In summer 2009, we took a fun road trip through France, from Toulouse going along the south coast all the way to Monaco, and then north to Paris via Avignon. We want to share with you our birdy moment in one of our stops along the Côte d’Azur: Marseille.
Have you been to Marseille? The first memory I have about Marseille is from the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, that reminds me of the Indonesian popular patriotic song, “Dari Sabang Sampai Merauke”. But singing La Marseillaise was not the reason for us to visit the city of Marseille though. It’s the Chateau d’If!
From the time I realized that the Chateau d’If is located off Marseille’s coast, I’ve been wanting to see it! So, what is Chateau d’If and why is it so important to me? Well, if you love the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas like we do, this fortress is the very prison where the count was jailed for years. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you need to drop what you’re doing (well, ehm, not including reading this article, of course!), get a copy of the book, and read it! It’s one of the best stories of all time.
Chateau d’If was a fortress that later was turned into a prison that sits on a tiny island (only 30 000 square meters) that along with 3 other bigger islands, makes up the Frioul Archipelago. The tiny, rocky island is protected by a long loop of a fortress wall. Perched at one of its corners is the medieval castle, the Chateau d’If. We heard that we can visit this tiny island, including walking around in the castle area, and I was really excited for that. I wanted to check out the count’s cell and imagine how it he could have made his escape. It had been a sunny week, and the weather was gorgeous that day. What could be better! So we marched down to Marseille’s harbour to the ticket booth with the song La Marseillaise accompanying us. Well, fine. By that I mean it was just me humming to myself, quite horribly, and I bet Ryan couldn’t even tell that it was a song.
Chateau d’If model in MusÃ©e des Plans-Reliefs, Paris
And then… what a bummer! The boat to the Chateau d’If was canceled for the day! Apparently it was too windy and the sea was too rough. The boats won’t be able to approach the island’s unsheltered dock. Stay a night in Marseille and try again tomorrow? No, unfortunately we couldn’t since we had to return the car in Paris in a week, and there were many more things we wanted to see. As a compromise, we bought tickets for the boats that go to the bigger Frioul Islands, whose port is well sheltered and safe to dock. This boat would pass close by the d’If island, so we would be able to see it from the water, even though we couldn’t explore it. Crappy compromise, I thought at first, but the journey turned out to be fun.
We hopped on the ferry and headed out into the harbour. The city of Marseille looked pretty from the water, although the waves were quite rough. We got pretty wet even though were sitting up on the second floor of the ferry. As they mentioned, we passed my dream island from quite near. I didn’t take my eyes away for a long time, to absorb the view as much as I could, and burn it into my memory. I burned it so well, I could even transform it into a jpg form.
After a while in the boat, we reached the PomÃ¨gues and Ratonneau islands, 2 of the bigger ones in the archipelago that are connected by a stone causeway, or mole, to create a safe port against the rough sea. The port was pretty and has a lot of cute restaurants along the shore, but of course we were more interested in exploring these natural rocky islands. We followed one of the walking paths into the island. Here was our first mistake: we brought no drinking water, and we were about to take a walk on a dry land under the strong sun. But at time we didn’t realise.
The rocky island was gorgeous. Rock cliffs in one side, and gorgeous azure water on the other. Here and there we could see some patches of green grass. The sound of seagulls screaming in the sky and on the ground felt like peaceful new age music to my ears. Okay, that’s a lie. It was quite chaotic and could be overwhelming . Do I need to mention that those birds stank too? But I was excited to see these thousands of seagulls, and these islands happen to be the natural home for a huge colony of them. Don’t laugh! I know many of you think seagulls are too common (and annoying) birds to pay attention to. But I spent most of my life in a big city in Indonesia, and there’s no birds in the city: people ate them all a long time ago. So yeah, I like to watch these white birds.
Here and there we saw at the base of the cliffs sheltered beaches, with families swimming and picnicking. Slightly off the island, we saw many yachts with people swimming in the gorgeous blue water. As we continued the path became more and more obscure, and I got thirsty as we baked under the sun, walking without drinking. We assessed that the obscure path definitely won’t lead us back to the port, and this dry island didn’t look like it had any natural source of fresh water to drink. So, afraid that Ryan might have ended up having to carry me in his back, we decided to turn around and head back. Ryan didn’t think it was fun to go back the same way, and he remembered that there was another walking path on the other side of the hill. So we started to walk up the hill.
As we climbed the seagull noise became louder and louder. In front of us, there was a green hilly field with thousand of seagulls chirping. But because of the angle, we couldn’t really see them, just the ones flying around. It was pretty obvious from the ones we saw hovering, though, that there was a huge colony up there. So, should we continue, or should we go back? Were we about to walk across the natural habitat of seagulls? It was a mixed feeling. We love seeing animals in their natural habitat from up close, but we don’t want to disturb them. Worse, I had no idea how they keep the eggs and the little ones! What if we stepped on them? What if we broke the eggs and squashed the little chirpy ones? But I have to admit that I was dying to see what the seagull looked like. And, maybe they don’t even mind us? Can’t we just take a peek at the habitat and go unnoticed?
As we were agonizing over our choice to go forward or to go back, we heard the squawking noise getting a little louder. And then much louder. Was it just our feeling, or had they started hovering around us? Not randomly flying anymore like before? Ryan said to me “This is getting dangerous. Seems like they are angry at us, we have to be quick. Please hold my hand, and let’s just run across the hill as best as we can.” He pulled my hand.
But I didn’t move. “But Ryan, what about the eggs? And what do you mean by them angry at us? Do seagulls do that? Do they attack humans? They look quite small. Are they dangerous?”
Ryan was in a moving mood, but I was lost in thought. If you happen to already read my Santorini or Montserrat Monastery stories, you might already get the idea that walking on a slope is one of my weaknesses. I’m awfully slow and careful climbing on a hill, afraid I might slip and fall. And we are going to do it on the hill full of angry seagulls?
That’s when I noticed something: one seagull was hovering a few meters away from Ryan! It was there, keeping itself floating steadily in the sky, for something like a minute, not moving away at all, squawking at Ryan’s head. Holy! So eerie…
Ryan realized that too, and thinking of running. But instead I thought it was a great photo opportunity! So I started looking for my camera and snapping some photos around. Yes, right Ryan, it was too precious to be missed. And you’ve got to agree with me after seeing this photo:
Ryan got so annoyed (not sure to the birds or to me) and thought it would be really dangerous to carry me uphill with my photography mood. I still wanted to just take a peek and leave. But more seagulls were gathering, and then had started to swoop down from the sky towards us, dive bombing us and pulling up at the last second, screaming ferociously, or at least as ferocious as a seagull can be. When I felt the wind from the seagull’s flapping as it flew by my ear, I finally got the message. It felt like one of the scary moments from “The Birds“. So we decided what to do without saying much: Ryan grabbed my hand and we ran away down the hill, back to the original path, with screechy birds swooping behind, chasing us. Hey, we outran them!!
Looking back, we were pretty foolish to head out without water or proper preparation, and to wander into the bird’s domain without really looking where we were going or listening to the warnings. It made sense at the time but now I can’t understand why we did it. But in the end the views were absolutely gorgeous, the scenery amazing, and we got a new respect for seagulls.
Have been chased by angry wild animals? Made some bad choices when exploring? Share with us!