Touring Toulon

Toulon, France:

We arrived in Toulon France today at 8:00 am. We have backtracked on this trip and this city is actually the beginning of the French Riviera or Cote d’Azure as they call it in France. The furthest to the Northwest that we’ve been on this trip since Marseille.  We are on a tour called Le Castellet and Sanary Sur Mer. We will drive to Le Castellet which takes about 45 minutes. Then, we’ll drive to Sanary in about 30 minutes and check out the sites there.

Margaret still wasn’t feeling too confident about her condition to leave the room on a tour so I went to La Veranda for a quick breakfast and stopped by the coffee shop to get her a hot English Breakfast tea on the way back to the room. She tasted the tea and thought there was something wrong with the hot water so I went back down and had the barrista make another for me with his hot water rather than that from the automatic machine. It was acceptable. She had decided she was staying back and would meet me at 1:00 for the afternoon tour.

The ship had docked about a half hour late because the pilot boat was late. Each port a pilot boat comes out and a guy gets off while our ship is moving and jumps aboard.  He goes up to the bridge and helps guide the ship into the port.  I enjoy watching this process happen in most ports.  As I was watching on the walking deck 12 I could see the ship was dead in the water for at least 20 minutes waiting for the pilot to arrive. So, there was a mass of people in the theater waiting for the their numbers to be called and I was number 12…the last one. No bother, we just left 30 minutes late but still managed to get back to the theater on time.

The bus drove on somewhat windy (or is that winedy when it is driving through vineyards) roads although not nearly what we had on our trip around Monaco. Lots of terraced hillsides with olive trees and vineyards. This was Bandol territory, a part of Provence that makes what many feel is the best Rose in the world. I would certainly agree. After the 40 minute bus ride we arrived at the hilltop, walled city of Le Castellet. Another walk up a hill, through the entrance gates that once had a gate to stop the Saracen hoards from entering, and up more hills lined with shops and cafes. Painters, antiques, soaps, perfumes, bakeries and other such stuff were intermixed with locals selling all types of stuff, which appeared to be their houses in what seemed to be a never ending parade of garage sales although there wasn’t a garage in sight.  I had to wonder how some of the people, who had their selling spots nowhere near a house how they got all their wares up the hill to areas right outside the hilltop church. The views from the top were rather spectacular, looking out over vineyard after vineyard in the valley.

The church was built right next to the palace and was interesting in that it had two churches in one with a gothic one running parallel and open to another Roman style church. Pretty basic as churches go in these parts but still beautiful. After viewing some artists working on their paintings, one who does almost all his work with pallet knives, I decided to walk around the entire city quickly, then doubled back to a café I had seen at the beginning of our walk that had some water misters to keep the heat down. I ordered a latte and did some people watching in between the mists that emitted every 30 seconds. A nice relaxing time.

As always, the time to depart came quicker than it should have and I headed back down the hill to the bus and arrived right on time at 11:10, with two people still to come.  Par for the course on bus tours.  We drove down the hill towards Sanary Sur Mer (Sanary by the Sea), an ancient seaside town. It took only 15 minutes to arrive to the coast, with the famous (to me anyway) city of Bandol on a peninsula just to the north and sandy beaches lining the shore to the south towards Sanary, a town that originally had just 27 fisherman. They used the small colorful boats I had seen having the regatta on our first stop in St. Tropez and, in fact, I saw several of the very same boats tied up to the dock that I’d taken pictures just a couple days ago.  Pretty cool!  Stepping off the bus there was a covered market that takes place every day of the week in Sanary. Beautiful, well-priced vegetables, fruits, olives, meats and flowers and a few fishermen that had small stands next to their boats with fish so fresh their mouths were still gasping for air!  They were starting to pack them in bags, probably taking them to local restaurants at the end of the open-air market time.

I walked to the end of town to the old church and stuck my head in a service that was just finishing mass. The air smelled of incense and small children (the children didn’t actually have a smell) were starting to line the ocean-front exit to the church. I was then blessed with witnessing a procession of, first, small children being cajoled by sisters dressed in beige and white gowns, then older boys and girls, the priest carrying a fancy cross with lots of gold and jewels and with a canopy carried over him by four men, then the rest of the congregation, all singing what must have been popular church songs in French. They walked a few blocks down the waterfront to a raised pagoda where they sang some more songs and the priest gave a short sermon.

I found a café right next to where this was taking place and had some nice local Rose and some green olives.  It was good and the people watching was even better.  More relaxed, I paid my check and walked through the market again back to the bus. Margaret called on the way back and we agreed to meet at 1:00 pm in La Veranda.

Turns out I walked into the café at exactly 1:00 and found Margaret on the back deck already eating her lunch. I loaded up my plate and by 1:15 had downed it all along with a glass of Rosé.  Margaret wasn’t drinking which was not a good sign. Although she looked fantastic she said that she wasn’t up for a bus ride, which wasn’t surprising. The afternoon tour was going to be almost a repeat of what I had done in the morning except it was just to another hilltop village so I didn’t need to go, especially without her. I gave my tickets to a couple I found heading down to the tour and asked them to turn ours into the tour guide so they wouldn’t wait for us.

We both picked out some hard copy books in the library, I picked up an espresso from the barrista and we headed back to the room for a relaxing time reading our books and taking a nap. The air was pretty still on a lazy, warm day on our deck where we both fell asleep. When I woke up I went inside and worked on writing this post, read a bit more and before you know it, it was 4:00 pm.

We had an invitiation to have dinner with the Staff Captain but Margaret had already cancelled it. So, it will be Compass Rose by ourselves again tonight, hopefully, having a Pink Flower with Mihaela before dinner if Margaret is feeling up to it. It really is a shame that she has been sick so much of this cruise. I think she has only gotten off the ship two days out of the 11 days we’ve been on the cruise so far!  Not much a vacation for her.  But then, maybe it has been more of a vacation for her than going on constant bus rides that I’ve been subjected to?

I would guess that this may be the end of our going on cruises for quite a while as it seems that she has reached her limit for group tours and maybe that has been the cause of her illnesses?  It might be time to rent a house in Provence and take day tours on trains into the surrounding areas once in a while?  Going into town in the morning to gather up fresh vegetables, meats and fish, buying local Rose for $6 a bottle and making our own meals in a nice farm house?  Doesn’t sound so bad really.  The best part of the cruise for her by far was the trip to the Provence countryside.

One thing’s for sure. All of these seaside cities we have visited are very similar when you are taking day trips to them.  The early founders of these cities intentionally built them with similar architecture because that’s what they liked, the weather is the same and you could reach almost all of them within an hour train ride for probably $5.  So, having a house inland a bit would be a great way to do what we have done from a cruise ship.  The rest of the trip would validate this opinion.

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