May 7, 2003
(Really close to Monte Carlo, although not actually there)
During the night, the gale force winds continue, and at some point we turn broadside to the
wind and commence an interesting side-to-side shimmy. But it's not the sort of roller coaster
motion that makes you sea sick, so we just rolled over and went back to sleep.
We awake with the hillside town of Villefranche spread out before our balcony, looking like we
could reach out and touch it. Sine we are only about a quarter mile from the shore this is
almost true (later on they make us move farther away).
Villefranche wakes up to our boat
The captain says we are in the only sheltered harbor in the western Mediterranean (he seems
inordinately proud of this—maybe because we got here before those other sleazy cruise
Small boats ("tenders") are ferrying people ashore 30 at a time, although slowly.
Fortunately, we are also slow to get going, so we don't mind.
Once again, we are too late for breakfast in a restaurant, so we head for the buffet. They
seem to have picked up Robert's brain waves, as this morning they have donuts. But due to a
transmission error, they forgot to put out the deep-fried boiled eggs.
We check in with our buddies in the Internet cafe, but they tell us they can't let us reboot
to Win2000 any more (sounds like somebody got chewed out). But they show us an interesting
hole in the security system that lets us attach a file from a floppy drive (only on certain
machines), which gets us to the same point, and doesn't require the presence of Brian or Brian
We're so excited about not having to retype anything that we send two days worth of
We're now on the tender boat to Villefranche. The water is a little choppy, but not too bad.
On the way out, we notice there's a large sign on the side of the ship that says
"Security Warning: stand off 50 meters." It occurs to us that the people living in
the villas along the Villefrenche hillside woke this morning to a giant boat looming over them
with this sign on it.
Fortunately, they are French, so they probably just muttered "Crazy Americans" (fou
Americains) and went on about their business.
Those tenders look mighty tiny from up here
But inside, they are much roomier
Lovely Villefranche awaits
Our boat is way and heck out there (now)
Laura by the main fountain in Villefranche
An historic alley in Villefranche
The local clock tower
We have found the local eglise (church) and go in (so far we've already been in more churches
this trip than a Bishop on a diocesan tour). Although also hundreds of years old and Roman
Catholic, this church is much different than the Cathedral in Barcelona. It's more subdued,
with more paintings, and fewer ornate sculpture.
Laura inside the local church
Painting inside church
A cool statue of Virgin Mary and baby JC
Laura looks at the plant growing in the baptismal font
We see a poster saying that Santa Maria (the Virgin Mary) has a radio station here (94.5 FM).
They don't say what type of music she plays, though (probably classical).
Radio Maria, bringing you all the hits and all the bits around the clock and around the
We wander into a quaint little shop in a shopping area hundreds of years old, staffed by
French people. We were a little worried that we might not have enough Euro's to buy the bag
that Laura wanted, but one of the three phrases that the shopkeeper knows is "Credit Card
Yes!" We hand her a Visa card, and she verifies it electronically.
Welcome to the 21st Century.
The local shopping mall
Like most places in the Mediterranean, everybody takes a break from noon to 3:00 pm. Some of
them go home, but many of them go to cafes and hang out (we haven't figured out why the cafe
people don't go on break, but they don't).
We decide to follow the local customs and hang out at an outside cafe and brush up on our
French. So far, Robert has mastered "Knockez vous self out" which he learned
from a Pepe Le Pew cartoon (okay, he also knows how to order coffee, but that's really
Laura kicks back at the cafe in Villefranche
Laura is quite excited that there's a chapel near the cafe, which was decorated by Jean
Cocteau ("John the Rooster"), whom she claims is a famous artist. Robert likes that
he used a lot of eyeballs in his design.
The church with the eyeballs
We get on the tour bus to Nice. We like taking the packaged tours available through the ship,
because they always use local guides, and you get to see most of the cool stuff (we're only
here for a day, so there's a limit to how much cool stuff we could see by ourselves).
Today's tour guide is Monique, and she is just chock full of information about Villefranche.
There's a fort and a road (with drawbridge!) dating from the 16th century (or some
200 years before US independence). Most of it was built because pirates liked to attack the
city. They have a road that they could lock, which bought the townspeople a few extra minutes
to hide when the pirates attacked (ah, the French).
This is the road to the local castle; the drawbridge is at the left
Even the name is related to pirates. "Villefranche" means "without taxes"
and back when the pirates were attacking, the people wisely said "to hell with this"
and ran off to the hills. This kinda left the government up a creek (hard to have a city with
no citizens), so they suspended all taxes if the people agreed to live in the city and
occasionally be attacked by pirates (similar to what Seattle does with Boeing).
Nice is about 15 minutes away from Villefranche, although the roads are all about 5 feet wide
and constantly curving. Nice is the largest city on the Mediterranean (if you overlook Athens,
Livorno, Barcelona, and a few dozen other cities) inhabited by about 340,000 people.
We're beginning to understand what people mean when they say "Mediterranean Style
housing," because these houses remind us a lot of large sections of Barcelona. Again,
most of the buildings are four to six stories tall, with shops on the bottom and apartments
above the shops. Most of the roofs are red brick and the houses are painted terra cotta,
cream, and ochre.
Our boat looms in the distance
Laura looks down at the harbor at Nice
Panorama of Nice harbor
Boat; in the background is the war memorial (both wars)
Laura standing by a house made of concrete designed to look like logs (a concrete log
We have switched from the bus to a little tourist tram that is taking us up "Castle
Hill." Castle Hill was first settled by the Celts about 2500 years ago. The Greeks
thought it was pretty cool, so they took over, and then the Romans inherited the franchise.
(It was a handy harbor--especially when it was very windy, to which we can attest.)
This statue is outside one of the local hotels
Laura and tourists on the tram in Nice
There used to be a castle on the hill (which overlooks the harbor and surroundings and would
be a dandy place to put some catapults or cannons to shoot at ships). But Louis XIV thought
the hill would look nicer without a castle, so he burned it down in 1706 (he may also have
been a little pissed at having cannons shot at his troops).
On the ride up the steep hill, a gang of kids (genuine French gamins!) on roller blades skate
like crazy and two of them catch up to the tram and start getting a free ride up hill. They
practice their English ("Hello! How are you! I am fine! Hello!") and duck whenever
the driver looks back at them. After a mile or so, they drop off and skate at high speed back
down the hill (we felt like a ski lift).
While we're waiting to leave the top of Castle Hill, Robert discovers a French religious
tract, entitled "The Film of Your Life." The Hero dies and goes to some place with a
lot of clouds, where he is shown the film of his life. Unfortunately, he didn't obey his
parents, committed adultery, and also lied, so they didn't find his name in the 'Book of the
Life" so he got sent elsewhere.
Then it turns out it's a dream (or a drug-induced hallucination, it's hard to tell). He
decides that he will bring flowers to old people and play with children and in the end he goes
to heaven. (Really.)
We are driving along the world-famous French Riviera and frankly, it ain't much. (Audience
warning: Robert grew up on Oahu in Hawaii, so any beach that isn't 200 feet of snow white sand
is a junky beach, but even so....) It's gravel, and not little gravel like in Washington, but
gravel about three to four inches across.
We visit a public restroom here, which is fabulous. The French have a great system of public
restrooms for which they charge 0.35 Euros per use (about 40 cents). They're clean, stocked,
and there's an attendant at each one (it is, however, very important that you pick up
your toilet paper from the attendant before you go in).
We get off the tourist tram and Monique shows us where the local flower market is. We wander
through it and see all kinds of flowers (including huge bouquets of orchids for 15 Euros).
A sign in French (translated means "Prefecture of the Maritime Alps"); if you go
to their web page, you find out that these folks are bravely battling termites and other
We head for a local cafe where we enjoy a lovely lunch and then just lounge around for a
while. One of the cool things about Mediterranean cafes is that you can sit there for hours
without being bugged about it. In fact, when you want to go, you usually have to hunt down the
waiter and ask him (pretty please) for the bill.
We find the waiter and ask him (please) for "l'addition" (French for
"the damages"). We give him an American Express card, which strangely enough is
accepted in France. He brings out a cool wireless verification device, which he uses right at
The waiter drops his pen which disappears into a crack in the floorboards, and Robert seizes
on the opportunity to announce in flawless French, "That's OK, I am a pencil!"
("Je suis un crayon"). Robert pauses and thinks about this, trying to figure
out why the waiter is collapsed on the sidewalk laughing his skinny French ass off.
Fortunately, just about everybody we've met so far speaks much better English than we do their
language (although they appreciate it when you know some basic words).
We're back on the tour bus on our way back to TaxFreeTown (Villefranche). To get to the wharf,
our giant huge bus has to go down twisting little roads barely wide enough for it to get
through. Naturally, we meet buses coming the other way from time to time. In some secret
French way, they manage to get past each other without leaving bits of bus scattered on the
We decide we would never, ever want to drive here.
Once we're back on board, the Captain announces that we no longer have gale force winds (now
that they're gone, he admits they were way scarier than he did before). So, he's pretty sure
that nothing can go wrong on the way to Livorno.
We shudder. Pride goeth before the fall.
Cast off from Villefranche on our way to Livorno (gateway to Florence and Pisa)
Robert & Laura