Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cruise Day #7, Villefranche-sur-Mer

Today we said both “bon jour” and “au revoir” to France. We anchored in the rather petite harbor of Villefranche-sur-Mer, a picturesque seaside town on the Cote d’Azur. Since we were at anchor rather than a dock, we had to take tenders (smaller boats) to reach the coast. The process was reasonably smooth but ran slower than usual due to a swell that made the boarding of the tenders on the starboard side too tenuous (especially, I suspect, given the demographic profile of the ship). All told, we made it ashore approximately one hour and a half after we docked.

Libby and I were fairly indecisive in terms of what we wanted to spend the day doing. You see, we’ve been to the Cote d’Azur previously (having stayed in Nice). The entire south of France is a wonderful place to vacation… but the immediate area surrounding Nice and Monaco didn’t really contain anything we just “had to see.” Morever, the slow tendering process, early-ish “all aboard” time, and relative infrequency of transport connections for such short distances (e.g., trains every 30 minutes, six buses per day on certain routes, etc.) didn’t make it practical to venture too far past either Nice or Monaco. We thought about hiking the 50 minutes or so over to Cap Ferrat, but we opted not to do so for logistical reasons (given Libby’s illness I wanted to make sure that a restroom would be reasonably close at hand rather than an hour or more away by foot). In the end, we decided (after some hemming and hawing) at the train station to spend a leisurely few hours enjoying Villefranche (which we’d passed through previously on the train but had never visited).

We walked along the beach enjoying some of the sights. We thought there were far too many topless women and bikini wearing men… not that collectively we’re opposed to either. Actually, it wasn’t so much a matter of quantity but rather quality. Certain people just shouldn’t go topless or wear bikini bottoms. But, the propensity to do so (at least today) seemed to have an inverse relationship to suitability. Oh well, c’est la vie!

In addition to beach area, we ambled along the scenic walkway at the base of the citadel and strolled through the old town. The town has the feel of a real community – not just a tourist destination. And, it’s very picturesque. For those wanting a leisurely day, there are worse things than whiling away a day in this seaside paradise. If, however, you wish to really see the sites independently: I’d suggest making sure to get an early tender ticket and know the train/bus times (going and returning) in advance. Distances in the Cote d’Azur aren’t far, but the taxis are rather expensive. Given our experience (on this and previous trips), I don’t think a shore excursion arranged by the ship is a poor idea here (as they handle the tendering and transport). It’s worry-free and probably a more efficient use of time for the newcomer.

We returned to the ship in the early afternoon. That was great, because we had it almost entirely to ourselves. I used the time to take a number of pictures around the ship. We also had a wonderful buffet lunch and worked out in the gym (another 30 minutes on the old treadmill for me). Tip: the Garden Café’s buffet selection and quality is highest shortly after it opens. Toward closing times, the stock isn’t replenished, it’s been fairly well picked over, and the warm items are overcooked from being over heated.

Tonight, we’d dined in Papa’s Italian ($10/pp surcharge; 2-for-1 before 6:30). Libby had soup to start and a goat cheese pizza for her entrée. I ate the fried calamari, Caesar salad, and shrimp risotto. For dessert, we had cannoli (Libby) and tiramisu (Paul). While none of it was especially bad, we didn’t find any of it to be particularly good either. Without a doubt it was certainly below the standard of most Italian restaurants we’d eat at in Tampa (and probably below that of mass-market chain places like the Olive Garden too). In short, I’d recommend skipping this one unless 1) you’re desperate for Italian food or 2) don’t know/care about “good” Italian or Italian-American food.

Tomorrow we say “buon giorno” to Italia with a visit to Pisa and Lucca!

P.S. Today basically marks the midpoint of our cruise. Tempus fugit! Given our level of enjoyment and relaxation, I’m certainly hoping the next week goes by very slowly. :-)

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