Friday, May 15, 2009

Travel: Nice and Cannes

If there is one place on earth that is synonymous with glamor, gloss and grandeur wrapped lovingly in exotic old-world charm, it is the French Riviera, or in the infinitely more amorous French, Cote d'Azur. Playground of the stars and home to royalty, the corner of the Mediterranean blessed with blue waters, verdant hills and a lifestyle to match its natural bounty is especially glamorous, glossy and grand this time of year when luminaries bright and not so bright all descend on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.

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.

Side streets in Vieux Nice, the Old Quarter

And Indian restaurant displaying an image of Konkana Sen, an Indian actress

An open-air market

Promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

The rather narrow beach between the walkway and the water. Very pebbly too.

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.

A small clutch of houses that seem to be holdovers from some forgotten century

A view of Monaco

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.

The paparazzi found themselves targets of the tourists

The red carpet laid out for the evening's festivities

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.


Altoid said...

Oh! These places sound right off Agatha Christie and books written by other European authors. It sure looks and feels surreal to me. I can imagine how much fun it must've been..specially being there at the time of the Cannes festival.

Thanks for providing some of us this facility to indulge in some armchair travel :)

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What beautiful pictures to transport me to happy times on a cloudy day! Thank you for sharing your lovely trip with us! ~Janine XO

Rosaria Williams said...

Lovely trip. Thanks.

naperville mom said...

Lovely pics, Sujatha! And the weather seemed to be good too...Thanks for that glimpse into the Riviera!:)

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Thank you for taking us to the Côte d'Azure today! ¬ Lovely post, Sujatha. Made me want to visit Nice. Ciao

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

What timing of the post ... Cannes fest going on now :)

The pictures indeed are nice ...

Kavi said...

No wonder! Todays newspapers here talk of Aishwarya Rai being possessive of walking on the ramp in Cannes !

Now i know why !

Wonderful arm chair travel service ! Thank you

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Pebbles! I've swum, swam, stumbled through those pebbles to land in those beautiful waters. I think we even paid $15 for the day so sit under those blue umbrellas-in 1996. Thanks for taking me back to such a lovely city.

sujata sengupta said...

Great post Sujatha, loved the pictures and the quaint town, its usually the glamorous side that's made visible to us. Thanks for sharing the other view.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thanks all! I'm glad you enjoyed the pics!

Sylvia K said...

Your photos are fabulous! And did transport me there! I've traveled in France and several other European countries and these brought back such lovely memories. Really great post! Thanks, Sujatha!

Nino's Mum said...

beautiful post, am glad I decided to keep it for a weekday read.
beautiful pictures too.

Tour to Kerala said...

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