Look what Gemma spotted in the Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille on St Patrick's Day!

An alternative St Patrick’s weekend

Gemma was on her travels again over St Patrick's Weekend as you will find out in this week's The Good Life column...

The closest I got to any St Patrick's Day tradition last weekend was spotting a little green hat in the Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille.

I have never fully celebrated the day; at home it was always a busy weekend in the pub business and I would usually be behind the bar. Nonetheless the craic was always good, with people in fine form on this day.

As it transpired, a cheap deal on Skyscanner saw myself and my roommate Nicola going to see our friends in Hungary on March 17. On Friday, we spent the day in Marseille before flying to Malta via Budapest that night.

On Paddy's day morning, we got up and flew to Marseille. The city is beautiful, we spent around six hours strolling around, sharing pastries, drinking coffee, walking through the port and the fresh fish markets and, finally, making our way up the hill to the Notre Dame de la Garde. The Catholic Basilica looks over Marseille and the views are stunning. While walking up the steps to one of the viewpoints, I heard a thick Irish accent. I cocked my head at once and saw a woman wearing a hairband with a little emerald green St Patrick's Day hat. Nicola and I looked at each other and smiled. Up until now, I had forgotten about St Patrick's Day. Looking around I noticed two other women with the same headgear all wearing green blouses, and three men with shamrocks pinned to their shirts.

“Irish?” I asked, smiling.

“What gave it away?” the owner of one bunch of shamrocks responded, laughing.

Brilliant. What followed was your typical Irish conversation. The group were from the south of Ireland and were spending the weekend doing the same thing as ourselves, travelling and seeing another part of the world. One couple knew people living on Nicola’s grandmother's lane in County Cork. It was a very fitting encounter for St Patrick's Day.

We walked into the basilica together. It was amazing; the high dome-shaped roof was etched with gold designs and paintings of biblical scenes, golden statues, marble walls and pillars holding the place together. My favourite feature was little boats and aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling, representing the port town. As I was taking pictures, I turned to the Irish man beside me.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I admired.

“Hm, there’s some money’s worth here.”

I burst out laughing, I could imagine my own father saying the exact same thing had he been there with me instead. I agreed, his point was very valid. There was no expense spared in the building of this place. The golden statue of Mary, for which the basilica is famous, is 11.2 metres long and weighs around 9,700kg - many bags of sugar.

Despite the comment, I was still in awe of the building. This was not the time for a conversation about money and religion.

We said our goodbyes and went on our way. It was lovely meeting the people from Ireland as it always is. There was a bit of craic and a good old bollocking about being from Cavan, I hadn’t heard it in a while and didn’t realise I was missing it.

We followed up our visit with some more pastries and some pistachio ice-cream before heading back to the airport to catch our flight to Budapest. It was while we were sitting waiting for our gate number that we started watching videos of celebrations from Malta and home. While the sounds of bagpipes and seas of green and orange were both beautiful and familiar, we both agreed neither of us had any regrets about how we spent our St Patrick's Day. With that, we boarded our plane stuck our phones on flight mode, ready for the next stint of our Paddy’s weekend adventures.