Ahhhh! At last its starting to look like the Med of the brochures.
The rain cleared, the sun came out, the sky and the Med turned blue just in time for our entrance. St Tropez sparkled in the sun while snow covered alps glittered in the distance.
St Tropez, colonised and painted by many French impressionists was eventually put on the map by Bridget Bardot following the filming of "Et Dieu Crea la Femme " (And God Created Woman) in 1956.
Its largely a tourist town to be seen in. Dress to the nines and wear lots of bling if going out at night. Not a place to be seen in shorts and thongs - although we did see some models who had been body painted ready for a cocktail hour who only had the thongs.
Plenty of fashion shops(the chandlery and nautical clothing boutiques were ok too), restaurants and really, really large motor yachts . Nice place to visit for a short while. Not much of historical importance survived WWII although the citadel was built in 1620 and is currently being restored.
There is a good art gallery (Annonciade Museum) with a fine collection of the impressionists who painted here - Matisse, Bonnard, Braque, Denis, Seurat and Signat among many. Its located in a chapel from the 1500's which was converted in the 1950's to house the collection donated by M. Georges Grammont. An excellent retrospective of the French artist Charles Dufresne's Algiers and Africa works was also showing at the museum.
We all had a good day wandering, shopping and oggling super yachts (noting one super yacht flying both the Cayman Islands and the Aussie flags).
Settled down late afternoon on the back of Trilogy for the passigeatta with a G&T and some excellent French cheeses before taking ourselves out to dinner - along with everyone else in St Tropez doing the same.
After St-Tropez we are off to Cannes for the tail end of the famous French film festival.
05/23/2012, Isles d' Hyeres, France
Despite the many attractions of Bandol it was with some relief that we departed in grey and rainy conditions for the Ile de Porquerolles approximately 29nm eastwards from Bandol. The trip was relatively uneventful although the heavy rainfall over the previous 5 days caused quite an amount of debris that we had to avoid. Susan had a minor panic moment when the door to the forward toilet became blocked by a seat that came loose trapping her inside for a short time. Husband Rick was forgiven as the likely cause as he also provided the solution to this problem.
Ile de Porquerolles is the largest of the four islands that comprise the Iles d'Hyeres, colonised by the Greeks and then the Romans, and it is approximately 4 miles long by about 1 mile wide.
Our arrival was made a little more complicated than planned when the bowthruster failed again but we had a very helpful Capitainerie who assisted us into our berth with judicious application of his dinghy like a tug nudging a ship into her berth. We subsequently repaired the bowthruster by reconnecting the control wires to the relays.
Ile de Porquerolles was the scene of an infamous episode in 1793 when the British and Spanish fleets fled Toulon after the Republican uprising. The French Commander of Fort Ste-Agathe (located on Ile de Porquerolles) had been forgotten by his superiors on the mainland and the British Admiral of the Fleet invited him aboard. Whilst he was happily sipping the Admiral's claret a force of British sailors captured the fort and blew it up. The fleet then sailed off taking the French Commander with them which may have been a less complicated outcome for him..
In 1912 the island was purchased by Francois Fournier after his honeymoon there as a present for his bride. Francois had made his fortune in Mexico where he discovered gold and tin. He reputedly asked his bride whether she liked the island and when she said yes he responded by buying it for her. The couple developed 200 hectares of vineyards which produced some of the first wine to be classified as vins des Cotes de Provence. They also had seven children and employed nuns from Belgium to provide childcare.
In 1971 the state purchased 80% of the island to protect it from development and now most of the island is national park.
Before departing for Port du Lavendou we hoisted the dinghy onto the foredeck (rather than the davits at the stern) which will make stern to berthing much easier. Hooray for electric winches! The Tender to Trilogy fits comfortably on the foredeck and it also prevents the dinghy partially filling with rainwater as it did during the enforced layover in Bandol.
We are looking forward to the next leg to St Tropez and hope for a sunny welcome. At least that is what the brochure promised.
05/22/2012, Bandol, France
During a morning walk around Bandol, I noticed a teenager with a backpack, looking as though he was on his way to school. With limited French, I asked him if his school was nearby, and if so, could he point me in the right direction. Once outside the school gate, I was required to press a security buzzer, and with a click the iron school gate opened and I was asked to proceed to the School's administration centre. It was a little like, gaining entry to an embassy in Canberra.
After an administration officer made phone call to the Principal, permission was granted to experience a day at Raimu College. The College is a Government school for 11-16 year olds who live in the wealthy area around Bandol. The school day begins at 8am and finishes at 5.30pm, with the exception of Wednesday, that finishes at12 noon. They have 3 terms per year, with the big Summer holiday being July to September. Students have 1.5 hours for lunch, and most pay $7 for a healthy sit down, 3 course meal that is prepared on site, in an impressive industrial kitchen. I thought the lunch arrangement was terrific, as it encouraged youths to develop table manners while participating in a conversations over a meal. The students pay no school fees (except for lunches), nor do they pay for excursions if it is linked to the curriculum.
Despite the region being wealthy, the College did not present itself in a similar light. The staff repeatedly apologised for their run down buildings, and said the Government has indicated that the school will be rebuilt. The school staff of 30, provide an education for approx. 330 students. It is a small College with a strong sense of family, as most students have known each other since they were young. The students are not required to wear school uniform.
The school supplied students with 3 computer labs (approx 15 per lab), but only supplied 2 computers for teachers to share. The room with the 2 computers was small, and also housed the photocopy machine. It was the only place teachers could work with reduced noise. I was a surprised to learn, that teachers are not given a desk, nor their own computer. The staff teach18 hours face to face, per week and it is assumed preparation and marking is done at home.
My day began in the library, which was small and with limited resources, by comparison to local community library. The school library only had 4 computers which were in continual use by students who were doing distance learning. One student was learning the Dutch language. Later in the day I was asked to teach an English class. And during a Q & A session, one pupil asked, who was the architect for the Sydney Opera House? This surprised me, along with the along with the assumption that Sydeny was the capital of Australia.
Being located on the coast, I was not surprised that a third of the students at the school participate in sailing lessons one afternoon per week..... no wonder many good yachtsmen and women are French! Another third of the students does gynmastics in the school's new gymnasium and the remaining third, study European Culture, which I was told, focuses on the English language.
Currently the secondary students attend school for 4.5 days per week, while primary students only attend 4 days (no school on Wednesday). However, the new Minister of Education recently announced, that as from 2013, primary students will also be required to attend 4.5 days per week. The extra half day will either be Wednesday or Saturday and as to which day, will be be a decision made by each local region. When I asked, why students did not attend a full day on Wednesday, I was told that scientists believe children need to rest in the middle of the week, as the school days are too long.
Walking around the playground I noticed a public telephone booth inside the school boundary, as well as a skate board ramp! They students did not wear a uniform and staff did not appear to supervise playground duty. Supervision within the playground was undertaken by people in the community, who require a job with small hours eg Uni students.
On reflection, I consider myself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to experience a day in French school. The College administrator provided me with a fantastic link to learn more about the French Education System ..... you too can access this information by googling DEPP-EE-2011-english_21144 and yes, it is in English!
05/20/2012, Bandol, France
While waiting for the Beneteau agent to come to Bandol and fix our bow thruster, much work was done, cruising being the art boat maintenance in exotic places.
The dinghy outboard had its first run and performed easily and well. The passerelle/gangplank was adjusted and the stern light installed. At the ceremonial turning on of the stern light, we needed sunglasses and the power in Bandol dipped. And much washing was done in our on-board washing machine - it is very quiet and takes 5 kilos so quite a boon, particularly as the marina facilities are always a long way away and do not include washing machines.
The beaches here are lovely and topless sunbathing seems to be the order of the day. Haven't they heard of skin cancer? In walking round the Plage Rencros we saw a plaque on a beautiful hotel that said D. H. Lawrence had stayed there at the Hotel Beaurivage in 1929 for about 6 months and wrote "Pensees" his last poems before he died in nearly Vence in 1930.
Sunday was very festive - right outside our passerelle. A flea market went the whole length of the marina, weaving around our passerelle, while the food market was still operating on the other side of the road. And best of all was the "Apres Midi Dansant" - people dancing in the town centre all afternoon to all kinds of music such as "Itsy Bitsy Teensy Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" in French and doing dances like the cha cha and the twist. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon - much better than doing the in-tray! Lots of people sitting in the shade drinking sangrias, rose and whatever, watching the passing parade and the dancers.
Monday appeared to be playing petanque day and working on the pointu boats day, while Tuesday saw another market on the dock. In squeezing past the stall right on our passerelle, the stall owner, after looking at our flag, asked if we were New Zealanders!
Lots of pleasant dinners in the cockpit and some nice dinners at restaurants. Susan had many enjoyable swims at the lovely beaches and visited a school for the day.
Myra left for home and John had a quick day trip to Narbonne to pick up his British passport, kindly held by Jean Isidro. Susan, Rick and John also managed to fit in a day trip by train to the French naval port of Toulon.
And we have now experienced the Mistral, the strong wind in this area. It is much like the Tremontane we experienced in Canet and Cap d'Agde. As one of the locals exclaimed "Mistral infernal!"
It has been a longer stay than expected in Bandol but we couldn't have picked a better spot to have to wait out repairs and weather. Tomorrow we start coasting again - next stop the Porquerolles.
05/09/2012, Port Bandol
Marseille looks its best from the sea. As we sailed out of the Iles de Frouil for Cassis, the water (some 100 metres deep in spots) was a beautiful blue and and the buildings, cliffs and hills of Marseille were a beautiful white with a little green vegetation here and there. The gold Mary and child on top of Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill gaze out at the seafarer, protecting the people of Marseille.
Another fast sail to Cassis and fortunately we had rung ahead and booked, as the small marina was packed. The boats on either side of us were charter yachts crewed by Russians. Life only gets better in Russia. While the weekend saw the defeat of Sarkozy and the election of Hollande, Tuesday is VE Day and a public holiday in France, so we arrived to quite a festive atmosphere.
Cassis was a Roman settlement though there is little archeological evidence to be found. There are apparently underwater caves from when they were land caves and the sea was over 100 metres further out, that contain 20,000 year old rock art, but they are not on display. The town of only 8000 people is a maze of pretty cobbled stoned streets, treed parks and fountains, and high quality shops and restaurants. Local dignatories and old soldiers gathered in one of the squares for a commemorative ceremony for VE Day, with lots of references to the Resistance and the Liberation, and the playing of the stirring Marseillaise.
For the first time American accents were noticeable. One of the industries of Cassis is the quarrying of lime and stone and the base of the Statue of Liberty is from Cassis. The nearby calanques or inlets are accessible by a little train and are worth the trip. They are picturesque moorings for yet more yachts.
And to finish a lovely visit we ate at the Fleurs de Thym, another some-time-Michelin-mentioned restaurant. Three delicious courses for E34 a head. With the other three memorable restaurants in Villefranche, Canet and Cap D'Agde, we have had some excellent food. Before we went to the restaurant, we decided to try some pastis, having enjoyed the Manzana we tried in Catalan. Pastis is the local licorice flavoured anise aperitif, and we did like it though we did notice our unbreakable boat glasses went cloudy - permanently! Imagine what the aperitif that it replaced, Absinthe, would have done.
The famous local poet Frederic Mistral has the last say on Cassis. In his poem "Calendal" about a poor Cassis anchovy fisherman he says "Those who have seen Paris but not Cassis, have seen nothing".
05/09/2012, Marseilles, France
Across the water from our berth on the Ilse du Frioul were the lights of the grand City of Marseille. As the local ferry provided a regular service (15 min) directly to the Port of Marseille, we wasted no time to absorb as much history that the City had to offer.
From the ferry we were able to see the two islands that make Ilse du Frioul. The two larger islands are joined by a causeway and have recently been bought from the military by the Municipality de Marseille. The yacht marina is the first stage of a large leisure complex planned over the next few years. The cliffs above our marina were littered with fortification relics of a bygone era.
Between the Ilse du Frioul marina and the Port of Marseille was a small island, known as, Chateau d'If . It was originally fortified in 1516, then used as a prison and also used as the setting for the novel, Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
The entry to the Port of Marseille takes your breath away, as the size of the port, the buildings that line the harbour, the massive Cathedral and the fortification at the entrance, immediately give a sense of the enormous wealth that came to the City Marseille in the 1880's.
As we only had a day to see it all, our best option was to do 'Le Grand Tour' from a seat on the double decker tourist bus. We also enjoyed giving our feet a rest and having an audio tape explaining the sites during the tour (in English thankfully).
Marseille dates back to 600 BC. The Greeks arrived first, then the Romans arrived in 49 BC. In 1229 the City rebelled against the monastic rule and the bishop was removed. The merchants took power and the Republic of Marseille was born. In 1481 Marseille and Provence were attached to the Kingdom of France. In 1660 Louis XIV visited Marseille and ordered the extension of the City, the construction of a new arsenal and two forts and once it was made a free port the city began to prosper. Disaster struck in 1720 when half the population died of the great plague, and then in 1792 the people of Marseillese marched to Paris singing 'la Marseillaise'... the beginning of the French national anthem.
In the 1830's, Marseille once again became a flourishing Mediterranean port and between 1848-70 it became the 'Gateway to the Orient'. The city expanded and a new trading port was built and monuments / cathedrals were erected. The Paris-Lyon-Marseille railway line was completed and the Suez canal opened. Marseille was prospering with the enormous wealth that flowed in and out of the City. However, during the 1940s Marseille once again saw destruction and decline. During the 1960's the City saw a massive arrival of settlers from it's colonies in North Africa and many blocks of flats were built to house the new arrivals. Around 1995 money went into planning projects that undertook huge urban renewal work in Marseille, including the TGV that links Marseille and Paris with a 3 hour train trip.
The scale of these projects is enormous, and are in complete contrast to the small cobble stone streets of old Panier District located near the port.
During the day we noticed a huge presence of police in Marseille and the reason why became clear after we came out of the restaurant where we had dinner. Cars were sounding their horns, red flares were firing, crowds were gathering holding placards and youth were doing wheelies on their much loved motor bikes. We were a touch perplexed to find oursleves in the middle of the announcement of the outcomes of the French Presedential election! The crowd was obviously pleased that Francois Hollande had won from Nicholas Sarkozy 51.62% to 48.38%.... however I was not!