Villefranche-sur-Mer, Sister City to Nice

Sister Cities

Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer are separated by a hill.  The face of each side of the hill look away from each other and at their respective harbors.

The hill separating Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer is marked with a red arrow.  The blue arrow points to a park that overlooks the Nice harbor to the right and the Nice Old Town (Vieille Ville) to the left of this arrow.  Photos of Nice and her harbor were taken from this hilltop.

Nice is a large French city familiar to many.  Approximately one million people live in Nice and four times that many tourists visit each year.  We have been to Nice on quite a few occasions – most often picking up and dropping off family members who have come to visit us in France.  It is a lovely city, but without question, we have devoted very little time getting to know her.

We spent a day in Nice with Allison, Mike, Riley, Tristan, Marilla, and Mitch during the summer of 2017.  Marilla and Mitch were already on board Ice Floe and were the first to take a trail up to a beautiful park with views overlooking the famous Nice beaches, her harbor, and the hillside separating Nice from Villefranche-sur-Mer.

The great expanse of Nice’s beaches bordered by the 7 km long
Promenade des Anglais.
The famous white sand beaches of Nice are bordered by the Promenade des Anglais.  This promenade was the tragic site of the devastating terrorist truck attack on Bastille Day, July 14th, 2016.  The terrorist mowed down nearly 300 people, killing 86.
Marilla and Mitch in front of a Nice Harbor overlook (June, 2017).  The hill
separating Nice from Villefranche-sur-Mer is seen over Mitch’s left shoulder.
(rig as you look at this picture).

Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer are separated by a hill.  The face of each side of the hill look away from each other and at their respective harbors.  Many lovely homes have been built into each hillside, an engineering feat characteristic of many hillsides in France, particularly those overlooking bodies of water.

We anchored in Villefranche-sur-Mer’s beautiful, uncrowded, harbor the evening before Margaret and Burt flew into Nice.  We let them rest up with a quiet dinner on Ice Floe following their arduous flight from home (Buffalo to Dublin to Nice).

The following morning we took them to visit Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Margaret and Burt in Villefranche-sur-Mer (June, 2018) – love at first site

Villefranche-sur-Mer translates to Tax-free village on the sea.  It acquired the tax-free status following the transition of the area’s inhabitants from hillside olive farmers to coastal fishermen.  In 1295, the Duke of Provence offered tax-free status to inhabitants of the hills if they would move to the coast and provide a first-line defense against marauders (Turk Saracen, et al) who would use this coast to establish a base from which to invade Nice.

Villefranche-sur-Mer has approximately 8000 people living there.  It has one of the loveliest, quaint, Old Towns we have visited, to date.

Villefranche-sur-Mer side of hill opposite Nice
A closer view of the waterfront of Villefranche-sur-Mer
It appears we sold Margaret and Burt on this beautiful country on the first day.  Burt commented early on that if anyone asked what he liked about France, he would respond “There is nothing I do not like”.
It was such a joy to share this experience with two kindred spirits.

The hilltop, and consequently the village is steep.  Many of the narrow streets are stepped and beautifully paved.  We spent a wonderful morning and afternoon exploring them.

While this charming town is a renowned tourist destination in its own right, it stole our hearts.  From our trip through the canal / river interior waterways to the Riviera, it has been these villages that have drawn us to them and helped us to cherish our time in France.

Things not to say to airport security

Entering Port de Nice with a view of schoolchildren exiting in their Optimus for sailing classes

Our travels take us to Nice, France once more.   We are meeting my sister and brother-in-law, Margaret and Burt, who are joining us for a couple of weeks.  Those of you who have visited us when we are sailing, know that payment is frequently exacted in our many requests to bring things we need from the States.  Requests may be as innocuous as crackers (very difficult to find in France), or desperately needed such as a new keel winch.  Oftentimes, we simply order what we need and send it to the home of the next person who is visiting us.

We let Margaret and Burt know they would be receiving several packages. We asked that they remove the packaging and bring the items along in their checked luggage.  Apparently, according to Margaret, those instructions admittedly were received, but promptly forgotten.  Being the sweetest and most considerate sister anyone could hope for, she put them in her carry-on to make sure they were not damaged or lost.  She also, thoughtfully, did not open any of the packages, as she explained, they were not hers.  When their carry-on luggage was screened, a bag was pulled aside and an item was pulled out.
The TSA agent asked “Do you know what is in this package?”.
Margaret stammered in response “No, they just kept mailing us stuff and told us to take it on the plane.”
I would not kid you – this is a direct quote from Margaret.  The TSA agent opened the package and presented them with the two sailing knives George had mailed to them.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair to poke fun only at Margaret and Burt.  First of all, we do appreciate their carting things over for us.  It was also very fortunate that they were so obviously no threat to anyone, the TSA agent allowed Burt to have their checked luggage retrieved so he could add the knives to it (although he was escorted).  But the real reason it would not be fair, is that George has had prior experience talking himself out of incarceration by TSA because of knives in his carry-on.
Some years back, George was flying to Florida to help his Mom and Dad after Hurricane Charlie.  He had a particular razor knife that fit his hand just so, and he wanted to bring it.  He travels light and was not checking any bags so he dissembled it and brought it in a clear zip-lock bag with no razors.  When he reached security to have his luggage scanned, he immediately brought it to their attention to make sure they were OK with it.  They were absolutely not OK with it and he had to throw away his favorite razor knife.His luggage was scanned and pulled aside.  They had seen something that looked like a knife in his bag.  When they opened it, sure enough, he had a pocket knife.  This knife is one he always carries on his belt. When he packed his belt, he did not give it a second thought.  It is worth mentioning that he packed his belt inside his work boots inside the bag.  OK, his pocket knife was now added to the garbage can.  When his Tilly hat went through, there was another issue.  On inspection of his hat, they found a small knife in a pocket on the inside of the hat.

George said sheepishly  “I am not going to make my plane, am I?”
The TSA agent said seriously “No, I don’t think you are.”
However, believe it or not, a TSA supervisor appeared shortly after this exchange and asked George if he was a contractor.  George replied that he was and the supervisor replied that he had been one previously, as well.  He then let him go to catch his plane (without his little pocket knife).
When such good fortune befalls you, I know it is in particularly bad taste to criticize the benefactor.  However, it does make you wonder about “reverse profiling” – a term my daughter used the time she was pulled aside by TSA.She frequently returned to college after visiting home with as much food as she could stuff in her bags.  We have watched her bring whole frozen, home grown, chickens in her carry-on without being questioned.  On the occasion she was pulled aside, she was carrying some very large beets.  The TSA agent asked what they were and was told they were beets.  They were VERY large.  The TSA agent wiped them and tested them for explosive residue (or whatever they test for).  The agent returned and told our lovely, young, Caucasian daughter and her equally handsome, mid-western husband, that the beets tested positive.  He then let them take them on board anyway.

Marilla said to us later “How is that for reverse profiling?”.
On a subsequent trip, when she was carrying a set of silverware, she was not able to bring the butter knives on the plane.

Marilla said “Just in case there was any butter on the plane.”

Back to Sailing the French Riviera

Sailing Northeast up the French Riviera Coast from the mouth of the Rhône to the Porquerolles

On June 9th we were finally on our way.  What a joy to have the boat “ship-shape” and to get back to sailing.  It was a bright, sunny day in the mid 70s.

View from my window

For most of the day we had nice winds (10-14 knots) from the southwest – perfect for our trip northeast towards Nice.  As the winds lightened, George got a chance to try out his new gennaker (code 0 asymmetric spinnaker) – he is always his happiest when he is engaged with something new and this beast is new to us.

On our way we saw two more mola mola (ocean sunfish).  These two were tiny compared to the one we saw last summer with our children and grandchildren.  George drew our attention to it and we all tried to figure out what we were looking at.  Resembling a dolphin of enormous proportions that lost the back third of its body – I recall saying quite sadly that it was a dolphin that had been horribly injured.  At that moment George and Marilla simultaneously recognized it as a mola mola.  The rest of us were astonished that they both knew what it was and a bit about its behavior.  Mola mola are the largest bony fish in existence and can grow to over 2 tons.  In the following National Geographic description ocean-sunfish it is referred to as both a floating blob and a swimming head.  You will most likely first see them as one of their fins sticks up out of the water,  They typically live at great depths, but come up to the surface where cleaner fish and seagulls pick parasites off of them.  A real oddity and exciting to see in the seemingly barren waters along the coast of the Riviera.
Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish) borrowed from
Another first for us – we were hailed by a French Customs vessel and questioned about where we had come from, where we were headed, the history of our sailboat – just routine.  They took us at our word and did not request documentation.
One of the most exciting events of the day was that after sailing for 6 hours, our batteries remained fully charged.  George was able to observe the electrical input and change dramatically as a wisp of cloud passed over the sun.  Having solar power to replenish the batteries without running the engine, or staying in a marina to recharge, is going to give us tremendous independence when we sail in the Caribbean.  The solar power also gives us the ability to have a small chest freezer.  This will predominantly be used to keep us in ice (what a luxury) and to freeze fish when we get back to waters that actually have some.  Our fishing gear will remain under our bed for the duration of our time in the Mediterranean.

Fishing isn’t always about catching

We can say for certain that the French are the most optimistic fishermen we have ever met.  We have seen hundreds and hundreds of people fishing along the banks of the French canals, rivers, beaches, et al.  We have only seen one, approximately 4 inch fish, reeled in.

We are uncertain if this gentleman walked out here or was dropped off.  There is no boat in sight.

 While the fish may be scarce for those who want to fish themselves, there is no shortage in the markets and grocery stores.  There is always a wide assortment of both fresh and frozen seafood and meats.  We keep our provisions stocked with several of the cured sausages and hams that do not require refrigeration. And the cheeses – such variety and so wonderful.  We are very fond of freshly cooked rotisserie chickens and occasionally purchase fresh meats or fish for near-term consumption.  The fruit and produce is almost exclusively local and in season.  Local generally equates to France or Spain and the origin of produce is always specified.  We are already enjoying fresh apricots, peaches, and strawberries – Yum.
Donut peaches (our name for them)

We were never quite certain about these “donut” peaches when we saw them on supermarket shelves in the US.  This entire box, including the empty spaces was for sale at 2.70 Euro so we decided to take a try.  They are absolutely delicious.  The next best thing to that is, you can bite off a mouthful without peach juice dribbling down your chin.  This morning we had peach pancakes.  We are sold!!  Whoever conceived of and/or developed these is a genius in our book.

We anchored out in a lovely calanque (a fiord-like cleft in rock cliff), Calanque de Morigue),and enjoyed a bottle of a local, slightly sweet sparkling wine, made from muscat grapes.  At the right season, you can sample many varieties of grapes that we have never seen in the US.  The muscat grape is a delicious, aromatic white grape which we imagine is used principally for winemaking.  Dinner was pork chops, potatoes, and zucchini.  There was a gentle swell of waves and we fell asleep to the rhythmic rocking of the boat.

Approach to our evening anchorage in Calanque de Morgiou
June 9th – George had us on our way bright and early with the wind now out of the north and tempered to single digit knots.  We motored half the day but in the afternoon the winds shifted favorably and gave George a perfect opportunity to see his gennaker perform.  The jib that we purchased with ICE FLOE was great for sailing into the wind, but was inefficient otherwise.  The gennaker is just what we needed to optimize our sailing versus motoring time.
Toulon water treatment plant

As we made our way to our evening destination to anchor near the Porquerolles, we sailed by a building tucked into the mountain.  When we first saw this enormous, modern, building last summer, we pondered what it was and how it was accessed – we thought surely, by someone with great wealth seeking privacy.  Perhaps some evil nemesis of James Bond.  We were intrigued to learn it is a wastewater treatment facility for the city of Toulon and surrounding areas.

Our anchorage Saturday evening was not as private or quiet as the evening before but we found a beautiful spot.  There were many people enjoying the start of their weekend, with boat parties and music.  Quite a few stalwart people were swimming and just hanging out in the water that was 75o degrees (a little too chilly for me unless the air temperature is 90o or hotter).  We fell asleep long before things quieted down entirely – at the end of a day sailing there is little that will deter our sleep.
Anchorage in Porquerolles

Winter and Spring Boat Chores

It took the Queen Mary, Brittany Ferry, two rental cars, 3 hotels, and one taxi and we are finally here.

I came down with a nasty cold shortly after our Ferry ride to Saint Malo.  As such we did not do much site seeing as we drove through France.  We arrived in Port Napoléon on May 27th.  We are about to set sail tomorrow, June 8th to meet Margaret and Burt in Nice.  We are so looking forward to their visit with us.

Individual homes in the town of Port Saint Louis Du Rhône near Port Napoléon

A recap of the last 11 days – short version – work, work, work

Port Napoléon is a full service marina in the town of Port St. Louis Du Rhône, located at the mouth of the Rhône where it meets the Mediterranean.  If you need something done on your boat, you can get it done here.  It is also a marina that is highly recommended for keeping your boat over-winter.  It offers inexpensive rooms where you can stay when it is no longer tenable to stay on your boat.  Most sailors who are at Port Napoléon in the spring are prepping to get away.  In the fall, it is prepping to store the boat.
There is a saying that sailing is 90% boredom and 10% terror.  We have yet to experience the terror part – there have been a few rough sails, but nothing akin to terror.  I can’t think of a time when we were bored.  It is peaceful and relaxing and George will tell you I am prone to napping, but never bored. I recommend this saying be amended to say “Sailing is 89% pure pleasure and 10% working on your boat” – I will leave 1% for the terror as I have heard enough stories to be sure it is real.
Pretty much any time you have work to do inside a boat the size of ours, it gets pretty uncomfortable to carry out acts of daily living.  Things like making a meal, or simply walking from the galley to the salon, or from the cockpit to the cabin can be a challenge.  Tools come out of storage and occupy the limited space on every surface.  Hatches are opened creating leg-breaking hazards.  Beds are dismantled to put things away.  All of this is part of the package – if you don’t have at least one person on board who likes to fix things you are going to spend a lot of time and money paying someone else to do so.  These are momentary pauses in the otherwise idyllic experience.  When you are prepping a boat for storage, or for sailing after storage, it is a week plus of long days of hard work.  If at all possible, plan stay somewhere other than the boat while you are still dealing with sails on your bed.
Last Fall we prepared ICE FLOE for her winter storage on land.  This entails lots of tasks including:
  • Taking the sails down and storing them in the boat cabin.  This lengthens their life as exposure to sun is damaging.  In addition, in the event of a storm, the less you have up on deck for the wind to catch, the better.
  • Winterizing the sailboat engine, dingy engine, and the water system.
  • Getting all food off the boat
  • Washing and waxing the outside of the boat
  • Taking down the Bimini and Dodger and storing them in the boat cabin for the same reasons the sails are taken down.
  • Cleaning the inside of the boat and wiping walls and ceilings with a dilute vinegar solution to prevent mold from growing.
  • Cleaning out the composting toilet.
  • Cleaning the accumulated algae and barnacles off the bottom of the boat and repainting it with antifouling paint.
  • In the US the boat would be shrink-wrapped or covered with a canvas tarp.  In France she would remain exposed to the elements.
When we arrived this Spring our bright and shiny new boat was quite a site.  She was very dirty.  As if 7 months open storage exposed to sun, airborne debris, and dust was not enough, the south of France experiences (rather frequently) “dirty rain”.  It was explained to us that the rain brings with it sand from the Sahara.  In addition, ICE FLOE had been moved to a particularly dusty part of the yard.  We had hired out the work of repainting the bottom and replacing the water line stripe with hard paint.  This area of the yard also strips off bottom paint and while efforts are made to limit the drift of this paint dust, ICE FLOE got more than her share.

Thankfully, the inside of the boat was as we left it and the cleaning of a boat is one of the more pleasurable tasks in spring – so no big deal.  Of course, everything we did to prepare the boat for storage needed now to be undone to prepare her for sailing.  This too, was routine and we were happy to get to it.

In time we will learn to expect and be ready for some additional unexpected issues to be ladled on top of the known.

Unexpected issue number 1.

A problem we encountered early on after we purchased ICE FLOE was a malfunction that caused the boat to speed forward when put into reverse.  Imagine my reaction when George approached a dock with me on the bow to lasso a cleat.  As we approach, instead of slowing to a stop, George suddenly speeds forward driving me straight into a patch of thorny blackberries.  

We inspected the propeller to see if something was obstructing it and found nothing.  The propeller continued to malfunction in this manner.  Each time, when using reverse to slow down, the boat would speed forward.  It consistently took 2-3 repeated attempts of putting the boat back into forward, then neutral, and then into reverse until the boat finally moved in reverse.

We contacted the US J-prop representative and they responded that it would be impossible for the propeller to cause this problem and suggested the sail drive was the possible cause.  We had a Volvo mechanic complete a very thorough inspection of the sail drive, but he found no cause for the issue.  

The problem remained unresolved for the balance of our sail in 2017.  When we had the boat hauled out in Port Napoléon we engaged the port’s Volvo mechanic to identify and correct the problem.  He informed us that the propeller could cause the boat to speed forward if it became stuck midway between the forward and reverse position.  It was concluded that this was the cause, as when manually rotating the propeller, there was a position midway where the propeller did not rotate without exertion.
Having now identified the cause, the US J-Prop distributor indicated we should have the propeller inspected by the manufacturer.  We asked our representative at Allures to arrange for the propeller to be examined by the manufacturer and a response to the following be provided:
  1. How this failure could occur with only 6 weeks of use?
  2. Was any damage done to the propeller over the remaining four months it was used while not functioning properly?
  3. A guarantee that the warranty remains valid.
After repeated requests for this action and finally escalating this issue to the highest levels within the Allures Company and her Mother Company (Grand Large Services) we were informed that the Head for France’s J-prop distribution had inspected the prop, found no damage, re-greased the prop, re-instated the warranty, and assured us the prop was working perfectly.  We were satisfied with this response.

Sadly, and maddeningly, when we checked the prop on our arrival in Port Napoléon, it was frozen solid.  George used all his strength and could not move the blades.  George pulled the propeller off and we took it to Grand Large Services in La Grande Mott.  The response there was everything we could have hoped for.  Our experience when working directly with the employees at Grand Large Services has been uniformly positive.  We were immediately sent a replacement prop and our malfunctioning prop has been sent back to the manufacturer.  We lost 2 days removing, transporting, and replacing the prop, but we were happy campers.

Unexpected issue number 2.

The offending antifreeze

Winterizing the water tank involves adding anti-freeze.  It takes quite a number of tank flushes to remove it and restore normal taste to the water but it is a necessary evil if storing where the boat might experience freezing temperatures.  This year’s experience was a nightmare.  Whatever is in the anti-freeze we purchased in France formed white chunks of a soapy, waxy substance that clogged the faucets and the foot pumps.  We exchanged water in the tank more than a dozen times and white chunks kept coming.  George opened the water tank and found precipitated globs of this material.  He spent the better part of the day laying on the floor, reaching in to pull this stuff out and using a jet of water to dislodge this material and suck it out.  This, another dozen flushes, and a tank treatment with baking soda, a half dozen more flushes and the water looks and tastes fine.  He spent another half of a day disassembling, cleaning and rebuilding the foot pumps.

One morning I saw a great deal of white clumps near a boat on our dock – sure enough, they were dealing with the same issue.  Previously, we had inquired of the marine store owner where we purchased the anti-freeze if there was some trick to dissolving and flushing it out.  He read the label and explained it simply indicated the tank should be flushed several times.  The other sailor was a bit more boisterous in speaking with the store owner and George happened to be there.  He was happy to second the man’s complaints.  Hopefully, he will pull it from his shelves.
Soooooooo.  No use trying to make a long story short – we are finally ready to have some of that 89% pure pleasure.

French children taking turns jousting

Ferry From Southhampton, England to Saint Malo, France

Getting here from there

A little background on the logistics of how we planned our travel from home back to ICE FLOE deux in Port Napoléon, France.  I have already described why we chose to take the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic – no luggage restrictions.

The Queen Mary docked in Southampton, England at 6:30am.  Our luggage had been stacked in the corridor outside our stateroom the evening before.  It was picked up some time during the evening and was waiting for us when we disembarked at 10:00am.  
We had completed a customs check in while on the Queen Mary so all that was required was that we show our passports, collect our luggage, and go.  We were lucky and found a taxi van that was large enough.  The taxi deposited us at the Brittany Ferry Terminal in Portsmouth around noon.  When we booked out passage on the ferry there was little information available on luggage handling or restrictions so we inquired about this as soon as we arrived.  We were informed that, just as had been the case aboard the Queen Mary, there were no restrictions other than that the luggage fit in our stateroom.  How relieved we were to find our luggage would not be a problem.

Unlike the Queen Mary, we were told we would be responsible for getting the luggage to and from our stateroom.  We knew this was not an insurmountable problem, although it certainly would be exhausting.  We were pleased to learn that there was not only food aboard the ferry, there was a restaurant – we were all set.  We grabbed a small lunch in the Ferry Terminal and sat down for a very long wait – the ferry would not board until 7:30pm for the overnight trip across the English Chanel.

Guardian angels were looking out for us as we sat blissfully in the terminal reading and knitting.  As it turns out, carrying the luggage to our stateroom would involve:

  1. carrying it down a hallway from the ferry terminal waiting area
  2. loading it onto a bus
  3. getting it off the bus
  4. carrying it up a series of 6 long, steep, switchback, ramps to board the ferry on the 6th floor
  5. carrying it up two narrow flights of stairs up to our tiny cabin

Had we needed to negotiate this entirely ourselves, we might still be at it – AND if the luggage actually fit in our cabin, we would have needed to sleep on top of it!!

Our sleeping cabin aboard the Brittany Ferry
Our guardian angels came in the form of ferry personnel who knew all this, and had a MUCH, MUCH, better plan.
After all other passengers had boarded the ferry, these men and women helped us push our luggage carts and load the luggage into a bus (just for us).  They accompanied us to the Ferry dock, reloaded everything onto new luggage carts and assisted in pushing them up the 6 steep ramps where the ferry personnel transported it directly into a luggage storage area.  We only needed to bring our overnight necessities to our cabin and begin exploring the ferry.  First stop, a bar with some nice, cold, beer on tap.

One of several eating areas aboard the Britania

I am not sure what experience you may have with ferries, but ours has been limited.  In addition to a bar, multiple eating areas (restaurant, cafeteria, snacks), the ferry had a small arcade, jungle gym, and entertainment including live music, a movie, and a very talented showman and magician, Alexander Wells.  It was such a lovely conclusion to a day full of half-baked plans that had worked out better than we could have hoped for.

Mr. Wells, demonstrated his sword-swallowing skills with a long balloon (so as not to frighten the many children), made bottles of wine appear out of thin air, astonished us with card tricks and other slight of hand magic, all with a theatrical flair, that brought to mind our dear friend Dobbs.  What a way to cap off an “adventurous” day.

Alexander Wells – check him out on You-tube

In the morning, our guardian angels were every bit as helpful and to our added delight, our luggage fit in the car George rented for the trip from Saint Malo to Port Napoléon.

Now you see it
Nothing Short of Magic

And now you don’t

Aboard the Queen Mary 2

The Queen Mary Experience

Our week aboard the Queen Mary is nearly over.  What a wonderful time we have had.  The experience for us has been less an adventure at sea, and more a week of leisure in a luxurious resort with great comfort, varied entertainment, great food, interesting people and conversation, beautiful artwork, and pretty much any accommodation you could want.

The seas have been relatively calm with only one day when the swell grew to 8 or 9 feet.  Most often, we can barely detect the boat rocking.  There have been several days of winds that, combined with the 20+ knot speed of the boat, could nearly knock you off your feet.  Temperatures have ranged from the high 30’s to the 60’s with variable degrees of sun and clouds.  We have, on occasion, found warm sheltered areas to sit outside, but we have spent most of our time within the ship.
The ship is enormous – almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall and has 13 decks.  Three trips around the promenade deck equals 1.1 miles.  Nonetheless, it is very easy to get around.  When full, the ship carries approximately 3000 guests and nearly half that many staff members.  There are comfortable and well-designed areas to suit whatever degree of quiet, privacy, or venue you may be looking for.

A daily schedule is provided each day with activities you may want to join or attend.  There is an evening show in the Royal Theater, afternoon presentations related to our solar system and galaxy in the Illuminations Theater (“The only Planetarium on the Ocean”).  Musicians are often performing in the smaller casual meeting places like the Chart Room or the Corrinthian Lounge.  There is live music and dancing every evening in the Queen’s Room.   At some extra charge you can enjoy any number of spa treatments, see a chiropractor, visit a salon, or participate in wine or chocolate tastings.

These seats along one corridor were very comfortable and provided a great view of the ocean.

George and I spent an afternoon spotting whale spouts and relaxing.

I have joined a knitting group that meets most days at 3:00pm.  As many as 25 knitters have attended.  In addition to sharing projects, travel plans, and life stories, I was provided with instruction for a much neater and easier way to knit a heel for the Christmas Stockings I am working on.

One corridor has a wide assortment of board games and a partially completed puzzle.  Many guests spent time here.
There is a large and beautiful library with computers, comfortable sitting areas, periodicals, and a large collection of books you can check out.
George and I in our fancy attire required after 6:00pm
The chocolate bar
The champaign lounge
Wine tasting room
The Chart Room
A small casino

There has only been one instance in which an area was crowded and that was when a very accomplished clarinet performer put on a Dixie Land concert with the Queen Mary resident band in one of the larger, cozy lounges.  This clarinetist had put on such a wonderful show the evening before, many more people attended than expected for the additional performance.  It was an excellent show which concluded with an impromptu parade of band members and guests parading single file to a raucous “When the Saints Come Marching In”.

Queen Mary 2 – The Dining Experience

 Dining Areas

All dining areas offer equivalent china plates, silverware and linen napkins.  All food is included in the price of the cruise with the exception of one small optional restaurant we never chose to eat at.  There are self-serve stations where you can obtain complimentary water, ice, fruit beverages, milk, coffee, and tea.  All other beverages (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) must be ordered from ever-present staff and cost extra.  You could purchase a bottle of wine and the Somalia would keep partial bottles for the next time you dined in the Britania.

There are large dining areas with tablecloths, waitstaff, and new menu selections at each meal.  The efficiency with which large numbers of guests are served is unprecedented, in our experience.  The quality and variety of food is exceptional.  Each guest is assigned a specific table for dinner in one of the large dining areas.  This table is held for you every evening.  The menus change each day and generally offer a choice of several appetizers, a salad, several entrees, and several deserts.  There is always a vegetarrian option.  You can partake of any or all.  Accomodations such as requests for more vegetables or substitutions are routine.  There is no need to confirm whether you will eat there.  At any time you can choose to eat at an alternative dining venue.  We had our dinners there about half of the time – lunch, less often, and breakfast only once.  There are many types of activities throughout the day and these sit-down meals were at a specified time which did not always fit our schedule.

Britania Restaurant to which we were assigned

A portion of Britania restaurant was also open for breakfast and lunch and we could choose private or group sitting.  Most (including us) chose group sitting.  It was always interesting to get to know a little about other passengers.  We have been astonished at the number of people who have taken one or many other Trans-Atlantic cruises and other cruises on the Queen Mary.

There is a large self-serve dining area (The King’s Court) that is open nearly around the clock offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, as well as, endless confections.  High and low tables for two, four, and larger groups are set with placemats, linen napkins and silverware.  The food in this court is also different every day and very good.  For example, we have feasted on exquisite rack of lamb, shrimp dishes, sushi, roasted vegetables, salads, fresh and smoked fish, and stir fry. 
Below are three pictures of the King’s Court

A wide selection of food is nearly always available in the King’s Court and is refreshed throughout the day featuring breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices.

There is also a separate afternoon tea in a room reserved for this meal (in the event three great meals a day is not enough).

There are a number of smaller areas that often offer live entertainment, a bar, and a selection of things to eat.  What is available changes and depends on the time of day,  Seating is comfortable apolstered chairs and small low tables.  There are also bar stools.

Some food pictures

Setting Sail and the Royal Wedding

Setting Sail on Queen Mary 2

Shortly after stowing our luggage we attended a mandatory lifeboat drill.  In the event of an emergency that might require abandoning the ship we would be alerted with a loud alarm of 7 short and one long blast.  We were to bring our life jackets, warm apparel, a warm hat, and a boat identification card to a specific area where ship personnel would supervise the boarding of lifeboats.   We pulled away from shore at around 6:00pm.  Shortly out of the harbor we passed by the iconic Statue of Liberty.  

 It was a foggy, cool, evening, but many gathered on deck for the departure.  George and I enjoyed our first beer on board.

 It was a foggy, cool, evening, but many gathered on deck for the departure.  George and I enjoyed our first beer on board.



We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of lamb shank and retired to our cabin for restful night’s sleep.

The Royal Wedding

Shortly into our voyage the occasion of the royal wedding between Prince Harry and now Princess Meghan dominated events on the Queen Mary.  The ship’s Royal Theater opened at 6:00am and broadcast live coverage of wedding preparations, the event itself, and commentary afterward.  British pride and nationalism was in evidence everywhere.  The ship and many passengers were decorated in British red, white and blue.  The British Royal Regalia (a group sing along) was held in the Grand Lobby that concluded with the British national anthem.

Trans-Atlantic Passage

So Many Firsts

To start off, this is the FIRST posting to the FIRST blog we have ever written.  During our 2017 sail in France and Spain we created and e-mailed periodic updates to friends and family.  E-mail came along with considerable limitations (data-wise and otherwise). Our daughter, Allison, gave us a Christmas present of taking the FIRST steps of transitioning our means of communication to a BLOG.  George is an early adopter and took it from there – And here we are – BLOGGERS.  We hope to add, at some later time, summaries of our 2017 and 2015/16 trips.
Image result for Queen Mary 2 photoGeorge and I began our 2018 sailing adventure with a trans-Atlantic cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2.  We had never taken a cruise before and we came by this FIRST experience for reasons having nothing to do with an interest in checking this off.
We began to research passage on the Queen Mary as a means to bring our beloved dog, Chaze, with us.  As it turned out, Chaze was nearly twice as long as the maximum size dog allowed and we had to abandon the dream of bringing him to France aboard the Queen Mary.  How he would have loved being able to accompany us to restaurants and stores and beaches.  He would relish the great deal of attention and admiration he would undoubtedly receive.  As my brother Michael summed up, Chaze ranked up there with a short list of the most special dogs that have ever lived – along with Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and two of his own beloved dogs – Kip and Diesel. Sadly, Chaze passed away in February,  just shy of his 14th birthday, and will never get to visit France.  We miss him.
As we were looking into the Queen Mary passage, we came upon a mention that there were no limitations concerning the amount of luggage you could bring on board (other than that it must fit in one’s stateroom).  We had sailed ICE FLOE deux in 2017 through France’s rivers and canals from Cherbourg to the Mediterranean and along the French Riviera to Spain’s Balearic Islands without some much-needed, voluminous, and heavy sailing paraphernalia. We had stumbled upon the most economical means of getting both ourselves and this equipment to our boat.
Our boat-related luggage included eight large duffle bags, a small chest freezer, and a bag of long poles (fishing net, boat hook, et al) totaling ~ 500lbs.  Our personal items were packed into two small duffle bags, three shoulder bags, and one garment bag.  We arrived at the terminal and loaded our luggage onto a large cart while we were waiting in a long line of cars that were either dropping off passengers for the cruise or picking up passengers from a previous trip.  A steward met
me with the cart and promptly took the luggage off our hands.  The next time we saw it was when we arrived at our stateroom.   There was a remarkable amount of storage space in the cabin and it was very easy to stow our baggage and restore order to the cabin.  We could have brought twice as much!!
We boarded the Queen Mary on May 17th for a seven day passage from Brooklyn, NY to South Hampton England.
Enjoying a complimentary bottle of champaign in our stateroom on the day of our arrival
Our state room after “stowing” our stuff

The video that was posted in our original post on Blogger was not supported by WordPress so alas, we have no photos to share with you at this time of our lovely stateroom (that accommodated everything we brought in its ample closets, save the freezer and grill that we kept on the balcony.





Arriving in the Mediterranean


We finished the waterways through France and entered the Mediterranean Sea on June 13th, one month ago, today.  We motored straight to La Grande Motte where the mother company for ALLURES has a facility.  We came to have the mast stepped (re-installed).  La Grande Motte is a beachside town on the southwestern coast of France which was developed in the 1960s and 70s.  The buildings you see in the first photo are condominiums, and there are many, many more than those in this photo.

The beach is shallow and warms up so even the feint of heart can take a dip.  It is a genuine resort town replete with tourist shops, dozens of seaside restaurants, and many sun-worshippers – speaking of which, in La Grande Motte the only types of one piece women’s bathing suits we observed were worn by those who prefer to sun topless.  Otherwise, it is bikinis for all – young and old, big and small.  On the men’s side, the younger ones had generally adopted surfer shorts, but some of the older men still sported speedos and one 60ish man in the marina wore a thong.

This observation made me sufficiently curious to explore the possibility that cultural influences in France that nourish a healthy “sense of self” contribute to a greater acceptance of one’s body.  Alas, I was unable to find evidence of such in my deep research on the internet.  On the contrary, I read that “fat shaming” is quite extreme in France as the populace has long been known for being enviously thin.  French culture offers much to be admired and many mysteries.

Our “schedule” for the first month on the Mediterranean was hectic from the start.  Our mast was damaged during transport from Cherbourg and we were waiting for a replacement mast.  The new mast was delayed and the earliest we could get the damaged mast installed in La Grande Motte was June 19th.  It would take at least two days (which we did not have) to sail from La Grande Motte to Marseille, where we would meet Marilla and Mitch the following day (June 20th). Instead we rented a car to pick up Marilla and Mitch and then returned to La Grande Motte. The sail from La Grande Motte to Nice to pick up Allison, Mike, Riley, and Tristan required 5 full days on the water whereas we had planned for a leisurely trip had we started from Marseille.  Marilla and Mitch were good sports and excellent ship mates, but it was certainly not the best beginning for their first experience of the lovely south of France. 

Marilla and Mitch had planned for some beautiful climbs, but Mitch had recently injured his arm.  That did not deter them from ogling the rock faces and climbs that might have been from paddle boards and dinghy.

Sormiou Calanque
D’en Vau Calanque