29 October 2015

I thought a lot about Peter Mayle, who wrote such a beautiful description of life in Provence, today. 

It was another great night.  I am starting to wonder if Viking would notice if I were to take the couch with me when we leave.  Probably.  But I slept well, waking at 4 for a potty stop.  I discovered at that time that the ship was rolling pretty good, but I decided to ignore it, went back to the couch and slept so late I didn't even hear the person delivering our breakfast.  As Walt and I were getting ready for the day, we both agreed that we are really missing Mike on this trip.  Kind of made me, briefly, a little teary.

Our excursion today was called "Cassis and France's Seaside Scenery" and described an idyllic "cruise through a network of magnificent canyon-like inlets--geological marvels of southern France and visit one of the most beautiful wineries of Cassis."

First of all, there was no winery visit, unless you count driving past several wineries a "visit."  I will admit they were beautiful, and the guide was very knowledgeable about the vegetation (I think she pointed out every pine tree in Provence). 

But she had zero social skills.  When we arrived at our destination on the outskirts of Cassis (pronounced "Cassee," we were told) she said "let's get off the bus" and then took off in the direction of town while many of us were still on the bus.  She never took a head count, so wouldn't have a clue if anybody was missing.  By the time Walt and I (and Linda and Bob, along with some others) were on the sidewalk, our group was nowhere to be seen.  We headed in the direction we hoped was correct.

Char finally told the guide that she had left several people behind, so she stopped and waited.  Then when we got into town, she started her spiel about the history without the "quiet vox" (the sound system that lets the guides speak in normal tones and everyone hears through their individual earpieces).  When someone asked her why she wasn't using the quiet vox, she got petulant and said nobody had given her one, and went on speaking in a normal voice while those of us in back missed everything she said.  She finally discovered that, surprise, surprise, she had the equipment after all, so she used it after that.  I don't know how she expected to speak to us all without it on the small boat we would be riding out onto the ocean, when we were spread out all over the boat.

When we all had our quiet voxes set up, she told us that this fountain would be our meeting place at the end of the day.

And then we all walked down the narrow street toward the water.  It was far longer than the "short walk" that had been described.  The tour description said that we were supposed to ride a small "road train" but that shuts down in September.  Nobody mentioned that little bit.

It really is  a beautiful port and reminds me very much of a larger version of Portofino (I love being able to "place drop")

Before we got on the small boat, our guide told people where they could find restrooms, since there was no room for one on the boat, and she never told them they would need to pay to use the facilities.  Several people found themselves without money to pay to pee!

On the boat, she spoke continuously, which would have been informative if the captain weren't ALSO speaking (in French) at the same time--and I know enough French to know she was not translating what he was saying, but was giving her own spiel.  It finally bothered me so much that I just turned off my quiet vox so I missed all of what she was saying because she didn't seem to realize that the captain was also speaking!

However, all that off my chest, the cruise was...uh...shall we say "an adventure."  We were going into three of the "calanques little fjords of Cassis, inlets of the Mediterranean lined by spectacular lime cliffs.  At first it was lovely, the wind in our hair and the mountains behind.

It was beautiful, looking at those limestone cliffs, one of which had a nude beach.  "Naturalists," she said they call them here.  Looking at the beach and the water, I decided they probably didn't swim.  I can't imagine getting from the water back to the beach without endangering some "dangly bits."

(We were a little too early.  The guys were just disrobing and didn't appear in full frontal nudity until we were too far away to take a picture).

As we got farther out to sea, the water got rougher.  "This is nothing," said the guide as the boat dipped and rose and dipped again, water spraying over the bow.  In my heart of hearts, I knew it was OK, but it did make us gasp many times!  However, when we turned into one of the calanques, things calmed down and we could appreciate the limestone cliffs.

(Note the water drops on the lens from the sea spray)

The guide told us that this was the kind of quarry that Jean Valjean might have worked in.  Gives a better feel to Les Miserables (which she pronounced with the English pronunciation of "the miserables" which seemed strange!)  As we were coming out of the 3rd calanque, I was trying to remember if we were exploring three or five of them, praying it was three.  It was.  We were all relieved to be heading back to Cassis and dry, non-moving, land!

There was a wine tasting next, but the shop was too small to hold all of us, so half went in first while the rest of us wandered around trying to find something to snack on.  Linda hoped to find gelato, but was unsuccessful, so we went into a pastry shop and got something to eat, which we brought to the town plaza.  Walt and I got 6 macarons for 8 euros.

Finally it was our turn for the wine tasting, which was fun. 

I wasn't enamored with the wine, necessarily (and drank very little) but they had some paper thin salami that I fell in love with.  We were there about 15 minutes, I guess and tasted 2 whites and a ros.  I don't think anybody bought any.  But it was fun.

Then we started on the long uphill road back to the bus.  Linda found her gelato, but it was too late to get any.

(Too bad we hadn't found it earlier.  I would have MUCH preferred gelato over the macarons!)

It was a long drag up the hill and I came in last, and must have looked bedraggled because the bus driver, seeing me turn the corner and head up the last few feet, started the bus and came down to meet me instead.  We gave him a special tip for his thoughtfulness, and I got to use merci mille fois instead of a regular thank you!

The drive back to Toulon took us through more vineyards and I thought of Peter Mayle again and his farm and vineyard in Provence.  I can see why he loves it so much.

Char wasn't feeling well, so didn't join us for dinner, but we enjoyed our time with Bob and Linda.  We couldn't believe it when we found out Bob used to run a model train store, is a model train enthusiast, and that Linda's late husband was also a model train enthusiast.  If only Mike (who loved model trains) had known that last year!

We ended the evening in the Star Lounge with a show that was advertised as "Songscape--an Operatic Fantasy."  It was cute, fun, clever, and almost no opera, but everyone seemed to like it.  My favorite, of course, was the Major General's song from "Pirates of Penzance,"

Though I didn't like it that the guy did a kind of Step-and-Fetch-It version, complete with rolling bug eyes.  It seemed demeaning and I don't know why he did it that way.  He's an amazingly talented musician with a great set of pipes.  The show was mostly show tunes with a few pop tunes (like Bohemian Rhapsody) thrown in.  And there was a strange, but very good duet which combined "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot and "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar.

I should also mention, for my technical daughter, that the backdrop was amazing, used all clever projections, static and moving, and I know it's cheating, but this was fabulous (and enabled them to do a pretty spectacular looking show on a shoestring).  I particularly liked the scene for the Nessun Dorma duet.

The comments from the audience exiting the theater were glowing, so who cares that there was almost no opera in this "operatic fantasy" whatsoever.  It was a fun show by a cast of seven extremely talented performers.  (But the critic in me feels the need to point out where it went wrong!  Busman's holiday.)


I started with buffalo mozarella caprese salad, and in the interest of
full disclosure, this is NOT my salad.  But I forgot to take a picture so I found
one that looked the most like the salad I had.  Main course was prime rib, rare,
with Yorkshire pudding and lots of horseradish (my sinuses are cleaned out),
and I ended the meal with creme brulee.  Not the best, but passable. 
I probably won't order it again, though.

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