Day 74 - Thu Jun 16 Nice
[Editor's Note: The next section, Nice, isn't really so much about sightseeing, as it is about meeting up with our good friends the DeMoss', who are on a long vacation from Seattle to their home country of France. So if you like to read about museums and monuments, you may wish to skip ahead! ;) ]
(Chris) Christophe greeted us at the Antibes train station, and whisked us away to his wife Laurence's grandfather's house nearby in Cagnes Sur Mer. Laurence, their 2 kids Thomas and Lea, and her grandfather Armand (they call him 'Pappi') were there and we got the standard French greetings, kisses on opposite cheeks. Three kisses seems to be standard, though sometimes 2 or 4 happen. And when it's known I'm an American I often get a firm handshake from the gentlemen instead. Armand is a character - 84yo but doesn't look a day over 70. He doesn't speak much English, but you can feel his humor and I occasionally know what he is saying even though I can't understand the words.
Jen and I grabbed some much-needed showers and then joined the DeMoss' with Laurence's parents for a tour of nearby Monaco. It was pretty hot out; I probably needed another shower by the time we got there. On the way there we stopped for a light lunch of Socca, a sort of flat bread made from chickpeas, apparently a local specialty.
Monaco is naturally breathtaking, with a healthy dallop of glamour thrown on top. It's a harbor set on a steep ravine, with numerous old-money estates stuck on the side, and a bustling city down below on the harbor. The cars are amazing... we saw numerous Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls Royces. We also walked past Princess Grace's (and Prince Rainier's more recent) grave in the local chapel. On the way back we stopped at a hillside town for some cold drinks & ice cream, and were joined by Christophe's brother Laurent who had flown up from Africa. The weekend was a big family gathering, drawing folks from all over to witness Lea's Christening.
That night we had a small dinner with Armand out on his deck, which was lovely, and in addition to wine had the standard courses of cured meats (charcuterie), fragrant cheeses (fromage), salad and dessert. The DeMoss' even brought me Dr Pepper! Thank you so much!!!
Day 75 - Fri Jun 17 Nice
(Chris) Oh let the indulgences continue. Maple fest! Laurence prepared a fine American breakfast, with fried eggs, bacon, and pancakes with maple syrup (Mrs. Butterworth's even, my favorite). I was spoiled rotten and loving it.
Today was a day to be lazy. It was still quite hot, and Armand's nice next door neighbors Pascale & Thomas have a pool in the backyard... so we had a pool party! The water felt great, and we got to play quite a lot with the kids, though since they don't swim yet, Thomas was initially afraid of the water (that changed pretty quickly), and Lea continues to be. We were out there for a long time, and apparently I haven't learned much from my last burning at Collioure, because I burned my shoulders pretty well.
We later stopped by Christophe's father Edwin's home for a visit. His dad is an American who moved to France about 25 years ago. He speaks French fluently, but even after 25 years there is such an American accent even we can hear it! The extended family ribs him about it constantly. There we also met Christophe's younger sister Laura who is a hoot, and several additional folks from Christophe's side of the family. There are so many new names!
That evening we went grocery shopping at a chain store called Carrefour. This one in particular was called a hyper-market (as opposed to super-market) because it was so huge. There were over 70 checkstands, and an amazing variety of food. It wasn't bulk so much like Costco, but rather more like a Larry's that was about 4x the size and had more housewares. I suppose it could also compare with Fred Meyer, but it's a lot nicer. The DeMoss' haven't been back to France for 3 years so when they get here they really get excited!
Day 76 - Sat Jun 18 Nice
(Chris) Today was the day of the Christening. We drove out to Christophe's grandfather's place about 1.5 hours up in the hills, at La Roque Esclapon. First the extended family all met up there, and then gathered at the local Catholic Church for photos. Then there was ceremony, which didn't make a lot of sense to me, mostly because it was all in French -- though there were a lot of cameras, lit candles, and Lea, alternately smiling, hiding & crying.
After the Christening we all departed to a nearby farm to have a marathon extended outdoor dinner. At least it felt like a marathon to us! There was fresh food everywhere and it was attacked with gusto. Let's recount the courses: anchovy appetizer, boar terrine appetizer, charcuterie, duck, lamb, salad, smelly cheese, dessert, coffee and an interesting (and potent) thyme liqueur. By the end Jen and I were both stuffed to the gills and moving slow. Then everyone hung out and mostly talked for hours. I played with one of the farm dogs a bit (the cat clawed me a little when we were playing so I shied away from him/her), and later I was invited to play a local game called boule or petanque with some of the men. It's a bit like horseshoes, except on a rough surface with baseball-sized metal balls that you throw through the air and try to land closest to a target (or knock your competitors out of the way). It was really fun, more so the banter among the competitors than the game itself.
Once things finally settled down, we were driven to a B&B about 10 minutes away that is in the remains of an old castle. It had a great view and was very peaceful... we slept well.
Day 77 - Sun Jun 19 Nice
(Chris) Today we met up with mostly the same crew to have a picnic. About 5 cars full of people drove maybe 20-30 minutes away to a nice little clearing near a stream, broke out lawn furniture, and dug in. They say the French culture often revolves around food and it could not be more true. They love to sit, drink, joke and eat (but nobody is fat! We were told they don't ever snack between meals, but when mealtime comes they take it seriously!). We had another big spread (not as big as the previous day, mind you), the kids played around, and relatives continued to catch up with each other. Christophe and Laurence's extended family is extremely warm and made us feel entirely at home... thank you! I have a strong suspicion we're going to be coming back to France sooner rather than later.
After the drive home, Jen and I got busy planning and packing for the next phase of our adventure. Christophe and Laurence brought us a suitcase with re-supplies from home (courtesy of Shawn packing it up for us - how can I repay you for having to forage through my underwear drawer?), so we've been gearing up for the last month. And we had a final meal of takeout pizza out on Armand's deck. Good living.
We'd previously spent 16 days in France, and gotten some insight into the lifestyle here, but the last 4 days in addition to being a lot of fun have also been an education!