FRANCE, FIRST WEEK
We arrived in Nice on Saturday, July 17 and were greeted at the airport by Shifteh, Babak and their two sons, Kaveh and Cyrus (pronounced see roos). After dealing with the bad air and dirty water of Naples, Nice was a breath of fresh air, literally. The airport was bright and cheerful and the streets were clean. We installed ourselves in their apartment and then went off for a walk through town to have lunch. The main street of the town off the waterfront is a pedestrian way and we had a great lunch at a small bistro. Nice is clearly the best place to have Salad Nicois. After lunch, we all walked along through the old market where stalls were being set for the evening and the countless bistros were set up for late lunch and early dinner. We worked our way up to the old castle at the end of beach that separates the waterfront community from the port. It was really quite a site. Below are pictures to either side from high up on the castle.
After we returned and washed up, we went back out to stroll with the evening crowds. The streets were packed. Eventually, we stopped at another bistro and had a fantastic dinner. All were tired, so we turned in for the night.
Sunday morning we had our usual walk and then café au lait with an unbelievably delicious croissant. Then into the car for a ride to Antibes, a short drive out of Nice. This is an ancient walled city that has an open produce market on Sundays. Because we had taken our time getting there, we missed most of the best fruits, but the spice vendor had her wares out on display and was easy to find by following the aromas of lavender, rosemary, cinnamon and countless others. Because the market was covered with awnings to protect from the scorching sun, this picture doesn’t do full justice to the symphony of colors.
We had a snack of chick pea pancake, and then walked along to one of the many Picasso museums scattered throughout the south of France. This contained works done immediately after the war. Our favorite pieces was Joi de Vivre, a celebration of the freedom after the war. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed. Outside of the museum in the sculpture garden I was able to take this picture of Betsy with Cyrus Veyssi.
We strolled around the harbor of Antibes looking at the giant motor and sailing yachts, then drove back to Nice to visit with Shifteh’s father and Stepmother who live in Nice during the summer. They joined us for a ride to St. Paul de Vence, another classic walled city of Southern France with narrow cobblestone streets and endless shops catering to the tourist trade. This is a picture of the town from the road.
The streets were quieting down as we went to dinner. It was hard to find a picture that is different from all the other narrow streets in all the old cities we have seen, but here it is.
Dinner was surprisingly good at a simple bistro. We had a grand time. Here is a picture of the group at dinner.
The next morning we awoke to find more clouds than usual. Instead of a day at the beach as planned, we decided to drive to see Monte Carlo. On the way, we stopped in Beaullieau to visit Villa Krylos, an remarkably accurate reproduction of an ancient Greek villa built by Theodore Reicher, a close friend (and next door neighbor) of Signor Eiffel who was known for building another imposing structure back in Paris. Having seen the real thing (hundreds of Greek villas) and the remnants of these in Pompeii and the Archaeological museum in Naples, we were impressed with the detail and accuracy of the construction. Sorry. No pictures.
We then drove on to Monaco and the city of Monte Carlo. All I can say is—WOW! This is like a grown up Disneyland with all the toys-- Incredibly fancy cars, enormous and ornate mansions, at least two real palaces, a casino straight out of the Pink Panther (really), jewelry and haut couture galore. No picture could capture it all, but these are a few snapshots of the harbor, the palace and the casino. The yachts in the harbor were massive. One, Lady Mouro, had to be at least 300 feet long.
The palace was large, but less awe-inspiring than I expected. It looked more like a very large house of stucco with a few turrets, though the courtyard and the large open space with soldiers in ornate uniforms created a more regal mood.
The casino looked like some adult zone at Disneyworld, with colorful flags and lights. The only difference was the lineup of Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis and Bentleys in front.
We had a fun day and we drove back to Nice with the kids and I sleeping most of the way. The next day we dropped Cyrus and Kaveh off with Shifteh’s father and drove to St. Tropez. It was like driving to the cape including the incredible traffic for the last few miles. St. Tropez is an ancient fishing village that has, over the years, transformed into a getaway for the rich and famous of Europe, very much like Nantucket only much more elegant. From our point of view, the best part of it was a long sandy beach with warm blue water and great waves for body surfing.
That’s Babak and I in the water. I should mention that the beach, lined with public areas and private clubs, was crowded with mostly young people in various stages of undress (topless, nude). We had lunch at Le Club 55 (Cinq en Cinq) under a straw roof on the beach surrounded by Europe’s elite. Many had been ferried in off their yachts while others walked in off the beach. It was a boisterous and jolly crowd.
Dinner that evening was at a great Moroccan restaurant, Salama. We had a wonderful meal of Couscous with lamb and vegetable stew. The next day we walked the town and visited the many elegant and unusual shops. We had lunch in the town square at a bistro looking out on the tumult. Very French. Then a drive back along the coast where we saw spectacular mountains of orange and green along blue watered coves and beaches. We picked up food at various stops along the way including a large Tropezian, a cream and raspberry filled pastry that is a specialty of the area. After returning to the apartment in Nice, we had dinner with the kids and Grandparents, and after a long walk through the still bustling town of Nice, we then called it a night.
The next day, Thursday, July 22, was designated as Betsy’s day to fix her hair and end the red hair episode. I spent the day on the beach with Babak and the boys and we met up again to prepare for dinner. Shifteh and Babak then took us as their guests to La Bastide St. Antoine, an elegant Relais and Chateau resort where we had the best meal so far in all of our travels. The gardens of the Inn have a statue collection of three girls that Betsy wanted me to bring home.
The next day we took it easy on the beach in Nice for the entire day. Dinner was in Monte Carlo at the Sporting Club in a restaurant called Le Bar and Bouf, overlooking the ocean. It was too dark for pictures and we ate quite late, so it was a long evening. Tomorrow we are off for Aix en Provence for 2 days.
So far, France has far exceeded our expectations. We are so grateful to Shifteh and Babak for welcoming us into their summer home, acting as interpreters and guides and mostly for sharing their love and attention with us.
While few people speak much English outside of those who need to like hotel clerks and tourist information people, most have been friendly and helpful. Though I don’t have warm feelings for the French government, the people seem overall quite ordinary with very little of the hostility I expected. There remains some sense of arrogance, which I believe is cultural rather than directed specifically to Americans. It will be interesting to see how the people in the countryside differ from those in the city.
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