Sunday, 19 May 2013: The Frioul archipelago
Written Tuesday, 4 June 2013
My plan to go down to the quai early in the morning to get boat tickets worked like a charm, except that once again, the boats were landing at If. So I settled for tickets for the 1:45 p.m. crossing to Frioul. That left us the morning, so we set off (a little later than planned, as CJ's alarm clock stopped in the night) to rid the little white train.
On the way we passed through the morning's fish market. That is, I passed through, taking photos and studying the species on offer, CJ and Jeff trailed along to watch, and David—not a fan of fish markets—stood well clear.
On the left is a typical display. At the back, labeled "palamides," are bonito; in the middle are "daurade royale," i.e., gilthead seabream (the sign specifies that they are wild and from the Med); in the foreground are "rougets de roche," little red mullet. On top are a few smallish "langoustes" (spiny lobsters) and a couple of good-sized red fish that could be rascasses (rockfishes highly prized for bouillabaisse)./p>
In the photo on the right, a large clawed lobster shares tank space with a very small monkfish. Other displays included octopus, "rougets grondins" (less prized than rougets de roche), vives, a few gastropods, and some flatfishes.
We also passed through the "tourist market," selling mostly souvenirs, but also some food and clothing. CJ and Jeff bought two little ceramic boats, one as a gift and the other as a souvenir for themselves—the vendor inscribed it for them, with their names, the date, and "Marseille." I wish I'd thought to get a photo of it before it was wrapped.
We tried for some time to locate the stop for the little white train, which everyone we asked assured us was "right over there, across from the Mairie." We even saw two or three of them pass by without stopping, but we never found the dratted place. Finally, we gave up and went back to the Museum of the Roman Docks—the only thing around that was open at all, let alone on Sunday. As it happens, it was a "free Sunday," so we all got in free.
I talked the group into going back to the Brasserie du Soleil so I could get the terrific garlic mussels again. They were again terrific, but nobody joined me in ordering them.
CJ ordered a salade niçoise, a long-time favorite of hers—she could eat canned tuna even back when she couldn't touch fresh fish. As usual, it was topped with tuna, cold potatoes, a cooked egg, olives, and some green beans. For some reason, this play threw in a few corn kernels as well.
David went for a salad of foie gras, toast, and potatoes.
Jeff chose the house-made spinach and cheese ravioli, which came in a lovely cream sauce with a liberal sprinkling of fresh parsley over the top.
On the right was pretty much the view of the port from our table, although the view is somewhat closer because I actually took the photo later, from the boat. The building straight ahead is the Fort Saint Jean, which boats must curve around to the right to leave the harbor. The Fort Saint Nicolas is just out of the photo to the left.
It still wasn't time to catch the boat, so we strolled up the Canabière as far as the OT, to show them the diving sphere, then peered through the construction fence at the ruins of the Greek port (the one surrounded by the shopping mall).
Finally, we joined the queue for the boat ride. People who actually live on Frioul have priority for boarding. Here, on the left, are Jeff and David and, on the right, CJ and me.
As usual, I had to use both the back and the front straps to hold my hat on because it was so windy (though these photos caught us in a calm moment), and as usual, it makes me look like a dork. It's really quite a stylish-looking hat without the front strap! Amazing how that one piece of white shoelace lowers your apparent IQ by 50 points. David will spend whole mornings holding his hat on with his hand to avoid using that strap.
The crossing was windy and rough, to CJ's delight. She loves boats and never more than when it's windy and rough. Jeff was not so delighted with the weather, though not because of the wind. He forgot to apply sunscreen and got comprehensively burned.
The Frioul archipelago, about 4 km off Marseille, consists of four islands: tiny If, where the famous chateau/prison is; even tinier Tiboulain, beyond Frioul, where nothing is; and two larger islands (each about 2.5 km long), Pomègues, which has a village on it, and Ratonneau, which doesn't.
At some point in their history, a causeway was built connecting the two larger islands (which are now known collectively as "Frioul") and creating a harbor between them. On the left is a view of the village on Frioul as we approached it on the boat. Along the waterfront is a solid line of restaurants, snack stands, ice-cream shops, etc., although not tacky at all—the locals have managed to keep that area clean, manicured, landscaped, and tasteful.
On the right is a great larger-than-life-sized rhinoceros containing a glass box of books, perhaps left over from the same book fair that produced Zarafa III. It may also be a propos of an incident in the 16th century, when a rhinoceros was en route by sea to Rome (as a gift to the Pope from the king of Portugal). François I was in Provence at the time and asked for a chance to see it. It was disembarked briefly on one of the Frioul islands so he could view it, before continuing on its way, only to be shipwrecked and drowned before reaching its destination.
Atop the bluff just behind the row of restaurants is this small, handsome Greek-temple-shaped building. We never figured out what it was supposed to be (maybe a church, as it has a cross on top) or how old it was, but we were able to climb up and stand on its porch to admire the view.
Inland from the village, the island is in a reasonably natural state. Hiking is allowed all over both of the larger islands, but bicycles are restricted to the village and the road to the Caroline Hospital (a former yellow-fever quarantine hospital on the eastern end of Pomègues, now being restored). We saw a few motor vehicles on the island, but they all seemed to be a propos of city services, and none was in use at the time. We walked a few of the paths but didn't undertake any serious climbing or hiking. I took photos of wildflowers (the island is proud of the many species seldom seen elsewhere), and we got within sight of the hospital before turning back. It seemed to us that the island must once have been more prosperous, or at least less centered on the waterfront, because we saw quite a few isolated abandoned buildings—a strange combination of picturesque and derelict.
Having young and spritely metabolisms, CJ and Jeff stopped on the way back for ice cream—two scoops each—despite upcoming dinner reservations. CJ in particular was delighted with the range of flavors. She chose violet and white chocolate; Jeff chose tiramisu and "cookies"; both declared the cones the best they'd ever had, even independently of the ice cream in them.
On the boatride back, I got this shot of the Château d'If, the prison where the Count of Monte Cristo and the Man in the Iron Mask were fictionally incarcerated. In its long history, many real people were locked up there as well.
I also got this shot of the Caroline Hospital. When the restoration is complete, it will become the European Cultural Exchange Center, and during the restoration it's being used as a vocational training site for "people in difficulty."
As we reentered the harbor and headed up the length of the Vieux Port, our ship had to pause to let the Ferry Boat (now finally back in operation, with the old ferry) cross in front of us (photo on the right). I'm glad we finally got at least to see if, even though we never got to ride it.
Back on the mainland, we adjourned for a siesta before tackling the serious business of dinner at Les Trois Forts, the restaurant in the local Sofitel (Accor's top-of-the-line brand), which overlooks all three of the forts at the mouth of the harbor.
Dinner restored our faith in French cuisine. I tried without success to get a good photo of the sculpture outside the hotel's main entrance. It consisted of an entirely conventional realistic, life-size bronze stag, but the stag's antlers were hugely prolonged into a large tangle of bronze tubing, and the whole thing was upside down, resting on the mass of tangled antlers, with the stag on top, his feet in the air, still in the classic striding-forward pose. Great!
The amuse-bouche was a small spoonful of carefully seasoned baby broad beans. We all ordered from the "Phocea" menu (remember, Marseille was founded by Greek Phoceans), which prosposed two choices each for the first course and the dessert and four for the main course.
First course: Two of us chose the butternut squash cream soup with a poached egg raw ham chips, and a "crumble" of hazelnuts with citrus zest.
The other two started with a layered terrine of foie gras and Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes, the root of a sunflower relative) with sage and a chutney of pineapple with sweet spices. Yummy. The chutney was particularly good.
Main course, me: Sautéed medallions of lamb with a grilled stack of eggplant and tomato with pistou, a rosemary shortbread cookie, and a mousseline of red bell paper (the orange dollops to the right of the lamb, which she declared delicious.
Main course, Jeff and CJ: Daurade with mascarpone risotto, artichokes, and arugula.
Main course, David: Cod with potatoes mashed with oysters, napped with mushroom foam. Also yummy. The potatoes and oysters made a surprisingly good combination.
Nobody took the fourth choice, which was spelt risotto with chicken "oysters" (the little round muscle in the small of the chicken's back) and hazelnut oil.
This was our first shot at a traditional French cheese course, and we were astonished to find that they had Citeaux (the cheese that we liked so much in Burgundy in 2009, made by Cistercean monks and sold ony out the door of the monastery)! Back when we first tasted it, we looked at each other and said, "CJ would really like this cheese." And we were right; she did! They also had Chaource, another favorite of mine.
The plate shown here is the selection I chose: Clockwise from the left, Chaource, Citeaux, and a small dry chevre. In the center of the plate, a dollop of black cherry jam.
Everybody else got the "Black Forest dome" with ginger-lime sorbet (above, right), but I got the crispy millefeuille of Victoria pineapple with bourbon vanilla custard and Sechuan pepper ice cream, and boy was it good! Best pineapple dessert ever!
Tomorrow, off to Avignon!
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