Tuesday, September 20, 2005

2005: Summer in the ...colonies! (1st part)

Our Greek friends find it strange that we prefer to travel abroad during the summer… ‘Why would you want to do that? Summer means sun and sea and the best place to have these is Greece!’ seems to be everybody’s comment. Well, we like to live new experiences exploring other cultures and ways of life is our honest answer.

But it makes you think… Can we combine our wish to travel abroad with the typical (Greek) summer features? And let’s see what else we’d like to be added to the equation: let’s find a place that’s not very far so we don’t spend all our time in planes; it would be great if people there speak French, for Maria to practice her newly acquired language skills; and it has to be a place with a nice Intervac home for us to use (see www.intervac.org, our preferred way of vacations).
The result is obvious, isn’t it? La Côte d'Azur! (French Riviera for English speakers) So no Scandinavia this year – we’ll visit the colonies! (Ancient Greeks settled in the area in the 5th century B.C.)

We briefly considered going there by sea and car, but in the end we decided that flying was much quicker. And it was, just not for our luggage! Air France decided that our luggage were not in the same hurry as we were, therefore they shouldn’t need to be in the same plane as we were! So we landed in the airport of Nice with just our carry-on luggage and a nice small travel bag for each one of us, courtesy of Air France, with the basic stuff we would need (toothpaste and the like…), until our luggage were delivered to us the next day.

Our home for the coming days would be a comfortable apartment overlooking a small forest at the village of Mouans-Sartoux, at the outskirts of Cannes.

We spent our first evening in the city of Cannes, to orienteer and relax. The dinner menu had mussels. Finding our way back home was a small adventure, as we over-depended on the car GPS system which we used for the first time! (A very useful feature for the next days, though, which rendered road maps useless).

After spending one more day in Cannes, we decided to visit the famous Saint Tropez. A very picturesque but crowded town! Of course not only Saint Tropez but the entire Riviera was full of tourists (yes, just like us…), which meant that it took quite some time to go from one place to the other. Unfortunately and despite our searches, we didn’t manage to see any famous person -although Bruce Willis had visited a Saint Tropez beach a day ago. Ahm, the beaches… Rather disappointing we’re afraid: narrow, overcrowded and the sea far from crystal clear.

The next day was a trip to history and literature: the island St. Marguerite in the gulf off the city of Cannes. This was where the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was incarcerated. The weather was fine, so the short cruise combined with a walk in the paths of the wooded island and some swimming made for a wonderful half day – and it got better when we visited in the evening the village of Mougins. This is where Pablo Picasso stayed and we agree that he had a good reason to do it: a village on top of a hill, small, pretty and, despite us tourists, rather quiet.

The next morning we thought, since we are so near, why not visit the Italian Riviera too? So, off we went to San Remo… The city is famous for its song festival, but we can’t really find any other reason to recommend it. Back in Mouans-Sartoux, the mood was festive in the evening: live music and dancing in the village square.

The city of Grasse is just a few kilometres away from Mouans-Sartoux and is ‘the perfume capital of France’. (That’s another good thing about France: every place seems to be famous for something…) We visited the Fragonard perfumery and then enjoyed music and dancing as the city celebrated its ‘jasmine festival’. So we satisfied our senses of smell and hearing… How about taste? After all, this is France! A sumptuous four hours lunch at the 2 Michelin stars restaurant ‘Moulin de Mougins’ was a wonderful and rewarding experience. The night ended with splendid fireworks above the night sky of the gulf of Cannes.

The next day our excursion took us to the villages of Biot (home of many glasshouses) and Saint Paul de Vence (a typical medieval fortified village, one of the most visited places in France). And then to the rightful capital of Côte d'Azur: the city of Nice (or Nikea as it was called when it was first colonized by our Greek ancestors back in 350 b.C.) with its famous Promenade des Anglais! Since you managed to read this far, here’s a free tip worth at least 10 €: parking is hard to find but don’t despair. Just park it in the parking lot of a casino, go for swimming, visit the old city with its narrow streets and its vendors, have dinner and then, just before you leave, spend some time –half an hour is enough-, at the casino itself. No need to actually play, although we did try the slot machines. Remember to ask the casino staff to stamp your parking ticket and then you can drive away having paid, well, nothing! Another original idea we tried in Nice: a restaurant where they serve you whatever they have decided; you don’t have to –and can’t really- order! Nice food but we couldn't understand why the service was so slow...

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