Travel 2010 – Monaco, Vence, Valbonne, Days 4 and 5

Saturday, 16th/Sunday, 17th October 2010 – Monaco, Vence, Valbonne, Days 4 and 5

Saturday we again got off to a slow start – though I did slot in my training run (13k) before breakfast (having watched Nico Hulkenberg vanish into the distance outside – I never saw him come back).

At breakfast they were losing the plot in the restaurant, probably because it was Saturday and everyone had waited until late to start their days which meant cutlery was hard to come by as was milk for the coffee. Anyway by the time we got breakfast it was relatively late, so we asked for the car (Skil had kindly loaned us the Mercedes for the day and we had left it with the concierge to park – as with almost everywhere we went there seemed to be valet parking and I really doubt that I’m now capable of parking and collecting my own car; I expect some uniformed young man to go and fetch it and bring it to the door, and help me into it now). Anyway, we had a vague plan in mind to go to Nice to the Saturday morning flower market, before venturing onwards to Vence and possibly Valbonne to finish off the day.

The plan – as such plans do – was quite rapidly derailed as we headed down towards the Place Massena in Nice only to find diversions, traffic police slouching around looking uninterested in the chaos that was building, and massive queues of almost stationery traffic as a large demonstration against President Sarkozy and his pension reforms spilled into the surrounding streets. We baled out at that point and decided that the flower market could happen another time, preferably when there weren’t aggrieved students and civil servants with banners marching around bringing the traffic system to a standstill. We did briefly think a map might have been helpful, but then we figured I’d be able to work it out as I knew pretty much where I was going even if I didn’t know my way round that bit of town too well.

After a certain amount of snaking along a number of tiny roads we managed to escape from Nice and head towards Vence with a detour through Cagnes-sur-Mer where another demonstration slowed us briefly. Then it was up the road to Vence, noting with pleasure that the Danish restaurant, la Brouette on the D36 was still there with a sign outside celebrating 25 years in existence. It always seemed somewhat incongruous and I regret that I never did manage to go and eat there in all the time I lived round there, just to say I had. Anyway from there we wended our way up the D36 to arrive on the edge of Vence and wrestle the Mercedes (which is big) into a very small underground car park, not helped by the warning beeper on the car which was having hysterics about the proximity of the walls of the carpark, scooters, the odd rogue leaf and probably the movement of air. Once we realised we could pretty much ignore it, things got a lot easier!

We wandered the old medieval (and even Roman) streets, noting how much more commercialised and touristy Vence now is since the first time we stayed there in the late 1980s, and we did manage to locate the house we rented then, just round the corner from the Pizzeria le Pecheur de Soleil, which claims to offer over 600 different pizzas, mostly by the simple expedient of swapping just one ingredient out with something else and renaming the result! They were doing it in the 1980s and they still are… Just off that square is a beautifully preserved piece of Roman road leading to the column in the centre of the square, and the surrounding medieval buildings are very lovely and also very well preserved, though I must admit it must be hard work living in some of them.

The one we rented had one room per floor and some very steep, narrow stairs. It was wondrously cool in the hot weather but I suspect it would be glacial in the winter. Still, it was a pleasure to wander around the maze of little streets until we eventually decided that we really did need lunch. There followed another 30 minutes of wandering and menu reading as we considered our options. Not that one. The menu was too boring. Not this one. No sun on their terrace. Eventually we settled on another long-standing establishment, le Pigeonnier, where a portion of brandade de morue (salt cod mixed with potato)…

And another of scallops on a bed of leeks kept us happy and filled the gap till dinner – though I admit I did also have a dessert, a gratin of red fruit.

We declined coffee and made our way back to the car park, intending to have coffee some place else later in the afternoon.

The some place else we had in mind was at the end of a short drive back down towards the coast and the over towards le Rouret and out the other side to Valbonne, just round the corner from where I used to live in Plascassier.

The street plan of Valbonne is so straightforward but I still always end up meandering rather than purposefully heading for anywhere, but we did eventually end up in the main square where coffee was ordered and we sat and sipped and watched the two wedding parties in two different corners, the bride at one of them wearing a dress that I suspect she will come to regret in future years (unless of course “cheap and tarty” was the look she was actually going for).

After sitting in the sun for a little longer, we realised we should probably head back to Monte Carlo or we’d be later for dinner. A drive along the seafront as far as the airport showed lots of changes, especially around St. Laurent de Var where the road system is much improved and there is now a wide boulevard for cyclists, walkers, skaters and joggers almost all the way from Villeneuve-Loubet to the edge of Nice.

We headed back to the motorway and were soon back at the hotel, having handed the car over to Skil on the way. That evening we were considering going back to Moods one more time, but by mutual consent (and after managing to just avoid Ralph Firman Jr. and Stefano Coletti in the restaurant and young Mr. Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean in the hotel) we dined well at le Cosmopolitan…

After that we went back to the hotel for one last cocktail before an early night, ending up with a delicious passion fruit caipirinha before running away, especially as the only other people in the bar were a large party of Finns, and we know from experience how dangerous they can be when drink is involved.

Sunday was spent having lunch at le Virage, while the kart cup raged outside…

And not long after that we were off to the airport to return to normality!

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