Archive for ‘France’

An overdue post …. the last few ports of our cruise….

An overdue post …. the last few ports of our cruise….

We woke one morning to a beautiful sunrise over the Italian coastline as our ship was anchoring off Portovenere. Pale pink clouds lay above the blue hues of the hills behind the coast and formed an amazing backdrop to our arrival. Unlike the last time we came to Portovenere the weather was kind and the ferries were running so we were able to take a trip along the coast line of the Cinque Terre National Park to view the five picturesque little towns dotted along the steep coast, with their colourful houses, small harbours and terraced vineyards behind. Once joined only by paths and sea travel, the villages are now linked to each other and the wider world by rail too. We stopped off at a couple of villages – enjoyed a wander but once again there were many tourists thronging the streets and whatever functions the original buildings around the harbour had they are now mainly souvenir outlets or restaurants. I suspect the streets are much lovelier in the evenings when the tourists have all moved on …….

Sailing west again we stopped in at Monte Carlo and took a walk along the street that forms the start of the famous motor race as well as a bus trip to Eze, a hilltop town high above Nice – the smell of the lavender as we arrived to start the steep walk up the narrow cobbled streets was amazing – must have been this summer’s crop recently picked. Lovely old buildings and fantastic views from the top over the Med but also over the gardens of the hotel lower down the slope. Once again, many of the buildings in the picturesque streets have been repurposed as shops.

One of our last stops was the town of Toulon in France. It was the first time our ship had berthed in Toulon and a group of folk dancers were there to greet us. Being a Sunday (in France) we weren’t sure whether there would be much open but we needn’t have worried – the local market was in full swing. A large market with all sorts of foodstuffs and other products including the local Provencal table cloths (see below) kept us occupied. After a wander around the Old Town (quiet – not many tourists- everything shut) we returned to the port to find that we were farewelled with a cold glass of rose and a gift. I think the local authorities would like the ship to return ……

Onwards to Barcelona!

The Somme

The Somme

We had pre-booked a hire car from our next port, Rouen, to drive to the Somme area to visit Villers-Bretonneux and the Australian memorials there and at Le Hamel – about a two hour drive each way. We were all literally drop jawed when the man in the car hire office said he didn’t have a car despite the booking being made months ago! As we stood outside trying to work out options, a tiny (really tiny) car was returned by another customer. The four of us crammed into it and off we went.

The day was clear and warm – the memorials beautifully kept and appropriately sombre for the many there paying their respects. One last little clump of poppies was still blooming at Le Hamel. The new Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux is set into the ground behind the memorial and not visible at all from the front. It is beautifully constructed, featuring a wall of different Australian timbers in the foyer. The display and the audio-visual exhibits are very well done.  Impressive but sad places, the waste and personal toll of war in those thousands of immaculately kept graves a terrible reminder to us all.

Meanwhile beside the memorials, life goes on – farmers were busy with the harvest …..

The trip through the French countryside on a beautiful day was lovely and we only got ourselves lost once, driving a considerable way in the wrong direction beside the River Somme – but it was a a beautiful valley to be lost in!