Two years ago, on our way back to the US from India after our three-year stint in Bangalore, we decided to break the journey mid-way and made our way to the south of France, then headed east to the Amalfi Coast and then back up north to Rome.
We had no idea that we'd timed our trip to coincide exactly with the film festival. Our first inkling came on the flight from Frankfurt to Nice. Sitting a couple of rows ahead of us was the curly-haired guy from HBO's Entourage (he was also in The Devil Wears Prada). Entourage also happened to be filming at Cannes during that period. The airport at Nice was crawling with buff-bodied, high-heeled starlets carrying branded handbags only whose ads I'd seen in Vogue or Vanity Fair. Outside, more commotion. We asked our taxi driver what was was going on. The film festival (to the west of Nice) and a formula car racing event in Monaco (to the east of Nice), he said. The husband and I looked at each other and wondered wordlessly if our timing would turn out to be a big mistake.
A half-hour car ride later, past the Promenade des Anglais, past streets lined with small shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes, we came to our hotel on a quiet side street. Decidedly unglamorous but comfortable, not glossy but friendly, not at all grand but homely.
As we walked around the cobbled streets that evening, up narrow alleys bound by colorful walls, past restaurants alive with people winding down their day, past small stores crowded with last-minute purchasers on their way home, we realized there was a whole another side to the coin, a side that appealed to our sensibilities.
And even farther away from the madding crowds are the hills. The winding roads offer alternating glimpses of the coastline we leave behind and the tiny towns strewn on the mountainsides. As we ride up, it's difficult not to be reminded of Grace Kelley and her last journey up these hills.
Just driving around for a day in companionable silence, with the kids occasionally dozing off in the back, stopping when we feel like it to stretch our legs or get a cup of coffee or some fruits and some sandwiches is one item that shows up on our itinerary no matter what the destination.
Nice was no different although the drive was a little bit more hairy than we had anticipated. The sometimes bumpy roads winding up the hills are narrow in spots, unable to accommodate two vehicles at one time. So we had to back up quite a few times to make room for another vehicle or make frequent U-turns because we couldn't make turns when we wanted to or we plain lost our way. Which turned out to be fun because I ended up conversing with two old men racing up the hillside on their bikes, me in my broken French and them in their broken English. It provided a welcome interlude and directions to an easier way down the mountain.
Monaco looked alluring and romantic from way up there, but the city was crowded, in full prep mode for the formula racing event that was coming up. So we drove around a couple of times and headed out promptly back to Nice, without even bothering to get down.
And for half a day, we did end up driving out to Cannes. The drive along the coastline was breathtaking as was the excitement at the festival site.
There were no stars in sight, although there was plenty of other evidence of luxury and riches including million-dollar sports cars, to C's infinite delight.
P.S. The order of the photos appears to be reversed, but we just took more photos of Old Nice on our last day there, which turned out better than the ones we took our first evening.