A Visit to Venice de Provence

We’ve had the pleasure of strolling through a new town, and this time our visit was not to a hardware store!  Brian and I befriended David and Bonita; the French broker who sold us Detour and his American fiance.  David and Bonita live aboard their sailboat, Echappee Belle II, in the town of Martigues which is roughly 30-minutes from Port St Louis du Rhone.  David had invited us to join them aboard for a French meal.  We were thrilled!  We arrived late in the afternoon so that we could explore Martigues, the town David had referred to as “Venice de Provence” or “the Venice of France.”

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Martigues has a unique layout as it rests beside the Canal de Caronte; this major canal separates the town from a central island which also has smaller canals running through.  Canal de Caronte connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Barre Lagoon.  The canals running through and around Martigues create a resemblance to Venice.  Brian and I enjoyed this charming stroll; over arched bridges and past boat-lined canals, down cobble-stoned streets and past colorful buildings.

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Across the Canal de Caronte, we spotted our Echappee Belle II’s blue hull sitting prettily at the end of the dock.

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We were still a bit early for dinner, French meals don’t begin before 7:00pm, and so stopped for a coffee on our walk back toward the docks.  We couldn’t find any of those picturesque cafes that line the streets of foreign movies.  Instead, we stopped at one of several bars where men were sitting or standing and drinking drinks.  It remains unclear to us the purpose of these bars; they serve coffee, liquor, beer, and are sometimes accompanied by off-track betting.  Interesting establishments.  We do avoid the off-track betting.  This particular bar was adjoined by a pizza counter.  There were exactly three customers inside, all men; one chatting with the pizza counter chef and bartender, one rocking out by himself to the jukebox with a beer in hand, and one playing pinball.  We ordered two coffees from the bartender and took a seat at a table by the window.  While we sipped our luscious espressos, darkness fell and we watched as the evening lights lit the town’s streets, bridges, and shops.

Coffee has a knack for quickly exiting one’s body.  From the bar we only had a short walk to the docks, and although we’d already used the bar’s bathroom, we were both suddenly in need of another!  We couldn’t have just show-up at a new friend’s boat and immediately asked to use the head!  Fortunately for us there was a public toilet in the lot where we’d parked. This public toilet was the most amazing porta-potty we’d ever seen!  It was totally automated.  First you insert 30 cents and then a door slides open like a space capsule.  As you step inside the door a voice instructs you; the voice speaks French so we had no idea what it was saying but fortunately we do know how to use a toilet.  The door closes and you have your own, private little bathroom with a toilet, sink, hand soap, coat hook, and mirror.  More like a porta-pod.  When finished, you press a green, square button depicting ‘Exit’ and the door opens.  Now, I’d learned from half-reading the instructions that inserting 30 cents buys you 20 minutes of porta-pod time so upon my exit I told Brian to jump in next before the door closed.  Only my cruiser mentality would try to pinch 30 cents!  Brian adamantly refused.  This made me feel cheap, but while I pouted he explained from his interpretation having fully read the instructions that the porta-pod would be sanitized once exited.  “No way!”  Sure enough, once the door had completely closed the automated voice announced something and then from the outside we could hear spraying inside.  “Woah,” I exclaimed, “I guess you missed your shower for today.”

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We received a warm welcome from David and Bonita at Echappee Belle II.  The saloon table was neatly set and the cabin was warm.  David gave us a tour of the boat.  Lovely!  Then as we sat around the table, I pulled a bottle of champagne from my bag that we’d brought to celebrate David and Bonita’s engagement.  It was the first bottle of champagne ever aboard, and David enthusiastically popped the cork so we could share a toast.  David we sat and chatted, enjoying the champagne, while David prepared our meal.  The night’s special was called raclette.  This was a French mountain dish, David explained, typically a wintertime meal.  David had a special grill that was set at the center of the table with accompanying small serving dishes for each diner.  He set out sliced meats and vegetables.  Atop the grill, David placed pre-boiled potatoes.  Raclette is a type of sliced cheese.  David instructed us in order to begin feasting.  First, you take a piece of raclette (or 2) and place the cheese slices onto your small serving dish.  Then, place the small serving dish under the broiler beneath the grill’s top.  Leave the dish allowing the cheese to melt.  Meanwhile, select your meats, vegetables, and potato.  Once the raclette has melted, remove it from the broiler and pour over your selections.  Delicious!  Raclette was a leisurely meal allowing us much time to get better acquainted with David and Bonita.  We ate and talked long into the evening.  Thanks to David and Bonita for a fabulous night!

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