Well here we are on passage again so its a good time to catch up on the blog. Whenever we're in port now it feels very busy because there's so much to do. We were delayed leaving Toulon, France by 5 days waiting for calm weather to cross the Gulf of Lyon which has a reputation for big winds & seas. I guess weather systems create winds that scream down the Rhone River valley and then fan out over this Gulf. And it has been blowing a gale out here every day until today, when it is calm. But beautiful days ashore did make us wonder if it really was happening but you could tell it was true from the swell. We have 308 miles left to go to get to Valencia, Spain where we hope to stop for a few days to see something of the area. Valencia is the home of paella. And some Spanish wine would go well with it. Then about another 400 miles to Gibraltar. While we were away touring around in a car, the season seems to have switched here and it feels a little cooler & fall-like. Given that we've been in a near perpetual summer for years now, it feels a little scary. Everything gets harder in the cold and when we're underway we basically live in the cockpit so it isn't as fun. The beaches have thinned out & there aren't as many boats out on the water which is just another reminder that we need to move on.
We managed to get quite a bit done during our weather window waiting time that has alleviated some of the pressure we felt to get the boat ready to be at sea. I guess the biggest thing is we got all the chainplates pulled, inspected and resealed & some corrosion of paint on the mast fixed. We're hoping that the rig stays up on the Atlantic crossing, you know, thinking of the simple things! It seems like every time we take something out like even a pair of sunglasses we had kicking around, the rubbers & adhesives have deteriorated so much that whatever it was, you don't really have it anymore. Anyway, the ditch bag is all repacked too and the old dry bag that was one of the things that came unglued, is replaced. We also got to do some more things in Toulon such as a great bike ride, a hike up Mt Faron for some views and just milling around the town doing a couple of their many free museums and doing some stocking up on food. There was a massive grocery store right across the street from the marina so you could actually wheel the grocery cart to your berth which is exactly what we did. When we first pulled in, we kind of got the last berth because the "America's Cup" was just about to start and everything was packed for the celebrations. We found out later that it isn't the actual event, but rather some sort of promotional thing although we did see some really cool hydofoil racing cats as we arrived from Corsica that were the fastest race boats we'd ever seen. Now Valencia has held the America's Cup twice in the past.
When we left mainland Italy we stopped for a couple of days in Sardinia, Italy. It is a rather large island, I think second only to Sicily and it has several smaller islands adjacent, set aside as park. We pulled in to one after our overnight trip and picked up a park mooring like you're supposed to do for a day of snorkeling and beachy stuff. Shortly afterward, the park staff arrived to collect their fee which amounted to more than $60 a night for that mooring. Good grief! We saw an interesting pipefish, a lot of cuttlefish in the Posidina grass and an eel. At sea nearby, we saw 2 large dolphin, ocean sunfish, a couple of whales and some jumping mantas so there is life here, you just have to look. This was the first place we'd been to where the park sets aside a beach for you to just look at. Not because it is a breeding ground or anything, just because. So you can walk on trails near the beach, but the actual sand & water is roped off for viewing. The picture above was from a beach you could go on and it is just an example of how loved the beaches are- all the colors of the umbrellas are pretty too.Then there is the new to us phenomenon of doing your business on the trail and then leaving a pile of TP next to it. I am not joking or exaggerating when I say we have seen this now throughout the parts of Italy and France that we have visited. Mostly on trails or at rest area picnic grounds but also on staircases in town, wherever you might get that urge to evacuate. I keep telling Jon there must be something more to it but he doesn't believe me. And we haven't caught anyone in the act, we just see the product. A certain someone told me to enjoy the dog doo in Italy and I didn't realize at the time that people presents was going to be more intrusive. And I still don't get it. We visited a couple more anchorages on Sardinia but felt we had to move on due to time and nothing was knocking our socks off. Its better to keep your socks & shoes on anyway...
It was less than 10 miles from Sardinia to Corsica, France because the islands are stacked right atop one another. We sailed into our first "calanque"- a naturally carved out limestone harbor deep in the cliffs. At the head of it is a town called Bonaficio but we couldn't manage to get tied up with the wind blowing so had to head back out and around the corner to an anchorage instead. We were so bummed because it was such an ideal place to be on a boat. We took the bus in the next day to see the town. It had a high, walled , historic town & citadel that you could tour and a great, glittering waterfront full of yachts. Crazy scenery because of the limestone cliffs and there was even a long stairway carved in from the top to the waters edge. I learned a lot of history that day but can't recall it now while the boat is tossing about. We did see our first hummingbird moth though. Didn't even know they existed. It is more a hummingbird than a moth.
We wanted to rent a car and do some hiking on Corsica (there is a famous long distance hiking trail there) but we couldn't figure out where to leave the boat to do it that was safe & affordable.There are very few marinas that are protected enough to just be absent and even less for anchorages. Then we planned to just work our way up the coast instead exploring but we lost interest in that when the weather forecasted some strong winds so we just bolted & headed for mainland France. It was the best thing we could've done because we ended up getting to the mainland faster to rent a car. It was an easy overnight to some park islands just off the coast of southern France called the Porquerolles. We stopped there for a night to explore. They had extensive fortifications used in WWII, not sure if these were built by the Germans or the French- we couldn't really figure it out but there were underground tunnels that went way in with small gauge railroad tracks running in to carry the ammunition for huge guns that recessed into the tunnel and when they lifted upward to use them, they were all camouflaged on the outside to look like rocks. All of this is just sitting there and you can wander through. This was the first we'd seen of this type of thing. The camo-ing looked like a school science project but I'm sure it was effective. The water at the Porquerolles was beautiful too.
Once settled into the marina in Toulon, we picked up a rental car and set off for the French Alps. We wanted to hike around the Mont Blanc area. It turns out that Air BnB is very well established in France and we stayed in some lovely places this trip, the one in Mt Blanc was an especially good one. It was a very authentic, fully furnished mountain chalet with a wonderful view. The guy who owned it had just finished fitting out a camper to travel Europe & had also dome a lot of foreign travel and we enjoyed talking with him & seeing his refit. His parents had lived there and his mother was an artist so the place was filled with little paintings. So cute. We did two days of hiking in the Alps, based in the town of Chamonix. We had great weather, saw lots of glaciers and got our alpine fix. We even saw someone go blasting by downhill using one of those wingsuits. Every kind of extreme mountain sport seems popular in Chamonix and this one is wild. That night we watched clips of them on Youtube. You just put on a suit, jump out of a helicopter and then fly downhill like a bird, but fast! If we'd have had more time, it would've been fun to hop over the border to Switzerland since it was only a few km's away. That was hard not to do! So we headed toward Paris via some lovely French countryside and ended up in a tiny mountain farming town surrounded by wooded parkland. All the houses had been converted from very old barns and had lots of character. This place was another great find and made the whole experience so fun. It seems to burn the place into my brain more than any hotel room ever could. We were greeted by our hosts with fresh lemonade, tried our best to communicate that night using her tablet to translate and then enjoyed a nice breakfast of her homemade jams.
Our Paris place wasn't nearly as exciting but it was very inexpensive and had secure parking for the car and we didn't spend much time there since we were touring around all day each day. But it did have a city bike depot right across the street so each day we could bike in & out of the center of the city, not to mention between attractions in the city if we wanted and it was all for $2/day! The first day we did it was Sunday morning and as usual with the Mediterranean schedule, the whole city was still asleep so we had the streets to ourselves which was great! We did a bunch of the usual must see stops there and loved climbing up the Notre Dame bell tower & seeing the L'ouvre. Things were much quieter than they were in Rome which was good. We were up in the adjacent belltower when the Sunday bells were clanging away which added to the feel. What a beautiful church. There was a lot of competition between restaurants in the old Latin Quarter so we had a nice 3 course dinner one night that included the famous fish soup and profiteroles for dessert. We've now bought some of that fish soup in the grocery store to have on night watches when we first leave the Med because I think it's going to be cold! This is like having meat pies each night at midnight when leaving New Zealand...
One thing we hadn't really realized about Paris was how much of a multi-cultural city it is! I think we saw pretty much every country represented there including a lot of people from Africa who are struggling to make a place for themselves. There was for us, a lot of pockets of homelessness which was disturbing. But there were also so many beautiful things to see. We really liked it and France in general. And we hope there is enough support for the less fortunate immigrants that have come to Paris.
After doing Paris, we spent a day at Versailles because we had never seen a palace that elaborate or such extensive gardens. Jon had wanted to see it since he was a kid and me, well I'd never heard of the place until fairly recently! Although I still think that Hamilton Gardens in NZ were the best gardens we've ever been to. When you're standing there looking at Versailles, it doesn't really look like what I picture a palace would be from the outside but the over the top furnishings & fixtures inside do make it real. We were there on a "fountains day" in the gardens but the fountains weren't actually operating, save one. So it wasn't as impressive I don't think.
And from there we started working our way back through more countryside in the Burgundy region. We walked around a lake that was completely filled with blackberry bushes the whole way, explored some little towns, got pastries, that sort of thing. Then stopped at a Chateux village for the night and had this awesome apartment steps away from the castle & its walls. Another rich lord or whomever had all this built and now it still stands looking like something out of a fairy tale. I just love the way people can be living a modern life in these ancient towns with all the history & beautiful buildings & they aren't being made anymore. That look & feel is something we certainly haven't experienced elsewhere, until Europe.
The last night we rolled in late to a place outside of Lyon that was quite forgettable but it didn't matter because the next morning we had to get going early to be back to Toulon to return our wheels once again. Its a funny thing, we weren't even sure at first if we would come to mainland France but are so glad we did. Lonely Planet describes France as "snooty, sexy, superior, chic, infuriating, arrogant, officious and inspired in equal measures", whatever that means. For us, you can take out all the negatives and just leave the positive and add environmentally conscious, progressive and clean (well, except for the piles left around on trails & such but from a trash perspective!) and that would be our opinion. Filled with friendly, helpful people and great resources, it is definitely a place we want to come back to.
And now, Spain. The last time we had to call upon our Spanish was the Galapagos which feels like a very long time ago. Just when we were feeling more brushed up on our French pleasantries, it all changes again. We can't wait to get there and start exploring with what time we have left.