Thunder clacked in the distance as the blue-gray clouds glided in overhead. Cameras clicked and lights flashed as glamorous stars posed in front of hundreds of screaming fans. The sound of whirling engines echoed off the mountain slope as crowds watched in anticipation.
That was my weekend.
Before the sun began rising on the Avignon horizon, Sammi and I started our 30-minute trek to the Gare Avignon Centre to catch the 4:52 train to Nice. The city had a certain tranquility that one normally doesn’t see during the day.
We arrived at the station at 4:30, when it looked like a ghost town. After finding our friends, who happened to be on the same train, we discovered that the display board read, “Train to Nice, 40 minutes late.”
Then, “50 minutes late.”
Then, “ One hour late.”
Then, “One hour, 15 minutes late.”
Finally, at 6:15, our train rolled into the station. We quickly found out that Avignon was not the starting point of the train, which explains why the lights were off and everyone inside was sleeping. The air was humid and smelled of body odor and morning breath. Two very pleasant smells.
The train didn’t get to Nice until 11:45, and because of that, we didn’t have to wait to check into our hotel. (Side note: it was a legitimate hotel. They provided towels and hairdryers.)
Sammi, Alex and I spent the rest of the day wandering through the side streets of Nice, walking along the pebble beach, photographing the picturesque landscape and witnessing a thunderstorm from atop a mountain.
Although the day was relaxing, we were exhausted from our lack of sleep and long morning of travels. So we turned in at 8 p.m. Yes, 8 p.m. I don’t think I’ve gone to bed that early since I was a baby. That’s a new record for me.
We also went to bed at that time, because we planned on getting up at 5:00 the next morning (Friday) to catch the 6:35 autocar (bus) to the Cannes Film Festival, which is what happened. We were advised to take the train to Cannes to avoid traffic, but we figured that not many cars would be on the road at 6:35 in the morning. Because of all the stops, the ride took nearly two hours. And at 8:30 in the morning, not much was happening in Cannes, except for people setting up for the festival later that day. We snapped pictures in front of the red carpet (as they were laying out a fresh and clean carpet) and on the sandy beaches.
By noon, the crowds starting pouring into the city, and we found ourselves fighting through the streams of people that flooded the narrow sidewalks. After finding the part of the festival that was open to the public (La Malmaison), we bought one book of six student tickets, which cost only 18 euros, valid for any of the public films being screened. So, for a large chunk of our day, we viewed two, world-premiere screenings of independent films: Un Poison Violent (Love Like Poison) and La Mirada Invisible (The Invisible Eye).
Waiting for the movie to start in the large theater (not a movie theater, an actual theater), an old French man sat next to me. Since he was alone, I started speaking to him in French. As we talked, he told me that it was his 39th time attending the festival. Incredible.
The first film, Un Poison Violent, was a French film, but had English subtitles. The second film, La Mirada Invisible, was an Argentinean film with French and English subtitles. Both films had realistic plotlines, and they presented darker subjects that are commonly avoided in mainstream movies.
After the movies, we took an early dinner at a café, where we met an Irish woman who works with directors from the film industry. At first, she told us that she researched haunted buildings and her work appeared on the Discovery Channel and Scariest Places on Earth. She later told us that she actually exorcises ghosts for a living. Let’s just say that that was an extremely bizarre twist to the conversation, and frankly, I was a bit, for lack of a better word, creeped out after that. Nonetheless, she was a friendly lady, who even shared some of her pizza with us.
The final stop of the day: the Red Carpet. The biggest Red Carpet in the world. I could not believe we were actually there. Though the public was separated from the press, which was separated from the carpet, we were able to push our way through the crowd, and we got some pretty great photos of Kate Beckinsale, Tim Burton and Diego Luna. Sadly, due to bus schedules, we had to leave before Shia LaBeouf walked the carpet. But, I’d say the day was quite a success! Oh, and after we returned to Nice, I got myself some Rocher flavored ice cream. The perfect end to a great day.
Saturday, we left the hotel at a later time, thankfully. We took the bus and traveled to Monaco for the afternoon. I think I would be correct in comparing Monaco to Orange County, Calif. The hotels, cars and buildings are extravagant. To give you an idea of the extravagance, I saw a toddler carrying a Juicy Couture handbag.
As it turns out, the Grand Prix was there is weekend, so we got to see two of the biggest world events in one weekend. Although we didn’t get to see much of the city because the Grand Prix course was blocking major portions of the town, we managed to get pictures of the track and parts of the race. The sound of the engines echoed around us for over an hour. It felt like we were standing next to the track.
Since most of the city was shut down, we returned to Nice only after a few hours. After enjoying a late lunch and a walk through an antique market, we left early for the train station for our 8:00 train. While waiting for the train, I saw my first legitimate burning building, which was across the street from the station. Alex and I were walking around trying to find a pastry shop, when we spotted a restaurant with clouds of smoke billowing from inside. As we got closer, I saw the flames, so I grabbed my camera and went as close to the building as the police would allow. I was close enough for the smoke to get into my clothes and make me smell like a campfire. Sammi found out, after talking to witnesses of the start of the blaze, that the fire was a grease fire. That was an interesting experience.
Later, on the return train, Sammi and I started a conversation with a South African man, who works for the South African government and is on assignment in France. By the end of the conversation, we were giving him relationship advice.
Oh, what a weekend.