Toulon – more than just rough charm

Over a year ago now, in November 2017, my husband and I set off from New Zealand to France, destination Toulon on the Mediterranean coast. This is what Lonely Planet online says about Toulon:

“It has a certain rough charm, and although it’s getting progressively more attractive, most visitors just pass through.”

Perhaps it’s a good thing we are unseasoned travellers who don’t read Lonely Planet reviews! Even though we still would have gone, perhaps our minds would have been closed and the time we spent there would not have been as rewarding.

Our trip was for research purposes for my current YA work-in-progress about a girl from Toulon who travels to Kororāreka (Russell, New Zealand) in 1827-1828. And thank goodness we went: I had prostitutes living in the wrong part of town, people seeing a mountain that can’t be seen, and the sun going north instead of south … okay, so I should have known better about the sun but sometimes, even though you know something, you don’t KNOW it until you’ve seen it.

I had worried about my husband being stuck in one place for three weeks with nothing to do, but my worry was unfounded. Toulon Naval Base is the second largest naval base in France and its museum kept us both absorbed for hours. Waterfront shops remained open during the offseason and he spent hours there as well; we came home with carefully selected purchases of compasses, sailing hats and, his favourite, a small hand-held telescope. The old town was ripe for exploring and we would wander off, separately or together, to absorb the atmosphere. He even seemed to enjoy being directed down side streets taking notes while I wrestled with copies of old street maps.

We had planned to take a number of day trips; Menton had been floated as an idea so we could see the house where New Zealand writers go for their Katherine Mansfield residencies, and he wanted to go to Monte Carlo. We’d even discussed a weekend in Barcelona. But a few sick days on my part put paid to any major excursions. Instead, we took a number of shorter trips. One day saw us drive up Mont Faron to look out over Toulon and then to Sanary-sur-Mer. Sanary is a lovely fishing village with quaint fishing boats lined up along the quay and a beautiful church.

Our second jaunt was to Le Beausset and from there a 40-minute walk to Le Castellet, a small, walled, medieval village. Very sweet and we were just about the only tourists there – heaven. In fact, I would hazard a guess there were more cats than tourists!

Our third excursion took us just ten minutes by bus to Mourillon (Toulon’s main beach area) and our final day trip was to St Tropez, a two-and-a-half-hour drive with a crazy bus driver who I was certain would drop us into a ravine. The lure of St Tropez was actually Port Grimaud, a recently built village using a canal network similar to Venice and just 20 minutes by ferry from St Tropez – except no ferries were running and we were told Port Grimaud was basically closed for winter. St Tropez itself looked basically closed for winter too but we visited the citadel and museum on the hill above the town and got in some accidental research – a lovely surprise.

While Toulon might not be Lonely Planet’s idea of a tourist destination, we found the location perfect, the people friendly and a number of excellent attractions within an easy hour or two by bus, ferry or foot. It even snowed while we were there which made the whole experience quite surreal – I never knew it snowed on the Mediterranean coast!

Fourteen months later my YA novel is still a work-in-progress, but I have now taken my protagonist out of Toulon and she is on her way to New Zealand. Let the next part of the adventure begin.

The Pendants in Pendants and Paperbacks

Given my blog is called Pendants and Paperbacks, I’d better give pendants some air time.

I admire the way my mum dresses. I have since I was in my thirties and started looking out beyond myself. I had also become a mother and knew how difficult it was to pull on a non-food-plastered item of clothing and look half decent. At that time she no longer had children at home and being too self-centred before my thirties I probably didn’t notice the clothes she wore in a previous lifetime.

But when I did start noticing, I saw a fashionable woman in her fifties choosing outfits that complimented her figure and her colouring, and I noticed how she wore scarves. I loved her scarves. I loved the way she flung them nonchalantly around her neck where they would sit in perfect unison with her outfit. I wanted to be like her – stylish and scarf-savvy. But scarves made me look like a clothes horse pegged with damp socks, so for a while, I abandoned my mission to dress like her.

Then one day, quite by accident, I found my signature style with necklaces. I can’t remember the first necklace I bought or when or where I wore it. Nowadays I have a wall-hook filled with necklaces, and I never travel overnight without at least five to choose from.

Last year my husband and I went to Toulon, France. Yes, I took a bundle of necklaces, but I wasn’t leaving Toulon without at least one new one. We were there in time for the Christmas markets and one of the stalls was filled with necklaces (one was filled with huge slabs of chocolate but that’s a story for another day). The necklaces were a little more delicate than I normally wear but after trying on just about every one available I selected two. At that point, I had chosen my blog name, Pendants and Paperbacks, so I just had to get the one that looked like a pile of books. I loved the colours and the jagged stack – it was perfect. The other one was an asymmetrical cluster of geometrical shapes in red and black – my favourite combination.

One reason I went for more delicate choices is that I was shopping with my husband and anything more flamboyant wasn’t going to fly. Outside the Toulon Opera House, there was a woman selling the boldest and most outrageous neck ornaments (for they were so much more than a necklace or pendant) in huge floral arrangements. I loved them. But the look on my husband’s face told me not to buy one. Normally, I don’t kowtow to what he thinks but, if I’m honest, they felt a little too chichi even for me. But, you know how there are some non-purchasing decisions that you regret? This is one of mine. I wish I had bought one. Even if I had never worn it, it expressed so much about the person I can be but who often isn’t seen. Now, when I long to see them again, I realise we took no photos; we didn’t even get a business card or ask if she had a website. And, funniest of all, the Toulonaisse I am working with on my novel research says she has never seen or heard of the floral pendant lady who sits outside the Opera House!

Pendants and paperbacks, necklaces and books, signature style and favoured genre, whatever way you look at it stories and costume jewellery are my happy place.