Today's stage of the TdF (TIOOYK)
Today was Bastille Day, the equivalent of July 4th for the French, so we expected to see lots of festivities wherever we went.
We got up late, having gone to bed well after midnight last night. There's really no better way to beat jet-lag than staying up until midnight! I certainly slept well all through the night.
We were up so late that we missed the hotel's breakfast. So we walked around the corner to a cafe nearby, and sat outside enjoying our petit dejeuner. A French breakfast is quite light, consisting of a croissant and coffee. This is quite a contrast to the heavy breakfasts we ate in Italy.
Apres breakfast, we explored Villefranche-sur-mer. We visited the nearby fortress, and explored all the streets and back alleys. Villefranche-sur-mer is etched into a hillside on the Mediterranean, and is as a result quite hilly. But it is also quite beautiful, with outstanding views of the harbor and the sea from every point. There are stairs linking streets together, and narrow cobblestoned streets which go in every direction.
The city is about the size of Monterosso in the Cinque Terra, but is a bit more upscale. There are lots of Europeans sojourning here, enjoying the beaches, the sun and the cafes.
Typical attire is shorts, tank top or short-sleeved shirt, and sandals or loafers. The weather here demands it; it is somewhat hot and quite humid. It always seems like it's threatening to rain, reminding me a lot of Florida.
After exploring the town, we walked down to the train station, hopped on the train towards Nice and Cannes. The train trip was very nice, as the tracks skirt the shore. As a result, there were incredible views and vistas of the shoreline (and for Phil, those bathing on the shoreline) and the sea the whole way.
We decided to go to Cannes first, since this was the westernmost city of the ones we wanted to visit. We got off at Cannes and walked down to the beach and enjoyed nice sandwiches while soaking up the beach scene and the sun.
The beaches here are mostly river rocks or pebbles. Very few seem to have sand, although at Cannes, they import the sand to the beaches. But this doesn't stop anyone from enjoying the sun and the sea. One can either rent beach chairs and umbrellas, or they can lay their towels out on the rocks.
Cannes is a fairly modern and chichi city. One of the spots where the film festival takes place is on the beach, and a tourist information center is right next door. Lots of yachts are moored at Cannes, exemplifying the cache of the place.
After walking around for a bit, soaking up the atmosphere, we strolled up and down the streets, checking out the shops and stopping for a cafe and a coke. I went back to one of the stores and got myself a watch so I wouldn't have to use my cell phone or Phil as my time source for the rest of the trip.
In the late afternoon we decided we'd seen Cannes and that it was time to explore Nice. We were planning to stay in Nice until around 11 to watch the fireworks display. According to last night's taxi driver, they were going to have a really spectacular display tonight because they were going to use fireworks left over from their EU celebration which got rained out.
We hopped on another train and got off shortly thereafter in Nice. We stopped at the TI next to the train station for a map (this seems to be an obsession of mine, even though I already have decent enuf maps in my guide books... maybe it's because the maps are free). The helpful people there also told us where a nearby bike store was (another obsession), and also pulled up the Tour news for us, since we had been unable to watch yesterday or today.
The bike store was nearby but closed. We then took a walk on one of the main roads down to the beach, and strolled around the pedestrian area along the way, doing a little window shopping.
Nice is a larger city than Cannes and is very lively (as are most of the places that we've been to on the Mediterranean). It's a little grungier, with people sleeping on the sidewalks here and there (reminds me of home), but is still a very nice city.
After doing our window shopping, we headed down to the beach to check things out. Again, this beach was pebbly. We spotted a guy stealing the beach pebbles. He had a huge bag and was scooping handfuls of the beach rock into them, leaving for a bit, and then returning with an empty bag to repeat the process. I don't know what he was up to.. maybe making his own private beach somewhere!
By this time, Phil and I were pretty tired. Cycling just doesn't build up the walking muscles. We decided to go back to VF-S-M instead of staying in Nice for the 'works display. We walked back to the train station on the most direct route, and hopped the next train back to Villefranche-sur-mer.
On our way back to the hotel, we decided to stop for dinner at a restaurant called Carpaccio, which was situated next to the shore. We had a nice meal, capped by a delicious dessert. We left the restaurant and continued down the shore towards our hotel.
It was getting dark, so we stopped along the way to watch the fireworks. There was a nice low wall adjacent to the shore that was a good place to perch during the show. We sat down and soon after the fireworks began! The 'works were all launched from a barge in the harbor. The display was very nice and exciting to see so close up. It reminded me a lot of when I was a kid and watched fireworks at Lake Tahoe on the 4th of July.
Bastille Day seems to be celebrated here much like 4th of July is in the US. There aren't many special events that happen during the day (except in Paris), and the day is capped by the fireworks display. Families go out together and enjoy the holiday with some type of summer fun.
After the fireworks display ended, we decided to call it a day and retire for the evening.
At various points during the day, I had been asking various random people for news about le Tour. Most people initially thought I was talking about some sightseeing tour or something. Most definitely not cycling fans! But the night clerk at our hotel was quite the fan of the tour, and when we returned to the hotel, he told us (in French) about the results of the day's stage. Laurent Jalabert (Jaja), a Frenchman, had won the stage on Bastille Day!! The clerk could hardly contain himself because it had been such an exciting stage.
In fact, we didn't go to sleep until after midnight (again), because we had to watch a recap of the day's stage that was being broadcast on television. Tomorrow night, we definitely have to do better!