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!