Tag Archives: France

Le port de Cannes en fête

imageOn our second evening in Cannes, families and music lovers were warmly welcomed onto the boardwalk for the second annual Le Port de Cannes en Fêtes, a free festival celebrating summer fun. Why, yes, we’d absolutely love to celebrate in Cannes! We scrubbed up from our beach day and headed to the Esplanade Pantiéro just past the beach where there was a carousel, a picnic area, food trucks, a massive stage and carnival games set up in the seaside square.
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Scheduled onstage that evening were performances by French music bands Miss America and the Sisters G, and headliners Kool and the Gang. Those of you old enough will remember Kool and the Gang’s huge dance hits from the 80’s like Celebration, Get Down On It, Ladies Night, and ballads like Cherish and Too Hot.

Scott and I were thrilled to see them appearing at this free outdoor concert. That song, Celebration, made it on our wedding CD and kicked off the very-important dancing portion at our reception 14 years ago. Who knew they were still touring?

(Click here if you still can’t quite hear the disco rifts and need a little Kool and the Gang while you stroll with us on this festival evening!)

“Celebrate good times, come on!”

But before the sun set and the concerts began, we had time to wander the area and see all the wonderful family entertainment that was set out on the esplanade. Scott and I quickly realized that the French manage to attain an air of sophistication even with something as simple as carnival games.
imageThis first game we saw was very simple but oh, so tricky! With 2 pulleys, you had to balance and manoever the wooden ball up to the top of the board around all the holes without letting it drop. There were so many games to try, and it was very civilized as kids and adults waited their turn to try them all. Line ups weren’t necessary, everyone just watched for who was next. See what I mean about the civilized stuff?

Mini Ropes Course, Ball Balancer, Tilted Maze & Mini Shuffleboard
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Mirror Puzzle
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This one really tested my own left-handed/right-brain synapses, but Ella found it quite easy to assemble the half-a-picture puzzle pieces into one full picture using the mirror.

Nope, none of those silly pay-up-and-give-it-your-best-shot-but-you’ll-never-win kinda games here, and no ratty stuffies as prizes like we’ve always found in our hometown. In Cannes, they set up handcrafted wooden games that actually challenge your body and brain, and they’re great for all ages! No prizes necessary, it was just plain fun. My kids and hubby and I had a blast trying out all the free games, and testing our varying levels of hand-eye coordination. We enjoyed watching how other people solved the puzzles, too. Hands down, it was the best carnival I’d ever seen, and I loved seeing it all through my kids eyes as much as I enjoyed participating in such simple pleasures.

Street performers, magicians, jugglers, and marching bands passed us by on our way down the esplanade towards the boats in Quai St. Pierre.
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Then we doubled back towards the square as it started getting dark and we could hear Kool and the Gang taking over the stage. We found out that this concert was a surprise announcement, not on Kool and the Gang’s official touring calendar. Apparently they love Cannes, too, and added it to their European concert dates this summer. Our kids thought we were nuts, but Scott and I were so chuffed to see them perform and there might have been a little boogie-ing in the streets (cue the eye rolls). I caught a quick pic of the scene as we four regretfully headed back to our apartment from the fête with sleepy, smiley faces.

“Oh, what a night!”

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And here’s a great video that shows all the entertainment, games, performers, and Kool and the Gang in action that night at Le port de Cannes en fête 2014.

Beachy Keen in Cannes

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So let’s talk a bit more about the ritzy Cannes beaches that were right across the street from our apartment along La Croisette. Scott and I thought more about the reasoning behind pay beaches, something we hadn’t experienced before and seemed, at first, way too “lifestyles of the rich and famous”. But then we realized that in France, as in many parts of Europe, people don’t really store “stuff”. They typically don’t have sheds, garages, basements or even many closets. Europeans live in much smaller spaces than we are used to in North America. There’s no room for bulky things like beach chairs, umbrellas, coolers, etc. So a pay beach where those kinds of items are provided would be useful to both locals and tourists, and perhaps, even worth their weight in gold (or Euros).

So, as I mentioned here, the city of Cannes runs both public free beaches where it’s just empty beach and you bring your own gear, and also pay beaches where there’s a full set up of chairs, umbrellas and tables ready. You just bring your towel, pay for a day or half-day, and then walk in. Very convenient.

We didn’t pack any beach chairs in our carry ons, and it is way too hot to sit on the sand in full sun, so we opted to try out the beautiful city pay beach called Plage Macé -around $6 per person for a full day (9am-6pm). Earlier that morning, we had seen many young men and women working hard to set up all the equipment for the day.

We were fascinated by the keen effort being made for the visual beauty of the set up.

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Early morning set up

Before opening, they rake the sand for glass and debris, then lay out string in measured lines to make sure all the chairs line up. Small beach tables are carefully placed in between the evenly spaced chairs, and then large umbrellas are dug into the sand and placed in colour order -yellow and blue. You just can see in the photo above a young man in turquoise shorts heading to arrange more rows, and the many footprints of the crew going back and forth with the equipment during set-up.

Once all the chairs, tables & umbrellas are set up, they rake all the footprints away and lay a grass woven carpet down the middle before opening up for the day. Symmetrical patterns are raked onto the sand on either side of the woven carpet where the footprints had been (look carefully at the photo at the top of this post for swirly sand patterns). Every inch of the beach front was pretty as a picture, and we were gobsmacked. It was absolutely incredible!

Feeling quite swish after we paid for a full day, we found chairs near the water line and sat back and enjoyed the hot sunny day. The surf was perfect for kids to play in -not too rough but still lively and fun. We all frolicked in the water, and we tossed a mini-football back and forth in the water. Ian could throw forever, so I eventually figured out how to toss the ball to him in the water while I sat in my lounge chair. Yup, it felt like a vacation to me!

Soon, Ian met a boy visiting Cannes with his family from Italy and they tossed the ball for awhile, and then built some sand sculptures. Because of the language barrier, we asked him to PLAY using the ASL sign, and then a motioning with the ball to show throwing and catching. A bit mish-mash, but it worked!
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I always love watching what kids will imagine and create in sand -Ian and little Roberto built towns with community gardens and moats and water towers (perhaps memories of the gardens we visited in Tavel?).
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We were so relaxed and happy to just spend the day doing nothing. As the sun traveled across the sky, people moved their beach chairs and shifted their umbrellas to either face the sun or stay in the shade, and all those measured rows of yellow and blue went askew. The picture perfect set up quickly became a jumbled mess.
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But still beautiful. We were so very impressed with the way the French approached their job by creating art and beauty within the realm of one sandy beach. It made perfect sense to our family for Cannes to offer full service beaches alongside the public beaches. The French continued to dazzle us in a cultured, refined, but good-natured way, and we were feeling a kind of punch-drunk love for this sandy corner of France.

And we stayed all day at the beach. We wanted to get every minute we paid for!

At the very end of the day they take it all down, piece by piece.

Doing the Cannes-Cannes

By the end of our first day in the city of Cannes, we were already in love! What’s not to love? Cannes is located on the southwest coast of France along the Mediterranean Sea, in the French Riviera. Sunny, warm, tropical. All the good stuff, and it’s gorgeous: powder-sand-and-turquoise-sea kind of gorgeous. Staying right on the water overlooking the harbour was incredible, and we watched many cruise ships and yachts sail in and out from our balcony.
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Across the street from our apartment is a string of beaches -one public beach which is free, another public beach that belongs to the city of Cannes which charges a nominal fee (about $6 daily for a beach chair and umbrella), and five or six more private beaches which are owned by hotels along La Croisette. From what we could read on the signs outside, they charge upwards of $25 per person to sit in cabanas and loungers with food and drink service. Seemed pretty ritzy! We wandered over to the public beach to touch the sand and dip our toes in the water…
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Gorgeous! The water was cool but not cold. We weren’t dressed for the beach though, and our tummies were rumbling, so we wandered back up to the boardwalk that wraps the entire length of the harbour and began strolling.
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The harbour was crowded with all sorts of beautiful boats -we loved the sailboats the best, although the rock-star yachts with room for a helicopter to land were pretty dazzling. We soon started looking for a restaurant as we were getting pretty hungry for dinner. There were many cafés to choose from along the water with lovely views of the harbour and boats. It was also very warm outside so we wanted to choose somewhere with a patio that could catch some breeze, but many of the restaurants looked fairly touristy and pricey. Slightly off the main road, tucked behind a fountain was a little place with bright red umbrellas and a small outside patio. There was a larger restaurant next door, but we liked the music we could hear lilting out of the tiny place.
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We ambled over and saw the owner inside. When we asked to sit for dinner, he laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, when he realized we didn’t get the joke, he said, “Come back at 10pm, no one eats dinner at 6:30 in France”. But he promptly laughed again, and said, “Of course, come and eat, you can sit anywhere you like because there’s no one else here”. So despite not planning on serving dinner so early, he welcomed us in properly and proceeded to serve us a meal we won’t forget. So fresh, and lovingly prepared by his chef that we could taste it in every bite.
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Our starter plate was simply tomatoes and fresh cheese, and even though Scott usually avoids tomatoes, we ended up having fork battles over the last pieces. Then our entrées came, and we devoured them: roast chicken, moules frites (mussels and fries) with the most fluffy, crispy French fries that we’d ever eaten. My roast chicken was a house specialty done in their rôtisserie with herbes de Provence, a delicious little vegetable soufflé, and some greens. So very simple, with out-of-this-world flavours.
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It was delicious, gorgeous, fresh food and we were wiping our plates with the bread. We shared dessert -a sumptuous chocolate molten lava cake -which barely sat long enough to take this photo (the kids, of course, loved the whipped cream with candy sprinkles).
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We sat on that patio for hours and chatted with the owner. We found out the restaurant had only just opened and he now felt like he was in a second marriage -to his friend, the chef! There wasn’t a lot of time spent at home with his real wife and kids, but luckily he and his family lived upstairs above the restaurant. He was truly charming and quirky, and we all enjoyed his hospitality. He loved to make my kids giggle with silly jokes in English. By the time we finished a lovely bottle of rosé and paid our bill almost 3 hours later, the restaurant was filling up with locals ready for their late dinner -always a good sign. And a perfect start to our week in Cannes.

(Sadly, this little restaurant did not have a website up yet, but I will update with a link once it does!)

To the Beach!

We had a great time in Avignon, but like it or not, we had a train to catch.
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And actually, we kinda liked it -we were heading to the beach! More specifically, the south coast of France to the gorgeous city of Cannes. Yes, you’ve probably heard of the Cannes Film Festival and you’ve maybe seen photos of gorgeous yachts in the harbour and glowing celebrities on the red carpet in Cannes. That’s where we were headed!
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Palais des Festivals building

But the film festival wasn’t on, of course. If it was, there wasn’t a hope in heaven for us to find accommodations or even a seat at a restaurant, no matter how early we could book. The city fills up entirely with the rich and famous during the film festival in May, and stays busy throughout the summer after that, so luckily we had picked the one week in summer that was slow in Cannes. So slow, that we were able to nab an apartment rental smack dab in the middle of the toniest street in Cannes –La Croisette. Which also happens to run along the city’s entire harbor lined with a white sand beach. Oh, la la!

Yes, we have friends in all the right places.

Back in Vancouver, many months before our trip, I realized that we had a hole in our itinerary and needed a place to stay after Avignon and before our week in Paris. I sniffed around on the internet in the usual places, but then I remembered meeting good friends of friends, Dean and Laurie Horvath, who own Mason Horvath Travel. Their company specializes in planning personally tailored trips for both business and vacation, with all the little touches that make a trip perfect. I remember them describing their last trip to Europe back when we were thinking about visiting our friends in France. I crossed my fingers that they would know of a good place to stay. Bien sur! Turns out Dean and Laurie had been to Cannes many times (they travel the world often with their two young daughters) and knew exactly where to look. I struck absolute gold.

As I mentioned, for some reason, that one particular week in summer was a seasonal low week in Cannes, and Dean was able to secure us a 2 bedroom apartment right on the beach for the dates we needed. Mind you, it was slightly out of our preferred budget, but Scott and I decided to go for it. When would we EVER find ourselves in this area again and be able to stay on the beach in Cannes in our lifetime? Yeah, probably never. Decision made. And boy, were we glad we did it!

After the 3 hour train ride and a 10 minute schlep through town with our rolling suitcases and backpacks, we followed our noses towards the salty, sea air and located our very glitzy building.
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Our apartment building on La Croisette

In between designer boutiques and café’s, there was a strip of buildings that housed beachfront apartment towers and hotels. Our building was sandwiched between the Giorgio Armani boutique and café, and the Céline boutique, places I had only heard of from Vogue magazine. The mirrored lobby inside reflected our open-mouth, gasping faces with a hundred different panels of silver and gold. We checked in, rode the elevator to the 5th floor, walked into our apartment and saw this:
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(photo by Scott Steyns)

Yeah, we didn’t know what to say either! It was breathtaking, and unbelievable, and so completely awesome. Gratitude filled my chest. It felt palpable, like I’d swallowed too quickly. But still, I had no idea places like this existed! All four of us were so excited to go explore Cannes.

But can you blame me for dropping my suitcase, backpack and purse and kicking up my feet?

Stay tuned for lots more photos of our adventures in Cannes, including a Kool and the Gang concert…”Celebration time, come on!”

To Market We Go

Processed with RookiePart of the greatness of visiting friends who have already lived in Avignon for a year is learning all about the local French culture. Our friends, a family of four, jumped into life in France with all 8 feet!

In the short week we’ve joined them, they have demonstrated how decisions about where to go, what to do, and what to eat in France are based on what is nearby, what is available, and what is fresh. As a rule, the French eat fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and in season. Period. Imported produce is bought very reluctantly by locals. If it’s not apple season in France, you don’t buy apples. And if you aren’t sure what’s in season, you’ll realize soon enough when you see the price of imported apples next to the local apricots.

In the city Avignon, there is Les Halles market that is open most days selling fresh produce, meat, dairy, and fish, which we visited soon after arriving here. And once a week on Thursdays, just outside the city walls across the bridge there is a weekly outdoor market in Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon, a small town originally built as a fortress to protect access to the bridge to Avignon.
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We strolled over to Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon’s market day, our cloth shopping bags in hand. It’s a large, lively outdoor market, with food as well as goods and clothing.
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The booths were dazzling and the smells were out of this world -how do I describe the olives stall?! It took my breath away and my feet instinctively stopped dead as I just breathed in the pungent scent of freshly picked olives of every size and colour. Handcrafted tapenades and olive-based spreads were also tickling my nose. It was heaven for an olive lover like me, and soon my two olive-loving kids doubled back to see what I was staring at.
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It was so great to be able to eat some of the local olives we had seen growing in the groves we had passed by in our daily excursions to Tavel and Orange this week. We enthusiastically bought a few assorted kinds of green and black olives and started to munch right away. We chomped as we strolled the market and bought incredibly fresh, local produce for our last homemade dinner with our friends in Avignon before leaving the next day for Cannes.
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In the Pink

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During their daily explorations while their children were at school, our friends discovered the town of Tavel (ta-velle), about a 35 minute drive north-west of Avignon. Favoured by the Sun-King Louis XIV and praised by Balzac, Mistral, and even Hemingway, Tavel is well-known for making France’s most famous rosé.

“Tavel wines are made predominantly from the Grenache, Syrah and Clairette varieties and are intended to be drunk chilled, as a more complex alternative to white wines during the hot summer months. The hot, dry Mediterranean climate means that the grapes have no difficulty in reaching full phenolic ripeness here.”

www.wine-searcher.com

So, on a very hot, dry Mediterranean-style day, we went to visit the Tavel winery Château La Genestière Saint-Anthelme, which had originally been a silk farm on a beautiful plot of grape-growing gorgeousness. We toured the wine-making facilities, seeing where the grapes came through the chute from above and walking through the pressing area, which is completely chilled to maintain the fresh aromas and flavours of the grapes.
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Then the kids were shooed outside to play while the adults tested a few wines. We did a tasting of their reds, whites, and rosés, which were all so delightful, but we happily chose to buy a case of a Tavel rosé due to the scorching South of France weather. The rosés were incredibly refreshing here, and locally grown and made –Louis XIV knew his stuff!

Off to lunch in the little town of Tavel, where we walked by beautiful old homes surrounded by narrow streets. We passed by the town centre’s washing pool, dating back to the 1300’s, where people would come to wash clothes.
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Indeed, someone’s freshly washed rugs, no doubt too large to hang at home, were hanging to dry on the adjacent stone walls behind the pool:
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Through the gate beyond those walls was a huge community garden. A waterway to irrigate the gardens flows down along the stone path between the garden plots, and many plots of young tomatoes, lavender, onions and other vegetables were set up to grow:
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Lunch was at a little restaurant our friends had discovered in the middle of Tavel called Le Philosyph, run solely by Stéphane and Edwige, the chef and the maître d, respectively. The food was unbelievable –oh, la, la! A simple plate of canard avec sauce au poivre, des carrots, et des pommes de terre rôti, roasted duck with pepper sauce, carrots and potatoes, but made with love by a chef following his passion. It was absolutely the most delicious duck I have ever tasted.
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Let’s just say, every one of us wanted to lick the plate, except maybe Ian, who has a smaller appetite than the rest of us, but dad was happy to help him finish the few last bites on his plate.

What a day! We got to take an insider’s tour of the highlights of a quaint town bearing beautiful wines and foods, with a little history thrown in there, too. Both the winery and restaurant in Tavel are must-sees on our list of to do’s around Avignon.

And in case it wasn’t completely clear, Scott and I are now officially rosé-lovers.

To sign PINK in American Sign Language, with one hand in the letter “P” handshape –thumb tucked in between extended index and middle fingers– drag the tip of the middle finger down across the lips twice.
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For more about Tavel, here’s a quick New York Times article of a wine retailer’s family visit during wine harvesting time.

Haribo Candy Museum

Did someone say candy?

To throw in a little excitement for the kids (both big and small) during our week in Avignon, we spent an afternoon at the Musée d’Haribo, a candy museum in the nearby town of Uzès. A whole afternoon? At a candy museum? Mais, oui!
Our friends had visited the museum several times, and recommended it highly for a little sweet tooth fix, and some history, too, of course. Haribo has European roots with factories worldwide. It specializes in making gummy candies of all kinds and shapes, like bears and coke bottles, and began gaining fame after World War I making licorice candies. Licorice is not my thing, but I loooove gummies, and I used to buy the wrapped Maoam chewy candies (pictured below) all the time when I was a kid. I had no idea they had such a long, rich, European background.
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The man behind Haribo, Hans Riedel, originally came from the town of Bonne, and so created the name of his candy company from the first two letters of his name HA (Hans) RI (Riedel) BO (Bonne) –Haribo!
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My kids loved the interactive games area where they had to add up the weight totals of different kinds of candy to determine a delivery, and spin the marshmallows tub with one arm in time with the syrup pouring with the other. The museum was unlike any I’d ever seen, and I had moments of feeling like I was in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory at times, with oversized installations of gummies and technicolor displays of Haribo’s incredible repertoire of candy.
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Although there are Haribo factories all over the world, including North America, apparently the best Haribo candies are made in the European factories. We got to walk through both buildings at the Provence musée -one for display of how the candy was created, and one factory building where certain types of Haribo candies were made. The last place we visited at the Musée d’Haribo was, of course, the gift shop!
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More candy then I’ve ever seen before, and people were piling it into boxes the size of grocery store baskets. The fever to buy candy was contagious, and although our kids don’t buy or eat candy regularly at home, we decided to join the locals and throw some coke bottles, gummy bears, and sour cherries into a box and call it a day (in France).

To sign CANDY in American Sign Language, twist the tip of your index finger on your cheek:
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Les Halles en Avignon

Our week in Avignon was not long enough! Our friends had several trips planned for us, and we were awed by each of them. But our first morning in Avignon had us walking the narrow cobbled streets within the walled city to go to Les Halles -the covered market.

imageIt was necessary to get there before it closed at 1pm because it was not open the next day, and the ability to locate any fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses would be scarce otherwise. Our bodies were still acclimatizing to the time change and the late night at the music festival the night before, so our friends had to push us along a little to get to Les Halles before closing.

We entered the market building and witnessed the flurry of activity of merchants selling their wares and shoppers scooting around to fulfill their grocery lists before closing. During their year living in Avignon, our friends had met many of the merchants and became friendly with those that they frequented the most. Such is life -you get good service or realize where the best product is, and you return. Friendships begin.

Many of the merchants spoke a little English, and also appreciated their attempts to speak French, so our friends had made friends with the cheese mongers, the produce family, and the meat sellers through weekly banter and commerce. In French markets, you grab a basket and then fill it with your produce. It is then weighed and totaled for you.

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Still in a haze, Scott and I were led around the market to the various stalls, and then just as quickly, the shopping was done and our dinner was bought. Ok, we were done; time for a drink!?
Throughout Avignon are les places, or town squares. Almost year round there are tables and chairs set up outside of bistros and restaurants within these town squares where there is no vehicle traffic. People can sit, have a drink and watch the world go by. Which is exactly what we did on our first afternoon in Avignon.

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Afterwards, our family decided to take a little survey of the town via the touristy tram tour and see some of the highlights of Avignon while our friends returned home. The Palais de Papes (the palace of the Pope) is a gorgeous building in the centre of town, built first as a respite from the Vatican, and then became home to 6 popes during the 1300’s and was built upon and expanded.
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After the tour, we were treated to our first home-cooked meal in France (although it was 35 degrees outside, so cold salads from our market trip were lovingly prepared and it was an ideal dinner). And some rosé pour les adultes, s’il vous plâit!

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Sur Le Pont D’Avignon

There’s a popular children’s song which mentions the town of Avignon, France, which was my family’s destination today. Do you remember the song?

Sur le pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond.

Rough translation:
On the bridge of d’Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of d’Avignon
We all dance there, all around.

It’s sung in a round, naming all the people dancing -ladies, gentlemen, etc, and is similar to “Ring Around the Rosy” with everyone circling and falling. The bridge from the song was built in the middle of the 12th century –cue the incredible departure into history for my family!
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Leaving North America and traveling to France becomes an instant history lesson, since pretty much everywhere you look there’s bound to be something older than Canada. And as you can see from the photo, everything resembles famous paintings, or just plain looks like it should be in a painting. Avignon is in the gorgeous South of France, with an ancient walled city that famously housed 7 popes before becoming part of France during the French Revolution in 1731.

Fast forward a little bit, and you’ll find my family arriving at the Avignon train station during an incredible one-day music festival –Fête de la Musique. Our friends from Vancouver, who are now proud residents of Avignon, picked us up amid the flurry of thousands of other people visiting the city for the one-day free fête which celebrates any and all performers wanting to perform any type of music or song. Pure chaos, but in a good way. We enjoyed a glass of chilled rosé at their apartment before launching our still-jetlagged (and train-weary) bodies into the dizzying kaleidescope of thumping music and people in the cobblestone streets.
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We saw all sorts of musical performers, but most of all, we reunited our daughter with our friends’ daughters, two of her first best friends. It was an explosion of hugs, kisses, and jumpy jumps as they danced and circled around each other, just like the dancers of that famous song.
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Illustration from The Baby’s Bouquet, A Fresh Bunch of Rhymes and Tunes by Walter Crane (1878).

Flip Flop Faux Pas

By the end of our first day visiting Paris and after wandering around our hotel’s neighbourhood, I noticed 2 things: French people often make eye contact, look at one another and will hold their gaze on each other in passing, much longer than in North America. They are not shy about looking, and so, the people-watching is fantastic! I enjoyed taking in all the chic little outfits with the beautiful accessories passing me.

Secondly, and more importantly,

Parisian women do not wear flip flops.

Upon checking into the hotel, I had swiftly changed into my flip flops to go explore the area and find some lunch. I kept noticing people making eye contact with me while passing on the street, and then doing a double-take of my feet. Over and over again. I was perplexed as I watched them glance at my shoes with puzzled looks on their faces. Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen one single person wearing flip flops all day around our hotel’s non-touristy neighbourhood. Not once. Looks like I had already made my first fashion faux-pas in Paris!

But then again, it could’ve been the maple leaf painted on my toe…?

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Thank you to Ricky at Bloom Essentials for the patriotic paint job.