Saturday, October 11, 2008

The French Riviera

After the wine estates and the charming medieval towns, after we viewed the Camarque and the fields of Provence, artists' colonies and romantic wetlands,papal palaces and Crusaders' bastions, we headed to the French Riviera.

Out of Marseille we drove along the Aurelian Way to visit St. Maximin-la-Ste-Baune where, according to legend, the bones of St. Mary Magdalene are buried in the Basilica, in an underground crypt. The nearby school and seminary are now a hotel, catering to the many tourists who come around after the "Da Vinci Code" put this church on the map of all pilgrims.

We stopped in Cannes for lunch and pictures on the steps of the Film FEstival Centre on the Boulevard de la Croisette. We had lunch at Freddy,on the boulevard, where the specialty was a delightful paella. Spanish and Italian influences were seen in all the items on the menu. The place was soon filled with jet-setters. If we looked carefully we could have spotted Angelina and Brat. WE were surrounded by subdued natives eating and talking in whispers, loud tourists from all over the globe, and paparazzi taking pictures of anyone being dropped off in a limo. This prepared us for Monte Carlo the next day.

Monte Carlo sits on top of a hill, entered through one main highway that is manned twenty-four hours a day. The traffic is controlled so the town doesn't get too overwhelming. Our bus was detained for a good hour before it was allowed to drive at the bottom of a hill and drop us off to make our own way to the middle of the action. To see the Casinos and the fancy restaurants we had to walk up, a vertical challenge for those of us used to easier walks. My husband and I and a couple of other people took our time. The winding road revealed breath-taking vistas of the Riviera and its palaces tightly packed and neatly organized around one way roads. The royal palace is visible at the very top of another hill.

The main piazza was busy with people and fancy cars. I had never seen so many Ferrari and Lamborghini zooming through, dropping off somebody and zooming away. We took a gelato and walked around the piazza, while others walked in the casinos and tried their luck at a roulette table.

When we finally settled in Nice, at the Hotel Ellington, pictures of American Jazz musicians hanging in the halls, 30's architecture and allure, we were tired and hungry.

Our trip ended a day later, after a farewell dinner and exchanges of addresses. We had made some good friends, had eaten some unusual food, and had seen sights that reminded us of San Francisco and Las Vegas.

I was ready to go home, where I could walk to the beach and collect shells and agates at leisure. I saw too many people and too much wealth in the last few towns and I longed for simple food and quiet streets.

France is a nice place to visit; but I wouldn't want to live there.

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