France to Spain: August 2 2010
Phew, our hard work paid off with a successfully replaced cutlass bearing in Toulon...and just two days out of the water. Aches and pains remained but we were ecstatic as we headed to dinner at the marina restaurant (July 14). It was Bastille Day (French Independence Day) which added a little extra celebration to the air. Restaurant owner Romdon was his fun, mischievous self and gave us the thumbs-up for our completed work. We feasted on salad topped with warm goat cheese and a plate of french fries. Oh, and some chilled rosé wine from nearby Bandol...very good. Who knew rosé could taste so good?! July 15 at 8.30am we paid our marina bill and were ready to go back into the water (ouch...at 16.40 euros per SQUARE meter that's a total of $1800...nearly triple any other haul out we have ever had). But all and all we had no complaints about Port Pin Roland Marina...no dramas and a real first rate, professional place to be hauled. Just before Noon we were on our way again. Yippee! We headed back to the idyllic National Park islands of Hyeres. If St Tropez is the motor yacht center of the French coast...Hyeres is its sail boat center. This time of year the focus is purely recreational. However, in the Spring the focus is Olympic level racing which often attracts more than a thousand sailors from fifty countries. The concentration of sail boats was obvious to us and winds were favorable enough that we got to sail to the islands, too. This time we opted for Langoustier Bay on Porquerolles Island (www.porquerolles.com). It is a lovely spot. There are no structures visible ashore except for beach umbrellas. The anchorage, while rollicking during the day, thins out peacefully at night. It was an early night for us...almost beating the sun to bed.
The next day it was again clear and sunny so we dinghied to shore (July 16). We wandered the trails and made it into the main port town where ferries from Toulon bring loads of day trippers. No cars allowed means that bicycles are the mode of transportation. And yikes, judging from several mishaps, it has been a looonnggg time since some people have been on a bike. Dirt trails dotted with vibrant bougainvillea and colorful oleander connect anchorages. A chorus of cicadas fill the air day and night. Pine and eucalyptus forests give way to vineyards. And quietly tucked just beyond the beach of Langoustier Bay is the hotel Le Mas du Langoustier with its one Michelin star rated restaurant (www.langoustier.com). We decided a multi-course French dinner would be a delicious way to continue soaking up French culture. Our reservation was at 8pm and what a time we had in the open air (literally, no walls) dining room perched above the bay with a direct sight line to a long abandoned fortress that glowed orange in the setting sun. And sand between our toes after the beach landing was magical. Salad of tomato stuffed with mozzarella soufflé; artichoke ravioli with garlic pesto; fish with avocado, coriander and passion fruit; steak beside grilled garlic and peppers and potato towers. And then there were the small bites (amuse-bouches) which magically appeared along the way; hot pea and mushroom soup served in a small fluted glass and silky fois gras topped with frothy truffle foam in a tiny demi tasse glass with mini-spoon. Wow! All finished with a collection of three chocolates and coffee. A slow walk back to the dinghy under a blanket of stars was truly amazing.
Sadly, we could not linger at the island anchorage due to forecasted strong Mistral winds that required us to find a new anchorage. Off we went at 7am for a bumpy ride heading west along the French coast to La Ciotat...moving from the Cote d'Azur to the Provence region (July 17). We anchored securely just off the beach in 18 feet with a sand bottom and excellent holding. The north winds came but we slept soundly through the night. A Sunday morning stroll through La Ciotat was like peeling back layers of an onion. The further into the town we walked...the more and more charming the town became. Shipyards gave way to an old port from which cobbled streets lined with shuddered windows meandered further inward. Butchers and spice shops and veggie stands and sidewalk cafes dotted the narrow streets...we soon had dinner wrapped up...roasted chicken with baguette and camembert cheese. Winds continued throughout the next day keeping us snug at the beach of La Ciotat (July 18).
Mirror smooth conditions greeted us in the morning which made for a gentle motor around the corner to Cassis (July 19). The coastline took on images of an eagle and other forms created from windswept cocoa colored stone. Spectacular. We nosed Barefeet into the miniscule harbor of Cassis to top up with diesel...possibly our last until Gibraltar. It was a tight fit but we maneuvered just fine. Then it was out to the Bay of Cassis. This is a stunning anchorage; water below is so clear that we can see the ripples of sand on the bottom at 20 feet, rocketing stone cliffs dotted with pines provide the backdrop and a narrow beach ashore rounds out the surrounding area. Erin made a provisioning run into town while Chris changed the oil in both engines. Both back aboard we relaxed until heading into town for dinner. A regional dish that we quite like is moules frites (mussels and french fries). Mussels are steamed in a delicious broth and served piled high in a two part bowl whose lid functions as a trash bin for used shells...clever. The aroma is wonderful and any broth that remains at the bottom is sopped up with bread or slurped up with a spoon...it's the best part (but watch out for sand). We decided upon Le Perroquet beside the quai (www.leperroquetcassis.com). It is a bit of a factory with 1kg of moules with frites churned out for 8.50 euros over and over again but the taste is marvelous. Broth choice is tough deciding between mariniere (garlic, shallots, white wine), cream, curry or roquefort. We muddled through and had a fun time in the energetic spot.
The coast from Cassis to Marseille consists of steep limestone that meets up directly with the sea (www.ot-cassis.com). This limestone has been carved out by streams and winter run-off to form fjord-like inlets...called calanques. We spent several hours dinghying into them and hiking atop them (July 20). The water seems extra cold which moderates the summer temperature nicely. The Port Miou calanque is bordered by a catwalk along either side from which boats are moored cheek to jowl. We thought about bringing Barefeet inside but the nearly constant tour boat traffic create quite a slop of wakes...no fun. Port Miou used to be an active and prolific quarry from which its white stone was sent far and wide; including Egypt's Suez Canal (oh, nasty flashback). Drinks ashore gave Erin a chance to sample her kir vin blanc cocktail at its local best...Bourgogne white wine with crème de cassis. We watched a promenade of returning beachgoers and spiffed-up out to dinner folks. Dinner was another fun night with delicious food at Restaurant Le Bonaparte (14 rue General Bonaparte, ph 0442018084). Also, we again made friends with neighbor diners and chatted about France, food and the USA...good job with the language Erin (thanks Mom and Dad...the university semester in Paris was worth it).
Mistral winds were brewing which had us scratching our heads about where to go next (July 21). Winds were expected to start from the south then rotate around and come from the north...then really blow at traditional Mistral strength (25+ knots). We went back and forth between anchorages with Barefeet before finally settling for the night at Morgiret Bay in the Frioul Islands (www.monuments-nayionaux.fr). It is a lovely spot but space is tight with deep depths and rock wall borders. We anchored firmly in 50 feet of depth with a clear view to the bottom...terrific. But this spot was only good for the south winds. We would soon need to find a new spot. We took the ferry into Marseille (pronounced mar-say) and stumbled into the Societe Nautique de Marseille (www.lanautique.com). It is a lovely sailing club that has been around since 1887. After inquiring about vacancies we found that we were in luck because a member was out and about until mid-August which meant that they had a vacant slip for us. Yippee! Plus, protected anchorages are scarce in this neighborhood. The closest one we could find would have cost 40 euros for both of us to get in/out of Marseille via train. And since our Marseille slip was priced at 70 euros per day we thought it was a good decision to tie up (water and power were included in the slip price, too). We brought Barefeet into the storied old port of Marseille and were tied snug (July 22). Wow! Marseille is an exciting city bursting with diversity. It is the oldest city in France and the second most populated (Paris is no.1) with trade being its eternal reason to be. The city has been a crossroads for Europeans, Arabs and Africans throughout its history. Street markets overflow with Egyptian take out; Moroccan tagines and cous cous; Italian pizza; Turkish kebabs; Arab spice markets; endless tables of fresh fruits and vegetables; mounds of seafood with both fins and shells...and native populations to match; dressed in European tailoring, burka (with face showing) and colorful African prints wound around bodies and heads. We are thrilled to have a few days in this lively port town.
The stress of finding a secure place for Barefeet had us wrung out so we hid from the baking sun until 8pm when we headed to La Nautique, the restaurant of our temporary yacht club home. It was difficult to concentrate on the food with such an amazing view of the old port at sunset...we feel good. Our first glimpse of Marseille as we entered the harbor was the amazing Cathedrale de la Major (built in 1886). We walked over to it. It is in the Panier neighborhood and, amazingly, we were the only people looking at the impressive Roman Catholic Basilica. Its present location has been a site for cathedrals since the fifth century. The "current" cathedral cut no corners in the creation of a massively grand structure; several architectural domes, entirely paved interior with mosaics, towering ceilings, elaborately painted off shoot chapels...and we were the ONLY people there. The emptiness was a stark contrast to our visit to Notre Dame de la Garde (consecrated 1864)...so crowded that movement was limited to en masse packed like sardines (July 24). Notre Dame de la Garde (also called the good mother, la bonne mere) is considered the protectress of this seaside city and is thus filled with offerings and plaques from grateful sailors who survived the treacherous ocean waters. The basilica sits atop the highest point of the city and is topped by a 27 foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary with child (bronze gilded with gold leaf by the Christofle workshops). The interior is covered with spectacular, elaborate mosaic scenes of peacocks and parrots sitting on flowered vines surrounded by panels of tiny, golden tiles. Mobiles of ships are suspended from the ceiling and colored marbles created candy cane-esque structural arches. During our visit the wind howled at 30+ knots with ocean white caps visible even from our distant perch...clearly emphasizing the power of the sea in this notoriously shipwreck laden area of the Med. Boy are we glad to be tied up INSIDE the Marseille harbor.
The winds continue to roar through the narrow, wind tunnel streets created by three and four story buildings built without a smidgen of gap between them. Nearly knocked off our feet at times the wind strength is amazing. In preparation for our visit to France Erin read My Life in France by Julia Child (after enjoying Julie & Julia by Julie Powell). The book related fun-loving tales from Julia's time spent in Paris, Marseille and Provence...including fond memories of Bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse is much lauded in this region but we have reached our seafood limit with this offering and are simply not interested in the hearty fish stew, sorry Julia. However, it is heralded on every corner. Julia Child attributed its "uniqueness to two thing; (1) soup base of garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel and (2) the fish - lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish (including octopus and sea urchin)." That's okay, I would still like to pick up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.
We kept up our zig zag exploration through the streets which showed evidence of a slowed economy and increased unemployment with locked metal shutters rolled over store fronts and faded and flaking paint. However, these facts do not dim our view of Marseille. It is a gritty town with tons of character and flavorful food. Pizzaria Etienne is a local joint found within the maze of streets in the Panier district (43 rue de Lorette). Their pizza specialty is topped with thick tomato sauce, cheese, whole olives (careful, pits remain) and anchovies (we skipped the anchovies). Additionally, we had pan-fried squid with garlic and parsley served with a mustard vinaigrette salad...all served family style. We finished off with a tarte tatin (apple tart) heated up in the wood fired oven and topped with vanilla ice cream. Yum! All good but continued strong winds meant there was no need for us to move further along the coast (July 26). More strolling and we came upon Maison Empereur. It is a cavernous shop filled with various cooking implements; bowls, pans, knives...copper, wood, cast iron...you name it and it is here...and has been since 1827 (4 rue des Recolettes, www.empereur.fr). A little extra time in Marseille has allowed us to see more of the inner workings of the city. And one issue does cause us great confusion...hours of operation for the average store or restaurant. Hours seem to lack all rhyme or reason. For example, a restaurant open for dinner one night and packed to the gills...is shut the next day...and only open for lunch the third day. Is it only popular because it is Tuesday?! Hours are rarely posted so we just wander until we find a restaurant that is open...in any case dinner does not begin until 8pm. Yikes?! Ah well, this schedule gives us free afternoons for boat projects. We have cleaned Barefeet inside and out, rigged a down haul for the main sail, cleaned the fridge and attempted to reduce the condensation that accumulates (installed additional foam at the door closure and installed a water gutter inside). Free water and power has really made Barefeet shine.
The Gulf du Lion was living up to its strong wind reputation, known as the mistral. Mistral winds howl at their greatest strength down the Rhone valley and into the gulf...from the north. Additionally, winds originating in the south quickly create steep seas in the relatively shallow depths (approx 200 feet). Directional wind change can be rapid and result in very confused seas. Weather can be fine in the Med...or even in nearby Cassis...but the Gulf du Lion will be blowing 30+ knots. We were in just such a mistral period as we were looking for a window to cross from France to Spain. A narrow window of time opened and we were off. We tossed the lines at Societe Nautique de Marseille at 7.30pm...gauging that the winds had died enough for us to make it to an anchorage off of Rouet just 12 miles away (July 27). It was a bumpy ride until we had protection from the land which pleasantly reduced the waves. We anchored at dusk in an already visited spot knowing that the sandy bottom was free of hazards. It was a protected anchorage to spend the night so we settled into an anchor dram and watched the full moon rise over Notre Dame de la Garde of Marseille. It was wonderful to be at anchor again. The next morning dawned with calm conditions so we hauled the anchor up early at 7am (July 28). Our plan was to hug the coast for a bit of protection rather than cross at the center of the Gulf. This added 40 miles to our trip but, hopefully, it would also make it more comfortable. We sailed for a few hours in the beginning but mostly we motored. Sadly, the most uncomfortable period...like a washing machine...was during the night as we tried in vain to sleep. But the discomfort quickly moved to the rear view mirror as we pulled into Cadaques, Spain (July 29). And a perfectly timed downpour cleaned the salt off the decks - thanks, Mother Nature.
Wow - this is our fourth country in four months! Spain's courtesy flag replaced that of France...but no check-in needed, this is still the EU...and we were into yet another language. We were a vocabulary mess ashore...stumped even about how to say a simple, "Hello." Bonjour, ciao, yas, buenos dias?! Not to mention "yes..." Was that si, oui, neh?! The resulting sounds that passed between our lips were an unintelligible, garbled mix of all four languages at the same time. Take it slow, take it slow...that was our new mantra. We have heard wonderful things about the diversity of provisions in Spain which meant one of our first activities was checking out a supermarket. Wow...we saw Oscar Meyer hot dogs, Eagle brand beer nuts, Cutex nail polish remover and Hellman's mayonnaise...things we have not seen collectively for years...and this is only a small tourist town. Imagine when we arrive in Barcelona?!
Cadaques is a lovely fishing village with only a narrow, two-lane road for access...except from the sea (approx 20 miles from the French border). Although prosperous in the 14th century it was later taken over by Turkish Corsairs, the French, Algerian pirates, the British and finally by the Spanish. The main harbor was filled with mooring balls so we tucked over to the quiet, western corner to anchor (Cala Conca). We took a short walk to neighboring Port Lligat Bay on winding roads through rugged countryside (July 30). Oh, and snacked on some just ripe blackberries not yet discovered by the birds. Port Lligat was the summer residence for surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-89) and his wife Gala. Eccentric Dali has been described as "outrageous, talented, relentlessly self-promoting and unfailingly quotable." Our knowledge of Dali is quite limited with our most vivid Dali-isms being his melting clocks. However, we saw the rocky coast of Port Lligat represented in his art as well as eggs and silver heads dotting his property...we guess that the sea became boring after 40 years of residence?! Sadly, we could not tour the house because reservations are mandatory and all was full when we arrived (www.salvador-dali.org). That's okay, it was a nice walk along a beautiful coast.
July 31 we continued west along the Costa Brava coast of Spain in south-southwest winds. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, anchorages with protection from south winds along this stretch of coast which meant we just had to lump it and take a rolly anchorage as we moved ever closer to Barcelona. Playa Treumal was a popular daytime beach with multi-colored umbrellas scattered on the sand like jelly beans. We dropped the anchor but knew that "calm" was not in the cards for us tonight. We tried to sleep but became so discouraged that we pulled up the anchor at 3am for the final 36 miles to Barcelona. We were tied up at Port Vell Marina by 10am in smooth water smack in the center of Barcelona (August 1). Wow! Our sea approach provided a panoramic view of the city's sprawl as well as its wildly diverse architecture; from Gaudi's ornate La Sagrada Familia to its sleek and modern business towers like Torre Agbar (looks like a giant pickle) or the Vell Hotel (resembles a slice of watermelon). There will be a lot to see and eat. We are thrilled to have Chris' parents, Hugh and Fran, join us on August 3 when, together, we will explore Barcelona for approximately two weeks before Erin and Chris head offshore to Spain's Balearic Islands.