde, we arrived via the tourist train. The basilica began as a chapel in the 13th century, was converted to a fortress by the 16th century, and was well on its way to becoming the basilica of today by the 19th century.
The most striking experience of our visit was when we first got off the tourist train. We could look down on the city in all directions. Almost all the buildings had orange clay rooftops. We could look out towards the sea and see the Frioul Islands. It was fascinating and we hadnít really reached the basilica yet. To do this, we needed to climb several sets of stairs. It was not until Traci and I were at the entrance of the church that I overheard the first American accent I had heard since arriving in Marseille. A lady was telling someone that she took the elevator. By the way, for those who really want a workout, you can walk to the basilica from the Old Port. Just realize it is going to be a steep uphill walk given Notre Dame de la Garde is situated 531 feet above the city.
Notre Dame de la Garde sits high above Marseille.
loved the view from the basilica
Shhh! Respect those who are in prayer.
inside Notre Dame de la Garde
We entered Notre Dame and walked around its awe-inspiring sanctuary. Everyone was expected to be quiet out of respect for those who were praying and meditating. Even though visitors kept their voices to a whisper, the echoing sound of tennis shoes squeaking along the floor seemed almost deafening.
Traci and I took some time to walk through the crypt below the sanctuary. Although this sounds creepy, it really wasnít. It still looked like the inside of a church. The tombs of clergy are cemented into the walls and floors and covered by a plaques.
Before heading to the parking lot to wait for the tourist train, we took a look in the souvenir shop. Traci bought me a French bible that comes with a CD. It should help in my efforts to become multilingual. continue...