The stories of a couchsurfer

Michel, Martigues


Most travel and touring occurs in major cities. It makes sense. These are usually the places where there are many local sights to see, history to experience and more people to meet. But there is a case to present that supports the visiting of the smaller centers too.

They can contain just as much history and the sights that do exist there haven’t been as publicly exposed and actually become more of a surprise and discovery. But above all, it’s the people and culture that these places present that makes them just as enticing to visit as a traveler.

The people here are more pure locals, for lack of a better term. The larger cities attract greater immigration that provides a unique culture of it’s own, but a culture that has changed slightly from it’s pre-immigrant days. By contrast, the people of the smaller towns typically have generations of locals in their families – locals to the village even. Perhaps these people can give me a clearer picture of the true culture of the place.

So when I was having trouble finding a host in Marseille and was contacted by a man named Michel, I immediately had an idea. Michel comes from the small town of Martigues, on the Mediterranean Sea just west of Marseille. It wasn’t really convenient enough to base myself there and see Marseille from it (besides, I had already found Florian to host me in Marseille) so instead I decided that after Marseille I would visit Michel for a day or two to visit Martigues.

Michel had been living in Martigues for almost the entirety of his life but there were definitely times where he wasn’t there. Michel talks with a sense of modesty about his travels but you can quickly sense that there has been some serious ground covered by him over the years. This feeling is only confirmed when you first enter his small apartment. The walls to his room are covered in relics obtained throughout his journeys. Licence plates and flags adorn the walls and Michel can recount where and when each one of them comes from.

Michel has the benefit of travel (at least in the European regard) provided to him by his job. He holds the enviable position of being the sole journalist following the Marseille football team Olympique Marseille. This means that when they play, he follows the squad to attend the matches. I don’t know a massive amount about the situation, but my understanding is that Olympique Marseille (or l’OM) have enjoyed relative success over the years and so that has meant that they have played part in the European championships, whether it be the Champions League or the Euro. The point of this is that they play all over Europe and as a result, Michel benefits from travel all over Europe.

I wondered if Michel enjoyed this after many years of it. I wondered that, if not, he would have been placed in the odd predicament where he would actually prefer to see l’OM lose so that he would not have to catch flights any longer and the season break essentially provided his holidays. I asked him this and he responded that he much preferred l’OM to be winning. I’m not sure if it was for his love of the team or his love of the travel. Probably both.

His job also meant that he had many high profile contacts. Once, as he was giving me a tour of Martigues we passed a football stadium. I asked him about the local team and he said that once many superstars played there, including Zinedine Zidane. I scoffed at the possibility of this and so in response he pulled out his phone to show that, at the bottom of his contacts list, there was the number of one Z. Zidane. Another time we were grabbing a beer at a local bar and he ran into one of the former players of the local football club, who had actually played opposite Zidane one day.

Michel was a popular man in his hometown of Martigues. They all seemed to know him and he all seemed to know them. It was evident how much he enjoyed his hometown, and he had good reason. It was quiet and peaceful.

He had the amazing talent of knowing something about everything – and quite often at an advanced level. His real passion was archeology and worked in this field initially before job opportunities meant that he fell into his job as journalist. Because of this he has a great interest in history and his house is littered with books recounting historical events.

He speaks French obviously, English very well, German and Croatian (or Czech, I can’t remember), which allowed him to have a pretty good grasp on all the other Slovak languages. He has intimate knowledge of most of the European countries and their cities. When the conversation turned to religion one time, Michel was able to teach me about the brief history of the religions in various European countries.

Staying with Michel really was a rewarding experience. His hometown of Martigues may not have been the most active city that I will visit, but it will possibly remain one of the most memorable due to my time with Michel.

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