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Trip Report Barge-ing In On Cote d'Azur, Haute Provence and The Alsace..Trip Report, April-May 2006

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We returned last week from three weeks in France, and would like to share the details as follows in this trip report. Usually writing under a mad publisher's chapter deadlines, this will be much a much more pleasant exercise, I'm sure.

To begin with, we had booked a six night barge trip in Alsace, beginning from Strasbourg on the 29th. Since The Alsace was about the only region of France where we hadn't spent any substantial time (other than a brief visit to the aformentioned city 23 years ago), we decided to re-visit Cote d' Azur and western Provence first, and then head to Strasbourg to connect with the barge.

Tuesday, April 18th...left LAX on an AA flight to London, with connection to a BA – Paris flight. Decided to use ff rather than our usual mode of selling our miles and applying the cash to our overseas this way, we would have gotten to accumulate more miles.
Unfortunately, our best ff buying source had dried off it was. Worked out well, though.

Arrived CDG late afternoon May 19th and had a reservation at the airport Radisson, in anticipation of taking the 11:10 TGV to Avignon next morning. They provide a free shuttle to and from CDG (10-minutes). Rooms are about $140. We had decided weeks before to rent our car in Avignon and take the leisurely ride from there to Cote d'Azur.

Thursday, April to Avignon. We had learned to love TGV travel over the years, but still had to face the hassle of getting the luggage on board. The older one gets, the more of a problem this seems to be...but once on board, I'm sure that most of you will agree it is a very relaxing way to travel from Point A to Point B. We had purchased a four-day senior pass, since we planned to use three days of train-ing for this trip (Cost $230 for each pass, plus $11 for each First Class seat reservation).

Note: All costs herein are quoted in approximate US dollars.

Arrived at Avignon's newer and beautiful TGV station at 2:30 and walked over to Budget (I usually rent through AutoEurope and Europcar) but Budget was running a very inviting sale.

It quickly turned out that I had made the wrong choice. Not only did they have zero cars available until later that day, the snippy young agent was not even apologetic, knowing full well that we had reserved months in advance. Not wishing to kill any more time, we sauntered over to National, two doors away , and they, too, had an uexplained shortage. No compacts, which we prefer in France and Italy, but only a full-sized Citroen which they offered us for only $40 more than the $275 for eight days we had with Budget. With it, we took the 1600 kms. rather than the more expensive free unlimited kms, calculating we would beat that with kms to spare. Eagerly, we took it ...for seasoned, world-wide travelers like the two of us, we should have remembered that the reason we always order compacts for certain European countries was precisely the size!! The full size Citroen, with only 1200 kms on it, was a gorgoeus hunk of metal...if only we didn't have to maneuver it through pencil-narrow village streets and parking venues!! But with the day ticking away, we loaded our bags in the massive trunk and merrily sped off to the A-7, leading to the A-8. It was a beautiful, sunny 70-degree day and the scenery, as some of you may know, is quite appealing even on the autostrada which was unusually void of traffic. After some pit stops, and baguette sandwiches, we arrived at Tourrettes sur Loup at 6, and found our way to our resrerved lodgings just 5 kms west of this lovely, well-situated medieval village (just ten minutes west of the substantial town of Vence).

The “Beauvallon” (beautiful little valley) is a meticulously-resotred villa, on a handsome plot of hilly ground, with breathtaking scenic views of the surrounding countryside. Owned by a delightful British couple, Mike and Lesley Barnes, it appealed to me when I brought it up on the internet after deciding we would headquarter in this area for the first part of our trip. The rate, with breakfast on the terrace, $110.(And Mike himself gets up early enough to drive to T-S-L to pick up crispy fresh baguettes and flaky croissants to go with the display of cereals, fruit, Lesley-made jams, yogurt and coffee.

Since it was early in the season, we were the only guests for the first three days of the five we stayed. Our room, with balcony, was pleasingly large, queen-sized bed and a bathroom larger than we've ever experienced in France. Above all, Mike was a fountain of local knowledge and shared it generously, advising us on local shortcuts and scenic off-map routes we would never had found without his handdrawn maps.

The loose schedule we had pre-set would take us to Nice and East-of-Nice (Cap Ferrat and Eze)on the first day. We previously decided to skip Monaco/Monte Carlo where we had visited severel years ago.

So off to Nice, through Cagnes sur Mer and Nice's famed Promenade Anglais. We remembered well how to get to the Saleya market and its huge parking garage. This would be our first experience in maneuvering the large Citroen around traffic-choked Nice and the narrow-spaced garage. Whew! White knuckles. Oh, for a neat little Compact. So happy that the more unflappable Roz (dear wife) took the wheel while I navigated.

Nice's Saleya market is something to behold no matter how many marketplaces you've been to in France, Italy and other countries. Sarlat, Aix and St. Remy remain our French favorites, but Nice is a not-to-miss also. The brightly colored striped canvas overheads, the plush flower stands, the fruits and veggies, the melodious hawking, and the many cafes allured us into constant stops. Spotting a couple eating huge portions of moules and frites at one of the inviting outdoor cafes with an open table just for us, we sat down for our lunch break...delicious, nutritious and at $22 total including splitting a large green salad and one glass of wine, a veritable bargain with the unstoppable Euro inching up each day.*

*(I find that most Fodorites like to know the cost of lodgings,food, etc. so I'm complying...I know I appreciate this information).

After strolling the Old Town, catching our daily gelato fix, we squeezed the car out of the garage (with difficulty) and headed for close-by Cap Ferrat and the magnificent Ephrussi-Rothschild Villa.

Are you still with me?...more to come.....very soon

Stu T.

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