Paris and the South of France Tour

Day 14 Thursday May 14, 2009
L’Ile-sur-le-Sorgue – Antibes – Nice

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The actual digital photos have much better resolution than the enlarged photos.
The breakfast layout at Les Nevons.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. This happened to me fairly often at home, but it was the first time on the tour that I had awakened way too early. I checked my points on the ACBL website. I was not surprised to find that I had pretty much dropped out of contention for the Mini-McKenney. I worked on the journal a little bit. I started to feel a little feverish, so I took an aspirin. I blew my nose about ten times. This was an unwelcome development. I eventually became tired enough to get back to sleep.

The cold table.

I had a really ugly nightmare involving an auto accident. Then I dreamt that Sue and I were in a hotel room in Charlotte, NC. It was actually more of a suite. When we woke up in the bedroom, we noticed that two or three people were in the suite’s other room, which had wooden floors and very little furniture. It sloped noticeably from one end to the other. I asked the intruders, several of whom were working on computers, to leave, but they refused. In fact, they hardly even paid any attention to me. Evidently they used this room every day despite the fact that it was part of one of the hotel’s suites. I had the impression that they were operating a business.

Roscoe doing battle with the coffee machine.

I called the police for help. The dispatcher, who was female and had a heavy southern accent, asked me for my room number. I could not remember whether it was 2227 or 7222. I kept the dispatcher on the line while I went on the Internet to find out. I finally determined that the number was 2227, but by that time it was obvious to me that the police were in on the scheme. The whole thing came to resemble a Twilight Zone episode. I woke up and pressed the button on my Indiglo watch. It said 6:10.

The last breakfast in Provence.

I got up, dressed, shaved, and when down to the breakfast room, where I ate with the Lantzes and Phoebe. This hotel made available a coffee machine that was similar to the one in Arles. Since this one lacked a “Caffè Ristretto” button, I pressed the “Espresso” button and then the “Cappuccino” button. The result was fairly tasty, but it almost overflowed the cup. Cold cuts were available, but nothing on the counter impressed me as suitable bread for a sandwich. There were plenty of jams, but I concentrated on the fruit and the fruit juice.

The group photo.

When Donna arrived, I let her know that Danny had been eliminated from American Idol. Georgene came to breakfast alone with the news that Len had been sick to his stomach the previous night. When he came down for the group picture, he was feeling better. Nancy said that she had never been on a trip with so much illness, and this was her ninth Rick Steves tour. No one had ever needed medical treatment on any of her previous tours.

I told her about our first tour. One person broke her hip on the train platform in Varenna and never even made it to the “get acquainted” meeting. A second person stepped in a hole at the first stop in Alto Adige and spent a week or more in the hospital in Balzano getting her ankle fixed. We all felt like as if we were in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The lady with the bum ankle brought her Italian phrase book with her, but all of the hospital staff spoke German.

This is the pizza place in which we dined on Sunday evening as seen from the bus.

Sue was the last person down. Even though she had planned on forgoing the packing and unpacking process, for some reason she found that she needed to remove everything from her bigger backpack and then put it back in. Patrick began to get impatient. I ran back up to the room and carried her backpacks down for her.

I did not expect to see mountains on the way to Nice.

Patrick arranged for someone to take a group picture on the steps of the hotel. The fellow used Nancy’s camera as well as Jim’s. It was not the most dramatic backdrop for a group photo, but it did not bother me. I have never cared much for any kind of posed picture.

I tried to figure out why we had bothered to stay overnight at L’Isle-sur-le-Sorgue. By the time that we arrived here there was not much to do except eat supper, and the selection of restaurants did not seem exceptional. Patrick also mentioned that he had never stayed in our hotel before. The only attraction that I could see was that it was a short drive from Roussillon. The alternative would have been to drive back to Arles. It would have required a little more time on the bus. If it were up to me I probably would have skipped both Roussillon and L’Isle-sur-le-Sorgue and allowed everyone another afternoon and evening in Arles. Of course, most of the rest of the group may have already done everything that they wanted to do in Arles.

Our last rest stop was another Autogrill.

The bus passed through Cavaillon again. Although I was alert to the fact that we were driving through the roundabout with the statue of the giant cantaloupe, I once again failed to get a photo of it.

Patrick was not the only driver in Antibes.

Patrick used the time on the bus to help everyone with their travel connections after the tour. He was uncertain of the best way for us to get from Nice to Turin, but he said that he would check for us as soon as we arrived in Nice. I should have told him that I had already checked this out on the Internet. The only route that I could find involved a connection in Genoa, but I had read about a way that involved changing in Ventimiglia and then going north through Cuneo to Turin. The account that recommended this said that it was an easy connection, and the views were described as breathtaking.

I was fascinated by these billboards. The message would stay up for a minute or two. Then it would scroll up and be replaced by a different advertisement.

The bus seemed cold to me. I wished that I had brought my jacket. I had carried it in my backpack for most of the tour, but I decided to pack it in the big red suitcase for this leg. After all, we were going to the French Riviera.

We stopped for a break at an Autogrill. It looked as if it had rained a bit there. The retail area had only one coffee machine. Since this was the last pit stop of our tour, the official record-holder would be our very first rest stop. None of the others had come close to its thirteen coffee machines.

Inspired by all the yachts in the harbor, the group bravely marched on Antibes.

Patrick informed us that Provence produced a lot of medium-quality wine as well as olive oil. He told us that the more precise the location on a label, the better the wine was supposed to be. The lowest-cost wines did not even identify the country in which the grapes were grown. The regional wines with an AOC designation met the standards for that region. In Bordeaux, some bottles of burgundy might even identify which field produced the grapes.

It started to rain, but it did not appear to be too serious. Olivier, who was sniffling like almost everyone else, did not bother to deploy the windshield wipers.

A sidewalk scene on the Côte d’Azur.

Patrick told us a little bit about Monaco. In the thirteenth century it had been a colony of Genoa. In 1297 the Count of Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk, opened the gates, let his troops in, and conquered the area. Except for a period after the French revolution, the Grimaldi family has ruled the tiny country ever since. That made them the longest-reigning family in Europe. Patrick said that the country almost disappeared in the 1850’s. It was nearly bankrupt when the casino was opened in 1856. In ten years the country had earned so much money that it no longer even needed to levy taxes. Because of the lack of income tax, lots of rich people resided there.

The food market in Antibes.

The bus would be stopping in Antibes for lunch. The town’s main attraction was the Picasso Museum. Unfortunately, the museum closed every day from noon until two p.m.

We drove past Cannes, but we did not stop. The annual film festival had started. According to Patrick Cannes would be a zoo. We could not see the harbor, but Patrick said that it would be full of yachts running to seven digits in value.

Around the corner they sold everything else.

Our stay in Antibes was scheduled for a couple of hours. Hundreds of yachts were parked in the harbor near the bus. Patrick led us past them toward the market area of the town. I had no interest at all in the yachts, and I did not feel like looking for a restaurant. I wanted precisely three things: some potato chips, a cold Diet Coke, and a spot that was out of the wind. Needless to say, my objectives were not asymptotic to anyone else’s, so I set off on my own.

Sometimes I have very simple needs.

It took me only a few minutes to locate a very small Shopi a few blocks from the main market. I went inside. The refrigerated case with the Coca Cola Light, which is what they seemed to call Diet Coke everywhere in Europe, was easy to find. The potato chips were hidden on the landing of the stairs that led to the second level, on which Shopi kept its wine. I almost gave up before I found them.

The view down from my second lunch spot.

I proceeded to the only checkout counter that was open and paid for my stuff. I was proud of myself for having accomplished two-thirds of my objectives in such short order.

When I looked back the other way, I could watch these three young people practicing gymnastic moves.

I was uncomfortably chilly in my short-sleeve shirt, and I had packed away my jacket. I was therefore determined to find a place to sit that was out of the brisk wind that was coming off of the water. In my mind that certainly eliminated anything near the water. I found a seat at the top of some stairs a short block from the main street. I sat there for a while, but there was a fairly strong breeze coming down one of the streets. This breeze was blowing towards the water. Go figure.

Le Drinkers Club met every day for ten and a half hours!

I found a low wall on a street leading diagonally down to a mini-market on the main street that led to and from the water. This suited all my purposes. I sat there peacefully for a few minutes people-watching and munching my chips.

Two young guys and a girl were doing some exercises or gymnastic drills or something using the low walls and other objects to be found in a courtyard twenty or thirty yards from where I was sitting. Down below me was part of the market. People were selling art or knickknacks in small stands there. A lady in a wheelchair came in and bought a handbag of some sort.

We saw many fancy yachts and cars, but ...

On the way back to the bus, I ran into Gigi and Roscoe. Someone had informed me that they knew about several hiking trails near Nice. However, when I asked them about it in Antibes, they said that they had not spent much time on the Côte d’Azur.

If the weather proved favorable, Tom Corcoran and I would probably try to find a trail on Friday. However, the latest forecast that I had checked estimated the chance of rain at 80 percent. They were expecting up to two inches of precipitation.

... most of the boats were like these.

This is the French Riviera?

As the bus approached Nice from the west, the airport was plainly visible. It was situated out on a peninsula (or maybe landfill) across the Bay of Angels from the town. Landing there must be as exciting as landing at Logan. Patrick said that it was a parking lot for private jets. It was especially busy because of the film festival and the upcoming Grand Prix race in Monaco.

Patrick informed us of a strong British influence in Nice. Evidently the American influence was equally powerful. How else could one explain Miami Beach and the Quais des Etats-Unis? Coco Chanel put Nice on the map when she came here and returned to Paris with a shocking suntan. Prior to that occasion, suntans were strictly for farmers.

My best bus photo ever.

They call this a beach?

Tom C. and the Stans in front of the Marché aux Fleurs hotel.


The Quais des Etats-Unis.

The waterfall as seen from the street.

Our hotel in Nice, the Marché aux Fleurs, was a Mercure hotel. We only had to cross the street (Quais des Etats-Unis) to gain access to the Mediterranean. That is not to say that we were close to the beach. Nice did not offer anything that would be labeled a beach in the States. The shore was very rocky, but at least you could go down to the water if you felt so inclined.

Our room was not ready when we arrived. Sue took a seat in the very small lobby and guarded the luggage while I went on the orientation walk that Patrick led upon our arrival.

The orientation walk.

Lemon tree, very pretty.

Nice impressed me as a pretty interesting place. I had expected it to be much more like Antibes, catering to the beautiful people of the yachting crowd. The old city of Nice, which had been relegated to the tourists, was a triangular area enclosed by the original hill on which the Romans settled, Boulevard Jean Jaurés, the double avenue, and the Mediterranean. It seemed to be fairly easy to find one’s way. There were numerous restaurants, many of which were Italian. Patrick dubbed the section of town in which each restaurant with outdoor seating rubbed elbows with two others, “the mother of all food courts.” In front of many of them stood men actively seeking customers in the manner of carnival barkers.

When we arrived at the cathedral square, Patrick told us that the church was dedicated to Sainte Reparate, a martyr of the early Church whose corpse, according to legend, had appeared in Nice’s Bay of Angels. I mentioned to Patrick, who had claimed that no one had heard of the saint, that the old cathedral in Florence had also been dedicated to her.[1]

As always, Patrick told us everything that we needed to know.

Paul and Brad were constantly arguing about whether a truly unified field theory required ten dimensions or eleven.

Nice did not become part of France until 1860. Prior to then it had belonged to the Savoy kings in Piedmont. I knew that Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of the Risorgimento who had been born in the city, was furious about the new arrangement.

Signs in Nice identified the names of streets and squares in both French and the Niçard dialect, which appeared to me to be much closer to Italian than to French. I wondered if anybody still spoke it, or if the signs were just there for the benefit of the tourists.


The building with the green awnings was Lou Pilha Leva. You ordered your socca on one side and your beverage on the other.

The orientation tour ended at the Boulevard Jean Jaurés. Tom and Patti and Brad and Donna decided to return to Fenocchio’s for a refreshing gelato. Knowing full well that my can would be canola if Sue caught a whiff of pistachio on my breath, I forthwith went back to the hotel to see if our room was ready. My timing was perfect. The room had just become available, and Sue had just finished the drink that the management had given her out of pity.

The top is French; the bottom is Niçard.

The good news was that we were in room #119, so we only had to lug our suitcase, duffel, and backpacks up one flight of stairs. The hotel used key cards, but there was one very peculiar aspect to them. The arrow indicating how to slide the card was on one side of the key card, but the magnetic strip was on the other.

Check out those ears.

We discovered the bad news when we opened the door. The room had a double bed, but it was only accessible via a narrow circular staircase. There was no way that Sue was willing to climb up and down those stairs over and over. So, she immediately claimed the much smaller bed on the lower level as her own.

Downstairs in room 119.

I needed to forward an e-mail to the office. A card on the desk explained how to obtain wireless service. I fired up the netbook, connected with the Orange wireless network, and launched Firefox. The default web page described which services were available and how much they cost. I selected the plan that allowed for three hours of connection time over any period for 10€. The rate seemed awfully high, but I felt obligated to get it. I filled out the online form, but I was a little stuck on one mandatory field – the number of my text-capable cell phone. I did not have one, so I made up a number. After I had confirmed the purchase, it informed me that it would send my access code to my e-mail address, which of course I could not access without the code, and my non-existent cell phone. Aaaarrrgh!

Upstairs.

From our window St. Francis a Paula church was to the left, the opera was across the street, ...

... and the Mediterranean was to the right.


Our window ...

... overlooked the Frog restaurant. Half of our window is visible in the upper left corner above the sign.

I went down to the desk to ask them how I was supposed to get the code. The lady told me that I should buy the access from her. She acted unaware of the cards on the desk in every room in her hotel, or maybe she considered direct purchases as competition.

I was exasperated, but I reluctantly opted to purchase it from her and to try to get Orange to cancel the other charge later. Unfortunately, fewer options were available from the hotel. I had to purchase twenty-four hours of continuous access for another 10€. The instructions that she gave me worked. I logged on and found an e-mail from Orange. I responded that I did not need the user ID and password that they sent me and asked them to cancel the charge.[2]

Our table at La Storia restaurant was just before the vertical enclosure.

Brad carbed up.

Patti and Sue and I then went strolling in search of a gelato. Sue also needed to mail a few postcards, and Patti was looking for a box for an umbrella that she had purchased. I thought that I had spotted the Post Office on the orientation walk, but I was not sure exactly where it was. I advised them to wait on a corner while I reconnoitered. I found it, but by the time that I came back, Patrick had told them where it was located. We went there, but Sue did not trust the mail slots. She decided just to leave her postcards with the hotel staff.

Patti tried to obtain her box at a few stores, but she met with no success. We all decided to go to Fenocchio’s and commiserate over gelato. As usual, I had the pistache. It was OK, but it would never be competitive in most towns in Italy. Patti, who had already had gelato there after the orientation walk, had a hard time getting them to serve her a caffè latte, but they finally did.

Patti crammed while waiting to be served.

Evidently I was wrong about Donna’s dessert. This is dame blanche.

When we got back to the hotel I took a shower. The equipment was far better than what we had to use in the hotel in L'Isle-sur-le-Sorgue. In fact it was adequate, which was pretty high praise for a European shower.

Patrick evidently had told Brad and/or Tom the name of a pretty good Italian restaurant, but neither of them could remember what it was. So, the three couples walked up and down the “food court” looking for it. On our gelato outing Patti, Sue, and I had seen one that looked pretty good. When we got there, Tom and Brad were pretty certain that a nearby restaurant, La Storia, was the one that Patrick had mentioned. So, that was where we supped.

Nice by night.

I tried the breaded veal and spaghetti. The spaghetti was quite good and the veal was edible. For dessert I had no difficulty selecting limoncello with sorbet, and I hit the jackpot. Tom had beer stew over gnocchi and coffee. He praised the stew and was grateful that I had pointed out that the special, which had almost the same description, was much less substantial than what he ordered. I neglected to write down what Donna ordered, but she definitely had crème brûlée for dessert. I missed Patti’s main course, too. Her dessert was dame blanche, which was sort of like a hot fudge sundae served in a Mason jar. Sue had risotto with asparagus and pancetta and chestnut mousse for dessert. Brad devoured his spaghetti. We all enjoyed this meal quite a lot.

I complained to Patti that none of my night pictures were worth a grosz. I attributed this more to my shortcomings than the camera’s. She said that I needed to use the camera’s timer and tried to get the one on my camera to work. Unfortunately, it was not at all intuitively obvious how to set it. I promised to look it up on the Internet.

When I got back in the hotel room, I did find some pertinent information on Canon’s website, but I still could not figure it out. Maybe I would have the requisite energy and intelligence on Friday. After all, there still remained one entire day of the tour. What was the hurry?



Statue of St. Reparata in Florences.

[1]  I looked her up on the Internet, and I was shocked to find several references that called her a boy. Back in the third century, which is when she supposedly lived, the word “martyr” only meant that she had been considered a holy person. There is a good chance that her entire story is a fabrication; she may not have even existed, or her story might be a composite. The tales of her beheading and of angels blowing a boat (from Palestine!) that contained her corpse to Nice were almost certainly embellishments added at a later date. It was unclear to me whether the head had also made it to Nice or not. The Italian town of Teano has long claimed to have the saint’s entire corpse.

[2]  Orange never never charged my credit card.