What can one say about the Cote d’Azur? Far greater poets than I have waxed effusive on the subject, but I shall endeavor to do it justice..
OHMYGODTHAT’SFRANCEOVERTHERE!!!!!! Quick, quick take my picture!!! Seriously! France! Home of all my favorite grapes!!! Birthplace of Beaujolais! Motherland of Marcel Marceau! Fr-friggin’-ance!
Riding the gentle swells in Monte Carlo’s tidy little harbor, we await the tenders’ launch that will take us ashore. Monte Carlo, Monaco is a whole country packed into a few miles. It’s lovely and compact and pretty much plated in gold, from what I can tell. Today, the flag over the castle tells us that His Serene Highness The Sovereign Prince of Monaco, Prince Albert (!!) is in residence and all is right with the world.
Now, I’d like to tell you that we roamed the gilded streets of Monaco, rubbed elbow with the fabulously moneyed and sipped champagne in the Grand Casino, but we did not. We gave Monte Carlo a slap and a tickle and headed straight for Nice.
Sidebar: There is a special kind of fear one gets whilst entombed on a tour bus that is ostensibly wider that the streets upon which it is traveling. Especially when it has, as this one did, a camera attached to the front of the bus, documenting on the screen in front of me the negligible distances between said bus and the numerous cyclists also enjoying this road cut into the cliffs. Add to that the feeling of having a doorway or a cobbled wall just a few inches from your window and one wonders if the mere act of exiting one’s abode isn’t the major cause of death in Old Europe.
Our destination in Nice is the outdoor market and it’s just exactly what you want it to be... a long promenade of flower vendors, patisseries, herb vendors, fishmongers and croissanteries. We wandered the length and bonjoured our way through. I bought a beautiful bouquet of French Lavender and a posset of Herbs de Provence.
Making our way back to the meeting place under an ancient arch, a local street musician fires up the accordion, making it The Perfect Day On The Riviera in Sights and Music.
Sidebar: The beaches in Nice are rocky...no sand at all except for the sand imported for the volley ball court. I guess leaping and face-planting on jagged shards of granite is not conducive to good volley-balling. One can only ponder what it does to the ubiquitous bared bazooms.
Next, we head out to what turns out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip. St. Paul de Vence is an ancient walled city on a hilltop overlooking Nice. Built in the 9th century, it is not accessible to motor vehicles.. the ‘streets’ between the buildings are only sidewalk width and cobbled with rocks laid out in flower patterns.
Here, I indulge my fetish for doorways and windows. I love a beautiful entry...down a close alley, with wisteria and bougainvillea-draped stairwells, hydrangead window boxes, medieval stonework. I probably took 100 pictures of this place alone.
After about an hour in a dank, medievally wine cave, where I may or may not have, again, done indecent, slobbering things to the dusty bottles, it was lunchtime and our guide, Jacques.. funny, French, Pepe Le Pew-esque Jacques... suggested Las Terrasses, a bistro in one of the ancient buildings.
OK, so, when in Nice... I ordered the Salade Niçoise, which is, not surprisingly, not the same as we think of it. This Niçoise was lettuces, hard-boiled egg, tuna, anchovies, red peppers, green beans and tomatoes...not an olive or a potato in sight. Gently tossed with the lightest olive oil, fresh lemon, salt and pepper dressing you’ve ever been privileged enough to taste, it was a gustatorial masterpiece. The dressing was so perfectly done that it coated all the ingredients, but did not leave a residue on the plate. Magnifique! Now I must eat Niçoise weekly.
Actual Goddess Comestibles
With this, a crusty French baguette and a glass of the light, fruity, dry house rosé, our day in St. Paul de Vence was complete. Well, almost.. a quick espresso demitasse with lemon peel in a small Moroccan–themed bar did the rounding.
Sidebar: I think it should be a crime...a crime, say I, to eat water-packed Albacore white tuna. The canned tuna in the Mediterranean is packed in olive oil and is made from smaller species’ of tuna...dark, moist and exploding with flavor...not the dry, lead-laden, flavorless stuff we all have been conditioned to eat here in the Colonies.
Here’s a thought.. since fish oil is so good for us, cast off the white sawdust packed in water and enjoy tuna in all its delicious, oily goodness. Get your fish oil the natural way, not from some large, gullet-choking pill. (The same goes for white poultry meat... go for the dark meat if you value flavor over virtue and thin thighs, which I evidently do).
And Yet Another Sidebar: I love that rosés are making a comeback. Pink wine has gotten a (well-deserved, mostly) bad rap as being wine Kool-Aid. (My very first experience opening a bottle of wine for a table involved a bottle of Mateus Rosé, a cork turned to sawdust and tears). But the beauty of a crisp, light rosé, especially paired with the flavorful, rich, fragrant food of the Mediterranean is a mélange not to be missed. Jump back in.. the wine is fine...
Alas, our day on the Riviera is drawing to a close. Back on the ship, I settle into one of those teak deck chairs that have been so famously rearranged on a more well-known Cunard ship and await our sail off. And Wait. And Wait.
I have learned that when the ship’s Purser pages a guest for an urgent message in the Purser’s Office, what he really means is “Miss Smith!!! Where are you?? You are not on the ship!! Are you on the ship? Why are you not on the ship?? Do you know you are not on the ship?? Somebody tell Miss Smith she isn’t on the ship!! Do you not know we will leave you?? We can’t leave you!! WHERE ARE YOU!”
After about an hour of Miss Smith being paged to the Purser’s Office for her “urgent message” and us not sailing according to schedule, we see a small orange police boat scream up to the side of the ship, whose gangways and docks have been raised in preparation for sailing. The gendarmes frantically wave down the bridge. What can be going on? Then the little boat turns and we see the mislaid Miss Smith.
As is happens, Miss Smith is one of the 150 tree-hugging earth-nymphs with whom I am traveling, so we get the whole story of her adventures, with something about bus depots, sign language, pictionary, gyrations and climbing up the side of the ship on a rope ladder festooned in life jackets.
Of course it was an American gumming up the works. We can’t buy a break. And those damn Brits just keep rolling their eyes.... whatever.. we have Posh and Becks now....
We weigh anchor and sail off along the coast of Italy as the sun sets over the verdant hills, making way to our next port of call and one of the best days not only of this trip, but of my whole life. Civitavecchia, Italy, the port of Rome, and a most excellent day in the Umbrian countryside. Au revoir, cheri’s!
DMWTE, Pt. 4- Under the Umbrian Sun