Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Au revoir France, you saved the best for last

If there's heaven on earth it's somewhere right here on the beautiful coastline of the Cote d'Azur - Cannes, Nice, and everything in between. I've seen pictures of this area and been amazed but seeing it in person is absolutely stunning. I keep asking myself why has it taken me so long in my life to get here. Despite driving through some ridiculous rain the other day the last two days have been so beautiful I'm not even really sure there's words to describe. I'll try, but let's start with a picture first and say I can't think of a better way to end my month in France.

The photos from Nice, Cannes, and the roads between and beyond are here.

Stepping back a few days to Monday. After waking up to the pouring rain of Marseille and doing my one cultural activity there I hopped in the car and headed to Cannes. It rained so hard at points during the drive that I could barely see the road. I just followed the tail lights of the car in front going quite slowly. I had hoped to take a scenic route along the coast and check out some of the small towns along the way but with the rain that was a total bust.

Upon my arrival all I knew about Cannes was the Film Festival and as it turns out that's pretty much what the town is. It's a relatively good sized city, not nearly as big as Nice, but certainly not a tiny little village. During the summer it's packed, and I could see why. There's beach (with sand not rocks like other areas), shopping and dining, pretty much all that's needed by most.

Luckily by the time I'd arrived the rain stopped so I headed out from the hotel to checkout the waterfront, film festival location, and of course all of the yachts. Holy cow these were some big boats - ridiculously expensive I can only imagine. I walked one stretch of the harbor out along a bunch of berths and the boats were just jammed in there getting prepped for the upcoming summer season. The majority of the boats appeared to be from that beautiful tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

I didn't really do much in Cannes other than just enjoy the waterfront and happily soak in the sun - museums and what not aren't really on the agenda for these days. I figure that if there's something amazing to see I'll see it but the sea and coastline are more than enough for me. Oh, one highlight or perhaps low light was buying sixty dollar sunscreen. Apparently the best facial sunscreen according to the lovely girl in the pharmacy. Let's see, I'd better have amazing skin and no burns for however long the tiny bottle lasts! Clearly a moment of weakness and not asking the price when the first one I was looking at was EUR12 - oops.

From Cannes the plan was to head to Nice but I got some tips from a local that I should head in the opposite direction and backtrack a bit to see the coast that I'd meant to see the day before and then head onwards to Nice. The locals should know what they're talking about so I took his advice. I headed back along to coast to the small town of St Raphael, grabbed some lunch, and sat along the sea to watch the people, water, sailboats, and windsurfers. The coastal views along the way beckoned me to stop and a snap few photos. It was gorgeous indeed.

My only issue with the excursion was that when I got back on the larger road to head to Nice I was welcomed with a new type of toll. And one I was totally not prepared for. I didn't realize that the toll was prepay and the lane I went into was credit card, which of course doesn't work for me, or change that you throw into the basket. Well crap, I just used most of my change for lunch and didn't have the 2.70. After being honked at by the people behind me the little man who worked the tolls had to come over and through pointing and some French/English miming he gave me change for a 10 and I was able to make the toll. About 10 minutes later I had to go through another one and I was luckily more prepared for it this go around! I just kept thinking that I cannot wait to get rid of the car.

Upon my arrival to Nice my immediate thought was that it reminded me of Rio. There's a large boulevard along the sea with beach clubs marked along the way, a multi-use esplanade with loads of bikers, walkers, running, rollerbladers, and green hills off in three directions from the beach. The buildings along the waterfront aren't quite as tall as in Rio, but same sort of feeling where you have waterfront and then a block or two off the sea it quickly becomes residential.

After a few circles in the car attempting to figure out where on earth to park (I could not figure out where to stop and where the hotel's parking might be) I settled into the hotel and took a stroll to check out the waterfront, old town, and Castle hill that overlooks the city.

View of Nice from above
With more local tips I spent this morning driving a bit more along the coast, this time towards Monaco and checking out two different historic houses, Villa Ephrussi Rothschild and Villa K√©rylos, in a very chichi (and apparently most expensive) community of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat just up from Nice. The Rothschild house had great views overlooking some of the other massive houses in the neighborhood and lovely gardens (including dancing fountains every 20 minutes to music). The audio commentary was actually quite interesting within the house with details about the woman who had the house built - she sounds like quite the eccentric one. She was unable to have children so her pets were like kids - the had many dogs and apparently mongoose as well. She held an elaborate wedding ceremony for two of the dogs that was officiated by an English Bulldog and there were invitations and all. Can you say crazy!?!?

From Nice there are three roads, or Corniches, that head up the coast to Monaco. They're toll free, thank goodness, but really narrow and wind along the cliff sides. The lowest is along the sea, then there's a middle one, and then the highest along the top of the hillsides. As part of my drive I went on the lowest and highest and the views were absolutely incredible. I wanted to pull the car over so many times but the road was so narrow there wasn't anywhere to stop. If I'd been able to stop as many times as I wanted I might have as many pictures of the sea as I do of Mont St Michel and might still be out there. I'll settle for the few pictures that I did get because they're pretty awesome (e.g. the first photo of this post).

I didn't actually go all the way to Monaco; they're prepping for the Grand Prix in a few weeks and I heard it might be a bit mental up there. So I settled for an evening view just before sunset looking over the area. Pretty amazing to be able to see an entire principality, city, and community from one birds-eye view. I'll have to see it from the ground soon.

Monaco from above
Sun, beaches, waves, quiet bays, boats, breathtaking views, this little section of the country seems to have it all and more. Yes, it sounds like it's totally crazy here in the summer months when the crowds really flood in, but having experienced it in all it's sunny glory I completely understand why. It may have taken me 33 years to get here but I can absolutely say it won't take me that long to get back. Might even happen before this whirlwind tour is done if I don't get enough of the Mediterranean over the next few weeks.

As this last day in France has been approaching I can absolutely say I'm a bit sad to leave. The two weeks in Paris were fantastic, I loved the city, and the last 12 days driving all around east, west, south and in a lot of circles, capped off with the last two days were amazing. The marathon feels like ages ago and I actually forget that I ran it to be honest. The car went back to Enterprise today - even with multiple EUR30-50 trips to the gas station, at least EUR100 in tolls, and some tense moments with the navigation it was totally worth having and putting something like 2700 kilometers on it! I've added the major locations/towns/cities to a map here if you want to see all of the ground that I covered. If I get down time and feel really fancy I'll fill in the actual routes and more details of the places I checked out.

I made it a month hardly speaking more than bonjour, parlez-vous anglais, and oiu. Everyone I spoke to was incredibly nice, helpful, and in many cases patient as I fumbled around and tried to find my way.  Even with some mishaps while driving the adventure was way more than I even thought it would be. I knew what to expect for the most part in Paris but had no idea once I got into the country and other cities. There are places I definitely want to go back to and so many more to see. Next time I'll hopefully speak a bit more French!

For now it's au revoir et bonne nuit. The small island nation of Malta is calling. This will be a holiday within my holiday. Can't wait to see some friends and spend four days in one place.

Sun setting over the coastline

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