One morning I awoke to find I had received a text message from Anders. He was in southern France working onboard a yacht. You see, he is a business owner and engineer in the marine industry. Anders had been on this particular yacht in La Seyne Sur Mer, France repairing a generator system. This particular morning in mid-June, he texted me from France and asked what I had going on work wise for the next week. At the time, I was self-employed, working as an event manager for several clients. I told him my week was going to be an uneventful one (no pun intended). He responded with, “well, maybe not.”
“Can you please go up to Kennesaw and pick up some parts that I need in order to complete this project?” Anders asked. “Ok, do you want me to ship them overnight to you in France?” I asked. “No, I need you to hand deliver them to me,” Anders responded.
June 15, 2015 was by far one of the craziest adventure days in my life. I woke up that morning thinking it would be a quiet week in Atlanta and went to bed that night (or maybe it was the next day) a block away from the Mediterranean Sea.
I left Atlanta in such a hurry, that I never had the chance to call my credit card company to alert them I was traveling overseas, nor did I exchange US Dollars for Euros. I had about $200 US cash on me and only $20 Euros.
My final airport destination was Nice, France. Before leaving Atlanta, I had booked a rental car, since my drive from Nice to La Seyne Sur Mer was around two hours and there was no public transportation between the two cities. Mind you, I have been to Europe many times, but I had never driven there. This made me nervous.
The only automatic vehicle I was able to reserve (I was not about to drive a gear shift in a foreign country) was a damn mini-van. Seriously. It was kind of a small mini-van, but it was still a mini-van. A really sweet young man helped me set up the gps system in the car because it was in French and je ne parle pas Francais. I was in a bit of a panic already because my cell phone battery was almost dead and I did not have a car cell phone charger. Uggghhh! So I basically had to rely on the car gps system or a paper map, which I did not have.
So Pierre plugged in my coordinates (I don’t think his name was Pierre but let’s just go with it) and I was on my way, with tons of nervous energy, driving for the first time in Europe.
Once on the freeway, motorists were buzzing past me. For the most part I was going like 110 km which is about 70 mph, but apparently that is not fast enough over there.
I’m nervous during the drive, fists clenched and palms sweaty. I approach a toll booth. Oh shit, I have no coins. I try my credit cards, but they are not working, probably because the credit card companies were not alerted of my spontaneous overseas travel. Panic begins to set in. I hit the ‘help’ button and a computer voice speaks to me in French. I look out my rear view mirror and see a man in the car behind me. I get out and ask if he could help me, in English obviously as I am mono-lingual. He yells back at me “I do not speak English,” puts his car in reverse and goes through the toll in the next lane. It was an asshole thing to do, but I laugh every time I recall it.
I get back in my car and this time hit the emergency button at the toll booth machine. Eventually a lady comes over and she speaks as much English as I speak French, but she understands what is going on. I try to tell her I have to get to La Seyne Sur Mer. I show her a $100 US bill. Can you exchange this with me? And is it enough to get me to La Seyne Sur Mer? Oui, is all she says and she trades me lots of Euros for that $100 US bill, and I am off. That was intense. For the rest of the trip I encountered two more tolls and since I have Euros now it is thankfully uneventful.
The crazy thing is, well what am I saying, it’s all crazy, I am in France and thought I would be spending today back home in Georgia, but the night before I found myself driving unfamiliar highways in France, I was watching a biopic about Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. And here I am the next day, in her adopted home country. The universe has a weird way of foreshadowing the future.
Cote d’Azur is absolutely breathtaking. Honestly the most beautiful part of the world I have ever visited thus far in my life. The people may drive erratically and may not be the most helpful, but damn if they don’t live in heaven on earth.
Somewhere outside of Cannes, I can see the foothills of the Southern Alps hitting the Mediterranean and a dark, ominous cloud over the sea. All of sudden it is windy, dark and hail is coming down, hard. Like I wasn’t already nervous enough. Jeezzzz…
Luckily, this storm lasts only 15 minutes. And as scary as it was, it was also a beautiful site to see.
This may be the only road trip I have ever taken where I did not once touch the car stereo controls. Two hours later I take an exit off of A8. I am in La Seyne Sur Mer. But some may say the adventure has just began.
La Seyne Sur Mer (which basically means “the city by the sea”) is a seaport town on a peninsula. And it gets a little confusing. I arrive to town, my cell is on 4% and the British lady voice on my gps has me going in circles. I am freaking lost, but at least I am at my final destination city.
I see a guy working a food truck and I stop for directions. I first tell him, “I am sorry but I do not speak French.” He says, “Oui, ok.” He is very kind and I tell him I am trying to find the Rives Door hotel. He understands what I am asking for and is basically telling me that I am right behind the hotel, as he points in the direction I need to go. I thank him (merci!) and drive that way but cannot find the hotel. I stop at a gas station and call Anders. I had texted him 10 minutes earlier and told him my phone is about to die, I am in town but totally lost. Turns out they (Anders, the captain and two engineers) had been behind me since I left the food truck guy. They noticed me there and caught up to me. They were laughing as they pulled up to the gas station because 1) I was in a mini-van and that made Anders laugh and 2) I was blocking the gas station lanes, totally unaware I was blocking the lanes (they do things differently in France.). But I must say, I have never been so happy to be laughed at in my life.
I follow them over to the yacht which was located in a quaint boatyard facing Toulon. I meet the entire crew and feel like I have always known them. A tour of the yacht, sans shoes, is a taste of the finer things in life. A cappuccino in the crew quarters to relax and tell my adrenaline-filled travel story followed by a glass of red was exactly what I needed. The crew is international representing England, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia. It was almost exactly like that Bravo show “Below Deck.”
Anders and I finally get to the hotel, out of the kindness of my heart, I let him drive over there. Dinner that night was had al fresco overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
The next week was spent with mornings of amazing French breakfast, followed by a walk to the grocer behind the hotel for a lunch and snacks and afternoons on the beach or the hotel rooftop lounge.
Two evenings in a row we had dinner with the captain and crew, one night at the captain’s rental home in La Seyne Sur Mer and once at a restaurant in town. His rental had a great top deck view of the town and sea. That evening at the captain’s home, the chef and her staff were practicing their meal prep and serving for future onboard clients. We were the guinea pigs. How fun! A delightful meal followed by mojitos and coffee. Yum! What an unforgettable surprise vacation this trip turned out to be.
Towards the end of this journey, we went over to Saint Tropez for dinner and site seeing (Anders drove J). Glitzy and touristy yet still beautiful. I do hope we visit Cot d’Azur again one day.