Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nice, Monaco & Monte Carlo (Italy par accident!)

We were woken at 4 a.m. by the most intense thunder and lightening storm I have ever seen. Rain pounded off the pavement and bounced back into the sky while we sat watching it in the dark waiting for dawn and for the storm to break. With the sunrise, the sky cleared and the sea glistened navy and turquoise. Our plan today was to drive to Monaco and Monte Carlo. As a gift, Chris gallantly agreed to leave his white linen drawstring pants at the hotel so I could strut my almost identical ones on streets of Monaco and practice saying,

“Oui. You like my tan? I got it while sunning myself on the French Riviera.”

Lest you be disappointed, it was another day of driving adventures sans map. Not that I could have even glanced at the map. The road to Monte Carlo makes Whistler’s Sea-to-Sky Highway look like an amateur Go Kart Track. I white knuckled and sweated my way through turn after turn expecting at any time to be overtaken by a giant truck and plunge the car sideways off a vertical cliff while all the while maintaining speeds that are in excess of the maximum speed limit in British Columbia.

The important thing is we did arrived safely in Monte Carlo and we were soon sunning ourselves at Café de Paris. Monte Carlo is nothing like Las Vegas or even Cannes. It is pristine, not at all garish and surprisingly tranquil. Monte Carlo appears to be bathed in blinding white that is made up of a combination of cleanliness and wealth. Not even badly dressed tourists can make it look tacky or overdone. I could have sat at Café de Paris drinking 12 euros cafes cremes for days and just enjoyed the scene; countless older European women tottering around the square on their crepey bare brown legs, hot swollen feet stuffed into the latest Louboutins, giant sunglasses tucked securely in the sides of their chic, sun streaked chocolate bobs and well worn Birkins weighing down their gold braceleted arms. De trop in the best way possible!

Chris and I strolled around the city before deciding that we should return to the car for the drive to Monaco.

The. Drive. To. Monaco. Now had either of us had bothered to consult a map or tuck a guidebook into my Longchamps bag we would have known that we had already spent a very happy and beautiful part of our morning in Monaco drinking post cafe creme Kronenbourgs and eating baguette sandwiches. As this was not the case, we blindly got back into the car and drove for several hours, convincing ourselves with each town that we passed through that we were “almost there”.

“Almost there” turned into Italy. Genoa, Italy to be precise. Honestly there was no turning back, no u-turn lane, no pull-off, no nothing, just four, fast lanes of highway heading straight to the Italian border. And neither of us had our passports. We panicked despite knowing that both Italy and France are part of the EU and so crossing the border is no big deal. However, as any Canadian who has had the misfortune of being escorted to the little room at the US border - "Our friendly neighbour to the South!" - for the mere infraction of an extra pair of shoes will tell you that border crossings are terrifying . Approaching the border, I sweated my way through the backs of my white linens. I swear the car was shaking.

“Bonjourno – Welcome to Italy! 2 euros.”

That was it, we were in Italy. And ten minutes later we were back in France. And then somehow we made it back to Nice in time for dinner.

Over the last couple of days we have discovered that while much of Nice is what you see on those brightly coloured vintage posters advertising "soleil" or "Perrier", the city is also made up of charming, mainly pedestrian streets that run labyrinth-like behind the main boardwalk. Every time you think you have been somewhere, you end up somewhere new and many of the streets open onto small squares with churches, streets performers and restaurants all spilling into each other. When you look up you can see apartments, with laundry strung from the windows, among the white fairy lights that seem to typically cross the buildings anchoring the square.

Tonight we walked and walked, getting lost and found, eating lavender gelato before dinner and finally settling into a restaurant I chose simply because of the name, “L’Ecurie”, and the sign – a horse head surrounded by a horse shoe (4, rue de Marche). It was a divine meal, eaten outside on the uneven cobblestones, passers by so close that their clothing nearly caught the flame of our candle and attentive, kind waiters. After dinner more walking and more falling in love with Nice.

With every trip to France, I keep waiting for it to disappoint me. At home this past year, I have spent too many hours dreaming of being back here, longing for France (especially Paris) and imagining myself as I am when I am here. I should expect disappointment but so far France continues to exceed my dreams and my expectations.

“Beautiful” doesn't do tonight justice. However, simply expressed France is about beauty and I keep returning for its unique beauty that overflows my heart and makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Tonight after the sun had set, Chris and I stood on the edge of one of Nice’s squares, staring at a giant, lit Christmas tree type star hung in the centre, with residents spilling out from their balconies, drinking wine and laughing.

“Never say never,” he said.

Never. I will never stop believing in France and in the possibility of a living our lives together here. The dream is too important.

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