Rolling Through the Côte d’Azur

Rolling Through the Côte d’Azur

I would like to acknowledge our families and friends in Paris with heartfelt sadness for their losses and offer our solidarity. Since my posting on November 12th, “Paris à Pied”, the unimaginable took place changing, yet again, how we go about our days and how we view life and our place in this complicated world. As we enter the week of Thanksgiving, and the traditionally happy holidays that follow, my family and I wish everyone Peace, Love and Tolerance.

Leaving our wonderful experiences in Paris behind, we rolled out of Paris on the TGV train bound for Marseille; second largest city in France. Our goal: explore Marseille on foot then rent a bagnole/car and drive eastward visiting coastal destinations to Menton at the Italian border with overnight stops in St. Tropez, Cannes, and Eze, while also visiting Nice and Monaco. If it is 112 miles as the crow flies from Marseille to Menton, (which is closer than the distance between DC and Philadelphia) or double that if you take the coastal and mountain routes, what, you might ask, could possibly take 6 days to complete? Ah, but, this is the French Riviera we are taking about: the Côte d’Azur is full of quaint “villages-sur-mer” replete with tiny rues, shops and cafés. I might add, the French are fast but good drivers and “close calls” were due to the motorcyclists who zip past and create their own lanes and rules of the road. Driving was further complicated by ubiquitous traffic circles: France holds the record with over 30,000 and we must have navigated hundreds of them! So let’s skedaddle … Allons-y!

Vieux Marseille, a section of the city that simultaneously pushes and pulls at one’s senses, has a patina of slight decay and yet it still has an unmistakable charm and joie de vivre. We stayed primarily around the horseshoe harbor, aka Vieux-Port, and the next day visited the Notre Dame de la Garde Church that sits dramatically on the peak that overlooks the harbor.

From the outside, our hotel – Grand Hotel Beauvau, had a worn, timeless look about it but the interiors were nicely renovated and completely modern and clean. We faced the harbor and enjoyed having the large windows open into the cool night air. Over the next 24 hours we dined at a sidewalk café, walked the full length of the harbor, and took in the most unusual and contrasting combination of sites all nestled within one another in Vieux Marseille: Fort Saint-Jean, Mucem, Villa Méditerranée, Musée Regards de Provence and Cathédrale de la Major. The juxtaposition between these ancient and ultra modern edifices was striking and I hope you enjoy these shared images and moments.

Heading east, we drove along the coast taking in Cassis, Bandol, Toulon and then traversed a high altitude, heart-arresting, sliver of a road through the Massif et Forêt des Maures between Hyères and Le Lavandou before pulling in to our overnight destination, Pan Dei Palais in St-Tropez. The last week in October, is the final week before most hotels and food establishments close until March/April. So from St Tropez to Nice, beaches and most rues were deserted, windows shuttered, shops were having their annual sales, and often menu items were no longer available. We, nevertheless, found plenty of joyous company in each destination and delicious offerings. Whenever possible we dined al fresco watching as mega yachts rocked gently in their berths looming disproportionately large over the harbor-scape alongside the diminutive single manned fishing boats which stood at the ready for their daily sorties.

Inclement weather continued into the following day as we rolled on through Frejus and Cannes. Our room at the The Grand Hotel, on the main boulevard, faced the beach and sea. It was decorated in an interesting 1970s style – who would have thought of decorating à la ’70s? Cannes, had by far the best beach to date, sandy, wide and inviting. It was lovely not having to contend with summer traffic jams but we missed experiencing the energy that accompanies warm weather holidays. It was fun strolling the avenue and watching visitors take selfies at the steps of the renown Film Festival auditorium, Theatre Lumière, and comparing their handprints with those of famous actors’ imprinted in the sidewalk.

After a stormy night, fabulous sunshine greeted us as we drove past gorgeous scenic “villes-sur-mer” such as Antibes. Arriving in Nice by roads from the west is a bit weird as you pass the airport which sits in what looks like reclaimed rectangle of land plopped in the sea. Eventually, Nice, France’s fifth largest city, emerges with its wide Promenade Anglais to the Quais des Etats Unis. Shops and restaurants line the pebble beach essentially below the Promenade thus affording pedestrians and vehicles a completely open view of the spectacular Mediterranean Sea. Nice, however, was not our destination so we pressed onward to Eze and our pied à terre for the next several days, Cap Estel.

The Cap Estel resort property descends spectacularly and precipitously down the cliff to the hotel that sits on a promontory that juts into the sea. All suites have sea views and the pools sit on the cliff edge. Extensive gardens are continuously and artfully maintained along with numerous fountains and water features throughout: an intimate hideaway.

It was also from Cap Estel that we toured the very built up Monaco and later Menton to the East …

… and Cap Ferrat and VilleFranche-sur-mer to the West …

… as well as the Medieval village of Eze nested in the Moyenne Cornich rising more than 400 meters above the sea. Although inhabited since Phoenician times, it’s been occupied by Romans, Lombards of Italy, Moorish Pirates,  Turks and then Spain, before falling in 1706 to Louis XIV during the Spanish War of Succession. It was Louis who ordered the castle’s complete destruction. So today, the fortification atop the village has a few ruins but it is that which lies below that remains a delight to visit. Here then is the village, full of shops and cafés and the renown Château de la Chèvre d’Or hotel …

… and the views from the summit are unparalleled. The Jardin Exotique serves as a transition between the village and the ruins. The Jardin is principally  planted with cacti and succulents interspersed with 14 named clay Goddesses by Jean-Philippe Richard. Each one evokes a visceral reaction as they stand, ever vigilant, in their aerial domaine gazing out on uninterrupted vistas and …

… as I imagine, quietly pondering the unknowable …

I hope you enjoyed skedaddling around the French Riviera aka Côte d’Azur … Happy Thanksgiving and deepest gratitude for the friendships and strangers met along the way … Peace and best wishes for a safe and wonderful holiday season!

Kate

PS These images, and more, can be viewed in higher resolution on my website: www.KateStillwellPhotography.com/

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Paris à Pied … Stepping through Paris

Paris à Pied … Stepping through Paris

Ah, Paris in the Fall … chestnuts roasting in braziers, the wafting aroma of peanuts caramelizing in syrupy sugar kettles, crèpe & crème glacée purveyors and the City of Light, bedecked in Art exhibitions, piques the senses and captivates.

So … 2 students on break + 2 parents descending on this fabulous city, with IPhones, AppleWatches and FitBit in hand and 4 full days to tackle Paris on foot – with an occasional BigBus of Paris, Batobus and metro assist.

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Step 1) Find apartment on rue St Severin on left bank in center of Paris (√).

Step2) Hit the supermarket and Le Grange open marché, mere steps away for provisions: Wine, Cheese, Baguette, fruit, eggs, merengue, etc (√)

Stillwell_Paris_Marche_Fruits_Figues Stillwell_Paris_MeringuesStep 3) using The Little Black Book of Paris agree on general sequence of exploration (√)

Step 4) synchronize our “smart” tools: Apple Watches, IPhones & FitBit (√) and

Step 5) Skedaddle explore(√)

Every visit to Paris quickly reveals the City’s current vibe. This time, it was ART and art in every form and nuance possible: big art, public art, classic, contemporary and temporary exhibitions; something for everyone. It was also a Paris flying the Malian green, yellow and red flag alternating with France’s tricolour in celebration of Mali’s first state visit by it’s President, IBK. I have never seen a more colorful or vibrant Paris!

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 The Champs-Èlysées was lined on both sides with temporary galleries under FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) and the Avenue was likewise festooned with banners celebrating this annual event. Similarly, the crowning glory of the Place de L’Étoile, aka the Arc de Triomphe, gloriously displayed an oversized French Flag …

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… and at the opposite end, Place de la Concorde featured modern 3D art set in the midst of Cleopatra’s iconic Obelix and flanking fountains, dwarfing a bride being drawn into her groom’s arms, that introduce pedestrians to the Tuileries Gardens with the Louvre beyond … WOW … art everywhere … CHAPEAU PARIS!

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Midway down the avenue, the Grand Palais hosted a magnificent Exhibition of contemporary art and is worthy of their virtual tour: http://www.fiac.com/paris/en

Back to “Stepping through Paris”… According to our “Smart stuff”, in 4 days of stepping we averaged: 30 miles (almost 50 kilometers) on foot or over 70,000 steps and about 100 flights of stairs PAR PERSONNE … Who would have thought that possible and how did we do it?

First full day we headed out early to the Eiffel Tower, we looked up, queued up,

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bought tickets, and made it up to top level via 2 elevators within an hour: phew a record time!

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Now, if we had decided to WALK up the 1,710 steps each direction, sans doute, I would still be up there sipping champagne which IS available for purchase!

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… anyway, that day, we averaged 22,000+ steps or 10.5 miles and visited the Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars, fortified ourselves with take away baguette sandwiches and street vendor crepes at the Trocadero …

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… by chance we discovered that the lower Champs Èlysées was closed to traffic so we zigzagged in celebration at having the avenue to ourselves which felt very étrange!

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With a burst of renewed energy we explored the fun installations of reflective and glass art over at the Place de la Concorde …

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We then entered the Tuleries and headed for the Amorino gelato stand for a delectable rose shaped ice cream cone delight of Chocolate Glace encircled by mango and raspberry sorbet petals …

Stillwell_Amorino_Gelato        … and licked and nibbled and strolled

up the gardens and past the fountain featuring Vivien Roubaud’s spinning chandelier in plastic bubble … okaaaay … well, les canards didn’t seem to notice …

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… to the louvre pyramid, this year showcasing a red lightning bolt, around which the reflecting pools were “vide”!?!? and a large temporary red Museum Shop Cube shares the square … Quelle sacrilège … MAIS … the good news is that a 53.5 million euro makeover, is underway where the plan is to streamline the visitation process so waiting queues can be shorter and navigating the labyrinthian museum more visitor friendly. Thus, put the Louvre back on your “Must See” list for 2017!

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… and finished the day with a stroll that included the booksellers on the quais.

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Day 2 we gave our feet a break and took the BigBus to the Arc de Triomphe. An “out of service” elevator required a sprint up the spiral staircase of 284 steps each way … a bit dizzying and claustrophobic since the treads are small and it is enclosed without vents or peekaboos!

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As always the view is well worth the effort … and it never disappoints, an opinion perhaps not shared by the guard dans la boîte whose enthusiasm feels so low she seems to be disappearing before our very eyes … she really is in there!

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Big Bus passes allow hopping on and off so we were able to stop, explore, enjoy one location then hop on to the next. We hopped off at the Grand Palais, after which we “stepped” over the nymphs of the Alexander III Pont, to the École Militaire, the Invalides, terminating at the Rodin Museum which should be fully open in November after a year of renovations.

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Hopping back on the Bus we disembarked at Notre Dame then sauntered over what I refer to “entertainment pont” featuring musicians playing for their supper …

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… to Île St Louis for our own well-earned supper at Pom’ Cannelle …

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… on rue des Deux Ponts. On the MENU: tarte salées and quiches sérvie avec salade accompanied by vin rouge and topped off by a Berthillon crème glacée dessert … avec 4 spoons s’il vous plaît. We stepped 6 miles/13,000+ steps and 30 flights of stairs and seeing Paris from a double decker bus was beaucoup fun.

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Look at these cozy snoozers …

… it’s what we wanted to do after supper!

Continuing to Day 3: Big Bus’ new route north had us enter into the world of Montmartre, (in)famous for Le Moulin Rouge and the red light district, which look “pas tres sexy” during the day.

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In an ironic juxtaposition, Sacré Coeur, which rises above this blushing quartier, has over 500 steps from the square’s broad double staircase to the dome where the views are stupefying and where the climb feels random and adventurous – so worthwhile! No surprise … we logged 35 flights of stairs!

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Exiting Sacré Coeur we were treated to the talented fundraising efforts of Mr IYA of Team Guinea … feats of footwork atop a pillar … C R A Z Y balance!

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Later, feeling adventurous and determined to visit Paris by night, and via boat, we decided to improvise and caught a hop on hop off Batobus. We did a grand circuit from our embarkation at Notre Dame, up to the Jardin des Plantes …

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… then back around until we circled in front of the Eiffel Tower resplendent in it cloak of lights topped by the rotating heaven searching beacon.

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Our final day was spent in our own 5th arrondissement: the Latin Quarter so named because original books were written in Latin and it is the location of the renown Sorbonne etcetera, etcetera. The Pantheon, built by Louis XV, is hosting an exhibition paying homage to those who fought in the French Resistance during WWII. Their presence among those for whom the Pantheon is a permanent home, individuals interred whose contributions to the French Republic are revered, humanizes its scale and relevance.

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I was awestruck by a rather handsome Hoche statue and could only imagine what he might have done for France had he not succumbed at the age of 29 following a stellar military career: Napoleon’s rival? Peut être … Anyway … Not to be missed …

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… the Foucault Pendulum: the movement of a 28 kg brass coated “bob” suspended by 67 meters of wire from the Pantheon dome demonstrating the rotation of the earth. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foucault_pendulum).

We enjoyed sidewalk café dining for lunch …

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… before heading into the National Museum of the Middle Ages aka Cluny. Mon Dieu, what a bizarre and fascinating place. Bizarre, because below the medieval mansion, built by the Abbot of Cluny in 1500, lies Roman ruins which include remnants of cold water baths, frigidarium, with a 14 meter vaulted ceiling dating to 200 A.D. Alors, you have amazing Roman brick/stone works, upon which an elegant 16th century mansion rises with a facade covered in imaginative creatures, and housed within, the magnificent collection of unicorn themed tapestries: the most well known tapestry being The Lady and The Unicorn. Bien Fascinant!

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Oh btw, the sole access to our apartment building was “très vieux et intéressant” as was our night view …

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… and look what a charming postcard worthy café was but steps away …

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Merci, I hope you enjoyed this perspective of Paris. This post highlighted somewhat different images of Paris … should you wish to find iconic ones, please visit: http://www.KateStillwellPhotography.com/

Next Posts: Rolling Through La Côte D’Azur: Marseilles, St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Eze and Monaco … au revoir et à bientôt!