On May 1, 2010, our group of 5 boarded the TGV train at Paris's Gare de Lyon to begin our 5.5 hour, 1st class journey to Antibes on the Cote D'Azur. It was an amazingly smooth and quiet ride - difficult to believe the train was traveling at speeds above 170 mph. Our car was not crowded so we had lots of room to spread out. The food car served baguette sandwiches, quiche, beer, wine, and champagne. (Travelers are allowed to bring their own wine & champagne on French trains.) We were very comfortable.
Upon arrival at the Antibes train station, our good friends Cathy & Jonathan were there to meet us, along with our pre-booked driver and car. I hopped in the teeny, tiny car with Cathy & Jonathan and their constant companion "Oi," the beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback. Jonathan led the way to our apartment in Juan les Pins with the hired car with Kathy & Butch and Carol & Rich behind us.
The apartment was a penthouse unit in the Juan Flore gated community in Juan Les Pins. It was a 3-bedroom, 2- bathroom unit with a big living room and dining area and a huge terrace overlooking the Mediterranean! Simply gorgeous! Knowing we would be tired from
traveling all day, Cathy & Jon had dinner prepared for us and the fridge stocked with wine, beer, and other essentials. We enjoyed a lovely meal while catching up with Cathy & Jon who moved to Juan les Pins from New Orleans in 2002. They now manage vacation properties in Antibes, Juan les Pins, and Cap D'Antibes.
We started out a bit slowly on Sunday and eventually made our way to the bus stop 2 blocks away - our destination: Old Antibes. The bus fare on the Lignes 200 - that runs from Nice to Cannes - was only 1 Euro and the ride about 20 minutes. We took our time wandering through the winding, cobblestone streets of Old Antibes. From there we walked through the harbor admiring the huge yachts sailing in to grab their spots for the Cannes Film Festival that was only a week away. Once back at the apartment, we grilled on the gourmet gas grill provided and enjoyed eating al fresco and sipping wonderful local red wine on the terrace with Cathy & Jon and, of course, Oi.
On Monday we caught the 200 bus to Cannes - again, only 1 Euro and this ride was about 25 minutes. We checked out the film festival prep around town then took the little train tour that takes you through the historic part of Cannes and up to the top of the hill for a panoramic view. We had a nice lunch at a pizzeria on the boulevard along the sea. It started raining so we headed back to the apartment where we relaxed and attempted to play the British version of Trivial Pursuit. We were pathetic so we opted for the kiddie version and still tanked!
Tuesday brought us to Nice via another 1 Euro bus ride. The weather wasn't the greatest but we were undeterred. Nice is a beautiful, old town and we walked the winding streets taking in the sights and smells stopping for a cup of coffee and dessert. Like most old European towns, Nice has a big, vibrant market in its old square where one can buy fresh fish, aromatic spices, linens, candles, flowers, and countless other wares. Sensory overload. Being in these old markets makes me feel part of the community somehow.
No visit to Nice would be complete without making one's way to the top of Castle Hill. Kathy & I took the elevator up and Butch, Carol, and Rich took the stairs. Whatever. The views from Castle Hill out over the beach for the rich on one side and the Nice boat harbor on the other are stunning. The weather started kicking up again and, from our perch several hundred feet above, we were ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the big waves crashing on to the beach. Then we noticed big wooden things floating in the sea about 100 yards out. Turns out they were big beach chairs, restaurant tables, and parts of roofs from what used to be beachside cafes! The waves reached heights of over 20 feet during the worst storm to hit the
French Riviera in decades! When we got back down to ground level the Promenade des Anglais that runs along the beach was covered in debris and parts of the road were washed out.
Good thing we went to Cannes the day before because they got slammed on Tuesday when the 20 foot waves took out many of the big white tents and other temporary structures erected in preparation for the Cannes Film Festival. The festival workers had to do it all over again only 6 days before the festival.
The damage along the coast forced road closures that caused major traffic delays. Normally a 25-30 minute bus ride, our bus ride back to Juan les Pins took 2.5 hours! Whew. Once back at the apartment, we opened a few bottles of wine, cooked pasta, and cut up with Cathy & Jon.
After the big traffic jam on Tuesday, our favorite mode of transportation from Antibes switched from the 1 Euro bus rides to the local train service. On Wednesday we took the train along the coast through Nice and Villefranche sur Mer to Monaco. The whole country wreaks of money! We took in the sights - gorgeous architecture, shiny Lamborghinis & Ferraris, shiny people, and yachts the size of small cities with helipads and all! We enjoyed a lovely meal at Cafe de Paris next to the Monte Carlo Casino. Carol & Rich wanted to try their luck at the slots and Kathy & Butch and I relaxed in the park across the street. When we met up again, Rich reported Carol won 1,700 Euro at the nickel slots! Woo hoo! Drinks at the train station were on Carol! Fun day in the playground of the super rich.
Our goal on Thursday was to take the antique train from Nice up into the Verdon Gorge known as France's Grand Canyon, but didn't get to the out-of-the-way Chemin de Fer de Provence station in Nice in time to catch the 9 a.m. train. So, we opted to get back on the train in Nice and continue east to Menton.
Menton is the last city in France along the Cote D'Azur before crossing into Italy. This coastal gem has belonged to Italy, Monaco, and France during its long history. Famous for its gardens and its annual Lemon Festival, Menton is a quaint, gorgeous city on the Mediterranean.
On our last day on the spectacular Cote D'Azur, Cathy joined Kathy, Butch, and me on an adventure to Ventimiglia, Italy - the first town in Italy across its border with France - and the last stop on the local, coastal train line. Every Friday Ventimiglia hosts a huge open market and we wanted to check it out.
I knew we were in for a great day the minute we walked off the train into the Ventimiglia train station. Walking through that station was like taking a step back in time. Sweet setting! The town is small, beautiful and not overrun with tourists. The market - that went on for blocks and blocks along the water - offered leather shoes and purses, silk pashmina scarves, expensive jewelry, cheap jewelry, clothes, etc. The food "trucks" offered outstanding fresh Italian sausages, salamis, cheeses, olives, breads, and gelato. Nirvana! The flower market was exquisite. Perfect way to say goodbye to the Cote D'Azur.
On Saturday our driver picked us up at Juan Flore and delivered us to the Nice airport on time. Our flight to Paris was uneventful. Problems were in our future at CDG though. First, our departure to ATL was delayed for an hour and a half without explanation. Two and a half hours after our original departure time, we were allowed to board the massive Air France 747 transporting us to Atlanta. Once seated, however, the captain announced another 2 hour delay! He also advised the beverage carts were open and the movies were available immediately. If you must sit at the gate - unlimited cold, French champagne eases the pain. We finally took off 6 hours after our originally scheduled time. Turns out the delay was due to that blasted volcano erupting again in Iceland. Kathy & Butch were on a later flight than ours and while they made it out of CDG, they missed the connecting flight with Carol & Rich and me in ATL to NOLA. They had to spend the night in ATL. All things considered, we were lucky - at least we weren't stuck at a European airport for days like so many others earlier in the year as a result of the volcanic eruptions.
A week in Paris followed by a week on the French Riviera with good friends made for a terrific vacation!