Produce from Provence
Produce from Provence

We woke up early enough to catch the a la carte breakfast in the main dining restaurant.  We tried as much as possible, for all meals, to eat a la carte.  For one, it’s a lot more pleasant than piling food of different flavours onto one plate, and the other is that it is nice not having to walk up to get your own food.  What can I say?  I’m lazy.  Actually, it just tastes better than sitting and stewing in some bain-marie for several hours.

Our first stop was Toulon.  The ship docked not far from the main marina, so it was within walking distance.  Anyway, given that I had plain forgot where I was going, it didn’t occur to me to bring my French phrasebook.  This was going to be an interesting trip, given that we were out to look for a shirt and tie for Hubby, and an iron.  Yes, all our clothes were crushed looking, and well, we didn’t want to pay laundry rates to get them ironed.

Navy ships docked in the harbour.
Navy ships docked in the harbour.
Aircraft Carrier
Aircraft Carrier
Navy ship
Fancy a game of Battleships?

We wandered around looking at the shops and boats moored in the marina.  I peered at the water by the quayside.  Deep blue in colour, it seemed bottomless.  Just as well, as otherwise large yachts and cruise ships could not dock.  In fact, Toulon is the home of the French navy, and moored in the harbour also (though some distance away from the retail areas) were warships and aircraft carriers.  Actually, I’d never seen an aircraft carrier up close, and it is pretty big.  Toulon also used to have submarines come into the harbour also.  This has now been relocated elsewhere.

As such, Toulon was targetted by Allied bombing during WWII, and much of the houses that lined the water were completely devastated.  As we left the harbour also, you could see old fortifications and sea walls that forced ships to slow down and come quite close to shore in order to pass through.

Flowers at the markets
Flowers at the markets
Paella.  Must have been good.  Half of it was gone and it was only 10.30 am.
Paella. Must have been good. Half of it was gone and it was only 10.30 am.

The Provence markets had amazing looking fruits and vegetables, meats and fish.  It made us want to pick up ingredients so that we could cook them.  They also had amazing smelly cheese stands, and pickles and olives etc.  It was all so very French.  I like walking through the streets.  It’s narrow, crowded and full of activity, with people speaking a language that I can only understand a word or two.  The thing about trying to sightsee in a language you don’t speak is that it is intimidating to try to buy something.  When you can’t count beyond ten, it’s very tricky.  So I’m reliant on places that clearly mark their prices.

Fish statue
Fish statue

We managed to find a great shirt shop in Toulon called Stephens’ Boutique.  They had really great shirts in all sorts of colours, pink, purple, burgundy …. but really stylish in a European cut.  With the shopkeeper speaking only a splattering of English, and us speaking less than a splattering of French, we managed to find a shirt and tie that fitted whilst laughing at our attempts at cross cultural conversations.  It was unique.  They were so generous with their time.  They gave us directions to the nearest bookshop for a French phrasebook, and also found a travelling iron for us.  It was a great and friendly experience.

From Toulon (as from Nice), you can get to the Provence region including Aix-en-Provence and Avignon.  I enjoyed Toulon.  I always do in France though I struggle a lot with langugage and pay the “non-speakers’ tourist tax”, ie. you pay the extra that locals know not to pay.  Must make effort to brush up on this langugage, especially since in the Musems, all commentary is in French.  Yup.  They really do not bother about English translation. Italy is much better for things like that.

Now, I did not mention much about our dinner companions in my last post.  And to be honest, there is not much to talk about.  We talked about ships because the husband is an engineer in propulsion systems (like I know a lot about ships – NOT!), and well, we couldn’t understand his wife who spoke with an accent and kept covering her mouth so you had even greater trouble understanding what she was saying.  All this would have been surmountable had they themselves been engaging and interested.  All I can say is that it’s hard work talking to a wall.

Admittedly, Hubby and I started playing a game to see how long the silence could go on without us breaking it by asking a question.  I’m afraid I failed.  We even started bringing books to the dinner table, though we couldn’t read much as the lighting was not that good …. and we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to do it.  By Dinner 7, Hubby completely gave up, though I was as chatty as ever.  Gosh, never realised what a skill making small talk is.  I must put that on my CV coz clearly there exist people in the world who are not capable of conversation.

A view from the Bridge. Pilot boat in the background directing ship out of the harbour.
A view from the Bridge. Pilot boat in the background directing ship out of the harbour.
Fortification
Fortification
Sailing around the sea wall.
Sailing around the sea wall.
Idyllic sailling.
Idyllic sailling.