A 4.45 a.m. wake-up call is never a good way to start the day. It went further downhill when we reached the Nice airport, where I discovered that I had left my purse in the hotel room. Luckily, the hotel was near the airport, and I was able to run back there (literally) and get it. I must have been a sight, tearing along the boulevard with my new black European-style scarf streaming behind me. I had worked up quite a sweat by the time I got back to the terminal, where Rick was still in the Lufthansa lineup being regaled with stories by a couple from North Carolina. They had found a cheap flight from Rome to Nice, but had ended up paying more in extra baggage charges than their tickets had cost. They did have a lot of luggage, but that's still kind of disturbing. If you're not on your toes you could run out of money pretty quickly in France. Don't even ask what Katherine's phone call from the Frankfurt airport to our French cellphone cost. And when we filled up our rental car outside Cannes on Monday, gasoline cost 1.50 euros/litre. The $1.33/litre we paid to fill up in Halifax this morning seems like a real bargain by comparison. In fact, after only three weeks in France, almost everything here seems inexpensive, although I haven't bought any wine yet.
We arrived back in Halifax at around 2.30 in the afternoon, and promptly got busted by Snoopy the sniffer dog for the serrano ham that was in our baggage, but they let us keep the boquerones in oil and the manchego cheese. It was great to see Christopher waiting for us at the exit, and he cooked us a delicious supper when we got back to the house. The grass is green, the leaves have returned and the first run in Point Pleasant Park was wonderful, with a light mist rising over the harbour and chickadees singing. The air is a bit cool compared to the south of France and jumping back into work isn't so great, but we really don't have any right to complain.
A lot happened here while we were away. Ursula Kellum finished her BSc degree at St. Mary's and will graduate tomorrow. My brother James was appointed Chairman of the new Stewart McKelvie partnership board. (He swears this won't make him any busier and I believe him, because it's not possible for anyone to be busier than he already is). The other big news is that our niece Liz made the NS Girls provincial basketball team!
It was hard to leave Aisling behind in La Ciotat, but we were fortunate to meet some other cruisers who have kindly offered to keep an eye on her. Chris and Sandra on Deep Blue will probably start making their way toward Italy soon, but we are looking forward to seeing Jean-Louis and Christine on Jersey and Paul on Boysterous when we return next month. We actually met Chris and Sandra through sailblogs- there is a neat little function that alerts us when other sailbloggers are nearby.
The picture is from our last road trip, when we visited Nimes, the Pont du Gard, St. Remy de Provence, Isle Sur La Sorgue and Gordes. It was a lovely little adventure and hopefully we'll post a few notes and pictures soon.
All the best from Halifax!
05/15/2008, La Ciotat, France
If you've ever studied introductory Psychology, you may remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I have developed an extension to this theory, which I have named Salsman's hierarchy of laundry. It goes like this: having a washing machine will not necessarily make you happy, but being without one for an extended period is pretty much guaranteed to make you a bit grumpy. Ergo, when I tell you that I spent the better part of Mother's Day afternoon in a laverie in La Ciotat, you should not assume that I was unhappy about this. Au contraire. Even better, while I was happily watching the dryers spin, Rick was cleaning the boat top to bottom and preparing a feast, complete with flowers and special treats from the market. We felt sad about not being with our mothers and our children on Mother's Day, but otherwise it was a really nice day.
We are still at the dock in La Ciotat and growing more fond of this place every day. It's a bit disconcerting that the toilets in the marina washrooms don't have seats, but I suppose the theory is "Would you really sit on them?" Everything else is great, and each day we seem to discover another nice aspect of the town. Yesterday the fish we bought for dinner was so fresh that some of the ones on display were still alive. We had intended to sail to Porquerolles island, but the weather forecast for the next few days is not ideal. So instead, we've booked a rental car and will get to work on the long list of places we'd like to visit in Provence. Maybe we'll get to the Porqueroles in June. Next week, we'll head back to Canada for Katherine's graduation from University of Toronto School of Law. That will be a big day for the whole family!
We're always excited when someone leaves a comment on the blog, and recently we realized we've been a bit remiss about posting responses. Thanks Martha and Wally, Al, Mary Leslie, Linda, Liz, John and Lucille and others, for the comments you've added! Our site counter shows us that people are signing on from some intriguing locations... Israel, Costa Rica, Romania, Australia, etc. etc. (lots from France too, but I think that's us.) Anyway, we hope more people will add notes. If you have any questions or would like other information about sailing or traveling in the Med, we promise to answer, either on the blog or with a direct email.
We've also added some photos to the gallery. If you click on "photo gallery" in the right hand banner, it will take you to the main album and the sub-albums are listed below, with the most recent at the top.
A quick note from Rick:
After spending an hour at the Bureau de Poste arranging to send our 200 Euro deposit for this winter's boat storage in Tunisia (which has to be in their hands by the end of May) I decided to explore a new area and stumbled across a small gourmand type store selling special wines, foie gras, cheeses, oils etc. While I was there the proprietor asked if I would like to do a tasting of five different olive oils. All of them were medal winners, either gold or silver and all were from Provence except one from Tuscany. He explained that two of them won local competitions and two won competitions from all of France. They were all very good but honestly it was difficult for me to discern very much difference. What was most interesting was his explanation that this one was better with fish, that one with crudites, that one with something else etc. So we learn something new every day. For me it was that these oils all had a unique food focus. When we get back I intend to delve into this a bit further and see what else I can learn. By the way, each 300ml bottle cost between 17 and 20 euros, the whole exchange was in French and I surprised myself by understanding most of it!
All the best from Aisling 1
The rumours about the food in France are true- we have to stop eating like this! A few other stereotypes also seem to be grounded in fact. People really do say oo-la-la. Provence really is incredibly beautiful. It is much easier for us to understand the French here than in Quebec. There are poppies in bloom everywhere. There are lots of miniature poodles on the streets. No one picks up after them. You must take care not to step in the "merde", and the most common word you hear on the streets is "Attention!" as people warn each other to watch where they are stepping. People still take their dogs into restaurants, just as they did when we visited France twenty years ago. In fact, when I got my hair cut last week, a dog licked my feet the entire time I was having my hair shampooed. I couldn't ask him to stop, because I don't know the French word for "lick." Fortunately, I like dogs.
They seem to take a lot of holidays here. The day we arrived (May 1st) was the French equivalent of Labour Day. This was quickly followed by "Victory Day" on May 8th (the celebration of the end of WWII), and tomorrow, May 12th, is Whit Monday. Many people "faire le pont", (i.e. "make the bridge") by taking extra days off to create a longer holiday. Yes, the French have a certain joie de vivre! Are you thinking you want to move to France? Perhaps the price of gasoline will make you feel better about life in Nova Scotia/Houston/Abu Dhabi. When we filled up yesterday, the price of regular unleaded was 1.42 euros per litre. Yes, euros. Tr�s cher, as almost everything is here.
We had a wonderful week with Katherine. After our visit to the calanque and Cassis, we rented a car and explored la Castellet (a medieval village) and Hyeres (one of the oldest resorts in France) and tasted some award-winning wines and olive oils in a cave in Souviou, outside Bandol. The concept of an olive oil tasting was is new to us, but the olive oil came from trees up to a thousand years old, and the bottle of oil we bought was actually more expensive than the wine. The grounds of the winery were very beautiful, with grape vines interspersed with olive trees and gardens. We stayed overnight in Aix-en-Provence (pronounced like the letter X), a city of many beautiful fountains, and from there Katherine caught the TGV (a super-fast train) to Paris, where she met her friend Jason for the next phase of her vacation. It was a bit sad watching her speed off into the distance, but we talked to her on Skype this afternoon and they are having a wonderful time exploring Paris.
After dropping Katherine off at the station, we headed to Arles, where we drove straight into the mayhem of the Saturday market. Quite a contrast to the splendor of the Roman ruins! Having seen Wally and Martha's pictures of the "feria" in Arles and the bullfight in the arena, we found it a bit anticlimactic to see it without the bulls, but it was still very impressive. We took a short detour on our way home to see "Les Baux"- another medieval village set high on a cliff in a spectacularly beautiful setting.
Although the historic sights are very interesting, the loveliest thing about Provence is its natural beauty. After spending months in the drab camouflage colours of southern Spain (beautiful in its own way) the poppies, rows of plane trees lining country roads, grapevines, olive trees and the smell of blossoms in the air are intoxicating. On est tr�s bien. If only the song "Food, wonderful food" would stop playing and replaying in my head.
05/08/2008, La Ciotat
La Ciotat is not exactly the Provence of books and movies, but the setting is glorious. It reminds me a bit of industrial Cape Breton, with beautiful scenery, slightly run-down buildings, a sprinkling of elegant houses and brightly painted fishing boats. The townspeople are very friendly, the food in the cafes is delicious and the selection of produce and delicacies in the shops means that even dinners on board have gone up a notch! La Ciotat is a working fishing port, and there are stalls along the waterfront where the fresh catch is sold each morning.
The town has some interesting history- the world's first motion picture, filmed by the Lumiere brothers, was of a train arriving in the La Ciotat station. The theatre where the film had its first public showing is still standing. It reminds me of the old Majestic Theatre in New Waterford, but a bit older, a bit smaller and perhaps a little less majestic. The game of Petanque was also created in La Ciotat, or so they say.
Katherine arrived at 1030 p.m. on Saturday night (10 hours later than scheduled) after being rerouted through Paris because of a mechanical problem with one of her flights. This was very disappointing since we had to cancel our planned celebration dinner (of my birthday and Katherine's finishing law school) but we made up for it the next day.
There is a huge market on the La Ciotat waterfront every Sunday morning where you can buy everything from food to cheap shoes. The huge selection of gourmet treats brought on a serious case of impulse-buying and we tried a little of everything for lunch. In the afternoon we took the dinghy out to explore "l'Ile Verte", an island lying just off the town. There's a great view of the "Bec de l'Aigle" (a spectacular rock formation that really does look like the beak of an eagle) from the fort on the island. We had dinner in one of the local cafes that evening-delicious and inexpensive. The fish soup might have tasted even better if we had realized that we were supposed to put the rouille and cheese into the soup instead of eating it on our bread!
The cliffs outside La Ciotat are the highest in Europe (394 meters according to the leaflet provided by the Office de Tourisme) and the area is famous for the "calaques"- deep fiords that cut into the cliffs. We decided to putter around the corner to Port Mioux- an absolutely breathtaking spot where the boat was surrounded by high limestone cliffs. Anchoring is not permitted there, but mooring balls are available. After tying on to a mooring, you must also tie a stern line to the cliff face. The calanque was crowded with other boats, but it was still an amazing setting. Our post-arrival entertainment was watching young men jump off the cliffs into the water- some with much bravado, others after much contemplation. Then we had visitors aboard- three customs agents. Two of them made a cursory inspection below but asked Rick three times if we had guns aboard. One stayed up top chatting with Katherine and me- he was very friendly, told us a bit about the area and complimented Katherine on her excellent French.
From the calanque at Port Miou it is only a 20 minute walk to the town of Cassis. Katherine needed to book her train to Paris, so she and I decided to go exploring. As we approached the town, we could see the wonderful view barely visible over the high fences of the elaborate villas along the way. As we stood on tip-toe to peer over one fence, a fierce guard dog suddenly stuck his snout out and snarled at us. Yikes! Then we noticed a sign that said "Chien Mechant et Perspicace!" We understand mechant, but perspicace?? After consulting two dictionaries back at the boat, we decided it meant "Perspicacious". Intruders in France are obviously well educated.
A little further on, the view really came into its own, and we could see the old chateau that looms over the town. The train station was another 3 km outside the town so we took a local bus. For an 80 cent fare we had a very pretty drive through the countryside, past vineyards and gardens-totally charming. France is even nicer than I remembered. The bus driver gave us a free ride back, too.
The next day, we anchored off Cassis, did a bit more exploring and had lunch in a cafe. By the way the liquor "Cassis" is not made in Cassis, but the Cassis white wine is very good. Today we are back in La Ciotat, and we hope to rent a car tomorrow to do some land-based exploring.