And over the border we went on the train to France – first stop Nice. And so begins the next leg of our journey and so many more instances of the travelling idiots showing their stupidity!
Do you see what I did with the title? Clever huh? Well if only we had the smarts to realise we’d crossed a border or two while we were actually ON the trip. Backtracking slightly – when we were in Siena, Colin was ordering coffee the exact same way he had been since we arrived in Italy: ‘Due café leche per favore’, and the man looked at us and responded in perfect English ‘you can go to Spain for that mate!’ We had wondered why people were looking at us strangely but didn’t realise that he was combining his Italian and Spanish in one sentence. Naturally, I did not stop giving him shit about it for the rest of our Italian stay… until I got across the French border.
Despite the fact I’ve been to France before, despite the fact I have several French or French-speaking friends and despite the fact that I have long hoped for the day that I myself would learn, when I got to France I could not for the life of me stop saying ‘Grazie’ and ‘Ciao’ whenever we were speaking to anyone. It was impossible to get it out of my head, and I would often begin a conversation with ‘Bonjour’ and then end the conversation with ‘Grazie’ like some kind of bumbling idiot. I also continually got my mornings and evenings mixed up, often coming out with a ‘Bonsoir’ first thing in the morning. Not to mention when I was trying to buy some BBQ’d chicken I said: ‘Un poulet s’il vous plaît’ but actually pronounced the ‘t’ in ‘poulet’! Thankfully the woman serving me was kind and only laughed (in a friendly way) at me and repeated it back the way it should be.
We got to Nice and had to search initially for somewhere to stay, which was relatively easy as there was an internet café not far from the train station. We managed to find a place right near the beach which was good but it was pretty overpriced for what we got, especially after the quality of some of the places we stayed in Italy. But I suppose location is everything after all.
Naturally, the first thing we did was head down to the water and have a drink at one of the many bars that line the shore. After paying an arm and a leg for just one round, and knowing we didn’t have long in Nice we decided to do some exploring. We walked along the coastline and into the old town, generally just absorbing the atmosphere. The water is so incredibly blue and we were just happy to soak up some of the remaining sunshine for the day. We were on a bit of a budget and ended up getting some baguettes, brie and wine and heading back down to the beach to eat dinner there. Funnily enough it was one of our favourite meals – just us on a beach with delicious cheese and delicious bread and delicious wine.
The next day we spent chilling out on the beach and working out where we were going to head next. Our original plan being to drive along the coastline and check out some beach spots, we stopped for a long swim and sunbake at a small beach outside Antibes and then continued on. Armed with a brand new car, some good advice from friends and our lonely planet we decided to head to Cannes as we’d been told that it is beautiful to visit as long as you don’t go during the film festival. The coastal road was jam packed with cars and very slow moving but when we got there we realised it was in fact festival time… how we didn’t realise it is anybody’s guess. Just goes to show how out of the loop we are especially now that we don’t have a television and we never really read any magazines or entertainment news pages!!
Realising we weren’t likely to be able to stop, let alone find reasonable accommodation, we decided to drive to a town that a few people had recommended called ‘Aix-en-Provence’ (pronounced ‘Ex’) which we had already googled and knew it was only a short drive from Nice. Well, if we had actually started from Nice we would have had a short drive, but because we were what seemed like closer along the coast it meant we had to do a pretty big climb up some mountain ranges to get there and the roads were narrow, winding and STEAP. We even had a few of those dippy roads that make you lose your stomach. I should add that the drive was beautiful and we passed by some great vineyards in the Cote de Provence region (famous for awesome Rosé wine) but as Dad, and now Colin, would say ‘seen one vineyard, seen them all’! (Colin was pretty over it!)
Five hours later, tired, frustrated and hungry we arrive in what we now lovingly call ‘Aix’ and start to look for a car park… it’s a very small city, but it took us an hour to finally find one. Then we had to search for somewhere we could look online for accommodation… so another hour later we finally had accommodation, and another 30mins after that we had parked our car again. We weren’t being completely idiotic – there are a lot of one way streets in Aix and no spaces big enough!!
After I parked the car while C checked in we managed to both get lost (and lose each other) IN the hotel as well… I don’t quite know how, I think it was down to exhaustion, but honestly I felt like I was in some kind of maze and I was in possession of both our phones so I couldn’t contact C. Disaster. By the time we got in it was almost midnight and we were ready to just fall into bed but decided we needed something to save the day from being a complete write off. So we headed out into the delightful Aix for some nightlife – where we discovered that the reason it was so busy was it was a national holiday (again, we were living so far under our rock we had NO IDEA!)
We had originally planned to stay only one night and then head to other parts of France but decided we needed a break from the driving and Aix seemed like a beautiful little town. And it had started to rain so all the more reason to stay off the coast. Not to mention that from our one day on the beach Colin had developed sun stroke!!! We explored the bohemian town of Aix-en-Provence and immediately loved it. We went to a couple of cafes, museums, and various other sites and then to the awesome fresh produce market in the centre of the city, a typical French market with alllllll sorts of yummy stuff. We stocked up, got some Provence region wine and headed home to chill out. It was luxurious.
After another night in Aix it was time to drive across to Perpignan, a place we weren’t that interested in visiting and only had to because of logistics re car hire return and train departure. It’s safe to say that the idea of not having a plan worked amazingly well in Italy but not so well in France, leaving us slightly frustrated and disappointed that we had missed a few opportunities to visit some lovely places. Circumstances meant we had a LONG drive and a two night stay in the WORST location imaginable. DO NOT go to Perpignan. It is small, dirty, nothing to see apart from an old castle which really only takes a couple of hours and isn’t as impressive as others we’ve seen. It had an ‘old town’ that was run down and dilapidated and neither of us felt comfortable in and as we were there on a Sunday EVERYTHING was closed… it was almost impossible for us to find anything to eat.
The highlight of this place was our room having the channel that showed the Champions League final and the fact we had a pretty big collection of wines we’d picked up in a vineyard on the long drive over (we drank them all before we got to Spain). In one respect, it was good that we had nothing to do because we had been pretty busy for the trip so far and actually needed time to chill out, but it’s certainly not a place we want to visit again.
Until next time…