It all started on the plane that early morning as we flew east on AA from DFW into the sunrise. The flight attendant literally dropped the biggest banana either of us had ever seen on Jeanine’s tray and then some sugar packs fell from his hands…landing on her rather adequate chest, of course. Well, he, the FA, was most apologetic and gave us a bottle of Champagne to help us enjoy our long flight.
Arriving at Orly Airport, we found that our connecting flight to Nice was just long enough before boarding that we could get a cafe and croissant…the heavenly fragrance was more than we could resist. REAL croissants…in FRANCE…I was in heaven, almost!
Air France to Nice was quick and as we flew over the little Alps, still covered in snow, we saw several isolated small villages. Jeanine told me the story then of her grandmother crossing from Spain to France during WWII and the terrible time they had trying to reach somewhere safe in France. Her grandmother eventually found her way to Lyon where Jeanine was born years later.
Circling the Mediterranean over Nice for a while…the airport is small and crowded…we finally landed and found our way to baggage claim. I actually figured out how to deposit 10 francs coin into the slot for a luggage cart and rolled it over to the Eurocar rental desk…oh, of course, there was an error…”Madame, your car is rented for Paris, not Nice!” Makes sense, huh?! Well, Jeanine , with typical French indignant authority, finally got the ONLY car left on the airport lot! A Mercedes that looks like a roller blade boot that was too tired to grow up! We called her …”our petit caca” !! Taking a few extra minutes, we inspected her thoroughly to make sure there were no bruises or dents! We had our service agent record even the slightest scratch or blemish so that we would not be charged for any repairs when we returned the car!
Finally we were loaded and off on our adventure to Nice…the sky was overcast and all I could do was ahhahahah…moaning as we drove…the sea such an incredible shade of blue! All the houses and buildings stacked up into the hills, somehow managing to hold onto to their patch of rock…and palm trees mingling with cedars, pines and many other exotics. WHOA, where did that car from?? HERE, it is blow your horn and GO, always late to get somewhere!
We managed to find our way out of the airport and to the road along the coast towards Monaco…it was so hard to read signs as the navigator and look at everything around me! Traveling along two lanes on rock that hung out over the sea below, I was finally able to take breath when we pulled into the courtyard of our hotel in Beaulieu…see above photo.
After checking into the hotel, we left our bags on the bed and decided to drive to Monaco as there was plenty of daylight left…arriving in the old village we parked underground and walked up the steep hill to the balcony overlooking the MED. Tearing ourselves away we looked for a phone booth…1999 folks…and called home to let Carl and Lou know that we had arrived intact!
Standing in front of the Royal Palace, a suitable home for the lovely and regal, but departed Grace Kelly…we see such historical beauty. And secretly wish 007 would pull up to the casino in his Astin-Martin!
We walked and walked over the ancient stones and sidewalks and eventually stopped at a tiny cafe. So thirsty, we drank several bottles of water before leaving to find the car. It was time to go back to the hotel and have dinner…as it was served only at a certain time and if missed…well, too bad!
As we neared the exit of the underground parking we realized that the hill to exit was very steep…the car had a manual transmission…we were so tired but we must wait our turn to advance UP the hill, at least a 45 degree angle, to the street and we rolled ever so slightly backwards as she tried to accelerate and change gears, as one would do driving such a vehicle. OOOOOPS, a green Toyota, so close we could see the wrinkles in the woman’s face, was suddenly under our bumper…we were kissed on the bumper butt! The lady in the Toyota could not move because there was another car kissing her butt! Jeanine valiantly tried for several minutes to move the car and get up the hill. Finally she did with a bit of transmission grinding and screeching and we drove along the cobble street until we could find a place to pull over and wait for the green Toyota lady. We had parked at a spot overlooking the sea and small boat yard…Jeanine and the GL began discussing what had happened when a man parked in the pull out spot came over and offered his cell phone so call the GL could call her husband.
At some point during all their discussion the lady’s daughter blurted out the fact that this was mommies’ third accident for the month! Unfortunately the only thing I could contribute to the whole event was a drawing for the accident report. Shortly, a little motor scooter ridden by a strange man wearing pink cotton SHORTS, a quilted zip up jacket, topsiders and a black helmet pulled into the gravel area…obviously not a great sense of fashion or style…he looked like a bug but he was GL husband! We drove to the Police Station and the people speaking French all went in to give their version of the accident…since I could not understand what was happening, I stayed in the little car and took a quick nap. Jeanine came out of the station red-faced and angry…it was all her fault was the conclusion…never mind that the other car was driven so close that it kissed our butt! Well of course we laughed all the way back to the hotel and joked about the strange little man on the scooter!
Dinner at the hotel was leek salad, lots of fresh, still warm bread, turkey breast with wine sauce, cheese, clafouti of red fruits and Chinese tea.
5.1.99…MAY DAY… Beaulieu is just north up the coast from Nice toward Italy…the La BERLUGANE was where we stayed…Bonjour Madame…time for breakfast brought to the room on a tray with a tiny vase of flowers…Cafe, fresh baguette, butter, jam and kiwi…so nice to be in NICE! We took some pictures of the garden, packed the little car and left to spend the day exploring…My May Day gift was a fragrant bouquet of Muget, a tradition in France, purchased from a vendor on the street corner…I have it still pressed in my photo book today.
We stopped in Biot, a small medieval village just north of Mougins, to tour a few galleries and shops, then have lunch at a special place Jeanine chose, Restaurant des Arcades…she knew the owner, Andre, and chef! He came out and told us what we should eat for lunch and wrote the bill on the paper tablecloth. Such a treat to have fresh goat cheese salad, stuffed squash blossoms, grilled red peppers, tian Provencal…He, Andre, was so enthralled with Jeanine that he brought out a bouquet of flowers for the table and a bottle of Rose.
We found a wonderful little shop, La Maison de Lucille where we bought so much for the shop I had to eventually buy a new suitcase to get it all home….oils, soaps, placemats, chair cushions, napkins cigalle and such!
Nearly 5:00 already and time to get to Cannes to meet our friend Camille…so off we went!
[Come back for more in a few days!]
AAAHHH….Cannes, what a place to be. We were there before the festival season so we found a little seafood restaurant along the MED was not too crowded for dinner. CHEZ ASTOUX [still have my tiny ashtray] sits along La Croisette, the famous avenue of Cannes where the festival takes place. In a seafood coma after dinner, we decided to take a long walk along La Croisette, searching for celebrities…but since it was dark and we could not recognize anyone we left that area and walked over to the well-known Hotel Carlton for some picture taking. With all the walking and food and excitement we soon grew tired and drove back to Camille’s apartment in Cannes. A glass of white wine on the balcony overlooking the sea and we were soon drifting off to sleep…
After another nice breakfast, we headed out to find our way to Grasse, the perfume capital of France. The fragrance in the blending and distilling areas was overwhelming, but still pleasant…I bought some heart shaped soap, which still sits in my bathroom today, and some room spray. Oh, my…time to eat again so we found a place to walk and breathe fresh, unscented air along the Place des Aires Arcade. We ate salad and bread and then for dessert…Jeanine had fromage blanc and I had a piece of tarte tartin. Deciding to take a drive along the mountain road where we had heard there was a wonderful place that made hand molded soap in lavender, mimosa and rose scents… we went in search of our little car…along the road we saw bright yellow mimosa in full fragrant bloom growing wild along the road, just in time for the Mimosa Festivals going on throughout the valley.
Found the little house where soap was being made and the owners welcomed us into their workshop…umm…m…m the scents were, I guess, heavenly is all I can say to describe what I felt…the sweetness was clean and fresh rather than heavy and cloying. In the photo I am sniffing the lavender growing in the road circle garden bed…it was just starting to send out bloom tips. How much nicer it would be to have such lovely traffic circles at home to guide us on our way…
Driving down the mountain on the way back to Cannes, we stopped many time to take pictures of small villages and many vegetable gardens growing on every hillside.
Another evening of wine and good conversation on the balcony, cheese, bread and fruit and then to bed! It was 1:00 AM!!
Breakfast, ummmmmm…cafe au lait was divine! Loaded the car and went off in search of a bank to exchange money…how efficient the tellers were…and then off towards the next place we wanted to visit…Aix-En-Provence. We rode through the center of the village and read signs posted that the Market or Marche would be open the next day…and most of the shops were CLOSED!! So off we went in the direction of Manosque. Sighting our first field of LAVENDER, we pulled off the little road to take pictures…here we are just so happy to be amonst the fragrant fields we dreamed of for so long. Jeanine sniffed the air and said…”there is thyme growing nearby…”! Together we walked down a dirt road and found an old stone farmhouse [Mas] with a field of thyme and and wildflowers growing in front…isolated and perfect.
For several years we had laughed and talked about finding such a field of thyme…for many reasons but one in particular we both wanted to do more than anything else…we just had to “pee” on the thyme! You cannot imagine the fragrance! So after that relief, we ate a baguette and some cheese sitting in the field…We finally had to leave our dream spot and drove off to find the road to Manosque…which turned out to be very winding and lined with stone houses and more gardens along the way…We walked the stone streets around the ancient village and found several wonderful shops actually open for business. So many beautiful old quilts and linens were stacked on armoire shelves just waiting to be treasured and used again. Oh, how I wish I had not hesitated about buying a fabulous old creamy white quilt, made in the village years ago…I had always imagined one just like it on my bed. The price was actually very good but I just thought I should not spend the money…I have dreamed of that quilt for years since and still wish that I had just bought it then! Lesson learned! Very few places to stay so we drove around for a while and finally found a NOVOTELL, which was clean and well-appointed. After breakfast it was time to head back to Aix-En-Provence…so back down the mountain we went!
The driving was quite difficult down the winding road in pouring rain…but finally we arrived at Aix passing by the dolphin fountain on our way to the market…the rain stopped and the sun came out to play. Markets were just opening so we walked around the tents and found some honey [meil]. A sweet little grandmere gave us a discount and told us that her honey was much better than anything in America…she was so right. It had been collected from her bees having fed on mainly lavender blossoms.
We shopped along the Place and went crazy for a bit…Le Olivades for scarves, Mephisto for shoes I love, Chapeaux AX for a handwoven hat I still have and wear…so much to explore. The ancient fountains and doors and buildings were breathtaking in their beauty. The rain came back as we walked but we kept going, not wanting to stop no matter how hard the rain or how soaked we were! After a lemon presse, we headed back to Monasque for a second time. Our directions to a little place we had planned to stay were vague at best…so we stopped along the road at a little shop to get better directions.
Here I am with Bruno, the shopkeeper selling wine, cheese, honey, jams and other provisions…we bought some lovely Rose, pate, Calvados and a bottle of Absinthe I still have in the French cabinet. Bruno insisted we taste his delightful Rose, so we did. Notice the scarf…still wear it. He gave us some very clear directions on how to get to the tiny village where we were expected for the night.
In the Alpes De Haute Provence and Revest-Des-Brousses area we found our little Inn…Natalie, the Innkeeper, chef and owner was expecting us. Our room was on the second floor so we dropped our bags and headed back to the dining room for dinner. Natalie lives at the Inn with her children and prepares lunches and dinners daily for villagers, cares for her garden, her horses and is restoring the Inn, herself! Her husband, a retired fireman, works in Marseilles and commutes to the village for weekends. There are only ten families living in the tiny place and two groups have not spoken to one another in over 50 years . An old feud about tree limbs hanging over a stone wall and shading tomatoes…or something like that! Dinner was simple but done well…a provencal salad plate, goat cheese omelette and homemade lavender sorbet. We, Natalie, Jeanine and I, sat for hours in front of the old stone fireplace talking and listening to stories of the village…the old copper pot hanging from one of the rustic beams in the dining room was used by a traveling Priest, from Banon, to baptise the little children in the village…the local church had been vandalized and nothing was left of the sacraments…the young Priest hitchhikes up to the village every Saturday to hold Mass and then finds a ride back to Banon. We enjoyed a few glasses of her very potent thyme liquer and asked how she made it…90% grain alcohol, add lots of thyme and let it sit for two months. Then make a sugar syrup and divide the alcohol mixture into two bottles…add syrup and a bit of water to fill the bottle…let them sit for another two minutes and the viola!
the village square…
Jeanine, Natalie and me…my hat is the one I purchased in Aix…
It’s late, we have dined and enjoyed almost a whole bottle of thyme liquer…but such a special evening with our new friend, Natalie! off to bed and a night of rest finally! She snores…and the church bell rings and the cigalles chirp and the scent of lilacs in bloom drifting through the open window helps me drift off…
Wha! HUH?? Le Cock is making his presence known this morning. I told Jeanine that the cuckoo clock I had seen downstairs was not keeping the right time and was making noises at the wrong time…she laughed and said…”There is another cuckoo bird in this room, silly! That is a cuckoo bird and they live around here…” Oh, duh!
Outside the window, the sky is so blue and you can still see the moon and again the scent of lilacs fill the air, so heavenly. We get out of bed and take turns bathing in the family tub at the end of the hall…you have to step in the tub and sit on the seat…it is a very low ceiling. We walk downstairs to find breakfast and there is cafe, fresh bread, jam and superb homemade lemon yogurt…taking our food over to the front window covered in half lace curtains…we sit and watch life in the village happen…
[More tomorrow about the lavender still and the goat farm…]