A Travellerspoint blog

Time Travelling back 600 years

A trip to the Renaissance

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Lucky for us it was a holiday on the day of our arrival in Florence.  Otherwise we would have received about 300 traffic tickets.  Little did we know that there are strict traffic restrictions in the city, and almost the entire "old town" is pedestrian only.  The streets are monitored by camera and each time you cross into the pedestrian only zone, your car is captured and you are fined 100 Euros.  In fact, if you have to cross into the zone (for example if you have to get to your hotel), you have to "check-in" to a parking garage within 2 hours of crossing the zone.  We didn't know this and all the signs are in indecipherable Italian, so we just followed our GPS through the maze of tiny, single lane streets twisting their way through Florence -- I'm sure crossing the pedestrian border umpteen times.  We found out after we got to our hotel about these restrictions, but luckily they are not enforced on holidays.

Speaking of hotels, we stayed in an old Italian villa/palace:  the Villa Borghese Art Hotel, half of which has been turned into a modern hotel with a strong masculine decor and giant statues in the lobby, and the other half is an art gallery and event space.  Quite nice.  The small bar inside is manned by Gerardo, a true mixologist who takes great pride in his inventive cocktails, and uses fresh and homemade ingredients, such as flavored salts and sugars. He was very nice, and even gave me a parting gift. I commented on his unique glass storage vessels, where he kept his homemade concoctions, and asked if he knew where I could buy them, when lo and behold, he pulled a boxed set out from under the bar and gave it to me as a gift. Wow! Big tip for Gerardo!

The first decision we had to make upon arrival was whether we were going to leave the next day.  Turns out, the next day was Aug. 16, the day of the "Palio" -- the famous horse race in the nearby town of Sienna.  We had met an Australian guy in Monaco who told us it was coming up soon, and that it was an event not to be missed.  Held only twice a year, in July and August, the Palio is a crazy event.  The town of Sienna is divided into 17 neighborhoods, and each year 10 are selected to participate in this race.  Everyone (about 60,000 people) squeeze into the central town square.  Not a square inch of space is unoccupied, except for the sand track that rings the outside of the square.  Everyone is yelling and cheering for their team and waving their colorful neighborhood banners.  It's insane energy and adrenaline.  The horses line up, with their jockeys riding bareback, and the race begins.  Three loops around the track, horses and riders knocking into each other as they careen around the tight corners, some falling off and onto the mattresses they put there to protect them, the crowd pushing in from all sides, and  in less than a minute:  we have a winner!  The winning neighborhood goes berserk and carries the winner's banner back to their neighborhood where they display it proudly all year. Sounds amazing.  Sounds crazy.  And we happened to be in the neighborhood on the right day!  Who knew?  But, when we started thinking about the actual logistics - getting out of a city that we had a hard time getting into, the parking, the crowds, the heat - oh my! Sounds crowded.  Sounds like a PITA.  For a race that lasts a minute?  But its not about the race, its about the excitement.  What to do?  We went back and forth, but figured we didn't come to see the Palio, we came to see Florence.  So, we decided to forego the action.

Instead, it was time to step into our time machine and step back in time to about 1350 to 1450.  Florence is nothing if not an unparalleled look at The Renaissance.  We entered the city with some idea of what the Renaissance was about, but we left truly educated. You can't help but absorb an amazing amount of information.  Our 3 full days in Florence included seeing:  the Accademia (Michelangelo's "David" and other statues - where Jim got yelled at for taking a "forbidden" picture), the Uffizi Gallery (statues and paintings), the Palazzo Vecchio (old palace filled with art), the Pitti Palace (newer larger palace filled with more art), the Duomo (cathedral with huge dome) and matching Baptistery and Campanile (bell tower), the Duomo Museum, the Bargello (an old prison, now a museum full of art) and the Medici Chapels (more statues).

I'll try to sum up our education and immersion in the Renaissance in a single paragraph...

Prior to the Renaissance, the world (our Western world, at least) hadn't seen art for art's sake for over a thousand years.  Since the fall of Rome, only the Church commissioned art, and all art was basically used to teach Bible stories to the illiterate masses, or to glorify God.  It was "flat" and static and boring.  But at the end of the 14th century, something amazing started happening in the city of Florence, something not seen for a thousand years. A middle class started to appear, and individuals started to commission art.  And they wanted art for art's sake, not just for religious devotion.  A spirit of humanism was born, and the celebration of the human form began.  And the most expressive form of this celebration was in the form of statues. And not just static poses, but expressive forms caught in the middle of movement.  Not just a basic suggestion of a human form, but every rippling muscle, strands of hair, and flowing robes.  Not just an idealized face, but real human faces... ugly, wrinkled, broken noses and all.  Reality caught in stop motion.  Paintings and bronze friezes froze reality in 3 dimensions.  Not just flat images, but layers upon layers, with backgrounds and foregrounds.  Throughout Florence you can see the transition as it happened over time.  Famous art and artists abound:  Michelangelo, Bernini, Raphael, da Vinci, Brunnelleschi, Donatello, Ghiberti, Botticelli, etc.  The influence of the Medici family (the very autocratic Rockefellers of their day) is visible everywhere, and we continued to see their unmistakable coat of arms throughout Italy -- it is a shield with 6 "pills", or round balls, on it, recalling their origins in medicine.  In fact, as we continued on our journey through Italy, we would comment on both the appearance of their coat of arms:  "Guess who was here?", and on art -- THAT is obviously pre-Renaissance, while THIS must have been done by Della Robia.  We were actually starting to become a little more worldly and educated. Remember, I said a little!  ;)

In addition to great art, Florence is the home of the greatest Gelato in the world.  And while I swore at the outset that I would have gelato at least once each day, I fell short of my goal.  I just don't have the metabolism I did on my last visit 25 years ago.  Which brings me to another point.  We learned why they say don't visit Italy during August.  In addition to the heat - considerable, getting up to 104 F - and the crowds - surprisingly not too bad, especially when you get the Florence Card which allows you to bypass long lines at the attractions - there is the fact that many businesses, including many restaurants we searched for and my favorite gelato shop, are closed during August.  Oh well, there's always another one around the corner.

One thing we were a little disappointed about was the closing of something we were really looking forward to.  About an hour north east of Florence, is the town of Modena, home of Ferrari and Lamborghini.  We wanted to tour their factories and museums.  But, since it was mid-August, the Lamborghini factory and museum was closed, and you cannot tour the Ferrari factory unless you own a Ferrari. So for only the Ferrari museum, we felt the trip wasn't worth it.  I guess we had to leave something for a future trip.

All in all, Florence was grand.  Old world art in an old world town.  Perhaps a little history might have rubbed off on us, giving us just a hint of Renaissance men.  Firenze -- Molto buono!

Posted by jim-n-mark 09:47 Archived in Italy Tagged florence duomo siena borghese uffizi medici l'accademia palio Comments (0)

Monaco vs. Monte Carlo

Is there really a difference in such a tiny Principality?

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The next day (I have no idea what day of the week it is anymore) we leave Nice and head east toward Italy.  Along the way though is a must-do stop, the principality of Monaco.  It is a tiny "country", just 3/4 of a square mile in total - really just a small city.  But it is probably the most "vertical" city/country in the world.  As we drive into Monaco, we realize that the roads into and out of Monaco have become tunnels, with buildings built right over the top of them.  Real estate is so scarce here, that they just build up since they can't build out.  As our GPS shows that we are about to exit the other side of the country, we realize we haven't actually seen any of it while driving beneath its buildings.  Monaco must be the only country in the world that you can drive across, entirely underground!  We find the last turnoff that gets us out of the tunnels and onto the surface streets.

As we wander around the crowded port and down some streets, we gaze up in wonderment at all the buildings built practically on top of each other and up the cliffsides that surround this country.  This place reeks of money.  Every building and street is spotlessly clean.  High-end cars are everywhere and yachts line the port.  We decide to take the bus, as you can cross the entire country in 15 minutes.   We are a little taken aback when the police board the bus and check every passenger's ticket.  Two stops later it happens again.  In fact, it happens about every other stop.  We are boarded at least 4 times during our 15 minute tour.  They say this city is very secure, with cameras on every street corner and such a strong police presence, that you can win a million dollars at the Casino and walk the streets in perfect safety.  A little ironic for a place that is dubbed "a sunny place for shady people".  I guess you can hide your ill-gotten millions here tax free with no problem, just don't forget to validate your bus ticket.  Oh wait.  They don't take the bus, they drive the official cars of Monaco: a toss up between Rolls-Royce and Ferrari (followed closely be Bentley).  There are more of these than anywhere else I have seen.  There is at least one of these on every single street in Monaco.  I've never been able to see every model in the Ferrari line-up in one city before - I guess we won't have to go to Ferrari in Modena, Italy.

As far as the yachts, I am most amazed at the number of Wally's here.  A brand that I had only heard of from it's one "concept" model that was about a hundred feet long and goes 75 mph,  I recently learned Jim's company actually sells these, and they have boats in all size ranges.  There are several of these in port, and along the surrounding waters.
We discover the difference between Monaco and Monte Carlo.  Monaco is the whole "country", while Monte Carlo is actually a neighborhood in the city-state around the famous Casino.  Speaking of which...  the pictures and clichés are true.  In front of the Casino is parked every kind of high-end car you can think of:  Lamborghini, Bentley, a million dollar McLaren SLR, Mercedes SLS, and of course, multiple Ferraris and Rolls-Royces.

Inside, the Casino is stunning.  It's somewhat reminiscent of the beautiful areas of some Las Vegas casinos, except it's genuine, it's really old, and it's truly elegant, not glitzy.  Beautiful ceilings, crystal lined bars, gorgeous blue and white mosaics - it's the perfect place for us to enjoy a glass of champagne and pretend we're James Bond.  We can only see the "American Salon", as the "private rooms" require a stricter dress code and an entry fee -- and they play funny games like Baccarat and Punto Banco.  You have to pay them to allow you to lose your money.  The tables we saw were minimum 25 Euro bets.
Continuing our exploration of the city, we climbed the steps to the Palace to say hi to Al and Charlie (Prince Albert and Princess Charlene would be appalled!)  We were a bit surprised at the "plainness" of their Palace abode.  Considering they are the "oldest monarch family"' you'd think they'd had enough time to spruce the place up a bit.  The views over the city are grand though.

Time to get back in the car and head into Italy, only a stone's throw away....

Except, when we get into Italy, we don't get to see much of it.  Here the terrain is more mountainous, but the highway is perfectly flat and level, about halfway up in elevation.  How do they do this?  They go straight through the mountains in tunnels and cross the valleys with bridges.  We spend more time in tunnels, than in the light, with just a glimpse of the valleys below as we cross a bridge.  Long tunnel, short bridge, long tunnel, short bridge.... it goes on and on like this for a hundred miles or so.  Finally, we turn off at our exit, the little seafront town of Rapallo.

Rapallo was a brief stop, near the more trendy and more picturesque -- and more expensive -- Portofino.  Home to multitudes of movie stars, Portofino is a tiny collection of pastel-hued buildings cascading down the hillside to the tiny port.  Cliffside bluffs support several gorgeous villas, and large yachts bob in the sea below.  It is a picture-perfect little harbor, made even more so by our boat ride that brought us to this hamlet.
But it was time to go.  Next stop... a visit back in time to the Renaissance:  Florence!

Posted by jim-n-mark 11:38 Archived in Monaco Tagged monaco rapallo monte carlo portofino Comments (0)

Nice "Eze" nice, and so is Cap Ferrat!

The heart of the French Riviera

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As we arrived into the area around Nice, we drove along the beaches and noticed that private companies set up shop right on the beach renting out lounge chairs, umbrellas, towels and what not, and often have a little refreshment operation or even a small restaurant.  They name these places things like: Hawaii Beach, or Tropicana Beach -- almost always in English.  I had heard of some these before, like the famous Nikki Beach in St. Tropez (and now in Miami and Las Vegas), but always thought these were separate beaches, not beach rental companies all on the same beach.  Another lesson learned.

Nice itself is a big city, sprawling out over a large cove of the Med.  Hotels right along the beach promenade are very expensive, so we found one online a few blocks inland.  The Hotel Roosevelt (a Best Western, no less) was alright, with a decent location and decent price, but the rooms were a little small, European style, and it felt, well... like a Best Western back home.  That evening however, as we were getting ready to go out for dinner, we heard some funny noises either in the wall or ceiling of our bathroom.  I joked that there were animals in there. But the noise kept getting louder, and we deduced that someone was taking a shower above us, although we were surprised at how loud it was.  All of a sudden water came pouring out of the ceiling fixture above the shower in a torrent of a waterfall.  Maybe this is how they take showers here -- Everyone in the showers at the same time, now turn on the shower on the top floor and let it fall through each floor.  Saves water.  ;)

I rush downstairs to let the front desk know, and while not very alarmed, they change our rooms.  Two floors up, same room.  Maybe now I can turn on the shower, and get my downstairs neighbor wet.  Except this room smells like smoke.  Yuck!  Back downstairs and the front desk tells me they are completely booked and have no more rooms.  I tell her we'll even pay more for a larger room.  Sorry, nothing available.  I am not happy, and tell the girl so.  As I walk away and wait by the elevator, a senile old woman is trying to check in, but does not know her own birthday to fill in the check-in card.  The front desk attendant rushes around to me and whispers that she is going to swap rooms and give us the woman's room.  The woman is so senile she won't notice. Thank god!  Her room is wonderful!  On the top floor (no leaks from above), it is a large corner room with three balconies, a queen and a twin bed, and a large updated modern bathroom.  Now this is what we expected!  Now we just have to decide who gets which bed.  Note to others:  book a triple room instead of a double, if you want a large room.

We follow the advice of a guidebook and find one of those beach rental places: Castel;  except at night, this is a real restaurant, tucked under the end of the overhead promenade where the beach ends and meets a hill that comes tumbling down into the sea, it overlooks all of Nice with the water practically lapping at your toes.  It is beautiful, and surprisingly quiet.  We get there just before sunset, around 8:30 and there is only one other table occupied.  We are a little concerned, but the view is gorgeous.  Sure enough, the place starts filling in a little later, but never gets packed.  The food is good, but as the sun sets, the sea turns gold and the lights of the city come on.  It's stunning!
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As we walk back to the hotel, we skirt along the Old City, and walk down a broad boulevard that has been turned into one giant sidewalk cafe.  While served by many restaurants, the center "aisle" of tables is as wide as four car lanes and several blocks long; tables crammed together; with, literally, thousands of people eating here.  We're amazed at the numbers of people.  It's the largest gathering of eaters in one spot we've ever seen.  While amazed at the energy of this place, we are thankful that we found our little quiet beachfront place.  A quick stop in an Irish pub to watch some of the closing ceremony of the Olympics capped off the night.
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The next day was sight-seeing day among the little villages on the French Riviera.  First stop was the tiny hilltop town of Eze-le-Village, or just Eze (pronounced "ez").  There are 3 roads from Nice to Monaco all running parallel to each other: the Low, Middle and High Corniches.  Their names referring to how high up they are on the staggeringly steep mountainsides that cascades down into the sea.  The Low Corniche running along the waterfront and the High running right along the crest of the mountains, which is actually the Via Aurelia, built by the Romans 2000 years ago.

The Middle and High Corniches provide breathtaking views of the Med, the little villages dotting the seafront, and the villas that tumble down the cliffsides, perched on amazing panoramic points.  And, of course, the many yachts gathered in the coves, one bigger than the next.  The "tiny" 60 - 90 footers dominated by their 200 - 300 ft. neighbors.

Between the Middle and High Corniche sits a tiny medieval town perched precariously on the tippy top of a four-sided cliff, as if it had grown out of the stone itself.  Very Harry Potter like.  We nicknamed it The Town of a Thousand Steps.  Its itty-bitty alleyways running in every direction other than straight are barely wide enough for one or two people, and are made primarily of steps leading ever upward toward the pinnacle.  Little shops lining the alleys seem carved out of the rock, and are really more like cute well-lit caves.  Little cafes dot the alleys taking up every available space and stairway landing.  As we get near the top and hunt for the little restaurant that is supposed to have amazing panoramic views, we find out that the terrace is only for patrons who want to eat (we don't), and the 4 or 5 tables on their balcony for drinks are all taken.  Oh well.  We head down more alleys, with no idea where we are or where we're going, just knowing we need to head downhill.  But it's like a maze.  The medieval buildings/walls all look the same.  Have we been here before? I think so.  But then we turn a tight corner and discover a little square we definitely haven't seen before.  Finally we make it out of the puzzle, discover a charming garden clinging to the cliffside and filled with statues of animals, including two life-size giraffes, and find a little sand-floored outdoor lounge with tiki huts.  Is this the South of France or the South Pacific?

Continuing our adventure we drive down to the seaside and explore Villefranche-sur-Mer and Cap Ferrat.  Villefranche is another charming seaside village, with waterfront cafes, a fortress with great views, llittle cobblestone streets, and a pebble beach that lines a cove.  Cap Ferrat isn't a town, but a peninsula (a cape) that juts out into the Med, covered with trees and spectacular, mostly hidden, villas.  The small town of St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat oozes money, and as we drive through the hilly residential roads, catching glimpses of beautiful properties, we finally understand the allure, and the real money, of the French Riviera.  This is where "you get it" -- this is the Palm Beach, or Southampton, of the Med.

But unlike the Hamptons, where the official car is the Land Rover, here it is an unassuming tiny and cute car - the Moke.  A miniaturized version of a cross between a Jeep and a VW Thing (remember those from the 1970's?), they are everywhere in every color, and apparently nowhere else, as I have never even heard of these. Perfect for zipping around from village to village.

For dinner we find another recommended restaurant, Le Plage de Passable, another beachfront restaurant.  This one is on Cap Ferrat, just below the famous Villa Nellcote where the Rolling Stones resided and recorded "Exile on Main Street".  It is across the cove from and overlooks Villefranche-sur-Mer.  We arrive at 7:45 for our 8:00 pm reservations, and the restaurant isn't open yet.  It's difficult for us to grasp that restaurants don't even open until 8:00 and typically don't get busy until 9:00.  While we wait along the beachfront, we are amused by someone trying to wiggle his yellow  convertible Lamborghini out of the tiny cramped garage, his exhaust bellowing in the echo chamber.  Dinner is a delicious pasta with fruits-de-mer (fruits of the sea, love that description!), and is accompanied by another great sunset setting over the mountainous background with the little Villefranche village lighting up as dusk settles.
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The next day brings the next stop -- Monaco!  And then on to Italy!

Posted by jim-n-mark 11:34 Archived in France Tagged st. castel la villa de plage jean nice eze cap villefranche-sur-mer eze-le-village ferrat nellcote passable Comments (0)

More Unworldly Observations.....

From the simple mind of Jim.....

Ice......why is it such an ordeal to get? Ask for some and the reaction is shock and disbelief. They respond "Ice???" as if they cannot believe their ears. They reluctantly disappear into the unknown and return with a tiny bowl of 8 ice cubes. It happens at every hotel, every time, in every country. That is all you ever get at most and it is half melted by the time you get to your room. Ice machines do not exist in hotels here.

Restaurants....you have to want them - they do not want you. We have concluded that you must wait at least 15 minutes at your table before a server appears. We have witnessed HALF of the patrons get up and leave in frustration. DO NOT attempt to call a server to your table...you just killed any chance of service. They may or may not bring you what you have ordered. The meal will be served on their time table. They begrudgingly speak English only because it gets them away from your table quicker. Do not show up for lunch before noon or dinner before 8 PM. They feed the staff prior to each meal and nothing happens until they are done. They are inclined to have wine with their staff meal which isn't going to improve their customer service skills. The only consolation in the dining experience is you do not have to tip. At first I felt embarrassed by this but now I find that no tip is well deserved. Just imagine if a restaurant said "we are going to provide excellent swift service and embrace our guest" - I guarantee that place would double their revenues the first day!

Motorists.....do they real gives licenses in Europe? I think the driving schools must be dare devils courses. Intersections are a free for all which is why they probably have so many round-abouts (rotarys). And don't think for a moment a pedestrian won't step out in front of you....hesitate with the gas pedal for one second a mass of people will step out into the intersection and you must wait on them. Parking - it is basically get out of your car where ever you want. Leave it on a street corner, double park it, or just stop right in the street and leave it there. I don't know why we spend so much time look for a parking spot on the street or in a garage. No one else is. Streets if that what some of these are - are sometimes horrifying or comical. Sometimes both. We were on one road that I swear was a sidewalk and at the end of it we were going to be in someone's living room. We have had to back up 100's of yards in order to let an oncoming car pass us on others. Hairpin corners are so sharp Google Maps think we are on the same road traveling in reverse. I am amazed at how many Land Rovers, Bentley's, Rolls Royce's and yes even Lamborghini's we see. How on earth do they get anywhere and how can they possibly trust these maniac motorists to not hit them?

Hotels.....for the most part they are similar to American hotels. Funny on arrival at a hotel you just sign in. No credit card needed and they do not put a credit hold on it to make sure your credit card is good for your charges while staying..very trusting. Here Holiday Inn and Best Western are premium brands (we stayed at one which I would avoid at home). For the most part they are small but 1/2 the time we have ended up with some rooms that rival the size of luxury brands in the US. No matter what hotel King size beds do not exist. For the most part you are going to have 2 twin size beds in the room. In once case we had a queen size and a twin in our room which makes for interesting dialog of who is getting what. 80% of what is in your room will be working. Mostly the other 20% are usually minor, burnt out bulbs, loose faucets - pretty minor stuff. But in one case the room above us was using the shower and we could hear water hitting out ceiling and then water started coming our of the light fixture in our bathroom. 3 rooms later and we actually got a fabulous suite with 3 balconies on a corner. Need and iron while you here. Forget about it. There are no irons in hotels here. It often makes me wonder why I don't see more wrinkled tourists around. The hall lights are kept off and do not come on until you walk a good way in them and set off the motion detector. My mother would not been keen to this as I am sure in the event of a fire it does not help you in quick exiting as you stand there in total darkness for a few seconds and then you can get your bearings.

Posted by jim-n-mark 02:08 Comments (0)

On the way to St. Tropez...

... and Cannes and Cap d'Antibes

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Our first stop on the French Riviera (or Cote d'Azur - "Azure Coast", named for the blue of the Med meeting the blue of the skies), was at its westernmost edge in the famous town of St. Tropez. This Riviera resort was made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the '50's, and she still hangs out in a cafe signing autographs on Thursdays from 3:00-5:30. But this was Saturday.

As we drove into town, we started seeing the first of what would become an entire navy of luxury yachts all along the Riviera. Jim being in the boating business, and both of us avid boaters, we loved seeing these boats, yachts and ships, and you will notice in our pictures and blog entries a slight obsession with them.

We walked into the surprisingly small harbor area, got a perfect marina-front seat at a sidewalk cafe, Papagaya (Parrot), and ate lunch while gazing at the several large yachts in the harbor. We were amazed at how they dock here. No finger docks or pilings. Each boat sets out to two anchors in front (for the larger yachts), or grabs an underwater mooring line (for the smaller boats), and then backs in, stern to the dock, fender squeezing fender of the boats on either side. No wonder European boats have passarelles - there is no such thing as starboard- or port-side ties here. It seems odd to us, with our obsession of bow lines, stern lines and fore and aft spring lines, how these huge yachts don't move with so few lines out and just their stern to the dock.

Lunch was delicious, washed down with a local Provençal rosé. A quick walk around the old town gave us a bit of an oversight of this rather small tourist town, and then it was back on the road. Next stop: Cannes.
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It was along these Riviera roads hugging the rugged coastline that we came to understand why people say don't travel here during the month of August. Tourist traffic was everywhere clogging the roads, making progress a bit slow. But, coming from Florida, we are used to seasonal tourist traffic, and it was really no worse than Sarasota in winter (except in Sarasota it is 4 and 6 lane roads in commercial areas that are clogged, not picturesque two lane roads through woods, mountains and coastline).
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I would have preferred to overnight in Antibes, but considering the time of day and the traffic, we decided to book a room in Cannes instead. Even though the guidebooks say don't overnight in Cannes, we felt we had to, for both time's sake, and well, because it's Cannes! It's famous, it's got to be worth it, right?

Cannes is a pretty big city, with a glitzy beachfront walk, a big, modern (ugly) casino/convention center on the water blocking the view, and otherwise not exactly exuding charm. But still, it was Cannes. After trying to book a few hotels via phone while driving, and finding many of them booked, or overpriced, or too far from the waterfront, we found little Hotel America (go figure), which was cute, clean and nice decor, although absolutely the smallest room you can imagine. There wasn't even enough room to change your mind. But, as I said, it was very clean and nicely done, a great location and (relatively) reasonable.. The giant grand hotel right next door was triple the price.

The evening included pizza at a pseudo-waterfront cafe (blocked by the casino), and an obligatory stop inside the casino, where Jim walked away with a few extra Euros in his pocket playing roulette and the slots, and I spent an hour or more playing blackjack, and only losing 5 Euros. Not too bad.

The next morning was spent walking the port and gawking at the mega-yachts -- at least 50 of them all sandwiched tight together, stern-in, with more moored in the cove. Then it was back on the road to Cap d'Antibes...

...or, more simply, just Antibes (ahn-teeb). Antibes is more of what we expected in the Riviera... Charming old town, with pastel colored buildings in shades of yellow, rose and rust, sidewalk cafes lining open squares, surrounding by meandering alleys. There is a little neighborhood, called "La Commune Libre du Safranier", whose residents banded together in the 1960's to preserve their neighborhood. With its tiny little cramped alleys, and beautifully tended "landscaping" (which for the most part clings to the walls and balconies), it is utterly charming - and hidden. We would never have found it without a guide book.
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But the most impressive thing about Antibes, at least for us, were the yachts. We hadn't seen nothin' before this location. There were yachts in the harbor, mega-yachts moored out at sea, and the biggest yachts of all along "billionaire's row". Wait.... I have to reclassify these. These were not even yachts anymore. They were ships. Almost cruise ship size. Even after being in the boat business for 10 years, and going to world-famous boat shows in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, we had NEVER seen anything like these monsters.
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We have been fortunate enough to have been inside some large yachts before -- especially Jim, as his company has sold many of these brands before: Ferreti, CRN, Riva (my favorite for <100'), Apreamare, Mangusta (my favorite for >100'), etc. So, it was fun to see so many of these brands in use. And they do use them. Usually in the States, you'll see these (usually under 150') yachts docked in a marina or behind someone's homes. Here they are moving about, going in every direction, as common as Sea Rays are back home. Yachts constantly on the move.

But the ones on billionaire's row were truly mind-boggling. We're used to seeing the 100-150 footers, but they were absolutely dwarfed by these behemoths. The "normal sized" yachts were in the harbor-proper, but beyond them was the special "billionaire's row"with these ships towering above the now, oh-so-dinky 80-120 footers. These were in the 300 to 400 foot category. Crews were cleaning them (probably non-stop), and they had to rappel down the sides with ropes to clean them. The two largest were: "Lady Moura" (385', owned by a Saudi Prince) and "Titan" (~300', owned by a Russian billionaire-tycoon). Docked next to Lady Moura was a 92' Mangusta - a large, beautiful, multi-million dollar yacht in its own right, but completely dwarfed by the giant ship next to it. Perhaps it was the Saudi's day boat? We were stunned and speechless.
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The mega-yachts and the quaint old-town made Antibes our favorite destination so far. Advice: stay in Antibes, not Cannes. Next up: Nice (as in, niece, not nice).

Posted by jim-n-mark 00:48 Archived in France Tagged st. hotel antibes america lady cannes titan tropez moura Comments (0)

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