I arrived in Paris and caught the train from the airport into the city, where I was greeted at the top of the metro stairs by a friend, Anna, also from Australia, who had arrived the night before and was waiting for me.
Ange, my friend from Tasmania, was also waiting back at the hotel, as we had all joined up to go on a road trip from Paris down and around the South of France and then onto Italy.
We had no real plans except that we had a night in Paris after I met up with them and decided over some breakfast where we might head first and how we would get there.
It was decided that we would catch the train from Paris to Lyon to spend a couple of nights there. This train ride was a breeze and quiet scenic. During this train trip I started to talk to the male sitting next to me and asked for recommendations in Lyon, which he gave us in broken English. This male also advised us that we had to change trains to get to where we had booked our accommodation and was very helpful in pointing us in the right direction.
Something we learnt real quickly is that there is not many escalators or lift in any of the train stations and you have to carry your bags up and down a number of stairs regularly. We arrived at the next station, obtained a map of the metro lines, a map of Lyon and direction to our hotel. We were told that we would need to go out the doors and then catch a tram or bus to our hotel and we were pointed in the general direction of the tram.
However, as we were all very hot and a little tired from carting our bags up and down numerous stairs, we decided to walk out of the station, past the carpark to a nearby street. However, as we were outside a place that looked liked they brewed beer, that was enough for us all to look at each other and decide it was time for a beer and then we would worry about a taxi to our hotel later.
We had three beers at this restaurant/bar and then I saw a taxi coming, so I ran outside, but missed it. I was waiting outside to see if another taxi came past, whilst Ange walked over to the barman and asked him to call a taxi and she showed him the snapshot of the hotel and address we needed on her phone. He laughed and said you don’t need a taxi, your hotel is basically there and pointed across the road and just down a little, in the side street from where we were standing in bar the whole time, which was just hilarious.
So we decided to dump our bags and return to have something to eat and continue to drink, all the while still laughing about how we were virtually next to our hotel.
The next day we caught the metro into Lyon Central and went to the information office where we were spoke with the attendant, Merilyn, who was very helpful and jovial. I ended up asking her what time she finished and if she wanted to have a drink with us after work. She laughed and said, “okay” and I said we would meet her back at the Tourisme Office at 4.30p.m.
We explored Lyon by foot for the entire day, visiting Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, Old Town, Museo Miniature et Cinema, Fourviere Hill and many other places.
Lyon is a great city and it is very easy to get around and use the metro.
At 4.30p.m., we were waiting outside the Tourisme Office for Merilyn to come out and then we all went and had a drink together on an Australian themed floating boat. We had arranged to pick up a hire car earlier that day from Avis back at the station near our hotel, so we had to leave to do this, but we had arranged to meet back up with Merilyn after we did this, for more drinks and some food.
So after a few rides back and forth on the metro, we arrived back in the city to meet Merilyn again, who suggested we go and get some cheese, nibbles and of course alcohol and go back to her place, which was very sweet.
We met her son, who took us down to the local shops, then ate and talked with us as well.
Merilyn cooked us chicken, steak and a traditional dish from her home island of Saint Martin, which was such a nice gesture.
Merilyn had a large yellow feathered head piece that is worn in carnival sitting on her shelf in the loungeroom and after a few drinks I asked if I could try it on, well one thing let to another and before I knew it, I was in the full costume, it was very funny.
After a great night with lots of laughs it was time to make a run for the last train back to our hotel, as we had some more sight seeing to do the next morning before starting our drive south.
We went back into Lyon and had a look around the La Croix Rousse area for a few hours and then I picked up the hire car and tried to work out the bloody GPS that was in French without success and unfortunately the Avis office was shut due to a National holiday to mark the end of WWII, oh well, lucky I bought that road map back in Paris with limited details. This was going to be fun.
Our Volvo V40 was loaded up with all our gear and then the three crash test dummies headed for the A7 Freeway to our first destination, Avignon. Anna was the co-pilot/navigator and had a map basically the size of the windscreen, a little funny.
The freeway was pretty well signed and it gave us little warning of impending toll booths, all we had to work out was if it took coin or card, as they are all different.
We made it to Avignon and I drove into the old town, where the streets are very narrow and parking is limited, as we had to find a hotel for the night and it was starting to get late in the afternoon. Anna and Ange jumped out and went to enquire at a hotel whilst I got abused by the street market lady for parking near her stall, but I wasn’t moving as there was not real parking anywhere.
We decided to stay in this hotel and negotiated our way to a public carpark nearby and then dragged our bags up and down stairs and through the street to the hotel, where we all shared a room.
After dumping our gear, we decided to walk around and have a look at the Old Town, which had a cuteness about it and watch the sunset, before getting some dinner.
We stayed just the one night and decided to head down to the lakes district to a place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer right down south, however on the way we visited the Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and Nimes, where there is an old fighting/bull fighting arena, which we had a look inside. As I walked around there was silence, however I could actually imagine it being crowded and people yelling whilst watching someone being slain.
After some lunch, we decided to head to a place called Arles, which was further south and basically on the way to Saintes-Maries. Most places we went to we would first attend the information office and grab a map for the local area, as the one we had was not very details for each town. Anyway before setting off I had a look at the map and knew the general direction I needed to get out of the city. Anna also had a look and she was directing me as I was looking and driving. Unfortunately I missed one turn to the right, so we took a turn a bit further up in the same general direction.
As I was driving along a main road, I saw an overpass above us and saw a sign to Arles going off to the right, but just discounted it, as the signs we were seeing appeared to be the right direction.
So we finally arrived at Ales about an hour later and drove around the town for a little and decided to stop and refuel. I did mention to Anna to ask for directions to Saintes-Maries, as I could not really see any signs whilst driving around, but she said the attendant didn’t really speak English, which is not uncommon in France, apart from the fact that they don’t want to speak it either.
So after a little more driving around the town, we pulled into a McDonalds carpark to use the toilet and I then checked the GPS map’s current location and the hand map again whilst the girls were inside and I could not for the life of me work out from our current location showing, where we should have been on the map, which was very frustrating as I am normally good with reading maps and getting to where I need to be, as I have done it for the last twenty four years in all different States of Australia and other countries.
Well the girls come back to the car and say we are actually in Ales, not Arles and we all started laughing uncontrollably. There was not really much in this town and it was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to head back towards Saintes-Maries to try and find a hotel for the night.
We arrived in the small but quaint busy seaside town Saintes-Maries, which had a lovely feel to it, however by this time it was close to 9.00 – 9.30p.m. on a Saturday night with a public holiday the day before. We pulled up at the first hotel and it was booked out, so was every other one we pulled up at, which was about another five. Others we passed had a red sign saying no vacancy in French and by this time I was joking saying we were probably going to have to all sleep in the car.
We even drove about twenty minutes out of town one way and couldn’t get anything at the hotels out there, so we decided we would have to drive onto the next main town about forty minutes away. By this time we were all a bit tired and hungry as the three tubes of sour cream Pringles just weren’t cutting it anymore.
As I was driving, out of the blue an old pub call L’Agachon appeared on the left hand side of the road with some cars out the front and about four people in the restaurant part, we pulled into the carpark and Anna and Ange went inside to enquire about a room whilst I waited in the car. They came back and said it was nothing flash but it was a bed, so we took it.
Well as soon as we dragged our bags up the stairs, we went straight to the bar, which contained the Manager working behind the bar and about half a dozen locals, who had none or very little English, but after a few beers our French and their English totally improved. We decided dinner by that stage was overrated and we settled on downing quiet a few Leffe beers, which contained 8% alcohol and a packet of nuts.
Four other young locals then joined us and when midnight approached, the blinds were pulled down, the disco lights were turned on and the music turned up. I think Ange and I left about 2.30a.m. and fell into our beds, but apparently Anna stayed talking to Manager and drinking shots until about 4.00a.m.
The next morning we were all a little seedy, but Ange looked like death warmed up and was in need of more sleep.
We headed back into Saintes-Maries to find a hotel, which we did. Ange went to get some sleep and Anna and I headed for the beach before having a look around town for a little.
The following day we did Le Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau, on our way to St. Remy Provenance, which was full of all different species of water birds, like Flamingos, herons, water foul and ducks in their natural environment, it was very fulfilling to see this, there was only one problems, we basically got carried away by the mosquitos and later that night had bites all over us. I would highly recommend doing this, but take the Bushman’s with you.
We headed for St. Remy and drove along roads that were lined with beautiful trees, past green fields with lots of red poppies and into the town of St. Remy, which is just gorgeous. It was straight to information to grab some maps and a recommendation for a hotel.
That afternoon, we purchased some local wines, cheeses, fruits, bread, oil and balsamic and decided to set up a bit of a picnic in the grounds of our hotel, which were just beautiful. Well one bottle turned into three and it was another funny night of dancing in our room, ringing people back home and generally just laughing.
The next day we headed off for Marseille, however our first stop was just outside St. Remy, where we had a look at some Roman ruins and visited the Saint-Paul Asylum, where Van Gogh spent some time and painted some of his most famous works. I am not a huge fan of Van Gogh’s art, however after visiting this hospital, I can see the beauty he saw and how it inspired him to paint the iris and other flowers that are within the manicured grounds.
We continued our drive through this beautiful countryside and stopped at one of the oldest wineries in the region, where Ange and Anna did a wine tasting. Our next stop was in AIX en Provence and thankfully we parked in the main train station carpark where there was an Avis office and after some figuring out with the Avis staff we got the GPS working.
Thank goodness for the GPS, as we arrived in Marseille, a huge city, second largest in France, right on peak hour about 5.00p.m. and oh boy there was some bloody traffic, but I managed to get us through it and into the narrow streets near the Old Port, where we found our hotel.
After two nights in Marseille, which was well worth it, it was off to a small place called Le Lavandou for a night before heading to Nice the following day to return our hire car.
What a cute seaside town it was, we walked to a restaurant near the water and had some pizza and drinks before an early night, which became a running joke, as every time we said we would have an early night, it was 1.00a.m. before we knew it.
The next day we left for Nice with a stop in St. Tropez along the way, where a lot of French go for their holidays. It was so busy in this town and there was lots of money, as some of the yachts were the size of luxury houses, but again, worth the trip.
We arrived in Nice, dropped our gear off at our hotel and then I drove Anna and I into the city about twenty minutes away, to drop the car back at Avis and then we negotiated our way quite easily back to our hotel via the metro and walking.
The following day we went to Cannes via the metro, where the famous film festival was in full swing and there were luxury yachts, luxury vehicles and glamour everywhere. Cannes was great; we walked around the old town and visited a couple of sites before having a meal at the oldest restaurant in Cannes, which was just superb.
There was no rest for the wicked; we were off to Monaco the following day, where they were setting up for the Grand Prix, which was on that weekend. This place is just dripping in money, I would like a dollar for every time I saw a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls Royce or any other luxury vehicle you can name, not to mention the luxury yachts that were docked in the harbor near the finish line of the Grand Prix. We checked out the Palace and Prince Reiner’s Private Collection of vehicles, which was just amazing.
I got separated from Ange and Anna, after we visited the Monte Carlo Casino. The last hop on hop off bus was leaving at 5.45p.m. and they had my return train ticket. So without further ordure, after back tracking and looking for them, I decided to make my way on the last bus to the train station, where I did not see them, so I proceeded to the bar and had a couple of beers as it was a very hot day. As I had some Wi-Fi, I sent them a message, but got no response, so I made the decision to ride the train without a ticket.
When I arrived back, I started walking to the hotel and for some reason I happen to look down a side street just before our hotel and I could see Ange’s hand in the air and her and Anna sitting outside a bar drinking, so I joined them again and had a few more beers.
Nice is a great city and the colour of the Mediterranean sea was just beautiful. We walked all around Nice and ended up having lunch at The Beach restaurant on the beach, where we got talking with some people from Brazil and had a great afternoon.
Sadly our time in France had come to an end and it was time to head to Italy.
We all caught a train to Genoa, where Anna and I got off to change trains to head to the Cinque Terre and Ange went onto Milan for a day before flying back to Australia.
It was an awesome road trip and we saw so much over the fourteen days spent in different cities.
The South of France is just beautiful and I would highly recommend a visit and driving around it.
My next story will be about my travels in Italy, so until then, au revoir.