Archive for April, 2013

Provence and the French Riviera

April 7, 2013

We flew from Barcelona to Marseille in about 60 minutes then took the train into the city. There was plenty of graffiti on walls on the train route into Marseille—not a welcoming sign. The city of Marseille is the second largest (population) city in France and conjures up for me clandestine boats silently rowing ashore in the fog with smuggled goods. The city has a reputation as the port of entry illegally and anything clandestine.

Old stereotypes died hard. Marseille is fairly clean (except graffiti) and the harbor area is a great place to walk around. It is the European Cultural City for 2013 and apparently cleaned up its act to get the honor.  As such we saw floating in the harbor a small homemade barge on which someone was playing a grand piano and a woman in a white dress was singing excerpts from operas. Guys in fancy shirts were trying to paddle the haphazard craft around. Damn, those French are so creative.   Maybe they were smuggling in opera singers and pianos? This was only one of a number of cultural activities going on that day.

Next we traveled to the city of Avignon deep in the heart of Provence. The city is known for the Palace of Popes. I learned that prior to Vatican City, Popes in the middle ages moved around from city to city. During this period of time the Popes were French so they stayed in Avignon and ruled there for a couple of hundred years. The city is charming, small and the old city is walled. It was cold and it rained most of the time. Ugh. We did have a few fairly nice days to visit Gordes, Roussillon, Saint Remy de Provence and Villenueve-les- Avignon, all lovely small villages.

From Avignon we traveled to Nice. Nice is a lovely city. It is located on the Mediterranean and is part of the French Rivera. Cannes is close by to the west. Nice was great even though the weather was crap most of the time. There were beautiful old buildings and wonderful museums including a Matisse and a Chagall museum. This is a multicultural city and the Russians have arrived and are moving in with their new found wealth. We took a day trip to Monte Carlo by bus for 1 Euro—one of the very few deals in the entire EU zone. You know you are in Monte Carlo when the bus passes by the Ferrari dealership. The city is basically condos with high end clothing stores and jewelry shops. This is the closest place to Rodeo Drive in Europe. The people who walked the streets and took the bus were all the slaves, I mean service personnel to the super rich who are rarely seen. For fun we looked at places for sale in the real estate office windows. Your basic condo studio was 1 million Euros. A large condo with an ocean view went for 5 million. These folks are the 1%ers of the 1%ers in the world.

A parting shot at the French. One thing I noticed is the dog owners in France rarely pick up the dodo from their dogs. I can’t figure this out. You have to watch your step even in Paris when you walk the sidewalks.

Next stop the land of pasta.

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