ChaliGram 11-5: Last Day in France (maybe)
25 September 2011 | Port Vendres, France
Dearest Friends and Family,
We are now alllllllllllllllllll the way at the bottom of the Golfe du Lion in the lovely town of Port Vendres, very close to the border with Spain. We arrived here on Friday, and I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see mountains again. After a week of the flatlands and marshlands of the Golfe du Lion, I realized how much I missed having mountains in my view! At this end of the French coast, it's the Pyrenees. At the eastern end, it was the Alps.... in the middle it was the Massif Central. Almost every place we've been in the Mediterranean, it's been mountainous..... Something you get used to, yaknow?
We had bypassed this town when we headed north in May, and I'm very glad we came here on our southbound trip. The weekly market was yesterday, and although much smaller than the weekly markets we've experienced in the last few weeks, it was perfectly adequate for our needs. We had our customary "moules frites" for dinner on our first night. (Steamed mussels with french fries), and they were the smallest mussels I've ever had....but tasty nonetheless. The town has its fair share of visitors, for sure, but it's a lot more laid back than the towns in Provence or the Cote d'Azur. It's a commercial harbour (shipment of fruit and veggies), and it used to be THE harbour that connected Algeria to France via frequent ferries back before Algeria won its independence in 1962. I've heard as much Spanish and Catalán spoken here as French. And the orange and yellow Catalan flag is flown everywhere. I learned that Catalan is one of the few surviving dialects of "Occitaine" (Langue d'Oc) that was spoken throughout all of southern France at one time before the language of the NORTH won out. So today, instead of saying "Oc" we say "Oui" for YES.
Our west/south-bound cruise starting in Nice over a month ago featured some real nice surprises.... as well as places we will definitely bypass next time. We had had no intention of going to Cannes, but..... sea conditions were such that our anchorage near Cannes got very uncomfortable. So...... we called them on the radio, and thankfully they had space. Well! Didn't Cannes turn out to be a wonderful surprise! The vieux port was ideally situated to stores, a FABULOUS daily covered market, vet/pet supplies, bakeries, butchers, supermarkets, etcetcetc. For liveaboard-cruisers, convenience to the necessities is a real difference-maker in how we feel about a place....and cost of course. Like Nice, Cannes is part of the "Riviera-Ports" group of marinas that has very reasonable rates. So ironic! The marina is right next to the convention center where the big film festival is held. I'm sure it's a complete zoo in May. It's definitely a place where we would consider wintering at some point. And although Cannes has glitz, it also has its own castle and church at the top of the hill AND an old town section.... a REAL town! The Rough Guide says that the "Vieux Port fills up with extraordinarily sumptuous yachts in the summer." HA! Based on our experience, they weren't any fancier than boats in the marinas to the east. And ChaliVentures certainly isn't a sumptuous yacht! We were among many NORMAL yachts!
We stopped in Ste. Maxime on the Golfe of St. Tropez. I don't know what it was.... but the place just didn't "sing to me." Chuck liked the town, but it left me a little flat. While there, we took the ferry over to St. Tropez for a few hours. I was curious to see just how "decadent and debauched" it really was. Well! As far as the architecture and setting, I thought St. Tropez was much prettier than Ste. Maxime. We even managed to have a reasonably priced Plat du Jour of salmon for lunch. I quite enjoyed walking around the town. But the harbour! Now THAT one was full of huge yachts of the filthy rich, for sure.
From Ste. Maxime we sailed to beautiful Porquerolle Island and got anchored just in time before some big winds from the west arrived. Nice clear water with a sandy bottom. AHHHHHHH, lovely! A perfect place to wait out the westerly wind for a few days. BUT. Could we wait??????? NOOOOOOOOOOO! I think it was mentioning that we only had enough spaghetti for one more dinner that got Chuck nervous. He has an addiction to pasta. And not just ANY pasta.... only spaghetti... "it tastes better than penne, or rotini or bowties." ??????!!!!!! WhatEVER. So..... after our 2nd night at anchor, the wind was supposed to be temporarily calmer, so we decided to GO FOR IT! .... ANYwhere where there were stores! Well......... we could have gone into the nice protected Toulon harbour, but we felt confident that conditions were calm enough to go around Cape Sicié..... esPECIALLY since the marina in Sanury sur Mer (on the other side of Cape Sicié) said they had an available berth when I called. SURPRISE!!!!!!! As with most capes, the wind and waves were intensified by at least a factor of 2. From the east, we were protected by the Cape, but once we got out of its protection we were WALLOPED! ughhhhhhhh. All I can say is that thankthewindandseagods it was only a couple of hours, and not a couple of days (like that horrible crossing of the Ionian Sea last summer!) It wasn't the wind that was so terrible, but the HIGH WAVES. Zoey was NOT a happy camper either. I had to hold her panting, trembling little body the whole time. BUT! Our reward for such discomfort (and stupidity I might add!) was arriving in Sanury sur Mer. AHHHHHHHHHH, what a perfectly beautiful town it is. I couldn't stop taking pictures of the water front. We were on the pier closest to town, and so I had an unobstructed view of the church and city hall and their reflection in the water. The morning after our arrival there was a huge market that wound around the entire harbour. Oh yea, and lots of stores.... that had SPAGHETTI! AND..... a laundromat within a mere 2 blocks. Bliss. It was pretty touristy, but frankly, the entire coast of France is touristy.. I mean, give me a break....the South of France???? It's been a vacation destination for at least 150 years!! But it's "mature" touristy, not new and plastic-y touristy. We met a delightful English couple -- Pete and June --who live in Sanury 6 months of the year. They bought a wreck of a house many years ago and completely transformed it. INCREDIBLE! They invited us for tea, so we got to see their creation first hand. We also learned that Pete is Pete Ashdown who was a race-car driver -- as in Grand Prix type races -- back in the 50's and early 60's. It was a fun afternoon.
One of our repeat stops was good old La Ciotat. We liked it even better this time. GREAT Sunday market. In fact, many of the same vendors were there who were in Sanury sur Mer 5 days before! Our new Scottish friends whom we met in Nice -- Graham and Margaret -- showed up on our last night there, so it was much fun socializing onboard ChaliVentures again. The only other HIGH point between La Ciotat (just east of Marseille) and Port Vendres was a visit to Montpelier. While we were moored in the little holiday village of Carnon Plage waiting for the Mistral to blow itself out, we took a bus to the provincial capital of Montpelier. What a beautiful city!!!! The first thing I noticed as we rode the tram from the Bus Station into town were the TREES!!!! Lots and lots of trees. It's a university city, so it has all the vibrancy one usually finds where there are lots of students. Old stuff, new stuff, great architecture and TREES! I could easily imagine having a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment there. And, it's only 30 minutes from the water.
So! that sort of sums up our adventures in the last 5-6 weeks. We still have 2 weeks+ til we're due back in Barcelona, which is about 110 miles south of here. We think that weather conditions will allow us to round Cap Bear (France) and Cabo Creus (Spain) tomorrow.....not a sail to be made when conditions are rough! There are supposed to be some very scenic spots along the NE Spanish coast -- Cadaques in particular -- that have been recommended to us. So, we'll just be moseying our way south and trying to stay out of the way of the big winds that come flying down the Pyrenees! Once we're back in Barcelona (Oct 15th), then we'll only have 2 weeks til we leave to come back to the States (Nov. 2nd), and another 10 days til our daughter Alex's wedding. woooohooooooo!!!!!!! We're flying back to Barcelona on January 1, so we can take advantage of being in that fabulous city! Look at your calendars, and come visit us there between January and April!
Alison, Chuck and Zoey (of course)