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finding something to fear in marseille

view from train station

view from train station

Marseille isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see. And you realize, too late, that you’re in the middle of a tragedy. An ancient tragedy in which the hero is death. In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.”

Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos

 When people talk about Marseille, there’s no grey area, it’s either black or white.

On the “love” side you hear things like: “one of the great cities of the world!”; ”a beautiful Mediterranean melting pot”;   “it’s becoming an art and design center on par with Barcelona”.   On the hate side we’ve got:   “I would rather watch every episode of the Kardashians than go back to that God forsaken place”; “Filthy” (ironic for a place famous for its soap); “It’s like the middle east without the charm”; It doesn’t feel safe!(this from a guy who feels comfortable in downtown Beirut). And we’ve also got good old Jean-Claude Izzo up there, scaring the crap out of me.

I visited Marseille once about a gazillion years ago (I’m avoiding telltale numbers).   I was with my parents and we drove from Aix to Marseille to go to Galleries Lafayette to find a certain tablecloth that my mom had to have. Construction was going on near the port and they had just dug up an ancient boat. We had lunch somewhere along the port.   I remember my mother felt sorry for the multitude of African guys trying to sell carved wood animals . My memory sees it then as being a little run down, but I didn’t really form an opinion one way or another except to watch my purse.   And while I survived, a vague sense of foreboding rises inside of me when I think of it.   But that could have been the fact I was a teenager on a family vacation.

Since I’ve lived in the South of France, the closest I’ve been to Marseille is looking down on it from the relative safety of the Marseille St. Charles train station.   It’s a pretty great view and it has made me long to venture down the hill and into the heart of it, however dirty and dangerous it may be.  But then fear takes over and I decide to go back later when I have more time and a flak jacket.   Which of course, I never have on me.

It’s a bit of a slog for a day trip (2:15), but hell, that’s a one way commute in the Bay Area.   And since I’m taking the train, the stress level is very low.   Well, as long as I don’t think about the danger I may encounter in Marseille.   Dirt.   Disenfranchised North Africans.  Germs.  Ebola.  Did you know the plague probably entered France here?  Racial unrest. Violence.   It seems the only thing I fear that isn’t here in Marseille is the IRS.

I’ve got to say, Marseille is beautiful.   I visit the old port, Fort Saint Jean, the brand new MuCEM (MUsee des Civilizations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée) and its phenomenal building and public space designed by Rudy Ricciotti in collaboration with Roland Carta, and the old town, which is called “le Panier” (the basket). I’m tempted to ascend to the omnipresent Notre Dam de la Garde perched on top of the hill, but it wasn’t long ago I was downed by a cathedral and I’m already pressing my luck by even being here, so I skip it.

Except for the prospect of climbing the cathedral, I feel no fear.   I have a perfectly lovely day puttering around aimlessly smelling soaps, admiring views, looking at art, taking pictures, eating lunch…   I don’t get food poisoning.   No one mugs or murders me (that I know of).   No terrorists attack. There are no race riots and by the end of the day, I’m still not convulsing with fever and bleeding from every orifice.   I made it!

I board the train home triumphantly.   I plop down into my seat with relief.   I made it!   I congratulate myself in between looking at the scenery and the photographs I took of Marseille on my phone. Jean-Claude Izzo was wrong!   Beautiful pictures.   Nothing terrible happened.IMG_20140909_175111324

But when I get up at the Antibes stop, I realize something is wrong. I feel a slight pull, look down and realize tragedy has indeed struck.   Goddamn merde de putain, somebody left gum on my seat!   My cute skirt is ruined!

***

While Izzo was right about Marseille-related tragedy, he was still wrong about Marseille not having beauty that can be photographed.   As you’ll see in the pictures below.  Fortunately, he was also wrong about the death thing.

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all hail the mighty lemon!

Monet's rendering of a branch of Menton lemons

Monet’s rendering of a Menton lemon tree branch

Last year in French class, there was a discussion about the Menton Fete de Citron.   My friend Michel scoffed at the idea, wondering how can they have a whole festival for a goddamn lemon?   He wound up going and returned a changed man, with a newfound respect for both lemons and the French who gave the lowly fruit the love and attention it deserves.

This year, my friend Angela and I embark on the same pilgrimage hoping for a similar transformation.

Menton is two or three train stops east of Monaco/Monte Carlo (about 10 minutes), on the French/Italian border.   You can feel the Italian influence as well as hear, smell and taste it.

IMG_6954For a place you’ve probably never heard of, it’s quite beautiful with grand buildings built in the 1900’s when rich nobles wintered here. It boasts a long pebbly beach fringing blue, blue water, an old town splashed in the warm sunny colors of this patch of the Mediterranean. It’s surrounded by dramatic cliffs that seemingly drop from Alps to the Sea in a heartbeat creating a perfect micro-climate (316 days of sunshine a year, they say).

So, what is Menton’s main claim to fame?   Lemons, of course.   Well, citrus in general.   But the Menton lemon is special.   It’s larger, often misshapen.   It’s also supposedly sweet enough to eat like an orange (I beg to differ).

Legend has it that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve grabbed a big, golden lemon from paradise and took it.   When they finally settled in Eden-like Menton (which was probably called something else back then), she planted it.   An industry and tourism hook was born.

Every year at the end of February-early March, the town of Menton holds a Fete de Citron.  It’s their equivalent of Mardi Gras except replace the beads, masks, great music and young people with lemons and oranges.

IMG_6812The place is packed.  I’m a little frightened despite the fact that half the attendees are walking slower and more laboriously than me (the median age here, appears to be about 70—I feel like a spring chicken)..  This is my first major public outing without my walking boot, and one pushy German could ruin my hard won, still tenuous mobility for me.

Orange trees line the streets, full of ripe oranges, festive in their own right. There’s something very reassuring about a place where food grows on trees.   I put Menton down on my list of possible places to be broke and homeless.IMG_6845

The theme of this year’s festival is “20,000 leagues under the sea.” I honestly don’t know what it has to do with citrus, but what the hell. The parade is the strangest combination of floats: ships, fish made of citrus, mermaids and the most baffling float of IMG_6797all, a kangaroo made of citrus.   Possibly left over from the Australian themed Fete de Citron, or maybe the Marsupial themed one?  There’s also a garden of displays (like the Eiffel tower and pagodas done entirely in citrus) and fireworks at night, and all kinds of citrus based products being sold.

Rumor has it, the lemons and oranges used in the floats and displays come from  Morocco—which I suspect is true, given their uniform, smallish size.  Some of these Menton lemons are bigger than a pamplemousse!

Possibly the most exciting part of the Fete de Citron for me, is the Menton lemon honey I sample in the one the stores, Mille et un Miels.   OMG.   Give me a straw.   Hell, I’ll chug it straight from the jar.  I’ll eat it with my hands.   Angela and I both buy a jar.

When I get home, I sit down to Google Menton over a nice hot cup of Lemon Honey (with a little water).   I discover that Jean Cocteau the French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist, filmmaker. and general post-modern Renaissance man was an important part of Menton.   There is a Cocteau museum showing his work, as well as that of his friends’ Picasso and Matisse.   You can see more of his art in the Bastion, on the waterfront.

Being a person of taste and culture, suddenly, I’m obsessed with going back to Menton.  I’ve got to get more of that lemon honey!

is this august or have I died and gone to hell?

beach antibes august

August is the month where everyone flocks to holiday on the glamorous French Riviera.   Who can blame them?  It’s oppressively hot.  It’s crowded.   Huge vicious mosquitoes are on the prowl and basically an air of rudeness permeates the entire Cote d’Azur.

For example, as I was waiting for an appointment in Juan Les Pins the other day, instead of French muzak, I heard honking horns.   Continually.   I’m not saying the horns were worse than the muzak, mind you, but it it was insistent, repetitive and brain piercing — more like really bad techno (is that redundant?).

Virginie, the assistant told me it happens every August when the people on vacation invade.   She said that it’s just non-stop honking in August.   Even in the middle of the night.  She wondered why they would become more impatient while on holiday “relaxing.”

A lot of people blame the Parisians (the only French people who don’t hate Parisians are Parisians) but the truth is, I’m not sure who to blame for this sorry state of affairs, I’d like to blame Americans, but in all honesty, I can’t.   There just aren’t enough of them in Antibes.   To hate Americans I’d have to go to Cannes or Monaco.    Perish the thought.

Recently, a friend who lives in Paris complained about how the entire city shuts down in August.  So maybe it is the Parisians.  I mean, you’d have to be from a major city to think that lying greased up and semi-naked on a small patch of beach crushed up amongst other people lying on a small patch of beach is vacation material (now that I think about it, it sounds more like the beginning of a porn flick or some harrowing Heironymous Bosch painting).   I insist on a clear two mile person-free zone when I’m wearing a bathing suit.   Three miles, when the visibility is particularly good.

Hell-Bosch

Getting around the rest of the year is a breeze but in August it’s unbearable.   The roads become like rush hour in California all day long (which pretty much is rush hour in California, come to think of it).   Additionally, the trains are ALWAYS late in August.  I assume it’s because they’re waiting for a group of sweaty, luggage-laden tourists to drag their asses aboard the train.    The stations are hot, muggy and packed with confused people of various nationalities lugging three times their bulk (and getting in MY way).  They are usually wearing too little and their skin is covered in large red oozing welts.  While my rational self assumes it must be mosquito bites, my paranoid, germaphobic self fears it’s something highly contagious.   Maybe that’s why the Asians are all wearing masks.

Here’s some advice if you happen to be here during the month of August: Don’t take public transportation.  Don’t drive.   Don’t go outside.  Bring a gun to protect yourself against the mosquitoes.

If you must go to the beach for a little sun, go after 9:00PM (21:00).

And if you’re considering a trip to the Riviera next August, I don’t recommend it.   Unless you’d like to rent my apartment.   I’ll be in Paris.

congratulations, you’re in Cannes! how to get the hell out.

It’s that time of year again.   Advertising people will soon gather in Cannes for the most prestigious, coveted award show in the whole wide world (if you win, otherwise it’s just a sucky award show judged by hacks).

Just going to Cannes proves you’re somebody in the biz or will soon be.   The croisette will be jammed with attractive people in designer eye-wear craning their necks to catch a glimpse of advertising icons and superstars (whose names escape me) while navigating the vomit=lined sidewalks in impossibly trendy shoes/flip flops.

Now, I’m not a huge Cannes fan the rest of the year, but every time I’ve been to Cannes during the advertising festival, my first reaction (and all reactions subsequent) has been to flee (to be fair, I kind of felt the same way about advertising).   Granted, if I’m in the market for a $700 pair of shoes or sequin shorts, there’s no better place in the South of France.

Say you’re one of the lucky few whose agency sent you to Cannes, but you haven’t figured out how to expense $700 shoes and you don’t have a limo and driver at your service.  Maybe you want to escape the advertising fishbowl for a little while.   Not so long that you’ll miss some career-making party, but long enough to chill a bit and get a taste of the real South of France (Cannes is NOT France, it might as well be Cabo with a French accent.)

I know the thought is scary.   If your career is anything like mine was, you may not have actually seen the light of day in ages, except from your cubicle.    Going out in the real world and dealing with non-advertising people, especially in a foreign language, is terrifying.     Which is why I’m keeping it really simple.   These are places that are less than an hour away and easily accessible by train or boat.   Getting to these places is practically idiot proof.

For the very timid

Cannes  

Suquet district

You can leave Cannes without actually leaving Cannes.   There are two morning Provencal markets every day, a small one with gorgeous produce, flowers and clothes about three blocks east of the train station a block or two north of Rue d’Antibes, at  Place Gambetta.   The Forville market in the Suquet district  is huge, but only carries food and flowers (also gorgeous).   Since you’re probably dining out in lavish restaurants, you’ll probably prefer the smaller market with the clothes.   But I recommend wandering through the Suquet district (west of the Palais), up the hill.   It’s quieter, medieval-er and feels more like a French village.   Go down the hill and head east and you’ll find free beaches and fewer people you know in case you don’t want anyone you work with to see you in a bathing suit.

15 MINUTES FROM CANNES:

The Lerin Islands  

View from St. Marguerite

Less than a mile from Cannes, but it feels like light years away.

  • Ile St. Marguerite A pretty little island on which the man in the iron mask was held prisoner.   It’s very rustic and charming, with few cars, a naval museum, unspoiled beaches a couple of snack stands and two restaurants with stunning views where a lentil salad will cost you E23 (for those of you on an expense accounts).   Warning:   there are no little shops on this island, so forget about getting any cute souvenirs here.
  • Ile St. Honorat A monastery and refuge.   The boat to this Island, (like everything else on the Island) is run by monks.    Again, the island is totally unspoiled, with no cars, beautiful beaches and woods and best of all, there is a little shop whereyou can buy wines and jams and other things made by monks on the island.

The boats to each island are run separately, but you can buy tickets and board in the same place, in the South Port.   They run hourly, so you won’t be stranded and miss your seminar “Facebook marketing: how to win friends and influence people” .

Boat info:   St. Marguerite,  St. Honorat

Juan les Pins  A resort town on the west side of the Cap d’Antibes.  Unlike many of the towns here, there is no old town.   Juan les Pins is a product of the early 1900’s when the region was rediscovered by luxury travelers.   It’s got nice sandy beaches, trendy shops, restaurants and night clubs.  It’s the home of the famous Antibes-Juan les Pins jazz festival and is where Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald used to get really, really drunk.   Easy 10 minute train ride.

Antibes

View of old town Antibes from ramparts

Nothing to see here, move along.

Biot

A pretty corner of Biot

A beautiful little hilltop village one train stop east of Antibes.   It’s famous for its handblown glassware.  But it’s got several boutiques, restaurants and cafes as well.   The only problem is, you have to take the bus from the train station to get to the actual village, and nobody you know has ever heard of it so they won’t be jealous when you tell them you were there, so never mind.

1/2 HOUR FROM CANNES

Haut de Cagnes

 A wonderful medieval village with a castle and small museum.   The hill is a bit steep, but manageable.   It’s not heavily touristed and has some nice restaurants with lovely outlooks.   Even a couple of shops!!!   It’s about a 20 minute train ride, get off at the Cagnes sur Mer stop and head west when you leave the train station.  You can also catch the 400 bus from here to St. Paul de Vence and Vence, if you’re really bold.

Nice

View of old Nice

I love Nice.   It’s totally underrated.   You can head north into the hills to the Matisse and Chagall Museums, Roman ruins, and monastary (really pretty gardens and views), head South to the old town, Castle, Promenade, Provencal Market (awesome antique market on Mondays) and the Mediterranean.   There’s amazing architecture and art all kinds of shops and stores from high end designer to funky little crafts, restaurants, cafes and ice cream flavors that will blow your mind at Fenocchio’s.   It’s got everything, but it’s not overwhelming.

Grasse

Grasse

If you’re into the whole perfume thing, this is a great place to go.   It’s a pretty big village built into the hills, with several perfume factories, a perfume museum and lots of shops and restaurants.   About 20 minute train ride from Cannes, but unless you’re a mountain goat, you’ll probably want to take the bus up to the village from the train station.

45 MINUTES FROM CANNES

Villefranche sur mer

Villefranche sur mer

A lovely little village on the sea.   Lots of little shops and restaurants.     Keith Richards has a villa here.   About a 40 minute train ride from Cannes.

Eze 

View from the exotic plant garden of Eze

A hilltop village atop cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.   Probably the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen and the village is pretty damn sweet too (but very touristed).   The only problem is, you have to take a 10 minute, pulse pounding bus ride to get to the village from the bus stop, but it just might be worth it.

Monaco  Ugh.   It’s not really even France.   But it does have more billionaires per capita than anyplace in the world.   Sadly, many of those billionaires acquired their wealth in nefarious ways.   Who knows, you may bump into Martin Sorrell.  About a 50 minute train ride from Cannes.

Train schedule information

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS:

Do not drive.   It’s very stressful.   The only way I can deal with driving in France is if I’m very, very drunk, which isn’t a good idea.   It’s illegal here too.

Do not rent a motor scooter, unless you want to experience the French healthcare system first hand.

If you have to go to San Tropez because it sounds so glamorous, do not take a car, even if you have car service.   Traffic sucks this time of year.   Take the boat.   Go on Tuesday or Saturday which are the market days.  Boat info

i went to italy and all I got was this lousy dishrag


When I embark on the hour and fifteen minute train ride just over the border to the Friday market in Ventimiglia, I have visions of cashmere sweaters, fab purses, scarves, gorgeous italian cookery (and food), and an assortment of stuff for the maison.  Since I plan to stock up, I bring my big  shopping bag with wheels.

When I arrive in Ventimiglia and walk the three or so blocks from the train station to the waterfront where the market is held, I’m not disappointed.   It’s like miles and miles of consumer wares, from an array of gorgeous leather goods to housewares to dime store crap.     I’m atwitter with excitement — very similar to how I used to feel before going to Barney’s.

The first thing I see is cashmere sweaters.   I touch them, careful not to make eye contact with the proprietor.  Once you make eye contact, they’ll bargain you down and the next thing you know, you’re the proud owner of the butt ugly puce sweater (the one you happened to be touching when eye contact was made) because you can’t resist a bargain.  They’re thick, colorful sweaters in a variety of designs.   I want them all (except the butt ugly puce one), but know I can’t even consider buying anything at this early stage.

The prices and quality varies from stall to stall so I stroll the stretch along the promenade to comparison shop.

I’m told Ventimiglia is lovely.  A beautiful seaside setting, an ancient village perched on a hill, tree lined streets, cafes and gelaterias on every corner.



I wouldn’t know.  I’m so immersed in the shiny affordable objects everywhere, I might as well be at the mall.

It’s only been five minutes and I’m already in a mental frenzy.   What color should I get?  What style?   And more importantly, what?

Oh my god, look at the scarves!  It’s like the crayola 500 pack…so many colors!    Orange suede boat shoes for 10 Euro!   They say orange AND boat shoes are in this year.   This could solve all my fashion problems.   A huge chunk of parmesan reggiano for 4 Euro?!!!!!   That’s better than Trader Jo prices!  More cashmere…hmmmm, that reddy orange color is nice, but I’m not sure it looks good on me.  What do I wear it with?   It’s almost summer.   I don’t really need it.   What if that color is out of fashion by next fall?  Maybe I should just get black.   Boring.   Damn, I could use a large pot for pasta. Those are the most beautiful olives I’ve ever seen.  Ooooo, batteries.

By the time I’ve reached the last little stall, I’m still not sure what to get.   I want everything.  Sort of.    Maybe I’ll be able to narrow it down on my second lap.

It’s starting to get crowded,  and I’m just as confused this time around.  I can no longer think in complete sentences.   My brain is a cacophony of “blue? red? orange? green? v neck?  crew?  move it fat ass.   fuchsia? button down? zebra striped? 6 quart? 8 quart?  don’t touch me bitch.  crockpot? orcchiette?  penne?  double A?   triple A?   Jeezus christ lady don’t push!   zipper?   hoodie?   parmesan?   asiago?    BLUE!   periwinkle?   navy?  teal?  aqua? powder?

By the end of the second lap, I’m emotionally and physically exhausted.   I don’t know if I can handle another lap.   Especially without sustenance.

Do I want a sandwich from one of the stalls?   Something sea-foody from one of the cafes along the waterfront?   A pizza?  Panini?   Pasta?   Salad?   I’m getting woozy and need to sit down.

Three hours later (it took an hour to decide what to order, an hour to get it, ten minutes to inhale it and 20 minutes to get “la conta.”), I venture back to the market which is now a seething cesspool of humanity (I use the term “humanity” loosely.   I can’t go back in there.   But I must.   I can’t go to the famous Ventimiglia market and return empty handed.   I dive back in and find myself in front of yet another cashmere stall pondering the age old questions (Periwinkle? Navy? Teal? ….)

But wait!!!!    I can see them from here.   Shining like a beacon in the glaring sun.   A couple of little yellow and white dishrags.   I’ve been looking for something to replace the clumsy white terrycloth hand towel in my 1/2 bathroom.   And they’re called torchons in France and panni straccio in Italy, both of which sound much more elegant than dishrag.   1 Euro.   Sold!   My work is done here.   I’ll have to come back for the cashmere sweaters, the pots and pans, the purses, shoes and scarves another day.

On the train ride back to Antibes, I look into my almost empty wheelie bag and am overcome with non-buyers remorse.    I can’t believe I wheeled this thing all over Ventimiglia and only got a dishrag.   Damn,   I should have bought those olives!

living a life of luxury on the french riviera. well, the riviera part is true.

Never in a million years did I imagine I’d wind up living on the French Riviera (or any Riviera for that matter).   I figured I would have to be rich and fabulous.  But here I am.

I live in Antibes now, which is smack dab in between Nice and Cannes.   The population is about 75,000 which may seem small by urban US standards, but is huge compared to Vidauban (population 8,000), which is where I was originally.

The vibe in Antibes isn’t in the least bit fancy schmancy. Where Cannes is leathery skin squeezed into tight, trendy, un-age-appropriate clothes, trout pout and faces that aren’t quite human, Antibes is leathery skin in shorts and flip flops.   Well, that’s not exactly true.   There are a lot of Brits here, so there’s a lot of pasty skin as well.

Here are a few other reasons I love Antibes:

The weather 

Mostly sunny.  Not too hot, not too cold.  It’s like living in California without the Californians.

The train station Every train stops here, so I can get to a lot of places quickly and easily.  No car necessary.   It’s 20 minutes to Nice, 12 minutes to Cannes, 35 minutes to Monaco, 40 minutes to St. Paul de Vence (with a bus transfer), 5 minutes to Biot or Cagnes sur Mer, 1 hour 15 minutes to Italy, and so on.

The daily market (marche provencal)

Most villages have a market once or twice a week.  Antibes has one every day except Monday, plus a bunch of antique, clothes, crafts and flea markets.

One of the best ancient medieval villages ever


 

 

The new part ain’t bad either

Ten minute walk to the beach

Or 10 minutes to a morning cup of coffee on the ramparts overlooking the Mediterranean with the alps looming in the background..

Little shops

Art, culture, history

Antibes has been around for millennia.      It used to be called Antiopolis.   They’re not sure if the “anti” means opposite from Nice or Corsica.   Ligurians, Ionians, Phoenicians, Etruscans frequented the place before the Greeks settled in 5th century BC.    It fell into obscurity in the 1400’s, and was rediscovered in the early 1900’s (the jazz age).   Napoleon, Monet, Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, all hung out here at one point or another.   And now me.

There are museums, theaters, concerts (the Jazz festival in July is pretty famous).   There must be hundreds of paintings by dozens of famous artists of the place.  No wonder.

Killer views


I may not be living in a lavish villa with a view of the sea (try a one bedroom apartment with a view of another apartment building, lots of sky and palm trees), have no yacht, Rolls Royce or even a car, but to me,  living somewhere this awesome is a luxury in itself.

More pictures of Antibes

2000 leagues over the sea


According to the Ville de Eze Tourism website), Eze is 3.66 square miles.   I’m pretty sure most of that is vertical.

It’s located between Nice and Monaco–about a 15 minute train ride from both (from opposite directions) on the Cote d’Azur TER line.    The train stops at seaside Eze, which is pretty much a residential area for rich people (Bono has a villa about 500 meters from the train station).   There’s a pebbly public beach, a couple of cafes and a small tourism office.  As lovely as it is, the main attraction, the charming medieval village with shops, is about 2000 feet above sea level.   It’s up there somewhere behind the cliffs looming overheadSome insane people like my sister or my father might want to make the 3 kilometer hike to the village, I’m perfectly happy to take a bus.   In fact, when I consider the alternatives (walking or driving myself) I’m thrilled to take a bus.  This road is so windy, the lanes so narrow, there’s no way I could have managed this, even if I was driving a car with an automatic.   The mere thought makes me want to abandon all hope, park on a hairpin turn, weep and wait to die.

Being “chauffeured”, makes the journey both less and more hair-raising.   Less because I don’t have the responsibility of driving but more because some stranger who may have had a bottle of Rose for breakfast holds my life in their hands.   And shit, this bus is big.   It’s probably a matter of centimeters between here and oblivion.  Which isn’t to say oblivion isn’t breath-taking.

At one point I notice the man sitting next to me is laughing at me.   I’m outraged until I realize that all the screams, groans, gasps, prayers and “oh my gods” raging through my head during this ride, are also leaking from my mouth.  I’d be laughing at me too if I wasn’t looking down at a gazillion meter chasm of death two inches to my left.  The ride takes an eternity (15 minutes).

When we finally get up high enough in the cliffs, I see Eze.   I wouldn’t even call that a hilltop it’s perched on, this is more like a jagged shard of rock.   Jutting up from a cliff.   The bus drops me off at “base camp,” the bottom of the jagged shard, where there’s a few real estate companies, restaurants, tourist shops, banks and the requisite pharmacy and tabac shops.    I climb the road leading to the entrance of the old town.

Tiny little streets that barely accommodate one average person, cute ancient stone buildings, balconies and rooftops dripping with flowers, tiny shops (tres cher), beautiful, charming hotels where one night costs more than my monthly rent and finally, a killer view.   No, make that a million killer views.

Part of me is thinking this is the most beautiful place on the face of this earth and I must live here.   The other part is thinking what a pain in the ass it would be to lug groceries up all these tiny steps on a regular basis.  And how the hell would I get my armoire up here?

Whenever I reach a plateau, I stop and admire the view which I don’t think could get any more beautiful until I reach the next plateau.

The streets get narrower and more maze-like, until I reach a clearing, which is the entrance to Le Jardins d’Eze, which is essentially a hanging garden with a path leading to the castle ruins at the top through exotic cactus plants, statues, sitting areas and views to die for.   I almost do die for the view when a stumble on a cobble feels like I’m about to fall off the face of the earth.   At this point I’m practically crawling, but I make my final push to the summit.
Holy crap.  I can see past Cap Ferrat, Nice, Cap d’Antibes to San Tropez and all the way to Italy on the other side!   I’ve got the Cote d’Azur at my feet.   I take a moment to savor my accomplishment and the views before tackling the descent back to base camp.   More tourists have arrived,   I believe they are the “boat people” (people from huge cruise ships), because they are constantly looking at their watches.   The narrow streets are getting backed up.  If I don’t start my descent now, I could be stuck here all afternoon.  I’m hungry and thirsty.  I could perish up here!

Down at base camp I find a reasonably priced restaurant and have the recommended lunch (three courses for a set price).    The meal is unmemorable, but fine (fine meaning it’s edible and it doesn’t poison me).   Over dessert, I ponder my next move.   I can actually ascend even further upwards to the Haute Corniche d’Eze.  Imagine the views!   Imagine the horror of getting there!  Or I can go back down to the beach part of Eze.   Imagine the views!  Imagine the horror of getting there!

I order a second cappuccino.   Maybe I’ll just sit here and enjoy this particular view a little while longer.

Click here for more pictures of Eze.

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