The French Riviera

19 January 2000

we didn't expect to like france all that much. it has so many stereotypes attached that we were uninterested in looking under: romantic cities and countryside, rude people, expensive place to be, etc. we found that france did not, in general, live up to it's sterotypes.

we arrived in the french riviera on 18 january. we were met at the cannes train station by gisele, the grandmother of a close friend in seattle. gisele lives in le cannet, a neighboring town just up the hill from cannes. she drove us to her house, showed us the layout and welcomed us to make ourselves at home. her house is over 200 years old and sits in the old town of le cannet. it is 3 (american) storeys high with a spiral staircase. the house itself doesn't take up much ground space, but it is not a small house. we stayed in the larger guestroom. it was so nice to have a temporary home, and it was really a home. the only complaint we had was that she wouldn't let us do anything chore-like around the house! she insisted on taking care of us. it made it even more uncomfortable since all three of us were recovering from essentially the same illness from the same time! she is an amazing woman. i can only dream to be as physically and intellectually healthy and lively at that age!

the week we spent with gisele was a mix of recoving from illness and almost whirlwind sightseeing. looking back on the week it looks like we did a lot, but we never got going very early in the morning or stayed out past dark. we spent the first day and a half recovering, and eating the first full meals we had had in a week and a half. it was such a gift.

when we finally went out on our own adventures we went into cannes for the day. cannes looks and feels a lot like southern california to me. there are large, palm tree lined streets and the weather is similar. of course there is that hollywood connection with the film festival in cannes every year. after being there it isn't that surprising. however, there is something significant that cannes has that california doesn't: history. there are old chuches and towers and even some old villas still standing. i think california has changed cannes a bit, but cannes still holds it's own.

there are two things we discovered about the people in cannes: there is a large elderly population and people didn't live up to the stereotype of being rude. i can't say we were particularly surprised by either of these observations. the french riviera has a climate that would attract older people, with it's warm, dry weather. as far as rude people go, why would there be more in france? we were mostly worried about it because of not speaking anymore french than our typical please, thank you, yes, no, etc. and everyone always talks about how french people are rude to non-french speakers. we hadn't yet experienced this.

in response to the large elderly population there are tons or pharmacies. they are everywhere. we discovered later that paris had more than it's share of pharmacies too, but it still cannot compare to cannes.

the other thing that cannes has a lot of is poodle-poop on the sidewalks. yuck! as if seeing the poor, over-groomed, sweater-wearing dogs around all the time wasn't bad enough!

we enjoyed a day in cannes and spent a fair amount of time on the beach. we were wearing our fleece coats, despite the sun. it wasn't very warm. we found a cozy spot where the wind was blocked and could pretend it was summer. that was until we stuck a toe in the water. it felt almost freezing! well, it was beautiful to look at in any case!

we visited other towns along the coast and even up into the hills a bit. we spent a day in monaco, an afternoon in antibes, a morning in grasse, an afternoon in a little hilltop town called bar su loup, and, of course, spent a day or so exploring old le cannet. they all had their own unique characters, but the strongest impression i had of them all is the 'southern' influence. the architecture is much like that in siclia, especially the older towns. the buildings are smallish, multistoreyed, plaster structures stuck all together with small, winding streets between clusters. it was lots of fun exploring these places (le cannet and bar su loup especially).

monaco is, of course, not just a city but an independent country. it is a bizarre place. it is not surprising that there is a huge car race through the city a couple of times a year. the streets almost seem set up for it. (it doesn't have the small, winding streets i was talking about., just wide, hillside streets.) the casino in monte carlo there basically pays for all the functionings of the country. there are no taxes so the place drips with wealth from rich people evading taxes in their home countries. it is almost obscene. but the landscape is dramatic and the water is beautiful. they have a brand new underground train station, too. it was a fun place to explore for a day.

after a week of staying with a vibrant grandmother in a nice little old town, we had finally recovered from our illness of the previous week, as well as explored an area we otherwise would not have. we had a wonderful time and we are eternally grateful to gisele.

© Copyright Cheryln Crowl 2000



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