Since arriving in the Cote d’Azur I had been wanting to visit the tiny village of Eze, which is perched on top of a high cliff, with supposedly one of the best views of the Mediterranean (and surrounding cities). Although popular, I think what saves Eze from becoming an irritating tourist carnival is the steep climb from the plains up to the village. So on our last day at Monaco while S was conferenc-ing during the day, I decided to brave the journey and visit Eze.
This, it turned out, was easier said than done. The internet had helped me identify the bus to take, but locating the bust stop turned out to be quite a scavenger hunt. The “helpful” lady at the tourist office (if anyone remembers my reference to her in a previous post, you know what I mean) jerked her thumb vaguely and said “in that direction”. Probably seeing the look of disbelief on my face she relented a bit and grudgingly disclosed the well-kept secret of the landmark near the stop (a restaurant called Cremalliere). Not to be deterred, I was still rolling my eyes, when she came close, lowered her voice and whispered throatily “The bus number is not written on the stop but the bus will stop there”. I looked around for the secret service agents from whom I assume all this secrecy was to be maintained, and went off feeling like X-men would jump out from the bushes anytime and grab me. Ok the last part might have been a teeny bit exaggerated, but getting “information” from the “information office” felt a lot like tooth extraction!
The bus stop was on the third level from where I was – like I mentioned earlier, Monaco is built along the mountains in ‘levels’…and stairs/elevators take you from one street to the street on the ‘next’ level. Considering the fact that sense of direction is not my best quality, I did not risk trusting my instincts and prudently asked whoever I could nearby. On that particular day noone I met happened to speak English, but with some hand-waving and acting out “bus” and mouthing “Cremalliere”, I finally found myself standing 2 levels up in front of the elusive restaurant. I peeked into the restaurant, it looked quite inviting with yellow flowers on the table, but at that time I was on a different mission.
As assured by the information lady, the bust stop did not have the bus number for Eze written. It was 10:50 and the bus was supposed to come at 11:00. Since the next one was not till 16:00 which would be too late for me, I asked a lady sitting at the stop whether the Eze bus left from there. Turned out she was also waiting for the same bus and had been given similar vague instructions by her hotel. We started chatting and I discovered she was from Lebanon and was visiting with her sister who was on work. She found Monte Carlo “too expensive”, the views “good but not better than Lebanon” and was satisfied with the food but not the prices – “7 euros for a coffee too much”! It was quite amusing. By this time it was 11:10 with no sign of the bus. I was not worried, having realised by then that the French are as…umm…”flexible” about time as Indians are. Finally the bus came and suddenly it seemed that many of the people there had also been waiting for the same bus which was a kind of comforting feeling.
I sat down at a window with Blue beside me (we never did exchange names but she was wearing a blue top…so!) and had a pleasant journey for the next half an hour. Blue pointed out olive trees to me and said in their garden in Lebanon they have thousands of them. I might just visit Lebanon I’m thinking. The latter part of the journey was again along the sea and as we climbed upwards the views started getting even better. We reached our destination which was at the foot of the village and by unspoken agreement Blue and me drifted off together. At first we confidently made our way towards the village – in the wrong direction! Its alarming how you are on all-senses-alert mode when travelling alone, and relax somewhat as soon as with someone – even a stranger. Anyway that was soon righted and we trudged up the incline towards the village.
The climb turned out to be quite relaxed actually since we kept stopping at little shops along the way. The first shop was a woodcraft shop Blue stepped into, where an old-ish man was working on carving something at his desk. Every inch of the tiny space was filled choc-a-bloc with knick-knacks of all kind made of wood. Blue spoke fluent French so she had a nice chat with the owner while I wandered about looking at the interesting displays. After we left I translated for Blue what I had understood from their conversation and was quite kicked to discover I had got most of it right. The next shop I stopped at was one of paintings, where a cheery chubby lady was bustling about. Although overpriced considering it was “local talent”, I couldn’t resist buying a little miniature painting of Eze village. I think Blue thought I was a bit of a sucker for actually buying something there, but I liked the painting (so there). The ‘village’ itself was charming – all made of stone, cobbled streets, little alleyways and shops and restaurants tucked into nooks and corners. I think our very own Haus Khas village is based on this kind of a concept, only without the mountains and sea. There was also an old church which Blue went in to explore…I went off to explore a nearby ‘garden’…but it turned out to be a cemetery with a huge dog and kind of spooky…so trotted right back.
During all this time we had not seen the sea, so I asked Blue to find out where on earth had it disappeared! She gabbled in French and after following some directions led us to the entrance of a “Garden” with an entry fee of 6 euros. She did not seem keen to pay 6 euros to enter what looked like some straggling plants and flowers just for the view of the sea, and I too reluctantly saw the sense in that. Instead we decided to sit in a restaurant with views of the see and have a cup of coffee. The first one we encountered was called Chateau Eza and did not look surprised when we asked them if they have views of the sea. On an afterthought we also asked if they have coffee, to which they did look surprised. This turned out to be a much better decision than trudging through the garden, and we sat on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean and sipped our coffee. As far as your eyes could see it was the sea all around…even the horizon was just a thin speck in the distance. Blue pointed out a land body and said that was Nice, don’t know for sure. It was beautiful. At the next table a man of about 60 years was sitting with his girlfriend/wife of around 25 years and her pet dog which she insisted he feed. It was comic to watch the distinguished looking man in a 3-piece suit cajoling the spoiled little poodle to take a bite. The things we do for love (?).
After finishing our coffee we made our way down to the bust stop again. I had read there was an outlet of the famous Fragonard perfume factory which I wanted to explore, and Blue also seemed amenable. So we located it only to find it tightly locked with not a soul in sight. There were signs on the door in various languages, one of them being “Ring twice for English”, so I pressed the bell twice. There was still no sound and we were on the point of giving up and leaving when the door was opened frantically by a thin tall lady who looked as if she’d been running (apparently she had). She gave us bright “salesgirl” smiles and declared we had caught her in the middle of making perfume! We said we have just 20 min before the bus leaves so she gave us a mini tour of the place and the art of perfume-making. The main factory is located in Grasse, but this place had models of the machines and techniques used. “The perfumes are made from the flowers in the Cote d’Azur and bottled and sold in Paris at a huge profit. Paris has no flowers”, she sniffed scornfully. Suitably impressed, we followed her into the main store where she sprayed us with various perfumes declaring them to be “just right” for us. The sales pitch was good, and I bought some small bottles as gifts, but didnt end up buying anything for myself.
The bus, as usual, was late and as we waited at the stop Blue and I kind of drifted apart as naturally as we had drifted along together. The shared purpose seemed to be completed and there suddenly wasn’t much to say. Life was moving on to new and different things. Or rather old things – 3 old ladies who materialized form somewhere asking me from where they could get the train to Monte Carlo. I told them I was waiting for the bus to Monte Carlo which was expected any minute, in case they didnt mind going by bus. They exclaimed in delight (they were a chirpy bunch) and it was fun to watch them chattering away. On the other side 2 Japanese girls were introducing themselves to another Japanese girl travelling alone, and bonding over Tokyo. As the bus rumbled away I looked out of the window at the outlines of the village high above in the distance, and hoped I’d be back again someday.