Europe 2016 Day 22-23…First port of call Toulon, France

The first 21 days had flown by on our trek down Europe.  During that time, we had been to 11 different countries.  We were leaving our “apartment” in Barcelona and our tiny little elevator 🙂 and we were catching a cruise ship to explore the Mediterranean for 12 days.  We looked into several different options, but this seemed to be the least expensive and most efficient.

The transportation strike had hit Spain, so we left early, just in case the city trains were delayed.  Over-all we only experienced about a 20 minute wait.  We got off at the Christopher Columbus statue, where the buses to the port pick you up.  You can pay the 3 Euros for the bus, or you can walk over the bridge.  Definitely worth the money.  We were early for the bus, so we sat on the seaside stairs and enjoyed the sunshine and nice breeze.

We were on the Norwegian Cruise Lines Spirit.  When we got to the port check-in, since we had backpacks, they let us carry them on board.  However, they took our passports and told us they would hold them until the end of the cruise.  They said it was an EU policy.  We dropped the bags at our room and went to the lunch buffet.  It was so nice to have milk and not share our meals, like we had been doing.

Cindy won the Grand Prize gift certificate to the spa at the embarkation party…woohoo!! She hugged the spa manager. At the room we decided to wash some clothes and dumped the water, but the drain backed up.  We got Nestor our room steward and he got maintenance.  During the drain issue, we had chocolate covered strawberries and champagne delivered for being returning passengers, several time over.  However, we don’t drink, so we find a nice couple on a cruise to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.  We went back to the buffet, (we were catching up on the meals we missed while on our trek).  We watched us sail away from the port and then went to “sing it if you know it”.  We danced and sang, and another couple joined us in a dance challenge.  We even made a human pyramid with Jerie on top to try to win.  We then went to the Theater and watched a bit of the show, it featured 70s songs, it featured American Pie.  Sang along and then left and went to bed early.  It was nice to unpack and know that we wouldn’t have to re-pack for 12 days.

Our first port of call was Toulon, France.  We booked a tour or as they are called on cruise ships, excursions.  It was to Marseille and Provence.  Toulon is the nearest cruise port to these cities.  We had our first real breakfast in 3 weeks and then went to the Lounge for directions to the excursions.  We noticed that the couple we danced with the night before, went to the Spanish-speaking line.  We ran and got them and directed them to the English-speaking tour.  Figured we would try to be helpful, earning our nice points for the day.

We met our tour guide, Pascal, and boarded the bus to Marseille.  While we were travelling, we learned That Toulon was the first naval port of France.  In the 17th century the narrow streets were torn up and made wider for more fresh air.  There are also many newer buildings, this is due to Toulon being heavily bombed during World War II, so the buildings near the port are 1945 or newer.  Les Miserable was inspired by Toulon.  Napoleon built a military tower with a fort.  It is built near a church that is said to contain the relics of Jesus’ disciples.  It was destroyed during the French Revolution.

We saw the French countryside, which is in the region of Provence.  It is very hot in the summer and very mild during the winter.  No snow, sunny 300 days of the year, with the day we were there being one of the 65 cloudy days.  The 24 hours of Leman takes place in Bandol, which is very near Toulon.

We passed the area of La Ciotat, where cinema was invented, with the first two movies being shown in Paris.  The game of Bachi was invented here.  It means “stuck in the ground”.  A handicapped child couldn’t play a running and throwing game so asked his friends to sit and throw.

The area of Cassis is wine country.  AOC on a wine label means a high quality.  The wine industry is very controlled and regulated.  The base of the Statue of Liberty was mined in a quarry near Cassis.  Some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe are here and are made of red clay.

There were many battles until the 11th century, when counts built many ramparts and forts.  People lived within the forts until the 16th century.  With no more invasions, there was a land rush for the fertile soil.

Marseille pronounced Marsay. It is the oldest city in France, settled by the Greeks 2600 years ago.  The Greeks brought grape vines and toilets, a strange combination.  There is a large cork forest nearby, good for the wine industry.  There are currently 1.5 million people.  Pascal told us that in the 1960s the mafia controlled the city and that they would throw dead bodies out in the hillsides.

We drove past the American cemetery from World War I and II.

We drove along JFK Boulevard, which travels along the sea shore.  It has the longest beach deck in the world. In the distance you could see the Frioul Islands, which was the setting for the The Count of Monte Cristo.

Our first stop was at the Notre Dame Cathedral.  It is high above the city.  The bus driver was very good, as the streets were extremely narrow.  Basilique Notre Dame De La Garde means Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard.  It was consecrated in 1864 and is the city’s best known symbol.  It is built on an ancient fort 489 feet above the city.  It consists of a lower church or cyrpt and an upper church.  The belfry supports a statue of the Virgin Mary (also known as the Good Mother) and Child.  There are 165 stairs to reach the church from the parking area.

We had great views of the city from several advantage points

The inside of the church is very ornate and beautiful.

Many gifts are given to the church, when prayers are answered after praying to the Virgin Mary.

We left the cathedral, drove past the Marseilles sign and the water front port. This is home to the largest hemp market in the world.  Hemp is what ropes are made of.

We also drove past the Marseille Cathedral which is the seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille.

Our bus headed to Aix-en-Provence. We have often heard the term Herbs of Provence which we learned means Lavender and there were lavender fields everywhere and you could buy dried bunches in all the shops. The city was founded by Romans 2100 years ago.   Since Romans loved fountains they installed water pipes underground.  So Aix-en Provence is known as the city of a thousand fountains.  It is also famous for its wide avenues lined with Sycamore trees. Cicadas are a revered insect in this region and there are symbols everywhere.  You could even buy ceramic Cicadas.

We walked to the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour of Aix-en-Provence.  Construction started in the 12th century and was completed in the 16th century. It is a national monument in France.

On our walking tour, we stopped at a clock.  It has 29 days on it, as that is what was thought to be a month in the 15th century, when it was built.

We stopped at Place d’ Albertas Square, called that as the man who owned all the buildings surrounding the square was named Albert.  The buildings are made of limestone and have really tall doors. as they were originally for horse-drawn carriage. Hot water was piped in from nearby hot springs.

You could buy little to-go lasagna from the street cafes.  We opted to try an almond candy called Calissons.  They are topped with sugar and shaped in an oval to represent the queens lips. It is believed that they were developed in the 12th century.20160601_144337

It had been a day of sites and information.  As much as we enjoyed the tour, we were glad to get back to the ship and take a nap before dinner.  Oh…we were loving this food and our bed being turned at night.  We were feeling very spoiled!!!

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