By: Our Correspondent

On the fourth day of our stay in Nice, we took a
two-and-a-half-hour train trip to Marseille, the third largest city in France.
In order not to waste time fumbling around at subway stations, we decided to
take a taxi to get to our target destination, the Vieux
Port (Old
Port). My plan was to have a
bouillabaisse (a kind of spiced fish soup/stew) lunch there and to take the
“petit train” tour round the old quarters of the city.

In a mix of broken, long-out-of-practice French and much
more fluent English, I chatted with the handsome, high-spirited Caucasian taxi
driver on the way. From our short conversation, I found out that he’s married
to a Thai immigrant. He had met her in a Thai food restaurant in Marseille
where she used to work. After they got married, she opened a small Japanese
sushi restaurant, as experience told her that competition in Thai food was too
keen. He sounded so full of joie de vivre that it was hard not to feel
affected. I then asked him which restaurant at the Vieux Port offered the best
bouillabaisse. He advised us to try the Mirarmar seafood restaurant on Quai du
Port, near Hotel de Ville. He also told us frankly that he liked fish per se
but not bouillabaisse.

After getting out of the taxi, we located where the “petit
train” terminus was. As the next run wouldn’t start until 2:00 pm, we decided to have lunch first. We walked across
the road to explore the row of brasseries and bistros stretching the full
length of the quai, mostly with tables set under canopies on the outside. The
Mirarmar was a full-house and the bowls in which bouillabaisse was served
looked huge. We hesitated and doubted whether the price of 58 euros per bowl
was really worth it. We walked past a couple of eateries and then out of
nowhere bolted an over zealous restaurateur who almost grabbed me by the arm
and ushered us into his bistro. Unable to fight his passionate appeal, we
finally acquiesced and sat down. After the meal, we regretted not taking the
taxi driver’s advice.

The “petit train” took us rumbling through a sleepy, yet
historic part of Marseille called the Panier. The district is well known for
hiding Resistance fighters from German troops in its warren of criss-crossing
lanes, dark alleys and side streets during World War II. In January 1943, the Nazis,
aided by some French police from Paris,
evacuated 30,000 inhabitants from the area, sending 3,000 of them to
concentration camps before blowing up 1,500 houses. But the raid failed to kill
the feisty, freedom-loving spirit of Marseille.

On the way back to the terminus, a few playful kids from the
streets jumped on board and took a free ride, exhilarated and triumphant. The
driver probably knew it all along but decided to let them have some fun, as
there were empty seats any way.

After the 65-minute tour, we spent whatever time was left in
doing leche-vitrines at the nearby Lafayette Galleries. Had there been more
time, I would have liked to take a ferry trip to Chateau d’If, the famous
island prison on which an essential part of Alexandre Dumas (Pere)’s novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, was set.

On the taxi journey back to the train station, I was drawn
into a friendly chat (in my staccato French again) by the middle-aged, proud
father-of-two taxi driver. He told us excitedly that he would be visiting Montreal
on October 1 on the invitation of a Canadian friend to see the autumn foliage. One
of his sons is a taxi driver who is fluent in English and has visited the United
States several times. The other son is a local
journalist and is married to a professor of English. One of his cousins is
working as a marketing manager for L’Oreal in Shanghai
while another relative is a lawyer in Marseille responsible for vetting
contracts for French expatriates in China.
Seemingly proud and happy with the achievement of his lot, he came across as
totally contented with what life has given him. Two happy taxi drivers in one
day. Was that my luck or what?

The morning of our fifth day was spent in Cannes
and the afternoon in St. Raphael. Had I known that all the marches only open in mornings, I would have switched the order of
visit around, as St. Raphael is known for its two food markets: one at Rue de
Victor Hugo and one at Rue de la Republique.

We found the main shopping street in Cannes,
Rue d’Antibes, without any difficulty. Both local and international brands
could be found on this bustling street. I found and bought a pair of suede
shoes at a sell out price of 20 euros at a shop that was about to close down.
The Boulevard de la Croisette, which is the seafront street that abuts the
famous Cannes beaches (Plages de la
Croisette), purely hosts luxury brand shops. From a bench on this boulevard, we
feasted our eyes on the spectacular boundless stretch of bright azure water. The
Palais des Festivals et des Congres, which is located at one end of the said
Boulevard (where the Old Port
is), was unfortunately off limits.

While in St. Raphael, we had a hearty lunch of fish fillet
in a cream sauce with spaghetti at one of the small, family-run eateries right
opposite the Marche de Victor Hugo. The owner told us that the fish he used
were bought fresh that morning from that market. The delectable meal kind of
made up for our lost chance to browse the market. After lunch, we went to the
seaside promenade of the Old Port
to browse around, where many of the shops and eateries congregated. Like all
other Cote d’Azur
towns, St. Raphael’s sea front at the Old
Port was enthrallingly color-imbued,
even on a somewhat cloudy day.

On the last day of our stay in Nice, we ambled out in the
morning to the markets at Cours Selaya for a second time to buy (more)
souvenirs. Afterwards, we took an early afternoon train to the ancient town of Antibes.
The Greeks were the earliest settlers in 5th century BC and they
named the town Antipolis (meaning “the city across”). That’s how the name “Antibes”
originated.

As it was a Sunday, the Office of Tourism in Antibes
was not open and we couldn’t get a map of the town. Luckily, the road signs
were clear and helpful and all we had to do was to follow the sign that read
“Vieille Ville”. Experience in the past few days told me that all places with
the words “Vieux” (“old” for masculine nouns) or “Vieille” (“old” for feminine
nouns) are superbly interesting places. On reaching the Vieille Ville, an
unbelievably large cluster of restaurants, bistros, cafes, shops and art
workshops leapt out. There were even a few Chinese and Vietnamese food eateries.

We decided to take a tour of the area first, just to whet
our appetite. Stopping at one of the shops that sell trinkets and accessories, we
chatted with the lady shop owner, who seemed quite surprised to find that we’re
Hong Kong Chinese living in Canada.
She told us that she was very happy living in beautiful Antibes.
Who wouldn’t be?

For lunch, we settled for a crepe and pasta eatery owned by
a lady who appeared grouchy at first. We ordered seafood tagliatelles (a kind
of flat noodles) in creamy cheese sauce and Caesar’s salad. Both were extremely
scrumptious. While eating, a stylish, smart-looking Eurasian young lady in a chic
white tunic top and black trousers sitting at the next table started to make
conversation in broken English with us. She was having lunch with her
early-teen daughter. She told us that she came from a parentage of Moroccan and
Vietnamese descent and grew up in Paris.
Recently she moved with her family to Antibes.
She mentioned that real estate in Antibes
was priced at about the same level as in Paris.

Learning that we are of Chinese origin, she got all hyped up
and told us breathlessly that she had been yearning to visit Hong
Kong, Shanghai and
other cities in China,
having been impressed by modern and prosperous Dubai
on a previous trip there. At this point, the little girl mumbled something to
her mother. The lady explained that her daughter’s name was “China”
and she was asking her mother why she was repeatedly saying her name. Then she gushed
forth about how China
is the world’s growth engine and is the country of tomorrow, and that both Europe
and the United States
are done for. I certainly didn’t agree with her but preferred to keep my
opinions to myself. My friend remarked to me that China’s
propaganda abroad was apparently working.

When the eatery owner presented us the bill, I told her that
the food was delicious. It was then that I saw her face relax in a grin. On
leaving the eatery, we continued our browsing through the Old
Town until it was time to walk back
to the train station. How I wished I could have more time wandering into other
parts of this lovely town and venturing into other Cote
d’Azur gems that I didn’t yet have a chance
to explore.

On that note, our six-day tour on the Land
of Reveries came to an end. Time to
wake up.