Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Carnaval in Nice

It's a day late, but HAPPY MARDI GRAS! Or Fat Tuesday in english. We celebrated on Sunday with a full day in Nice. They do their Carnaval from Feb. 13 - March 1, and it includes many events including balls and parades. The three main repeating events are the daytime Carnaval parade, the illuminated nighttime Carnaval parade, and the Flower parade. We were originally going to go for 2 nights and catch multiple events, since it is another 2-week school vacation, but we ended up booking a chalet in the Alps for a week, so decided to go for the day and catch the daytime parade. It was absolutely perfect...we had a fantastic day!

We got up early on Sunday, left the apt. at 8:30 am and walked to the St. Raphael train station. We were in Nice before 10 and strolled down to the Bord de la Mer under a blue sky. We walked along the beach, found the Jardin full of kid activities where Irie got her face painted, then headed to the grand ferris wheel for a look from above. The parade wasn't until 2:30 so we took a leisurely and deilcious lunch, then headed back to the Promenade Anglais where the people were really starting to congregate. Vendor with carts were selling crazy hats, masks, balloons, bags of confetti and cans of silly string (by the case load). Little did we know what we were in for...full on silly string wars. We were feeling festive so bought hats, masks, confetti, a dolphin balloon that you will see make repeated appearances in the pictures and video, and many more cans of silly string than I ever would have guessed.

Let me just say that I love New Orleans, but I've always gone there for Jazz Fest in early May, and have never attended Mardi Gras. That town knows how to party hard, so I can only imagine how absolutely crazy the parades must get with everyone boozed up and treats getting tossed from every float. In Nice, I felt completely comfortable having Irie front row on the parade route. If anyone was drinking you wouldn't have known it from their behavior, and they don't toss anything but confetti and silly string from the floats so there was no mad rush to collect booty. The floats were first-rate, the people were friendly, and we never felt crushed or crammed by the crowds. As the period neared the latter stages we were able to walk easily against the grain catching the floats we hadn't yet seen.

Here's the video:

We love Nice for all it has to offer so we then headed into Old Town for some post-parade treats (ice cream and crêpes) and a little shopping before walking back to the train station for the relaxing ride home. We were perfectly sated from a day of eye candy, good food, and loads of fun and laughter. What a great start to spring vacation!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Our busy lives

We are now on school vacance #3. Irie has 2 weeks off so we are in the midst of all sorts of fun events. Luckily, the weather has been très agréable, the best in months with beautiful sunshine and temps in the 60's! A friend I graduated from high school with, Brad Hettinga, married an Italian woman, and they have been living in northwest Italy for 13 years.
They rented a house down here in St. Raphael so we have had a chance to catch up after 25 years. He has two adorable girls, Julia 12, and Sophia 8, who speak english so Irie was in heaven. We had dinner at their place on Saturday night (thanks Anna!) and this morning they came down here and we took them on a tour of the port, our favorite bakery, and some play time on the beach.

I have been busy with my two psychology classes, while Lisa is heavily involved in various classes around Fréjus. Yesterday we went to Nice for the day to enjoy Carnaval in all it's glory. We had an absolute blast, but will write a separate post on that in the next couple days after I process video. Here's a little taste:

This Saturday we are renting a car and heading into the Alps for a week. We are staying in a small village called St. Léger Les Mélèzes. We are renting a chalet, I will do a lot of skiing, and we are hoping to do a sled dog run one day. On Thursday, Ken (Lisa's step-brother), Jan, Rachel and Maddie are arriving to join us, then driving down to Fréjus for a few days. We are all looking forward to their visit, but Irie is counting the days.

We have one more 2-week school break coming (late April - early May) and Lisa's Mom and friend are flying over. We are all going to Paris for 3 days, then touring some Loire Valley Chateaux for 3 days then heading back here before Brenda and Terri take off to Italy for some fun.

Finally, we booked our tickets home. It was kind of sad, as it indicates our year is rolling along, but there it is. On July 3, we fly from Nice to Dublin to SF. Will probably stay overnight so will arrive back in Ashland on July 4. Not sure how Maggie is getting home, but we hope to send her a week or two ahead of time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mimosa (Lisa)

At home Mimosa meant an orange juice heartily fortified with sparkling wine, usually drank to ready oneself for a long day of celebrating--Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the south of France, Mimosa is a flower that illuminates winter. This plant, which grows into substantial trees, was imported from Australia in the 1800's by wealthy English who settled themselves on the Côte d'Azur. It has adapted well to the dry and sunny Mediterranean climate. Villages and towns celebrate the blooming, which seems to peak in February. It is used in perfume; the scent is mild and pleasant. In Menton the Mimosa was a close second to the lemon, and it's the exact same color. The sprays of puffy yellow flowers, are unfortunately short lived once cut. Branches that are brought indoors begin with puffy clusters of tiny suns that progress to tight globular balls within a day. Like forsythias, green branches not yet in bloom can be forced. There is a route du mimosa stretching 130 km, starting at Bormes-les-Mimosas and ending in Grasse.

As my friends and I discuss our spring fever and our impatient waiting for warmth and continuous sunshine they also tell me that many people have allergies to mimosa, as they emit a very fine pollen. I think I am one of those, but I'm treating it locally --honey and a dab of Chartreuse!

Monday, February 16, 2009


Rick surprised me with a Valentine getaway to Menton. This little city is just about at the end of the road where France borders Italy. It is another little gem along the necklace of charming places that make up the Côte d'Azur. But unlike Cannes (glamour), St. Tropez (faded glamour) and Nice (big city), Menton had more of a residential yet touristy feel. Very much like our hometown of Ashland. Menton is built up on a steep hillside but has plenty of flat area close to the sea. The beaches are rock, much like Nice, and give the water its fantastic azur hue. The climate is the best in France because the town is tucked into these hills, protected from the wind. I commented I could live here, and I think Maggie could too! While it had its share of ports and expensive boats it is also intimate and friendly. For example, our room service breakfast was delivered and the woman walked right in, not blinking an eye that Rick only had his pants held up to himself. She laughed as she got a glimpse of his buns, muttering nothing was new to her, and something about a 16 year old granddaughter. What?!! I can't remember if she wished us a happy Valentine's day.

What drew Rick to plan this weekend here, however, was war. Yes, even though it was Valentine's. (We believe love always wins in the end.) Our friend Edouard (he produced the ad with Rick's voice over) made a film about soldiers from Madagascar and Senegal who came to fight for France during World War I. They trained in Fréjus, as it most approximated their home climate, before being sent to the cold northern fronts. Menton became a receiving place for the many who were injured, ill and/or died. Beautiful old buildings that had previously housed visiting European royalty were turned into hospitals to treat TB, wounds, or psychological injuries. The soldiers would arrive in the dead of night, as the Mentonaise had virtually no previous exposure to Africans. To treat facial injuries a new technique in rhinoplasty was developed. The recuperating soldiers participated in some of the local agriculture production. They wrote or dictated touching letters home, never complaining about their injuries or pain. The Cimitière du Trabuquet has dedicated space for these soldiers, hundreds of whom died fighting for France métropole. In the picture you can see the various religious symbols. I learned from Edouard's video that these Malgache soldiers were often stacked 7 or 8 high underground. We accessed the Cimitière by climbing the many winding stairs and passageways that snaked through the old town. The views are amazing. The Cimitière accommodates numerous graves, as it has many terraces. In addition to the soldiers' memorial we saw numerous Italian families, some Germans, some graves in English, some in Russian. Menton is very international.
Photos of city and cimetière.

This lively Garden of Eden is proud of its citrus. We were lucky enough to catch the start of the annual Fête du Citron. This was the 76th year of celebrating lemons, and other citrus fruits. This year's theme was celebrating world music. Up in the cemetery we picked some oranges, which were extremely sour and would have made a good marmalade. The night we arrived we strolled around an illuminated garden featuring giant size citrus sculptures, within various themed musical areas, and tastings of local lemon products. We weren't there long enough to attend a parade but from what we could gather this is a smaller scale version of the Rose Parade. On Valentine's night we attended a concert--act 1 was Russian singers and dancers, act 2 was an all-girls high school marching band from Japan. They also included some cheerleading moves but no majorette. Photos of Fête.
We ended the weekend with tastings of Limoncello, a lemon liqueur, and purchases of various citrus products.

It's always fascinated me how France came through 2 devastating world wars. This country has been razed and decimated but has returned with pride, and much to be proud of. Many believe de Gaulle to be responsible because of the strong positions he took in post-war planning. I believe a bigger force are the French citizens themselves. War heroes are honored with street names; military cemeteries are beautiful; every town has their own war memorial thanking their fallen sons. And with all this life is celebrated and savored, sometimes with something as simple as a lemon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Biking the coast

When we arrived in Fréjus last fall, we got in as much beach time as possible before the weather changed. I took some kitesurfing lessons and swam as much as possible, but since then my main form of exercise has been biking (faire de vélo). My favorite bike ride is a 22-25 km ride along the coast to Agay and back.
View Larger Map
Leaving our Frejus Plage apartment I am on the coast in 3 short blocks. From there I head east along the Mediterranean as it takes me through St. Raphael, and past their 3 ports. It has some slight ups and downs, nothing serious, and takes me past great coastal views and a host of small inlets and beaches that will be great stops for a mid-ride swim once spring arrives. Of course, even when that happens it will take awhile for the water to warm up, the locals say May, but I bet I'll be swimming again before that :) There is also a war memorial in honor of Operation Dragoon that was part of the allied invasion of southern France in August of 1944.
Past that is my favorite little beach that I call "Tiki Plage" because of the Tiki restaurant right there on the beach. It is a beautiful eyelet cove with a narrow outlet to the Sea, perfectly calm for snorkeling and young swimmers like Irie. Shortly thereafter is the beautiful bay of Agay with its striking backdrop of red hills.
As you can see from the photos, it was a great day for a ride. Spring is coming.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ready, Set...Soldes !

Les Grandes Soldes in France are a big event. Sales are nationally regulated, occur twice per year, and last about a month. The January sales started on the 10th and will end February 10th. We caught the tail-end of the July soldes while in Paris. If you’re coming to France outside of the Soldes periods, don’t worry. Many stores get around the regulated sales by having “promotions” or “fin de series” markdowns. The information I gathered about Les Soldes is from asking my friends, reading the newspaper and watching TV. On the eve of Les Grandes Soldes I caught a panel discussion on TV on the topic. They discussed the merits and drawbacks of the countrywide markdowns. Issues raised, including questions posed by consumers, were: Does it promote more consumerism and blind consumption? Is this system better for competition and consumers than that in the US, where sales occur at the whim of the store? If a store can start out a sale with a 75% markdown, why did they charge so much in the first place? Can’t stores just price goods competetively in the first place and then the soldes don’t have to take place? The newspaper article had interviews with Average Persons on the street: Some wait for the soldes to snap up an article they’ve been eyeing all season but didn’t want to pay regular price; Teens who go out with their friends for a day of shopping and looking around; Those who wait til the bitter end, taking their chances that by the 3rd week and the 3rd markdown there will be something decent left. It seems these big sales are government regulated so that it is fair for all involved--the stores mark down at the same time, the consumers know when it is happening. I asked my friends if stores were required to mark down (that sounds like communism, doesn’t it?) and they said No, a store can keep their stuff at regular price, but shoppers are likely to pass them by.

My information was also gathered first hand: I shopped the soldes. In July I was so overwhelmed by the choices of stores and goods in Paris that that we really didn’t take advantage. Irie got some much needed shoes which lessened some of her Paris complaining. I found some unusual red shoes and still can’t decide if I like to wear them with socks. Rick found some shoes, jeans and green Benetton pants that were 10€! He has since really changed his look--he left the Birkenstocks at home and I haven’t seen any Levis since our boat trip. He wears the trim European look very well.

I didn’t really anticipate much for the January sales, considering we spent freely on exotica in Morocco. Irie was limiting her clothing choices to one pair of cords so we headed to Monoprix for some kid’s clothes. We came away with some pants, a beret and some ski gloves. I also knew that Rick was planning on buying ski clothing and a new bike during the sales. I still couldn't help myself and surprised Rick with a soft cachemire sweater he had spotted but didn’t want to pay full price for. I thought that would be it, but during the first week into the soldes I was invited on a girls’ roadtrip to Nice. In my exuberance I forgot the camera. My friend Katell was interested in finding reasonably priced items for some things she needed for work. Nathalie hadn’t been to Nice in years and was happy to look around. I, of course, already knew my favorite boutiques and was chomping at the bit to go back and see what tempting items might be marked down. I found some divine hair treatment at L’Occitaine and Katell worked it so we all got a free hand cream with our purchases. My favorite shoe store no longer had the grey boots I was eyeing, probably for the best! The Italian lady who has the shirt shop (I splurged on one with Athena) and calls all her customers “Princesse” did not mark down the way cute jacket I’ve been wanting. I again refrained from paying 240€ for it. My favorite pottery shop, Faïence de Moustiers, had NOTHING on sale. I was getting pretty discouraged but I still had Custo. This is a store Athena helped me discover--they have very unique things. Yahoo! New raincoat! (I later found matching hat and gloves on sale in Fréjus). It was a long day, weather wasn’t great, I had a blister on my toe, but I scored a Custo raincoat at 40% off. Nath liked that store too, she left with 2 new shirts that give a shot of brightness to her wardrobe.

By the end of the second markdown I was invited back to Nice on another girls’ roadtrip, this time with Nath and her two teenage daughters. I was warned this was mainly for the girls. I wasn’t sure what they would be looking for but imagined we’d be going to our equivalent of DEB. The quality was a smidge better, but you get the idea. We also spent some time in righteous skateboard shops and gazed in the window of the piercing parlor. This time I brought our (new) camera and got some shots of girls on a mission. I found the grey boots I had been looking for but they weren’t on sale, so I passed again. But I then dropped some cash on some sweet Puma tennies that were not on sale. I managed to find a cute little top at one of the teen stores (on sale) and am giving myself a little push out of my fashion rut of plain turtlenecks and Tshirts.

By this time, with only a few days to go, we are down to the braderie (clearance), which is mostly junk. The other day in Toulon I checked out the last of the sales at Galeries Lafayette and while I didn’t find any bargains I did see the new spring line of another favorite brand, Desigual, coming out. Oh no!.....

Monday, February 2, 2009

C'est Février déja !

We have 5 months left. It feels like our year is going so quickly. Weren't we just in Morocco? Now Janvier has come and gone. Maggie turned 5 yesterday! Today is Groundhog Day, a movie we love so much we brought it along. Sorry all you folks back home, Phil saw his shadow so it's more winter for you. I know with the winter you're having that's the last thing you want to hear. We're ready for beach weather too - it's rainy, windy and cool here. I guess that's good because it keeps me here doing my school work (when I'm not blogging :)), but it's bad because I'm not out in public practicing my French which has hit a wall. Anyway, here's a really nice Fréjus pic I've been wanting to share. Taken from the port a couple blocks away, looking at Centreville:

Many of you may have gotten an email from me this morning about The Best Job in the World. If you haven't heard about it yet, it is a 6 month job "caretaking" an island on the Great Barrier Reef! They want someone to push tourism by touring the area, being adventurous, and blogging about it. Since the job starts July 1, it seems meant to be, though I am a realist about my chances. Anyway, the application video is below so I'm asking a favor: go view it and give us a high rating. One of the 11 finalists is a wild card based on rating so send it on to all your friends too and shamelessly beg them to vote for us. :) Rick's video application

We also got motivated late last night, while most of America was probably watching the Super Bowk, and made a photo montage of Lisa doing Hula through France. Watch and enjoy.