The French Riviera

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Thoughts from Michelle…

I found myself quoting Dustin Hoffman in Rainman for most of the day “I’m an excellent driver…I’m an excellent driver” (despite what Tracy says).

Early on Wednesday, after hearing the shrieks of Jay, Natalie, and Tracy as they paraglided in the sky above our apartment, we departed for the French Riviera with a planned stopover in Turin, Italy for lunch.  Tracy was comfortably ensconced in the back seat, Bill was in the passenger seat and I was driving…hence the Rainman mantra.


At home, we usually point out the window to say “look, it’s a cow”  Over here, you point out the window and say “look, it’s a castle”.


Let’s talk about tolls first. I will never ever complain about the $5 in tolls it takes us to get to Rochester, NY. The roundtrip toll for the Mount Blanc tunnel was $60!  Gas prices were another pleasant surprise.  The tank of our small little european vehicle sucked down a whopping $136 worth of fuel. It was an expensive 6 hour drive!

tunnel 2

But back to our little lunch stop in Turin…a cosmopolitan, european city with a population of  just a little over 900,000.


Turin is often referred to as “the Capitol of the Alps”.  It’s known as “the Automobile Capitol of Italy” or the Detroit of Italy and is also well known as the home of the Shroud of Turin.


How and when the shroud and its image were created is the subject of intense debate among scientists, believers, historians and researchers. Believers contend that the shroud is the cloth placed on the body of Jesus Christ at the time of his burial, and that the face image is the Holy Face of Jesus.  Detractors contend that the artifact postdates the Crucifixion of Jesus by more than a millennium.  Who knows…it was just cool to be in the same city with a relic such as this one.

The shroud is housed in the Turin Cathedral but you can’t see it.  It’s stored in a vault beneath the Cathedral and only brought up for public display every 25 years.  It was last up in the year, 2000.

turin 3

turin 4

We arrived in Turin around noon only to find that the streets were full…parking was going to be a challenge.  I may have had a slight episode due to the traffic and the fact that I kept losing our partner car (the one with the GPS). I may have had a short meltdown too.   OK…enough driving…a Chinese fire drill put Tracy in the drivers seat just in time to pull into a parking lot.  Well heck…I could have done that.

I had thought that I would have to parallel park and frankly, parallel parking in Europe is a totally different beast then in the US.   My slight episode led to the opening of the box of wine in the backseat and steam to come out of the ears of both me and my husband.   Are we having fun yet?  I need food.



Even finding food was crazy.  English is not as prevalent in Italy as it was in Chamonix.  Both Tracy and I knew enough French to get us both in to and out of trouble in France — but as we entered our first cafe in Turin, Italy, we realized that between the six of us – Ciao was the only word we knew.  Actually Ciao Bella fell within our vocabulary list.  Not too impressive.


Even their dogs are elegant!



Several restaurants and two gelato cones for Ray later, we had resorted to pointing at the food we wanted in the display cases.  Following lunch and a short walk around the city center, humbled and slightly embarrassed by our inability to communicate even the basics, we hightailed it out of Turin and got back on the road to Villefranche!

Bill took over the driving and soon found that my slight meltdown could possibly have been justified.  At the first intersection…we were almost T-boned by a car that apparently had a green light that we didn’t know about…mind you we had a green light also.  It was all a little confusing. Then the walkie talkie batteries went out and there went our communication with the car with the directions.  I held in my “I told you so” because by this point, Tracy was pumping me full of wine and I was feeling more mellow and forgiving…sort of.

Three hours later, we pulled into Villefranche sur Mer and checked into our hotel.  Whew…what a day!

And now I (Tracy) am picking up the Riviera story line.  A big thanks to Michelle for her eloquent contribution to the blog! It needed another voice for a while and hers was very entertaining!

Villefranche-sur-Mer is beautiful…stunningly so.  (veel-frahnsh suer mehr) There are long sandy beaches, terrace cafes and a beautiful old section of town called vieille ville that was located about 500 yards from our hotel and where we spent most of our time.

The city is located 4 miles east of Nice and 6 miles south west of Monaco.  Its bay is one of the deepest natural harbors of any port in the Mediterranean Sea reaching depths of over 320 feet making it a perfect harbor for large ships…like the cruise ship anchored there during our visit.


It’s also a natural movie set location.  You can see it in such films as Hitchock’s To Catch a Thief, Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin.

But none of that mattered to us.  All we cared about was that the sun was shining, the water was crystal clear, the temperature was around 80 degrees and we were in the south of France!  Whoo Hoo!

We checked into our hotel…a cute little place where the price was right and the views were spectacular!   Jay and Natalie took a large third story bedroom that had us all a little green with envy.

Their windows overlook the entire bay!


View out their window.



That first evening was all about finding a restaurant for dinner and that was when we discovered that beautiful section of town that I mentioned at first…vieille ville.    Narrow cobblestone streets and outdoor cafe’s created an old world feel that charmed us.

The pastel houses of this 700-year-old city (pop. 6,650) have earned the town a reputation as one of the Riviera’s most photogenic areas.


Our walk down to the center of town…












We had pizza and beer at a beautiful little italian square called…the Piazza Pizzeria Ristorante.  The bill was about $75 per person…hummmmm.

Utterly captivated by the town, we slowly meandered our way down to the waterfront after dinner enjoying the myriad sights, sounds and smells of this ancient waterfront city.




Stone arches, shrunken doors and lanterns throwing off long shadows gave one the eerie feeling that you were taking a step back in time.


It just makes you wonder…what’s behind the door?




Who’s got a big ol’ butt…Michelle’s got a big ol’ butt.      JUST KIDDING!!!!  🙂


Rue Obscure…the oldest street in Villefranche; it  was built in the 13th century.




View from Jay and Natalie’s room at night.


Below is a shot of the street that runs along the waters edge.   Inside each cafe or restaurant, you’ll find a quiet and intimate setting…but outside you’re a part of the entire street.  Regardless of which kitchen is serving…you’re all eating together.


And despite all of the people enjoying dinner…it was quiet.  There was just the low murmurings of quiet dinner conversations and the soft swishing of waves against some small boats anchored just off shore.


It was so beautiful and peaceful.  The six of us just quietly strolled along together…chatting about everything and nothing important…just enjoying the evening.


And it’s the end of our first day in Villefranche Sur Mer!




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