Riviera Redux

March/April 1997

This year’s holiday began on a promising note. I had originally requested an intermediate car, a Renault Laguna, that we were familiar with from a previous trip. Auto Europe said that we would be entitled to an automatic upgrade to the full-size Safraene. So I asked what would happen if we ordered the compact Megane. Why, we would get an automatic upgrade to a Laguna! That seemed like a good deal to me. When we arrived at the rental counter at the Nice Airport their stock seemed to be pretty sparse – one person without a reservation was told there were no cars available. I nervously checked to see if we were getting our Laguna. No, we were told, all they had left was a Mercedes! I’m sure the hotels and restaurants that we later approached had an incorrect impression of our status.

Actually, the good fortune began even earlier. A couple of weeks before we left I received an informational brochure from Diners’ Club. Not that I’ve paid to be a member, but Mitre has enrolled us all for business travel use. I haven’t done much business travel since my return from Germany, but since we’re responsible for paying the charges (eventually being repaid for business use), we can also use it for personal use. One section caught my attention – among airports that had lounges that we were eligible to use was Heathrow, where we had a several-hour layover between our British Air flights. [Today, most of the European airlines, or their U.S. partners, have a connection to Nice; Air France changing in Paris, KLM in Amsterdam, Lufthansa in Frankfurt or Munich. They all take about the same time, so it’s a matter of which is cheapest; the past two years it’s been British Air, at about $450 round trip.]

The spacious lounge was empty when we arrived at 7 AM, although a few more people did arrive before the boarding of our flight was announced. It was an oasis of calm after the clamor just one floor below. Coffee or tea (of course), some light snacks, soft drinks, and a large variety of alcoholic beverages were available gratis. Although a little early, we did have a Bloody Mary. We also took advantage of the lounge on the way back.

Although we were now familiar with Cannes, we hadn’t previously driven in the area of this year’s hotel. Unfortunately, last year’s $39 bargain hotel was closed, but the Entertainment Europe card came up with a much higher quality hotel, the l’Horset Savoy, for $60. With Betty Lou reading the map to guide us through the narrow one-way streets, we approached the Boulevard de la Croisette, the famous sea-side beach drive, where we would turn left and, a block later, take another left up the one-way street that led to our hotel. A policeman blocked our way – well, we’ll loop around some back streets around that area and get on the Croisette heading the other way. Same result! When we told this policeman that we needed to get to our hotel, he allowed us to proceed. Our brief glimpse of Cartier Jewelers on the corner was of turmoil.

Afterwards we learned that, only an hour before, four hooded and armed robbers had crashed their stolen car into the front door. While several of them scooped up gems and took a hostage, the driver pulled the car back onto the Croisette, doused the interior with gasoline and set it afire! Meanwhile, another of the bandits retrieved a stolen BMW that had been parked nearby and drove the wrong way down a one-way street to pick them up for their getaway. (In spite of French chauvinism, we’ve obviously had an impact on their language – in addition to "bandits," the article included "hold-up" and "Far West.") Although we combed the paper during the rest of our stay, they were being very close-mouthed about the extent of the theft. We did learn that Cartier had been previously robbed in 1983 (43 million francs, about $8 million at today’s exchange rate) and 1988 ("several tens of millions of francs"). Other jewelers had also been robbed, Van Cleef and Arpels twice, and Alexandre Reza three times. (I think I did mention last year that this is an elegant town.)

The hotel was "old world" pleasant. Our room was on a corner; if we leaned out of our, floor-to-ceiling, bedroom window (there was a railing) we could see the Mediterranean two blocks down the street. Our hotel had a reserved portion of that beach we could use, but it was still a little early in the season for swimming, and we found ourselves otherwise too occupied to spend time sunbathing. Maybe next year. The view straight ahead was of a chalet on a distant hill; from the bathroom (similar windows) was a garden and pool. The bathroom itself was huge; with its marble floors, floor-to-ceiling window and garden view, Betty Lou suggested that this room could be used for parties. Perhaps of a specialized kind.

This year, the weather was perfect. The first morning, as I ran along the Croisette towards the old town, I detoured along the eastern edge of the harbor. Dozens of yachts, fifty feet long and more, were lined up next to each other. Across the street from the Palais des Festivals, focus of next month’s Cannes Film Festival, was the McDonald’s. Their French sales having recently been flat, perhaps because of competition from the "Quick" chain, they had just introduced a new sandwich, the McDeluxe, which they maintained was more suited to the French taste. Its main innovations were that the lettuce consisted of whole leaves, not chopped, and it included a Dijon mustard sauce. Later, in Nice, we tried it and did find it superior to the American "adult" version. (As well as the McDeluxe, they should add their expresso to our menus; and it comes with a chocolate!)

© Copyright 2000 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved