In the summer of 2008 my friend Laura and I planned a trip for 1 week in the South of France (otherwise known as the Cote-de-Azur or French Riviera). We would fly from London to Marseille and rent a car. We had it all planned out where we would start in Cannes using it as our base for 2 days, move Northeast to Eze for 2 more days and finally spend our last night in Marseille before heading back to London.
The trip to London is a story all in of itself so I’ll just have to save that for another post. So I’m skipping ahead here to our arrival in France. Keep in mind this was the first time we had traveled together without a cruise ship/tour guide to help us out. We arrive at the airport and got our luggage and head straight to the Avis counter to retrieve our car.
We have no clue where we are going and no directions or GPS, we don’t speak French but we have a car and a silly little map provided by AVIS and the address of our hotel. Did I forget to mention that Laura can’t actually read a map and I had to drive because she also doesn’t drive stick shift? Amazingly, we didn’t get lost. We had some toll mishaps along the way (as in we didn’t have enough Euro or change, couldn’t decide which was the correct lane for non-coin transactions, and the machines didn’t take American Credit Cards), but we arrived in Cannes no worse for the wear and found our hotel so easily it was like kismet. Of course it didn’t hurt that Marilyn Monroe was painted on the side of the building so big you had to be blind to miss it. We were just glad WE didn’t miss it.
We checked in and went to park our car and found the first of many parking obstacles we would face over the coming week. In France they have small cars but they have even smaller parking lots; they are narrow and deep under the ground. You might get in easily but then getting out is a whole new ball game. We drove under the building in a two way driveway that barely fit one tiny Renault. We parked in a tiny space that had cement columns on either side and put off thinking about getting out of the garage until it was necessary.
Enter the elevator, so far so good, get out on our floor into total darkness??? Ok, the lights flick on as we step off the elevator so motion sensors are working and we arrive at our room. The room is dark and no electricity seems to be working. We flick a few switches, open the blinds, attempt to turn on the A/C and the TV and still nothing. Finally, after much frustration and having to use the bathroom in complete darkness (hard when you don’t know where anything is since you’ve never yet seen it in the light) we call the front desk. Eventually we learn that you have to put your magnetic room key into a slot by the door to activate electric in the room; a very smart way of being sure that when you pull your key to leave the room you turn off all the lights etc. They now do this on some of the new cruise ships but then it was the first time I had seen this… tricky!
A bit of time in the room to change and off we go to dinner – in a cab. Our hotel is in town but about 1.5 miles from the water area where all the nightlife and restaurants are and in heels we are not walking there. We arrive downtown, walk around a bit and find a restaurant. Negotiating dinner was difficult but eventually we each got a salad we were relatively happy with and a drink we were even happier with and all was good. After dinner we checked out a few bars and had another drink or two. Then we passed the hookah bar where there was a group of cute (though too young) French men having drinks and smoking the pipe. They called out to us and because we are bored we go to their table and join them for drinks. They are buying but we are leery of taking drinks unless it is bottled so we know what is in the drink.
Of course we don’t speak French (noted before) and they speak NO English so conversation was a bit sparse. We talked to each other and they talked amongst the five of them. Eventually we figure out that one of them speaks some Spanish and Laura speaks some Spanish and we go that route for conversation. Still awkward, but we felt like at the very least we were trying.
Suddenly, the boys decide we need to go dancing at this club. One of them runs off to get the car and when he returns we all hop on in. Of course we don’t know these guys and really should never have done it but there you have it, we did. Laura is in the back seat in the middle and I’m right next to her by the door. She whispers to me to check the door and make sure that we aren’t locked in (child locks). We are not so we feel safe enough and off we go. We get to the club and we are the ONLY people there that don’t work there. Continue the awkwardness. They buy us another round of drinks that were god awful and super strong and we attempt to continue conversation now competing with the noise and flashing lights of the dance club.
Somehow in the conversation we get out that our plans for the next day are to drive to St. Tropez for some beach time. Being the nice French “men” that they are they offer to pick us up at the hotel and drive us there. They suggest a start time of 3:00 pm and it’s a two hour drive. We say we wanted to go early to get some sun and we’d get there on our own. They suggest a 1:00 pm start time and we again decline. I don’t know how much sun they thought we could get at 3:00 in the afternoon but it wasn’t going to happen. Eventually we bore of the whole thing and ask them to drive us back to our hotel. We gave them our cell phone number in case they decide to get up by 9:00 am and go to the beach. They didn’t and that was probably a good thing.
Again we ride the tiny elevator up to our floor, step out in a darkened hallway that suddenly lights up, swipe the key and enter our room. Now we add stick the magnetic key into the slot by the door to illuminate the room to the sequence and then we just sit on the bed wondering how we could be so crazy and trusting with people we don’t know as to take off with them to places unknown (at least by us). But it was a fun night (in some ways) and we have learned to interact with the locals… sort of.