A Travellerspoint blog

Where the Stars Come Down

CANNES

sunny
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Cannes, a town in France’s Cote d’Azur, is synonymous with an annual event that captures eyeballs all over the world. As the Cannes travel website proclaims, the town’s moment of glory takes place in May, with the International Film Festival, when images of the stars descending the red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals are flashed across TV screens worldwide. May also signals the start of summer and simultaneously the holiday season, which continues till September. Apart from being a hub for vacationers, Cannes is also a popular destination for business tourism. Many conferences and meetings take place at this town.

Cannes was the second destination of our trip of Southern France. That morning, we had left Nice and took the train to Cannes. Cannes is just 30km away, but the roads of Cote d’Azur are notorious for their traffic jams in the holiday season. It takes almost two hours to cover that short distance by road. Train is much more convenient (and inexpensive with the Eurail pass in hand).

The first thing that you notice after you exit the station is the huge hoarding (which has a clock also) outside the railway station that proclaims that you are in the city of Cannes. Walking tours are common in small cities across Europe, but I was surprised to find out that there was even a ‘Cannes Train Tour’ which took you around town in a small train along with a guide. We decided to avoid any tours and headed straight for the beach.

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Cannes Train Tour

Cannes Train Tour

Cannes has lots of beaches, but most of them are private. These private beaches belong to luxury hotels which cost a bomb and are only accessible to the guests there. As a result, the few public beach strips are extremely crowded during the season. It was no different when we arrived. The beach was full to the brim with vacationers and sunbathers eager not to miss the sun in the last days of summer. The day before, we had been especially disappointed when we had seen the Nice beach with only pebbles and not a speck of sand anywhere. So we were relieved to find that the beach here was as sandy as any other. With difficulty, we could find a tiny spot of sand among the horde where we could camp for awhile. I quickly changed into my shorts, and while Dhruv was busy putting his photography skills to use on the various attractive subjects around us, me and Sachin jumped straight into the water.

Cannes Beach

Cannes Beach

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The sea was incredibly peaceful and perfect for swimming. Indian seas are generally rough and swimming into the sea there is a dangerous exercise. I had never swum in a sea before without having the assurance of my feet touching the ground below. But here, the waters here were so calm that I decided to brave it. There was a (sort of) wooden platform floating in the sea water about 100 meters from the coast. I decided to go for it and I began swimming towards it. There was even a small ladder affixed to the platform; I managed to reach the platform and get on it. I was not sure whether the platform was held by something below but I felt it was floating freely like a buoy in the water. There were a few people on the platform and I managed to strike conversation with an Indian who looked like he was of my age. It turned out that he was an exchange student from IIM-A. It had been 4 weeks since he had come to Europe and he had already toured most of the continent. He gave me interesting and colourful narratives about the beautiful Swiss Alps, the Bavarian beer gardens and castles on the other side of the iron curtain. In retrospect, that was the spark which rally ignited my passion for travel. That was when I decided that I would not miss this marvelous opportunity to travel around the wonderful continent. I relaxed on the platform a bit and then swam back with a renewed confidence in my swimming abilities and single-minded determination to see as many places as possible, even if alone, before leaving Europe!

Can you see me?

Can you see me?

After the beach, we headed to THE place to see in Cannes, the Palais des Festivals. It is an impressive complex of buildings with a huge hoarding at the front adding to the grandness of the venue. Celebrities from all over the world grace this venue every May and walk the red carpet that leads up the stairs to the main auditorium. The red carpet is left on the staircase throughout the year and it quite a hard task to resist posing for photographs there. I had mine taken with different poses! The other added attraction of the venue is the rows and rows of cement slabs which have handprints of celebrities on each one of them. There are too many famous celebrity handprints to count including those of Akira Kurosawa, Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis and even Pink Panther!

Palais des Festivals

Palais des Festivals

Celebrity Handprints

Celebrity Handprints

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The Palais des Festivals oversees the old port area of Cannes. The port was full of yachts; some I figured were private boats of the rich, and some probably belonged to yacht rental companies which were present all along the French Riviera. These yachts are so common along the Southern coast of France that even now, two years after visiting the place, the image of all the big and swanky yachts lined up is the first thing that flashes across my mind when I think of the French Riviera.

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After seeing the port, we considered staying here for the night. However, Cannes is an extremely expensive place to live. Though there were a few youth hostels, most of the accommodation was quite out of range of our budget. This was the main reason we decided to leave Cannes that evening and crash in Marseille instead. It was bye-bye to Cannes. I am no Aishwarya Rai, but atleast now I can proudly claim to have been photographed at the venue of the Cannes International Film Festival!

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Posted by charanam 19:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

Welcome to the Riviera!

NICE

sunny
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At noon on the 27th of September, I suddenly woke up from my deep reverie; I found myself staring at a strip of shining coastline and the vast stretch of the ocean beyond. So mesmerizing was the sight before me that I did not remember where I was for some time; I did not care. I quickly woke up Dhruv who was dozing beside me and the first thing he did was to reach out for his camera. I was staring at the ‘French Riviera’, and the fact took some time to sink in. Waking up to such sights come rarely and this is one that I would not forget for the rest of my life.

That morning, me and Dhruv had taken an early morning train from Paris to Nice, which was to reach Nice at around noon. I had dozed off for the whole journey before waking up for the part that really mattered. It was announced that the train was late by half an hour, but I did not mind one bit. Neither would you, if you got a chance to stare at such a wondrous sight for the whole day.

The French Riviera, or ‘Cote d’Azur’ as it is called in French, refers to the southeastern Mediterranean coastline of France. I had indeed heard a lot about this place. Famous (or should I say notorious?) for its nude beaches among other things, it is like one big resort; a summer getaway for the rich and affluent. Nice is the largest city on the Riviera, and also one of the most popular.

The fact that this was our first ‘trip’ in Europe made it more exciting. We had never stayed in a youth hostel before. We had pre-booked a hostel near the railway station (from good ol’ Hostelworld.com) and we had no problems finding it. The hostel was a small but convenient place with all the basic facilities that you would expect from a place you are going to crash. I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere I encountered in the hostel. Clean rooms, neat dorm beds, friendly staff and a lounge to chill out; pretty high level of maintenance for a ‘budget’ accommodation - that’s Europe for you. We also met some fellow backpackers (female as well, because it was a mixed dorm ;)) who shared our passion for travel and interacted with them. This was the first of the many interesting ‘dorm’ experiences that I would have in the coming months.

The view from the hostel window - Very 'unlike Nice'

The view from the hostel window - Very 'unlike Nice'

We did not spend much time in the hostel. After freshening up, we headed to the beach straightaway. The stroll from the hostel to the beach took us ten minutes. In those ten minutes, we navigated through paved, pedestrian friendly roads with all types of cafes, restaurants and showrooms displaying the choicest of high-end brands. So typically French! At every turn of the corner, I found a Gucci, a Chanel or a Louis Vuitton store. There were many more luxury brands which I am not even aware existed, displaying their extremely over-priced wares in the display glass and tempting the more vulnerable shopaholics. Not being an avid shopper myself , I was content at window shopping my way through the Armani suits and Christian Dior perfumes.

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The narrow roads suddenly made way to the main road alongside the beach. The vast sea was there before us alright, but where was the sand? There were only pebbles, pebbles and more pebbles. The beach was filled with nothing but hard, flat stones. We had infact come to a pebbly beach, a concept I was unfamiliar with until that moment. Nice did not have a sandy beach, and the realization was a real downer. I took off my shoes and tried going into the water with Dhruv. Walking knee deep in the water was itself difficult with the smooth but hard pebbles. We gave up our attempts of getting into the water.

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Nevertheless, we enjoyed the walk along the beach and the wonderful waterfront. The Promenade des Anglais (or ‘la Prom’ as it is called locally) is the wide footpath alongside the beach. It adorns the beach like a necklace on the neck of a beautiful woman; and during the night, it sparkles. You can just sit there enjoying the cool sea breeze while watching all kinds of people – old people taking their dogs out for a stroll, roller-skating kids performing admirably difficult stunts and young couples soaking in the romance of the town.

Promenade des Anglais

Promenade des Anglais

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One more attraction of Nice was Vieux Nice, the old town. It is a veritable maze of narrow roads, shops, restaurants and markets. By the time we reached there, it was already dark and the whole area was lit up and lively. After an hour of wandering around in the old town, we set out to another popular attraction, the Colline du Château. It is a castle, or rather the remnants of a castle, atop a hill. It is a steep climb up the stairs to the summit but the view is supposed to be worth it. But alas, when we went there, we found out that it was closed for the evening. We decided to wake up early the next morning and make the climb, but it never happened.

Vieux Nice

Vieux Nice

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It must have been the allure of so many culinary varieties, but I really gorged on whatever I could get my hands on that day – burgers, sandwiches, nuggets, Chinese food and what not. By the end of the day, I realized that I had spent 30 euros on food alone. That means I had spent a total of almost 70 euros that day. This was definitely not ‘budget travelling’! The next day, when Sachin and Aditi joined us, and Dhruv told them about my spendthrift ways, they reacted as if I had committed a cardinal sin. However, in the days to come, I would learn valuable lessons from my more experienced ‘Baniya’ companions on how to spend less and ‘save’ more.

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The next morning, we headed to the beach again, where we met Sachin and Aditi who had arrived on the overnight train. After whiling away our time a little, we headed back to the station and boarded the next train to Cannes to explore the fascinating province of Cote d’Azur further. Overall, Nice had left a sweet taste in my mouth. In other words, Nice was a very ‘nice’ place which left us with very ‘nice’ experiences! (forgive me if that was too unimaginative :P)

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Posted by charanam 15:38 Archived in France Comments (0)

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