Our cruise got off to a rough start: as we sailed away from Barcelona, listening to the captain's log over the intercom, the phrase "extremely uncomfortable" caught in our ears. With Tea's double-take and nervous laughter as a backdrop, we learned that we would be skirting a storm on our way to Villefranche, and wouldn't find calm waters again until 5 a.m. or so.
What followed was probably our worst night on a cruise ship; certainly the equal of our return to Miami on our first cruise, where most of the staff were trying to serve us between bouts of illness, and tumbling displays and dishes were the norm. Thanks to Nancy and Stephen -- who'd kindly switched rooms with us -- we were lower in the ship (Deck 2) and centred this time: probably the best place of all, in truth. (To skip ahead for a moment, none of us where surprised when the captain's log for the following day highlighted much worse conditions than he'd expected, with winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and waves in excess of 40 feet.)
Still, we survived, and were greeted by the picturesque bay of Villefranche the following morning; paradise, it seemed. As beautifully dreamy as the previous night was nightmarish. Despite a hearty breakfast on the ship, we weren't long off the tender before our hands (and, soon, our tummies) were full of wonderful oranges, sandwiches made with delicious tomatoes (and French bread, of course -- ah, memories of Paris), quiche, and even some sausage rolls, if memory serves. We ate all this while climbing steps through the beautiful neighbourhoods, pausing often to take in the view behind.
We could've made it as far as Cannes or Monaco in the time allotted to us, but decided to make the short trip to Nice instead; 15 minutes by train. Here, as in parts of Paris, I was surrounded by a way of life that really spoke to me. The cafés, the chatter, the beach (in this case)... One could really get used it.
One encounter summed up the day for me: Tea and I were sitting on a low wall outside a hotel while Nancy and Stephen went in to confirm our directions. A couple walking their dog crossed the path of another man walking his dog, and, turning, exchanged a few words in French before smiling and stopping right in front of us. While the couple was clearly fluent in French, the man struggled after noting that their terriers were of similar breed.
Immediately the gentleman in the couple said, "English?" which the relieved American (unless I miss my guess) acknowledged. The couple, it turned out, were Swedish, and they had a great conversation about various breeds and local dog shows. At one point, Tea or I laughed, and, realizing we understood English, they then included us in the conversation. For me, this couple, fluent in many languages and so polite and friendly, was better than my best visions of Europe -- which were over the moon to beginning with, it has to be said.
From there we found a 'boot sale' to beat them all; so much history and beauty at these things over here. If you'll allow me a nose in the air moment, I fear the Great Glebe Garage Sale will seem like a collection of so many Barrhaven driveways after all this. I could've come home with armfuls, but limited myself to a few fantastic pins -- UPDATE: one of them is definitely the insignia of the 13e Régiment de Dragons Parachutistes -- no doubt dating from the middle of the last century.
The tables were in the middle of a square that was surrounded by little restaurants with shaded patios, so we decided to stop for some wine and food. (This was one of the few days that I took crib notes versus making a full entry, and they've failed me here: I know I had a delicious omelette, and Stephen had pasta, but the rest escapes me.) After lunch, we went down to the busy, rocky beach, and then up to a lookout well above it with a lovely park. (I hope I'll be able to share the fantastic pictures we got from this vantage shortly.)
We caught the train back to Villefranche with plenty of time to spare.
Up next: Firenze! (As Stephen loved to say.)