Sunday, 30 June 2013

Villefranche, an Unexpected Port of Call

Thursday 23 May 2013. Due to bad weather further west we have swapped a day in St Raphael for a day in Villefranche.

David's longed for moment comes when we have to take the tender boats into the town. "Liberty guys to glamorize!" Hmmm... yes, he's been quoting this bit of Americanese all week. Apparently the Americans call tender boats Liberty boats and when David was in the navy and his ship was stationed in America anyone going ashore on the American naval vessel moored alongside was warned departure was imminent by this phrase over their tannoy. Stick fingers in throat to be sick... We are six days into the cruise and it has been uttered so many times that it is now greeted with groans...

Bienvenue a France! Villefranche presents a wonderful face to tourists approaching by boat. The brightly coloured buildings and an old fortress out of shot to the left make a typical French Riviera dream come true.

We moor up on the wharf and clamber up the few steps out of the boat before walking through the port authority buildings and onto French soil. We had waited until all the formal excursions had gone and our boat wasn't crowded at all. Even so it's still only mid morning and we have plenty of time to explore.

Called the Hidden Street, this enclosed street always reminds me somehow of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. All the doors and windows are very heavily barred and old lanterns, but with modern electric bulbs, cast a suitably gloomy light so that you can easily imagine eyes peeping out to see if it's safe! It runs parallel to the sea front but isn't apparent from looking up the streets off the sea front.

We come out onto a path with a view over the lowest buildings onto the bay. To our left the path leads to the railway station. By looking right we are looking out of the bay towards the Mediterranean. Fran takes a last glance before we move on and there's a grunt of surprise from David, who has looked up to see someone working on the roof of a house abseiling down towards his head! The grunt, of course, is swiftly followed by the click of his camera...

Here we are at the far end of the bay looking directly out to sea where the Thomson Dream is moored. Another ship is coming in and turns to moor up in front of our ship. Time for "quatre cafes - un petit peu de cafe et beaucoup de lait"...

And whilst we are in the cafe and the coffee is cooling, the sketchpad comes out for a quick doodle of the seafront. I don't finish it yet so we'll have a look later...

The coffee having run out we set off back down the sea front, with the tables from cafe bars across the street lined up with colourful yellow awnings. A drunken boatman lurches onto the dockside and shouts angrily at his dog, scaring the life out of a poor woman who was sitting on the edge of the sea wall close to his boat.

A bit of time goes by. Wine time! We take a seat in another cafe bar. Unfortunately the waiter who serves us is not as nimble as he might be and he drops a dish of olives all over Fran, insisting on a remedy that involves emptying a salt pot all over her and bringing her a dish of hot water to dab on her top... Miss Franny retains her cool and just merely smacks him around a bit before deciding she is not splashing herself with hot water except for that which is necessary to remove all the salt that he's chucked over her.

Once decorum and wine has been established, I finish off the drawing I started earlier in the other cafe. A woman on the next table is admiring it.
"It was nearly finished when I bought it..." I say, which makes her laugh. Her husband smiles politely and her mother chokes on a prawn and has to be banged on the back. Miss Franny throws salt over her just in case... Oh alright... I made that bit up...

The ladies want to look round the shops and market so David and I wander off to see what mischief we can get up to. A lady in a gorgeous Spanish flamenco dress walks past - I only had time for a rear view, but apparently she was seen later by the ladies, dancing in one of the narrow streets as a street entertainer.

"Would you take our photo please?" comes a musical voice and I turn to see three young and very pretty American girls. They have come in on the other cruise ship which came in as we had our coffee. They were from Washington DC and were happily ignoring the advice of many of their friends who had apparently seen some Liam Neeson film called Taken about an American girl kidnapped by us devious and despicable Europeans.

We go for a look at the fortress and meet up with some fellow passengers from the Thomson Dream - seen here resting in the bay. We oblige them by taking their photo - hang on, we're turning into walkie-snaps here! Then we head down the hill from the fortress to walk alongside the fortress wall.

As we pass, the tender boats from the girls' ship, which we saw earlier, are now sharing space on the dock with ours. Passengers are making their way up the fairly steep hill towards the excursion coaches. The crystal clear water gurgles over the rocks at the foot of the path and it's a very pleasant walk before we realise that we've been quite a while and the ladies are probably wondering where we are. (They weren't - they were too busy looking at fridge magnets...)

We head back and find them loaded down with bags of thimbles, spoons with ceramic souvenir heads, fridge magnets and the odd snow globe. Then we head back to the tender boats for our trip back to the Thomson Dream.

A good time was had by all! "Liberty guys to glamorize...!" Yes, yes, yes David...

Highlights of The Mediterranean Cruise Index

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