Tuesday, July 17, 2012

French Riviera's Top 6!

For the past ten days, I have been spoiled under my cousin and her husband’s hospitality. Technically, I think Lisa is my 1st cousin twice removed or 2nd cousin once removed? Oh, who knows! She’s family. And, she has been a spectacular host. Colette and I get to snuggle up on their Murphy bed each night in the midst of their living room, enjoy her fresh and healthy home-cooking, get escorted to some of the finest towns along the coast, and get free laundry (complete with hang-drying our clothes on their terrace).

Colette and I with Lisa

This entry summarizes the past 10 days that I have soaked up the coast of the French Riviera (excluding the 2.5 days we were in Prague). So prepare yourself; it’s a long one.

Fun Fact #1: In Southern France, we traveled to: Antibes (where my cousin lives), Nice, Monaco (& specifically Monte Carlo), Juan des Pins, and Tourrettes Sur Loup, the mountainside village where Marc (Lisa’s husband) works.

Fun Fact #2: There is something more delicious than a chocolate-filled croissant. It is a chocolate AND almond filled croissant. Ooooh. These creations must be in heaven; I will request a transfer if they’re not.

Presenting…..in chronological order…

The French Riviera’s Top 6

6. Nice. Because we were flying out of Nice to get to Prague, we spent the afternoon in the coastal town. We had fresh mussels for lunch, wandered the antique market, purchased vintage art prints, and climbed the 200-some-odd steps up to the Chateau. It was hot and beachy, but the chateau and other 13th century architecture made it lovely. Despite being juxtaposed by the tall rectangular eye-sores from the 70’s, the city’s old-town charm and French market place made it inviting.
You only live once!

5. Topless sunbathing on the pebble beach in Antibes. Well, you only live once! The French beaches are filled with topless women, of all ages, enjoying smooth tan-line free chests; there is no gawking from men or others, not even teenage boys. It is not shameful. It is natural. So naturally, Colette and I had to partake in this cultural habit. Though I’m still a little burned (literally sun-burnt) from the event, there is nothing more liberating than lying on a pebble beach without any self-consciousness. The sea is a brilliant greenish-blue and calmly laps up on the shore. To the right is the curving coast of Antibes’ old town. To the left are the Alps. In front is nothing but bright blue sea and a handful of sailboats. We were lucky to find a more secluded beach; let’s be honest- Colette and I were still initially apprehensive to shed our tops. We listened to the coastal wind that kept us cool and sound of the water rushing onto the rocks. Peace.

4. Because of the intense winds on Saturday, July 14th, Bastille Day, all fireworks were cancelled—much to our dismay. Never ones to sit and mope, Colette, Lisa and I ventured to Juan les Pins, another coastal port near Antibes. Marc was working the Bastille Day Dance in the village where he is a cop, so he was unable to join us.
Now, when I say we ventured, we definitely ventured. We walked down the coast of Antibes and up the cobbled slope to the lighthouse, where we saw breathtaking views of the coast- nearing sunset. We then peeked through the gates of the nearby Caps de Antibes, where the rich and not-so-famous lavishly live. We finally made it to Juan les Pins 2 & ½ hours later. A quick jaunt, really.
Our delicious drinks
After a delicious and well-earned dinner, we decided to go for a drink. Juan les Pins is the ‘happening’ city with all-night clubs and bars. We passed by a Brazilian inspired bar, Pam Pam, and were hooked by the dancers parading in feathers. Despite the line of people waiting in front of us, our magic number of ‘3’ got us seated immediately and right up front to the show. Completely touristy, over-the-top, and commercialized. But fun, delicious, and amazing nonetheless. Colette’s cocktail was served in a monkey, mine had a cute bird and fruit on the rim (of course, I kept the bird. Did you really think I wouldn’t? I miss my baby Pickles), and Lisa’s four shots of whisky came on a fat bamboo log. The dancers shook their hips in sequined, feathered outfits, the singer sang in Portuguese, and the drummer—well, he was just pretty damn good looking. It was a perfect girls night, and just what Colette and I needed. So close to the end of our trip and no longer busy every minute of the day like we were on our tour, we were starting to feel a little homesick. But nothing a monkey drink, Brazilian music, and dancers couldn’t cure.
Papou and Toucan became close friends
3. Sunday, we drove up to meet Marc for a picnic lunch in the mountains. What? Mountains right next to the sea? Yes. I know. It’s just not fair.
Our drive up the winding mountains of Antibes was incredible.
Having experienced it, now twice, there is nothing I found more amazing and puzzling than the following: Finding home, feeling at home, somewhere that is thousands of miles away from your real home. This was the more-or-less thesis of my final paper in a Creative Nonfiction class I took in college, where I wrote about my experiences traveling abroad during Semester at Sea. I had found my first home-away-from-home in Japan, which is a long, separate story. In the mountains of Southern France, I have now found my second.
It wasn’t France though, it was the mountains. It wasn’t like the lush Swiss Alps we had been to. It was the dryer, desert-y mountains with fresh pine air. With the car window down, wind rushing across my face as we sped around the curves (no really, Marc is like a race-car driver on those curves), I was able to reflect. This feeling, surge of emotion and longing and peace, happens every time I am in the mountains in the Western U.S. –Colorado or California. I just feel that I am meant to be there. I’m sure my experiences at Idyllwild my senior year in high school help attribute to it, as well as my dude ranch vacations in Colorado, but I just can’t accurately describe it. Maybe it’s a former reincarnation of myself that used to live or pioneer in the mountains. I just know that in 10, or 20, or even 30 years, I will have to move to the mountains and live out the rest of my life there.
Picnicking on the side of a mountain was heavenly. I have felt peace many times on my journey, but this was the first peace where I felt at home.
Wild lavendar

Southern French mountainside
Beautiful views!
2. Later that evening, we drove back down the mountain and onto Monaco. This happened after detouring in Marc’s village, Tourettes Sur Loup, another beautiful medieval town in the mountains. It is called the City of Violets, so Colette and I just had to sample the local specialty, violet ice cream. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.
Open Air cinema in front of the prison walls
An hour drive later and we were back along the coast in Monaco, specifically Monte Carlo. We went to the Open-Air Cinema. A large screen sits in front of Monaco’s prison walls. Movie seats are rows of empty white lawn chairs. When you look up, there is nothing but sky and stars. The faint sound of the sea is miles below you. We watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (renamed Indian Palace in France). It was a wonderful feel-good movie with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith: the story of eight older English people who travel to a run-down (unbeknownst to them) hotel for the elderly in Jaipur, India. What is more perfect than a story about the beauty of traveling, finding a new home away from home, at this point in my trip? And with the wit of Maggie Smith? That’s just fantastic.
At one point in the movie, a stork flies up in the sky; at the same time, a white bird flew over the movie screen. Colette and I synced eyes and giggled. It was perfect.

1. After a lazy Monday on the beach and pizza in the evening, Tuesday was our last full day to soak up the French Riviera. So we traveled to Cannes. We went to the theatre that hosts the Cannes Film Festival. A 2 hour tour in French? Not such a piece of cake. Even with Lisa's basic translation, it got pretty boring pretty quickly. The highlight of the day, however, was on our journey back to Antibes at the Sainte Croix winery. Marc and Lisa know the owners, so we were definitely taken care of. I sampled every type of wine they had- multiple Roses, Blancs & Rouges. Twas delicious, to say the least. Between the French men's conversations and banter, Lisa's talk with one of the woman, and one of the men's attempt to communicate with Colette in Spanish, it was a whirlwind of language and cultures. And it really showed me how much I will miss being drowned in a foreign culture and the language. Having no idea what is going on around me, yet loving every minute of it.
Sunset by the lighthouse

Near Juan les Pins

Picnic in the mountains

We've become quite close!
Now, onto Amsterdam for one last full day before I return home. To my real, current home that is. I haven’t moved to the mountains…yet.

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