Sunday, October 22, 2023

France 2023 - Arles, Frejus, Nice, and a Rat

By 9am Michael and Anna have us to central Nimes where we will pick up our rental car and head east across the south of France. We hug each other and hold it a little longer than usual - we feel close to them and have had so many laughs and fun times over the past days. We are sad to leave. But within a week we will once again be within a 90 minute drive of each other, so I know we'll see them again soon.

The rental car is a 2008 Peugeot. But it wasn't manufactured in 2008 - it's brand new - but I wonder who on earth came up with that idea for a model name. Maybe they released it in 2006 and it seemed brilliant at the time. It's a comfy four door model with space in the hatch for all of our luggage. We were scared we'd be driving around France in a soup can on wheels, but this one is a beauty.

Our first stop is Arles, which is another medieval Roman town, and we walk towards the centre after parking. A stone wishing well full of fish and coins is alongside the stairs leading up to a walking street.

"Let's make a wish," Ana says and tosses in a couple of coins. She then continues walking up the stairs as I remain well-side, throwing coppers.

"What are you doing? Do you need that many wishes?" she says looking down at me.

"Nah, I'm good. I'm making wishes for you instead, one for each of your menopause symptoms that I wish to go away," I say as I flip in another five eurocent coin. "So far I've got hot flashes, uncontrollable rage, night sweats, depression, muscle pain, joint ache, insomnia....hey, could you loan me a few more coins?

We continue into the centre and find a colossal coliseum. We've just walked into gladiator times and if I close my eyes I can hear the thunderous cheers of the gathered crowd, the roar from the lions, and the clashing of steel sword on shield. After walking the circumference we continue along a narrow street and grab croissants and coffee from a small bakery where we practice our French (we've lost our human translators...) with a lovely Lebanese boy and his father. In an ancient building just off the main squares is a free photography exhibition so we browse through and enjoy interesting prints of bulls, boobs, and old men.

Back on the toll motorway I am once again impressed by French sensibility. The toll road is expensive, but the three lane roadway is immaculate and the posted speed limit for most parts is 130 kph, or 110 if the weather is poor. This makes sense as the road is designed to handle these speeds. Compare this to the stupidity in Ontario. The 407 toll road is an immaculate three lane roadway. The posted speed limit is 100 kph at all times. People typically drive from 120-130 and simply take the chance on getting a speeding ticket, which the police often do at random times. This is such stupidity. We set our speed limits artificially low on nearly every roadway in Canada - roads that were designed to handle higher speeds. Everybody speeds, because your senses are telling you to go faster. Why do we do this? Why can't we get something as simple as speed limits right? Even worse, we design roads in residential neighbourhood far too wide, which induces high speeds. The residential and urban roads in France are tiny - you wouldn't dream of driving fast so they don't even need to post speed limits. Every single posted speed limit I've seen in France has made perfect sense to me.

Our next stop is Frejus, a town that's barely mentioned in the two guidebooks we have, but it's coastal and looks to have a sizeable marina. Well, the marina is big and it's awesome. The docks are open so we wander up and down, getting an up close view of the many boats. I'm intrigued by what's called the Mediterranean docking system where there are no finger piers so everybody backs in and use aft gangplanks to reach the dock. The front of the boat is held in place by lines that are anchored to the seabed and inflatable fenders between all the boats keep them locked together in place.

We enjoy a nice lunch at a dockside restaurant, noticing that everybody here is French and we haven't heard any other languages being spoken. I imagine us sailing our boat to the Mediterranean and docking here for a few nights. It's possible.

It's just getting dark when we reach our final destination - Nice. And yes, it is nice. Our Air B&B is small and efficient with its pull out couch, balcony just large enough for two people and a small bistro table, and a miniature kitchen that has everything we need for light meals (breakfast).

It's time to do some evening exploring. The city is alive with lights and people. We walk past admiring the yachts docked in the marina. I look up Kaiser, a massive motor yacht docked with uniformed crew still busy cleaning. It's a luxury charter vessel, owned by a Russian oligarch and it rents for just over half a million euro per week (plus expenses) for you and 11 of your closest henchmen.

Our walk takes us past the marina and we find a massive rock mountain with a war memorial carved into it, brilliantly lighted, overlooking the sea. From here we see the main centre of Nice -  a long stretch of lighted wonders along a wide pedestrian walkway and a beach. The view is simply stunning, unreal, magical. We walk down the hill and into the frenzy and find thousands of cool people, most of them young, walking the boardwalk and, one street in, packed into the patios of the outdoor restaurants.

Now, if you were to sit down at a restaurant called "Mama Mia's" on the main tourist street, with dozens of other tourists, in any other city or country in the world, the food would be CRAP. I know. We've done this a few times. It usually sucks, but you're just there for the atmosphere so you don't mind too much, you tolerate the food, and just focus on the place. We order a pizza to share, and it's simply delicious. It seems nearly impossible to find a bad meal here, which is a real testament to the French dedication to quality. We enjoy our pizza, our drinks, and watch the fine looking French folks passing back and forth. This is a great place.

At whatever time it is, we walk back to our apartment and Ana spots a rat along the way which sends her into terror spasms. I try to get close to it so I can give it a little pat on the head but no dice, he's already slipped down into the spacious sewers.

Tomorrow, we explore Nice in the daylight.

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