Sunday, 8 May 2016

Instant France

Sunday 1st May, 2016 

We entered Italy in mid November, and exited in May...culture shock!
Borders are unforgiving things, one moment you are in Italy, the next in France. It can be quite confusing. The British have many prejudices regarding their next door neighbours - that they are impatient, and won't queue properly, that customer service is palaeolithic, that despite having invented the notion of 'joie de vivre'. in fact being utterly miserable is much preferred. All of these things are of course utterly outrageous stereotypes bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the actual experience of being in France, apart from in the Côte d'Azur, where conforming to negative national stereotypes appears to be a conscious lifestyle choice.

Stereotype number 1 - Impatience, we managed to tick this one off within five minutes of crossing the border. Our momentary hesitation at the peage was greeted with much annoyed horn blowing from the prat behind us. Number 2 - the achievement of the Fred Flintstone Memorial Award for non-existent customer service had already been bestowed upon Camping Le Rossignol at Antibes by the 75 reviews expressing outrage at the reception staff's rudeness recorded by previous visitors on the ACSI app feedback site. So it would have been surprising if we had felt welcome. It was reassuring to note that the place's infamous unfriendliness was not based on any racial prejudice as there were as many disgruntled French former customers as other nationalities. Happily though we were able to confer a 'Lenny' on the place, as the Leonard Cohen Diploma for Sustained Miserable Expression is popularly known. This was achieved by the older woman at the desk who took five minutes to complete a three line handwritten receipt while maintaining perfectly a pained scowl and a demeanour of utter disdain. La belle France, we know it will improve once we escape the Riviera.

Le Rossignol, Antibes - nice site, strange approach to customer service...

One of our rules of thumb on our travels is to try to visit new places. Sometimes that is tricky when we are travelling through places we know well, and we are familiar with most of the Côte d'Azur as we spent quite a few family holidays at Easter here in the 90s and early noughties. Antibes was the first place we visited in 1992, before Laura was born. Sarah had her 4th birthday at a picnic spot in Sophia Antipolis and Matthew became utterly convinced that Thunderbirds HQ was based at the TV masts and satellite dishes on the summit of Mont Vinaigre. For us it was a real adventure, Gill was working part-time and her salary barely covered childcare costs, the first house we bought in Buxton hovered on the edge of negative equity, and soaring interest rates rendered the mortgage barely affordable. One miserable day in February Gill found a 10 day Easter break to an Antibes mobile home on offer for £180 - so we maxed out the credit cards before even the term was coined, and headed south in a elderly Vauxhall Cavalier. 

Unwise?  Doubly so when the clapped-out Cavalier's cooling system exploded next to the Thunderbird Headquarters and Scott did not even come to the rescue. The repair cost more than the holiday, but we came back changed people: we were no longer content to grab the odd holiday, we began to live to travel, particularly in the Mediterranean ; we became addicted to Matisse blue.

Re-visiting old haunts - Thunderbirds HQ masats are  just visible above the trees
So finding ourselves back in Antibes almost a quarter of a century later was always to risk disappointment, for we have changed, the town has changed and the world has changed. I suppose we have become somewhat more choosy about our preferred destinations, and without children with us have little need of visitor attractions. We have been to the big resorts , Nice, Cannes, Menton, Monaco. I have subjected my long suffering family members to the delights of the many modern art galleries here, I don't feel I need to revisit them. Antibes itself has changed; in 1992, out of season, it was still a quiet winter resort. Of course the marina was packed with super-yachts, mainly closed-up, but the town itself retained a certain Provençal charm. 

Posh yachts - most of them London registered
Now, thanks to budget air travel the place is very much on the Airb&b short break map. The food market has gone, the beautiful wrought iron structure is still there, but now it hosts stalls selling objet d'art, or as Gill put it, 'heartfelt junk'. 

Antibes' authentic Provencal Irish pub

with local delicacies served every da

Old market - food stalls gone, bad art rules!

A whole street seems to have specialised in alternative therapies, including one place offering 'sinus massage' which sounds like something you might once have got for free from an associate of the Kray twins. The world has moved on, and so has Antibes.

Good to know the water is vegetarian...
It still has lovely shaded backstreets of pale houses with flowery balconies, and the view from the ramparts is as beautiful as ever, east towards Nice and the Alps Maritime, west towards the wooded Cap d'Antibes. 

The backstreets are lovely though...

the ancient 'laverie'

It will always be a special place for us because of the memories we associate with it. Now though, the heart of the town is a tourist trap selling junk. For us it has lost its charm and we decided to move on.


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