Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Our trip to the Iles du Frioul (10/26/08)

Our plan for the day was to have moules frites (steamed mussels with French fires) on the Vieux Port at Cafe Collins. We were craving this delicious dish since we hadn't had it since our first week here in France.

As we were getting up, we discussed going on a boat ride sometime in the week. We could go on one that took us to Chateau D'If, or to the islands of Frioul, or even over to Cassis through the Calanques. On our way to the cafe, we realized that it was such a gorgeous day out that we should do the boat ride today instead of waiting until Monday or Tuesday.

Sundays are not the best for visiting the port. It's very crowded, and we were amazed to get a table at the cafe. Lunch at Collins took two hours, which is typical here in France. We sat outside in the direct sunlight, which bothered Chris. Luckily he didn't get badly burned. The food and drinks were delicious as always.

After lunch, we went over to buy our tickets for the boat trip. The line wasn't too long. I felt bad for the couple in front of us though. The woman looked to be 7 months pregnant, and they would not sell them tickets because of it. Even though I don't know French, I could tell that they were telling her that their insurance would not cover her and the baby if something went wrong, so she was not allowed to go on the boat.

We wanted to go to Chateau D'If and Frioul, but I guess we got there too late in the day. So we purchased tickets to Frioul and had about a half an hour to kill.

Around the port, there was a small market of local items...soaps, Provencal dishware and table cloths, candy, cookies, shirts, and touristy items. We looked through the items for a little while as we waited for our boat ride.

We walked back over to get in line for the boat. We learned that Europeans do not know how to form lines very well. Everyone just crowded around the entry gate and waited. Some people would walk right in front of others to get closer to the entry way, even though to us that was cutting in line. We were patient though, and soon, they let us on the boat. Chris and I grabbed seats in the back.

I was thrilled to be out on a boat on such a lovely day, but the journey had deeper significance for Chris. The man who studies piracy in the Mediterranean was finally out on the sea.

We eased out of the port and towards Chateau D'If. We had to let some passengers off there and pick some others up before going to Frioul. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and there were lots of sail boats out enjoying the calm waters. Being on the Mediterranean is like being on a lake. It's unbelievable still. The color is a beautiful turquoise.

We arrived at Frioul islands in about 30 minutes. Frioul is an archipelago of small islands off the coast of Marseille. There are four islands, Pom├Ęgues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen. We spent most of our time on Ratonneau. The islands look like craggy cliffs of limestone coming out of the sea. The islands are pretty desolate, with few trees, only a couple of houses and cafes, and ruins of a couple of forts, military buildings, and a hospital perched on the top of the cliffs.

We disembarked and really didn't know what direction to go. Like sheep, we followed others who were walking along a road. We came to a fork in the path, and one couple veered off towards some calanques. We decided to follow them since that path looked more interesting. The word "calanque" means inlet. The path led us to a small beach where a few people were sunning themselves, and kids were playing on the rocks near the water. I wanted to touch the Mediterranean, but the beach was kind of dirty due to litter, so I decided to wait until we found a cleaner location.

We turned around and saw a path leading straight up the cliffs. No one else was headed up there, so we thought it would be good to hike alone to the top. As we started heading upwards (not an easy feat as the path was rather steep and the gravel wasn't easy to maneuver). Half way up we decided to veer off the path and go on a path that looked like it wasn't hiked very often. There was a group of Asian tourists following our lead up the hill, and we didn't figure they would continue following if we went off the main path. We were right. They went another direction, and we continued our hike to the top.

Once at the top, we looked and straight down was another calanque with a sailboat. The view from the top was incredible. We could see in all directions. Chris was nervous whenever I got close to the edge. We took a few pictures then continued towards the fort. We came to a very small fence that seemed to block our way over to the fort. We did not want to go down the hill again just to walk back up, so we just went around the fence. The good thing about Frioul is you can pretty much do and go where ever you want.

We hiked over to the ruins of an old fort. According to our Provence guide book, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the island was a place of quarantine for those suspected of having cholera or the plague. Germans used this island during WWII. The ruins of Fort Ratonneau and Hopital Caroline can be found here.

The ruins of fort were really fun to explore. Some of it was fenced off, but most of it was open for us to check out. We should have brought a flashlight with us, because some of the rooms were too dark to go into. I used the flash on my camera to get some idea of what was inside.

After we finished looking around the fort, we found a path leading down another calanque, so we hiked down towards the sea. We deviated from the path, once again, and walked down to a beautiful, secluded inlet. It would have been a perfect spot to swim (and we plan on doing that when it gets warmer). I finally got my chance to touch the sea! We found some shells around the rocks, and a couple of dead sea gulls (the gulls on this island are called Caspian Gulls). We found lots of bones around too, probably from seagulls.

The sun was starting to set, and we still hadn't made our way over to the hospital. We started hiking over there, and came across a beach with sand (sand seems to be a rare find here as most beaches we have found have rocks). This beach was like the last, littered. I don't know why people can't pick up after themselves. There are only three things that really upset me here in Marseille....people do not pick up after their dogs on the sidewalks, they love throwing trash into the water at the port and apparently, around Frioul, and graffiti (which we didn't find on Frioul, but there is alot in Marseille).

Since the sun was going down, we decided to save the hospital for next time and head back to the port to get the boat back to Marseille. We found a path leading back that went past some old military buildings. They were all fenced off and there were signs saying "Danger of Death" if you went in.

Once back at the port, we got "in line" and waited only about 10 min or so for the boat back. Everyone piled onto the boat...cutting in line, and smooshing themselves through the entry gate. The guy letting people through the gate stopped me and almost didn't let Chris and I on (which was going to really make us mad since there were a few people that cut in front of us earlier that they let on the boat before us). Since it was just the two of us, they let us on. We watched the sun go down as we left the islands.

We had a wonderful trip, and cannot wait to go back and explore the islands some more! The trip was pretty inexpensive, 10 euros per person. Worth every centime! :)

Lots of pictures from our day. I had to separate them when uploading into multiple albums.

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