Published: July 27th 2008
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Vernazza along the winding coast to Antibes

The private beach area at Juan les Pins near our hotelThe private beach area at Juan les Pins near our hotelThe private beach area at Juan les Pins near our hotel

Of course you have to pay to use the umbrellas and lounges.


We left Cinque Terre from the car park up the hill, this time toward Monterosso and across to the Autostrasse following the coast line and seeing the villages tucked away on the range, the olive orchards that crowd the road with great orange nets strung beneath them to catch the olives when they are picked-shaken (?) from the trees and then once on the Autostrasse away at high speed to France. We were doing 130 kph and cars were flying past us!

Again it was a highway of classical Italian proportion; carved through the mountains and strung above the valleys.

The road past the back of Monaco was high on the range and from the range we looked down over the coast. We thought there were massive tourist ships in port in one area but realised, when we approached closer, they were blocks of extensive and presumable expensive units that looked like massive tourist ships in the harbour. They were curved and moored on the ground.

We had lunch on the way as a Service station that sold really great food - great salami Panini packs. Beer and Wine was for sale at
Excellent 2-lane highway most of the wayExcellent 2-lane highway most of the wayExcellent 2-lane highway most of the way

Here the road was split levels. In places we crossed over extremely high viaducts. There were also many tunnels where poor Carmen lost satellite reception!.
great discount prices.

Carmen took us to the front door of the Eden Hotel at Juan les Pins at Antibes and we arrived about 4:00.

Here we met the lovely Patricia who made a parking place for us and helped unload and carry luggage upstairs.

Patricia assured us, “Parking on the weekend is free anywhere on the Cote d’Azur - The police won’t be back until Monday and even then, they won’t we writing tickets until 10:00.” When she said anywhere she meant it - everyone is pretty laid back about where the cars are - footpaths, pedestrian crossings or anywhere you can fit your car.

A car pulled out just near the Hotel, we backed in and didn’t have to shift for three days.

We loaded into the hotel, upstairs in lovely rooms where tall French windows overlooked the small street, bordered with date palms which leads to the promenade where the beautiful flaunt their clothes and good looks. So we went off to flaunt ours.

The breakfast area is partially indoor/outdoor with sunny cheery tables in a room filled with light.

Patricia our host was just bubbling with energy, enthusiasm and joy and willing to provide advice, help and directions. She gave us the names of three restaurants which serve quality provincial food at “correct” prices, and we took her advice later.

After unpacking, we wandered off along the promenade, had an iced coffee that bore no relation to what the girls expected so they dropped that order off the list until they asked someone what they were drinking - and here an iced coffee is called a coffee milkshake.

The streets are door to door clothing shops, and restaurants and cafes and ice-cream parlours that border the streets and the promenade. Spread over the private beach areas are private restaurants. The private beaches are also covered with umbrellas and deckchairs for rent. In some place there are no deckchairs and these are the public beaches but they are generally in areas where there is not a wide expanse of sand.

There are jetties that run out to sea and from them people are picked up by boats to parasailing or for rides on a gigantic air mat with handles that floats into the air when it builds up high speed behind a speed boat.

We checked out the restaurants that Patricia recommended and then walked to the end of Juan les Pins to the small one way street that headed towards Antibes.

Juan les Pins is a strip town which commences with the strip of clear blue water of the Mediterranean, then a strip of sand beach, covered in shaded restaurants and brightly coloured umbrellas and deckchairs, then a high concrete wall bordering the beach, and then a strip of paved boardwalk on top of the wall, with gardens and then a narrow two lane road, then a footpath crowded in shops and clothes stands and restaurants spilling out on the walkway with occasional motorbikes or scooters or a smart car parked on them with cafes dispending crepes, ice creams all enticing the buyer to spend.

In sections below the surrounding gardens on the promenade were sunken sections for children’s entertainment- small racing cars and a circuit and jumping areas filled with blown up mats. The beautiful, parade and cool cars drive past. This is really a holiday destination.

We wandered about then returned to L’Horizon restaurant for dinner. The food was excellent, the wine was local and good, the coffee great.

The following day I woke early and skated to Antibes past the lighthouse and the castle wall and when the road started to get rough I then headed back to Juan les Pins following a cyclist who knew how to avoid the hill and then past Juan les Pins on to the hill on the coastal road past Golfe Juan which was about a 15 km return run.

I was a little apprehensive of the traffic as I had started late and jumped onto the walkways when the traffic built up behind me, which is a bugger as the roads are so narrow, and the pavement, in some areas, crappy.

We all had breakfast -great croissants, made by Patricia, bread rolls, jams, yogurt and coffee and we took off to the train station some 150 meters away to get the train to Cannes, two stations away.

The local train was packed but the girls got a seat and I followed through the window, the track I’d skated that morning. I could have skated to Cannes it as it was only a further 3km from where I’d finished the morning’s run past Golfe Juan.

Cannes, on the French Riviera is a film Mecca which is relatively dignified, the street are still traditionaly French - cafes restaurants shops - some were priced for the film stars but there were many others where ordinary Frenchmen or women would shop.

The train pulls in at the back of Cannes and you walk to the foreshore through the narrow packed streets. The promenade is wide, well paved and extends up as far as you can see - I really should have skated through!

We looked at the film memorabilia of hand prints in the footpath, the film centre, the rows of police cyclists, the palms surrounding the centre and on the beach, after all this is “Palm Beach”.

There is a fun children’s park with a wonderful two story merry-go-round. The music being played was classical French “merry-go-round” music and reminded me of the carnival music in “The Love of Seven Dolls” and of Leslie Caron in her portrayal of Lili.

The cool dude that hands out pamphlets for the local events arrived in a big blue three wheeler bike and blue leathers and he strutted the promenade. He enlisted the aide of several girls who took off with the pamphlets.

The palms were actually planted on the beach and two beach-volleyball courts had been set up for a competition or maybe there are lots of competitions in Cannes.

Two slalom skaters had set a straight cone course on the promenade and were doing a one legged slalom and swirling, cutting, slalom turns with great dexterity -I’m not sure if feet movement can be dexterous (?)

We had lunch on the promenade and then wandered along the promenade toward the Carlton Hotel, which stands majestically overlooking the beached area. There was more than $1m worth of cars in the driveway - mostly Italian and a few German.

The shops near these hotels displayed some seriously priced jewellery and clothing,

They say there is really no prestigious French car comparable to the Lamborghini, Massarati, Bugatti, or Ferrari, so the flashy French buy essentially Italian sports cars.

The beaches had their restaurants and their deckchairs. But here it looked as though there were rooms or even passages under the promenade to the hotels as many outlets onto the beach had carpet down the beach between the rows of covered restaurant tables.
The long twilightThe long twilightThe long twilight

It wasn't really dark until about ten o'clock.
They had the hotel’s names above the entrances and there were doormen in attendance.

Professional sand castle makers sat by their displays of transitory art and bundled to one side was their tools of trade; spatulas of varying shapes, water cans, water sprays and a big shovel.

We headed back slowly towards the station and were hanging out for a coffee. By the time we found a coffee shop we were hanging out for a beer as it was so hot.

A quick train ride home, a wander back to the hotel and dinner at the restaurant adjacent to L’Horizon restaurant. Again it was a wonderful provincial French meal. I had 96 mussels in a chowder soup. I licked every shell and stacked them up like dishes.

Before starting on this great bowl of mussels I noted the French ladies ate the mussels with two techniques. The first was to spread the bread around, pull in the bowl of chips, take a mussel in both hands, prise it open completely and just grab it with your mouth using your tongue to fish it out and lick the juice out of the shell, toss down some wine, a chip or two and take a piece of bread only after it had been dunked in the soup.

The second was to carefully select an unchipped shell, remove it, wipe it clean with the bread, then pick up the mussel with the left hand, slide the empty shell inside the half opened mussel and cut the mussel from the shell and use the shell as a spoon to eat the mussel. The mussel-spoon was then used to taste the soup, and the chips were eaten with the left hand.

I preferred the first method and then I licked my fingers before mopping up the soup in the bowl.

We tried street crepes with lemon on the way home -but they too light on the lemon and sugar.

The following morning, I did the same skate again but leaving at 6.00 with little traffic and, following cyclists, the roads were much easier to skate because they opened the road for me. Interestingly, the cars were very polite to both the cyclist and the skater and I didn’t jump onto the footpath once on the whole trip. The roads were a little rough and I was pleased to be using softer wheels.

We breakfasted in the lovely sunroom and then we were off to Monaro and the cassino at Monte Carlo. This was an hour trip that started with not many passengers and then as we approached Monaco, so the train filled to just crowded standing.

There were groups of students going to the beach it was Sunday. The road follows the coast for most of the way and where it bordered the sand beaches it was jamb-packed with parked cars, nose to tail, for kilometres. Families were playing and sunbaking on the semi-deserted beaches.

Monaco has a flash underground station and you walk out under the city and arrive near the harbour.

I can recall the harbour in the halcyon days of the 60’s when the Greek oil magnates had their yachts in the harbour. Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos, who owned the two largest merchant shipping fleets in the world, had their yachts in port. This was when Greece had 3000 merchant vessels - more than any other country - and they owned about 18 percent of the world's fleet. But both Onassis and Niarchos, their yachts and their wives are no longer with us and the harbour is the poorer for their absence.

A great comment about their rivalry was: “Besides shipping, they were also fierce rivals who competed over women and the length of their….. yachts.”

Since then, the Dane, Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller is now the wealthiest shipper, worth some $5.3 billion, and now not a single Greek shipper appears in the top 1250 billionaires.

The yachts by the docks are predominately English, flying flags from the Isle of Mann, Jamaica, Caymans, Guernsey, a few from Portsmouth. England’s top Billionaire, the Green family, actually lives in Monaco so if they had a yacht, it would probably fly a Monaco flag.

The yachts were big, but on a different scale to the past and certainly a lot smaller than Ted Turners’ giant that came into Brisbane for the friendship games.

Still, it’s not just the quality of the boats in the harbour that has changed, but the sprawl of a lot of ugly units that pack the municipality and fill every available space around the harbour. Previously there were darling houses interposed between the units but not any more.

At the waterfront there are red Ferraris taking people for a ride - ~$80 for a spin up to the cassino and back or $150 to drive it yourself.

After checking out the boats and deciding which one we would like to own, Helen, Dinah and I walked up to the casino. Jan and Rodger walked around the far side of the harbour and caught a water taxi back across the harbour, past the boats then walked up the hill and met us at the casino.

But for all the changes Monte Carlo still has charm, the palace is at the top of the hill, the casino has been refurbished in the traditional colours and design, Unfortunately there are now three rooms of electronic gambling machines so that has given it an RSL feel in those rooms. And the dress code more relaxed so it is filled with tourists. Helen and Jan remember changing clothes to get in - in the old days!!

But, in the dignified main hall the rooms are lit with subdued light and people sit intently at the hushed roulette tables looking at numbers and colours and watching the dancing of the ball.

On the walls around the room are massive paintings: all of them depicting women and other women reaping harvests and having good times with family. There was a statue of a woman, her eyes masked, pouring coins out of a bag on her shoulder, shaped like a cornucopia, onto the lucky people beside her.

I observed an elderly gentleman, a little eccentrically dressed, in the quiet of an unused section of the hall, pull out his pouch, take out his note pad, his pen, sort his money and compose himself. He then wandered off to the tables. I found him about 20 minutes later sitting in a strategic position, where he could observe the tables, his note book in hand writing down the numbers that were displayed on the electronic boards by three of the roulette tables. I’d surmised he was waiting for some break and would then have a flutter… but numbers are random and sequences are illusionary in the mind of man.

I believe the last time the cassino was bankrupted was the outcome of a Scottish engineer at the end of the C19th. He had worked in the knitting mills and knew that every wheel had bias. So he collected the distributions of numbers of every table for months and then took them on….and won.

The cassino managers regrouped, called in more backers after they had worked out what the problem was, and then, every night they randomly reallocated the wheels from one table to another. Over the next short while, they won most of their money back.

And they were the days when the payments were 27:1 it is now 35:1 for single numbers.

To enter the cassino you have to provide ID - passport, or driver’s licence and the printed ticket issued to you, is in your name. I suspect this is a part of the protocols of anti-money-laundering legislation so they can identify winners and you can’t fake that the money you’ve deposited in the bank was gambling winnings. Presumably this will stop the legitimisation of black money to the limit that it being washed through the system.

While I put our bags in the cloakroom, Di and Helen overhead the character in front of us, a burley tattooed man who was sweating profusely ask, “Where are the tables with the minimum $900 bets?”. I returned and there was an inordinate delay getting his credentials verified. He was getting very anxious and hurried into the casino.

Within forty minutes I saw him at the cashier collecting a massive pile of cash, which he slipped into his jacket and he was off.

And I wondered what exactly had I witnessed. And I also wondered what audit controls one would apply to control these flighty transactions.

Not one of us lost a cent on the day - For Helen and Dinah it was because they couldn’t work out what to do and the others didn’t even try.

The parks outside the casino are beautifully manicured, A Chilean artist had her work on display and the trees and flower beds were almost a botanical garden - even a giant kapok tree with seedpods opened and the wind blowing silver gossamer strands of mist across the city.

The photos of the past showed that the streets around the casino were the original home of the restaurants where one needed a tux to have a meal and one definitely needed a chauffer to be dropped off. This has all changed as society itself changes and it seems to be more artificial and crowded than I recalled it. Maybe this is why Formula 1 has left Monte Carlo.

We wandered down to the wharf side and, in the shade of the trees, had a very late lunch and then returned to Juan Les Pins. Remarkably we ran into the same students returning from the beach on the train,

Home in Juan les Pins the girls went shopping and we then wandered down to the beach. The girls did some more shopping and we had dinner at L’Horizons. It was a delightful meal washed down with local wines.

The next day we had a long run to Montpellier to catch the train to Castelnaudary to commence the trip on the Canal du Midi so we were away at 8.30 am after farewelling Patricia and her family, turned on Carmen who set a course for Montpellier.

Additional photos below
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27th July 2008

Niarchos yacht
Win- back in the late 50s early 60s Stavros Niarchos had the most beautiful schooner - the Ariadne - that used to grace the SW ports of UK (Dartmouth etc) for a few summers - perhaps in association with the early Tall Ships races?- I still remember vividly sailing in a v. small dinghy around its 100 or so feet of gleaming varnish and brass.. aftre mild winter Canberra has turned on some winter chill for us this month- but the Prunus blossom is still starting 2-3 week early-lukim yu Rob

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