France 2006 - Getting There

The Idea

So it was Fall and Rachel had a ticket to use; she tried to hook up with Alison to go to Prague or somewhere neat. But Ali was overbooked with classes at the necessary times and scheduling was difficult. And Brian was locked into teaching classes. Barb then came up with the idea that, since I had a free international flight burning away on my credit card points, why don't Rachel and I go somewhere together. We were both thinking France. Paris? Burgundy? The time would be early November... Hey, let's go Sud!


I came up with a rough plan; made a few hotel reservations; we each made our own flight arrangements and we were set to go! All excited! We only had one week's stay - it was the week before Thanksgiving after all. The basic itinerary was fly to Nice, stay Eze. Then drive to Apt and explore Provence a little bit.
Collioure Webcam - I've been wanting to go here for a long timeThen head back to the sea to stay in Collioure until the penultimate day when we would drive back to Nice, stay the night, then go our ways.

My flight was Rochester - JFK - Nice and Rachel's was Charlotte - Chicago - Nice (odd but it had the price). We were very excited as the day grew closer.

Now, Rachel was a bit apprehensive about landing in France without having really uttered a word of French since sophomore year in college I think it was.  That would be 1996 and here it was 2006. I promised her "no problem" - I would be there to help her.  It really didn't matter, I suppose, that I last took a French course in nineteen, oh, sixty two.  Yes, I had muddled my way through in 1970 and 1998 and again in 2000.  These experiences mostly taught me that (1) I didn't remember much but (2) if you had to, then some expression would work its way out of your consciousness in order to communicate and (3) in many many places the French speak vastly better English than we speak French so you'll probably get along alright.  Not that this mollified Rachel a bit; I had to be there and I made solemn vows that I would.  

I  could make these vows freely: my plane was due in Nice at 8:30 AM and hers around 2:00 PM.  Heck , I thought, I'll get there, rent a car, drive to Monaco, hang around a bit, find our hotel in Eze and settle in; then amble back to the airport so that I can effortlessly whisk her back to the site of her first night in France.  This was not to be.

Travel Day

I arrived at the airline counter to ominous news.  JFK was beset with storms.  It wasn't long before there was an announcement that all flights to and from JFK were cancelled whereupon a large proportion of the humanity present declared their situation to be dire and in need of priority treatment.  Fortunately - I have no idea how this happened and Thank You - I was summoned and told that I would be rerouted through Atlanta and Paris.  I like those places fine, so let's go!

The Atlanta airport seems to have been under construction since the days of Gone with the Wind, but taking the little underground train to the very end brings you to the International terminal which is quite different and nice.  Much more pleasant.  I was booked on Air France and it was lovely.  They plied us with champagne for a while, then served the best airline meals, along with some good wines, followed by a bit of wine.  I knew there was a reason we were going to France!  All this helped me deal with the realization that instead of a leasurely few hours in Nice ahead of Rachel, I'd only have a little over an hour.  Eh bien, no problem.

 Incredible at CDG

We landed at Charles de Gaulle over a half-hour late - at a different terminal from the Nice plane.  "It's going to be close getting that connection" I thought.  Then it seemed we taxied around the suburbs of Paris for half an hour before arriving at a gate, while the plane to Nice ought to be, at that moment, heading down the runway.  "What am I going to do about Rachel?" I worried as we shuffled forward to get off the plane.  As I stepped down the stairs, to the tarmac, there was a young woman in an Air France uniform calling "passengers to Nice!".  Hello - that's me.  There were four of us and she bundled us onto a little mini -bus.   I must confess at this point that this must be one of the most stupendous women in France.  She drove along the airport tracks and runways and sidestreets like a Grand Prix driver.   She ushered us in the back way to the terminal building and up the stairs.  Checked us at the ticket counter.  Rapidly to the Security checkpoint (similar to security all over, they went at their own pace).  And finally, panting, apologetically late, we hustled onto the plane itself.  And waited for half an hour.
Lac Ste Croix
Other than the clock ticking ominously the flight was pleasant;  As we started to descend I could get a fairly good view of the Alps in the distance.  There was one mountain that stood out sharply and I should find out what it si.  As we got even lower we headed over some extremely rugged terrain with some  lakes.  The shape of one lake caught my eye and I realised that it was a landmark on one of our trips - Lac St. Croix at the end of the road along the Canyon Verdon.


Finally in Nice, the wait for luggage seemed interminable; I alternated between angst at letting Rachel down and confidence in her ability to manage anything.  She was arriving in the other terminal so I had to get on a shuttle.  And wait.  This guy was in no hurry.  Finally we got to the terminal and her plane had only just arrived!  Before long she smiling came through the doors - along with the largest red suitcase I've ever seen.  

We rented a small diesel Toyota Yaris, an interesting experience because the checkout form indicated some "damage" to parts of the car, but actually it looked as if it had been in a small but emphatic collision with one of the stone walls that are everywhere in the hills.  This fact was to be a boon later in Collioure.  After we made sure we detailed as much of the scrapes and dings we were off through Nice to Eze.  

I'd printed a few pages of detail from Google Maps, so that every road and turn should be completely clear in the greatest detail.  My maps succesfully got us onto the Promenade des Anglais... not hard to do because the airport exit pretty much puts you there.  And, at this point the maps became completely useless.  I forget, to my repetitive peril, that French road signage is different.  As is often the case in England, the signs that are visible are mostly in terms of destinations.  "Arena" this way.  "Station" that way.  But I don't want to go
Along Promenade des Anglais - beach on one side and maybe our road on the other to these places!  Fine though they may be, I want to find Avenue des Phoceens and Blvd de General LeClerc because that's what it says on my map.   Now, we were heading east along a 4-6 lane boulevard, needing to make a left on to Ave Phoceens.  You cannot see street signs on the left from the east-bound lanes, so once in a while we make a death-defying u-turn so that we can examine street signs.  Except that placing street signs must be considered a creative activity, a way for artistic freedom as to just where a sign may go (many seem to like two stories up).  Phoceens and General - NOT! Finally we chose the biggest, most promising looking road and took it.  And it immediately turned into the largest road-construction site you can imagine. Look at the Google map on the right... it does not look like this!  That entire green section, and the road, is now a morasse of dirt, concrete, fences, holes, mounds, and dips that could swallow our Toyota.  Somewhere through the moonscape (where road signs were the first thing to be eliminated) I decided that maps were passe and we'd have to use basic geography.  Eze is to the east of Nice and it is high up.  And there are highways back there somewhere.  So we headed in the direction of Up till we came to the Autoroute A8 - an Interstate / Motorway sort of road.  Remember, if you have found your way to this point then you must know where you're going (right?), so the entrance ramps are not marked with any clues as to which will take us to Eze.  We choose the wrong one.

Monaco, La Turbie, (Eze?)

So we get going the right way and this is a spectacular mountain superhighway.  Back to our Google maps and they're a bit ambiguous as to where we get off.  No signs for Eze, so we guess at the Monaco and La Turbue exit because the latter is near Eze.  Ah!  An automated  (unmanned) toll gate.  With visions of traffic backing up for miles behind the stupid American I was relieved that it took my Visa card.  La Turbie - Eze (towards La Turbie)Very civilizedBetwen La Turbie and Eze.  As we approached La Turbie Rachel spotted a signpost to Eze and we were On Our Way!!  After a little bit of driving on this road we just had to pull off and take pictures of the view.  

The rest of the way into Eze was almost too easy.  Down hill, a couple of turns and we found ourselves in the village and parked in the little parking lot at the base of the walk up to the medieval village.  We tried phoning home and then took a brief walk up partway into the old town.  It was spectacular, but the evening was getting on so we decided to find the hotel before it 
got dark.  At this we failed.  It is far too long a story for all the detail, up hill, down hill, through villages, almost to EzeMonaco, my chat with a bus driver (who pleasantly sent us the wrong way) but in the end we discovered that the hotel was within a couple hundred yards of the village parking lot!  In the  Google map on left, the old town is at the bottom of the picture, the hotel at the top right and we'd been parked right between..

The hotel Residence Eza Vista was great.  We had a two room suite, plenty of room, two bathrooms (always important travelling with women) and a balcony with a fantastic view to the Mediterranean and the old town.  While Rachel got cleaned up I wandered into the village to get necessary supplies for later: some wine, some cheese and these really odd crackers.  Sort of oval about six or more inches long and two inches wide, thin, bready but very crispy.
View from the balcony All clean we went back into the village for dinner at a small, convivial restaurant.  I had tortelli; very good and I got full.  The restaurant folks were extremely concerned that I didn't like it - I did but I just couldn't eat any more.

 Finally we wandered back to the hotel and then proceeded toSnacks stay up till past 2:00AM chatting.  Must be the time difference.  But it was going to be tough in the morning!

Next - Eze and Gorges du Verdon