VIVA LA FRANCE!

September 6th, 2012 1 comment

In keeping with the notion of “saving the best for last”, we visited the South of France during our last season in the Med. 

Our port of entry to France was Menton. . .

with an Old Port surrounded by pastel buildings.

I confess that I have been a Franco-phile for years, having spent some memorable times on Pampelonne Beach in St. Tropez and driving through the French countryside with classical music floating through the air.

In fact, what I wanted for retirement was a small house in the South of France, with a little garden and maybe a few grape vines or olive trees.  That was before I met and fell in love with Kent, a sailor, who couldn’t envision himself as a “farmer”.  So, we ended up on Destiny in the Med. . .and here we are four years and 15,000 miles later.

Since Destiny was shipped to Genoa, Italy our adventure started there and we headed east.  Now that our journey takes us back west, I realized my dream of anchoring off Pampelonne Beach in St. Tropez and going ashore to Moorea for lunch by beach club launch.

As is often the case with revisiting places you haven’t seen for several years, St. Tropez had changed.  Or perhaps it was my view of St. Tropez that changed more signigicantly.  In the past I had visited this part of the world by land–from the sea it was totally different.

St. Tropez from the bay. . .no traffic.

More serene, less harried–I certainly did not miss the crowds and traffic.

Sunset at Iles des Porquerelles. . .it doesn't get more tranquil than this.

We anchored off Cap Ferrat, spent days in Cannes wandering little back streets, and hopscotched from the tiny kingdom of Monaco to St. Tropez, Ile des Porquerelles and Bandol.  Along the way we savored Cote d’ Provence rose wines, and fine French cheese.

It was a less hurried visit than on prior occasions.  It felt decadent to be soaking up the same sun, enjoy the same soothing water as the mega-yachts that dominate the coast.

Our French sojourn began the end of June and extended through early August–high season in this part of the world.

From Menton we quickly went to Cannes, where our friends JoAnn and David Duquette were just wrapping up their annual visit to the South of France.  I had been through Cannes on several occasions, but never had ventured beyond La Crossiette, the main street along the beachfront.

We anchored off the beach by the Carleton Hotel where JoAnn and David were guests. . .

and were their guests for lunch at an elegant beachside restaurant the next day.

At the Duquettes’ recommendation we returned to Cannes for Bastille Day which was the following week.  We spent almost a week in or nearby Cannes and had a chance to explore its sights. 

Cannes has a fabulous daily market. . .

with fruits and vegetables so perfect they hardly look real.

We arranged to be in Port du Cannes marina for Bastille Day where the afternoon entertainment was watching mega-yachts dock. . .

after touring the neighborhood including the festooned Hotel d' Ville--the city hall. . .

but high winds on 7/14 delayed the fireworks. . .

until Jolie's birthday on 7/17. . .which we celebrated with Prosecco.

We were in Cannes for July 4th as well and dressed ship as we always do for this holiday, although the wind came up and we had to bring the flags down before sunset.  We also toured the Fort overlooking the marina and saw a U.S. warship anchored off shore, with ship’s colors flying.

From Destiny, we could see the Fort. . .

and from the Fort we could see the entire marina and waterfront.

A U.S. warship was anchored off Cannes on July 4th. . .it was good to see USA colors flying.

We actually left Port du Cannes for Monaco on July 4th planning to spend the holiday in the Old Port just under the Prince’s Palace.  After docking and once again putting up our signal flags for the holiday, we discovered that we couldn’t hook up the electric and promptly left–we weren’t in the mood to sit at the dock in July 4th heat without air conditioning.  

Berthed in the old harbor of Monaco. . .for an hour.

While anchored off Cannes we were approached by a boat selling wine and champagne–by the bottle or the case.  Couldn’t resist the Cote d’ Provence rose.  We had seen ice cream vendors in anchorages, but this was a first. 

Only in Cannes do you find boats selling wine and champagne in the anchorage. . .with free wine tastings!

. . .but Kent says they can't compete with the ice cream "dolly" in Villefranche.

Iles Ste.  Marguerite is one of two islands just off the coast of Cannes and a popular anchorage.  There is a Fort Royal on the island with a great view of Cannes. 

Fort Royal on Ile Ste. Marguerite is the fort where the "Man in the Iron Mask" was imprisoned.

Another favorite spot east of Cannes was Cap Ferrat. 

We anchored several days off an incredible estate at Cap Ferrat. . .

where there is a seaside path all around the cape.

Cap Ferrat attracts boats both big and small.

An opti fleet. . .

shares the bay with Le Grand Bleu (carrying a sailboat the size of Destiny on its deck). . .

and Maltese Falcon one of the largest sailboats in the world which we saw in St. Barth, the Aeolian Islands and again at Cap Ferrat.

We worked our way west along the French coast to Bandol, a lovely coastal town.

On the promanade near the Bandol Town Square is a bronze statue of the mythical Pan playing his flute. . .

but part of Pan's anatomy also gets a lot of "play".

Bandol has an active artist community with local artists and craftsmen selling their wares along the quay in the evening.  During the day there is a daily market.

The market has local delicacies. . .

including Paella "to go".

A Monty Python character said “Oh, those French. . .they have a word for everything!”  I have my own variation: “Oh, those French. . .they are so FRENCH!”  It is true the French have an “attitude” that some people (Kent among them) find “off putting”. . .but I find their joie d’ vie endearing.

Perhaps, it is the fact that we have a little white Coton de Tulear, but I have always found the French to be warm and agreeable. 

No one can resist Jolie. . .

even napping she is so cute!

I suspect many French are of the opinion:  “Oh those Americans. . .they are so AMERICAN!”

Nonetheless, I can’t think of a better place to be in summer than the South of France.  Who knows maybe there is a little cottage in the South of France in my future yet.

Categories: Europe, France Tags:

THE OTHER SARDINIA

July 23rd, 2012 No comments

There is more to Sardinia than La Madellena Islands and Costa Smeralda as we discovered enroute north from Tunisia along the West Coast of Sardinia.

In June, 2009, shortly after we arrived in the Med we crossed the Straits of Bonifacio that separate Corsica from Sardinia and spent some time in La Maddalena Islands, one of many nature preserves in Italy.  We also ventured south along the east coast along Costa Smeralda and spent a couple of days anchored in Porto Cervo before the mega-yachts had arrived for the season.

La Maddalena is flat sandy islands amind rocky outcroppings, while Costa Smeralda and Port Cervo with elegant, pastel houses on a tree covered coast with cascades of bougainvillea are reminiscent of mainland Italy. 

Isola Caprera Anchorage, La Maddalena, Sardinia--rocks and sand

. . .while Porto Cervo is elegant homes and mega-yachts.

In contrast, the southwest shore of Sardinia was more like the wild, rugged coastline of Corsica, its northern neighbor.

At 5:30 a.m. the sunrises after our overnight passage. . .

then "Land-ho" Sardinia. . .

and the first of many Roman towers that dot the coast.

We arrived at Cap Malfatano near Teluda, Sardinia after a 24 hour overnight sail from Cap Bon, Tunisia.  The anchorage was off a white sand beach, with turquoise water.

Our first anchorage in Sardinia. . .a small cove near Capo Malfantano.

After resting for the day and catching up on sleep the next morning, we headed north to the island of Carleforte.  There are numerous small islands on the west side of Sardinia as well, although apparently not as well known as the La Maddelena Islands.

The passage to Carleforte harbor is very shallow, and as a result other than ferries that shuttle vacationers between the mainland and the island, there are no mega-yachts to be seen. 

Most people arrive in Carloforte by ferry from the mainland. . .

and are greeted by pastel buildings and palm trees that line the main street.

Carleforte is a charming little village with ancient plane trees in the square.

Old men sit in the square and socialize. . .

while the younger set enjoy gelato.

There are festivals during  the summer months throughout Italy.  Flags were strung across the narrow streets of Carleforte in preparation.  

This flag display made us particularly proud.

Unfortunately, the passage north along the coast is against the prevailing summer NW wind, which meant lay days along the way waiting for the wind to be light enough that we could motor (Kent hates that word) into it.  We have accepted that in the Med there is either no wind, too much wind, or it is blowing from the direction we wish to go.

Kent is happy when he gets to set his sails.

We left Carleforte early in the day taking advantage of light winds to reach Capo San Marco about 45 NM north.  Another thing about the west coast of Sardinia is that the legs between ports tend to be long.

Capo San Marco was a delightful stop.  Not only were there free moorings in the nature preserve, but they were set just below the Punic-Roman ruins of Tharros.

Our view of the Tharros ruins from Destiny. . .

was as stunning as Destiny framed by the ruins.

 We landed the dinghy at Tharros and climbed over a small fence, but duly paid our admission of  7 euros each.

The ruins extend down a gently sloping peninsula to the sea. . .

but you could say that it has "gone to the dogs".

On the opposite of the Capo was a small beach village and beach with pounding surf.

Some people opted for the beach near the town. . .

while others took a tourist train. . .

to remote stretches of beach that couldn't be reached by car.

Another 47 NM passage took us to the small man-made harbor at Bosa Marina where we were treated to an afternoon kite boarding exhibition.  The wind typically blows strong in the late afternoon—and the kite boarders were taking advantage of the 20 kts. plus to zip through the harbor.

Kite boarders whizzed across the harbor. . .

performing nailbiting aerial jumps. . .

all the while avoiding collisions with several other kite boarders.

By evening, the wind and kite boarders were gone and Bosa Marina delighted us with a tranquil sunset behind an ancient tower that during the day was not nearly so magnificent.

A peaceful end to our day at Bosa Marina, Sardinia

Light wind kept us moving north, so early the next morning we were off on a 24 NM passage to Porto Conte, a large well protected bay inside Capo Caccia marine preserve.

Capo Caccia is at the entrance to Porto Conte. . .

which is part of a marine preserve.

On the outside of Capo Caccia is Neptune’s Grotto which can be reached by boat or a long stairway.

Neptune's Grotto is on the seaward facing side of the cape. . .

and can be gotten to by boat. . .

or a treacherous looking stairway that snakes down the face of the cape.

Landing by dinghy in heavy seas was not an option, so we did not enter the grotto.  The coastline was impressive and the dinghy ride about as much excitement as I needed for the day.

On the bay side of Porto Conte classic boats cruise by ancient towers on a flat azure sea.

After another lay day for strong winds we made a final push north to the Fornelli Passage and the small harbor at Stintino.  Going through the Fornelli Passage between the mainland and another island nature preserve saves about 20 NM enroute to Stintino, but the passage is narrow and very shallow on both sides requiring that you be lined up with two markers.

One of the black and white markers that guided us through Fornelli Passage. . .

to the calm, though shallow anchorage on the other side.

It was a very rough, wet passage but once through the passage, the calm turquoise water was welcome.

When we docked at the marina it was still blowing 18-20 kts. and we made a bow first landing.  By evening the wind had died and we had a welcome dinner ashore at a seaside pizza restaurant called Lu Fanali.

Stintino is a man made harbor with a little beach. . .

local fisherman. . .

and a great little seaside pizza restaurant--Lu Fanali.

All in all, the west coast of Sardinia has been a pleasant surprise.  Lovely towns, great food shopping, ancient ruins,  and NO mega-yachts.

The northwest corner of Sardinia leaves us only half way to the South of France, our next destination.  Since we have already seen the west coast of Corsica we decided to do an overnight passage from here.

Next stop France. . .more to follow.

Categories: Europe, Italy Tags:

OUT OF AFRICA

June 25th, 2012 1 comment

When I thought of Northern Africa, I expected desert and stifling heat.  What we found is a coastline of world class beaches, resorts and quaint towns dominated by Medinas (old walled cities) and Ribats (forts). 

The Tunisian people have been very welcoming.  They are industrious and hard working. 

Since we are heading west to the Caribbean this winter, it is unlkely that we will return to Tunisia by boat.  But I think a camel trek across the Sahara and camping in a Bedouin tent under the stars may be in our future. 

We’ll soon be passaging to France for Bastille Day, but Tunisia has made a lasting impression.

Categories: North Africa, Tunisia Tags:

PILGRIMAGE TO KAIROUAN

June 24th, 2012 No comments

We don’t venture inland often (not often enough in my opinion) so when our paths crossed with fellow cruisers Paul and Gabriella on BellaNova they inspired us to take a daytrip to the ancient city of Kairouan.  They had worked all the logistics and we went along for the ride.  .  .and what a ride it was!

On busy two lane roads, passing is hair raising.

Kairouan is approximately 90 KM from Monastir.  We took a taxi to the bus station near the center of town, where mini-vans (louages) depart for various locations throughout Tunisia.  There is no scheduled departure, so you wait until the van fills up–5 to 8 passengers depending on the size.  For 5.5 Dinar per person, or about $3.25 we were off to Kairouan.

Although there are some four-lane highways running north and south along the coast, once you head inland it is mostly two lanes, which makes for a very interesting ride.  The driver would ride the bumper of the vehicle ahead, ducking his nose out for a passing opportunity.  Most times there was another vehicle coming right at us, but we were back in our lane in the knick of time.  At times it was just best to close your eyes.

Paul had a philosophical approach.  If the driver didn’t get us to Kairouan in one piece he wouldn’t get paid, and if he wrecked his van he loses his livelihood–so he probably knows what he is doing.

So, having described the trip there, you may be wondering WHY GO?

Kairouan, we were to learn, is the fourth most important city in the Islamic world after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem and the site of The Great Mosque. 

A first glimpse of the minaret at the Great Mosque made the trip worthwhile.

After paying 8 TD or about $5.00 we had passes to all the major sites in Kairouan.  Permission to take photos was another Dinar, about $.50.

At one end of the large courtyard is the Minaret, which is unsual in its lighthouse shape design. . .

while at the other end the dome of the Mosque is striking against the blue sky.

This is a solemn religious  site, where non-Muslims are expected to exhibit proper decorum in behavior and dress.  Those appearing without the appropriate clothing–no short skirts, shorts or bare arms for women–are given appropriate, but not stylish coverings to wear.

Graphic t-shirts and shorts require covering. . .

in order to peer in the door of the mosque--"infidels" not allowed inside.

The view from the main entrance of the Great Mosque where the faithful gather for prayers five times a day. . .

while just outside swallows swirl about the courtyard. . .

as seen through the many keyhole arches that support the arcades that surround the courtyard.

A friendly Tunisian man,  hoping for a few Dinar tip, offered to show us through the maze-like Medina of narrow streets where artists and craftsmen weave silk scarves on wooden looms, hammer brass into lamps or trays, and cut and hand stitch leather into Aladdin-like shoes with curled toes.   The town has the mythical feel of 1,000 Arabian nights.

Maze-like streets. . .

lead to small cubicles where men weave silk scarves on wooden looms. . .

and a fancy carpet gallery where a woman demonstrates making Kairouan carpets, although most are made at home.

Our “guide”, Ahmed introduces us to a local speciality that we can take back to Destiny–Makroudhs is a date-filled pastry similar to bacalava, but denser than phyllo dough.  First the filled pastry is laid out in long lines, then cut into bite size pieces.  Next, it is cooked in hot oil then soaked in honey.

First the date-filled dough is laid out in long strips, then cut into bite size pieces. . .

and after frying, into the vat of honey.

The candy size pieces soak for hours in a copper vat of honey and then are dusted with sesame seeds or finely chopped nuts.  Every bite oozes the sweet local nectar–heavenly–and no additives or preservatives.

Ahmed not only introduced us to Makroudhs, but told us that Kairouan is called the “town of 300 mosques” some of which are quite small.

The Mosque of Three Doors, is famous. . .

while others are just one of the 300.

He also told us the significance of the highly ornate doors surrounds we saw as we walked through the Old Town.

Doorways like this. . .

with elaborate ornamentation. . .

signify that a family has made a pilgrimage to Mecca

Ahmed was not interested in showing us the “souk” or commercial shopping area which is quite touristy.  We suspect that he was rewarded for taking us to the out of the way spots, in addition to the few Dinar we gave him. 

The ancient walls of the Medina are a backdrop for. . .

Plastic mannequins in Arabian nights garb. . .

uninspired displays of pottery. . .

and carpets. . .lots of carpets.

Since I was a “tourist for the day” I couldn’t resist a set of five olive wood bowls that nested one into the other.  Especially when I successfully negotiated the price from 40 Dinar to 15–about $9.75.  Bargaining is not only acceptable, but expected in the souk, and is considered a sign of respect for the merchant.

After a brief stop for tea in the souk, we were off for the bus station for our return to Monastir.  The return trip was equally exciting.  We arrived safely with the aroma of onion clinging to our skin.

Yes, onions. . .lots of onions enroute to Monastir.

Au revoir.

Categories: North Africa, Tunisia Tags:

MONASTIR: Monuments, Mosques & Markets

June 17th, 2012 No comments
Unlike Hammamet which is the largest tourist resort area in Tunisia, Monastir is the birth place of its first President, Habib Bourguiba, and is a small town with a rich history.

From the sea the Ribat dominates the shore.

The Ribat of Monastir, an impressive fortification, that dominates the seaside was begun in 796 A.D. and enlarged between then and the 11th Century. It is the most complete fortification that we have seen anywhere in the Med which we attribute to its location in North Africa and the absence of earthquakes which ravaged other ancient venues further north.

Approaching the entrance, you get a sense of how massive the structure is. . .

which includes a museum.

There is a tall round tower surrounded by massive walls. From the tower you have sweeping views of the town, a palm lined square between the Ribat and Mosque with its green tile minaret roof.

The tower is imposing, but worth the dizzying climb. . .

for the stunning views of the shore. . .

and the Mosque.

The Ribat is the site of an International Summer Festival and has been the location of numerous movies, including Monte Python’s Life of Brian.

The Ribat will accommodate many festival visitors inside its walls. . .

but people also gather outside the walls in the evening to gaze at the sea.

In the distance across a Muslim cemetary from the Ribat you see the second most important monument in Monastir–the Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba.

The Bourguiba Mausoleum is a tourist attraction. . .

and where there are tourists. . .there are vendors.

Bourguiba was president of the independent Republic of Tunisia from 1957 until 1987 when he was ousted from power allegedly because he had become incompetent. He lived out his final days in Monastir, and while still President had built the “Taj Mahal” like mausoleum that houses his remains.

Bourguiba had two wives (not at the same time) so each wife gets a dome, but he gets the BIG dome. . .

and a ceremonial entrance to his crypt.

While photographing the mausoleum, I was approached by an elderly Tunisian man in a well worn black suit, who spoke excellent English. He gave me the “local view” and history of the monument to Bourguiba.

Some 25 years before his death in 2000 at age 96, Bourguiba “desecrated” a Muslim cemetary, according to my guide, in order to construct this opulent tribute to himself. Money that many thought would be put to better use on the country’s behalf.

Muslim graves were moved. . .

to make room for minarets and porticos.

Indeed, the swath of land upon which the Mausoleum is situated cuts through an ancient cemetary with modest tombs on both sides

It was explained that Muslim graves all face toward Mecca, and have simple Arabic lettering (no French). By tradition, flowers are not used to decorate graves, but on Fridays after prayers, families visit the graves of relatives and leave money and bread which is collected by the poor.

Muslims bury their dead in simple white crypts with Arabic lettering, facing Mecca.

I didn’t notice any bread crumbs on Bourguiba’s elaborately carved marble tomb, which my guide says is not the “Muslim” way.

President Bourguiba has a palatial resting place. . .

under a massive crystal chandelier. . .

in a carved marble crypt.

The Mosque is centrally located near the Medina, but is not open to the public.

98% of the Tunisian population is Muslim and the Mosque is in the center of the Medina. . .

but only Muslims can enter.

Within the Medina (old town) walls, Monastir has a souk or daily market where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

There are numerous gates into the Medina.

The Medina has narrow, maze-like streets lined with stalls. . .

with "in season" crops like watermelons.

Farmers bring truckloads of produce, including far more garlic than I have ever seen in one place.

It's very hard to buy one or two garlic heads--they want to sell by the kilo.

Most Tunisians shop at the souk on a daily basis.  There are fish vendors and butchers, and depending on how “fresh” you want your food, you can carry home a live bunny or chicken to slaughter yourself.

The souk is crowded with local shoppers. . .

some of whom will take home a live hen. . .

cock rooster. . .

or bunny (oh,no!) for DINNER.

I don’t like to look my dinner in the eye, and  even the butchers are a little too up close and personal.  I prefer to buy my meat or chicken wrapped in cellophane from the Mono-Prix supermarket.

I don't know what this is and from the smell certainly don't want it for dinner.

Monastir is a “real” Tunisian town, as opposed to the Port Yasmine.  We enjoyed meeting Tunisian people who live and work there.  One experience that stands out is our conversation with a young Tunisian man who was selling jasmine bouquets on the quay in the marina.  We commented on his excellent English, and he grinned broadly as he told us he was 18, had just graduated from high school.  He speaks Arabic as his native language, fluent French and English and is now learning Polish through Facebook.  And we struggle with a few words of French or Spanish.  Au revoir for now.

Categories: North Africa, Tunisia Tags: