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Old 15th May 2015, 16:31   #1
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Default A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Prelude

Paul Theroux has once said, "Tourists don't know where they've been, Travelers' don't know where they're going".

This simple statement truly sums up the differences between the Tours sold by travel companies offering 14 nights across 10 different countries from the Free Independent travel options available for those adventurous to plan their own travels. While the prospect of having 6 different Visa stamps on a passport seems attractive, at times, that is what the memory is all about. Frequent travels, no free time, Seat in Coach tours, loud tour guides who are always in a hurry, pre planned meals etc etc.

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With that in mind, one of the most sold destinations is Europe and many of us love the prospect of visiting the Louvre, the Swiss Alps, The Eiffel Tower and all the rest. Thanks to group tours, its actually possible to do a quick landmark hop as well for those of us that are interested, BUT the real essence of travel lies in taking one's time to explore a country one day at a time. Our choice of France was based on the rich cultural heritage, the prospect of traversing the country with stops to explore places, the great cuisine and also the wish to experience how Xmas and New Years are celebrated back there.

Accordingly, I plan to make this travelogue as informative as possible and will be including flight plans, internal travel tips as well as Hotel information for the benefit of all.

The Planning for the Trip

We had in total planned around 14 days in France with the hope that this would give us a chance to cover a decent proportion of the country. However, on further investigation we realised that 14 days would be just about enough to scratch the surface of this wonderful country.

Accordingly, the days were split as follows:

Day 1: Arrive Paris CDG/ Overnight by TGV to Lyon
Day 2- 5: Lyon
Day 6: TGV to Avignon
Day 6-8: Avignon
Day 9: TGV to Antibes via Marseille
Day 9- 12: Antibes i.e. South of France
Day 13- 16: Antibes to Paris by TGV

Flight options

Ex Kolkata, options generally go via the Middle East (Dubai or Doha), which is the route that most folks take. However, the Air India route via Delhi (DEL) is an excellent option as well. One, you can take an early morning flight out of CCU. Two, You can take an afternoon flight to CDG from DEL. Three, You get to travel on the all new B 787-8 Dreamliner (More on the Dreamliner experience later) and Four, Air India hospitality and service has really notched up off late. Best of all, you hit CDG by evening time, which gives you enough time to reach the city or take a train to some other destination.

The Dreamliner Experience

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After having racked up a fair bit of miles across all global airlines, I was greatly looking forward to the 787-8 experience of Air India. I was also hopeful that the airline would have worked hard to regain its glory days of great service. Having flown both legs on AI, happy to report that the experience has greatly improved though some patchy areas remain. We were well fed with 2 major meals, 2 snack meals and good frequency of Beverage carts to remain happy and contented on the flight.

Sadly, the IFE was not so great, but the comfy economy seating, greater seat pitch and lower cabin pressure of the Dreamliner ensured we had a great restful sleep almost the entire length of the flight.


Internal Travels

Traveling inside Europe is generally an expensive affair, or so the feeling is. Airports are at a distance from the main city so taking expensive cabs or buses is the only way to get to town. Road travel is expensive thanks to fuel costs and toll charges and so the only cost effective way to travel is to use the TGV (Operated by the French company SNCF).

About the TGV, most travel operators in India will try and sell you a pass which entitles you to say 4-5 days of travel across the country in a class of your choice, Second or First. However, my research showed that these passes are generally more expensive than booking A-la-carte tickets, which are point to point. Thus, we decided to book point to point TGV tickets and the best part is that the tickets were delivered right upto our home in Kolkata via global shipping.

Regarding travel within the cities we visited, we found it convenient to walk except in Paris where we jumped into the excellent Underground system. There again it makes sense to buy a bunch of tickets called a CARNET rather than buying individual tickets from Station to station. For the south of France we had a self driven car for travel between the cities in the South.

The TGV Experience

Till the point of boarding my very first TGV at CDG airport, I'd only heard stories of these silver bullets flying through the countryside at insane speeds and I was very excited to do most of our internal journey's in the comfort of the TGV trains.

The TGV has 2 classes for travel, First and Second class and both are fantastic. While the First class seats offer armchair like room, the Second class seats are excellent too, comfortable, recline and are quite similar to business class seats. The double decks are great with the upper decks providing nice views, however, the prospect of lugging up heavy luggage over a narrow flight of stairs is not great at all.

That said, the speed and the smoothness of the ride is great and one can walk to the snack bar on board to purchase a limited menu of items. Recently, SNCF has introduced a new class of trains called the iD-TGV which provides free onboard Wi-Fi as well.

1st Class seat
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2nd Class seat
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The Mrs. at the Onboard Cafe
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Food

Well, the French are known to take their food and cuisine seriously and every place we visited, right from the touristy cafes to the hidden gems, we found a great emphasis on quality, taste and presentation. While restaurants and cafe's in the tourist areas were expected to dish out drab fare at high prices, we were pleasantly surprised by the fare dished out.

However, I did not find the food too Veggie friendly and I suspect it would be better to carry a list of Veg options when one visits. Also carrying some amount of RTE meals would be helpful. On the plus side, most places seem to offer a lovely Margerita/ Funghi pizza or a nice Tomato based pasta. Other cuisines such as Turkish or Chinese are fairly easily available too and at awesome prices.

A point to note is that most restaurants offer a set meal at a very attractive price which is called a Plat Du Jour (Consisting of an entree', main and a dessert). If you're lucky the place could even offer a glass of the house beverage to go along with the meal. If you'd like more beverages with your meal, try a carafe' which offers 3-4 glasses at around Euro 6-7 for a decent local produce.

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Excellent bakes and desserts
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Bakery heaven
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A Continental platter

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Hotels and Accommodation

We visited during winters and expected the rates to be on the lower side. However, owing to Xmas and New Year season, the rates were pretty high. Despite this, we were able to keep the accommodation costs in check due to an emphasis on hunting value accommodation across the entire country. We generally stuck to our thumb rule of choosing the best Tripadvisor rates hotel/ B&B in our Budget, and fortunately, we made great choices.

Lyon: Best Western Charlemagne (a decent hotel, walking distance to the Lyon Perrache TGV station. Helpful, when you arrive directly from Paris stations or the airport TGV station at TGV)

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Avignon: Pop Hostel (wonderful funky place walking distance the TGV station. You can get huge double rooms with clean attached baths for as low as Euro 50) Close proximity to major town sights and a lovely Carrefour supermarket next door.

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Antibes: La Jabotte (A lovely B&B run by an affable lady and her many cats). Classic South of France architecture, just 100 m from the beach at Antibes. Enough of free parking available on the beach as well.

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Paris: Hotel Printemps (Close to Picpus and the Nacional metro stations). Nice neighbourhood and lovely cosy rooms offerings great views of the streets.

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Old 16th May 2015, 11:43   #2
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

There in Lyon

Lyon is truly one of the most understated cities from a travel point of view. While most people who flock to France marvel at the sights of Paris or the Glamor of Cannes, Lyon, the 2nd largest city in France offers a mix of culture and understated style coupled with amazing cuisine.

From Perrache, most landmarks were within walking distance (Well we walked 8 kms a day) and were hardly likely to give you sore feet because of the lovely albeit cold weather and the proliferation of cafes where you could stop when you wanted.

Some of the notable places to visit are the Vieux Lyon, Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, Rhône & Saône Rivers, Place Bellecour, Presqu'ile, Cathédrale St-Jean, National Opera House among many other places.

Place Bellecour
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The Statue of Louis XIV
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Side of the Rhone
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Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
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View from the Basilica
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View from the Basilica
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The highlight for us was the Christmas Eve celebrations and the mass at the local church where anyone and everyone was welcome to attend. For us, it was a first and the sight of the huge church and the ringing of the bells was something out of a movie for us.

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PS: Excuse me for the Grainy quality of some of the pics. The main camera had been knocked off during the trip and most of the pics are from an iPhone 4S or a Google Nexus 5 Camera

Post Lyon, where we spent almost 4 days, it was time to take the TGV onward to Avignon, another historical place that was one the seat of the Papacy in the 13th Century. A fantastic city, with great heritage and lovely scenery awaited us, BUT for the small issue of missing the TGV from Lyon Perrache.

As an aside to those who wish to travel, one must note that train stops are only for a couple of minutes and one must know exactly where one's coach is expected to stop. Please do seek out the platform assistants who will help you to the right spot.

Last edited by premjit : 29th May 2015 at 13:40.
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Old 16th May 2015, 12:26   #3
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Into Avignon, Just about

Missing the train at 5 AM on a cold European winter morning is hardly the way to start a new leg of a trip. Having missed the train, we decided to regroup and requested the station manager to suggest an alternative. Luckily, in Broken English we were told that they were making an exception and would put us on another train, albeit a slower ReR to Avignon.

With train frequency being pretty good, we were back in luck and well on our way to the next destination, which we reached in a couple of hours. Post the morning fiasco, lady luck had smiled on us and were blessed with lovely sunshine which remained with us during our two days in the city.

Avignon is another place which is missed by the larger tour groups which makes the place pretty quaint and easy to explore on foot. We stayed at the Pop Hostel which was right inside the Historic heart of the town centre, a massive walled rampart. From there, it was a minute walk to the Farmers market and some more minutes to the Palais des Papes, which once was the Pontifical residence way back in the 13-14th century. It is said that 7 Popes lived there from 1305 to 1378 AD.

The Walls of the Historic town centre
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The Palais Des Papes
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The vast open area in front of the Palais
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The Pont D' Avignon or the famous incomplete bridge on the River Rhone is also a short walk away. The interesting fact about the bridge is that it was never completed owing to the arches being washed away whenever the Rhone river was flooded. Finally, the bridge was abandoned and now only 4 arches remain, with the entire area having been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Post our long walk to explore the city, we chilled out at one of the innumerable cafes dotting the town.

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After that, it was back to the Hotel and time to get ready to visit the Evening Farmers market, which is a lot of fun, food, drink and frolic.

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Avignon Town centre is very vibrant and no place more so than the Common areas of the Pop Hostel. It was a great opportunity to meet people from different nationalities and discuss the one thing that brought us together, TRAVEL.

Having spent a couple of days in this lovely town, it was time to move to where the action really was. The cities of Glitz, Glamor, Fast Cars, Luxury Yachts, Good looking people and Hollywood...Yes, the French Riviera, here we come...

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Old 1st June 2015, 18:21   #4
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The French Riviera... The good stuff and the downright sinful stuff...

Getting out of Avignon again involved a really early morning train. With our past experience of missing trains, this time we ensured we reached the station well before time so we could pick up the customary early morning coffee as well. Again, one must keep in mind that the TGV trains stop for only a few minutes at a station and hence you must know where your coach will stop. Makes sense to find out in advance.

The train journey from Avignon to Antibes showed us precious glances of the French countryside and the transition from the Central to the South was pretty stark. We reached Antibes TGV by around 11 AM, well in time to take a bus (No 14) to Le Salis beach from where our accommodation was a minute walk.

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Antibes as a town was chosen as our base in the South. Some of the main reasons for this was the relatively cheaper cost of accommodation compared to other towns such as Cannes and Nice, relatively central location to Cannes, Nice, Monaco, Eze among other towns as well as a vibrant vibe throughout the town which was more chic than downright luxurious. At the same time, the amazing beach and the towns sights and sounds didn't disappoint as well.

Sadly, the first half of the day was entirely washed out due to rain and we had to be content spending time in the room, sipping coffee and munching on warm croissants that the host of our hotel was kind to serve to us. Luckily, the gods decided to act benevolent and we had a spot of sunshine post lunch. Without wasting any time, we immediately set out to explore the sights and sounds that the town had to offer.


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Amazing sights at the Yacht harbour. Some details as I found from the internet follow the pics
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Name: Flying Fox
Length: 73.55 M
Launched: 2012
Acco: 1 master suite, 5 double cabins

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Name: Madame Gu
Length: 99 M
Launched: 2013
Addons: Helicopter Hangar, Jacuzzi pool

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Day 1 in the South and we were blown over. Never ever had I seen such a display of excess wealth and there was only more to follow. With Cannes, Eze, Nice and the Grand Monaco left to be seen over the course of the next few days. How would we do this...Well, it'd be easy thanks to a cute little Renault Twingo that we managed to rent for approximately 100 Euros for 3 days.

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Old 1st June 2015, 18:34   #5
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Day 2 in the South, overwhelming beauty of all kinds ;-)

Day 2 started early with a lovely breakfast. We had heard weather reports of clear skies and nice sunshine and wanted to waste no time in getting our car and discovering the other towns along the coast. Since we had not booked any vehicle in advance, and it was New Years time, we were mighty lucky that our hotel owner was able to arrange us a small hatch at a throwaway price. However, it always makes sense to pre-book with companies such as Avis/ Hertz/ Europcar or cheaper companies such as Thrifty/ Budget well in advance.

The Twingo experience was slightly scary initially for me because even though I have driven on the other side of the road earlier (Turkey), that was an automatic. Getting the right coordination in parallel parking as well as navigating through trick town centres was also going to be a massive challenge for me.

With a prayer on my lips, I slotted into 1st and drove out of the vehicle yard on toward the Grand Corniche, which is said to be one of the most romantic driving roads in the world. The original road dates back to the times of Napoleon in his grand quests, however, the latest avatar of this awesome driving road is nothing short of spectacular and perhaps the best stretch lies from Nice to Menton and onward to Monaco. In fact, this road has its share of fans right from automobile companies shooting videos to timeless greats like F Scott Fitzgerald. Now, I will let the pictures do some of the talking.

Viewpoint overlooking the sea
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Viewpoint overlooking the sea
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View from the Jardins' D Exotique
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The spectacular road from afar
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First stop on this awesome road...Eze Village

Èze, renowned tourist site on the French Riviera, is famous worldwide for the view of the sea from its hill top. Its Jardin botanique d'Èze is known for its collection of cacti and affords great panoramic views. It is rumoured that Walt Disney spent time in Èze.

The oldest building in the village is the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix and dates back to 1306. Members of the lay order of the White Penitents of Èze, in charge of giving assistance to plague victims, would hold their meetings there. The shape of the bell-turret is an indication that the village once belonged to the Republic of Genoa.

Apart from that, this little village with an official population of 2500 has some amazing cafes and the brilliant Fragonard' Perfumery. A trip of the perfumery is a must do, at least for us.

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Post the late lunch, we were hungry for more and decided to head further onward with no real agenda apart from enjoying the awesome drive. Coming to a crossroad, we saw a mile marker for Monaco. While, this plan was never on the cards, we drove on and straight into Monaco, the country/ city of total glitz, glamour and money. Entering Monaco was a breeze, but once we were in, we came up against some heavy slow moving traffic. At the same time, finding parking seemed to be challenging. We'd almost given up when we saw a marker pointing to a paid parking at the basement of the Casino Monte Carlo, too bad for us that is was perhaps the most expensive parking I've ever paid for.

Some of my neighbours at the parking. The rest were upstairs.

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If this was the basement, I was only imagining what we'd see once we were at ground level. And boy, was it a feast for sore eyes...

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All the visual stimuli finally led us to believe we were high flyers too and with that foolish thought, we decided that this would be the night we'd finally be part of the Monte Carlo Hoi Polloi. Yes !! It was time to try our luck at the Casino...

A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France-casino1.jpg

Sadly, lady luck had done enough for us that day and we ended up with our meagre principal lost as well. Despite the losses, the day had been amazing and we decided to sign off from the very classy Cafe De' Paris.

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Tomorrow would be another day....

Last edited by premjit : 1st June 2015 at 21:33.
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Old 2nd June 2015, 16:05   #6
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 2nd June 2015, 17:11   #7
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Quote:
Originally Posted by premjit View Post
Having spent a couple of days in this lovely town, it was time to move to where the action really was. The cities of Glitz, Glamor, Fast Cars, Luxury Yachts, Good looking people and Hollywood...Yes, the French Riviera...]
You just brought back some faint memories of my travel to France. Thanks for sharing.

I had been there when I was 12 or 13 years old but I do remember being overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera, Monte Carlo and Nice. Paris on the other hand felt more chilled out, something similar to Mumbai. At that time, we had gone in an SOTC tour and that was the first and last time we ever experienced a tour.
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Old 2nd June 2015, 17:12   #8
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Thanks for sharing the photos. I have fond memories of Eze since we had trekked up to Eze from the road to Monte Carlo and that too in the evening on a beautiful summer day in 2007. I see that the Jardin has not changed much and Eze is still pretty much the fascinating little village in Cote-D'Azur.
By the way Fragonard Perfumery is in Grasse and not Eze. I remember having visited their manufacturing unit and their shop and purchasing some amazing perfumes.

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Old 2nd June 2015, 21:59   #9
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Very good so far. I love this "walking narrative" style of travelogue writing, which gives the reader the impression that he's moving with you on the trip. Food is a must mention for us . The historical tidbits, and information on hotels/public transport was helpful too. Please keep it coming.
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Old 2nd June 2015, 21:59   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ambivalent_98 View Post
Thanks for sharing the photos. I have fond memories of Eze since we had trekked up to Eze from the road to Monte Carlo and that too in the evening on a beautiful summer day in 2007. I see that the Jardin has not changed much and Eze is still pretty much the fascinating little village in Cote-D'Azur.
By the way Fragonard Perfumery is in Grasse and not Eze. I remember having visited their manufacturing unit and their shop and purchasing some amazing perfumes.
Hi, Thanks for the feedback. Regarding the Fragonard Perfumery, there is one in Grasse as well as another smaller factory in Eze. The one in Eze is the one that we visited.

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Originally Posted by predatorwheelz View Post
Very good so far. I love this "walking narrative" style of travelogue writing, which gives the reader the impression that he's moving with you on the trip. Food is a must mention for us . The historical tidbits, and information on hotels/public transport was helpful too. Please keep it coming.
Aniket: Thanks. I am always inspired by your trip travelogs. In fact, I only started putting mine up after you did. The food in France is fantastic for someone who enjoys the fare. Nowhere do they take their food so seriously as they do in France. Even the "tourist trap" restaurants do a fantastic job.

More to follow soon...New Years and Paris left !!

Last edited by mobike008 : 3rd June 2015 at 03:41. Reason: Merging posts. Please use multiquote if posting consequetively within 20 minutes. Thanks
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Old 3rd June 2015, 01:41   #11
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Pretty good write-up Premjit. The opening quote is so true I must admit. Please keep the updates coming. Rating it a well deserved 5 stars.

Ps. Wish you hadn't lost the camera. The photos would have been out-of-the-world, considering you were blessed with amazing sunshine.
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Old 3rd June 2015, 15:57   #12
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

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[b]
With a prayer on my lips, I slotted into 1st and drove out of the vehicle yard on toward the Grand Corniche, which is said to be one of the most romantic driving roads in the world. The original road dates back to the times of Napoleon in his grand quests, however, the latest avatar of this awesome driving road is nothing short of spectacular and perhaps the best stretch lies from Nice to Menton and onward to Monaco. In fact, this road has its share of fans right from automobile companies shooting videos to timeless greats like F Scott Fitzgerald. Now, I will let the pictures do some of the talking.

The shape of the bell-turret is an indication that the village once belonged to the Republic of Genoa.
Good stuff.

Three of the best highway roads to drive in South of France - Grande Corniche from Nice to Menton; coastal road from Cannes to St. Tropez; and Route Napoleon, especially the sections from Grasse to Digne les Bains and from Gap to Vizille (this is not in the Cote d'Azur, but in Rhone Alps).

Drove around France a few weeks back and some of the driving was spectacular.

Menton, Eze and Nice were all part of Italian provinces for a large part of their history - in fact, even today, people refer to Nice as an Italian city stranded in France. Menton and Eze village are filled with tourists driving in from Italy.
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Old 3rd June 2015, 18:23   #13
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Hello Premjit,

Lovely travelogue. I am feeling a bit sad that I missed the Grand Corniche, since I am just off from a 15 day DIY trip of France!! Very similar to your itinerary. We traveled May 13-27 Paris Grenoble Chamonix Lyon Cannes Antibes Nice and Avignon!!

I can so relate to your TGV experience since we were a family of 4 with 5 bags and we had to get on and off in those 1-2 mins the TGV stops!! We managed well though.

Looking forward to rest of your travels!!

(My travelogue will be up soon too)
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Old 3rd June 2015, 19:59   #14
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

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Originally Posted by laferrari View Post
Pretty good write-up Premjit. The opening quote is so true I must admit. Please keep the updates coming. Rating it a well deserved 5 stars.

Ps. Wish you hadn't lost the camera. The photos would have been out-of-the-world, considering you were blessed with amazing sunshine.
Thanks for the kind words. Damaging the camera was a bad one. Regarding the sunshine, there wasn't much up in Paris and Lyon, but the south was better. Thankfully, we were able to use much of the sunshine ...

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Originally Posted by sameer sultan View Post
Hello Premjit,

I can so relate to your TGV experience since we were a family of 4 with 5 bags and we had to get on and off in those 1-2 mins the TGV stops!! We managed well though.

Looking forward to rest of your travels!!

(My travelogue will be up soon too)
Yes, the TGV stops are pretty quick. Specially for families like ours which travel with tons of bags...Look fwd to your travelog as well.

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Originally Posted by reverse_gear View Post
Good stuff.

Three of the best highway roads to drive in South of France - Grande Corniche from Nice to Menton; coastal road from Cannes to St. Tropez; and Route Napoleon, especially the sections from Grasse to Digne les Bains and from Gap to Vizille (this is not in the Cote d'Azur, but in Rhone Alps).

Drove around France a few weeks back and some of the driving was spectacular.

Menton, Eze and Nice were all part of Italian provinces for a large part of their history - in fact, even today, people refer to Nice as an Italian city stranded in France. Menton and Eze village are filled with tourists driving in from Italy.
Totally agree with you and thanks for the extra titbits. That was something even I wasn't aware of, though the presence of Napoleon in that area was a well known fact. Thanks...!!
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Old 7th June 2015, 06:30   #15
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Default Re: A very French Xmas and New Year...Our 14 days in France

Excellent travelogue and thanks for posting such nice snaps. If one chooses not to travel through tour operators,any idea about the ease of availability of vegetarian foods ? Thanks and wishing you lots of memorable travels.
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