Wednesday, 7 November 2007


After our morning feast which is as pleasant as can be, we drive South to Cassis. Sean wants to see the Mediterranean Sea and Cassis is a nice small town in which to do so.
The drive is totally scenic as we drive along the coast through Marseille, a very large port on the Sea. Along the way, we are following behind a little trailer that is carrying this little fellow and a friend. This might be its farewell tour- it’s tagged and ready to be sold for wool or meat.

As we get closer to Cassis, memories of my last trip there about 20 years ago, start flooding in. I recall that my two Irish friends, Denise and Maria, and I took a train and then a bus to Cassis from Paris. We arrived with huge pieces of luggage, and were deposited at the bus station wondering where the youth hostel was, and more importantly, how we were going to get there with our pounds of luggage.
Denise and Maria had done their homework. This youth hostel was nicely nestled in the mountains over looking the Mediterranean. The only problem was we had to hike for about an hour in order to get there. The hiking was no problem, but I tell you, Denise had the hugest bag. I don’t even remember my luggage, just her huge canvas yellow bag. Denise and Maria were headed back to Ireland after their year abroad as soon as our trip to Cassis was over. So it had a year’s accumulation in it. I remember we carried, then dragged that bag.

Now that I’m remembering, I recall as we got to the top of the switchback road, a man passed by in a small car and felt sorry for us. I want to say he was a member of the French Foreign Legion which always has had a strange appeal to me. He escorted a couple or all of us, and most importantly, that huge yellow bag. We still had to hike a bit off the road to arrive at the hostel, but he saved us some heartache.

The little yellow ochre building that was our future home for the next couple of weeks was a sight for sore eyes. It had a front porch with a big table in the front. Inside was the communal kitchen with various hot plates for cooking meals. We all shared a room, and there was a communal women’s restroom and shower area. Finally, there was a medium sized living area where we met people from all over the world.

I still remember many of the people I met during those couple of weeks. First of all, I’m still friends with Denise who is back in Ireland after about 10 years in Denver, Colorado. There was Ian, the British fellow from Kent with whom I ended up hitchhiking to Venice, Italy and back. He was a really nice guy and clever. While we were at the youth hostel, he would earn some extra money by volunteering to buy your provisions for you in town for a fee. We took him up on this offer a few times, which saved us a couple of hours each time. There were the two guys from the Netherlands who would put a declicious meal together if you paid them 10 or 15 francs per person. I can still taste a wonderful Ratatouille they cooked for us all. I can see us gathered around the big table on the porch eating from the big pot. There were the two Protestant girls from Northern Ireland who had a very heavy accent, unlike the light and airy accent of my current Southern Catholic Irish friends. I wondered if there was going to be any bloodshed at the youth hostel. I myself felt inclined to join the IRA after reading Trinity by Leon Uris, but Denise felt that the IRA needed to stop what they were doing. It was interesting to hear the Northern girls talk about going to a party or a dance. They said that people didn’t ask your last name, because then you would know straight away if they were Catholic or Protestant, and you just wanted them to be people first, not part of a religious or political group. Then there was the girl from I don’t remember where, but she had a cool scarf that she had just gotten from Venice. Oh, Venice, I thought, how cool. So, when my buddy Ian suggested that we hitchhike to Venice, my rational thoughts were cast aside in favor of a pretty scarf. But that’s another long story.

Aside from the great cultural experience of the Cassis youth hostel, it was also a beautiful location. It was on the cliffs that overlooked the Sea. There was no view from the hostel, but within a few minutes of hiking down a path, and you could see the Mediterranean. A few more minutes of hiking and you were at the bottom of an inlet, called a calanque. The only way to get to this calanque was by hiking, so it was very secluded even though it was mid-Summer and high tourist season. The inlets were surrounded by high white cliffs that really made it a gorgeous setting. Occasionally a tour boat would come by, or sometimes we would watch climbers mount the big white cliffs. Mostly we would just enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company.

As I approach Cassis 21 years later with my family, I am very nostalgic. It seems the village is bigger. The store that was called “Arold and Maude” was no longer there. It seems that the marina is a lot bigger. I ask about the youth hostel, and am told it is still up there, high on the hill (mountain?).

We take a short walk to one of the rounded rock beaches, and enjoy the afternoon sun. The kids skip stones, find cool rocks, and then---- spot an OCTOPUS! Quinn swears its an octopus. Fortunately, we got a picture of it, and it does look like a mini octopus. Can anyone verify this for us by looking at the picture below?

The kids and I then board a boat that takes you on a tour of three of the calanques. It is very beautiful. I can picture my friends and I lying on the white rocks soaking in the sun. Driving by in a boat, and staying there for a week with friends from the youth hostel are quite different. But it has been nice to share on of my favorite places with my family. Quinn seemed to really enjoy the region’s beauty as he was enthusiastically snapping up the pictures.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I've been to that hostel in Cassis!! In fact, it was the spring of 1988...nearly twenty years ago for me too. My memory is of being just about the only guy there, and seeing nothing but posters on the hostel walls of two guys looking longingly into each others eyes.

Anywho, I hiked about two hours up and down cliffs with my french sketch box easel for a view of the calanques to paint. When I finally got a good angle, I was damn near too tired to paint. I did come away with a reasonably good little study which I stilll have.

Thanks for the memories!


LDP said...

That is the goat of Satan himself.

dryanna said...

I can't believe you were there too! Small world! I'd love to see your painting of the area.

Mr. LDP,
Either Satan or a future offering to the gods.

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite places in the world too. On any 14 July book a window table at Romano's (next to hotel Le Golfe) watch the fireworks and after walk to the Town Square for a dance - simply lovely.

I fell in love with it when I went to the hostel La Fontasse in 1980 - I was 14 been going back ever since.