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                               THE FRENCH RIVIERA

We sailed along the French coastline, past houses of bricks made from surrounding soil be it limestone, sandstone or the red clay. The rocky coastline was broken by area of people lazing in lawnchairs on pebble beaches. We passed the impressive Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, then past Cap Ferrat bragging some of the most elegant villas and the finest gardens along the coast.
Ville Franche

Aug 7/09     We sailed into the Port of Ville Franche, a steep sided bay with villas scattered among the rocky cliffside. We anchored right under a Citadel, built in 1560 to guard the port. The Citadel holds open air cinemas androck/pop performances. It is quite a sight at night all lit up!

That evening we took our tender to a designated dinghy area - a real treat not to have to search for a place to land for a change. We wandered around the town of Ville France  and longingly read the menus, looking for ideas for some French cuisine onboard. There is no way we could afford to eat out here! I am again practicing my highschool French, which I do better with than Italian.


The anchorage was rolly but the location was ideal, near a train or bus to Monaco and Nice. And the surrounds were awesome!

Concerts, Fireworks, Airshows!

One night we were treated to a pop/rock concert in English which was performed in the Citadel right above us. So we sat in our cockpit and enjoyed our chocolate croissants until bedtime. The music was still going on at 2 am when I got up briefly, but nightlife seems to be the norm everywhere in Europe. They are early morning risers, everything closes for siesta at 1pm and reopens again at 5pm until..... We still haven't got our bodies used to that schedule and seem to always go to town when everything is closed! Then in bed when the action is happening!

Ashore, we discovered a relaxed resort, with narrow streets running higgledy-piggledy up and down, joined by paths. There was a bakery, laundry at 10 Euros a load, a market and fuel for 1.28 Euro/litre!!

During the day, we were treated to Air Shows put on by the French Airforce, colored smoke trailing from the jets flying in formations above us. It went on all day, and as the deafening thunder from the aircraft cracked the atmosphere, the pass-bys were so close we could see the pilot in the cockpit.


 

A Marriage with the Sea!

Every night we were treated to fireworks - front row seats, as the astounding displays exploded high above the rigging. These were professional shows, the quality I have not seen since New Years Eve in Sidney Harbor. It was all part of the festivities of the Day of Assumption, which is a celebration of the marriage with the sea, fitting for us!

Aug 9/09    Gord is plagued with a headache. He broke his glasses so likely eyestrain. We still do not have our watermaker parts but we got word that they have reached the UK.

Gord's headache had abated so we made a second attempt to visit Monaco. But when Gord stepped out of the dinghy, he put his back out. Pretty bad...it was hard for him to get back to the Ascension. So he is in pain and I only hope the boat isn't so rolly again tonight as that is what triggers his back problems. Oh well, looks like we will be treated to some classical music coming from the citadel tonight.

August 11/09

Things are looking up. Gord's back got a bit better and our parts for the watermaker arrived. Unfortunately, after attempting to get our parts for over a month and a half, they sent us the wrong parts. But Gord somehow managed to make it work with the wrong pieces and we are now making water again.


We finally hopped on a bus to Monaco but the bus was bursting full and we had to stand.  Gord's back was toast by the time we got to Morocco 45 minutes later. Monaco

Monaco is a country, a monarchy with Prince Albert II as head of state.

The country is only about two squared kilometres in area, but has a population of over 30,000 people, making it the most populated country in the world.

A Playground for the Rich & Famous

We departed from the bus only to face a tower of daunting steps that led to the palace and the old town. We finally conquered the stairs, slowly, stopping to enjoy the fantastic views along the way. We could see Monaco and the harbor brimming with luxury yachts, the modern city highrises of Monte Carlo in the distance. Monaco is well known for its tax haven status, and has a great deal to do with its exclusivity and appeal. A playground for the rich and famous, it is part of the super yacht circuit.

In the old Town, narrow cobblestone streets and shady squares crisscross the old walled town. The shorefront promenade was laden with tropical gardens and a romantic feeling of a lost era with the ornamental historical buildings.

pictured Palace of Justice Monaco

The surrounding streets had a French charisma, the character different from the Italian towns we had visited. The houses stood side by side along narrow alleys, linked by vaulted passageways. The walking is easy if you are a mountain goat. As everywhere in Europe, you are either climbing up steep irregularly spaced cobblestone steps,or descending the same.

Century old houses display wrought Iron balconies with marble  frescoes and bas reliefs decorating the facades of the brick buildings.

Cathedrale de Monaco, with its many statues was built with white stones, the Roman-Byzantine cathedral is the burial site for the former Princess. Inside are masterpieces by Rubens.

Monaco maintains its charm in unusual ways. Garbage is collected by horse and cart

 

Place du Palais

We emerged into a huge square, Place du Palais, where the palace stood, a guard at his post.

The Palais du Prince (Prince's Palace)

The Grimaldi family has ruled from the palace since 1297. The ceremonial changing of the guard takes place every day and the people were lined up by the thousands well in advance of the spectacle. Around the castle canons and canon balls were piled high.

Formula One Grand Prix

We could not go to Monaco without seeing the legendary Monte Carlo and the site of the famous Formula One Grand Prix. Despite his sore back, Gord struggled a walk up the long hill, part of the Formula One racetrack.  Below we could see an amazing view of modern Monaco and Monte Carlo's highrises.


The Musee of Oceanography is a highly decorative building adorned with many nautical themed sculptures

The road was line with expensive boutiques of the top names in luxury, designer clothing - Armani, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, Dolce, Gucci and the like.

Monte Carlo

A walk through a garden pathway
and a very unusual fountain with a
globe reflecting the famous casino,
led us to the million dollar parking lot.

 

Million Dollar Vehicles

Gord was gob-smacked at the showcase of iron: Lamborghinis, Rolls Royce, Bentleys, Ferraris. Mercedes, Porches, etc all in one spot, many with its chauffeur guarding and polishing!

 

The Hotel de Paris, equally famous as the Casino, supplies all the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo.

Established in 1863, the casino in Monte Carlo is the most famous location in the world for roulette, poker and blackjack, with an annual tournament that has the richest potential winnings in Europe.

Although we were not dressed to enter the posh Casino, which is black tie only, we opted for a nearby Slot Machine venue to try our luck. We tried our luck (very briefly) The Bay Casino, the lower class version for us non-high rollers, had slots that you could play from 1 Euro cent but it did not take us long to whip through a 5 Euro note. Taking our losses in stride, we bolted!

Nice

August 12

We took a bus to Nice and enjoyed some of the countryside enroute. We were surprises at how much we loved Nice as it was not at all what we expected. The capital of the Riviera and fifth largest city in France, covers a large area, with modern downtown highrises, large tall apartment blocks and an enormous beach front. But we concentrated our itinerary in the smaller area of Vieux Nice (old Town) and was enthralled by the Baroque style and character the area presented.


The medieval rabbit warren of the Old Town, the Italianate facades and exuberant ambiance of winding lanes choc with boutiques, patisseries, restaurants and touristy knickknacks. But Nice seems to have retained mementos from its ancient past, when the Romans ruled the region from here, and earlier still, when the Greeks founded the city.

 

There are two things that it seems all French towns have in common: graffiti and doggy doo-doo. The spray painted  disfigurements of ancient buildings is a disgrace and you really have to watch where you step! ,

pictured right: Place Rosetti is home to the baroque cathedral Saint RĂ©parate


 

The Municipal Museum of Nice, formerly the 17th century baroque Palais Lascaris, with its vaulted ceilings and baroque stairwells set off in rich pinks, gold and alabaster. The building contained rich furnishings and tapestries and Italian ceiling paintings and a replica of what a French Pharmacy looked like in the 19th century


drawers of medicinal concoctions

Hotel Negresco is the most elegant hotel in Nice France

Many sidewalk cafes

Palace of Justice

Spanish arches

Provencal style boutiques

Tangle of 18th century passageways


August 14/09

After a couple more days at anchor, we finally moved on and had a slow sail (not wanting to use our expensive diesel fuel) sailed along what looked like an impregnable topography of coastline.

We had intended to stop at Antibes but the urban sprawl of buildings, highrises and traffic did not appeal to us. We continued around the headland but the hustle and bustle was even worse as Cannes came into view

Adjacent to Cannes, we took shelter beside a little island which was a marine reserve, Iles de Porquerolles in the group of Iles d'Hyeres adorned with an impressive castle lit up on the shore. The anchorage, with its steep to coast, was crowded but we found a hole and by the time the sun plopped into the sea, we were all settled in. We had a peaceful, good night's sleep on unwrinkled water. We did not go ashore.

August 15/09 St. Tropez - with a carpet of green hilly slopes patterned  by white homes

There was only very light SW winds so we motored along the carpeted coastline of green hilly slopes patterned by white homes. A pair of dolphins, diving and blowing with that little gasp they give as they surface, followed our wake.

Tuna were jumping all around when suddenly we saw a light blue patch of water that looked like a shallow reef! Panicking to change course, suddenly the patch moved! It was a whale just under the surface!!

30 miles from St. Tropez a light breeze from the NE (rare) forced us to set our sails to our least favorite configuration, wing on wing. The wash from all the boat traffic made for very sloppy seas and with each passing of a motor boat, Ascension bobbled and rolled, knocking the wind out of the sails. Bang! Slam! Pop! Enough to drive one insane!


St Tropez

We dropped the anchor in the busy harbor adjacent to St. Tropez just as the sun was setting. All around us were mega power yachts and bigger toys of the "Bigger Boys."

August 15

We moved around the bay trying to find a settled anchorage. The washing machine water created by the wake from all the power boats, yacht and ferries constantly coming and going made for a very uncomfortable afternoon. All around our tiny home, huge yachts, mostly power boats, we felt like a pea on a plate of carrots!

The building on the shoreline of St. Tropez were unexpectedly unpretentious. I would have thought I would be seeing expensive sprawling villas and modern high rise buildings. But the captivating building with the graceful church steeple overshadowing a quaint looking town with a little beach was very appealing.

Once again we were treated to shows from the French Aerobatic Team as fighter jets in formation with trails of colored smoke left a wake in the sky. That evening, after all the boats had departed to points unknown (where DO they all go at night??) and the sea settled, another grandioso display of fireworks was a perfect ending to the day.


Next morn we anchored closer to the town of St Tropez and took the tender to the marina. As far as we could ascertain, St. Tropez is all about how much wealth one can display and the superyachts that are flaunted by the very rich, or the wannabies. A huge display of affluence--older people, crooks, tax exiles? Who else can afford such luxury! Ashore, it was shopping, shopping, shopping. French fashion, big names. There was a market going on but the crowds were so ferocious that we fled to the back streets for a quieter explore of the old town.

The Old Town of St. Tropez was nothing like I expected. Not glitz or luxury, just high prices in an old French town that was probably quaint and charming not long ago, before the hoards of tourist made their invasion, flooding the streets to capacity.

We stood in line at a bakery for a baguette and returned to the boat for lunch and a reprieve from the maddening crowds.


After a few trips to town we soused out the famous beaches, where the Stars hang out!


August 17/09

We set sail for the Balearic group of Islands, stopping at some islands off the coast of France because we did not have any breeze to sail. Taking a chance on the light wind weather forecast, we did manage a slow sail and motor making the 230 miles to the Balearic Islands (Spain) in 3 days and 2 nights. We had several whale sightings and caught a tuna (which got away).

Under a sliver of a moon, it was a quiet night, with the usual radio chatter, the fishermen using the radio like 5 year olds, making rude, grunting  and animal noises and clogging up channel 16 which is supposed to be an emergency channel. It amazes me how this phenomenon is common throughout the world. We have heard this nightly bantering on both hemispheres in every language!

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