Annecy and Nice France
December, 2000

A pedestrian street in Annecy, France along the canal.

Our hotel room, on the third floor and a church that was under renovation

We rented a car in Paris and headed, well, toward the south to get out of the city.  Mitch took over the task of navigating, following along block by block as Cheryl and Max read off street signs, when visible.  Now, throw in a few round-abouts, a handful of one-way roads, two or three construction closures, fast moving - horn honking traffic and we could easily find ourselves going in a direction other than south.  We passed a few turns and Mitch had to plot out alternate routes on the spot.  Twice we tried to circle the block and return to our original plan, but we've learned that this can be surprisingly difficult at times.

Soon we found ourselves in the outskirts of Paris.  We saw a mix of middle and low income neighborhoods and then the French countryside.  We were going to Annecy, (pronounced An-see,) a small city just south of Geneva Switzerland, along the slopes of the beautiful French Alps.  We arrived in Annecy at about 4:00 in the afternoon, but didn't know where our hotel was.  We followed signs towards the city center, or at least that's where we thought we were going -- (we don't read French very well.)  We thought we'd stop and call the hotel from town.
About then, Cheryl spotted a sign that said "Info Hotel" and said, "I'll check it out and you drive around the block."  I suggested parking but it was obvious that all of the nearby parking spaces were full and the parking garages were expensive for just a five minute stop.  She jumped out and I went ahead and turned right.  So now, three more rights and I'd be around the block.  The next road was a one-way, the next was a pedestrian road and the next was a one-way. 
Shortly after that, the road veered to the left.  I then had a choice to cross a canal or turn towards the right. I went right.  So after that I found myself following the car in front of me through a small brick arch and down what looked more like a narrow pedestrian walk than a road.  It curved along to either the left or the right, I don't remember now, and then back onto a regular street.  Next, I took a right, went a few blocks in what I guessed was the reverse direction and took another right.  I was in the heart of town and each intersection required waiting for multiple lights to get through.  It felt like we were close to where I started, but there were too many one-way streets and pedestrian-only streets to simply drive the direction I wanted.

Finally I recognized where we were.  The same route we came into town on.  Take a right and go get Cheryl!

Not so easy.  By the time I recognized what to do the road I was on turned into a limited access ramp heading out of town into a new direction.  A quick look for police and a few fast moves and we were headed back into town within seconds.  Again I was pushed into the wrong direction by a one-way street so I pulled into the first parking space I saw.  The boys and I locked up the car, put Cheryl's purse and leather coat in the trunk and headed out on foot.  On foot we would conquer these treacherous one-way and pedestrian-only streets.  I asked a few people for directions but most thought I was asking for information about hotels rather than "where is the 'Hotel Information' center?"  I knew that large hotels were most likely to have someone at the front desk that speaks English and on the third try I met a lady that knew where the Info Center was.  It was one block over and two more blocks down on a pedestrian street.  Just around the corner from the direction I had thought.

Meanwhile, Cheryl had no idea what had happened to us.  The hotel information was on a display board, the visitor center was closed for the day, she had no coat, no purse, no ID, no money, it was very cold and getting dark.  If we had not gotten there when we finally did, over an hour and-a-half later, I'm sure she would have had the police looking for us.  When we finally met up again, it was a great relief to everyone.

By the way, the picture above of the "Info Hotel" sign was taken when we were leaving town.  I saw the Info Center and went around the block in the other direction.  It was a short block around.  I could have gone around two or three times while Cheryl looked over the hotel information board, if only I had turned to the left.  "Jump out, I'll go around the block" will always have a special memory for us.
So, by this time, we had directions to our hotel and I had seen many signs pointing the way.  But again, it was not so easy.  We had this image of "driving" to the hotel, (it must be an American paradigm.)  The hotel was only accessible via pedestrian streets.  We drove around all the sides of where the hotel should be but we could never quite get there, so once again it was time to park and go it on foot.

We finally made it!

The entrance to the hotel appeared to be a side door to a very old church, but later I decided it just looked that way since the building was butted up to the church.  The hotel was very old, simple and inexpensive, but what a view!!  One window in our room looked out to a very small area that was boxed in by buildings. The other window looked onto the pedestrian street and canal, and what a site it was! The car parked on the pedestrian walk in the picture below was delivering some boxes to a shop near by.

Like a romance novel by day . . .

 . . and a fairy tale by night.
We had a great dinner that evening at a restaurant recommended in Rick Steve's book.  A hint for Americans, don't try to find a good dinner before 8:00 p.m.  Pastry and sandwich shops are open in the morning until mid day.  The good restaurants don't open until after businesses close and the locals have had time to go home, freshen up and go out for the evening.  At 6:00 p.m. they all looked like they were closed for the winter.
The next morning we went out for a pastry.  Look carefully and you can see how the water was raging down the canal from the lake.  The city of Annecy is on a beautiful, large, mountain lake filled with crystal clear water.  The canal flows out along a park that stretches around the lake for many blocks.
Here's a display that caught my eye.  I, (Ed,) grew up in Everett Washington, where Jansport packs are made.  These fine imported canvas packs were priced at $70.00. 
Cheryl grew up in San Diego near the beach.   I thought this car would make a great beach car. 

Just imagine driving down to the beach with a shiny wooden longboard on top of this beauty. 

The French Alps

What scenery -- you could almost hear Julie Andrews singing.  It was very tempting to change our plans and go skiing in the Alps instead of heading toward the Mediterranean. 

This is just one of many very old, very quaint villages we passed on our way south. 

Cheryl asked a good question --  if the Alps are so old, why are they so jagged instead of worn down?  We don't know the answer. 

I haven't mentioned how much the French like their dogs.  Though they don't like children in restaurants, (Mitch and Max were usually the only ones around,) it was not uncommon to see a dog present.  One night there was one sitting right next to us as we ate.  His wagging tail kept hitting the leg of my chair.  Later in Perpignan, in Southern France, there was a dog freely wandering around the outdoor seating area begging for handouts.  He was a big dog and could look over the top of the tables without stretching. The waiters just let him roam.
But later, in Barcelona, Spain I saw my personal favorite -- there was a dog sitting in his own chair at the table.  He had his own plate where his owners, (a young couple,) would place an occasional sausage or scoop of spaghetti for their beloved friend.  The pooper-scooper laws in France are nonexistent.  When you walk around in Paris, or especially Annecy, you'll want to watch every step -- in front of stores, church steps, hotel entries and where you may least expect it.
On the top of a mountain pass with a little snow on the ground we stopped for lunch. It was a little cafeteria-style place. We grabbed a sliced roll and some cheese and meat to make one of the French sandwiches we were becoming so fond of.  Here, we had mayonnaise and mustard to spread on it.  Many of the bakeries and freeway service center delis prepare their sandwiches quite dry for our American taste, so we bought a toothpaste-style tube of a dijon/mayonaise mixture that I carried in my jacket pocket. I had not seen mayo packaged like this in the states but it came in handy while traveling in France.
It was a long drive from Annecy to Nice, France which is on the Mediterranean Sea.  It had been a wonderful day because the scenery was so spectacular.  It was already dark when we passed a city that looked like it was literally built into the cliff -- it looked like a mixture of jagged mountain and castle walls.   It was hard to tell where the walls turned into mountain rock.  The road and town occupied a rather narrow, yet very steep walled canyon. We look forward to returning someday in the daylight.

Here's a picture of the beach in Nice, (pronounced as Neese -- rhymes with geese.)
On the top of the bluff in the photo in the upper right, is an old fort called the Chateau.  The remains of the fort date back to the Romans and from the top we could see all around the city.  The picture on the left is looking north back along the Mediterranean and the famous French Riviera. 
Looking east was the port with a large marina, cruise ship port and tanker dock.  We watched as a steady flow of tanker trucks rolled up to the ship, connected to large hoses, then drove off.  Later that afternoon on the way back to our hotel the line of trucks was still going.

Cruise Ships

Oil Tanker

Looking north from the bluff over the city, it looked very red from all of the tile roofs.  The buildings are built so close that it's hard to see any streets.  While walking on these streets it looked like most of the buildings were built before Columbus sailed west, (although they are most likely not really that old.)
On top of the bluff  was a small playground with this unique climbing structure.  Both Mitch and Max decided that if we ever get a house they want to build one of these in the backyard. It is made of one inch steel cable covered with spun cotton.  It was hard to get the boys off of it. 

While we were there we heard a very loud explosion, like a stick of dynamite.  It went off at exactly 12 noon and when we turned around we saw a small cloud of smoke like you'd see from a commercial sized firework.  I guess it's just the way they signal it's noon.

You may have noticed in the past that Max usually wears shirts and jackets with a stripe down the shoulders or across the chest -- (he just doesn't like shirts without a stripe somewhere.)  Back down on the beach Max found a rock that he brought over to show us because it looked like him. He really thought it was neat.  It's a real stripe, not paint or correction tape.

Spectacular Looking Marzipan Candies

Vegetables in the Market
Everywhere we went in France we saw open air markets.  Though there are some supermarkets, these marketplaces are where the locals shop for their fresh groceries.  This market is adjacent to the beach and is one of Nice's oldest.  As usual, the food and flowers here looked great. The vegetables are ripe, plump and fill the tables with brilliant colors.
The Market
The Chateau in the background
The beach, just over the building to the right
The markets come to life before day break and are filled with people before we wake up.  By noon the vendors are packing up.  All of the boxes and a share of spoils are left, but the vendors, their tables and tents are gone.

We had lunch at about 2:00 p.m. at an outdoor restaurant along the market area.  As we ate, the city crews were working with garbage trucks, brooms, and fire hoses cleaning up the walkway.  I watched and thought about how the vendors and cleanup crews have probably been doing this everyday for years and most likely many generations before.

Day after day ... year after year ... century after century .. 
So how much different are ants, really?

Pan Bacnai, Socca, I don't remember which is the name of this snack.  It's a batter of corn meal, maybe some flour, olive oil and seasonings.  The barrel is heated with hot coals and the batter is poured onto a hot pizza pan.  It's cooked a few minutes like a pancake and then cut into wedges and severed.  I thought it looked a little like a thin quiche.   This woman was the last vendor left in the market (and she had a lot of customers.)  I enjoyed watching her argue with the clean up crew as they sprayed water from the fire hose past her.
This is a picture with our hotel in it ... somewhere.  We were about five miles east of town.   We aren't sure which building is the hotel but it's near the center of this photo above a marina.  Needless to say, we had a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. 

We were only about fifteen miles from Italy so one day we drove east through the tiny country of Monaco and crossed the border into Italy.  We were surprised that during all of our travels through England, France, Spain and across the border of Italy we were never asked for our passports.

Cheryl was disappointed, as she wanted to get all of the country's stamps.  We did, however, see several trucks stopped along the French-Italian border.  Several dozen armed officials were busy searching trucks and reviewing their papers.  One of the trucks had its back doors open and I could see it was full of beef hanging on hooks.  Germany had just had its first case of Mad Cow disease and France was being blamed for it.  So I suspect it was all because of this.

Next, on to wine country.
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