Thursday, November 26, 2015

Its Nicer in Nice!

We had settled on Paris for our annual Thanksgiving trip but several days before we were to leave, a terrorist attack in Paris left many people dead and injured and the city traumatized. The heightened security in Paris probably meant it was safe, but we decided to look for other options anyway.  The flight to Nice out of New York were WIDE open!  Getting to New York was a different story!  I checked 48 different cities to find a good connection option and finally settled on going through Richmond. We were scheduled to land in Richmond at the exact same time that the Richmond to JFK flight was scheduled to leave, so we decided we would take a flight to Laguardia and then take UBER to the JFK airport. We had a fleeting thought that we might get into Richmond early and be able to make the JFK flight, but when we were seated in row 41 on the Atlanta flight, we figured even if we got into RIC early, we wouldn't be able to get off of the plane in time.  We weren't worried - we had all day to get to JFK. When we landed in Richmond, we checked the JFK flight and were delighted to find that it had been delayed by an hour.  We seated ourselves in the gate area and then started thinking that maybe we should still go for the LGA flight since it would now leave before the JFK flight. Tony went to talk to the agent at the LGA flight and she reported that the LGA flight was delayed as well because one of the flight attendants for that flight was on the delayed inbound for our JFK flight.  Our travel companions were having their own dilemma. They were to get to JFK from Jacksonville. After examining all of their options, they decided to stand by for the direct flight, leaving themselves only that one option that had very few seats available.  It was a very exciting stand-by adventure for all of us, but we triumphed, arriving in JFK at the same time around 2PM.
Tony and I are still Sky Club members (this won't last long since the price has gone up so much) so we elected to relax in the Sky Club while we waited for the Nice flight which wouldn't leave for another 6 hours!  It gave us a good opportunity to visit with our friends and enjoy Delta's hospitality. The spicy Thai chicken soup is highly recommended if you get a chance to try it! The sky deck looked very inviting until I stepped outside and felt the bitingly cold wind.

Time went by pretty quickly and it wasn't long until we had our business class seats to Nice!

After a nice dinner, a movie and a nap, we arrived in Nice.  We had rented our car from Alamo, but our reservation said to go to the Enterprise counter. A few more signs to the rental car center would have been helpful but we finally found it. The Enterprise staff was extremely friendly and efficient, shaking our hands multiple times and wishing us a nice trip!

The GPS took us to our accommodations for the trip, an apartment in the town of Vence that we had found on  We went through one toll booth that had us scrambling for change on the way.

We found "Maison L'Ara 2" at the bottom of a hill around a sharp turn. We had a bit of trouble making the turn and finding reverse in the rental car. We bumped the rock wall at the entrance to the driveway but didn't do too much damage to the car, just a few little pock marks in the finish.

We were greeted by Ivana who claimed to speak very little English, but was able to direct us to our apartment with no problem.  The apartment was perfect for our needs. There was a bedroom and bathroom on the main level and another bedroom and bathroom up a spiral staircase. A full kitchen and dining area weren't really necessary for our trip but gave us a nice place to gather to play cards in the evening. It was a little difficult to haul our bags up the spiral staircase but we we travel light so we were able to do it.

We unpacked quickly and headed into Vence. It was quite a hike uphill from our apartment to get to town.  We stopped at the top of the hill to catch our breath and peek into the small church.

We found the old part of Vence and decided to stop for lunch at Bistro du Peyra, the first restaurant we saw, just inside the city walls. We shared pizza and wine while we planned our day.

The first thing on our agenda was to take a walking tour of old town.  We tried to follow the walking tour in Rick Steves' guide, but the town was much smaller than we had anticipated and we had to backtrack to see some of the sights.  

The cathedral, possibly the smallest in France, is unassuming on the outside and very dark inside.

In one corner of the church there is a Chagall mosaic.

The real charm of the city is the cobblestone streets and old buildings. It was fun to just wander around.  

At the right time, it might be a lively place, but very few places were open since it was off-season. We were glad we had stopped at the first place to eat since we didn't find any other restaurants open in old town.

The weather was a bit cold & dreary so after wandering around a bit, we decided to find a warm place to perch.  Henry's Bar just outside the old city walls looked inviting.

The bar was very small inside and all of the tables for four were taken, but the bartender moved some tables around so we could sit together. We struck up a conversation with Steen, the man at the table next to ours. When he found out we were visiting, he bought our first round of drinks!  We discovered that we had a lot in common since Steen had worked for IBM and was a techie like us.  He said that he practically invented the internet. He was very involved in the political discussions that opened the communications channels between companies.  He made several recommendations for our trip and even took us to the local restaurant to reserve a table for us for dinner.  He was meeting his girlfriend later so we said our goodbyes, thanking him for his hospitality!

We wanted to get a few supplies for the room, so we found the Monoprix. At first we thought it was just a clothing store, but further investigation revealed that there was an entire grocery store on the second floor.  The girls made the trek back to the apartment with the supplies while the boys wandered around town some more.  Upon our return, we found the boys at Cafe Matisse.  We had a glass of wine there before claiming our table for dinner at the restaurant Regence. We were treated like royalty since Steen had introduced us!  The restaurant had once been a brewery, but a fire had caused it to close for a year and then reopen without the brewery. It has a varied menu with lots of choices.

Since we had flown all night, we made it an early night. We went back to the apartment and played cards until we went to bed.

Tuesday morning, we planned our route for the day. We would do a driving tour of la Vallee Du Loup. 
We bypassed Tourettes Sur Loup since we planned to have lunch here later in the trip.  The views on the drive were lovely and we had to pull over a few times to take pictures of the towns perched on the sides of hills.

We drove through the gorge, where we saw indentations gouged into the sides of the rock near the road.

The GPS got a little confused trying to take us to see the waterfall (Cascade du Saut du Loup). We ended up at the Campground Cascade du Saut du Loup which was surprisingly not really near the waterfall. Thankfully we have T-mobile phones with unlimited international data so we were able to use Google Maps to find the falls. Unfortunately, the viewing area for the falls was closed for the season.

The route from Saut du Loup to Gourdon was quite curvy as you can see from the GPS display! Our motion-sickness-prone passenger was strategically seated in the front seat with access to cool air and doped up with Dramamine.

We made a mid-morning stop in Gourdon, another beautiful old village perched on a hillside overlooking the valley.

Gourdon was another beautiful little town with cobblestone streets and old stone buildings.

We stopped for coffee and a cheese plate at the little restaurant at the top of the hill, Les Grands Hommes.  It would have been a beautiful place to sit outside but it was still a bit too chilly for us.

Leaving Gourdon, we stopped to take one last look at the village and noticed several hang-gliders circling the village.

We decided to skip the rest of the tour in favor of seeing one of the coastal towns.  We drove to Antibes, a resort town on the French Riviera.  We parked at the port where all of the luxury yachts are moored.

Hiding just beyond the port, behind a wall is a lovely beach that is probably very crowded during the warm season, but today it was delightfully deserted.

Lunch was in order, so we went off in pursuit of a Rick Steves' recommendation but again found that it was closed for the season. We stopped into another restaurant but they advised that lunch was finished for the day. We finally found Le Grill 22 still serving lunch!

We wanted to get back to our neck of the woods before dark, but we left Antibes a little too late and watched the sun slip below the horizon as we were leaving. We got stuck in some pretty heavy traffic on the way back.

We decided to take a walk around old town before dinner. On the way, we spotted two dogs and their owners at Henry's Bar. The dogs looked familiar and we realized that we had seen them on a poster the day before.  The city had put up several posters that seemed to be depicting that people of differing professions, sizes and shapes could get along. They included this poster showing dogs of different sizes could too.

We asked if the dogs in front of Henry's Bar were the dogs from the poster and found that they were! Diamant, the little fellow, was very friendly while Troy, the big Irish Wolfhound hid behind his owner.

We had noticed a lot of Christmas lights strung over the old village so we wanted to see if they were lighted.  Except for the blue lights on the fountain though, none of the lights were on.

We didn't find any other restaurants open either.  We stopped into Cafe Matisse but after a glass of wine, we noticed that they were closing so we went next door to the Regence again for dinner. It was understandably crowded since it seemed to be the only restaurant in town that was open.  We had a nice dinner and saw Steen dining with his lady friend!  She spoke very little English but seemed nice.

After dinner, Steen took us to another local haunt of his, Le Troquet. We enjoyed visiting with Steen and learning more about him. He showed us scans of his brain revealing the damage from a stroke 15 years prior and recent scans showing his healthy brain!  It was amazing how much damage the stroke had caused and how much improvement the recent scan showed.

Back at the apartment, we played cards again and then headed off to bed.

Wednesday, we started our day in Tourettes Sur Loup, yet another cute little village with cobblestone streets and stone buildings.

We wandered through the charming old town, exploring all of the narrow streets.

We took time to ooh and ahh over the view from the edge of town.

We wanted to have lunch at the restaurant that Steen had recommended, the Cafe des Sports but, like so many places we tried to go, it was closed for the season.  We ended up at the Restaurant des Arts just down the street.  The owners were very friendly. The man was a rally co-pilot and showed us pictures of him racing at Monte Carlo and other famous rallies.

After lunch, we drove along the Le Loup river on our way to Saint Paul de Vence. Along the way, we finally got a glimpse of a waterfall.  We weren't sure if it was the one we had tried to find the day before or not.

Saint Paul de Vence was, you guessed it, another quaint little village with cobblestone streets and stone buildings. The good thing about Saint Paul was that a number of places were actually open! 

On our way into town, we passed a group of men playing Boules, another variety of the game we have been playing on the beach of late. We call it Bocce ball, but lots of folks call it pétanque.  In France, they play it with silver balls.

We stopped into the Tourist Information office and picked up a map. The TI agent circled several places for us to see.

We had a glass of wine and a much needed bathroom stop at Un Cœur en Provence before beginning our tour of the town. Our first stop on the tour was at the L’église Collégiale Church, another very dark church with few windows.

Next, we found the fountain which dated from 1850.

As we walked through the town, we found a number of art galleries and shops that caught our eye.

We ventured on to the cemetery where the artist Mark Chagall is buried. The view from above the cemetery was spectacular. We could see the ocean in the distance.

There was a platform with panoramic views of the surrounding area.

As the sun started down, the views became even more spectacular, taking on a beautiful golden glow.

We made our way around the outside of the city's walls and back to the entrance where we found Le Tilleul, an inviting restaurant with outdoor tables. It was a bit chilly so we were glad they provided blankets. We shared a bottle of wine while we watched the sunset.

We said goodbye to Saint Paul and headed back to Vence where we repeated our routine from the previous nights:  Wine at Cafe Matisse, followed by dinner at Regence.  This time, the server at the Regence brought us a complimentary glass of Kir before our meal!  Steen joined us just as we were finishing our dessert so we had one last visit with him.

We played cards back at the apartment again before turning in for the night.

Thursday (Thanksgiving), we packed up, said goodbye to our apartment and headed back for the Nice airport. At the rental car return, the agent did not think the damage to the front bumper was as minor as we had, so he wouldn't refund our deposit on the car. Thankfully we have car rental insurance with our credit card. It will be a hassle to file a claim but hopefully it will be covered without a problem.

We tried to check in for our flight at the kiosk but the error message said we had to see an agent, so we had to wait in line. Periodically an agent would ask the people behind us in line if they spoke a certain language (French, Italian or English), and if they did, they would take them ahead of us. We were a little confused about this process, but finally made it to the front of the line. We were given seats at the check in counter rather than having to wait at the gate for a seat assignment.

Delta didn't serve turkey and dressing on the plane for our Thanksgiving meal but the food was excellent just the same.

We landed in New York with plenty of time to get to our connecting flight.  Our connection was in C concourse but our friends were departing from B concourse. We went to the B concourse Sky Club but couldn't stay long since we had to take a shuttle bus to get to C concourse. We were delighted to get seats on the non-stop flight to Atlanta after our long day in the air.

Another great trip with great friends!

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