A Royal Visit & A Chat

IMG_0091His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco was scheduled to visit the Grimaldi Château in the medieval village of Cagnes-sur-Mer.
chateau grimaldi map
I figured this was as close to royalty as I was going to get, so I decided to attend.  I wasn’t surprised at the fanfare of his arrival and visit, with police and undercover security in place, but was surprised that I actually got to chat with him at the buffet table. When I said in French that I was “American like his mother,” he looked equally surprised and immediately responded, “Oh, Hi!”

The conversation then led to where I was from and how I like living in France, followed by a comment he made to the nearby mayor saying, “Louis, elle est americaine” to which the Mayor responded to me, “Tous mes hommages, Madame.” The Prince and I continued to chat for a few minutes more about the village and if I have family here, etc.

I was nervous at first (didn’t even mention my name), but the Prince was so charming and down-to-earth that soon the conversation felt comfortable, and I wish I had had more time to talk.  How wonderful it would be to have a chance to interview him!

Did I mention that he was very charming (and also taller than I had expected)!

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Seedling: A 12-year Wait

After the terrible storm of December, 1999 that destroyed thousands of trees at the Chateau de Versailles, they created an Adopt-a-Tree program, where you could sponsor the planting of a replacement tree/sapling. Of course, I participated and was sent an official certificate with a map drawing with the location of “my” tree noted with a red asterisk. I felt proud, like a new mother.

During several vacations to Paris, I wanted to find the (my) tree, but without success: that area was barricaded and not accessible, that area was still being planted/in works: I walked as far as I could go to verify that this information was indeed correct. I just wanted a glimpse, but I was too far away from the screened-off areas.

During my recent trip, I was determined to find my tree and with map in hand, walked around the perimeter of the chateau to the designated area. It was chilly, overcast, and threatening to rain. The interior area was still not accessible, but the net barricade had been removed – I could get a clear view! Luckily my tree had been planted in the far outside corner, so I could see it clearly from the path – I was about 20 feet away from “my baby.”

Showing sponsors for the works done at the chateau

Massage Relaxant @ K2 Chocolate

IMG_0098_1It was delicious – the massage, that is!

I had the opportunity to have a 50 minute “Californien” massage session at K2 Chocolate, an upscale spa located in the Carré d’Or (heart of the city) of Nice. The technicien, Maria, was professional and friendly, and had gifted hands that melted away any hidden tension.

I was escorted through the salon, with its chic decor, invitingly warm, like the owner and staff.  The list of spa services is indeed comprehensive, along with the options of UV teeth whitening treatment and body tanning.

What would I add to this pleasurable experience?  Mais oui – a sample of yummy chocolate to complement the spa’s name and my yummy massage!

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Skiing (sort of) at Auron

Only having skied three times in my life, I accompanied my French husband and friends to Auron, a well-known ski resort about 1-1/2 hrs. from Nice, BUT only to have a coffee, read, and relax while they hit the slopes.  The first problem was the windy roads, with all the switchbacks and turns, which made me nauseated.  It was a nice, sunny day, as I wandered about there being enough snow to ski, judging from what I was seeing on the way there; secretly thrilled, since I don’t like being cold.

As I sipped my coffee, ate croissants, watched the lessons on the baby/bunny slope just outside the warm, restaurant window, and read my Kindle, I was enjoying a great Sunday morning. During lunch, for some reason – call me crazy – I thought it might be fun to take a skiing lesson, not to mention learning skiing French vocabulary. Funny, I never stopped to think that not verbally  understanding something might compromise my physical ability during the lesson…such as, knowing the words for the *downhill and *uphill ski?!

Nothing like having a Frenchman put on your ski boots, since I couldn’t manage it myself, and then only remembering how to snowplow my way over to the baby slope lesson area to wait for Olivier, my French instructor.  I had taken a lesson in English in Taos, NM, years before, from (Frenchman) Andre, but now this would be a REAL French skiing lesson – I was nervous and afraid and that was the first thing I mentioned to Olivier, well…after “Bonjour.”

Lo and behold, by the end of the hour, I was skiing still mostly in snowplow formation, but also a little “en parallel” in between the turns – maybe it was the orange netting barrier and the little kids skiing by me that gave me a boost of confidence to put my skis in another shape other than a “V.”  Olivier said I was good enough to ski on the beginner slope, and all I needed was confidence (Le secret de faire du ski est la confidence!)  Yep, “confidence” is the same word in English and French!  My husband and friends had finished and were watching my lesson, got bored, and decided to go have a drink; I joined them in toasting my skiing triumph – OUI, even with skiing beside the 4-5 year olds on the *”Piou Piou” baby slope, but just a little in parallel !

* downhill ski = ski aval / uphill ski = ski amont / piou-piou = cry of a baby (chicken) peep

“Une Affaire” To Remember

I am a nervous flyer – always have been. When I travel to the U.S. to visit family, I always dread the long flight in coach class. However, for my recent trip, I decided to buy a one-way upgrade to business class at a reasonable price – the difference was like night and day, and I even forgot, well almost, where I was!

It was very interesting to see how the ‘other half’ flies! I had priority status, which included access to the Air France lounge in Paris, where I ate a free breakfast and hung out until flight time. The height of the ramp to the upper/top seating level of the aircraft matched my upper level of anticipation and excitement for being able to totally recline in the oversize seat and have quality & service. True enough, I was drinking champagne before the cabin doors were closed and sitting alone, like a queen on a throne.

In contrast, on the return flight in coach class, I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me. So, I had more space and wasn’t as crowded as usual, which was nice. That being said, it wasn’t quite the same an flying in “La Classe d’Affaires” – a very pleasant and memorable trip, and now I’m spoiled!

Restaurant in La Grande Motte

While I was visiting the Montpellier area, I ate at a boardwalk restaurant in La Grande Motte. What a great place to people watch, while remembering sitting at this place years ago, enjoying a Kir Royale aperitif (video below).

Kir Royale

I ordered one before lunch, as a toast to great memories during my summers in this town. The lunch was delicious, and the people watching equally entertaining – just as I had remembered!

Walking Down Memory Lane in ‘La Grande Motte’

My connection to this touristy, summer getaway spot popular with French families, goes back to 2002. The town is recognizable and known for: its asymmetrically designed buildings, giving La Grande Motte a futuristic look; its sandy beaches; boat/yacht; golf; and port.

During my recent trip to Montpellier, I decided to go down memory lane and visit my old stomping ground in La Grande Motte – to be honest, I just wanted/needed to put my feet in sand! I had owned an apartment about 50 meters from the beach (en première ligne), with sea views from both the living room and master bedroom. Every morning, I would walk, with my dog, along the shore and then, wash our feet and paws before exiting the beach to buy the breakfast croissants and baguette. It is one of my fondest memories of spending summers there, and what I miss most living in Nice with its pebbly beaches.

There are many great memories, of course, one being that I saw the Gypsy Kings performing impromptu at one of the restaurants near my apartment(video below). Life goes on, but it would have been nice if I could have kept this vacation property, outside of Nice.

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Beauty Center in Nice: A personal recommendation

The other day, I had a 3-in-1 special at my favorite beauty center (Centre de Beauté Renaissance) in Nice: a facial, body exfoliation, and a massage – nothing beats a scrub, rub, and polish, especially at a reasonable price!

The owner, and Margo (the technician, are both welcoming, friendly, and courteous. I especially like that Margo explains the products she uses (by the way, the “Ice Lift mask” feels great!), in case you want to purchase something, but without the hard sale feeling of being obligated. Plus, you are given a list of what was used, for future reference or purchase. I try to go every couple of months, preferring to spend my money on having another treatment, rather than for buying products.

French woman, in general, feel “bien dans leur peau” based on their natural beauty, which is probably helped with regular visits to their favorite beauty center!

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Permis de conduire: Getting a French driving license

Only certain states in the U.S. have a reciprocal driving license agreement with France, where you automatically can exchange one for the other — as luck would have it, MY license was NOT one of them! That meant, my American license was valid to drive in France for only one year, as a new resident. Tant pis!

Living in the 5th largest city in France, with its excellent bus service and all that the city has to offer within walking distance from my apartment, I debated long and hard whether I really NEEDED a French license — especially seeing how crazy the driving is here!

Just out of curiosity though, I walked over to one of the local “Auto Ecole” to get some information, just in case, so I could claim a more intelligent decision for NOT doing it! It turned out that this particular driving school is very reputable for being the first one established in Nice (link to historical photos). The French owner’s wife was very reassuring that it would be simple comme bonjour (a piece of cake), since I already had many driving years behind me in both countries! Even the owner said I would only need to do a few hours of driving lessons (much less than the obligatory 20 hours for beginners) — maybe 5 or 6, but only after studying and passing the road code – the first part of the whole testing process to obtain a license. Even so, this whole endeavor would be expensive:  860€ for the registration, including DVD road code practice sessions, + 80€ driving lesson registration & 38€ per hour for the actual lessons with an instructor — not to mention the time it would take to do all this!

Now, I was even more sure it wasn’t worth it, in all aspects, but with the road code booklet in hand, I spent days looking over car, traffic, and driving vocabulary. Who knew how to say ‘clutch’ and ‘high beam lights’ in French? – not exactly a point of everyday conversation! My husband encouraged me to continue, saying it would be something I would regret not having later on… hmmm, maybe…..  I still wasn’t convinced, but not liking the feeling of defeat, the gauntlet was thrown, and so, I signed up! My learning curve would be much longer than the road curve signs in the book, as there were over 200 new road signs added since the past year — Huh?  How is that even possible?

You could only register to take the real test when you were missing around five answers in the practice sessions, which ran all day long, everyday, non-stop. After months of ‘study’, I took the code test in a classroom with about 50 other younger drivers, who were as nervous and afraid as I was (you could only miss a maximum of 5 out of 40 to pass) — we all waited outside afterwards to hear whether we passed or failed (actual scores not given, and really who cares?  I was so relieved at having passed, I actually cried!

I thought the hard part was over, but then came the actual driving lessons – no problem for me, as I had driven a stick shift car in the U.S. ‘forever.’ No deal — you had to ‘caress the brakes’ 30 meters before a green light, just in case it turned orange (ah, don’t you mean yellow?) – and how far is 30 meters anyway? There were many other little idiosyncrasies that I had to do while driving, like moving your hands on the wheel in a certain way, while going around a sharp curve; staying to the right, so scooters could pass, even in a no passing zone where they don’t legally have the right, keeping my heel on the floor while letting out the clutch — WHAT, REALLY? I finally became so annoyed at the ridiculousness of it all, including inside the car and under the hood French vocabulary, that I decided to quit – it seemed like they were just trying to nitpick and/or get more money from lessons — both were happening and  I had enough!

After taking two weeks off, and not wanting to lose all that I had invested: money, time and sheer determination, I took a few more lessons and then took the real test with an official and my instructor in the backseat – I was nervous beyond belief, but followed his verbal instructions of where to drive, parallel park, etc., and answered car/motor questions in French. Out of the maximum 30 points, I scored 30! What a relief (no, I didn’t cry), and in hindsight, yes – I’m glad I stuck with it, and yes – it drove me crazy (yes, pun intended)!