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Friday, November 4, 2016

Classic Trip: The French Riviera



The Sky Mirror, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Now that school is over, the traveling can recommence. For a graduation present, we took him to Europe for a two week trip. Coming along on the trip was my mom and my wife’s brother. My mother is in her 70’s and a slow walker so this added another wrinkle to the proceedings.

Watch the video of this trip!



It’s day one and we’re flying to Nice, France via Frankfurt, Germany. Altogether, it’s 15 plus hours, not including arriving early at the airport to see if we can finagle seats together for our group. We are flying on Lufthansa, who does a great job with assistance onto the aircraft but not so well seating us together. The gate agent says two of us are in one row (emergency row, 2 seats) with the rest “one row behind.” That row actually turned out to be 5 rows back and on the other side of the 747’s cabin. Luckily, the people who showed up were amenable to a trade so we ended up together.



Having been to this part of France before, we know that accessibility is an adventure so we left the power chair at home and used a manual. It can be stressful enough with the manual chair…a power chair would present some huge obstacles to overcome unless you are prepared to spend big to do it, like renting a ramp-equipped van.


We like to use A-T-S shuttle service who uses tour guides in their downtime to provide airport transfers. This means you get a nice, big van to take you to your hotel instead of trying to squeeze into a taxi. It’s just a bit more but your driver is waiting at the gate, is very friendly, and a font of local knowledge. A half-hour after landing and we’re at our apartment in Cannes.
Not a hotel this time, it was very hard to find an accessible hotel room for a decent price. The closest was the Citadines…which we used the last time here…who wanted around $450 per night for the five of us.


Using HomeAway.com, which allows you to specify “wheelchair accessible” housing when doing a search of direct-from-owner vacation rentals, we were able to find suitable lodging at an apartment just two blocks north of the heart of town. Still, this was around $300 per night but when divided by 5 people, the cost was pretty manageable. The apartment consisted of 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two terraces. The entire building is step-free but there was no roll-in shower. The bathtub was normal size as was the shower and each had the showerhead on a hose. At just under 1000 square feet, we had plenty of room.

Also on site were two swimming pools.

The first day we made the 10 minute walk over to the Marche Forville, which is the big local market here in Cannes. Unbelievable food is what awaits you here. Fresh produce…much unavailable in America…meats, sausages, seafood, cheeses, olives, eggs. It’s all here and we stock up for three days worth of breakfasts plus some fruits for snacks.

 

Grasse

Next, it’s time to take the train to nearby Grasse, which purports to be the perfume capitol of the world. The train station in Cannes (it’s called a Gare in French) has three platforms, one of which is accessible. When a train is arriving on one of the unaccessible platforms, the staff at the station only requests that you contact them half an hour ahead of time at the information booth for help. The baggage handlers will take the wheelchair passenger to an off-limits area of the station where a ramp is installed to cross the tracks to the platform. All other passengers walk down stairs to take a tunnel to the platform.

Today, our train departs from the accessible platform and it’s a quick ride to Grasse. In Grasse, the depot is at the bottom of the hill while the town is at the top. Busses are available to take you up, most accessible via the back door. It is a Euro for each passenger, so make sure you have change…there is no place at the depot to get it unless you buy something at the expensive snack shop.

 


In Grasse, a little exploring leads to a medieval square with many restaurants competing for your Euro. We pick a cafĂ© which had a special (look for the “plat du jour” boards) of entrecote for 10 Euros. This is a rib-eye steak with a sublime sauce service with frites and warm salad. Eating this outside on a warm day with a delicious glass of French wine was quite a way to while away some time.


After lunch, wandering out the square via a narrow little street, we visit one of the famed parfumeries where big jugs line the shelves and the nice lady inside will create a unique fragrance just for you. At the end of the street, there’s a centuries old water fountain to splash your face with for refreshment and the large Fragonard parfumerie where everybody ends up to shop or see their museum.


We decide to walk the mile-or-so down the hill to the depot which was not one of our brightest decisions. The sidewalks are narrow, bumpy, have a way of just ending mid block, and are “beautified” by someone who thinks planting trees right in the middle of your already narrow path is a neat thing to do.

We do make it down with some major work and get back to Cannes where we enjoy a light dinner and some wine on our terrace.

 


The next day is for Monaco. Being jet-lagged, we find it almost impossible to get out early. We make the 11:30 train (non-accessible platform today) and get to Monaco just after the changing of the guard at the palace. I’d seen this before, so it was no big deal, but it would have been nice if the others on the trip could have seen it.


Monaco is nothing if not ever changing and the exit from the train station is completely different from the last time we were here. This is due to large apartment buildings being constructed there, changing the streets we had known from before. No worries, we find the elevators taking us down to street level and quickly make our way to the Place de Armes, the plaza at the bottom of the stairway taking up to the royal palace.

 



I had pushed my son’s wheelchair up this path before, but today I’m not feeling well and we take the bus up instead. Again, most busses are accessible here via the back door and the fare, as it is everywhere we went, was one Euro.


At the top, you’ll swear you’re in Disneyland with the narrow, shop-lined streets and the palace at the end but remind yourself, this is the original that Disney copied. The post office near the palace is a great place to mail postcards home with that exclusive “Monaco” postmark. It’s also a good place to get money at the ATM and to see the picture of Princess Grace walking a young Princess Stephanie to school on the street you are now standing on.

 


After taking in the spectacular views of the entire country (the size of a small town in the U.S.) from the palace, we eat lunch at one of the many eateries up here in the small palace neighborhood. Then, the same bus takes us all the way across the country (a five minute ride) to the famous Monte Carlo casino.


It’ll cost you 10 Euros to enter, you must check your bags (and leave a tip), must be dressed properly, and not bring a camera…but you too can enter this palace of gambling and pretend you’re on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If that’s a bit much for you (and it is for me), you can visit another casino next door that is made for the commoners.

 


There is a beautiful fountain-filled plaza out (see the picture at the top of this post) front with the cars of the pretty people parked out front. On the slow day we were there, we counted four Ferraris, three Mazaratis, several Bentleys, a Rolls Royce, and too many BMWs and Mercedes to count. One of the Bentleys had a parking lot scrape along its side that I dared not imagine how much it would cost to fix.


After three nights in Cannes, we had to say goodbye to our huge apartment and move into two
small hotel rooms in Nice. This was due to an early morning flight we would take to Munich and we didn’t want to gamble on getting a taxi so we moved to the Campanile Airport Hotel just across from the departures terminal.

We took the time to visit the museum of archeology where the ruins of an ancient Roman bath have been unearthed.
Roman Ruins in Nice

It takes two accessible busses to go from our hotel to the site. The museum is accessible but the ruins less so. A guide tells me there is two steps to negotiate to get to the main bath house and sends me to a more accessible route that only has two steps. Ah yes, welcome to the French way of doing things.


This is not to say that anyone we met in France was rude or arrogant. Everyone we met was gracious and nice, making this the third time that the French stereotype has been shattered for me. In fact, we spent a good part of that afternoon getting to know our guide (who was also a security guard at the museum). It turns out he was raised in Naples, can understand English very well but cannot speak it without many problems. We took turns learning Spanish and English words from us and French and Italian words from him.

I always say, the best part of any good trip is not what you see but who you meet along the way.
The ruins are a nice way to spend the day and, if you have time, the Matese Museum next door is also worth a visit. One last French dinner in Nice overlooking the beach and then it’s off to bed.




Stay tuned for part 2 where we travel to Bavaria and Beyond!

-Darryl
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved

7 comments:

  1. What a beautiful area! I've spent time in Paris but not had a chance to make it to the riviera. Definitely a must see with so many beautiful cities and the beach!

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  2. It sounds like you had a wonderful time!

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  3. Sounds like a fun trip! I miss Europe so much.

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  4. I haven't been to this part of France yet, so I really appreciated your pictures! Everything looks so colorful and beautiful. Having used trains exclusively this summer in Europe, I can only imagine the difficulty you must be faced with trying to find accessibility! Not all those stations are equipped.

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  5. Actually, France has made some great strides in accessibility. Our first trip here was in 2006, in three years, most of the buses have been made accessible and most of the train stations are somewhat accessible. The station porters will help get you to the platform (there's a scene in the video that shows this) and only require 30 minute notice (in the UK you need to give 24 hours).

    @Ben...this was actually over 4 days.

    -Darryl

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  6. A beautiful looking area that I don't know at all - thanks for sharing :)

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