Tour de France (Part VII): Riviera / by Deborah Clague

The Pyrénées region bordering Spain and Provence to the east of it are beautiful. I think that's the running refrain through all of these posts and I'm sure it's getting exhaustingly repetitive, but I can't help express how beyond wonderful France is. Like, I've turned into the biggest francophile around. I'm learning the language. I'm studying the history. I've decided I'm going to spend this summer living like a Parisian on the prairies indulging in art, wine and all the joie de vivre I can find here in Saskatchewan. This was a life-changing experience and I'm already planning my return.

The drive to Saint-Tropez was not only beautiful but aromatic. Lavender was not in season, so I'm not sure what was making the air so fragrant. The hills were covered with yellow flora that I couldn't identify. The further south I went, the roads were congested with bad eastern European drivers. It's not a stereotype I'm trying to encourage; I was literally making note of every bad semi driver that cut me off or nearly ran me off the road and they were all from Hungary, Croatia or (the worst) Bulgaria. I can only assume they hand out driver's licenses at birth to anyone and everyone as part of some lingering communist law. Despite the heavily heavenly perfumed air, this was the start of the most stressful period of my vacation. The highways here are INTENSE. It didn't help that I was driving a car that had less power than something on The Flintstones. It also didn't help that there were so many tolls. Like literally every 20km and they never had the damn cost posted until you got to the booth, leaving me rummaging through my purse to find change while being honked and sworn at by those impatient to get to the beach. Not very leisurely.

By some odd coincidence, every time I stopped and entered a store or turned on the radio, "Skyfall" by Adele was playing. It's a great song and what better place to hear it and envision myself meeting James Bond (Daniel Craig version please) than on the French Riviera. Sadly, I never encountered him or his twin but I did encounter something peculiar and thus begins my second installment of things that Rick Steeves and Lonely Planet won't tell you about: what is with all of the men "mistakingly" wandering into female washrooms in France? Yes, they are marked with the globally understood female symbol. If it were once or twice, I would be under the assumption that there were a few Scotsmen on holiday needing to take a wee. But it was every single day at nearly every stop, from the roadside rests to McDonalds to IKEA. Please don't question my shopping habits based on that last sentence and instead use this as a warning that there are a lot of pervs in Europe. Also, it should be noted that toilet seats do not exist outside of Paris. Since the fall of the monarchy, they've decided that no one shall comfortably sit on a throne ever again.

I didn't end up staying in Saint-Tropez proper but rather Port Cogolin, which is a 5 minute drive away. Actually the two towns just run into each other so I like to think I was staying in a suburb of the resort. It wasn't really the Brigitte Bardot land of hedonism that I envisioned - did you know that there's the French equivalent of a Wal-Mart in the middle of Saint-Tropez? They don't put that on the postcards. The weather was nice in comparison to Canada but not nice enough to fill the rocky beaches. There were a few, mostly female, tourists taking advantage of this solitude to work on erasing their tan lines. This becomes a less sexy visual when one realizes that there is also an oddly placed graveyard on the shore. Because of this, I can honestly (and proudly) say I didn't have one of the worst bodies on the beach.

After two days, I continued across the Mediterranean through Cannes, Nice and finally Monaco. This tiny sovereign city-state is just dripping in wealth. Every car is a Maseratti, Ferrari or Lamborghini. Everyone is thin, impeccably dressed and gorgeous. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my Peugeot, not being able to afford more than two hours in the pricey parkade. It was truly a whirlwind tour of the palace, bay and casino and other than stores that I can't afford to shop in, that's pretty much all there is in Monaco. I don't think I would want to be part of this world. The middle class is comfortable. I like home cooked meals. I like wearing sweatpants and jeans. My condo is the first time in my life that I've had a dishwasher and that shit makes me feel like freakin' Marie Antoinette residing at Versailles. This is all I need in life. Observing the guys at the entrance of the Monte Carlo casino posturing with their hot rides was exhausting, not impressive. You will never win when playing that game. Also, matte car paint is ugly. Why is this a trend?

After paying the exhorbitant parking fee (and getting lost in the parkade), I bid adieu to Monaco. I punched a town in the French Alps into my GPS and was on my way. I thought it would take me out on the same road I came in but little did I know it was now taking me on the "scenic" Princess Grace death route, all 90 degree turns on blind corners up a mountain with drivers much more familiar with every nuance than I speeding about. Have you ever been so stressed you wanted to cry but instead starting manically laughing? This was me. What could I do but hope for a much more glamourous obituary than the reality of what I was living at that moment. Deborah Clague 1980 - 2013. Born in Winnipeg, died in Monaco. Never had to get botox. When I finally got to the top (alive!), the highway was deserted. I didn't question this initially, but a sign that read "au revoir" gave me pause. "Goodbye from what?", I thought. A long drive through a tunnel carved into another mountain answered that question: I was no longer in France, I was now in Italy.

I toured the country in 2011. At the time, I thought it was great if a little poorly maintained. The transition from pristine France into Italy during this 2013 holiday really put it all into perspective. Italy resembles a former Soviet state in ruins in comparison to its neighbour. It was shocking at how run-down it was. I eventually came across a toll booth (naturally) wherein I hoped to turn around and get fuel. I also prayed I wouldn't be asked to show an international driver's permit as I didn't have one (you don't need one in France but you do in Italy). I paid the toll and inquired where the nearest station was. After sending me off and filling my tank, I had to return to the same exact toll booth and pay the SAME toll again just to get out of the country. I was in Italy for all of 20 minutes and it cost me 20. I couldn't help but feel that this was just a set-up to extort money form lost, idiotic tourists like myself.

In short, I kinda hated the French Riviera.

About to drive the Millau Viaduct:

Saint-Tropez Marina:

The "perfect light" in Saint-Tropez:

Graveyard on the shores of the Mediterranean:

The crystal clear waters of Saint-Tropez:

Me in Monte Carlo, Monaco:

Port Hercule:

Monte Carlo Casino:

More fancy cars in Monaco:

Dudes comparing cars/penis size outside of the Monte Carlo Casino:

Tourists - keep your pants on in Monaco: