13 August 2017
Mom always says that the joy of this life is that you can just move on if you don't like a place. Well, according to Mom, she got to spend her 23rd wedding Anniversary in the "Costa Del Shite". Scrappy and I think Mom is being rather harsh so we have decided to tell you about our highlights in the Costas.
1. Tacky Touristy Restaurants. They do like their "English" here, and we get to eat the leftovers that have fallen from the tables. Sausage, egg, bacon and chips - what dog would not be salivating at that tasty treat, and they even throw in a free pint at breakfast. Pizza crusts, fish fingers, bacon, hamburgers, pukka pies and kebab bits are also available if you know where to look along the pavement. Dog heaven! (Scrappy)
2. Fashion. Scrappy likes to keep his finger on the pulse when it comes to fashion, and often allows mom to paint his toenails, so he has been eyeing up the latest in beach wear. There are such brightly coloured bikinis here, but they do not necessarily fit the person wearing it. To move from beach to bar they throw over a sleeveless tee shirt which clings tightly to the wet bikini. Apparently this is meant to be a sexy look, but Dad is getting old and says it looks more like a lactating female...... now we know who has been watching too much "Call the Midwife" on DVD!!!! Dad ripped his shorts the other day, and was going to throw them away until we got here. Thank goodness he kept them as the height of fashion is exposing one's fat, sweaty cheeky bottoms. As for us, we have seen a lot of shaven things called Chinese Crested dogs. Although it looks very cooling, you can forget that, we have a reputation to keep. (Tinker).
3. Disability Friendly. They do like their mobility scooters here, and we have seen lots of dogs on their owners laps. Scrappy is particularly taken with this idea, and doesn't see why he should be made to walk. The beaches are 'scooter friendly' as they have wooden pathways to drive the scooters onto the beach. Sadly, one lady over did the acceleration this morning and ended up in the sand revving like crazy. Mom was bent over with a fit of giggles when the lady got off and walked away. They all seem to be able to get off their buggies and walk quite some distance to secure their spot on the beach, or to the cheapest bar. It must be all that sun that makes them so energised .(Tinker)
4. The Lidl supermarket. You can not beat a good Lidl. You know where you are with the quality and the sausages are always in the first aisle and are very tasty. Dad on the other hand loves the bread slicing machine and often comes back with an extra loaf". It is Grandma Janey's favourite shop. Mom did that thing where she raises her eyebrows when Dad suggested they had to go on their anniversary, as he needed milk. I think he should have managed with black coffee!!! (Scrappy)
5. Anchoring in company. The anchorages have kept us entertained with jet skis circling round the boat at a hundred miles an hour. I think it is great as we get a free roller coaster ride, and Dad clearly loves them as he shouts positive affirmations. They have the whole of the sea to enjoy, but it is so friendly that they prefer to play near us, and it saves Mom and Dad from exercising Tinker as she runs up and down the boat wagging her tail and barking. (Scrappy)
6. Pub quiz. Mom and Dad are always telling us, "if you don't use it, you lose it" and that is why Mom teaches me useless tricks like "sit and stay" or even worse "paw". So we were delighted that the loud speaker of one bar could be heard across the anchorage and Mom and Dad were able to participate in the English pub quiz which was particularly taxing on their brains as it went on until well after midnight. I don't think they did so well, as there was a lot of moaning and groaning. They were quite clearly jealous of Kevin, who must be very clever as the quiz master kept shouting, "Well done Kevin another point to you". (Tinker)
7. Karaoke nights. Dad loves a good sing song, and so we were particularly pleased to see the party boats. They swing into the anchorages and blare out loud music and karaoke. There were a lot of gyrating bodies on deck, drinking sangria and mojitos and participating in party games including the 'drink too much and vomit' game. It was good to see Mom and Dad having a go at gyrating on deck. They both thought it wildly hysterical but Mom declared it most unpleasant and told Dad that at 39 degrees he could keep his sweaty body to himself!!! (Tinker)
8. Positive body images. It is wonderful to see the expanse of beaches are covered with people who obviously feel at home in their bodies and like to share that with others. There are no size 8, 10, 12 or even 14 cat walk models here. Scrappy feels at home lying on the beach snoring away exposing his pot belly to the world. Mom has given us a biology lesson in how males can sometimes get breasts and huge nipples. We have been mesmerised, whilst Dad has done a lot of shaking of his head. According to Mom if you were to discover 'those breasts' on your wedding night it would traumatise you for ever !!! There is acre upon acre of raw, red flesh on display, baking nicely in the heat and no one bats an eye lid. Mom and Dad should be alright then!!!! (Tinker)
9. Espanol por favor. I have always tried to make myself understood in a different language. The Spanish dogs like to talk away at you in a fast and furious manner, and get louder and louder. Dad has found the same with humans, but he has managed superbly. There is not a gear box part he can not name in Spanish, and can hold a basic conversation. Mom on the other hand was going to be fluent by now, but she still has to write down te verde (green tea) on a note pad as they struggle with her pronunciation. Dad ordered a small glass of beer and a red wine in Spanish at a little bar where Friday night is curriokke, (curry, pint and free karaoke entertainment). The waiter turned to him and said in a very strong Liverpuddlian accent "sorry mate, can you say that again in English". Now you can not ask better than that, Dad got a night off from translating and got exactly what he ordered. (Scrappy)
10. Free Entertainment. This part of Spain is full of expats, and they do know how to party. Teddy was on saxophone and loved the attention of the ladies with bright orange hairdos, overly strong perfume and fake Prada handbags (mom has one of those and did have bright orange henna hair 23 years ago). A man dressed as Frankie, belted out "My way" and the ladies were swooning. At the next bar, the Liverpuddlian was shouting out quiz questions and in the far corner of the marina complex everyone was in awe of a couple performing dance routines which looked like something out of a school dance competition, rather than John Travolta. It did Mom and Dad the world of good, they came back positively glowing from the excitement of it all, and Mom still has the giggles when she thinks of those deep bends and gyrating hips!!! Dad is fifty next year, and we feel he is jealous of the men with their Elvis hairstyle or comb over!!! We might club together for a hair piece for him!!!!
Mom feels that the excitement is all a bit too much, and has asked to bypass the coast even if it means a few nights at sea. What a spoilsport! As we write this, we have been at sea for nearly 36 hours missing out our number one holiday hotspot - Benidorm!!!!!!
07 August 2017
The gear box is fixed! We are no longer trapped and can continue on our adventure! So why have we only sailed 37 miles south in nearly a week? We shall explain. But first a big thank you to the people who made everything possible. Through our blog we were contacted by James (many thanks) who we met last year. He has a mate called Fred, who put us in touch with Steff, who called Pere. Pere is the proprietor of the local Borg Warner dealers and he came to check the gear box. It just goes to prove that it's not what you know but who you know! Pere is over 80 years old and speaks very little English and I had to help him onto the boat, but the following day he was back with his son taking the box off the boat. He lifted it pretty easily considering it weighs about 80 kg. The list of parts which he told us we needed was a long one and the bill came to nearly 6000€. Thankfully we are lucky to have a brilliant insurance company, Pantaenius, and we have ended up only paying £1000 of the total. After it was all done, I asked Steff to get me some spare gearbox oil, just in case we had a problem in the future. To my surprise it was Pere who delivered it. He had to use google translate to tell me he was "deeply offended " and that we wouldn't need it as his work was the best!
So we set off south, and made it to the town of Vilanova which is just south of Barcelona.
Vilanova ila Geltru
We didn't intend to stay and so We anchored with another 5 boats behind the southern breakwaters. Within a few minutes a huge swell started rolling in. It is no exaggeration to say that at times you couldn't see the hulls of the others boats at the bottom of each trough. We contacted the marina to get a berth. "Our smallest place is for boats of 70 feet" the helpful lady said, "try the yacht club". This we did, and loved it.
Spanish towns have loads of festivals and we have been lucky to see quite a few, but we haven't seen one to rival this. It is called the Festa Mejor, literally the main festival and it celebrates the pledging of the people of the town to their patron saint, 'The Lady of the Snows'.The first day Sade was walking in town while I walked the dogs. She came back with a camera full of photos of stick dancers and Morris men! We hastened back in time to see a parade of 8 giant figures dancing through the town to the noise of horns and drums. It was brilliant. The evening was rounded off with a massive sausage BBQ in the church square.
Friday was the main day, and we planned our itinerary carefully. Breakfast and dog walking along on the beach, followed by lunch and a swim. Then to church to join the local people who give plates of grapes to a statue of the virgin, to ensure their harvests are protected. We were walking back when we heard English voices and met a group from the South Downs Morris team who were guests at the party. They were already dressed in mummers regalia and told us that although they hadn't got a clue what was happening, it was about to start soon. The carnival started with a team of men dressed as demons, dancing with sticks, on which were lighted fireworks. Each firework ended with a banger and the noise was enormous and ceaseless. They were followed by more demons, knights and then three dragons breathing fireworks over the crowd. The dragons were very ferocious and extremely popular. We were right at the front and were showered in sparks and smoke but no one seemed to care. Each team of dancers was accompanied by drummers, and the quantity of bangers they used seemed to grow as competition mounted. It is difficult to imagine such a festival in the UK. Whoever had to write the risk assessment forms would have needed to be pretty creative.
Then came dancing giants, girls dressed as hobby horses, girls with garlands, maypole dancers, stick dancers, bands and of course the English Morris men, who got a huge cheer. All were accompanied by bagpipes, horns, flutes, drums and trumpets. We were struck by the fact that many of the dancers could have been taking part in an English folk festival, especially the stick, garland and maypole dancers. Some other displays were very different. There was a fish fighting with a teapot (both gushing fireworks) and men carrying two enormous black wooden mules, which the locals wanted to kiss. Then there was a dance by people dressed up as odd characters with enormous plaster cast heads, and finally came two sets of human towers. This is a big thing in Catalunya and we were properly amazed. The first group formed a line. The front rank were big men on hands and knees, then people got on their shoulders, and then teenagers got on top of them, and finally three kids (about 5 years old) wearing crash helmets clambered up legs and bodies to the very top. The other group formed a base and then lifted up a massive bloke. He then carried another chap on his shoulders, who carried a third. Finally this tower was completed by another of these tiny kids who climbed up their bodies like I might climb stairs. I would have hated to see the report from the Health and Safety Executive on that one.
Our evening finished on the beach. We sat on our blankets with tea lights and a bottle of chilled wine, watching a most amazing firework display on the water. Then we joined the youths dancing to a band by the unlikely name of Dr Prat. They were ace, check it out on YouTube. At about 2 am we cooled off with a skinny dip with about 200 locals before calling it a night but they partied on until 7am. As soon as our heads hit the pillow we were asleep.
We are big fans of this place, and if you are planning to visit Barcelona next year, why not try to take in this festival at the same time. You won't regret it, but bring a portable air conditioner with you. It is very very hot!
31 July 2017
The god of gearboxes and gel coat repairs decided to keep us in Barcelona for nearly a month. We were really excited but worried, as we had been told it was a very expensive city. However, it is a city where cash is king and we could pay €113.25 per week without an invoice or €70 per night with one in a marina just north of the city!! We have had full use of the Yacht Club, and have enjoyed swimming in their 50m pool overlooking the beach and luxuriating on sun loungers in the shade of palm trees.
It is impossible to describe all the things that we have seen and done without it becoming one long list but here are some of my top tips for Barcelona on a budget. My mom came for a long weekend, and it was lovely to be able to share so many of them with her.
There is an area near the centre called 'Block of Discord' where you can marvel at the works of Antoni Gaudi, and many other modernist architects. The buildings vary from beautiful and awesome to weird, wacky and tacky. We love Gaudi's work with his passion for curves and tile mosaics, and if you look carefully you can always spot a stone reptile creeping up the building which was one of his trade marks. I was unsure what my mom would think, but she was equally wowed by these delightful buildings. I can not believe these men were not on some form of narcotic when they designed them, especially as we have smelt so much marijuana here. Some days I think it is only Jules and I who are not joining in!!!! We downloaded a free walking guide which takes you to some remote and quieter parts of the city in order to gaze at more incredible buildings and the two old bull fighting rings.
Gaudi's most renowned piece of work was the church he started but did not finish. It is still being built today according to his detailed plans. We pre -purchased tickets and took my mom. We sat in a little park just opposite and drank a glass of Sangria trying to take in the building. As my mom said, each time you looked you could spot something else like a dog or small animal carved gently out of the stones. Gaudi was a very devout Catholic, and had a love for nature and animals which he wanted to include in his design. It is huge, with towers that represent the apostles and Christ's family. The tower representing Christ is yet to be built but it is planned to be as high as the mountain which you can visit by cable car! The outside retells the story of the birth and childhood of Jesus on one side and the passion on the other. Both are different in style and the soldiers throwing dice for Jesus' clothes look like they belong in a Star Wars film. Both aspects were hugely busy with tourists taking selfies. Our favourites are the young Japanese kids who all have to give the peace sign.... no idea why. Poor old Jules,taking an RE teacher and a Methodist Minister around could not have been much fun as we deliberated upon the meaning of all the symbols. Inside the pillars with their bright lights and round discs looked like the walking plants in The Day of the Triffids. As the afternoon light filtered through the stained glass windows the whole place turned red, and a gentle haze descended over the altar. We were dazzled by the sheer magnificence of the place, but am unsure how you would describe it - tacky and brash and yet majestic and holy at the same time. Below is a stunning traditional church (only open for worship, and free to enter) built in the vaults of the cathedral. We arrived just in time to witness mass and it felt a very special moment in the heart of such a busy place. Gaudi was buried here after he was hit by a tram. He was taken for a beggar, and got his final wish, to die among the poor and lowly when he was taken to a paupers hospital.
Free Days and Street Entertainment.
The main cathedral is in the Gothic area which is a mass of winding ancient streets, where there are quirky cafes, tapas bars and little shops. Mom and I found a beautiful square with fountains and an old monastery where we sat for an hour over a pot of tea or two. An African guy entertained us with his very soulful music and we enjoyed people watching. We wandered around the old Jewish quarter and enjoyed the shade and coolness from the narrow streets. The cathedral is free at certain times of the day and is well worth the effort to visit. Jules and I took the lift (no winding staircase here!) to the top and enjoyed the view over the city and then the quiet of the cloisters. They are very strict about dress here and if you do not have arms or knees covered you are turned away. The area is packed with street entertainers and Mom and I got to see a human tower with a little lad in his crash helmet on top. Apparently this is big business in Catalunya. The gothic quarter leads naturally onto the Ramblas, a famous road where anything and everything happens. People dress up as giant dragons and demons and encourage you to have your photo taken with them. The wax museum has dummies out in the street which were so real, I was having a chat with one of them!!!! The exotica museum has real women showing their knickers in their shop doorway, Spanish ladies sell fans and African guys sell knock off bags and football shirts whilst the tourists drink sangria by the litre!
On a Sunday afternoon many of the museums are free and we have enjoyed being able to visit them, and not worry about whizzing round in an hour or so. My friend Liz, would have made a whole day of many of them!!! We saved the Picasso museum to our final Sunday, only to find it had changed its free day to a Thursday!!! It did mean we found the African mask and totem museum. It was brilliant.
The train, metro and bus have a combined ticket, where you can travel for over an hour for as little as a euro. When there is not a strike or crash, the trains are very reliable and frequent.. They are hot and heaving with people and you can not always get a seat, but they are great fun. Usually a busker gets on and is either so brilliant you want to get up and dance or so bad they have the whole carriage groaning. One lad is a regular on our route. He does a kind of Catalan rap act to music, but he is completely tone deaf, or maybe just deaf to the bad comments from his listeners.
The beaches around the marina are beautiful, with golden sands and little bars on the waterfront. I think one of mom's highlights was just going to the beach at 10pm where we just sat at a tiny beach bar until midnight sipping wine and listening to the sound of the sea. However, the beaches in the centre of the city are far more like you imagine Spanish beaches to be. Every inch is packed with bodies. We were having an enjoyable stroll along when we came to the gay nudist part. Woweee! There were some Adonis's on the beach, along with the old and wrinkled. It is true to say that I have never seen so many willys in my life and I truly was amazed by the differences in size, shape and look of them. These men seriously liked to strut their stuff and parade up and down the beach. They took a very long time to wash their bits at the open air beach showers which are right on the walkway. By the time they had finished you could have hung up your hat and perhaps your coat as well. It is true to say I had an excellent afternoon, and tried hard not to comment on sizes in front of my darling husband!!!!!
After my enjoyment at the beach, Jules has restricted our outings to the local parks. We love these places, and it is great to see them used to their full potential. Mom and I took a picnic and we ate whilst listening to the song of the colourful parakeets and watched the African guys selling batiks and Indian guys selling fresh hot and spicy samosas. Mom purchased a batik or two, and I now have a stunning blue one on the bed. There is always something going on here - tambourine and drumming groups; tap dancing in the bandstand; acrobatic yoga performances and swing Pilate's from bands tied in the trees; tight rope walking; hoola hooping and juggling. I love popping the huge bubbles that street performers make for the children. There are ladies selling seed to feed the pigeons and tramps taking a rest with their many dogs. On a Sunday afternoon Jules and I love going to watch the African guys having a drumming session, they are very friendly and offer us free Mojitos, whilst I entertain their many dogs. The Gaudi park was also brilliant fun, where for a few pounds you could be up close and personal with his buildings, although it was extremely busy with tourists.
We do like a bit of tapas, but you have to be careful where you go. Around the centre of Barcelona there are lots of bars selling 5 plates of tapas for 11€ including a drink. We tried one of these and found that each of the plates consisted of deep fried batter or pastry and very little healthy food. Then, on the night of my good test results we hit jackpot. We found a great place near the park full of locals. We enjoyed Galician octopus, black pudding, Spanish omelette and Russian salad with loads of bread drizzled in tomato juice. The alternative to tapas is the menu del dia. This was made law by General Franco and has stayed in place ever since. Each restaurant has to offer a good value lunchtime meal of 3 courses with bread and drinks for a reasonable price. For 10€ we have eaten very well and been given a bottle of Rioja to swill it all down. Trouble is that we are then good for nothing for the rest of the day! Barcelona is the home of markets, and the food is amazing value and quality. Mom and I would go and have our daily fix of fruit and smoothies, and Jules enjoyed boar sausage and salted cod. The markets are crowded with both tourists and locals jostling for the best seat, tastiest oyster or best quality saffron.
Barcelona has always been on my bucket list, and I can not believe we leave in a few days. The gearbox is fixed thanks to Pere and team and the gel coat is sparkling thanks to Mark. We have truly loved it, and it was super that my Mom visited for a long weekend. We were amazed at her courage to travel here by herself and share this beautiful city with us.
Not all Plain Sailing!
09 July 2017 | Harbour at Cassis
Since leaving Toulon we have had some real high and low lights, plenty of yang to go with our yin! We set off from Toulon and started motoring west towards Marseille. We had read online that the port of Cassis was well worth a visit but had very little space for visitors. Undeterred I called them by phone and thankfully the lady spoke a little English and with my Franglais we got a space. As we entered the harbour the water was so clear we were certain we were about to go aground, but the depth sounder showed us with 2m to spare. The harbour is really tiny, and there is very little room to manoeuvre so we were glad to be met by two mooring guys in a dory. They looked at the name of our boat and told us to leave… We were not on the list. A heated debate ensued with much gallic gesticulation and a few Anglo-saxon expressions from me as we tried to avoid the tripper boats coming in and out whilst arguing with Dupont and Dupond! No Joy! "You must have called another port” we were told. Then I remembered that the lady on the phone had taken my name not the boat name. We asked them to check the list for ‘Windmill' and lo and behold, there we were. Perhaps as a punishment they got us to moor on the end of a concrete pier with just one metre of the pier touching the side of the boat. We had to get the dogs ashore by running out a gang plank, but it was well worth it. Cassis was fantastic. It is like a film set for “A Year in Provence”. There are perfect tree lined squares, great restaurants and fantastic views over the sea. We had moules frites for dinner as the sun set over the harbour.
Next day, after coffee ashore, we sailed to Marseille. France’s third biggest city is fantastic when seen from the sea and we were delighted to get a mooring in the old harbour before hitting the sites. There are two things you can’t avoid here. First there are soap shops galore and the city is famous for its soap factories. Sade was in her element, sniffing and comparing soaps of every possible flavour. The second is pastis. There I was in my element, as the aniseed nectar is one of my favourite drinks! We had sworn not to eat out again as our budget had already taken a pounding in Cassis, but we couldn’t resist a three course menu, including the famous bouillabaisse for me and seared Tuna for Sade. After dinner we found a square with a band playing latin music, and a huge crowd dancing along. We joined in and didn’t get to bed until the early hours. What a city!
The following morning we left France for Spain. The forecast was for south east winds on the beam which would be perfect for the 24 hour sail. After an hour we hit thick fog! We were zooming along with all sails set not able to see the large island that was only 1/4 mile from us nor the tankers approaching Marseille. Thankfully we have great radar so we kept sailing with the eerie fog horns of distant boats all around us and four hours later we sailed out into blazing sunshine. It was about then that we heard a bang, bang, bang then a shudder from under the boat. I went below to check all was ok and found that the gear box had leaked out all its oil. We stopped sailing and I tied up the prop shaft to stop it moving and cleared up the mess. We decided not to set back, so we pressed on toward Spain. In the end we limped into a little bay near Cadaques in Catalunia and picked up a mooring buoy. It was clear that we needed to get somewhere to examine the gearbox and find out what had caused the leak. Sade swam under the boat and we were relieved to find that the propellor and propshaft were fine.
We had a great day in Cadaques then headed south to Barcelona. This was when the fun started. The wind was from behind us so I thought it would be OK as we wouldn’t have to use the engine.
We flew the spinnaker for about an hour and were going well but then a gust hit us and the shackle attaching the rope to the sail snapped like a twig!
We went forward to get the sail down and it was then that I found that Tinker had used the “poop deck” just before I got there. I had bare feet, and I have to say that warm dog shit between the toes is not to be recommended! I may have used some more Anglo saxon.
We bundled the sail into its bag, and hauled up the spinnaker pole, which immediatley separated from the “Donkey's Knob” (yes that is the things actual name, and we will leave you to imagine what it looks like) on the mast. In big swelly seas, Sade and I staggered about on deck with the heavy 5 metre long pole desperately trying to get it under control.
Once that was sorted out, both dogs were then promptly seasick in the cockpit. Poor Sade was brilliant cleaning up their undigested breakfasts!
Then we found the gearbox was leaking very badly unless we ran the engine in gear. By doing this we were pressing the propshaft back into the box. This meant filling it up with oil every hour, but fortunately we just about had enough.
Next the heavens opened and we were hit by torrential rain as a thunder storm passed over. This was followed by the radar reflector on our mizzen mast falling off and landing on Scrappy”s head. As anybody who owns one will know, Staffies are tough dogs with an amazingly high pain threshold, but he did look quite offended!
Finally, after entering the marina we completed a marvellous day when we discovered at the very last minute that we had no reverse gear. This happened just as we were approaching a concrete quay wall. Fortunately we were going very, very slowly but the crunch sounded awful, and we have lost a fair bit of gelcoat.
So here we are just north of Barcelona for the next two weeks having a relaxing couple of days before trying to get the gearbox sorted and the bow repaired.
Some days it not all plain sailing, but we are undaunted. Five years ago in May we flew to this same coast for a long weekend. At the time we had no idea that the huge swellings on her neck and her inability to stay awake were any more than the effects of the mumps (as we had been told by the dear old NHS). Five years ago tomorrow Sade was told she actually had leukaemia and today she looks and feels fantastically well. This kind of puts all this weeks problems into perspective.
What’s more, as my old T-shirt used to say “ a bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office!"
05 July 2017
After a month in Corsica, we got some proper wind to make a move, but not to the Balearics as we had intended. Instead it took us north west to the South of France. So far it has been stunning, with picturesque anchorages, amazing beaches, perfect islands, the rich smell of lavender, aquamarine seas and the beautiful deep red cliffs of Provence. The islands of the Porquerolles were one of our favourite places with a beautiful little harbour, great walking, flowers in bloom attracting huge honey bees, and the biggest butterflies you have ever seen.
However, it is the naval port of Toulon that I feel compelled to write about. We had a very fast and furious sail to get here with a constant 30 knots of wind on the nose. Sailing into the huge harbour reminded us of Plymouth with its massive navy vessels, impressive breakwater and conspicuous shipyards. The closer we got to the marina, the more we wondered where we had come to as it looked like a huge urban sprawl of high rise buildings. We were determined not to be put off by the initial feel of the place and headed into town. One street back we found the old town which seemed to attract all creeds and colours. It had loads of character with the smell of incense and burning candles wafting on the wind from the magnificent ancient cathedral. The main street was alive with an evening market selling herbs and lavender from Provence, organic soaps and even lemon trees. The side streets were an eclectic mix of restaurants from Islamic Halal kebab shops, Egyptian falafel kiosks, French seafood restaurants, Cambodian spicy spring roll stalls, African and Indian curry houses, Thai cafes, Mexican chilli places and Turkish baklava shops. If Noah had chosen two of every nation then he could have found them all in Toulon.
There was so much to take in, we decided to find a cafe to watch the world go by. Even this posed a problem as there was so much choice. There were art nouveau cafes, smoky Turkish bars, cultural Cafes with book readings and films shows and trendy ones for the youths. We chose a little Moroccan tea shop and sipped fresh mint tea in tiny glasses served in large silver teapots. An old mystical lady sat in the centre of the tea house wrapped up in various layers of coloured cloth, giving "readings" to anyone who crossed her palm with money, she must have been good as people flocked to her and her bag was bulging with five Euro notes. In between giving advice she stuffed on sweet Moroccan sweets and shouted 'Marrakesh' to passers by. Toulon was so colourful, the African ladies passed by with their baskets of bread wearing the most vibrant wraps with matching headdresses and the Egyptian men had colourful prayer caps and flowing robes. Our favourite was the completely mad lady wearing an outfit which seemed to be made entirely of black bin bags. She was obviously delighted with her fashion statement and danced the length of the cobbled street banging boxes and stamping her feet. This was shortly followed by the homeless lady who was as drunk as could be, and swaggered and swayed with her bottle of wine showing everyone her toothless mouth and rather large belly. Just opposite our Moroccan cafe we spotted an old fashioned tea shop and I was in heaven. The smell of fresh coffee beans and loose tea was superb, and I sat whilst the elderly guy opened tin after tin of green tea for me to smell. We took samples, and returned the next day to buy a selection of Sencha green teas. Toulon seems to be a place where everyone just rubs along together. Yoga and Qi Gong classes, crystal and tarot card shops are popular. The Thai and Cambodian shops each had a shrine to Buddha and as well as food they offered reflexology and shiatsu massages. The African men unrolled their prayer mats and prayed openly in the streets and the cathedral tannoy lasted out Latin sung mass It was great to see homosexuality was openly accepted and we loved the men with their flamboyant clothing and pug dogs with glitzy outfits!
I took Tinker out for an evening stroll and bumped into a group of tramps who just adored Her. One guy with long dreadlocks buried his face in Tinker and picked her up and gave her the most enormous cuddle. "Tinker the Tart" was in her element and she kissed, cuddled and licked him with her soft pink tongue. Tinker did her usual therapy work and caused much laughter and joy.
The next morning we went to the street food market. It was vibrant and loud and very different from Italian markets. The tomatoes came in bright oranges, yellows greens and reds. The French ladies picked up squeezed, poked and prodded the melons to get just the right ripeness and everyone sampled the different olives, nuts and spices before buying. The garlic came in different varieties and the advocados were so ripe they were falling apart. I had to be dragged away from the cheese shop, which sold every possible shape, size and flavouring of goat cheese imaginable. After 3 years of not being in France we had forgotten the delights of the fish stalls, with big juicy crabs, cooked langoustines and huge oysters. We were about to buy when we noticed a seating area next to the stall. The fish monger had 12 street tables where you could buy any seafood or fish and have it cooked for you. We had to wait before a table became vacant, but a nice old French guy kept winking to me over his coffee and told the waitress to reserve his table for us. Luckily, we arrived at the last of three sittings and were able to take a leisurely lunch with a carafe of chilled white wine which was the only drink they served, kept cooled in large iced buckets. We tucked into oysters, prawns and whelks to start, served with chunks of French bread and homemade mayonnaise. Then for mains we had fresh raw tuna with an amazing salsa and sardines cooked over coals with spiced polenta cake and salad. Later as we wandered around the old streets we met a couple of tramps with a dog called Rainbow who was simply adorable - a seven month old version of Tinker. They were very chatty and loved the fact we liked their dog. I sat with them on the pavement, with Rainbow's head on my lap chatting away in a mixture of English, French and a bit of Spanish. ' I am not so sure Scrappy was impressed when I returned smelling of another dog!
It is perhaps not a city for everyone, but we fell in love with it. We found the people charming, the old town very pretty, the food outstanding and the marina very friendly. Marseille will have a lot to live up to.
Faith, Hope and Love
19 June 2017
The last few weeks have been magical and I feel healthy, happy, fit, content and extremely well. So it came as a shock to be drying myself after a swim and to find a small lump near my collar bone, followed two days later by another in my neck. We know I am in 'watch and wait' but had expected to feel physically ill before I had any lumps appearing in lymph areas. We ignored it for a few days before plucking up the courage to email my oncologist. She got back to us in twenty minutes to reassure us not to panic and to stick to our 'plan': Blood tests every four months, and as long as they are okay, not to worry at this stage, after all, there is a possibility they could be unrelated! I cried with relief but allowed myself an hour of self pity as sometimes this diagnosis puts a dampener on the happiest of days.
In my self pity I fear having to have chemotherapy again, I am frightened of dying, I am scared of not existing, but more than anything, I am scared I won't be able to grow old with Jules. Since Christmas It feels as if cancer has gone on tracking me in the shadows, and sometimes there feels as if there will never be a respite from it. So I turn to meditation. Five years on and I am still pretty hopeless at it, but every time my mind spirals out of control meditation always brings me back to this very moment, the here and now, the only moment I have. If I focus on that and not the future my fears drop away one by one.
I can not deny that having a diagnosis of cancer makes the world become brighter, as if I see everything in flashing neon lights, and every moment becomes special. Holding hands with Jules whilst we sniff and prod French cheeses for their ripeness in a supermarket makes us laugh, getting up early in the heat to walk the dogs becomes a pleasure and getting the wrong haircut when I do not know enough foreign words to explain what I want, becomes a giggle, especially when I return to the boat and Chez Jules gets his hands on the scissors to finish it off!!!!!! When I need it most, the universe always has a way of showing me things to delight in. In the last few days we have been visited by a family of huge bottle nosed dolphins swimming at the bow of the boat. We have kayaked to see two Osprey families and their nests. We spotted a dark sinister movement right next to the boat and jumped into the sea and found a two and a half metre stingray under our flippers. We have anchored in secluded bays and walked in beautiful countryside. We have shared beaches with young calves and had campfires on the beach as the sun set. We have snorkelled amongst the most amazing pods of fish and seen starfish on the sandy bottom. We have paddle boarded with the dogs and shared a laugh with the French customs as Tinker greeted them with a kiss on the lips as they tried to board the boat. As I write this I am lying on deck watching the most amazing night sky with shooting stars and we have watched huge beach firework displays from the boat and eaten mussels and slipper lobsters. We manage to do all of this on a couple of hundred pounds a week, the cost of two Phase Eight Dresses on a shopping trip to the Merry Hill after a bad day at work. Life is wonderful, and without my diagnosis we would both be stuck in jobs we were bored with, dreaming about sailing away. The last five years have been brilliant.
I know conventional treatment works for many people , and I shall not turn my back on it when the time is right. In the meantime Jules and I have to have faith that all the things I am doing to improve my "terrain" are working, and I certainly feel healthier than I have in my entire life. Cancer cells flourish within an individual whose immune system is weakened by chemotherapy, antibiotics and modern medicine. So at the moment the galley looks like an apothecary shop, with ground down cloves, sweet wormwood and wild oregano. I have tinctures, homemade powders, tissanes and capsules!!! I am having a yeast and parasite cleanse and am thoroughly enjoying reading everything I can about the gut, and good bacteria. I have jars of fermenting goodies, and cupboards full of bee pollen and dried green grasses. I have just ended a two week liver detox with green juices and Epsom salts, but even I drew a line at the coffee enemas!!!!! There is so much research out there about how good these things are for everyone, but changes in lifestyle, can not by definition be patented, and become medications. Therefore the pharmaceutical companies are not interested in the findings or researching further. It has been proven by WHO (the World Health Organisation) that the richer a county's diet in vegetables and legumes, the lower the cancer rate. It describes cancer as a disease of a rich country with sugary sweet, and highly processed foods and takeouts. I have read so much, I feel I could do a degree in nutrition, lifestyle and environmental factors linked to cancer, but still the medical profession give patients on chemotherapy wards sugary cakes, fizzy drinks and processed foods.
It is my hope that in ten years time I can write a book and give talks showing that I am living proof that these things work. We hope and pray that we will die in our eighties, in a perfect little bay, swinging gently on the anchor, but in the meantime, we have compiled a wish list of all the places I hope to visit and all the things we plan to do. In the next few years I am determined to sail across the Atlantic and spend a season in the Carribean before crossing to the States to visit Chesapeake Bay and Martha's Vineyard. I hope to visit Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela before sailing through the Panama Canal and entering the Pacific Ocean. I have always hoped to visit the Galápagos Islands with their giant tortoises and lizards.
Jules and I have a "Joie de Vivre", love and passion about life, and everyday is the greatest gift. We were lucky we met and fell in love at twenty one and get on so well. Everyday our love grows a little stronger and he is my rock. I joke that he is going to be married to a woman with more lumps, bumps and scars than Scrappy Doo. I am blessed to be surrounded by loving family and friends that support our mad lifestyle in every way they can, even though my naked sailing horrifies my little sister!!!
I used to think life was good, but now I know it is awesome and everyday gets better. I will continue following the advice that my friend Mary recently put in an email , "fight with all my might, love with all my heart and be positive with every thought".