We’re a bit nervous. For some strange reason, I took the bait and bought airline tickets that would give the three of us, including Tim in the wheelchair, a scant 45 minutes to change planes here in Munich smack in the middle of the World Cup crowds coming to the airport (Germany was host to the event in 2006). We are told that would have to include going to the terminal and going through passport control.
Our plane is parked far away from the terminal, at the outer reaches of the apron, with about a dozen other aircraft. How are we ever to pull this off?
We’ve already been traveling 20 hours. A twelve hour flight from Los Angeles, a brain-deadening six hour layover at Heathrow, now arriving on Lufthansa in Munich with another 90 minute flight to go to Nice. We’re tired and now worried we’ll be delayed even further when 45 minutes just won’t be enough.
Two very nice German gentlemen meet us on the plane. They carry Tim down the stairs to a waiting wheelchair accessible airport van. All of us hop in and they start driving. They ask us if we’re going to see some cup games…no, we aren’t…and they ask us how the Super Bowl works.
They drive up to a little glass booth at the edge of the terminal. Letty and I are allowed to go in and Tim waits in the van. We give all three passports to the friendly guard who stamps them and we’re back in the van.
We are then driven to the door of our next plane which is parked right next to the one we got off of. Exactly 45 minutes later we’re buckling in.
I’ve heard of German efficiency but this is my first personal experience with it. Thank God for it. I must make a trip back here to experience more of this Bavarian hospitality (we would, too. In 2009 we came back for a week instead of 45 minutes – Ed)
The tiny Lusfthansa RJ85 whisks us over the Alps to the little airport in Nice, France and we’ve arrived. Our driver from Airport Transfer Service is waiting at the gate with our name on a sign. Just outside is his van and a half-hour later, we’re pulling up to the Citadines ApartHotel in Cannes.
It must have been busy here yesterday…the Cannes Film Festival ended the day before we arrived. Today though, it’s a quiet town. As quiet as Cannes gets anyway.
Our room is a suite with a smallish bedroom, a living room, and a combo kitchen/dining room tying it all together. It’s not accessible but we manage with a bath chair in the tub. There are accessible rooms here, but not suites. It is step-free access to, and in, the room.
A quick walk around the neighborhood to get our bearings. We see the sign welcoming festival goers just down the street from our hotel, then it’s back to our room to sleep off some jet lag.
In the morning, we set out to do some exploring. Since we’re still adjusting to the time, it’s early morning and we walk through the deserted streets of Le Soquet to go to March Forville, the covered market there.
As the vendors unload, we have a croissant and an espresso at a tiny little café across the street. French food and coffee are so delicious. After breakfast, a quick jog across the way puts us in the market.
In America, we have farmer’s markets that make supermarket food look like junk. Here in France, the supermarket food and produce make our U.S. farmer’s markets look bad in comparison. The farmer’s markets here in France make the French supermarkets look like rubbish. It’s incredible how good the food here is.
Completely unblemished lettuce heads two feet in diameter; black nectarines; dark purple asparagus; and that incredibly fragrant French garlic that they don’t like to export. In addition, there’s a section with tables full of seafood just caught, cheese counters, olive brokers, butchers, eggs, and more. You can get the entire grocery store here.
We stock up on fruits, vegetables, some great unpasteurized goat cheese, and olives before heading out to an adjacent charcuterie to pick up some marquez sausages. This food we will cook for breakfast each day in our room while taking our other meals out.
The first day, still a bit jet lagged from yesterday, we just take it easy and walk along the beach. Most of the beachfront in Cannes is private…you’ll either need to be a member of the particular club or pay an admission. None of these looked wheelchair accessible with the stairs leading down but at each end of the beach is a free public section. Both had ramps down but once you reach the sand, you’re on your own.
The water is clear this week but a little chilly, a lot like the temperature back home in California…but the Med has cleaner water.
The next day we rent a car and take off. It’s a very nice, scenic drive to Nimes. Not a lot of traffic at all until we get into that city, and then there’s a ton. We go beyond Nimes to Pont du Gard, a World Heritage Site with a massive Roman aqueduct crossing the Gardon River.
A newer walkway is adjacent to the ancient structure allowing people to walk across and take a close-up look with disturbing it. Look closely at the stones and you’ll see hundreds of years worth of graffiti.
It’s an idyllic place with lots of places to explore. Most of the site is wheelchair accessible but you’ll need strong, working legs to climb up to the top. The river attracts a lot of swimmers and kids on rafts.
Back in Nimes, we park in the big underground structure in the heart of town. Nearby is an old Roman coliseum that, after all these years, is still in business. A bullfight is scheduled there for later. For us, after taking a lap around it, we have a delightful lunch in its shadow. There is also a Roman temple nearby and a lot of other shops and restaurants to explore. Nimes is a fascinating city.
We head back to Cannes, driving by Avignon and seeing the pope’s old fortress on the hill.
That evening we have a great French dinner up the block from the hotel at the unFrenchly named Feelings. The food is outstanding and after the dinner hour it turns into a piano bar.
The car is ours for one more day so we run for the border. It’s not a long drive to Italy so we decide to head to San Remo for the day and to have a nice Italian lunch.
The autostrada is way up the hill, San Remo is at the bottom and it’s a steep, windy, and narrow road down. We make it and even find a free parking lot on the beach where we find this old Fiat 500. The old Italian men nearby tell us that there are still a lot of the old versions of this car running around Italy, we soon find out they’re right.
There’s a nice, but rocky, private beach here and we walk along the beachfront until we find a ramp up into the town. There’s a lot of traffic and about five blocks of shops and restaurants. San Remo looks like an Italian town that’s seen its best days pass by. A little ragged around the edges…still a nice place…but not one that tourists will flock to.
A small trattoria with tables on the sidewalk provided the lunch of a simple pasta with cheese and olive oil sauce. It was delicious and just right in the amount, not the gut-busting plates of pasta we get back home.
A stroll along the boulevard helps us burn the calories, and then it’s back to Cannes. Along the way, we make a stop in Antibes to splash in the water at the beautiful beach here. A couple of local guys working in a dive shop help me carry Tim and his chair down to the water and back.
In the morning, we walk over to the train station, about three blocks from the hotel, to see about taking a day trip to Monaco. There’s a tourist office right next to the main entrance of the train station but the staff there is not too helpful. Just inside the station is an information booth that is very helpful.
The attendant there tells us they just need 30 minutes notice before the train departs for the staff to accommodate the wheelchair. We buy tickets, from an English speaking ticket clerk, and inform the staff that we’ll need assistance.
A baggage handler is dispatched and takes Tim down to the end of the platform where a ramp was installed for wheelchairs. You cannot do this yourself…it is too dangerous with the trains crossing…so someone on the staff must take you through it. Letty and I go under the tracks via stairs and come up to the platform on the other side (you can see how this works in our 2009 video of the French Riviera trip-Ed).
A modern low-floored train arrives. If you need one, a ramp or lift will be provided to get you into the train. In our case, we just popped the front wheels of the manual chair up a few inches and boarded the train. There are several designated spots for wheelchairs at the end of each car.
In less than an hour we arrive at the sparkling, fully accessible, underground train station in Monaco. Someone on the train or in Cannes called ahead and a greeter meets us on the platform and takes us on an elevator to the main station lobby and explains the accessible routes for exit and entrance. Our exit takes us back down the elevator to the platform. At the opposite end is a long tunnel that deposits us about a block away from the Place d’ Arms. This is the plaza at the bottom of the hill that holds the royal palace.
There is the ubiquitous European market going on here today (love the market tradition here) and a couple of decent souvenir shops. I ask an official looking lady what the best way to get a wheelchair up to the top of the hill is. She tells me about the bus and then says if I’m feeling particularly masculine, I can try pushing the chair up the nearby staircase.
The staircase is the kind where there is a 3-4 inch step followed by about 4 feet of level ground before the next step. Challenge accepted…I start up the stairs. It is quite hard to do this way and I don’t recommend it. The buses to the top are accessible but somehow I made it!
Masculinity restored, at the top of the staircase is a large plaza in from of the palace. We make it just in time to see the changing of the guard. A phalanx of white suited men, some armed others playing musical instruments paraded up the middle of the plaza where the on-duty guard swapped places with the new guard in a ritualized manner.
Afterward, we take in the views of the tiny country from each side of the plaza and retreat to the maze of tiny streets, alleys, and passageways across the plaza from the palace. Nestled into a niche against the wall of the old cathedral, we find a nice spot for a lunch of pizza and mussels. It was delicious and relaxing.
We then set out on a cross-country trek, spending a few minutes in an adjacent park next to the aquarium before walking down the hill. At the bottom, we walk by the beautiful municipal pool. Barricades are in place, left over from the Monaco Gran Prix that was held over the weekend. In the auto club window across the street is the trophy from the race.
A nearby elevator takes us up to the top of the hill. That hill is named Monte Carlo. At the top is the famous casino. A great plaza with a fountain in front is surrounded by cars with names such as Bentley, Maserati, Ferrari, and Aston-Martin. There is an accessible entrance off to the side and we go into the lobby.
No pictures or packs are allowed, you must check everything at the coat check where there is a mandatory tip to retrieve them. If you meet the dress code, you can enter the casino for a 10 Euro charge. We’ll just look around in the ornate lobby, thank you.
Next door is another casino, this one with no charge and a more relaxed dress code. I’ll call this the “poor man’s casino.”
We do some window shopping at places with names like Cartier, Louis Vitton, and Hermes. There are other stores without the expensive names where we can buy some more suitable souvenirs.
Soon, we head back to the train, go back to Cannes and have some bouillabaisse down on the waterfront.
Our last day in Cannes and it finds us at the dock on the north end of the bay. Just offshore are the Isle d’ Lerins, a couple of islands that are mostly devoid of civilization. A quick ferry ride will get you over to them.
Okay, so here’s the problem. The ticket booth and the ramp to the boat are both located up a flight of stairs. At the bottom is the blue sign with a wheelchair. An arrow on the sign points to the right and I follow it. At the end of the dock is an elevator with a security guard sitting in front of it. I ask him if we can use it to go upstairs and he says yes (or oui in this case). I tell Letty to go buy tickets and we’ll meet her there.
Tim and I go up to the dock and go to the ticket office. After we have the tickets in hand and are waiting to go to the boat, a woman who works in the ticket office asks how we got the wheelchair up there. I tell her about the lift at the end of the dock. She tells me we weren’t supposed to go that way. I ask her how we were to go and she says up the stairs…with a wheelchair…upon which is sitting a 145 pound person.
I tell her sorry but she then loses it and wigs out demanding that I take Tim down the stairs and bring him and the chair up the proper way. I politely refuse. She gets even more angry….yelling and pointing, generally causing a scene. Her coworkers come out of the office and try to reason with her but it’s just not working…she will not stop if it means she would be wrong.
I’ve had enough, I tell her to call the police if she wants but we’re getting on the boat NOW. I turned around with her yelling at my back and made my way to the ferry. The crew was nice and put us on board.
I don’t like what happened but out of the many weeks we’ve stayed in France over the years, that is the only rude French person I’ve ever encountered. I don’t want readers here to see that and tell themselves that “yep, rude French people…just like we’ve heard.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
With the exception of the crazy lady of the dock, every French person we’ve encountered there has been nothing but nice, helpful, and gracious to us. Don’t let that stereotype infect your thinking.
Once that episode is over, we have a nice boat ride to the island. We’ve brought some wine and cheese along and plan on a beach picnic. On the island, it takes us about half-an-hour to walk to the other side where you can find some solitary spots with picnic tables and tiny little coves to swim in. None of these are flat enough to get Tim into the water (there are beaches adjacent to the ferry dock where you could) but after what I found, he didn’t want to get in anyway.
We find a beautiful, prime spot with a picnic table and a view over the channel to the second island about a half mile away. The water is sparkling. After some wine and snacks, I decide to go in.
The water is crystal clear and a bit on the cold side. After wading out about 50 feet, I start noticing little clear globs floating around me. The water is filled with jelly fish…hundreds if not thousands of them. I gingerly wade back to shore. My wife doesn’t know what’s wrong and wants me to go back out and take a picture.
Uh, OK, but I can’t promise it will come out good (it doesn’t…our signals got crossed and she thought I said there were a lot of sea sponges out there. Ask your kids about Spongebob Squarepants if you don’t understand).
Safely back on shore, we walk to the other end of the island where there is an old fortress. It is famous as the prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was held. It is not accessible so Letty goes in to see it and take pictures…which turned out not to be allowed…while Tim and I waited at the entrance and chatted with the ticket sellers there.
Back at the dock, a snack bar sells really good baguette sandwiches so we have some and a beer before heading back to shore.
That evening, we have one more dinner at Feelings before going to bed. In the morning, it’s back to the Nice airport where we’ll fly to London.
Stay tuned for that…
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
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