All went to plan. Got searched as usual.
Neil drove from Beccles to Stansted, taking in the 2011-04-09_52_1 geohash on the way. This added less than five miles to the journey. The hashpoint was a road repair gravel store. It was gated against vehicular access but it was easy to walk round the end of the gate and there were no no-entry signs. It was a beautiful spring dawn, ideal for looking at gravel piles. But that is the joy of Geohashing. You never know what you are going to find.
At Stansted airport, if your clear sealed plastic security bag is the wrong size or shape, you have to buy a "correct"one. This costs £1. This is one of the worst rip-offs I've encountered in years. Although each person is only robbed of 95p (I'm assuming the bags are deluxe at 5p each) the large numbers of people falling foul of this new rule are huge. Luckily the machine was broken so I was given a correct bag from under the counter. Ryanair culture is spreading. They'll be charging for toilet roll by the sheet next!
The Ryanair flight to from Stansted to Marseilles was on-time. It was pleasant enough apart from the continual adverts for drinks, food, gifts, scratch cards and so on. There was an EUR 8.50 navette into the city about 20 km south of the airport. This was also OK apart from the loud English teacher with his children. It was impossible to determine if this was a school trip or if they were his own biological children. Either way they have my sympathy.
The Hotel Premiere Classe is pleasant enough and about 20 minutes walk from the station. The room is short of plug-sockets for all my laptops and chargers. If I leave the bathroom light on all night I can charge the GPS batteries in the shaver socket although you nearly have to prize the light off the wall to get the plug in. Using the only other socket, the camera batteries can charge in about 30 minutes. Then I can top up the laptop which also serves a an alarm clock.
I already have the ticket for the 06:34 Marseilles to Rognac train ready for the first leg of the walk on Sunday. Starting so early is good for missing the heat of the day. It was 24C at the airport. The terrain is hilly and steep in places so it can be hot work. I'll set the alarm for 5am (4am UK time).
The route started with views over the Etang de Berre. This is the most easterly low lying wetland in France. On day one the walk climbed away from the planes and the Camargue and become hilly all the way to Italy. Trying to avoid major roads near Marseille, Toulon and Nice was the goal. Finding pleasant walking routes near the big cities is always a problem. From Nice to the Italian border the route includes Monaco and is very built-up. With steep terrain, the least busy road has to be used. Finding a pleasant walking route was really hard. North of Toulon, the public transport services to the small villages was poor and there were some long waits for trains to get home.
Marseille was a rat infested filthy dump. The hotel in Marseille was fine. In Toulon the hotel was very nice and close to a delightful square with fountains. In Nice, the city was not too bad but the tiny hotel room was spoiled for the lack of a clean carpet. The cigarette burns and vomit stains were all too obvious. Other filth did not bear thinking about. A new carpet for a room that small would cost very little so there was really no excuse. In Toulon, they had used carpet tiles so after messy guests had stayed, they needed only to replace tiles instead of the entire carpet. All the hotels were similarly priced.
This part of France felt unwelcoming. In Spain there is the tradition of the rambla. There are always squares, avenues and seats. Here there was mile after mile of fenced off property and nowhere to meet or socialise or from the point of the long distance walker, nowhere to take a break. Out in the countryside it was pleasant enough but in the residential areas not so good. Some of the best areas for a break were traffic islands which had escaped the fencing off. The sea front stretches were typical of sea fronts everywhere and quite pleasant, especially between 06:30 and about 10:00 where the crowds began to emerge.