Getting tense

I’ve spent the past two mornings immersed in the past tense in French, but wait, not just one past tense, two. And there are more…

The tricky thing as an mono-linguist is that I don’t actually know grammar in my native language, let alone in French so here we go, the Imparfait and the Passé Composé. 

I have no idea what they’re called in English but the Passé Composé is for something which happens once and then is finished while the Imparfait is for a continuing action, a situation, a description and a habitual action. To make it even more complicated, everything sounds quite similar but are spelt completely differently.

Actually, if the truth be told, I’m a language nerd. I’m quite enjoying understanding the difference between the two past tenses and am occasionally using them correctly. C’est trés difficile!

Today we played a game which was surprisingly fun. A description of a Magritte painting was read out in French and by just using the description, we were to draw our interpretation of the painting getting all the elements in the correct places.

Being a surreal painting, it was quite complicated to understand that “La form de la montagne set comme un aigle” means roughly “the mountain looks like an eagle,” let alone draw it.

I came third despite being deemed most artistic as alas, I hadn’t drawn the nose on the tree in profile

Given my profession, not the best result!

Immersed in French…

I decided it would be a good idea to do a French course and so enrolled for a week of immersion in a school in Antibes. What was I thinking?

The morning started slowly, I understood most of the orientation (I’m ok as long as I don’t have to say anything) and then we were taken on a bus tour of Antibes as an introduction to the school. So far so good.
View around the bay, Antibes

Lunch break and I was hijacked by the mature age German students and invited to lunch as apparently my German ancestry gave me away. The conversation was in French so my participation was limited but I smiled and nodded a lot so am convinced they just thought I was exceptionally quiet.

We sat outside at a small restaurant and suddenly the biggest storm imaginable struck overhead. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and torrential rain poured down and yet we soldiered on under the outdoor umbrella, our plates starting to fill with rain. 
Pouring down

One of my fellow diners finally opened her umbrella and ate under that while I sat with my feet out of the flooded terrace as much as possible. I would have said, “only the English” as all sensible French people were eating inside but as I was with Germans, I can only suspect they’re even madder than us.

Soldiering on through the rain

After an hour of torrential rain, the storm moved over and we were able to walk back up the hill to the school where we had to take a test to determine our level. 

My worst nightmare and I’ll find out what level class I’m in tomorrow. I’m hopeful I made it into Elementary rather than Beginner. 
Soldiering on.

Sunday in Cannes

Sunday and we decided to head to the market in Cannes. I hadn’t been back to Cannes since my first weekend with Letad when we spent the day recovering from an evening of excess so, in fact I hadn’t seen much of Cannes at all!


We set off encountering a bouchon (traffic jam) and so a minor detour took us through Rocheville until we finally arrived in Cannes. 

Parking the car I carefully photographed the space number to avoid a repeat debacle of losing the car. After our recent parking disaster in Monaco which resulted in walking up and down every level in a multi storey car park in baking heat for at least half an hour, I will always take a photograph of the space number. 

Mission accomplished and we set off around the market buying luscious fresh figs, avocados, artichokes and two kinds of salt. 

Varieties of mushrooms at the market, Cannes

Le marché
Very photogenic tomatoes

From the market we wandered around a small antique market where an antique glass soda water syphon caught my eye but at 70 euros was too expensive to be taken seriously. Pity though, it was gorgeous turquoise glass, one of my passions.

At Letad’s suggestion, we decided to catch a ferry to the nearby island of Saint Honorat. Les Illes de Lérins are made up of four islands, two of which are uninhabited. St Honorat is home to a fifteenth century monastery and is a tranquil place of solitude and retreat.

St Marguerite, the other inhabited island, was the home of the man in the iron mask and his cell can be visited there apparently.

The (t)rusty vessel
Past the lighthouse

We boarded the ferry and were treated to views of classic yachts in Cannes for the classic yacht regatta as well as a water view of the Cote d’Azur.

Yacht under full sail

Classic yachts in Cannes

Half an hour later we arrived on the island and spent a pleasant couple of hours exploring the monastery before sitting on rocks to enjoy the incredibly juicy fresh figs.

The best swimming spot on the island, full of old people

Sitting on rocks eating figs
The Monastery
Entering the quiet zone

The last remaining public phone box…
Catching the ferry back to Cannes, we found the car immediately (hurray) and set off to Antibes to find my French school for this week’s adventure, Immersion French.

With that mystery solved, suddenly exhausted from the sea air and the excitement of Ikea the day before, we returned to Valbonne. 

Hard to believe it’s only a week since we were in London.

Truckin’

Saturday dawned bright and reasonably early and after a breakfast of croissants from the downstairs boulangerie and a hilarious Skype with the parents to introduce Letad, we set off in a rented van to the nearest Ikea in Toulon. 

The van…

Thanks to my architect sister, we had a plan and had almost checked everything was in stock.

I had driven enough in France to be able to drive a 6 speed fairly large van and so we were feeling confident all would go well. Off we went.

Truckin’


An hour and a half later with no mishaps we spotted the distinctive blue and yellow warehouse and so parked the van and headed inside. Following the arrows we resisted temptation and soon reached the kitchen department where a very helpful chap sorted us out and between our French and his English, we seemed to have a complete kitchen. 

Decisions were made in a split second… this oven, that induction cooktop, dishwasher, units, tap, hang on a minute… not the shiny tap, the brushed metal tap and so we were done. Less than half an hour and we were moving on to the textile department.

Ikea on a Saturday…

Before we reached the self service section, we followed the example of the French and stopped for a three course lunch. Smoked salmon followed by the obligatory dubious meat balls and a rather good selection of cheese. The navigator indulged in a glass of red wine (only in France) whilst the trusty driver (moi) stayed on the mineral water. 

Very good smoked salmon 
Vin Rouge as enjoyed by the navigator…
Les boulettes de viande. Dodgy looking meatballs.

Through the self serve section where we checked everything carefully off the list, then we collected the rest of the kitchen, loaded up the van and headed back at break neck speed to Antibes. 

We’d decided we needed to buy a new mattress due to continuous bad sleep due to lumps and bumps and so with time being of the essence, with only an hour remaining we made it to Antibes, bought a mattress in five minutes, loaded it into the van and drove back to Valbonne to drop everything off.

Collecting the oven and dishwasher…

It was 5pm. The van was due back at 6pm, Valbonne is a medieval village with no way in and incredible narrow pedestrian streets. We threw caution to the wind and inched our way through into the centre of the village and were getting close to the little house above the boulangerie when we realized we’d reached the end of the rue. We were blocked. No way to go than to reverse and so reverse it was, past a wrought iron fence and a stairway dropping off to one side, millimeters to spare on either side. We reached the corner and breathed a sigh of relief before turning and heading back out again. 

We eventually parked outside the village and carried multiple loads from the van to the house (including a brand new king sized mattress) through the cobbled streets to the bemusement of the French onlookers. I might add that I was carrying the back end of the mattress which was definitely the heavy end!

Getting a very large mattress up the winding staircase of a four hundred year old village house was another challenge altogether but with the help of a friend and a lot of pushing, shoving and a little dislodged plaster, the mattress was finally installed and the nastiest old stained mattress ever seen was removed and dumped by the bins. A good night’s sleep was in order upon a brand new mattress. Absolute bliss!

Absolutely exhausted I suspect not many French women drive vans let alone carry flat pack kitchens and mattresses through medieval villages. 


Nice Nice Baby

After my accidental visit to Nice on Thursday, I decided this time to spend the day intentionally. 

On the pebbly beach, Nice


Letad dropped me off literally in the middle of a roundabout in rush hour on his way to Monaco and as I avoided a near-death experience, I made my way to the nearby market at the Cours Saleya for a coffee and a plan.

Heading towards the Cours Saleya


I decided to spend the morning wandering around the old part of Nice. Small streets wound round and round filled with bistros, cafes, shops selling local Provence products including soap, salt and lavender so that’s Christmas presents sorted. It was bliss. 

Soap


Salt

Along the way I discovered the Palais Lascaris (www.palais-lascaris-nice.org) where antique musical instruments were displayed in beautiful historic rooms. For the first time I saw a piano harp, a strange hybrid of the two instruments. Intriguing.

Inside the museum


I strolled around for a few hours before deciding to buy a baguette and head up to Le Chateau for lunch.

The vieille ville, Nice



Climbing up the steps the view of Nice was spectacular and as I sat on a bench enjoying my lunch and a Perrier I enjoyed the panoramic view over the tiled roofs, the beautiful mediterrean and the mountains beyond. The setting was superb and I suddenly realized the appeal to the South of France, something which had been alluding me somewhat.

Heading up the steps to Le Chateau
The view overlooking Nice
Les Crottinettes… couldn’t resist! 

As it turns out there isn’t a chateau at all but the view was definitely worth it and coming down the steps towards the bay, I was treated to the perfect blue water. Reaching the bottom, I wandered along a nearby street and discovered my old friend, Agnes b. My pilgrimage continued so I popped in for a quick bonjour and look around, glad to discover there was nothing I needed to buy so that was good news.

Coming down from Le Chateau
Agnes b pilgrimage…

Continuing on it was time to head to new Nice so I crossed the Place Massena and walked down along the Rue Massena discovering the Rue Paradis along the way (of course) where shops like Max Mara were lurking. 

The Place Massena
The Place,  continued 

I resisted the temptation and did the express tour of the Musée Massena before ending up at Le Negresco, a Nice landmark on La Promenade des Anglais.


Musée Massena 
Le Negresco 
The main entrance

I ended the afternoon with a quick sit on the beach while I waited for my driver to collect me. I had loved my day in Nice and suspect there are even more hidden delights as I am still to discover the Chagall and Matisse museums.

Nice one Nice.

The Accidental Tourist

Thursday. After a slow morning and a very nice lunch, I set off to drive to Antibes. I had a plan (of course) which was to go to Decathlon, the local sports superstore to buy a cheap pair of trainers having forgotten anything remotely practical during “Hungover Packing” on Sunday. I managed to pack for the tropics and so am surviving by hand washing my two outfits.

Unfortunately the best laid plans and all that as I missed the exit and headed off down the péage to Nice. The péage is the toll road to Nice and unfortunately there’s no exit of remorse if you make a mistake.

Luckily I had €1.50 in change and so tossed it into the basket, the barrier opened and I was off, in completely the wrong direction, to Nice.

As it turned out it wasn’t the worst thing which could have happened. I decided that if I was heading to Nice, then head to Nice I would. I took the exit for La Promenade des Anglais and drove along the spectacular bay, incredible azure water with sparsely populated beaches for a Thursday afternoon.

I decided (on a whim) to turn left and suddenly I was in the middle of Nice. A giant square, pedestrian walkways, one way system, buses, trams and more. I did a lot of talking out loud which I highly recommend during times of stress. I stayed calm and wound my way through Nice realizing that there’s a lot more to Nice than I’d thought and I think a day of exploration is in order.

I found my way back to the beach (hurray) and headed off, this time to Antibes. 

Parking in Antibes I headed into the old town and spent a happy couple of hours poking around the town. 

From Antibes I headed off to Decathlon and this time finally made it. I parked the car, carefully noted the floor I was on and spent a frustrating hour trying to find an appropriate pair of trainers. Finally, a pair of leggings, two pairs of sport socks and a pair of dubious trainers later I was standing in the enormous queue. 

Time was running out, Letad was waiting at home and I had the car and so finally when I reached the checkout, I was primed and ready, card in hand. To my horror, the girl at the checkout pointed out that I had two different sized shoes and I should go back to find the right size (all in French).

I groaned and trotted back to the shoe section only to discover that the other shoe didn’t exist. I looked for another pair of shoes but found nothing and so, with the pressure on, I returned to the checkout, explained in French that I couldn’t find another shoe and that for whatever reason, I was ok with buying one shoe half a size smaller. 

The girl laughed (at me) and so I am now the proud owner of a pair of Adidas trainers, one size 39 and one size 38 1/2 and so my right toes will be scrunched a little while I walk and otherwise it’s all good.

And so tomorrow I’m off to Nice, intentionally this time.






Off to Monaco

The allure of Monaco beckoned, the playground of Europe’s monied and elite and so the opportunity to go to the Monaco Yacht Show was impossible to resist.

Letad was attending in order to promote the latest edition of his magazine, OnBoard (www.onboardmagazine.fr) which he’d worked on night and day to get printed. With phones ringing at all hours while in LA, the deadline had been met and the magazine had been delivered just in time. A huge sigh of relief I’m sure as the hard work paid off.

The OnBoard team

Arriving in Monaco, the density of the buildings was immediately apparent. Monaco is the second smallest and most densely populated country in the world. It’s also home to the doomed Grimaldi dynasty and poor Princess Charlene, locked in an ivory tower until she provides Prince Albert with a legitimate heir but that may be hearsay based on me occasionally reading the Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk).

After checking in to the Yacht Show, I set off to climb to the Princes’ Palais. Up and up the steps I climbed and was treated to a spectacular view of Monaco on the way. 

Monaco in all its glory
Reaching the top, there was an element of the surreal about the palace and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the child catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” emerge from the palace gates. However the views were incredible and I enjoyed exploring the area around the palace.

Entry to the Palace
Peering over the other side of the wall another spectacular view, I wasn’t sure if I was looking at Monaco or France given the diminutive size of the country.

The other side

From the palace I wandered down a nearby street until I reached the cathedral. Inside I discovered the graves of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier along with a large number of the Grimaldi dynasty over the centuries. 

Heading to the cathedral
The exterior of the cathedral

After a pleasant lunch (despite several mosquito bites) I resisted the temptation to take the little tourist train (and just as well as I noticed no one under seventy on board) and I headed down the hill, around the port and back up to Monte Carlo. 

Resisting the temptation, the casino

Home to probably the most famous casino in the world, Monte Carlo is also home to the Hotel de Paris and Cafe de Paris, a fantastic spot to people-watch. The buildings are incredibly ornate and capture the elegance of a bygone era.


The back door of the casino
I decided not to go the casino, given my previous history of playing craps in Las Vegas in my youth and instead, enjoyed a slightly more sedate sorbet which resulted in a sticky mess, before heading back down to the yacht show.

A tiny part of the Monaco Yacht Show

After looking at some of the biggest and most outrageous yachts in the world (and there was some serious money on display), we decided to call it a day and head back to the car park only to realize that we had no idea where we’d parked.

We hadn’t been paying attention when we’d arrived earlier in the day and so half an hour and several floors later, the car was finally discovered (not stolen after all) and so we set off back to Valbonne, hot and tired but luckily still with a sense of humour intact.

A lovely day in Monaco.