November 5 through 13, 2003
The Tireless Thirty outside the Casino at Monte Carlo
Sunday, November 9, 2003
(The spooky lady in the upper left hand corner of the picture snuck in there)The young man with the cool red beard in the blue jacket in the upper right hand corneris Tom St. Clair, our fearless and creative Collette Tour Manager
Written upon return home – Friday, November 14
Following is an account of our tour of the French Riviera, a trip planned for almost a year through Collette Vacations. I selected this tour on the recommendation of Ron Fenska, my Collette representative. He indicated that it was a popular destination because of the fact that one hotel was used for the duration of the entire trip, with short day trips to the various locations along the Riviera. This appealed to me, and I felt it would appeal to many of my regular travelers who don’t particularly like to pack up and move on every two or three days. It was scheduled during off-season to get the best possible price, with the realization that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the main appeal of the Riviera, its beaches and sun. Nevertheless, we were blessed with relatively mild weather for the time of year, with only two days of rain and several partly cloudy days.
Our hotel, the 4-star Cannes Palace Hotel, was located relatively close to the beach and the town center of Cannes. We had a wonderful tour director from Collette, a French Canadian by the name of Thomas St. Clair, who was pleasant, knowledgeable and creative. The first thing we learned was that because of our location, the day of arrival and other factors, the itinerary we received in advance from Collette would be changed to give us the best days for the best events on tour – but everything would be included, just in a different order than anticipated. In retrospect, Tom did a good job in rearranging things.
As is my custom, upon arrival in my destination, I search out an Internet Café or some other internet service.
Southern France is not as much into the internet as other countries, so I settled for the single computer in the lobby of our hotel, which was available in 30 minute intervals for a rather expensive cost of 9 euros per 30 minutes. You received a code to enter, and when the 30 minutes was up, the computer shut down. The service was further complicated by the fact that three of the letters on the keyboard: a, m and w and most of the punctuation were found in different locations than an American keyboard. This really slowed me down. Nevertheless, I got four e-mails out during the tour which serve as my Journal for this wonderful adventure into Provence and the French and Italian Rivieras. Here is what I wrote (slightly edited and corrected upon my return):
FIRST MESSAGE FROM THE RIVIERA
Covering Days 1 and 2 – Wednesday and Thursday, November 5 & 6
Hi, all. Arrived safely and on time. Weather is unbelievably mild and sunny. We are staying in Cannes and yesterday visited the hall where they have the film festival in May.
Today we go to San Remo in Italy. Internet access here is more complicated than on previous visits. Only one computer here in hotel and very expensive compared to former places. Also, keyboard is different, so if the letters and punctuation are messed up, it is because I failed to look at the keys.
Our plane left Newark on time, despite the fact that fog delayed many flights. We were lucky! Took 6 hours to get here, and we were met at airport by an Air France rep who escorted us to our connecting flight to Nice. The French are extremely welcoming because they miss American tourists who have been noticeably absent due to boycotts and anti French sentiment. They are happy to see us back and have said so. We are one of the first groups to be on this tour in almost a year: Food is great; Getting a good look at how the jet set lives and cannot figure out where they get their money! Small apartments in the neighborhood of our hotel go for almost 2 million dollars (as condominiums). We have a nice group of 30 people: 17 in my group plus 2 from Texas; several from the Chicago area, and the two from New York.
Having fun. It is 8:30 a.m. on Friday as I write this. Still not used to the keyboard, but will struggle on. More later. Send email, as I can get it here. Bye for now from the beautiful French Riviera. Joe and Penny Laufer
TWO DAYS INTO THE TRIP
Covering days 3 and 4 – Friday and Saturday, November 7and 8
Today we were in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. Penny couldn't resist contributing to the French economy, so we now have a variety of French perfumes, soaps, creams and stuff. We then went to a quaint walled city, St: Paul de Vence, a medieval city filled with artists, narrow cobblestone streets and nice restaurants. We loved it. Then on to Nice, where we had cocktails in the famous Meridian Hotel, and dinner in quaint Italian restaurant. We are now back in Cannes at 10 p.m.
Weather has not been as nice as when we arrived, but will hopefully clear for tomorrow's day in Monaco and Monte Carlo. Yesterday we spent a rainy day in Ventimiglia and San Remo, Italy. We experienced an Italian Flea Market in Ventimiglia, and the Jet Set atmosphere of Italy's Riviera in San Remo.
Our group of 30 has transformed into a family of 30, having lots of fun together, motivated often by French wine and the blending of people who just like to have a good time. As I said in my earlier message, the French have been very welcoming. I still find this computer very frustrating because I have to hunt and peck due to the strange keyboard. It would normally take 5 minutes to type this, but it has taken almost 25 minutes.
Next message will probably be on Monday. Hope all is well where you are: Thanks for your e-mails.
Joe and Penny:
THIRD MESSAGE FROM THE RIVIERA
Covering days 5 and 6, Sunday and Monday, November 9 and 10
The weather has improved dramatically over the past 2 days with lots of sun and temps in high 60s.Yesterday we spent the morning at the Rothchild estate on Cap Ferat - a great stop with fantastic gardens and outstanding art. Then on to Monaco and Monte Carlo - no gambling, just sightseeing. We were hoping to see the Royal Family but they were out in their yacht. Saw where they were married and where Grace is buried. Today Penny and I broke away from the group (they went inland to Aix en Provence) and we took a train to Nice to do some personal sightseeing. Lots of sun and a great relaxing day. The group has now returned and we are socializing in the hotel bar. I meant to include reference to a great place we visited on Friday - a hilltop fortress town dating back to medieval days called EZE. Prince Ranier goes there for dinner at his favorite restaurant. The town reminds me of Assisi, Italy. Penny bought a nice piece of jewelry she will gladly show you upon her return :. Tomorrow we go to Antibes and St. Tropez for some scenic and historic touring. The group is having way too much fun, to the chagrin of hotel operators, bar tenders and waiters. Penny and I met two fun couples from England on our train ride to Nice and we exchanged cards in anticipation of a future get-together in either England or the USA! They're going to check out " lauferworld" on the internet. That's it for today. Will tell you more next time. Fingers crossed for continued great weather. Joe and Penny: PS we have some great pictures to share - especially panoramic shots of this beautiful scenery --including snow capped Alps within view of the warm Mediterranean --just beautiful: J&P
ARMISTICE DAY ON THE RIVIERA – LAST EMAIL
Covering Day 7, Tuesday, November 11
Today was one of those special days I like while traveling - surprises and ceremonies. Because it is Armistice (Veteran's/Remembrance) Day, much of France is on " Holiday". We went to Antibes, a picturesque city along the coast, where we visited the Picasso museum - a real treat, even if Picasso's works don't appeal to you. At the end of our visit we heard the strains of a band, and rushed to the town center for the parade and ceremonies celebrating Armistice day. Someone who didn't particularly like the French said they were honoring the dead of all the wars they LOST - which is actually all of them. Anyway, the ceremony was colorful and very impressive in front of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) …one of those wonderful, unplanned events that gave us an insight into French life.
After a lunch on the street in an outdoor cafe (nice weather again) we boarded the bus for San Tropez, the southernmost point on our tour - a jet set town made famous by Bridget Bardot and many other famous stars: We took a boat trip in the Bay of San Tropez and had the homes of the stars pointed out to us - some recently used by Jack Nicholson and that Clooney guy, (note: when typing this, I couldn’t remember “George” as his first name – and couldn’t risk running out of my time on the computer to find out!) Another "gift" of Armistice Day was the lack of traffic which allowed us to return to Cannes by a road which hugged the coast (normally crowded with traffic, but not today). This was one of those roads you see in Hollywood jet set movies, along unguarded, cliff-hanging roads overlooking the Mediterranean -- much scarier, however , in a bus.
Tonight we are eating out in Cannes. Tomorrow -- hard to believe -- is our last day here. We spend tthe day touring Nice, including the Marc Chagall Museum and then a farewell dinner at a famous restaurant high on a cliff overlooking the sea in Eze, between Nice and Monaco. On Thursday morning we have to leave our hotel at 4:30 a.m. to get to the airport on time for our departure:
It's been a great trip and we are sorry to see it end so quickly.
This is probably my last e-mail from France. Thanks for listening! See you all soon. Joe and Penny.
Covering Days 8 and 9, Wednesday & Thursday, November 12 and 13
Well, our day in Nice went well, although it was overcast all day. We visited the Russian Cathedral (Russian Royalty had a lot to do with the wealth and popularity of Nice), the Chagall Museum, a Franciscan Monastery and a Candy Factory. That farewell dinner in Eze was very nice, and the night view from high atop the mountain where the restaurant was located was breathtaking, as was the cliff-hanging bus trip to get there.
We were awakened at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday for our 4:30 a.m. departure for the airport in Nice. The plane for Paris left about 30 minutes late, but arrived in time for our connection. The people of Air France were once again very helpful to see that we got to the right place with very little difficulty. The cross-Atlantic flight was uneventful until our landing at Newark in the midst of extremely high winds. We were met by our carrier and whisked to Vincentown, arriving there at about 2:00 p.m. Four members of our party took advantage of the Paris extension and won’t return until Sunday.
The consensus of everyone on the trip was that it was everything we anticipated and more. We hope to keep in touch with the new friends we met from other parts of the country, and maybe even travel with them sometime in the future.
It is good to be home, and we are happy to report that the French aren’t all that bad, after all.
Vive la France!