We had an unexpected trip to France this year to accept an award in Cannes for our film, “The History of Two Way Radios“. The day before we received the notice, we were clearing rocks off the road at Cajon Mountain. Personally, I had never been out of the country and didn’t think I ever would, so the rush to prepare was intense. It was hard to believe it was real until my passport arrived in the mail. When it was time to leave, there were the usual confusing messages from the airline, flight delays, unclear baggage fees, and a very long flight with little sleep. Our first stop was in Frankfurt for a flight transfer. Then, we proceeded to Nice. It was raining on approach, causing an additional delay in landing. We collected our baggage, found our driver, and then we were off to Cannes (pronounced “Can”, we had to ask).
It was late when we arrived. We were staying in a condo located between the Marriott and Carlton hotels. The Carlton is where Grace met Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The Carlton’s domes supposedly designed to resemble the breasts of Caroline Otero the most famous courtesan of the French Riviera, but I don’t see it. There was a nice restaurant in the Marriott where we had a delightful dinner. Interestingly, in France, tips are not expected, so the server was very surprised and appreciative of it.
The next day, we actually overslept. A large portion of rooms in France are equipped with blackout blinds. We didn’t know that and had closed them all the way, so there was no light even at 10:00 am. We were there for about a week, so we were looking to make the most of every day. We ended up averaging about five miles a day walking. Cannes is on the French Riviera, right at the Mediterranean coast. The weather was warm, and the beach was a short walk away. The beach was nice, but we don’t have stories as “exotic” as some here might have expected. Around Cannes, there are many pieces of art.
The architecture is different. There are many streets designed around foot traffic, and numerous sidewalk cafes. We made an effort to try many different things while we were there. Before the trip, I had read a number of articles about French culture. My thought was, since I am a guest there and don’t speak the language, I was apprehensive about offending someone after reading many articles. These articles often stated that the French don’t like Americans and that Americans are often offensive due to ignorance about France. However, this wasn’t even remotely true; everyone was very nice to us everywhere we went. We never encountered the stereotypical rude French waiter. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and often excited to hear where we were from. Most spoke English, so we didn’t have many problems with that. I had some conversations with people who didn’t, but we still managed with them speaking French and me speaking English. It was odd how that worked since I don’t really understand French. On a few occasions, I had to use a translator app, and they were pleased that I had it. They even apologized to me for not learning English, which I didn’t expect at all. After all, it’s their country, and I didn’t expect them to adapt to me.
Some interesting things to note:
In the restaurants, they don’t bring you the check until you ask for it. You could sit there for hours if you want to, with nobody rushing you to move on.
Everything is kept very clean. There were people sweeping the streets constantly. Public restrooms had an attendant to keep things in order. It was also common for a woman to be tending the men’s restroom, it doesn’t seem to matter there. There is also very little graffiti.
In the time we were there, I think I saw only three homeless. They actually found it shocking how many homeless are here.
Some of the sidewalks are narrow. When I would step out of the way to let someone pass, there was always a cheerful “merci”. Walking in somewhere there was always “bonjour”. They actually seemed engaged rather than the robotic “Welcome to Walmart” here.
We had to be a little careful about irregular steps or ridges on walkways. Less effort has been made to rubber pad the world there. There was actually a playground with metal equipment. Some doors opened in where we have been accustomed to them opening out.
In many places there were these little tour trains, so one of our first excursions was on one in Cannes. They took us around the town and gave descriptions of the sites in multiple languages. It stopped at the top of the hill for a few minutes. When it stopped at the port I made a mistake thinking that they would do the same thing. When I walked a short distance over to the water to get a picture the train left while my back was turned and I ended up walking back to the station.
There were many historic locations. It was often a surprise to discover what was near by. There was the Notre Dame church (Cannes, not the better known one in Paris)
We initially glimpsed the hilltop Cathedral during a brief 10-minute pause on our tour train, before returning later for a more thorough exploration.
Just off the coast was the Île Sainte-Marguerite, most famously known as the location where The Man in the Iron Mask was kept at Fort Royal. One of the sad things to see is that some people have been carving graffiti into the walls of this historic location.
The next island was Saint Honorat. On this island, there is a monastery where the monks make wine for an income. Much of the island is forest, with vineyards scattered throughout, and of course, the old historic buildings. There was a castle in the process of restoration there. We also had lunch at a seaside cafe. It took me a bit to realize that the architecture of the seaside buildings was different than here. Many of them are built very close to the water. I had to look this up, but there are no significant tides in the Mediterranean, so they don’t need to allow for a large rise and fall of the water level.
Eze village was another one of our destinations. It dates back to the Middle Ages, but modern uses have been incorporated. Art shops, restaurants, and a hotel are interspersed throughout. The village is built on top of a hill, and the streets are pedestrian-only with many irregular stairs going up and down everywhere. Nothing is in a straight line, and it is easy to get turned around. When you work your way to the top, there is a botanical garden with many artworks and an impressive view of the area. We had to be careful on the stairs because they are irregular and steep.
Then we went over to Monaco for a bit. We saw the lobby of the casino, it was expensive to go inside.
Next, we went to Toulon to see the maritime museum. However, I don’t have pictures of the maritime museum. It is open six days a week, just not the day that we were there. So we ended up taking the tram up to Mount Faron instead. There were many more things up there than we expected and we didn’t get to see them all. We did get to see a WWII memorial there. It showcased films of the battles and maps of the events. There were a number of things that struck me while there. One is that when we read about all these events in history books, it seems like a far-off place. Standing there gives you a different feeling; it makes the war seem more real because it happened around people’s homes. Another is that when you see the old, crumbling castle walls, in many cases, age did not cause their decay – it was artillery. The destruction to history is mind-boggling. There has been a lot of questioning of our history in recent years. Claims have been made that America did not play a significant role in Europe, that the war was already won. Certainly, errors and biases can be written into history, so it is easy to question what we were taught as children. Walking through this museum, however, there was equipment carried by French soldiers plainly stamped “US”. In the films and written in the displays was the sentiment that Americans were viewed as the “liberators”. Someone I talked to there expressed that same sentiment, that “Americans were the liberators”. It makes me question the origin of the negative ideas that I see posted so often today. My feeling is that the seeds of division are part of someone’s agenda, and the real people of the world are not as far apart as we are led to believe.
We never stopped moving in the time we were there. Every day there was something else to see, and more pictures to take. Eventually, we went to the awards ceremony. We had a nice dinner and talked to people from all over Europe. The whole trip was quite an experience.