Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The South of France

The French, I am convinced, must do something different in bed. What led to this conclusion is the fact that, throughout our journey from the English Channel to the Mediterranean, every hotel, boarding house and private residence along the way unashamedly hung their bedding - including even mattresses on occasion - out of a window. Like housewives of yesteryear, racing to be first with the washing out on Monday, these quaint folk must leap from their beds each morning and immediately thrust their bedding through the window for all to see. Only after the bedding is on display, do they get around to launching their laundry on a variety of aerial contraptions to complement the colorful window boxes of geraniums and other more traditional decorations. Vive la difference!
To balance the books a little, a noticeable French accomplishment is the manner in which crude oil management has evolved at the national level, either by chance or by more social engineering. The majority of private automobiles throughout France are diesel powered, even down to the tiniest ones that could be frightened by a golf cart. At the same time, the crude oil processing channel has been developed with appropriate capacities for each kind of fuel, such that the lower cost of crude suitable for diesel production is passed through to the retail level. At the pump, diesel in France is between 1.03 and 1.15 Euros per liter ($5.28 to $5.90 per USG) while gasoline ranges from 1.35 to 1.50 Euros per liter ($6.72 to $7.44 per USG). Oh, that the self-serving and inept lawmakers in the US could look beyond their next election and begin to lay the framework for some long-term planning. Hey-ho.
Back on topic - South of France - that was it. On the way to the coast from Avignon, we stopped at the tiny town of Sollies Toucas (less than 2000 population) on a whim. No castle or other significant ancient edifice but a small, slightly eerie square, no visible means of support in terms of a job base, just ludicrously tiny streets, a jumble of building styles and residential properties tacked into the side of the surrounding hills.
This gnarly fountain is in the gloomy square
shown in the previous picture

Downtown - the arch goes to the square.
We chickened out here and backed away

Plenty of bedding and tons of laundry on show, so we knew we were still in France. Could not imagine what teenagers or school kids do in a place like this. We tried driving into the town but balked at the arch and the narrow turns and, later on, realized that this was the town - all of it! A car stopping at a house to drop off or pick up a passenger has to align the car doors with the building doorway to enable the passenger to get in or out. OK for a vacation perhaps, but tedious to live with.
From Sollies Toucas we skipped by Aix en Provence and had previously elected to avoid Marseille, with all of its reported industrial and ethnic unrest, so we headed straight for Toulon. This too, proved to be a fairly large city (170,000 population), a shipbuilding and naval base region holding little attraction for our purposes, so we opted instead for Ile de la Tour Du Fondue.
What a deal. Not really an island but a peninsula jutting several miles into the Mediterranean and connected to mainland by two skinny isthmuses. The camp site was right by the sea and just a short walk from the small fishing boat harbor from which ferries leave for the Hyeres islands, including the Ile de Porquerolles.

One of the Heyere Islands ferries

There is a small fort at the harbor, built to fend off those nasty Brits who used to come a-plundering in days gone by. The fort is not open to the public, has no signage explaining its origins and doesn't appear to enjoy much maintnenace.Overnight, the weather took a turn for the worse putting paid to plans for visiting the islands so we decided to move on. Club Med II was anchored off Porquerolle when we left.

Club Med II, Sheltering

Our next overnight was a little further east, just across the bay from St. Tropez at the western end of the area known as the French Riviera.
St. Tropez across the bay

We didn't actually visit St. Tropez since it is apparently frequented by poseurs from near and far, and we didn't want to be recognized as wannabe poseurs, life is hard enough already. Instead we camped on the beach on the north side of the bay, looked at the sea briefly, saw a nice yacht and then began to wonder why we were there. We left first thing the following day.
Pete's Yacht

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