We awoke to more sunshine on Friday morning, just like the previous few days at the coast, but something felt a little different – it was my 32nd Birthday! Esther had been a busy bee the night before while I'd been reading and had decorated the motorhome with balloons and a home made 'Happy Birthday' banner strung across the cupboards. She'd also pushed the boat out with breakfast, making some amazing raw food 'Fruit Layer Surprise'.
I even got my own birthday cake made of crushed nuts, oats, goji berries,chia seeds, honey and nut butter. It felt very special as I opened my birthday cards from family, carried since we'd left the UK a couple of months ago, and a birthday box from Esther with some tasty whole foods and fruit teas inside. Now all of the secret shopping and time I'd spent standing outside of shops the day before made sense. She'd also picked up numerous brochures from tourist info with local activities so I had lots to choose from for a special birthday treat.
After a leisurely breakfast and as the sun started to get higher in the sky, it was time to get ready and head off for the chosen activity of the day – Aquasplash and Marineland. As the names suggest, Aquasplash is a water park that boasts more than 2.5km of waterslides and Marineland is a aquatic centre with Orcas, Dolphins, Polar Bears, Sea lions, Sharks, Penguins etc. The parks are joined, offering combined tickets and we decided on the 2 day pass so we could go to both today and again on one other day in the next week (and it was only 3 euros extra for the second day!).
We set off by 11 and the thermometer had already reached 32°C as we got to the coast and headed west around the coastal cycle path towards Antibes where the parks are. Arriving sweaty from the heat we were very ready to cool off so wasted no time getting the trunks on and into Aquasplash. Confronted by an array of noise and blue swimming pools full of colourful plastic pipes interwoven from a dozen or so tall towers we couldn't wait to get sliding so dashed off to the nearest one.
Despite the heat and the fact it was 18th July, although the park was busy and we had to queue on each tower, it was never more than a few minutes as the queues moved steadily and there was surprisingly no pushing and shoving either. In just a few minutes time it was our turn. We lined up on adjacent slides ready to race, the attendant blew a whistle and off we went. The water was cool but comfortable as we raced along the twisting pipes before being dumped side by side in the plunge pool, both popping up with big grins on our faces. It was going to be a good day.
We worked our way around all of the slides until mid-afternoon. A special mention goes to our favourite, 'Turbulence', or the 'blue boats' as we liked to call it - a steep and straight plummet into a quarter pipe rising up some 30 odd metres which 2 people ride together in a blue dinghy, before gravity takes over and you fall right back through jets of water into a plunge pool. Brilliant. I also rather liked the side winder, a half pipe which you also ride in a 2 person dinghy, starting with a near vertical drop which Esther wasn't too keen on to put it mildly.
By late afternoon we were flagging with the effort of running up and down metal staircases in the sunshine and falling into swimming pools so we decided to make a move over to Marineland (normal clothes back on I should add). I'm never sure if I approve of 'zoos' in general, as I much prefer to see animals in their natural habitat, but on the other hand most of the animals were born in captivity and they do an amazing job at raising awareness – so mixed emotions on that front.
Arriving just in time to catch the afternoon Dolphin Spectacular we grabbed a seat at the back very excited as I'd never seen a live dolphin before. I didn't have to wait long though. Suddenly 6 of them erupted from the pool in perfect unison, jumping 6 or 7 metres into the air, and so the show continued. It was incredible, featuring energetic sections set to fast music joined with slower, more peaceful 'tricks' that showed just how close the bond between dolphin and trainer was – seeing the strength of the human – dolphin bond and how much the dolphins wanted to play was very moving for both of us.
Later that afternoon we had a similar experience at the Orca Whale show. Marineland has 6 orcas, including a 7 month old calf. Watching these 9 ton giants leap clear of the water, backflip, frontflip and twist on the trainers command was impressive enough, but it once more the close interaction between the tiny human trainer and the giant whale that we found the most touching.
In summer the park is open until 11 and offers night time shows that we didn't want to miss, so we wandered round the park exploring and made some calls home while waiting for the sun to set. Particularly moving was the Polar Bear, which we arrived just in time to see settling down to sleep in his ice cave and also the time we spent wandering around the Orca pool and saw the 7 month old calf playing with his mum.
As darkness fell the night time shows began. It was the same dolphins and whales, but this time with fireworks and laser lights! We had expected the same show, but it was a completely different routine and just as jaw dropping. We could have watched those shows for hours. Sadly, it was now time to ride back to the aire (16km away) in the dark and although we arrived back at the motorhome exhausted just before midnight, it had been well worth it. What a birthday.
We spent Saturday mostly recovering at the motorhome and relaxing before taking an evening stroll on the beach before we sat, peacefully listening to a live singer from one of the nearby open fronted cafe's feeling very content with the world. Again, despite it being a Saturday night, the promenade at St Laurent du Var gave us that same warm, family friendly feeling that we'd enjoyed on Bastille Day. We got an early night as we were heading back to Aquasplash in the morning for day 2.
So we got to spend Sunday repeating my birthday treat. Since it was slightly overcast, it was less busy and there were almost no queues. Although the sun didn't get quite so hot and the breeze at the top of the towers felt a little chilly from time to time, we splashed away the morning riding our favourites over and over again, before (getting dressed and) taking in the afternoon dolphin show in Marineland. We also got to see the sea lion show this time as well, where I got soaked through thanks to an enormous belly-flopping sea lion. (I and the lady in front of me obviously had missed the 'Attention Splash Zone!' signs – she didn't look very impressed).
Then, because we could, we squeezed in another hour long aquasplash session until the slides were closing with almost no queues left at all before returning to Marineland for the breathtaking evening shows once more. All of the shows were different, with something new each time and always left us in awe of these amazing mammals.
Which brings us to today and it is finally time to move on from our comfortable aire in St Laurent du Var as there is a 7 day limit. After restocking the motorhome, getting some more gas and diesel, it's now a bit late to move onto our planned next aire so we'll be resting up one final night by the coast (at another aire down the road). We've had an amazing time by the coast, travelling on our bikes to beautiful places and feeling very much on holiday in the sunshine. But the mountains are beckoning, so tomorrow morning it's time to hit the road again and head north into the hills.