Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A busy harbour and major navy base - no wonder it's twinned with Norfolk, VA

[Maryanne]On the edge of the Côte d'Azur, on the French Riviera, Toulon is a place few stop, they might drive through it perhaps, but rarely stop.. It’s not terrible, but there are plenty of other places along the coast that do a much better job of attracting the tourists (Nice, San Tropez, etc). The area was heavily bombed (by the allies) in the war, so much of its original charm is lost. It’s also the main home of the French Navy so there is plenty of military boats in the harbour; very much like Norfolk, VA – so much so they are twinned cities!

So why did we stop here? Primarily it's somewhere with good transport links (the train for Kyle), and good access to stores for me. Kyle left me with a host of chores to do and I’ll hardly bore you with laundry, grocery, scrubbing the decks, etc, but one of the main ‘different’ chores this time was to source a passerelle. Passerelle is the French word used for what we'd know as a gangplank (oh, sorry, you already knew that?).

The method of securing the boat to the dock in the Mediterranean is generally anchor down, reverse back, stern-to the dock and tie up, fenders either side make a nice boat sandwich. Footprint can optionally reverse this and go bow-to the dock and pick which seems best for each marina. This approach gets many more boats in the marina, but generally means a pretty big gap from the back steps of the boat to the dock. Now imagine leaping that gap with a bicycle, or full cylinder of propane, or a week’s supply of groceries – it is NOT going to happen. Hence the need for a Passerelle! Ideally we should have resolved this need much sooner, but better late than never, and Kyle is so weight conscious he didn’t want extra stuff on board for the passage from England.

Back in Cap d’Agde I’d priced them out – oh about €600 ($860, or £525) for a cheap one (oh boy!!). What most people do is rummage around in the back of their garage for parts to make one.. a good secure, 2.5 m (8’) gangplank. The primary solution seems to be an old ladder with a board secured along the length supported by the rungs; a couple of wheels at the dock end to cope with the constant motion and a hook or hinge of some sort to connect to the boat end. Voila!

So off I went to find a ladder. Now, remember I’m on cycle or foot here, so I can hardly drive along the motorway and find the biggest and best DIY store, but luckily there is one not too far away; unfortunately it doesn’t have any suitable ladders.. Hmmm.. what is a girl to do? I’m pretty sure when we need one, we are really going to need it, and most likely very soon, so I decided to buy wood and work from scratch.. First I buy a big 2mx30cm board, then 3 2.4m x 5cm x 5cm timbers. Now, can you picture me managing all this on my bicycle? I do believe I entertained much of Toulon. After much drilling, swearing, and testing I hope I’ve something passable and functional, but only use will establish that – so far I’m surviving crossing the gangplank, but it might be a good idea to kick start the diet again.

The docks and our new Passerelle - long may it last - we'll the season at least!

For the whole week we’ve had Internet on the boat for just €20 (orange wifi reaches the marina), but I’ve been too busy to abuse it much. It’s been so nice to catch up with banking and basics without having to hang out in a bar or café (or even McDonalds).

It’s not all been work though; I’ve made some time to explore the town and surroundings a little. I made and met-up with a www.couchsurfing,org friend for some French insight, and even sampled a couple of museums (neither especially great, one especially terrible). Oh and I was warned off taking a picture of an ancient bell tower as a matter of national security (it happened to be within a Navy base - you can look, but don't take pictures).

A feel for Toulon, much of it's ancient past was bombed away, but there are still patches of old city walls

Giant sculptures and ancient overgrown fountains

Markets and street painting competition

Despite not being popular on the tourist trail, the town is filled with lots of grand architecture, an old naval yard, shaded squares, a wonderful daily fruit and veg market, and lots of great cafes with tables tumbling into the squares. Not bad at all!

Squares to relax in

I’m here too early in the season it seems; I took a cycle ride along the coast and was met with the fantastic looking Royal tower guarding the bay.. The notices informed me it was free to enter but didn’t open until 2pm.. When I returned at 2:15 it still wasn’t open, a quick check of the small-print revealed I’d have to come back in July, until then it’s closed. Oh well! The next fort I stumbled across is now a restaurant with open air tables among the crenellations overlooking the sea, I took a quick sneak look, but without a reservation I couldn't stay long.

Towers, Forts and beaches - pretty cool coastline

For just €8 I can buy a day pass that lets me use all the area buses, the ferries in the bay (it’s a big bay) and have a cable car ride up the local mountain, and I’ve been hoping for a full day without chores to make the most of that. The day finally came, unfortunately so did the wind (cable car won’t run) and the sun went away! Oh well, again, maybe some other time?

Kyle will be home soon, and we'll be off to explore the next place, this time together - much nicer.


Mommy Dearest said...

Oh my gosh, Maryanne. You are absolutely amazing. Can't believe you built that gangplank by yourself and can't imagine you lugging all that home on your bicycle. I would have shelled out the $$ and let it go, but not you. Bravo!

Karen said...

What a sight that must have been to see you tote the wood back to the marina! I can just picture you with the front of the pile strapped to the handlebars extending out about 2 feet, the middle section leaning on your shoulders, with the tail of the pile sticking up in the air and a red caution flag waving from the end! But anyone who'd made fun of you would have been awed into silence once they'd seen your incredible handiwork. That gangplank is fantastic, Maryanne! It definitely looks like a professional job. I bet you could offer your carpentry skills for hire and make some decent spending money whenever you needed it. ;-)

In spite of its history, you managed to find some beautiful, picturesque spots to give us a glimpse of the city. (The produce at the market looks perfect!) Sounds like Toulon is one of the Riviera's lesser known treasures. I'm so glad you've had time to relax and enjoy it.

Can't wait to find out where you're headed next. Happy sails!

kate said...

I don't believe you're really in France. All the people on that beach were wearing swimsuits.

Mommy Dearest said...

Well, Kate, it appears it's Maryanne who isn't wearing a suit, so I guess they really are in France. Or Maui. Or San Diego.

(see post below and that gorgeous photo of her wearing her gleaming lobster red birthday suit.)

SV-Footprint said...

Carla/Karen - thanks for your kind words on the gangplank (especially Karen who seems to think I'm a master carpenter!). It's not as great as you imagine but I'm hoping it will do. It's 2 marinas later now and we still haven't needed it.

The rest of you.... Definitely France.. (a little early in the season for the die-hard naturists). And I'm not discussing my attire!!! It was a very carefully selected photo is all I'll say.