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Old Town Nice

Old Town Nice

I went to Nice the other day.  I wanted to do two things.  I wanted to go into Esipuno’s Boulanger, the baker that was voted to be the very best in all of France.  That was thirty years ago, but since the bakery passed from father to son I thought that it was probably still pretty good.  Not that I’d be able to tell the difference between the fabulous bread I’ve been eating here in the south of France over the last five weeks and the really fabulous bread, but I thought it’d be fun to see if it did taste any different at all.  By the way, I’m taking home a part of France when I go back to the states.  I have this nice roll of belly fat that wasn’t there when I came… I guess it’s the over-exuberance in experiencing my version of the best of France- the bread, croissants, sucre and du beurre crepes, Kinder chocolates (just polished off another box in a record two days), Cruvee rouge van (wine), and all of those smelly, tasty cheeses.  Not to mention the wonderful Italian-inspired pasta dishes.  Hmmm… that’s alright, it’s all part of the wonderful experience of “doing” the south of France.  I haven’t had a scale to weigh myself which is something I do daily or actually morning and night at home, but I think I’m getting awfully close to that special mother number.  The weight a woman reaches at some point in her life that is the same weight as right before she gave birth to her first child.  Every mother knows the number and is flabbergasted when she reaches  it.   How could at one point it be a baby and all the extra liquid volume, and then years later just all be fat you’re lugging around?  Well, I’ll worry about that when I get home.  I only have a week left to enjoy France. 

The second thing I wanted to see in Nice was the Auer Patisserie, a pastry shop that has been there since 1820 and is still very much the same as it was then.  This shop has also passed from father to son according to what’s written on the window, “Since 1820 from father to son” but I imagine if it’s still in the family it must include some grand and great-grand children.  Otherwise, if the father opened the shop when he was 20 years old and had the son at 30, that would make the son somewhere around 179 years old.  That would be interesting, maybe I should concentrate on seeing the son instead of the pastries. 

I suggested on Sunday, Carole and Bob’s last day here that we go to Nice so we could do these things.  Both are in Old Town Nice and I thought that would be fun since we hadn’t taken the time to walk around Nice.  In fact, I hadn’t been there since I wore those horrible clogs that put a huge blister on my big toe the day I went to the Matisse musee, and I was set on wearing the very most comfortable shoes I had.  We found Auer’s Patisserie right as we entered Old Town.  Actually we walked right by it without realizing it because it was CLOSED!  Darn it!  All the way on the train, then the tram, then the walking

Auer Patisserie- CLOSED

Auer Patisserie- CLOSED

and it’s closed on Sunday.  Darn, darn, darn.  The shop was dark but I could barely see inside and saw those French-styled dressers with the curved sides that I love with chocolate candies on top. 

We walked around some more to find the famous boulanger.  At one point Carole wanted to walk out of Old Town to see the beach and walk the promenade… I guess she didn’t realize it was a walking tour I was leading.  So we took a detour but eventually I got her headed back in the right direction.  I found the bakery which was up a dark, skinny street.  Most of the shops were closed on Rue Droite (Straight Street) which made it seem even more isolated.  Other parts of Old Town were hopping… recall the unexpected Elvis concert I mentioned in Place Rossetti?  I’m sure Carole and Bob thought their tour guide was confused or lost.  Imagine that… moi?  Again,

Esipuno’s Boulanger- CLOSED

Esipuno’s Boulanger- CLOSED

walked right by it…   It wasn’t a bustling place with wonderful smells floating out the door.  It was CLOSED with shades over the front windows so I couldn’t even see inside!   I really wanted Carole, who loves French bread to get to taste it.  Darn it.  It was closed so tight with graffiti on the shades that it looked like they might be closed for good.  But I walked around the corner so I could see better and I guess they’re still in business.   What a disappointment.  I had been planning on this. 

I couldn’t let it go.  So after I dropped Carole and Bob off at the airport Monday morning (sounds like I had a car- I didn’t- this was by train, bus and shuttle bus) I went back to Centre Nice again and then took the tram to Massena Place on the edge of Old Town.  I walked to where I remembered Auer’s Patisserie to be.  I couldn’t find it.  How could that be?  It was there yesterday.  Then I realized I was two blocks past where it should have been.  I walked back and right next to where I had just bought olive oil (a gift for someone who likes to cook vegetarian… No Meat Athlete, the Boston qualifier!) at A L’Olivier, a shop that has been making olive oil since 1820 was Auer’s!  How could I miss it?  Because it was dark.  It was CLOSED!  NOOOOOO!  I looked in again and it looked dark and shut, just like yesterday.  There was a small sign on the door written in French, obviously, that said open Tuesday through Saturday and then the hours which showed that they’re closed something like 12:30-2:30.  A lot of places do that in the south of France because of the heat in the summer.  Why didn’t I read that the day before when I was there?  I was able to get this picture so I could

Auer Patisserie

Auer Patisserie

show you the inside of the shop.  It was so bright outside that I had to wait for someone to walk by and stand in just the right spot- otherwise you couldn’t see anything but the outside reflection.  Bummer.  Queen Victoria used to go into this little patisserie and I wanted to do the same as she.  I’m a Victoria too!  Darn it. 

I walked to Rue Droite and towards Esipuno’s boulanger.  It seemed closer this time, maybe because the shops were open and it didn’t seem so by itself.  Or maybe because Carole didn’t want to go in the opposite direction to see the Mediterranean- she was at the airport waiting to take off.  Wait… where is it?  I walked by it!  What’s wrong with me?  What??? What the??? It’s CLOSED!!!  NOOOOO.  How could it be closed too?  The only two shops I came all the way to Nice to see and both are closed.  It too had a tiny, Antibes 10.5 034faded sign in the window (in French which is why they didn’t pop out to me yesterday) stating that their hours were closed Lundi (Monday) and something.  I didn’t feel like taking the time to figure out which days and which hours they were closed and open.  All I knew was that I was there on Sunday and they were closed, and now I was back on Monday and they were still closed.  I wasn’t happy.  Fuck them and their stupid bread.  It couldn’t be that much better anyway.  Darn it!  How could they BOTH be closed?  I tried twice to see them.  What a disappointment.  What if I never get back here again?  Next time I travel to France I’ll probably be with someone and what if they don’t want to traipse through Old Town Nice looking for a bakery and pastry shop when there are thousands of other good ones in the rest of France?  Darn it.

Oh well, I was in Nice on a beautiful day.  The sky was bright blue, the weather was warm with a slight, cool breeze.  I’d just walk around and find a nice place for breakfast.  I hadn’t eaten anything yet.  We got up at 5:40 AM and left the house at 6:30 to get to the airport by 8:30 and now it was around 10:45 or so.  Perfect.  I was in the mood for something sweet- either a sucre and de beurre crepe or a croissant with honey or jam and a café.  I’m really starting to enjoy this French coffee every morning with my sweet pastry and I hadn’t had any yet.  I found a cute little place- there were lots of choices- with outside seating on a busy square.  I sat down and the waitress came over.  “Avez-vous crepes?”  (Do you have crepes?) I asked with a nice smile?  I was looking forward to the experience.  What could be better- a wonderful French breakfast in this beautiful city on a bright, sunny, perfect-weather day. 


“Crepes?  Avez-vous crepes?”  She must not have understood me.  Everyone in Antibes has crepes and Nice is only 15 miles away. 


 And I could tell I was already trying her patience.  She said two words and she already had that irritated French look on her face. 

“Vous avez croissants?” (Do you have croissants?).  I SEE people eating croissants, so I could tell whether she was just saying Non to everything or answering my questions. 

“Oui. Croissant.” (Yes, croissant)

“Avec uh, um honey?  (With honey) I forgot the word for honey.


“Avec jam?”  (With jam?)  I forgot the word for jelly.  Jam was probably pretty close. 

“Non.”  Aw, come on, now… everyone has jelly.  She could understand- she was pretending not to because I was taking up her precious time with getting my order right. 

“Jam, jelly”.  I was reverting back to English which is what I seem to do when I get frustrated with the French not understanding me. 

Non. Croissant.”

Vous-avez JELLY, JAM, JELLY.”  Sometimes I just keep repeating it.  I don’t know why- it never gets them to understand. 

“Non”.  And she wasn’t being pleasant. 

“D’accord.  Croissant”  (ok, croissant) I’d worry about the jelly when she gave me my croissant.  Then she would put two and two together… as in ‘Oh, the American must want jelly for her stupid croissant.’

Along came the café… yum… looking good.  Then the croissant.  She put it in Antibes 10.5 043front of me.  Perfect.  I’ll try again like it’s the first time I ever mentioned it… “Avez-vous jam?” 

She looked at me in disbelief.  “NON!” 

Well, let’s not get testy.  It’s only 11 AM and you have a long day in front of you- better to stay pleasant with the customers. 

“Oh.” was all I could say.

I was NOT in the mood for just a croissant.  For some reason, maybe because I had heard myself say ‘jam’ so many times I was in the mood for some really good jelly.  But I started eating the croissant.  Slowly.  It was missing jam.  I must not have the word right.  I wasn’t going to let this pass.  She obviously just didn’t understand and I didn’t have my French/English dictionary.  I would ask the guy waiter.  He was inside behind the counter and I don’t like leaving open drinks at a table.  I don’t know what I’m afraid of… that someone’s going to play a trick on me and drop something in my drink?  What a sign of paranoia that is, but I just don’t like it.  And the coffee was really good so I wanted to drink it, but WITH my croissant and jelly.  I picked up my café and my basket with the partially eaten croissant and carried it into the shop.  The guy looked at me, startled.  Why was I carrying my meal into the restaurant?  Was there something wrong with a croissant and a cup of coffee? 

“Avez-vous jelly ou jam?

He looked at me and shook his head.  “Non”.

Come on!  How could an outside café not have any fucking jelly!

I went back outside to my little table and sat down and continued my petit dejeuner (breakfast) which was not hitting the spot.  Maybe my craving for something sweet in the morning is too strong.  And then… I saw the sign in their window… LOOK AT THIS!  It clearly states on the third line of the Antibes 10.5 044formule (menu suggestion) “pain, beurre, confiture” (bread, butter, confiture).  So THAT’S the word for jelly… confiture!  She should’ve understood what I wanted.  I got up with my café and croissant again, found the waitress and asked her to follow me.  I led her outside and pointed to the sign.  “Je voudrais de confiture, s’il vous plait.”  (I would like some jelly, please).  Very friendly, with a smile.  I thought she would like that she finally understood what I was so focused on that I couldn’t leave her alone. 

She looked at me and said, “Non”. 

What the???

“Non.  Non confiture.”

I had it.  Maybe they were just out of it, which didn’t make sense… run to the grocery store and buy a jar so you have something to serve.  I finished the coffee, but not the whole croissant.  I wanted to save room for the breakfast I had in mind… a croissant WITH JELLY.

Antibes 10.5 047It only came to $2.60, so I wasn’t that put out- just a little exasperated.  I left and walked around looking for the perfect place.  Then I saw an adorable little place- a café that looked like it was right out of the early 1800’s.  Every table had a dainty, little 3-jar combo set… each filled with a different kind of jelly!  How lucky was I to stumble upon this adorable place! 

I sat down, ordered another café (I never drink two cups of coffee in the Antibes 10.5 053morning) and a croissant with jam from the waiter.  “Non”.  Turns out I have to get some sort of combo breakfast.  A coffee AND juice (yuck- they don’t go together) and a croissant.  No thanks, just the coffee and croissant.  Nope- no can do… the whole menu of coffee, juice and croissant OR coffee, juice and 3 kinds of assorted bread.  Or nothing.  $6.50 Euros.  That’s almost $10 US dollars for a croissant and coffee???  A little steep, but I was REALLY in the mood for the croissant with jelly and now it was worth it.  Just bring me the damn coffee,  juice and croissant with jam.  Done.  I’ll just swallow the ridiculously steep price and enjoy the breakfast. 

My cafe comes.  It’s good.  The juice comes.  It’s freshly squeezed and really good.  That’s a nice surprise.  But now I’m floating and there are NO nice bathrooms in Nice.  I’ve used bathrooms in Nice before.  Hello… ou est moi croissant….?  (where is my croissant)?  Finally it comes.  In a cute basket.  But no jelly.  I just agreed to pay over $6 TO HAVE THE JELLY… where’s the jelly? 

“Ou est the jelly?  Je ne il vas pas”.  (Where is the jelly?  I don’t see it.)  I say with a smile because now I know French and I can put two sentences together.  The waiter lets out a little squeal and then quickly tip-toes away to get it.  I wait and wait.  And wait.  Is he fucking squeezing the fruit?  Finally he brings the little 3-jar jelly combo to the table.  Wait a minute… it’s all the same kind of jelly- 3 jars, same color jelly in each jar.  Not for $6 extra dollars, I don’t think so.  I ask him for the set with 3 different flavors… and he turns and says something to a waitress.  And the 3-jar jelly combo is whisked away.  I wait.  And wait.  And wait for a really long time, looking at my croissant.  After a long time he comes over, no jelly and tells me that the jelly is only part of the menu offering the café, juice and three kinds of bread.  Jelly is not included with the café, juice and croissant menu.  Is he fucking kidding me?  I should’ve stopped while I had the 3 jars of the same jelly sitting in front of me.  The good news is, I can have it for an extra Antibes 10.5 050charge.  JUST BRING ME THE DAMN JELLY!!!  NOW!!!  “D’accord” (Ok)  I say.  I agree and now my appetite is starting to decrease with the price increase.  When is it no longer worth it?  How much am I paying to have a spoonful of jelly on my stupid croissant?  Finally the 3-jar combo set comes back.  All three the same.  I insist on different flavors.  I’m paying top dollar, I deserve different flavors.  The jelly combo gets whished away again.  I wait.  Back comes the combo set.  Two flavors the same, one different.  Good jellyenough.  I eat my croissant with all three jellies, drink the cold café and don’t enjoy it nearly as much as I wanted to.  Oh well. 

The best bakery in all of France was closed.  The patisserie that Queen Victoria frequented is closed.  It cost me many Euros to finally get a croissant with jelly.  And I only had a few hours sleep the night before on top of it.  I think I’ll go back to Antibes.  It’s always nice to get back to Antibes.

Antibes- a street leading to my house

Antibes- a street leading to my house

Heading to Paris on the TGV (The Goofballs’ Vehicle) High Speed Train

I’m leaving now.  I’m on my way to Paris to spend a few days before I come Antibes 9.8 020home.  It’s really sad.  I really miss Antibes and I’ve only been gone a day.  I left the apartment yesterday morning, my last day, and walked out of Antibes pulling my suitcase heading to the train station.  I’m still packed too heavily.  I had given my big suitcase with the broken wheel that Bob fixed to Carole to take home for me and I bought a new little $10 one.  But it turned out to not be big enough so I kept back a carry-on sort of bag which is really bulky and hard to carry.  It’s packed full.  I don’t know why I thought it was necessary to buy the to-the-knee boots, especially when I had held back my up-to-the-shin new boots.  Now while trying to travel lightly I’m carrying around 2 pairs of black boots along with everything else.  Oh well, I’ll be happy with them when I get home. 

Great… I’m on the TGV, the high speed train to Paris which takes about 5 hours.  I had a four-seat section to myself.  Two seats facing each other with an optional pull down table in the middle.  I knew it could fill up because we’ve just started and we just got past Cannes.  A couple more stops before we really train 2get rolling.  But there are plenty of empty seats and in Cannes a somewhat elderly, nice-looking gentlemen got on.  He walked up the aisle, looking for a place to sit and finally decided to sit right in MY little section.  Why???  There are plenty of empty seats.  And he has some sort of weird, irritating habit where he keeps making this horribly annoying noise out of his nose.  It sounds like a sudden cough, but through the nose and it happens every 10-20 seconds.  I can’t tell when it’s going to happen- it’s not rhythmic so it surprises me each time.  There’s no way I’m going to put up with this joker all the way to Paris.  No way.  I’m going to gather my stuff and find another seat.  But that is so obviously rude.  But he keeps making this stupid noise.  It’s driving me crazy.  His face is only 41/2 feet from mine- his seat faces mine- and it’s too much for me.  I’m afraid something’s going to fly out of his nose and I’ll get hit with goopy nasal spray.  There.  I just left.  I couldn’t stand it.  I told him I had to find a plug for my computer and got up and walked around.  The car in front of mine was almost full and pretty stuffy.  I came back to my car and now Mr. Snorty is IN MY SEAT!  That’s ok, I guess.  I wasn’t going to sit there in front of him again anyway.  I found a new seat, but it’s a smaller, tighter one.  He’s two seats back and I can still hear him doing that weird snort/cough/sneeze.  But at least now he’s not facing me.  And now the guy in front of me is passing gas.  UGH!  All I want is to find a good seat and type on my computer.  I’m going to have to move again.  I’m the only one on the train that keeps changing seats.  It wouldn’t be so obvious but I’m carrying my huge purse and that bulky carry-on bag every time I get up and move around.   I’m still irritated.  Snorty has my window seat on the sea side of the train with the beautiful views and I have an aisle seat on the other side in this rancid gas cloud.  There are still more open seats but most are facing backwards and that makes me feel car sick.  And I can still hear him too much.  I’m moving to another car.

Just moved to the car behind me.  It’s not as hot as the car in front of the one where I was going to move to, but it’s still a little stuffy.  Mr. Snorty saw me walk by him on my way to this car.  He sort of jumped up and motioned to ask if wanted my seat back.   No, only if you’re moving and I can have my four-seat section back all to myself.   This car’s not as nice as car #7 where I started.  But this one has a lady wearing an irritating perfume.  Yuck.  I can’t stand this up my nose for the next 5 hours.  I just sat down and got situated and everyone around me got comfortable with the new person out of nowhere coming into their car and taking a seat.  The entire car smells like her perfume.  That is so rude of her to wear that on a day she knows she’s going to be in confined quarters.  She may as well be smoking as far as I’m concerned.  Ugh.  This car stinks.  I’m going to have to move.  People are going to think I’m crazy.  Then they’ll look scared if I choose a seat near them.  But I have to make a seat decision before we get to Marseille.  I’m afraid the train’s going to fill up then.  I’m not even enjoying the beautiful views of the Mediterranean with all of this going on.   Ok, I’m getting up again… and everyone’s going to stare at me because there’s nothing going on and everyone’s a little bored.  I must be great entertainment… everyone watching the OCD (obsessive/compulsive disorder) lady find a seat. 

Ok, I’ve changed.  One older lady looked mad when I got up, I think it was a look of scared concern instead of anger.  I found a decent seat I think.  This car has a little smell of food or something.  Like onions… uh oh… it’s BO.  And a lady just walked by with a kid and it’s coming from her.  Oh my god… it’s the WORST BO I have ever smelled in my life!!!  She just walked by again.  Her seat is about 5 behind me and I can’t stand it.   And now her kid has started screaming…. Goodbye!

Just walked by the lady I scared before, now she really jumped.  The pencil she’s using on her crossword puzzle almost fell out of her hand.  I can’t even remember where my suitcase is now.  It’s the only thing of me or my possessions that has remained stationery since I got on the train.  Back to car #7.  Mr. Snorty is still in MY SEAT, now he looks real uncomfortable.  He thinks I want it back.  He’s looking odd, like he’s concerned he did something impolite.  I just walked by him to take my second original seat back next to the guy that passed the gas.  Maybe he went to the bathroom while I was in car # 8 and 9.  What???  Someone’s in that seat now!  Darn it!  Where’d he come from?  That was a prime seat and I let it go.  I just found a seat in a 4-seat section.  I’m facing forward but someone is right in front of me which means I’m going to be playing footsies or knees-ies all the way to Paris.  He must wonder why he’s been on the train for almost an hour with this 4-seat section to himself and suddenly I appear to cramp his space.  Now he can’t stretch his legs out like he had them.  I’m not happy with this seat.  It’s right on the other side of the door from the bathroom.  And it stinks.  I’m not going to sit here. Can I possibly move one more time?  A guy just got on at this stop, Les Arcs- Draguignan, and chose a seat in Mr. Snorty’s 4-seat section.  He’s looking real nervous and keeps staring at the noise-maker.  He thought he found a prime seat and now he knows why no one was sitting there.  He doesn’t have nerve to move, I can tell.  It takes a lot of balls to get up and change seats after you’ve already sat down because everyone knows there’s something you don’t like about them. 

Like last night- when you think you’ve found a prime spot… After I got back from my Alps trip, which is what I had wanted to write about before I got sidetracked trying to find a decent seat on the train, I needed to find a hotel room in Nice.  I had done a ton of research on the train coming back with a little resource book of hotel rooms and a Nice map.  (That’s not a nice map, it’s a map of Nice).  I narrowed down my search to five places, all reasonably priced in nice areas.  I almost decided to just get something close to the train station but that’s such a grimy, unsafe area.  I didn’t want to spend my last night in the south of France in that environment so I thought it would be worth the walk.  Not.  My suitcase and carry-on bag were way too heavy and bulky.

1-cowbackpacksOK… NOW I’VE HAD IT!  SOMEONE IN MY AREA IS PASSING GAS!  CAN’T THEY HOLD IT OR GET UP AND GO TO THE BATHROOM!   I’M SICK AND TIRED OF SMELLING PEOPLE’S FARTS THIS MORNING.  Yuck.  A guy across the aisle just came back from somewhere and getting things situated in his seat bent over with his butt next to me.  I mean next to me.  Where else would I have a stranger’s ass sticking less than 3 inches from my nose and just sit there like it’s ok?  Get your butt out of my face!  Public transportation is really weird.   And Mr. Snorty is really going to town now.  The guy who sat down across from him has his head buried in a newspaper, pretending not to notice.  It’s only 11:00 am- think it’s too early for a glass of wine?  I need something to settle me down.  There’s a loud squeak coming from where cars #7 and 8 are connected together.  It’s not even bothering me.  It’s a little annoying, but there are way too many things taking primary importance to let that thing get too high in my line-up.  I need to relax and look out the window at the south of France before I’m out of the area.  I love it here. 

Back to finding the hotel room last night.  I walked and walked.  Isn’t that how I started my time in the south of France?  Walking and walking, dragging a heavy suitcase?  Some things just don’t change.  My hand got sore from

not me

not me

pulling the weight.  I switched hands.  My back muscles really ached.  My other hand got real sore.  I need racing gloves so that part of my hand doesn’t get so raw. 

By the way, the newspaper guy across from Mr. Snorty just got up and left.  His stuff is still in his seat but he probably needed a break.  He couldn’t stand it either, I bet.

I kept thinking that the hike to find just the right hotel room wasn’t worth it.  And it was getting dark.  Maybe the places near the train station would’ve been ok.  I decided to just keep walking.  I got to the address of where one was supposed to be… and nothing!  They had posted a picture of a table top with a flower on top in my hotel guide, so I didn’t even know what the hotel was supposed to look like from the outside.  (I wish this guy would STOP WITH THE NOISES- IT’S REALLY STARTING TO BUG ME).  Anyway, no hotel.  I found where it was supposed to be, 11 Rue de Congres.  No #11.  I asked the shop owner of the dress shop at #8 Rue de Congres if she knew where it was.  She had been locking her door and at first didn’t want to be bothered, but like all French people, when asked for help, she rose to the occasion.  French people LOVE helping out.  They spend hours trying to help you, way after you either understand, or if it’s something that can’t be figured out, long after it’s time to let it go.  And they usually illicit help from anyone within earshot and it turns into a group mind storming session.  Remember the people on the bus when I was trying to find the stop for the Matisse museum?   So this lady walked outside, up and down the sidewalk, jabbering away and we couldn’t find it.  D’accord, d’accord, d’accord (ok, ok, ok) already!  Next.  My favorite 4-letter word. 

I walk and walk, dragging the suitcase and bag and things are hurting.  My hands, my shoulders.  This is after a long day going to the Alps which I still want to tell you about.  Every curb jolts my elbow joint that has never quite gotten back to normal since I pulled my suitcase in Mexico last January.  Must be something going on in that elbow now that I think about it.  That was over 9 months ago.  I could’ve developed a baby in that time period… surely my body could’ve straightened out some over exertion on an elbow joint.

 By the way, Mr. Newspaper Guy hasn’t come back.  Either he’s taking a really long you know what or he’s hiding in another car.  Hey!  He just walked by- right when I was typing this.  And with JUICE!  Where’d he get that?  I didn’t see a café car on all of my traipsing around with my seat-searching.  I thought I was at the end of the train.  I wondered what I was going to do for lunch- we don’t get into Paris until 3:30.  I just got up and asked him where he got his juice.  “Is there a café car?”  I spoke English.  He’s speaking broken English, “Here” he informs me.  No, Mr. Newspaper man… not HERE.  This car just has Mr. Snorty, Mr. Pass Gas and a bunch of other thankfully quiet people.

 “Here?”  I ask.   Do I look crazy?  I’m standing HERE and I don’t see any juice for fucking sale. 

“Four car”.  Oh.  That would actually be car #11.  I thought it ended at #9.  Here I had another full car of seat choices that I didn’t know about. 

Back to the hotel last night.  First place I checked out- not there, never existed.  The shop keeper verified that.  Maybe it was an idea that someone had had and advertised.  But anyway it just wasn’t there.  I couldn’t find the second one either.  And each time I tried to find a hotel on my list translated into 4-5 blocks of strenuous walking.  I’ll never over pack again.  I see a 3 star hotel- this is going to be more than I want to spend.  I go in.  No vacancies.  What?  Not good.  There’s some big convention in town and all the rooms are booked.  Not good at all.  It’s getting dark and now it’s starting to rain too.  The desk person knows of one hotel that might have rooms.  She calls.  Yes they have one room left.  Imagine that… could this be a set-up?  Combien le coute?  (How much) et il y a wee-fee (and is there internet)?  I have to have internet to book my train for today to Paris and to find a hotel in Paris for three nights.  Yes, they have internet, it’s only 2 blocks away and it’s a super-sized double room for $95 Euros.  I only need a single- I don’t want to pay extra for a double bed.  Nope, only one room and I’m lucky, it’s a super size (didn’t we just go through this?) and it’s $95 Euro.  Ugh- I don’t want to spend $150 US on a room but I really don’t have a choice.  I get to the hotel.  It’s cute, clean and by the tariff list on the door, $95 is a good price for a room in this hotel.  I ask if she has a less expensive room.  Nope- this one is their ONLY one left and I’m lucky because it’s a super-sized room with a double bed (alright, alright).  All these hotels are small, like 8-20 rooms.  She will show me room #17.  Ok. 


Bandol, France

Hey- on the train we just passed an adorable little town, I can see it out the train window.  It juts out into the sea with a little island just off its coast.  It’s fairly developed, even the little island and  looks like a fun place!  I didn’t come down this far south/west.  I’d like to see this place.  I just asked the guy who a minute ago had his butt in my face what it was.  Bandol.  About 25km east of Marseille.  I have to remember that. 

Anyway, I love that about getting a hotel room in France.  It’s standard for the guest to eyeball the room before making a decision if they want it or not.  What a good idea.  So the sweet desk clerk and I go up to room #17, the last room left in all of Nice as far as I can tell and hmmm… there’s a reason why this super-sized double room isn’t someone’s first choice.  It’s a dormer room with long, long dormer windows that stretch almost the length of the room.  The ceiling is 3 feet high to a whopping 5 ½ feet.  Except for a 12 inch strip near the door where it’s standard 8 feet.  Hmmm… super-sized with floor space maybe, but certainly not with head space.  Well, luckily I’m 5’2” and except for having to watch to not bang my head in most of my room I’m in good shape.  It’s clean, cute and has internet.  I look at it and it’s amusing that no one is mentioning the elephant sitting in the middle of the living room… the fact that most people couldn’t stand up in there.  Hmmm… “Perfect!” I say to the mild-mannered desk clerk.  “Perfect?”  she says, surprised.  I can tell that I’m the only person in the last 30 years who was shown THIS asinine room and responded with a “Perfect!”.  Well, let’s just make everybody’s day and be happy.  I’m getting a $95 Euro-charge stuffed up my ass for an attic room, but it’s freshly-painted, the carpet’s clean and the bathroom is modern.  And it has internet.  Perfect! 

Things are settling down in the train now.  Maybe it’s me settling down.  The smells are less bothersome and thank god no one’s making any noises.  Mr. Snorty must have taken some Benadryl or something because not even he’s making noises.  The squeaking of the two cars rubbing together is louder but I can handle that.

Last night as I was eating dinner I couldn’t help but thinking about my little place in Antibes.  This was the sort of night I’d be having dinner somewhere and then head back home and be glad when I got there that I was back in Antibes.  But not last night.  I was staying in Nice and my little place in Antibes was sitting there dark and empty.  The new people weren’t coming in till today.  Wonder if my little apartment misses me as much as I miss it?  It makes me homesick thinking about it.  I loved it there. 

Tomorrow- I’m going to tell you about my Alps adventure… i.e. I wasn’t Mary Poppins, or Julie Andrews or whoever she was.  I had sat down to write it today, but this train thing set me on my ear. 

I’m almost to Paris.  What an incredible ride!  I happened to look out the window and there was a castle!  A real castle with all the turrets, an enormous stone wall and I think I saw moats.  Wow- what a surprise.  And cowsfields and fields of white cow.  All white.  Miles and miles of farms and everyone has white cows.  Isn’t that odd?  I tried to get a picture, but the people around me seemed a little nervous when I got my camera out and started snapping.  I wasn’t taking any of them, although I wanted to take a shot right down the aisle so you could see where I’ve been sitting for the past five hours.  But that would really make everyone nervous.  I did snap 30 or so pictures of the cows, trying to get a good one.  It’s hard because by the time I could see them, remember I have an aisle seat now, they were gone.  This is kind of like a Sunday drive, with so many interesting things to see, except instead of going 30 mph, we’re going 200 mph.  A Sunday drive in fast motion.  My seat mates in my 4 person section seemed mildly irritated with each snap of my camera.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I was moving around a lot, and sometimes getting my arms right in front of their faces to try and get the right shot.  At one point the guy across from me looked like he wanted to jump up and grab the camera and scream,  “GIVE ME THE DAMN CAMERA AND I’LL TAKE THE PICTURE!”  He didn’t, but I could tell he eventually just had enough because he got up somewhat deliberately and with extra noise and left.  Hmm… he can’t get too far… it’s a train!  I did put the camera away after that. 

Oh well… can’t wait to get to Paris!


Eh-oh… Could somebody tell me where I am? The Alps… (from 10/08/09)

I couldn’t decide whether to go the Alps today or to just get to Paris.  It’s my last day in Antibes and it feels so weird.  Like when your week long cruise ends and you suddenly get whisked off the ship- when everything you did

Goodbye my little house in Antibes

Goodbye my little house in Antibes

and the way you lived are now no longer yours and belongs to someone else.  I feel like my home has been yanked out from underneath me.  The new people are coming into my little apartment tomorrow and nothing feels the same. 

I waited just long enough this morning for the rental agent to come and check my apartment to miss the high speed train to Paris.  I could’ve left earlier and not have waited so long- maybe it was meant to be.  I finally couldn’t wait any longer and walked over to the rental office, only to see the lady who I had been waiting for washing a picture frame.  I told her she was supposed to have been at my apartment 45 minutes ago and she knew I had to catch a train.  She said she was sorry- no explanation.  I had given her my phone number yesterday when I told her it was important to me to leave as close to 9AM as possible.  Either she didn’t get it or just didn’t care- I really couldn’t tell which one.  But in any case I missed the train to Paris that would arrive with enough daylight to find a hotel room so by default it turned out to be an Alps day.  And what a day it was. 

Lunch in Nice

Lunch in Nice

I had lunch at a wonderful outside café in Nice.  I love the ambience in places like this… fresh flowers, fresh air, vibrant colors and sounds and surrounded by stately, impressive architecture.  Not to mention good food- fresh baguettes, wonderful pasta.  I was waiting to take the



Train des Pignes (Train of the Pines) into the Alps that goes to Dignes-des-Bains.  I thought I’d get off at the village of Entrevaux.  Two people had told me that that was a place that had fun things going on, plus I saw that it was a medieval village.  Sounded good to me.  As much as I wanted to be in a village in the Alps, I wanted to have something fun to do while I was there and I was a little concerned that I would end up in a little place with nothing to do.  So Entrevaux sounded great. 

The train on the other hand was quite an interesting experience in itself.  I 'Train des Pignes' got on a tiny two car train in Nice that runs on a different track than all the other trains travel on.  The car was old.  And hot.  Very hot and stuffy.  The small windows were open- no air conditioning- and that was the only fresh air on this crowded 2-car train.  We started down the track and I thought I was back in the 1910’s!  The train rocked from side-to-side as it chugged along.  Clinkety, clinkety, clinkety clink.  The seats were very straight and it was real noisy.  The open windows let in even more of the noise and the smelly engine odors.  It smelled like I was sitting beside an improperly vented coal stove.  All of a sudden that wonderful pasta lunch I had just finished before getting on the train didn’t feel too wonderful in my stomach.  Luckily I don’t get car sick because this would’ve been a prime situation for it to have happened.  We got outside of Nice and the train started going up the hills.  It felt and sounded like a roller coaster… clink, clink, clink… and then wooooooooooosh, down the mountain as fast as we could go…. Then clink, clink, clink up another and then wooooooooosh, down we go.   I find roller coasters fun and exciting.  This was more of what I’d call scary.  It was too real to be all out fun. 

The scenery however was beautiful.  Not truly an area of magnificent Antibes 10.8 007mountains like I wanted to see, but still really different and spectacular in its own right.  But I could tell we were getting into the middle of nowhere.  Not just fewer towns… I mean nowhere.  And I’ve come to realize that when I’m traveling alone, places with activity and plenty of people give Antibes 10.8 013me comfort.  Even if I have my own little space and can be alone within that area it’s comfortable.  Getting into areas with less and less people makes me feel nervous.  And along we rolled over the tracks getting deeper and deeper into more remote and unpopulated countryside.  The train would stop and a person here or there would get off and I’d wonder where they were going.  There didn’t seem to be really anything there.  They just got off in the middle of nowhere.  And I also realized that I was one of the very few not going to the end, the city of Dignes de Pays.  I didn’t want to go there- it looked to be an area where the mountains weren’t at their highest and the city seemed to be a nice place to live and work, but not a place on the top of the visitor’s list. I was looking for a nice little village in the middle of the Alps, where I could feel the rhythm of the way the people lived now and long ago.  Chug, chug, chug…. woooooooosh, up and down and through long dark tunnels, rocking back and forth and on and on we went.  At anytime I could’ve put my hand out of the window and touched the rocks of the mountains on the side as we went by.  The tracks were small and rinky-dink and as far as I know nothing goes on them other than the 2-car Train des Pignes.   There was grass growing down the middle of the tracks. 

I’d been on the train an hour and a half or so.  We stopped again and let a person out.  I looked at my little map and saw that I had three more stops to my stop.  I sure hoped there would be more action at my stop.  The stopAntibes 10.8 060s weren’t clearly marked so I thought I’d be ready.  One stop, second stop, third stop, time for me to go.  I couldn’t see what was around, I gathered my stuff and the conductor opened the door, I stepped out onto the grass/gravel and the train pulled away.  Chug, chug, chug.  And by myself in the middle of those big mountains… it didn’t feel good.  This didn’t feel right at all.   After the train left I could see the building that had been on the other Antibes 10.8 062side… My stop was Entrevaux… and there printed on a faded sign, read “Puget Theniers”.  What the???   How the???  Where was I???  OH no, oh no, oh no, oh no.  Did I get off at the wrong stop???  Oh NOOOOO.  I had this sick feeling.  I looked at my map.   Sure enough there it was… Puget Theniers, the stop before Entrevaux.  I had gotten off about 10 miles before my stop.  I went inside the station that consisted of one guy sitting at an old desk on a concrete floor. 

Vous-parlez Anglais?”   Do you speak English?  I was not in the mood to try and communicate in French. 

His response in French… “something, something, blabber, blabber”, meaning “Not really”.  Great, fucking great. 

I walked out the other side of the building to the main street and saw a sign for tourist information.  Who were they fooling?  There hadn’t been a tourist here in the last 50 years.  I walked into a store that looked like it rented rock-climbing equipment and the lady told me in very broken English that there were two hotels in town.  Each one only had a few rooms.  I walked by the one she recommended, pulling that horribly heavy, over-packed suitcase and thought there was no chance I was going to stay holed up in that place overnight.  The whole scene felt like something out of the Twilight Zone.  I walked down the street that ran next to the tracks and saw there was some sort of a bus stop, but the sign read something about having to ask for it in advance.  Could that be right or was I translating wrong?  I never found out, but nor did I ever see a bus.  I walked by a little town park with a Antibes 10.8 021playground and statue of a lady with bare breasts… refreshing that people in France are so comfortable with their bodies… down a walkway along a gushing stream with benches leading into the main part of the town.  The old people on the benches stared at me.  Not really a glare but an obvious stare like they were really concerned with the motives of the stranger in town. 

I was the only tourist.  In fact, except for maybe the summer mountain climbers who probably never made it across the main road into town, I Antibes 10.8 030think I was the only out-of-towner these people had seen in years and years.  I guess so since all the hotels in town couldn’t put up more than a handful of people at a time.  Turns out the town wasn’t the attraction for me… I was the attraction for the town!   I passed by the town square that was surprisingly more substantial than I expected, having a cluster of a few Andy of Mayberry restaurants with all but one closed as far as I could tell.  And all eyes were on me.  It was a real weird feeling.  Everyone seemed to watch my every move.  Who knows, maybe they saw me dragging along my stuffed suitcase and wondered what in the world I could want to do to stay as long as it appeared I planned to.  I saw a few narrow streets leading out from the square, up the hill into the residential area.  And the residential area was nothing like I’ve ever seen before!  This was worth the entire trip.  A neighborhood compiled of a true “Old Town”, and most exciting- this place Antibes 10.8 038had never been fancied up for the tourists.  These homes were truly original.  Streets of centuries old homes, doing what they were built to do, providing shelter to generations and generations of families.  It was like I had stepped back in time.  Looking up the narrow streets I could have easily been standing in the year of 1809.  Without careful inspection it all looked the same as it would have 200 years ago.  What an unexpected gift- to be placed in this truly interesting scene.   It was so quiet.  Eerily quiet.  I don’t know where Antibes 10.8 040the townspeople were.  Some old people had been sitting on the benches along the river near the square and I had walked by the few people sitting outside of the only open restaurant in the square.  One elderly lady was sitting outside of the huge old church.  Other than that the town and the homes were shut down.  But I could tell people were living in them.  It was all so strange and absorbing… I was pulled into it.  I already had my camera out, taking pictures of the square.  Now I snapped and snapped.  I couldn’t capture enough of the primeval feeling of the old houses on the steep, dark Antibes 10.8 041narrow streets. 

But as I was taking pictures I began to feel like I was intruding on these people’s lives.  Who was I to come into their town and document their private surroundings and belongings?  I was worried that someone would step out of one of the houses and catch me in the act.  I was in their personal area.  Like in a home that’s also a public monument- part of the building is for tourists to roam through and part of the building is the family’s private living quarters.  It’s roped off and tourists aren’t allowed in that area.  I felt like I had passed through the rope barrier and was walking into their private lives. 

And through all of this there was this strange, loud, background sound- a gushing, whooshing noise all through the town.  It was coming from Antibes 10.8 031underneath the ground.  In one area the cement was cracked and I could see down into a four foot deep area and I saw rushing water- right underneath me.  This sound permeated the entire town.  I had somehow thought it was coming from the stream or little river that ran through the town, but the sound was through-out the town.  It was an odd sensation. 

I walked back into the square and saw there were waterfalls out of nowhere, coming right out of the sides of the high banks emptying into the little river.  The water was coming from under the tiny, steep old streets with the Antibes 10.8 044houses.  And then that little river ran into a larger river that ran closer to the train tracks.  All of that underground movement, the noisy, gushing water under the old, medieval-like town.  The homes were so stable and long-lasting.  An incongruous partnership of permanence and fluidity.   It felt like I was in a fairy-tale land.

I decided to take the next train back to Nice and luckily there was one running back through town at 4:30.  I had taken a step into this odd, intriguing place and several hours were enough for me. 

The guy in the train station held up a cardboard sign on a wooden stick that instructed the train conductor to stop the train.  I got on along with a wiry, Appalachian-looking man with his baby and 7 year-old or so daughter.  The day had filled all of my senses to capacity and I just sat on the rickety, noisy train and sort of gelled out.

 Eventually I got out my map of Nice and a hotel guide and got my plan of action together.  I would take the high speed train to Paris tomorrow and tonight I needed to find a nice, reasonably-priced hotel in Nice and treat myself to a pleasant dinner to my last night in the south of France.  Nice gets a little scary- not too safe off the promenade- after dark so I didn’t have a lot of time.  As it turned out I ended up lugging my suitcase for blocks and blocks trying to find the right place.  There was a huge conference of some sort in town and everyplace was booked.  It got dark and began to rain.  I finally found a place- more than I wanted to spend, but clean and in a pretty safe area.  I had dragged that stupid suitcase for miles.  I dropped everything in the hotel room, enjoyed the luxury of having Wi-Fi and then found a sweet little place for dinner and a wonderful glass of red local table wine.  Goodnight.

Au revoir

I’m leaving now.  My time in France has come to an end.  The French government has asked me to please go back to the United States and QUIT BOTHERING ALL OF THESE FRENCH PEOPLE ASKING THEM TO TAKE MY PICTURE!  This was my two days in Paris and I just wanted to document my

Me in a Parisian cafe

Me in a Parisian cafe

trip somehow.  This is me in a typical French

Me in front of the Seine

Me in front of the Seine

café, in front of the Seine, in front of the Eiffel Tower, in front of St. Andre des Arts (my favorite hotel in Paris), in front of the Seine with

Me in front of the Eiffel Tower

Me in front of the Eiffel Tower

Notre Dame in the background and in

Me in front of St. Andre des Arts

Me in front of St. Andre des Arts

front of The Arc de Triumph.  I don’t think I bothered that many people.  Well, these are the best pictures… there may have been

Me in front of the Seine and Notre Dame

Me in front of the Seine and Notre Dame


I was able to stay in St. Andres de Arts my last

Me in front of Arc de Triumph

Me in front of Arc de Triumph

night in Paris- it’s my favorite hotel in Paris!  It’s quaint, charming and to me just feels so Parisian!  Maybe because the first time I was in Paris 15 years ago I had booked that hotel for Carole, Susie, Ellie, Stevie, Lisa and me.  There’s no TV or internet and the room is just a little bigger than the bed, but it has these beautiful white stone walls, high ceilings, huge French windows and original, crooked wooden beams in the walls and ceilings.  I love it!  I opened my room and the sight of it made me smile.  It’s also the cheapest hotel that I’ve been able to find.  I’d probably stay in the Ritz over on the right bank if it was offered but St. Andre des Arts would definitely be my next choice. 

I was a little concerned when I checked in.  The lobby looked just as I remembered with the stone and wood-beamed walls.  And there were the

St. Andre des Arts lobby

St. Andre des Arts lobby

crooked spiral stairs that go up to the rooms (no elevator) all different heights- some lean forward and some lean back.  The whole scene gave me a warm, cozy feeling and one of familiarity.  The lady at the little check-in desk spoke a little broken English.  She gave me my huge cle (key) – it’s heavy and they still do it the old way… when you leave the hotel, even to go to dinner, you give the key to the innkeeper and they hold it till you get back.  I was in room 12- 3rd floor- go upstairs to the door on the landing level, and follow the door outside.  Hmm… I was sort of hoping to sleep inside on my last day in France.  I must not have understood her- she was speaking very, very broken English and it was hard to understand.  I asked her to repeat it.  I clearly heard ‘outside’ the second time around.  “Go outside?”  “Yuh. Aw-seed”.  (French pronunciation of ‘yes, outside’.  Hmmm… Luckily the guy behind me waiting to get his key on his way in heard her and told me he’d show me my room.  This sounds like a set-up… a stranger’s going to show me my room?  And then he offered to carry my suitcase.  I had to go with a gut reaction and it seemed ok.  “D’accord, allons”… (Ok, let’s go).  I followed him up three long flights of circular stairs- I was very happy he was carrying my suitcase- and sure enough out the door and across a skinny walkway that only went to one door- marked #12.  What an odd set-up.  I had never been to this part of the tiny hotel before.  He said au revoir (goodbye), I said merci and he left.  I was actually standing by myself outside on the skinny walkway in front of one door with the rest of the building behind me.  I unlocked my door and there was the tiny room, just as adorable as I could imagine.  What a wonderful little hotel!  I stepped over to the front and opened the tall glass panel windows covered by the lace curtains and provincial-covered drapes and looked down onto the bustling St. Andre des Arts street.  This is just the way I wanted to spend my last night in France.  It felt wonderful!

I walked around and around both days.  I saw things I remembered I liked

The Grand Palais starring Prince

The Grand Palais starring Prince

about Paris, spent time in book stores, clothing shops, costume jewelry stores.  Just walking and taking in all of Paris.  I happened to come upon one of those huge, magnificent, grand buildings surrounded by tons of gendarmerie (police) and crowds of people all around the entrances.  I asked someone what was going on and they responded like I was a nut.  “It’s the Prince concert!”  I had seen an artistic banner with the word ‘Prince’, but thought it was an art exhibition or something.  The banner had the time 17:00-22:00 (5pm-10pm) and it was 4:55pm.  Cool!  Right there on the Champ d’Elysees- Prince- in one of those ornate century old buildings with the marble-carved statues.  It was a stretch of the imagination to put my arms around that whole concept.   



Anyway, two days of getting my fill of Paris.  And I did.  It was just fabulous and a big ending to my wonderful six week stay in France.  A long time by myself that felt… good.  I chose the word ‘good’, because that covers a whole gamut of feelings.  I felt courageous when I had no idea what to do, or where to go.  That was the resulting feeling that came after being afraid.    Sometimes it felt awe-inspiring… like when I stepped around the corner of my little street in Antibes and saw the beautiful Mediterranean stretched in front of me with Nice’s twinkling lights in the distance defining the curve of the coastline.  Sometimes I felt a sweetness, like when we walked through Renoir’s home with his paintings on the walls and saw the breath-taking views through the floor to ceiling antique windows of the rolling hills stretching to the sea.  Walking around Antibes gave me a deep sense of connection from a time long ago which is hard for most people to understand but which gave me a solid sense of grounding.  That seemed to be the unexpected vortex of the purpose of my trip.  Sometimes I felt isolated which made me look deep inside of myself.  That’s always an interesting place for anyone.  Often I found myself in wide-eyed wonder… all the new sites, the beautiful places, so many new and different things.  And I felt enormous respect for the French people and their foreign way of just living their life.  I know I’ve poked fun at all of the peculiarities, but I never lost sight that a foreign country is actually supposed to feel foreign.  The humor was oftentimes a reflection of my awkwardness in handling the strangeness of the French customs and lifestyle.  My time in France has been incredibly fulfilling and I’m coming home feeling… in a word to encompass all of my feelings… good. 

Goodbye, France, and a very special au revoir to Antibes.  You will always hold a special place in my heart.  Merci. 

Antibes- the way to my apartment

Antibes- the way to my apartment