Marseilles is having trouble in its role as Capitale Europeenne de la Culture 2013.
We get our first sense of this when we call in at the Office de Tourisme and ask for our City Pass Marseille. It’s a museum and public transport card that, according to the website, “…makes it easy for first time visitors by identifying the best things to do in the city and permits to save (sic) money and time.”
Except today, ‘Sorry, Sir, our printer is not working so we cannot make the cards.’
‘Is there somewhere else we can get them?’
‘Non, monsieur. Sorry.’
We are permitted to save further money and time because the Musee de Beaux Arts and the Musee d’Arts Decoratifs are both closed until next month.
The Office de Tourisme can supply a map, however, and we find our way to Pavillon M, apparently the nerve centre of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. Various montage films give us a bewildering rundown of Marseilles’ achievements. They have skate ramps and opera, food and a football team. Sometimes there is cycling. Cinema has been made here.
A wide screen audio visual display (the sort where three screens are going at once so you don’t know where to look) tells us that Marseille has plans for some striking new building projects. We see them in artists’ impressions.
Helpful young people in t-shirts reading ‘Do you speak Anglais?’ (oui, they do) guide us around, but as Rene confesses, ‘We have to admit Marseilles wasn’t ready in time. It will be great in the summer when everything is open.’
Fortunately, we’re not dependent on special events to enjoy a couple of days in Marseilles. It is a vibrant, multicultural town, where there is plenty going on in the streets.
Our day begins down at the Vieux Port, where little boats pull up and colourful fisherfolk sell their fresh, squirming catch.
And so will I.