September 20, 2011

St Tropez Day 1 - It Is What It Is

The idea to visit St Tropez while in France was actually inspired by my friend Emilie, who suggested that we meet her and her husband during their planned visit. Naturally after we had made all of the arrangements, Emilie's plans changed and she was no longer going to be in St Tropez during our visit.

C'est la vie. Although I've been to the French Riviera before, I had not yet been to St Tropez, so to quote our favorite saying of the trip, "It is what it is." Emilie is a native French speaker and has visited the French Riviera many times, so we were looking forward to her more experienced itinerary, but I think we did just fine.

We purchased our ticket online from Paris Gare du Lyon to St Raphael on the idTGV website, which saved us about 60% on our tickets vs purchasing our tickets through SNCF (the main French rail site). The idTGV site lets you purchase tickets up to 4 months in advance with fares starting at just 19 Euros. Our tickets were 46 Euros each way, which was about $126 roundtrip. The trains are high-speed, and we were able to cover about 900 KM in about 4-1/2 hours.

We left Paris Gare du Lyon at 7:45 AM on Friday and arrived in St Raphael at 12:15 PM. All of the rental car agencies have a mandatory 2-hour lunch period, so we had to waste a little time before we could pick up the car. Rosé may have been involved.

Although we thought the chances high that Avis just might "upgrade" us for free to something exotic like a Bentley given our ultimate destination, we were sadly given the keys to a Ford Fiesta. Seriously? As in "Found On Road Dead" Fiesta? "Fix Or Repair Daily" Fiesta? Not even a French car. But I digress.

So off we go through a million roundabouts on our way to St Tropez in the gutless Fiesta. But I suspect that the reason this little gem of a car is gutless is that gas will probably cost me $10 per gallon (we paid 1.55 Euros per litre). Another dream of mine that was shattered during this driving experience was that April and I may not be as compatible as I thought as partners to win "The Amazing Race".  I'm not sure April knows how to actually read a map given that she was trying to navigate us to the apartment with the map upside down! We would also most likely kill each other as I'm the first to admit that we're both a little stubborn (but I'm smarter).  In her defense, they don't seem to actually have street signs in St Tropez, which was the primary reason we had so much difficulty finding our way that afternoon. But April could improve her map reading skills. Just sayin'.

Finally, at the suggestion of the lone male in the backseat (Sean), we stopped to ask for directions and not only did we find someone who spoke English, but he used to reside in the exact same apartment building. So after driving around St Tropez for about 45 minutes horribly lost (and me driving the wrong way down a one-way street) we find the apartment. I also should apologize to the 4 wrong numbers I dailed in an attempt to reach the caretaker of the apartment. Sorry about my horrible French language skills! I'm not even sure I reached wrong numbers in France -- I can't wait to get that AT&T bill! But it is what it is.

For our accommodations, we didn't have a lot to choose from since this trip was very last minute. There are a lot of nearby coastal (and inland) towns but I'm really glad that we found something in the town of St Tropez. Parking is a nightmare with very little public parking available and our apartment was within walking distance to the town and had an underground parking space (huge bonus). We still had to drive to the beach, but that was only about 5 KM away, which was easy to do.

We found our apartment on the HomeAway site, which is similar to VRBO (vacation rental by owner). We paid 200 Euros per night, which isn't too bad considering the location. The apartment was a one-bedroom with a pull-out couch for April, however, their idea of a "pull-out" couch and ours is quite different. The pull-out part was only about 3-1/2 feet in length, so that bed would have only been comfortable for a very small child. So April spent a fairly uncomfortable 3 nights on the sofa, but hopefully the Rose she grew fond of make the experience somewhat more bearable. Although Sean and I had an official bed to sleep on, I wouldn't say that our situation was much better. The bed was basically a futon mattress on the floor (double sized) and not much more comfortable than just sleeping on the floor.

Although the apartment was clean, the apartment was in a very old building that stunk horribly of mildew and getting to the underground parking was like entering a dungeon -- not something you want to do by yourself (don't mind the dead rat on the stairwell). Thankfully the apartment inside didn't have any mildew odor, but it was really horrible once you left the apartment and had to walk through the interior hallways.

My other complaint with the apartment was the lack of screens on the patio doors. There are no windows at all, just full-length patio doors that open up from both the bedroom and living room. This is definitely a nice feature, but it was way too hot to not have both of those doors open and while we tried to sleep, the mosquitoes enjoyed a nightly feast at our expense. The apartment had an A/C unit, however, it was pretty much useless. There was only one free-standing unit to use and you had to vent a large hose out the window (which didn't exist) so basically you still had to have the patio door open to stick the A/C hose outside. Not a very clever design.

So to recap, loved the location, loved having a parking spot for the rental car, enjoyed the pool, but wouldn't rent that particular apartment (or in that building) again unless I was desperate. But it is what it is.

After taking a dip in the pool to cool off (it was pretty hot), we showered and headed into town; after all, it was rosé time! We enjoyed the evening strolling around and looking at the mega-yachts tied up in the harbor and the beautiful, scantily-clothed people (also known as Super Models). Clearly, we were like fish out of water in this town (no yacht; not fit for a bikini; not wealthy; and most importantly, old!), but to be honest, we fit in just fine -- there were plenty of similar fish out and about.

À bientôt!

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