Boats on the Med and a little Marseilles

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Within a few weeks of starting my journey I was sailing through Indonesia. As you may have gathered if you've read those entries, the month or so on board was one of the highlights of my trip. Cheap, exotic, full of adventure in remote places and we didn't even get jumped by pirates. All's well that ends well.

More recently I've spent a lot of time (and money) on the larger boats that cruise about the Mediterranean. On the whole these have been quite comfortable and pleasant, but they haven't had much airtime in my notes. So as this may be my last sea journey and in case anyone is wondering what they are like (Aussies aren't really exposed to this mode of transport), here's a few thoughts on them.

Most of the long haul boats (greater than 6 hour journeys) are much like floating hotels - with bars, restaurants, casinos, duty free shops and a variety of other amenities on board. The next generation jumbo jets now featuring on the news are moving to a similar concept. Like airplanes they have economy and upper class seating, but many boats even sell deck class - meaning that you stake out some floor somewhere and eat/sleep/sit there. Not so good if it is an overnight journey as you're not likely to get any real sleep.

Tunis to Marseilles is a 23 hour journey, with the boat travelling at maybe 20 knots (miles) per hour, so there is plenty of time to lay about, read or catch up on the World Cup football. For this trip I splurged and got a cabin ticket as it was not even 10% more expensive than a normal seat (a deliberate policy to force foreigners into the cabins I suppose). Generally you're looking at an average 50 euro per seat ticket, although this particular journey cost me 160!

Although it was a four bed cabin it was still very comfortable and much better than your average train sleeper compartment. As you can see there is also a small toilet and shower combination which is a godsend on longer journeys - the communal toilets in eonomy class end up looking like a bomb hit them after the first three hours at sea. Blerk...

It's quite amazing where you can go when you look at it. Spain to Morocco, Tunisia to Italy via Malta, Corsica, Rome to Barcelona, Greece to Italy or Croatia - the list goes on.The only area that lets things down is the Middle East - there have been no passenger services from Greece or Turkey to Syria, Israel or Egypt for a few years, although I heard a rumour that Athens to Alexandria might be starting up soon which would be an excellent trip.

Coming into port is a great feeling as sometimes you just really want to get off that boat - particularly if you're a crumpled heap after sleeping on the floor all night. Marseilles was good for another reason - the Count of Monte Cristo's island drifted by to port side as we entered the harbour and you can really get a sense of what the town is about when you study it from the water. I quickly worked out that there isn't a great deal to keep you in Marseilles, and the smog cloud and lack of sights listed in the Lonely Planet guide confirmed that intuition.

So I hopped off and went to find the train station. The cathedral stood out on my way up the hill and it turns out Marseilles has its own Arc de Triumph, although I suspect it's a more junior version (haven't seen the real one yet though). I should give the place more of a break but the interesting little town of Avignon, maye 100km inland, awaits. Then on to Barcelona. Time's a ticking so I have to make every day count!

Next entry -> Avignon: where the Popes called home (for a while in the middle ages anyway)...

Words from the Wise #40

"Yarrr, I don't know what I'm doing..."

Captain Pete from The Simpsons
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