Wednesday, October 25, 2023

France 2023 - Antibes, Helicopter Rides, and Medieval Torture in Aix-en-Provence

We pack up our stuff and say goodbye to Nice after an incredible three days. Our only plan is that we need be back in Provence tonight as we’ve booked a hotel in the town of Aix-en-Provence for the next two nights.

Heading southwest on the coastal road takes to the city of Antibes, of which we know nothing about, so we head to the port area and find a parking spot from where we can see an enormous mural on the side of a building, and we linger for a while to admire it. Past here are a series of marine stores, more than we’ve ever seen in one location before, but this all makes sense after we walk another block and find a gigantic marina, called Port Vauban – the largest marina in Europe, with space for some 2000 boats. Here, there is not just one Russian oligarch yacht; there is a whole neighbourhood of them. Besides these, there are all sizes, types, and makes of boats and along the harbour wall is a series of large signs explaining the history and evolution of the port.

Oh, and there’s a helicopter swinging people around by a rope. At first we think the helicopter is dropping a dummy down on a line then going for a joyride, but then we notice the dummies are waving their arms and legs. We walk to beach adjacent to the marina and see a lineup of people wearing uniforms, each taking a turn to put on a harness and get hauled up on a rope to a chopper then swung around the bay in a loop and then let back down to the ground. It must be safety or rescue training and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

The old town of Antibes is, of course, beautiful and full of shops, restaurants, cafes, and lots of people. The nautical theme is pervasive here and we see a lot of ocean themed items for sale and shops catering to yachts. After a big walk around and coffee in one of the many squares, we stop at the Professional Yachting Association office and have a long chat with a new fellow there about the professional yacht crew career option. During a visit to Cambodia we met a South African couple that worked on superyachts and we’ve been enamoured with the idea ever since. All I need now is a medical co-conspirator who can provide documentation to my employer that I have succumbed to a barely diagnosable yet believably serious ailment for which I will need extended leave.

The fastest way to Aix-en-Provence (or Aix for short, pronounced as simply “X”) from here is on the magnificent A8 toll road so we get on it, prepare a stack of euro coins and a credit card, and start driving. We could have gone further along the coastal road and visited more towns such as Cannes and St. Tropez, but we decide to save that for a future trip.

We check in at our hotel then take the 30 minute walk into the town center, which is full of chic young people being fancy. We are told it’s a university town, but one that’s clearly for people with money because these students are all wearing designer clothing, eating expensive meals, drinking pints, and having a rather great time.

Ana hits the shops while I walk over to the Granet museum (featuring paintings of dead fish, severed John the Baptist heads, and some nice medieval torture pieces), then the Jean Planque museum with more modern pieces, both of which I very much enjoyed.

We meet at 6pm and find a table at the Irish Bar. I know what you’re thinking. We’ll be eating Guinness and kidney pie or greasy fish and chips or some other dreadful food. But, as we’ve found, it’s really tough to find a bad meal in France and I eat the most amazing ribs of my life, prepared in a very unusual way. It didn’t even look like ribs, but the texture was right and the flavour was incredible. Ana’s meal too was delicious. By the time we leave it has gotten quite chilly and is raining a bit but we decide to walk anyway for some post dinner exercise and it’s all going great until Ana spots another rat on the street, then she starts moving so fast that I can barely keep up with her.

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