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France, Paris, Cote d Azur- the French Riviera, and Provence



 

Mon Premier Baiser français—My First  French Kiss
By Jean Harper

Deux jours et nuits à Paris, le train de la Riviera française et sur la Provence--two days and nights in Paris, the train to the French Riviera and on to Provence

Photo above- French Crepe Chef along a street in Aix

My first trip to France started off a bit hectic.  I missed my first connection because Delta was late to Atlanta and then the second flight due to take off at 11:15 P.M. was cancelled by Air France. In the maze of being re-directed to the ticket counter my friend and I waited for about an hour for the opportunity to discuss our options with the unsympathetic ticket agent with whom we spent another hour to re-route us for the next day. After being put up at the Best Western in Hapeville, Georgia for the night, we arrived the next morning to the airport and were on our way to Paris.

Recommendations: Very comfortable shoes (I loved my Ecco sneakers), camera, binoculars, small suitcase or backpack on wheels (pack light for ease of travel on public transportation). French translation device or book.

What to Expect: Wine and beer is less expensive than sodas and you can order the "house" wines as all of the wine is fabulous.  If you order a drink you will need to ask for ice as beverages are served without it.  Bathrooms are scarce and many street WCs (water closets or toilets) require you to pay for use so keep Euro coins handy. Check the weather as it could be cold and rainy or unexpectedly warm as it was on our visit.

I heard that Paris was a big, dirty city; therefore, I planned only two days and nights on the agenda for Paris and then a train to Marseille to pick up a rental car and drive to Cannes, the French Riviera, where we would spend the next two days before heading back up to Aix en Provence for a week.

Upon arrival in Paris there must have been something in the air, because I was instantly in love with this city.  We spent two nights at the Hilton La Defense situated directly across from the La Grande Arch which is a monument and building in the business district of La Defense located on the west side of Paris.  Even though we were not right in the heart of the city, we could go quickly to the Metro by taking an escalator down to the train without even leaving the building.

Photo Below La Grande Arch or Great Arch- Offices are Located in each side and at the top of the building

After our arrival at the hotel, we quickly put down our baggage and headed off to the Metro. After only 7 minutes we arrived at our stop.  As we took the stairs climbing up and out of the darkness of the subway, we emerged into the open air, I turned to my right and there directly in front was the Arc de Triomphe. We were standing in front of one of the greatest arches in history located at the end of the Champs-Elysees, (which I can’t seem to learn how to pronounce) in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, a large circular square from which about 12 streets emanate.  At that moment, one of my first thoughts was, “I am so glad that I am standing here and not driving, as I would be circling this Arc de Triomphe for days trying to exit.”

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, Below



In a cab ride the next day, our driver explained that the arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories.  Napoleon was defeated before the monument was completed.  The Arc de Triomphe is engraved with names of generals who commanded the French troops during Napoleon’s regime. Standing in front of this beautiful site, all I could think about was “Wow! How could it be that this beautiful structure was built in the 1800s and still remains flawless today?”  At night it is an amazing sight and at all times of day it is a beacon for the many thousands of cars and motor scooters bustling by.

Paris is the capital and largest city in France and is situated on the river Seine in the Northern part of France. The city of Paris is said to be unchanged since 1860 and has an estimated population of over 2,000,000.  Paris is ranked among the three most important and influential cities in the world and walking the streets of this amazing city it was not hard to figure out why. 

A visit to Paris would not be complete without a trip to see the world famous Eiffel Tower, believed to be one of the most visited monuments in the world. The Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair and stands 1,063 ft tall.  Trying to photograph this great tower is a challenge because of  its extreme height; therefore, we walked a distance away to position it completely in a photograph.  When I realized it was about 300 steps just to get to the first level, an additional 300 steps to the second, and I viewed the long line just to get to the steps, I decided to admire the beautiful structure from the outside.  As I looked up through the center and stood at the base, I was amazed at the power that it exuded energetically. I wondered how those who worked on this structure must have felt being a part of this incredible project.

Views of the Eiffel Tower Below

Eiffel Tower at Night- Below

On the second day in Paris, we visited the illustrious Notre Dame Cathedral, which was completed somewhere between 1250 and 1350 according to which expert you ask, with the first stone being laid sometime in 1163.  As we walked through the massive cathedral, which was filled with tourists, it still felt a bit peaceful, yet poignant for me.  Although the crowds were moving about I was able to quiet my mind and tune in to the energy and history of this place.  During the revolution the cathedral received a lot of damage; however, the restoration projects have successfully restored the building to an almost flawless state.  I thought of the brave Joan of Arc who said she had visions from God and helped France in the battles against the English, only to be later accused of heresy and burned at the stake. Here in Notre Dame Cathedral she was declared innocent, a martyr, and ultimately sanctified by Pope Pius X.

Images of Notre Dame Cathedral Below

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral Below 

Stained Glass Windows- Notre Dame Cathedral Below

If I might offer one piece of advice, you may want to learn a little French when it comes to ordering your meals. Many of the menus are in French and we found ourselves with a little translation problem.  See menu below for an example.

Photo Below- One of My Favorites- Chicken Liver Pate

Photo Below from one of the many bakeries on our trip

 

 

My friend had previously visited Paris and recommend that we visit the Montmartre district.  We grabbed a taxi that dropped us off in front of another famous site - the Moulin Rouge Theater.  From there we walked through the streets filled with aromas from the various cafes, colors from the flower shops, fruit stands, and streets lined with artists before arriving at the top of the hill. From the hill where the famed Basilique du Sacré-Coeur sits we could see all of Paris by day and waited around to see it again by night.

Images Below of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, Paris by night

Paris from the hill, Montemartre District Below

Street images, Montemartre District Below

The Famous Moulin Rouge, Paris Below

A Perfect Night in Paris with the Moon in View- Below

On Saturday morning, we boarded the train to Marseille.  I have to mention that this train was my favorite form of transportation during this trip and one that I will take on my future visits to Europe.  First Class was not much more than coach and the seats were comfortable, the ride was smooth, and we arrived right on time to our destination.

From Marseille, we drove to Cannes and spent the night in the neighboring town of Juan-les-Pins, a commune of Antibes on the "Côte d'Azur" or known in English as the French Riviera. Driving down was easy until we arrived in the city of Cannes.  It took me a couple of days to get the hang of driving in France, although the “roundabouts” are still a mystery of innovation to me.

Photos Below from the "Côte d'Azur"/ French Riviera

Beach in Juan-les-Pins Below

My one regret upon arriving into the region of Provence is that we arrived after the famous Lavender Fields were in bloom. I heard so much about this experience and even though I did not see this personally, I am sharing the photo below taken of some of the beautiful fields. I have heard that you can smell lavender everywhere during this time. I would experience the smells in a different way through some of the many shops in the town of Aix.

Lavender Fields of Provence Below

Finding our hotel in Aix was a lurid experience that I will never forget.  All I can say is that the Fountain where the 3 Justices are perched is the center of everything and from there you just have to find your way through the many mazes of streets.

Photo Below from Center of Aix- 3 Justices Fountain

Even my GPS had difficulty directing me to the hotel since the front resided on a one way street and the sides and rear rested against the city side. That may sound strange, but I can best describe the city center of Aix as a city that is turned inside. You can walk through streets for days it seems without coming back to where you originated.  Driving here is not recommended and on the last day of my trip I was reminded of that by crashing the rental car down the side trying to get out of a parking space (the standard size in France) that was the size not made for any American SUV…. I was driving a compact Renault and there was probably 2 inches of distance on each side of the space and very little rear space to back out into.  I recommend staying in the city of Aix and using “feet” as your method of transportation.  My only real need in having a car was for business purposes on the trip, so unless you must, refrain from driving in Aix.

Photo Below One of the Many Fabulous Shops in Aix

In closing my story of the adventures in France, it is important to note that this is the country where the “French Kiss” originated.  I did notice that there was a lot of kissing going on in public places.  In conducting business during my visit, I received a lot of the "other" kind of French kissing, a kiss on each side of your cheek, which is the standard greeting. There are a lot of places to “kiss” in France so if you go, bring some chapstick and mouthwash for those moments, "when in France do as the French do" and spread l' amour. 

Photo Below from an afternoon stroll in Aix

Beautiful Sky in Aix Below. Explains why Cezanne chose Aix for inspiration in his paintings

And yes, a little dessert below with the French Kiss

Au revoir et baisers sur les joues!

(goodbye and kisses on each cheek)

 

 

 



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