Sunday, November 29, 2009

First two trips to france

France July 2007

We were invited to join my wife’s father and step mother for a week in the Dordogne in the summer of 2007. Since the flight time was to be essentially a day to get there and a day to get back, it seemed as though we should capitalize on the trip by sandwiching a week on either end of the Dordogne stay. It would rationalize the two days lost to travel and present an opportunity to see Paris, The Normandy beaches, and alone time. Plus we had the added bonus of our 10 year old daughter with us. Tres romantique-ooh la-la.
The itinerary we settled on was to arrive Chas. De Gaulle -Paris Stay a night at a hotel as our flight arrived at 10:30 pm then head down to the Dordogne stay a week then head south to Spain just across the border of France at Hondarribia, stay a couple days then head to Normandy for a couple days then to Paris for a few days.
Well the trip couldn’t have been more incredible, the food, the architecture, European charm and we really enjoyed the people. Paris ,the city of lights, we arrived at night, flew over the city and looked way down at the million diamonds lit from within. We were picked up by a Mercedes limo through a business connection of my wife’s. Once we were whisked away from the airport and heading into the city though, I was totally taken aback, it’s as though we were driving through a Long Beach industrial area and into Hoboken in New Jersey. When we did hit the real Paris. it was old world and in its best gown. The buildings had no apologies needed, they knew they were the headliners, sure the warm up band was gritty and techno but the symphony that is Paris was all it was booked to be and more.
We had a nightmare of a flight, a horror of an initiation at Heathrow, and being the last passengers not allowed on our flight while watching incensed, others a few feet away having access to the same flight. So we had to get a connecting flight to Paris. We arrived at the Hotel Champs du Mars, and from our room on the third floor we could see the top of the Eiffel tower. We slowly forgot about our passage to Paris and tried to get some sleep. Upon waking and showering off 24 hours of dreary travel odor we made our way to the subterranean continental breakfast cave. No French lessons, a couple months of French cd’s and we could try to order the basics. Reading French with a slight Maine accent might have been a test for a real Parisian, however I think the young ladies might have been from French Guiana. So we pointed to the menus and mouthed the words-Coffee-baguette-bure. I want to make it clear we are not the typical bad American tourists, we don’t presume that everyone in France should speak English, we’re not loud and bovine like milling about with cameras at the ready, we attempt to speak French when we are at markets and buying goat or gruyere cheeses. Since this trip we’ve had a year and a half of French tutored lessons. But initially I must say I was under armed in vocabulary.

France July 2008

So we arrived at LAX 3 hours early, and we wait 2 hours in line due to some whistledick declaring he had a bomb. After 6 lines, 2 pit stops and a security check we arrive at gate 120C flight 451 on the first leg of the LAX to Frankfurt. (The fact that we were on flight Fahrenheit 451 never did sit well with me until we landed) We had 10 relaxing frightful minutes to board. My wife and daughter managed 6-7 hours of crappy sleep, while I managed 10 hours and 40 minutes of non-crappy sleep, awake the whole time and able to enjoy The other Boleyn girl, not the girl herself but the movie. Arrival Frankfurt.
We fast marched the 1.5 kilometers to the transfer gate and then wait 2 hours. The flight to Nice was nice and short , we caught the local bus to Antibes for the sum of 1 Euro each. Priceless, well 1 Euro each, but you know what I mean. From the e Bus station we hiked to the Apartment that we were loaned.
Flight 13 hours, bus trip 35 minutes, sleep priceless.
Our French teacher had made the ever so polite gesture of offering us the use of her apartment in the Medieval part of Old Antibes. We jumped , tripping over each other exclaiming “ We wouldn’t even think of … ah…maybe just a week!” So our plan was to use Antibes as our base of operations for three weeks. This place was incredible, perched on the ramparts of old Antibes, around the corner from the ancient archway that leads to the old town center. A small garden facing the Mediterranean ocean that was 50 meters away. The beach was a frightfully long 60 meters away, quell dommage! The daily market was 1 minute away by foot, well feet literally, don’t imagine me hopping on one foot. Morning in Antibes, I wake and put the water in the coffee pot then coffee in the
Basket above the water with the tube which percolates the water into the coffee basket and voila Café, kinda earthy in a gritty way, but a hot cuppa of Joe none the less. While this was heating I would walk down the street and buy 2 different kinds of baguettes, half of one I would eat on the way back to the apartment.

The Marche Provencal is the local produce / farmers market in Antibes. The market is one street north of the Mediterranean beach. There is a side street on the southern side of the market and the formal entrance is on the east side. You can enter anywhere into the market as the sides are all open, the north side has a sidewalk with shops and restaurants facing the market. As you approach the market from the medieval archway into Antibes, there is a statue, a bust actually of a man an admiral I believe. The market structure is a monitor style built of steel and glass with metal roofing, kind of like a horse stall structure but more deco in feel. There are three rows of tables, the outer row on each side
serves as a counter with the artisan behind waiting on the shoppers, the center isle being overflow of goods. The produce is what is in season and fresh, really fresh. There are cheeses galore every size, shape, and texture.
From Antibes it’s a short train ride to one of the most beautiful beach towns on the planet. Villefrance-sur-mer is on a crescent beach 10 minutes northeast of Nice. After departing the train you can see the beach from the platform, the walk to the beach is a small hike but once there the environment harkens back to what it must have been like in the 40’s and 50’s .

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