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Archive for the ‘Tourism’ Category

I just need a bed for the night!

I hear this comment in my travel business all the time. Well, if you are going to travel to the south of France and find yourself in the beautiful fishing port of Villefranche sur Mer, just 7km out of Nice, and you just want a bed for the night, then don’t go and stay at the Hotel Welcome.

Nearly 25 years ago I brought my wife on a surprise Honeymoon from New Zealand to the south of France. She had no idea where she was going, but soon found out that there was a good 30 hours of sitting in a plane to get used to before arriving in this idyllic location.

This is the waterfront of Villefranche sur Mer. Restaurants on the waterfront. The Hotel Welcome just out of sight on the left of picture.

We hired a bright red convertible Peugeot car and drove up to the door of the Hotel Welcome. I was feeling fairly self-assured as I had learnt French at school, and I had brushed up on a few critical phrases, just so I could impress my new wife. With my wife firmly in hand I strolled up to the hotel reception and proclaimed

Bonjour Madamoiselle, je m’appele Monsieur Reese, j’ai une réservation à votre hotel. Hi, I’m John Reese I’ve got a booking here with you.

Comment ca s’écrit? – How do you spell that. (All good so far!!)

R E E S E – I slowly spelt each letter out.

Blank look across the desk

Errr, comment ca s’écrit?

So what don’t you understand. It’s R E E S E. Again I pedantically spelt out each of the five letters that make up my surname!

No, still a completely blank look, as she looked through the planning chart for the day.

Maybe the receptionist was deaf?

Finally I reached for her pen and wrote my name on a piece of paper.

Aaaah, Air Er Er Ess Er, Monsieur Reese!  Ah, Mr Reese, welcome to the Hotel Welcome! Phew !

(Sadly I never learnt how to pronounce phonetically the letters in French at school!!)

This was our introduction to this very special address. We have now returned to this place almost annually since that time and have been fortunate to experience the unique position of this hotel perched on the edge of the bay of Villefranche sur Mer. From the balcony of each bedroom you can sit and watch the comings and goings of the bay. During the day you can watch the luxury cruise boats sail into port and moor themselves in the bay right in front of you, you can watch the fishermen unload their catch right at your feet. Then in the still of a dark night you can look across the mirror flat water of the Villefranche sur Mer bay reflecting the lights and dreams of luxurious villas on the nearby Cap Ferrat, whilst listening to the gentle rocking of a nearby yachts’ masts moored in front of your hotel.

The Hotel Welcome on the waterfront. All the rooms have balconies.

But the Hotel Welcome is not just my second home. The famous French artist Jean Cocteau lived here for two years in the 1920s, and stayed in Room 22, which you can stay in today! The present owner of the hotel, Gerard Galbois, displays a sketch which Cocteau presented to his father, which carries the words “A mon très cher Welcome, où j’ai passé le meilleur de ma vie” “To my dearest Hotel Welcome, where I spent the best years of my life”. As well Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor stayed here, as well as Somerset Maugham.

I have many tourist who regularly return to the Hotel Welcome. Even without a car you have easy and regular access by train and bus, with places like Cannes, Antibes, Monte Carlo, Nice and Menton all being less than an hour away. One morning you might wake up and while enjoying breakfast overlooking this idyllic port view, you might decide to catch a train through to Italy to visit the Ventimiglia morning market just 40 minutes away – then after a pizza and pasta for lunch you can head back to your home away from home!

When you travel to the south of France you can either choose to have “just a bed” for the night, or you can choose to stay here at the Hotel Welcome – once you’ve been here, you’ll keep returning, just like me!

The view from my bedroom's balcony across the bay to Cap Ferrat. Bliss!

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For the last twenty years, France has been my life, both personally and in my business. How did this happen to a young lad living on the other side of the world in New Zealand?

My father died nearly thirty years ago at a relatively young age. I adored my father. I had heard through him that I had a distant cousin living in France with the same name as him – David Reese.

Not too long after my father died I travelled to France with the purpose of finding this man with the same name as my father. I was travelling in the north of France with a friend of mine in a campervan, when I stopped at a phone booth and called France Telecom to see if they could provide me with the number of this man with a very non-French name, Reese. Surprisingly they provided me with the only “Reese” they had who was living in Corsica, an island 30 minutes by plane from the south of France.

I made the phone call, and this stranger on the other end of the phone explained that “if you want to meet me you better be quick because I leave in two days’ time to tour around Europe”. I was in the Loire Valley, and had to find a way to Nice overnight in order to get to Corsica. My travelling companion was told to make his way alone through to the south of France while I raced to Nice. Three trains later I arrived in Nice at 6am. With no time to sample croissants or fresh coffee I raced to the local port to find a boat which would take me to the port of Bastia in Corsica. I made it on to the boat just as the boat was preparing to set off. During my six hour crossing I had time to ascertain from the crew how I would find this man with the same name as my father. This would not be straight forward. On arrival in Bastia I would then need to take the famous narrow gauge railway from Bastia to Ponte Lecchia, and then another train which would take me to the attractive port town of Calvi, where my distant cousin was to meet me.

I was new to Europe, having lived in the comfort of New Zealand, where our oldest buildings were not even 150 years old. So making my way through the port town of Bastia in Corsica was an eye opener for me as I searched for the train station. Constantly passing people sitting on footpaths eating meals and drinking pastis and local wine were sights I had never seen before! I eventually caught the little train “Trinighellu”. The train had open sides, and it began by snaking its way through narrow gorges and tunnels, until it arrived at the rocky mountains running through the centre the island. Then we headed from Porte Lecchia towards the coast where the train continued following beach after beach through to the picturesque town of Calvi. The countryside was glorious, and I soon realised why Corsica was known as the “Island of Beauty”.

This is the train arriving in Calvi - getting ready to meet my man! Photo thanks to http://simplythebest84.centerblog.net

The excitement was building as the little train proceeded along the white sandy beach of Calvi, as I was now about to meet my father’s namesake, David Reese!

The train jolted to a stop on the station platform and out I stepped. The station looked completely abandoned, except that there were two men waiting, with one man at each end of the platform. Hmm, which one is David Reese? One of the men was tall, wearing light cream coloured trousers with a matching shirt which was unbuttoned almost to his tummy button, showing off a bronzed chest that had seen years of dedicated sun worshipping and healthy living, and well coiffured greying hair slicked back off his face. Indeed this man looked like Roger Moore of James Bond fame.  The man at the other end of the platform was short, with holey faded jeans and a faded flowery shirt. This man had a craggy face that had not had the care and attention of Roger Moore, and what hair was left on his head was wirey and it looked like he had just climbed out of his cave after having not washed for a week – he could be referred to as Cave Man! This couldn’t be David Reese?

I was fairly comfortable with my genetic makeup and quickly ascertained who my man was! So I walked down the platform towards Roger Moore and promptly put out my hand “so you must be David”. NO. Cave Man was my man!

David Reese turned out to be an inspiration to me and my family over the next twenty years or more, and taught me that in life you must never let anyone talk you out of anything, that you must follow your heart. Anyway, he took me to his village, Montemaggiore, perched in the hills behind Calvi.

Ten years earlier I was selected to travel for a climbing expedition to Darjeeling in the Himalayas. Before I left I had a dream about a village perched in the hills, a dream that was as vivid as being there. When I arrived in the Himalayas I was so disappointed because the village of my dreams was not this one – I had been certain that my dream was leading me to Darjeeling.

As we drove from Calvi to Montemaggiore, he drove around the valley passing villages with such musical names like Calenzana, Zillia, and Lunghignano. Then as we turned around a bend there in front of me was the village of my dreams – Montemaggiore, and I couldn’t speak as tears welled up in my eyes.

What does this mean? Could I have been here before? Have you ever had any experiences like this? Maybe I was a Frenchman in another life!?

Note: I have since been travelling almost annually to Corsica since 1985, and have escorted travellers through this island more times than I can remember. This year from 19 August I have an escorted tour starting in Ajaccio and visiting of course my village of Montemaggiore! For further information contact me at john@france.co.nz.

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A traveller busy on her iPhone in the Paris metro!

Both the Interior Ministry and the local Paris train company (RATP) have warned that in the Paris metros there has been a large increase in pick-pocketing. An increase of 40% of reported thefts over the last year has astounded the French Interior Minister, Monsieur Hortefeux.

Of the reported thefts the majority of stolen items have been smartphones and in particular the iPhone. The Minister has encouraged the RATP to warn travellers of the risk of pick-pockets in the metros, as well as discussed with product providers whether there is a way of remotely and quickly disabling the use of stolen phones to make them worthless for subsequent operation.

In any major city such thefts are always a major issue and tourists in particular seem to have a “she’ll be right attitude” when touring around Paris. My family and I have observed on many occasions thieves in action. I hear often from my readers and travellers in Paris that they are safe carrying their handbags across their shoulders. However I have personally seen a number of handbags just ripped away from people before the thieves disappear in to the crowd. Once on Blvd St Germain near the St Germain metro stop a businessman was carrying his briefcase strapped across his shoulder and under his arm – a thief grabbed the bag and just continued pulling the man along the road until the strap broke and the thief disappeared with the bag including his computer into the metro never to be seen again!

Not everyone waits for their metro this way!

I always say to people to be security conscious. For men, never carry a credit card or too much money in your wallet – credit cards and excess cash should be carried in a security belt under your clothes. For ladies remember that a handbag is not secure – in fact it would be the least secure of anything! Now that you know that Smartphones are such a target, make sure you keep these well out of way – after all we don’t want thieves picking Apples in the Paris metro!!

But Paris is beautiful – enjoy it safely!

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It’s 6pm in the afternoon. A warm summer afternoon. My favourite time!

I’m sitting on a fine golden sand beach. I’m wearing swimming togs and a smile, with my wife. The sun is still high in the sky as we look across the bay from Tata Beach, in Golden Bay to the north of the South Island of New Zealand.

Across the bay we have waterskiers and jet skiers carving the water as we just sit!! Just sit! My perfect way of welcoming the New Year and discussing our travel plans for the year. My wife has just run across the hot sand with two large glasses – one a Gin and Tonic for me, and she’s poured a brandy for herself. This is heaven.

We’re lucky to have had our children with us as well, along with my daughter’s special friend from Paris. My daughter’s friend left us a week ago now after a rapid twelve day visit from France. He left here with a well-tanned face, a very pink sunburnt back (which is peeling now!) and confused memories of Christmas and New Year in the summer sun and heat of New Zealand. Now he’s back home and having minimum temperatures of minus 3 Celcius, and snow has again been settled on the Eglise St Severin opposite our Paris apartment. He experienced and was confused by our Christmas dinner which we traditionally have at midday, but which was delayed until later in the afternoon because it was too hot – but after setting up some sun shades we could commence! No mulled wine is served at our house here, rather chilled Champagne, wine and beer. With temperatures over Christmas and New Year being close to 30 degrees (Celcius) different between France and New Zealand you are certainly going to experience some changes. Some people just don’t think it right that Christmas dinner could be spent on the beach in your speedos! Whereas for NZers they can’t imagine heading off to midnight mass in all your winter clothes being careful not to slip in the ice. Traditional events seem so different when placed out of context in a different environment. When has someone in Paris seen Father Christmas in shorts and a T shirt!?

So even though I’m sitting here with sand between my toes in the heat of the late afternoon sun planning the year ahead, I have friends doing similar things like Caz and Craig on the beaches of NSW Australia, or people like Robin in the cold of Tarifa in southern Spain, or Mark exploring the depths of Tanzania, or Catherine in New York , or Julia in Turkey, or Jool who is freezing in Edinburgh! Everyone at a different place in time, night or day, hot or cold, planning their futures.

Meanwhile the ice is melting in my glass!

Best wishes to you all for the New Year!

Tata Beach holiday perfection!

Time for my G&T on the beach. I'll be back in the office soon!

This is the view from our beachfront house! You should all try and come here! Perfection!

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Christmas Greetings

The Christmas tree lights are blinking at me. The presents are impatiently waiting under the tree. The fridge is full of Champagne! 

Tonight in Paris (24th) the presents will finally be opened, and the Christmas feast will be devoured before well satisfied stomachs will make their way to midnight Mass. The magic of Christmas has arrived, and this gives me the chance to

 Wish you and your loved ones

A Merry Christmas

and All the Best

for the Holiday Season

Thanks for joining me on my travels through France during the year, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in 2011. For those travelling over the next weeks I wish you a happy and safe journey. For 2011 I hope that you have lots of safe and wonderful travel adventures.

Sur cette vieille de Noel je profite de ce blog de vous présenter tous mes meilleurs vœux pour le Noel et pour une soirée d’exception entourée par vos proches. Pendant le nouvel an j’espère que vous faites des découvertes magiques n’importe où dans le monde, et j’attendrai bien de partager avec vous mes histoires et mon passion pour la France en 2011.

Christmas Decorations in Galleries Lafayette

A shop window near Rue des Abbesses, Montmartre

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Snow in Paris

You sit in the window as the feathery snowflakes drift slowly to the ground. You become transfixed watching in awe as these flakes try to defy gravity as they make their way to the ground. You call out to your family to come and watch. “It’s snowing!”

You crowd around the window watching this spectacle in front of you. You watch first the bikes struggling, then the pedestrians in the street struggling whilst still wearing their elegant Paris shoes, then finally it’s time for the cars to struggle.

We’ve got to go out and enjoy this! You go outside, you scrape up some snow in your bare hands and throw a snowball at your nearest and dearest – several in fact! Then just to finish off you get a handful of snow and shove it down someone’s neck under their clothes!! Victory! I hate it when that happens – to me!!

You go back inside, to the warmth of your apartment, leaving your sodden shoes inside the door. Feet are frozen, cold and damp! You rush to the window again. “Oh isn’t it beautiful, but if this keeps up we’re going to be in trouble”.

Well over the last 24 hours it’s been snowing in Paris, and now they’re in trouble. There has been around 15cm of snow through the Paris region, and the roads are chaos. Last night there were 160km of traffic jams around the main roads and on the ring road. As well many train lines were closed, and the metro was significantly disrupted making peoples’ return home seemingly impossible.

But then the sun comes out, and the whole place seems like a scene out of a fairytale! It’s as if someone has thrown bucket loads of diamonds over your neighbourhood. Everything sparkles! If you can keep warm and not need to travel around for the day this is one of the most wonderful views. What is it about snow?

I love Paris in the snow!

 

Snow at St Germain Cafe, Paris

A wintery day in Paris

A sunny start to a snowy day

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Don’t visit this town, there is nothing much to see!

This is what I often read in travel guide books when I look up “Carpentras”, located in Provence in the south of France.

Carpentras is a town 35 minutes’ drive to the north east of Avignon. It has an enormous market on Friday morning which is worth visiting, with 100s of colourful stalls spread through the town. But I don’t know whether I’m becoming a little middle aged or something but I love going to this town on a non-market day – everything is so much quieter, where you can see where you are walking, you can hear and see the water fountains, and you have the shops to yourself!

Carpentras is a local town without the normal tourist shops. It has some wonderful sights, and I was especially taken by a visit to the local Jewish synagogue – the oldest in France. This town has a richness of history that will astound, especially with its unique links to the Vatican from the end of the 13th century.

I’ve just been exploring in Carpentras and I came across a shop which astounded both my wife and me! Every now and then you stumble on something that truly surprises you, that makes you feel good about life, that makes you smile. JOUVAUD is such a shop, such a place!

If you are travelling in Provence then add this shop to your itinerary. Go to Carpentras, have lunch in the centre square overlooking the fountains, then go to Jouvaud for a coffee and dessert, and even to do some shopping to finish off a perfect day!! Perfection!

Jouvaud - Delicatessan, Cafe, Shop!

Picture Postcard in Cafe Jouvaud

You must visit Jouvaud in Carpentras or Tokyo!

Shabby Chic at Jouvaud in Carpentras

Shopping at Jouvaud in Carpentras

Treat yourself to a Dessert and Coffee in Jouvaud, Carpentras! You won't regret it!

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