Should Blonde go to Marseille for her (next) 40th birthday?
Blonde enjoys turning 40 and does so repeatedly. Other than one time when she turned 40 and demanded that “attention must be paid” she really doesn’t care that it’s her birthday. However, as Brunette’s hubby is becomingly increasingly suspicious of the “need” for us to travel together so much we are becoming more creative in our rationales. (And then, if he doesn’t fall for one of the rationales we go anyway.)
So this year Blonde and Brunette are cooking up a story that Blonde doesn’t want to turn 40 (again) on her own in the city where she lives. That to do so would depress her considerably as she is a single, unemployed, friendless, prospect-lacking crone and must, therefore, go somewhere for her birthday to take her away from her dreary existence.
We’re still working on some of the fine points of this ruse but in the meantime are looking for fairly quick and affordable destinations to go to for a week to 10 days. (Once we book a trip we always extend the dates so this timeframe is “elastic”; a synonym for a lie.)
One place that seems to be cropping up on the lists of places to go in 2013 is Marseille, France. If National Geographic recommends it, as did the New York Times, then maybe it’s a destination for us to consider. The oft-reached milestone birthday is in mid-May and we need to take weather into consideration. Supposedly May is one of the best months to visit Marseille as the weather is warm and lovely and there are not yet throngs of tourists. (Thongs of tourists would be even worse.)
We’ll walk you through our quick, preliminary research to determine if Marseille is indeed a lucky contender for our visit. The things we check out are:
- How much will airfare cost us? If it’s more than $750 we will try to use points to get tickets.
- Is there a 4 star or better property where we can afford to stay? (“Afford” can also be elastic.)
- To do the things we would want to do in that location will we need to have a rental car for all or most of the time?
For airfare we do a quick search from Boston to Marseille for the dates of May 9 to 18 and get a fare of $1,167 per person in coach and with minimal travel agony. However, when Brunette considers casually dropping this amount into conversation with hubby she rates her potential agony more along these lines:
(When Blonde checked for fares and saw that the airport code for Marseille is MRS she began to question even wanting to go somewhere that would use that as an airport code. Couldn’t they make it MS?) If we decide Marseille is going to be the destination then we’ll have to see if we have enough points in a program that can get us on the flights we want.
For a lodging search we go to Venere.com. They’re a great place to start as you can sort the hotels based on how many stars you want them to have, there are traveler reviews for each property, they make it clear if VAT tax is included in the price or not and you can choose rates that are fully cancelable or non-refundable and prepaid (The cheapest prices.) Also we’ve had good experience with Venere in the past and know they’re reputable and have humans you can speak to if you’d like.
They return 12 options for 4 star properties ranging from $905 for 9 nights to $2,688. The $905 property has an average rating of 8.7 on a scale of 0-10 and the $2,688 property has an average rating of 7.1. Interesting, not that we would have booked the most expensive one anyway. Also interesting is that Venere has a discount coupon for first time customers. We aren’t first time customers but if you want to use them and haven’t before make sure you get that coupon (which is shown when you click to make a reservation).
A little further checking shows that the $905 rate must be paid in advance and is non-refundable. If we do that we’ll have to take that into consideration in deciding if we buy trip insurance or not. The fancy pants $2,688 place can be cancelled at no penalty up to the day you’re scheduled to arrive which is a big advantage so always be sure to click on “booking conditions” before finalizing a reservation.
Let’s say we pick a place in between cheapest and nonrefundable and most expensive and cancelable. There’s a candidate for those criteria (a Radisson property) that would come to $2,606 total for 9 nights for the two of us. It has a lovely outdoor swimming pool which Brunette always demands and free wireless internet service. Paying extra for internet service is something we deeply resent and rarely do.
After a few searches on the topic of tourism in Marseille we bumbled across The M Pavilion and Marseille Tourist Office. Apparently Marseille, along with Provence, is the 2013 European Capital of Culture. We’ll have to mull if this is a plus or a minus. On the plus side there are going to be all sorts of special exhibits and events to celebrate. On the minus side that might make it a more expensive place to visit this year.
Whether Marseille becomes this year’s 40th birthday destination or not it does have plenty of fascinating things that can be done using the public transportation networks which include subways, buses, trams and some bizarro electric shuttle thingee. Oddly the subway system normally stops running at 10:30 p.m. but during 2013 it will run until 1:00 a.m. because of the whole European Capital of Culture thing. There are several good city pass options that cover both transportation and entrance to some of the city’s main attractions so we would probably get one of the passes.
If we wanted to go to France’s newest (and wildly controversial to the French) national park The Parc Nationale des Calanques we would have to do a boat charter or potentially hike (from Cassis) if we were feeling particularly masochistic (which we never are). The Parc sounds very cool but because they’re being massively eco-centric you can’t disembark at the beaches unless you arrive in a private charter. We all know that people on private charters don’t leave any eco-footprint. (Did Mitt Romney come up with that rule? It kind of smells like his thinking.)
Interestingly there are various warnings on the web to not take a car to the beaches of Marseille as there is very limited parking. There are buses to all of the beaches. A bus to the beach is fine but coming back wet and drippy on a bus doesn’t sound all that great. It’s mildly amusing to imagine the scorn of a French taxi driver if we attempted to get in with our wet gear.
Most of the primary attractions, the markets, the old city, the museums, the street art area of the Cours Julien and the Vallon des Auffes (Valley of the Awfuls or adorable fishing cottages along a pretty creek) are easy to get to without a car. It’s likely that, knowing us, we might want to do a day trip or two outside of the city but we could do a one or two day car rental or book a small group tour.
Will Marseille be the selected destination? The airfare is high but we might be able to do it using points which would free up money to stay at a higher end property. Transportation would only be a minor expense and not having to drive in France is a plus.
At this point Marseille looks very tempting. By going in May we would be able to take advantage of all the special things they’re doing in 2013 and we would be there before hordes of disapproving French citizens descend in the summer:
We will be doing quick checks on several other destinations to select our winner for this (faux) special occasion so please stay tuned and contribute your opinions in the comments area.