Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nice is Nice

Monday, September 15

Pat and Tony had reserved a car at the Nice airport to spend a few more days in Provence before heading back home. Their reservation was for 11am, so we did our usual morning breakfast thing and then took them to the airport. They had rented their car through the same agency as us, so it was a great practice for us for when we would be returning our car later that week (yes, that’s the way I think).

The rental agency was swarming with people, so we saw Tony and Pat get into line with lots of others to get their car. We took off and then decided we wanted to make sure they were OK, so we pulled back around, I got out, and went to check in with them. They were fine, just having to be patient, so Jim and I went on our way.

We followed the Promenade des Anglaises to the familiar part of Nice and found a place to park near where we knew the city tour bus would be picking up passengers. We boarded the bus and were off! It was a double-decker and we went upstairs to enjoy the view. The weather was great – cool and sunny. And on the way we got a picture of a block head – we don’t know the story behind it, but it made for a great photo. Each passenger was provided a set of headphones to listen to the recorded tour in one of six or so languages.

We had decided to visit the park in Cimiez where there was a Matisse museum, a monastery, and some Roman ruins. These features were all bordering an olive grove, which was truly beautiful. I can’t imagine how old the trees were. We first went to the monastery, but it was around noon and the building was closed for lunch. Beautiful gardens were off to the side, so we spent some time going thru them and taking lots of photos. Even though it was mid September, all the gardens we saw on our trip were still quite lovely. We decided not to wait for the opening of the monastery and headed off to the museum. On the way, we saw the ruins and got some photos of them; they were fenced off so it didn’t look like you could actually go into the area, though we did see one man in there.

The Matisse museum was great. I don’t know the work of a lot of artists, but it was very cool to see the progression of Matisse’s talent from the early days when he did realistic paintings in the styles of one or another of earlier famous painters to the time when he developed his abstract styles and then even later when he painted a lot of religious themes. We saw the development of his paintings for a chapel he designed in Vence – the Madonna and Child, the stations of the cross – and of course lots of sketches and half-done works.

We got a bite of lunch from a vendor in the park and enjoyed the weather and people watching. The bus tour we were on had two different legs – the red line and the blue line. Jim really wanted to see the Russian church, which was on the other line, so we studied the tour map to see where the two lines intersected or at least came close to each other and then looked at the timetable. Because the Russian church closed earlier than some of the other attractions, we decided our best move was to take the next bus to the Chagall museum stop and then hoof it to the other line’s closest pickup point – however, this meant skipping the Chagall museum! Oh well. Jim had studied the Nice map to determine our on-foot route to the next bus stop and that’s what we did. Lots more people watching as we had a good thirty minute wait at the next stop. It was at the Nice train station, so lots of people and cars and buses coming and going.

The Russian church was enormous and quite striking, with 5 onion shaped … what are they called? The word is escaping me at the moment. I want to say minarets or turrets or something like that. What struck me most was that, as large and imposing as it looked from the outside, it was quite small on the inside – at least, the part we were able to visit. There were very few chairs and it was explained in a handout that worshippers stood for the nearly 2-hour service. Many beautiful examples of iconography ringed the room and there were several visitors who were observers of the faith; we could see them praying and making petitions and crossing themselves several times over.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Monaco and Monagasques and French drains

Sunday, September 14

So before going into what we did on 9/14, just wanted to share a few thoughts about bathing in France. Sort of like the towel saga. Our apartment had 2 rooms devoted to personal hygiene. One room had a toilet and a sink in it. The other room had a tub and a sink. The tub had a shower attachment but it wasn’t, strictly speaking, a shower – at least, not to our American minds. There was no shower curtain, nor any way for the shower attachment to be positioned on the wall above one’s head. It was a spray attachment that one presumably held in one’s hand while getting wet/rinsing off. As with everything else, we got used to it. And kept the water on the floor to a minimum. The sink in this room had a rotten eggs odor whenever we ran the water. Pat made a comment one evening as we were returning to the car after dinner and she smelled a bad odor – “French drains!” she said. I guess we should be glad that the kitchen sink and the other bathroom sink didn’t smell bad???!!!

Monaco today. Pat and Tony adapted very nicely to what had become our morning routine. Although we were waking up early, we weren’t really getting out of the apartment before 10am each day. We had a leisurely breakfast of cereal and toast and coffee and tea on the terrace, in the cool morning air, and then set out to visit the palace in Monaco.

On this day, we followed the signs to the palace and got there about the same time as a number of tour buses. We toyed with the idea of just joining one of the tours, but they weren’t in English, so that seemed sort of pointless. We did follow the crowd, though, as they seemed to know where they were going. As with most places in the area, the parking was underground and we followed the groups up the escalators and into a shopping mall (how American!) and then we wended our way to the surface where the various parts of the palace grounds were available for touring. The grounds appeared to be a mini city, with housing and government buildings and, of course, the cathedral. Mass was being said when we arrived, so no one was allowed into the cathedral for touring at that point. We decided we’d come back, so we made our way to the palace.

We’d read that the changing of the guard took place every day at 11:55 and I think we got to the front of the palace about 11am. There seemed to be a couple of guards changing their posts, so we wondered “Is this it?? It’s not only early, there are only two guards!” Well, that wasn’t it. So we went in for our tour of the palace. There was a combined price for a tour of the palace and a Napoleon museum next door, so we went for the whole thing and bought our tickets accordingly.

We were issued audio devices in our chosen languages and proceeded on the self-paced tour. No photos allowed in the palace area, which was too bad, as there were some very interesting things. We got to see the courtyard where the prince makes speeches to the citizens of Monaco (Monagasques, as we learned) of which there are only about 5,000 – there are many more people living in Monaco, but they’re not citizens. The courtyard could not have held all 5,000 citizens, but that’s what I remember the audio telling me.

We progressed through a series of rooms where dignitaries are greeted and held until they are allowed into the next set of rooms. The throne room was pretty impressive, and there was lots of history about the royal family. I can’t remember if it was the throne room or another room, but several portraits were arranged of the various generations of the royal family, including Princess Grace, Prince Rainier, and their 3 children – the current prince being their only son. I had forgotten that it was the early 80s when Princess Grace died in a car accident while driving on one of the Corniches. The portrait of the 5 of them was a group portrait that had been painted the year before she died. It is very creepy – an extremely romanticized painting, not nearly of the caliber of the older portraits in the room, and the entire family is dressed in white, with gold trim. Everyone but Grace is awkwardly holding onto each other in some way – Grace stands apart. I didn’t like it at all.

After the tour of the palace, we went outside and it was almost 11:55. There were plenty of tourists there that morning and they were all standing, 10-20 deep, at the rope that separated them from the guard area. I took the opportunity to find a public restroom, but Jim and Tony did their best to stick their cameras into the air and get photos of the several guards who were changing places according to schedule. After all that excitement, we went through the Napoleon museum and then got something to eat. We also got Dylan a cute pair of overalls with Monaco racing emblems on them. I haven’t seen him wear them yet, but they were a little on the large side.

We went back to the cathedral where we were allowed to take photos and there was a beautiful altar that I had no luck taking a picture of but which Tony captured beautifully and sent me later. Several members of the royal family are buried in the cathedral, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier; there were a few flowers on the prince’s grave, but the princess’s grave was quite covered with flowers. I suspect her son has at least some of them placed every day. People were so interested in lingering at her grave that there was a guard there to move people along – in French, but we got the gist.

This was our last evening with Pat and Tony, so we went out to dinner at a place we had scoped out earlier, called Edmonds – in Cap d’Ail center, so we would be taking a chance on the parking issue, but it all worked out. We had a lovely dinner and I even ordered a glass of wine. However, I had misremembered a glass of sweet Muscadel wine I’d had a few weeks earlier this year as the Muscadet that was on the menu. Ah, one letter can make such a difference – it was very, very dry wine. I forced it down through the course of the dinner.

We lingered over dinner for a nice long time. We got to hear about other trips Pat and Tony had taken in France years ago. They are also planning a trip to India later this year. We also got to see another patron enter the restaurant with her dog, which lay on the floor for part of the time and then got led around the restaurant the rest of the time on a leash by a little girl of about 4 years old who also was there with her own family. Dogs in restaurants!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pat and Tony arrive and we visit Cap Ferrat

Thursday, 9/11

Pat and Tony were scheduled to arrive that evening from Southampton, England – a good airport choice for them, as S’hampton is much closer than London. I had an email from Tony printed out with all the details and I recalled – without looking at it – that they were arriving at 9:50 that evening, at the Nice airport.

Jim spent the day doing the map to tour book and tour book to map research and I got additional towels for Pat and Tony’s visit. I also did a couple of loads of laundry and read while I did that. In the afternoon, we decided to go west on the Basse Corniche road from Cap d’Ail center and discovered the charming town of Eze sur Mer (as opposed to Eze-Village, farther up the steep slope). Beyond Eze, along the coastline, was the town of Cap Ferrat, where we saw that a villa and gardens once belonging to one of the Rothschilds was located. We decided we’d have to come back to take lots of photos. Once again, the Mediterranean was breathtaking – this time, to our left!

We got back to the apartment and hung around a little more, deciding that we’d have a quick dinner at the resort snack bar, Jim would shower, and then we’d go to the airport to get Pat and Tony. Just as we were leaving the apartment around 5:30 to go to the snack bar, I said “Hey, wait a minute,” and went to look at the email from Tony. They weren’t arriving at 9:50pm, they were arriving at 19:50, which is 7:50pm in American! We didn’t have as much time as I’d thought. Jim grabbed his shower right then and then we scrambled to get down stairs and inhale some dinner. We ended up getting to the Nice airport in plenty of time, but it was touch and go for awhile!

The Nice airport has 2 terminals, and we made a lucky guess as to which one they’d arrive at (it’s amazing how out of touch one becomes when one does not have the internet at one’s fingertips – I hadn’t wanted to drag my laptop to France, but if I had, I’d have been able to hook up to the wireless internet at the resort – who knew?)

When we’d arrived the previous Saturday, we’d been told that the elevator that would save us about 3 of the 5 flights to our apartment was not working, but would be fixed by the next day. It wasn’t, and it wasn’t fixed on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday either, but we were glad to see on Thursday that it was working – finally! As glum a picture of our accommodations as we were planning to share with Pat and Tony on the ride from the airport, at least we’d be able to tell them that the lift worked!

After their arrival and hugs all around, we got them into the car and tried to find our way out of Nice. After a couple of misses, we finally figured it out and got on the road back. We told them about the apartment and probably got them wishing they hadn’t come, but once we all huffed and puffed up the last 2 sets of stairs to the apartment, they decided the place wasn’t too bad. They had a very cute letter for us from their grandson Owen, whose birthday had been earlier in the summer and which we’d commemorated by sending him some money to spend. We’d gotten them some little gifts from the US, including Pat’s favorite garlic juice that she likes to use in cooking, and a red UGA t-shirt for Tony who assured us that red is his favorite color. It may not be but he’s nothing if not a gentleman.

We all settled in for the night after deciding that we would go to the Rothschild villa and garden in Cap Ferrat the next day.

Friday, 9/12

Warm, humid day, so it was nice that the Rothschild villa and gardens were in a lot of shade. There was an event going on later that day or the next day, and there were work crews setting up a stage and public address system, but we could just ignore them and enjoy the grounds.

We got tourist brochures in English that told us about the history of Euphreny (I think) Rothschild whose villa it was, but I haven’t retained an iota of it, so if you’re interested, look up the Rothschild villa in Cap Ferrat. In addition to the house itself, which we toured and could take interior photos of, she had constructed 6 or 8 gardens around the building – a Japanese garden, a stone garden, a rose garden, an exotic garden, and so forth. It was past the season for the rose garden, but there were still some flowers blooming and it was all just lovely. We also had great views of the Mediterranean there as well. After we looked around the gardens – and Jim took a zillion pictures (I only took ½ zillion) – and before we went into the house, we went to the small restaurant there and had tarts and ice cream for lunch. Very rich and yummy. We finished up with the house and went back to the apartment to rest up for dinner.

I must say, Pat and Tony are our kind of tourists – they like to stroll around and look at stuff, and then take a break. It was great to be with them that day and through the rest of their visit with us.

When we got back to the center of Cap d’Ail, we decided we should stop at the tourist office and see where they might recommend that we have some dinner that night. We parked the car and I went over to the tourist office. The young woman there didn’t speak English and didn’t have a lot of success conveying to me where we might go. She pulled out the map of the area and pointed to a place where we might be able to have dinner, but she didn’t know if they were open; she called but apparently no one was there at the moment.

In the meantime, Pat went to the post office and Jim and Tony came into the tourist office to say that there were a couple of places right there in Cap d’Ail, on the main drag, that looked promising. So that ended up being easy and we decided to try the pizza/pasta place after we rested up for the remainder of the afternoon.

The parking area where we had been accustomed to parking when we went into Cap d’Ail was full, however, when we returned for dinner, and there was no street parking available. We kept driving, toward Monaco, trying to figure out what to do. It was apparent that we couldn’t park along the way and then walk back – there just wasn’t any parking. We passed another parking area – I don’t think we were in Monaco quite yet – and right after that was an Italian restaurant that looked promising. It was just coming up on 7pm and while there were no patrons at the restaurant yet, there was activity – a woman was doing some sweeping up around the outside tables.

This apparently was meant to be the place to eat, as we found a parking place in the lot next door. And it was quite nice. I had pesto, Jim had a seafood and pasta dish, and Pat and Tony each has something they enjoyed. The woman who served us was very nice and friendly and we had a lovely time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Italy and self-revelations

Wednesday, 9/10

Before leaving for our trip, I had asked AAA about traveling to Italy – specifically, getting a Eurail pass to do that, as well as maybe travel around France – this was during the “we know better” time and thought we could do most of the trip without a car. When AAA told us the Eurail pass, for 4 days (any 4 days, didn’t have to be consecutive) would be almost $1000, we decided we weren’t that anxious to see Italy. But I had done some looking into the town of San Remo earlier on, and once we got the car, our horizons were limitless, so we decided to venture into Italy. Besides, San Remo looked on the map to be about 10 minutes past the France border.

Jim asked at the front desk of the resort how to get to the A8 going east. They told him we could certainly get to San Remo that way, but they recommended the scenic drive along the coast. Duh. It was great! Such a beautiful drive – and Jim was Mr. French Driver by then, so he was in his element. (He might disagree, but this is my journal, so I get to say.)

We went through Monaco (old hands at it by this time; no fighting) and then through the town of Menton. We didn’t learn until later that Menton is famous for lemons, so the touristy things you can buy include lemon-themed things. As we drove through the town (it’s really a city, but everything seems so quaint that it’s easy to think of these places as towns) we both agreed that we would come back to Menton to check it out.

We got to San Remo and I could immediately see that my “looking into it” earlier had been totally insufficient – a church that sounded intriguing, a garden, etc. I had printed out pages from the Web that described these places, but we had no map with us, no way to orient ourselves to find them. We followed some signs for parking and wedged our car into a space, guided by the guy who was manning the parking area.

Of note: The day before, when we were in Nice, parking the car had cost us almost € 20. Parking for about the same amount of time in San Remo was € 3.

We got something to eat and wandered around a little bit before deciding that we just had to get a map. We found ourselves in an alley that led to a courtyard kind of area where it didn’t look like any cars could pass through, but there was plenty of activity – a few restaurants, some shops where people were living in apartments above, a church, and so on. Jim took a number of photos. Once again, it was the Noon to 2pm time, and most shops were closed, but we found an open tobacco shop (I would call it a convenience store, without any gas pumps) and bought a few postcards and a map. Jim and I could finally figure out where we were! However, none of the places we wanted to see were marked on the map – rather, it gave us some street names (and many other small streets without any names on them) and we could locate the streets where these attractions would be.

I found myself feeling like I wasn’t a very good traveler. Someone else might have done research about San Remo (or Nice, or any of the other places we went or thought about going to) in a different (read: better) way. I’m not a particularly good researcher – I get impatient to “do” rather than “prepare to do.” When we got back to Cap d’Ail from San Remo, I told Jim about these feelings and he – being an excellent researcher – took over – which was great! We had a couple of travel books with us and got those out, along with our map of the south of France and he started research. We didn’t yet know what Pat and Tony would want to do, so he just started identifying places we might want to go, with or without them. I found a weight lifted from me – not that it had ever been specifically on me, but our previous vacations had all been planned by me. But they hadn’t really been the go-go-go vacations this one was meant to be – they had all been more the bring-lots-of-book-and-lie-on-the-beach types of vacations. No real planning needed. So while it seemed like I had done enough by determining that this town might be good to go to and that museum looked cool, it wasn’t enough – you had to know more about how to get there and what road these places were on. And Jim was the man for the job!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Nice and credit cards and the Promenade

Tuesday, September 9

We drove into Nice to get the lay of the land. In the backs of our minds was Pat and Tony’s upcoming arrival on Thursday evening and we wanted to be sure we had some activity plans in mind for their visit. We learned a lot about what we didn’t want to do while they were with us.

We took the A8 into Nice and found ourselves getting off the highway ‘way north of where we wanted to be (we learned later in our stay that taking the Moyenne Corniche –that 6007 road that runs through Cap d’Ail – would have been the right way to get to Nice – beautiful Mediterranean to our left as one drives on the smaller road). We learned a lot about how French traffic signs are placed – their idea of pointing arrows is different from ours – and Jim refined his city driving skills among the French. We said many times throughout our trip that we were glad there was a big Europcar sticker on the back window of the car. Tourist!

We followed signs as best we could until we finally found ourselves at the coastline in Nice. Took us about an hour to figure it out. We were already thinking about how hard it was going to be to get out of Nice!

We got something to eat after parking the car. Sidewalk café serving pizza and sandwiches. When we paid, the waitress brought a small credit card machine to the table. We thought this was very interesting as we’d never seen anything like it before. Turns out, it’s a common practice in Europe – it keeps the credit card within eyesight of the owner of the card. Apparently, there’s a lot of credit card # cloning going on and this practice prevents that from happening. The screen on the machine tells the server if a PIN or a signature is required. While we have a PIN associated with our credit card, we regard that as being for cash advances from an ATM – and never remember what it is. Pat and Tony explained the whole credit card machine brought to the table thing to us and they use a PIN. And told us it’s been this way for years. Tony and Pat are very seasoned travelers and went to Australia earlier this year. They stopped in Thailand for a few days and Tony told of a night they got dinner at a place where the waitress disappeared into a huge crowd with their credit card and Tony immediately jumped up and followed her to where she was running the card through a machine. She wasn’t doing anything underhanded, but Tony couldn’t be sure, so he followed her. Wow. How naïve do we continue to be in the good old US of A? Maybe I should limit that comment to moi, but maybe not.

The seaside in Nice is paved with something called the Promenade des Anglaises and is quite beautiful. We wondered aloud to each other if the people who work and live along this area have become so inured to the view that they don’t marvel at it like we were doing. I noticed that most women in the area were wearing skirts and dresses. And almost no one was wearing shorts. Or athletic shoes, as I was wearing.

The beaches in this area are what are called pebble beaches, though the rocks looked more like stones. Looked very uncomfortable, but many people were lying on towels and mats while they sunned. Several people were going to the beach at lunchtime, in their office clothes, with rolled up mats in hand to sun on the beach. And the only places open from Noon to 2pm, for the most part, are restaurants.

We took lots of photos throughout our trip, many of which can be seen at, so go take a gander. Our grandson Dylan can also be seen at this site!

Reading: I finished Laura Lipmann’s To the Power of Three and started in on Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn (sequel to Case Histories) – both very good.

Italy tomorrow!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Groceries in Monaco and TV in French

Monday, September 8

Big event for the day was grocery shopping in Monaco. The tall woman at the front desk of the resort put an X on our map and drew out the route for us – certainly seemed simple enough. And we set off.

Jim and I have found, in our 20-plus years together, that we will always have a fight in the car when we are approaching an unfamiliar area. Knowing it doesn’t prevent it from happening. And finding the supermarket in Monaco was no exception. Suffice it to say that (as usual) he was making (what I thought were) stupid decisions about where to turn and I was making (to my way of thinking very helpful) suggestions (to his way of thinking criticisms) about what to do next to get back on track. By the time we parked the car underground and got back up to the surface to enter the shopping arcade that included the super market, we actually had to split up to go cool off. And we did. And it was all fine after that.

We watched while several people got shopping carts from a locked chain. They appeared to be putting a coin into a slot in order to release a cart. We had to pay to rent a shopping cart?? We approached the line of chained carts and saw that the place to put the coin was attached to each cart. The slot seemed to accommodate 50 cent, 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins. Hmmmm. A puzzle. We finally took the plunge and put a coin into the slot – where it didn’t disappear into the container but sat there, half poking out of the slot. We were able to unlock the cart and use it. Turns out that the money was released back to you after you locked the cart back up. Incentive to return the cart! If you had too many groceries to return to your car without the cart, there was another cart lockup in the garage! They were thinking of everything!

We also learned that you have to bring your own shopping bags to the grocery store. No choice between paper and plastic – no bags if you didn’t bring your own! Or purchase bags at the store itself, which is what we ended up doing. Sarah and I now each have very chic reusable shopping bags from Monaco! Was food more expensive? Yes and no. The produce seemed very reasonably priced – a package of 3 mixed color peppers was 2 Euros, which was about $3, usually costs us almost $5 in the states. Other stuff? Hard to remember but we spent 100 Euros, which included 4 coffee cups (I haven’t yet mentioned that the apartment had 2 sets of 4 coffee cups that were small and smaller), toilet paper, and other stuff we don’t normally include in our weekly shopping.

After getting back to the apartment and putting away the groceries, we ended the day eating in, reading, and playing games – we had brought cards, dice for Greedy, and a travel version of Rumikub.

A word about our television in the apartment. Jim and I love to watch TV and while there was TV in the apartment, all the channels were French except for one channel in English that was BBC World. So, it was CSI in dubbed French or news in English. CSI in French loses any charm after about 2 minutes, so we learned about the financial meltdown in the US from the BBC. And I was foolish enough to look at the balance in my 401k when we got back. Ugh.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Renting a car and other practicalities

Sunday, September 7

After seeing the lay of the land, we realized that we could not do without a car for the entire two weeks. We found out from the front desk how to get to the airport by bus and trekked up the hill to the 6007 road to find the bus stop and wait for the bus. The bus we were waiting for never came, but another bus stopped at the red light and we ran up to ask where it was going – the airport! The driver looked at us dubiously since we had no luggage, but we assured him we wanted to go to the airport. It cost us €33 for two fares – this was an express right to the airport. Sorry to keep listing the prices, but we kept being astounded at how expensive everything was. Anyway, it was nice to be on an express, in comfortable air conditioning, on our way to rent a car that we could, hopefully, afford.

And we did. After finding out, once again, that there were only prestige cars at one company (€2000 for the two weeks) we found that Europcar had affordable Toyotas and VWs for us. Whew. We ended up with a Yaris that took good care of us thru our trip.

While we were at the airport, I found a kiosk with a computer and internet connection, so decided to send a couple of emails. Our cell phone didn’t have service and I wanted to be in touch with Ehren and Sarah, and also our friends Pat and Tony who were coming for a visit from England on the middle weekend of our trip. The French don’t use the QWERTY keyboard! My emails (I should have kept copies) were full of typos, abbreviations, all lower case, and very short!

Then we had the adventure of getting back to Cap d’Ail from the Nice airport, which actually was no big deal. Jim learned how to drive like a Frenchman very quickly! When we got back, we decided to see what was at the bottom of the hill where our resort was perched – we found the town of Cap d’Ail and a road to Monaco. We had learned that the big supermarket in the area was in Monaco and not open on Sunday. We did a trial run (what a traffic mess in Monaco!) and then went back to the resort. Exhausted. The resort had a snack bar and we availed ourselves of their offerings for a late lunch/early dinner. The snack bar, also open air, overlooked the swimming pool, which is an “infinity” pool – it looks like it drops off into nothing at the far edge, melting right into the sky. Very attractive effect. And a very nice pool. Very refreshing. And the snack bar turned out to be quite sufficient for our needs J

The Towel Saga

One of the things we didn’t know about the “residence” concept in Europe is that guests are expected to bring/supply a lot of their own things – toilet paper, soap, towels. After we fought with the front desk about getting enough towels for ourselves (and in anticipation of our guests!) we saw that other guests, at the swimming pool at least, had brought their own beach towels. Picture this: I am at the front desk asking for eight towel sets – one set equals a thin bath-size towel and a hand towel. My calculations are: two towel sets each for Jim and me – 2 bath towels each – one for bathing and one for swimming and then two more towel sets each for Pat and Tony for the same purpose. The extra hand towels would be used for bath mat, tea towel, hand towel for the bathroom with the toilet, etc. The woman staffing the desk that day looks at me like I’m a nut – she says “The maximum occupancy of your apartment is 5 people; I can’t give you 8 sets of towels.” I explained my calculations to her and she said that we were to use the same towel for bathing and for swimming. I’m sure I looked horrified. We ended up compromising – I took 4 towel sets and Jim and I ended up using all of them before Pat and Tony came. I then got 4 more sets before they arrived, and we made do. We kept making do!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This is just Day 2??

Saturday, 9/6

We arrived in London around 8:30 local time and changed planes – we also changed airports. We collected our bags at Gatwick and found the place to buy the bus ticket to Heathrow. The bus trip was about 45 minutes and then we had about a 90 minute or so wait at Heathrow for the next leg of the flight.

I was again in the middle on the plane from London to Nice. It was a smaller plane, full flight, and the man on the other side of me from Jim was a pleasant Englishman on his way to Monaco for his company’s annual meeting. There were many others from his company on the same flight. He works for the British arm of Marsh McLennan. He’s been making this same trip for 20 years. Poor guy.

BTW, presidential candidate John McCain recently announced Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his VP running mate. I wish I could remember the exact thing one of the Brits on the plane said, but the gist of it was that the Americans are up to craziness again.

We arrived in Nice about 2:30pm local time. It was warm in my knit pants (comfy on the plane, but …) It was also a long trudge from the jetway to the luggage claim. Immigration was easy, getting baggage was easy, and then came the decision about how to get to the resort. We had decided against making car rental arrangements in the US – one of our several “we think we know better” decisions. We had discussed trying to do a lot of things via local train and bus service, renting a car only for the time that our friends Pat and Tony would be joining us from England for a few days. We stopped at one of the car rental desks and were told that the only cars currently available were “prestige” cars – we figured (rightly, it turned out) that this meant “expensive, and certainly beyond your puny means” and so we didn’t pursue it much more at that point. We also needed some cash – we had come only with US dollars in our pockets, which NO ONE in Europe would be interested in – ah, Mexico! Anyway, the CashPoint machine in Terminal 1 was out of service – “diseased” is how the charming woman at the Info desk put it. The same woman made a quick call to Terminal 2 to see if the cash machine there was working, and it was. So off we went to the shuttle from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, dragging our luggage with us.

At Terminal 2, we found the ATM and were presented with many cash withdrawal options – there might have even been a 1000 Euro (€) option. I picked €500 and was rejected. I calmly reinserted my card, picked €400 and that was fine. Whew. OK! Now, off to find a taxi. However, one more try – car rental prices? There were more rental company desks at Terminal 2, but all of them were busy. We figured we’d find a rental car in Cap d’Ail. Again, we thought we knew everything.

As we were leaving the terminal, I stopped again at the Info desk and asked about the protocol for tipping taxi drivers – is it done? The woman behind the desk politely said “It’s up to you.” I pressed her – “What’s the custom?” – she conferred with her colleague and they both indicated that taxis in Nice are so expensive that it was probably best not to bother. We all laughed and went on our way. We were so in for it.

We dragged our luggage out to the curb and looked for a taxi stand. I saw a woman getting something out of a car and behind her was a man who looked very much like a taxi driver. I waved at him and called “Taxi?” He pointed at the woman – at first, I thought he was telling me he was waiting for her, a passenger ahead of us, but it turned out she was the next taxi drive in line. She really looked like a regular citizen! Anyway, I gave her an apologetic look and she didn’t seem to mind.

She was a very attractive, tanned blonde woman who didn’t speak much English. I showed her the address for where we needed to go – P.V. Residence Costa Plana, Cap d’Ail – she seemed to have no problem with it, she stowed our luggage, and off we went.

I tried to speak some French to her as we drove, but I guess my accent isn’t as good as I’d like to think. She tried some English on us, but that was limited too. The drive was exciting – our first view of the drive between Nice and where we were staying in Cap d’Ail – we were going to be taking the exit for Monaco! The road we were on – the A8, equivalent to a U.S. interstate (with tolls, however) – was far enough north of the Mediterranean that we didn’t see it on the drive.

Something was dangling from the rearview mirror and as it turned my way, I recognized that it was a Hello, Kitty ornament. I said “Hello Kitty” loud enough for our driver to hear and she exclaimed, in a charming French accent, “I love Hello Kitty!” Jim had no idea what was going on.

We took the Monaco exit from the A8, went through a long tunnel and then wended our way on the 6007 road into Cap d’Ail. What hadn’t been apparent in our looking at maps back home started to become very clear to us – this part of the world rises steeply above the Mediterranean and everybody who lives within a few hundred meters of the sea can see the sea! As the taxi driver turned off the 6007 and onto the road called Rue General Charles DeGaulle we began a (relatively) steep descent parallel to the sea. Soon after, we were turning into the driveway for our resort and began a very steep ascent up the drive. There was a sharp switchback type of turn and suddenly we were at the gate to a parking garage underneath a building. This wasn’t looking like any resort we’d been to before.

The road, the building, the greenery were all packed closely together. The driveway was steep, turned sharply – and was very narrow. I didn’t notice it at this point, but later noted that the steep side of the hill we were on was held back by chicken wire that stretched up to the top of the slope. A rockslide prevention measure!

The taxi driver parked (with that emergency brake set very strongly, we hoped!), went to an intercom, and said something that we didn’t hear or understand. The gate started to slowly move aside and we started to get our bags out of the car. The gate slowly started to close. The driver went back to the intercom, said more stuff, and then told us that we just needed to go into the garage on foot, with our bags, and make our way to reception by way of the elevator around the corner. By this time, our bags were out of the trunk and I had my wallet out, ready to pay her. She said “Seventy five” and in a daze I took out the money out and handed it to her, my foggy head thinking all the time, “What is that? A hundred dollars? A hundred fifty dollars? What kind of cab ride was that?!” No tip, needless to say.

She took the money, wished us well, and went on her way (I didn’t watch her, so I can only imagine that she had to back her large-ish car all the way down the driveway, at least until that switchback which might have given her enough room to turn around.

Jim and I dragged our suitcases to the elevator and might have even started thinking “We’re almost there!” We rode the small elevator up 2 levels and stepped out onto a wooden deck surface, a large swimming pool to our left, behind a fence, and an open air reception desk ahead of us.

We checked in, got our keys, and were informed that Elevator #1 wasn’t working. They handed us a map to the grounds and highlighted our room, #114. Here’s what we found out: the map made no sense and got us lost; we could never find Elevator #2 to even give it a try; our room was up about 5 flights of stairs; every room in the place had a view of the Mediterranean. This last was the only saving grace for this shabby room they put us in. We were too tired to go back to the desk to express our disappointment about the room and to request another room – for all we knew, this was as good as it got. The “room” was really a small one-bedroom apartment with a small kitchen area (no oven, but 4 burners and an oversized toaster oven). The bedroom was only slightly larger than the double bed that occupied the center. There were two daybeds in the living room, doing duty as couches and sleeping platforms.

Anyone who had never been to the various resorts we’ve been to in Mexico and Aruba, and who’d never been to our home resort in Key West, would probably have found this place in Cap d’Ail to be perfectly acceptable. But it struck us as claustrophobic and very shabby. Two weeks in this place?? It was also very warm and humid the day we arrived, and there was no air conditioning (poor Joan!) The breezes from the Med, plus the eventual weather change that occurred in our second week, ended up making it bearable and eventually quite nice, but we didn’t know that was in store as we stood there, looked around us, and (Joan) tried to keep a stiff upper lip.

We dismissed the bedroom as a room to use and slept for the 2 weeks on the day beds. The wall of the apartment that faced the sea was comprised completely of sliding glass doors. We kept them all open for the entire 2 weeks. The doors opened onto a terrace with table and chairs; this was also the way into the apartment so we were able to lock the place up at the landing while keeping the sliding glass doors open even while we were away during the day. (There are virtually no bugs, in case you’re wondering)

Tired of the whining? OK! I’m done. Wait - one more thing – the bathroom comprised two rooms – one with the toilet and a sink and the other with a bathtub and a sink. The bathtub had a shower hose attachment, but no shower curtain or door. Bathing was an adventure; we made it work.

Warning: Probably too much detail! Feel free to skim!

Friday, 9/5

We both worked ½ day; I went into the office and Jim worked from home. We had a 6:35pm flight out of Atlanta and I was anxious not to be late, so we left home at 2:45, kissing Sarah and Dylan goodbye in the driveway. Ehren came with us so he could drive the car back home. Having checked in online via, we only had to drop our bags at the desk, which we accomplished by 4pm. Now, more than 2 hours to kill!

We got a bite to eat at the food court and then found our gate. I had gotten us seats in an exit row which would give us more leg room than usual, but it proved to be one of the most uncomfortable flights of all time for me. It was a British Airways 777 and we were in cattle car class (euphemistically called “World Traveller” by BA) and although we were at a bulkhead, it was several feet in front of us. This meant no seat (or bulkhead) pockets into which to slip our paperbacks or sudoku books (or plastic wrapped sleep mask/socks/toothbrush/toothpaste/blanket kit issued to each of us, which in my case ended up on the floor behind my feet). So I’m sure there are many, many more inconvenient things in life than this flight was, but I’m hard pressed to remember any of them.

Several feet in front of where we sat was the flight attendant’s jumpseat, affixed to the aforementioned bulkhead. And there was also what seemed to be the only toilet on the plane next to our seats – a very high traffic area indeed – with a very loud flusher. It went off every couple of minutes, all thru the night. I imagine human waste ejecting at rocket speed over the Atlantic. Not to mention parts of South Carolina. Bermuda. Ireland.

I’ve been on flights where those of us in cattle car class were asked to use the toilets in our own cabins. But I remember seeing, on this BA flight, plenty of people from the class ahead of us – World Traveller Plus – coming back thru the curtain to use our toilet. I was a bit miffed. They had wider, leather seats. Why not their own toilet?

I got the middle seat for this flight over. I sat between Jim and a very nice British fellow named Richard, who is now an American citizen and has been living in Atlanta for many years. He was on his way to England to see family and then join up with his partner for a drive around the Lake District, and then they were going to take the Queen Mary back to the US. He might have talked to me the whole way to London, but I was uncomfortable turning to listen to him, I wanted to read, and I was just uncomfortable in general, squashed between the two guys. So I discouraged him from talking by putting my nose in my book.

The movie selection (we each had our own TV screen – those with seats in front of them had back of the seat screens; we had these screens attached to the armrests that swung up to view or down out of the way) sounded quite good, but I didn’t understand that all the movies and TV programming started at the same time and then ended when it had all shown one time. I thought it was going to be “on demand” (what an idiot I am) and when I finally turned on my TV, all the movies were more than half over. I saw the end of Recount, the end of the Helen Hunt movie The She Found Me, and most of episodes of Friends and Frasier. Yay. Because there was no under-the-seat-in-front-of-me storage, my carryon was in an “overhead locker” and a big pain the butt to try to get to. I pouted for much of the flight. And tried to read. Or sleep. Not a lot of success at either.

What we did on our summer vacation

A few years ago, when Jim was pursuing his degree at Central CT State Univ, he took a French class. His instructor raved a lot about the south of France and Jim decided he'd like to go someday. So, we started planning. And in September 2008 we went. We flew to Nice and stayed for two weeks, in a timeshare exchange, in Cap d'Ail, near Monaco. It was a weird and wonderful trip and for the first time ever, I kept a relatively detailed journal of the trip. What follows is a transcipt - heavily embellished - of that journal.