Love Underlined: Our trip to the French Riviera

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One does not dream of the French Riviera in October, unless it is already October. Suddenly you’re desperate for a holiday; whether clinging onto the final remnants of summer, wanting to utilise half term, or you just need to “get away from it all,” whatever “it” may be. In any case, I actually had a different reason for going. Philippa, my better half, adores Antibes in particular, having been many times before with her father. This was an ideal incident for bringing us closer together.

The only issue, for me anyway, was that we would fly out a few hours after the last in a run of night shifts. This didn’t seem like such a big deal when we booked the flights, but as the night finally approached I began to anticipate (and dread) how tired I would be. Never have I been more jealous of leaving my bed, knowing Philippa would get a full night’s kip and I would just have to power through. But amazingly, despite only getting three hours kip, I had fully recovered by the time we arrived at Gatwick. It was certainly one way of getting me back to a normal sleeping pattern: just FORCE myself into it!

I can only put my alertness down to adrenaline from the excitement of the holiday, which heightened throughout the flight until we arrived at Nice. Once we were at our hotel, we spent the rest of our first day exploring the streets of Antibes. This was equally exciting for both of us, me taking in all the sights and Philippa becoming reacquainted with her favourite haunts. Cruising through the harbour,was particularly entertaining, ogling the bombastic yachts that were almost formidable in their over the top splendour; I suppose you have to find humour in a situation so depressing with its intimidating wealth.

We began the morning of Day 2 with a brief tour of the town’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, marveling at its awe-inspiring architecture, before heading up to the Picasso Museum. The renowned artist lived in Antibes for quite a while, and there’s an extensive collection of his work available, interspersed with facts about his life. The old fort that houses his work was small, but it was paced well over several floors, with an ideally placed terrace offering stunning views of the western Riviera coastline; it wasn’t difficult to see why Picasso found the place so inspiring.

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Eager to experience as many of the key locations in the region, we spent the afternoon wandering through Cannes, eating crepes on the back streets and fitting our palms into the various movie star hands along the red carpet at the Palais. When you only have an afternoon to get to know a city, to feel like you truly understand it, knowing where to start can be as frustrating as it is daunting. We found it best to choose one stand-out attraction and wind our way towards it; sure, you want some kind of direction, but a holiday is meant to be relaxing!

Day 3 began in one of Philippa’s favourite breakfasting hideaways: a garden café, with a gorgeous outdoor area full of plants and oddball figurines. The tranquil setting was just we needed before our trip to Monte Carlo, across the border in Monoco. It’s allure lies in its ambition; almost smelling of money, it bustles with a brisk pace that would make London proud. With that in mind, we simply had to pay a visit to its renowned casino. Before our holiday, I had no prior interest in the venue, but who doesn’t want to feel like James Bond for a day?

I felt it was cheeky that you had to pay ten euros to get into the main gaming rooms (along with showing your passport, as they don’t actually allow the locals in!), seeing as it’s not exactly a place that’s a bit short of the money front, but gazing over the games it was still easy to embrace the elegance of it all. We went in the middle of the afternoon, so it was clearly a more relaxed slot, with no strict dress code being enforced (one guy sat at the most popular roulette table was in a hoodie and jeans) but it still offers a window into a different kind of living. If you don’t find it repulsive, then it’s worth looking in.

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With the prospect of our evening flight looming over our final day, we opted for a relaxing ramble around the coastline of Antibes to Juan Les Pins, making the most of the best weather we’d had all week to take in the Riviera at a leisurely pace. We had intended to drop into a five star hotel and bask in the glory of its glitz and glamour with a drink or two, but sadly it was closed for off season! This was the latest in a series of fruitless ventures thwarting us for being so late in the year. Still, we got some lovely purchases from Antibes market, and if anything it gave us a reason to return in the summer.

On the food front, the best meal of the trip was on the second night at a kooky intimate venue down one of the town’s many backstreets. I’d love to pretend we stumbled across it, and sing praise to Sir Spontaneity and Lady Luck, but in actual fact we found it on TripAdvisor. Not so much taking a chance as going in with high expectations! I had the most delicious sole with a goats cheese and white wine sauce, but what was also intriguing was the use of edible flowers; not just for decoration, our host went as far as explaining what each one was and why it had been chosen.

It wasn’t just the feeling of peace and tranquility that stood out to me while we were on the French Riviera; it was also its sense of optimism, that something better was worth yearning for because it could be achieved. As Autumn sets in at home and the weather becomes moody at best and downright depressing at worst, that feeling of elation that envelops you from all across the area can be just the right tipple. Antibes, a beautiful town bursting with culture, is a superb spot to start.

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The art of walking in London

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Trains, escalators, discarded Evening Standards; London is just the time from one underground station to another. You spend so much time checking what line you’re getting onto, you rarely have the chance to consider what’s going on up above. But London is restless. There is just too much activity to spend most of your time travelling underground. Admittedly, I am incredibly lucky that I live within walking distance of my work in Oxford Circus… well, if you classify an hour as being “walking distance.” For me? That’s the perfect excuse to put on my headphones and stroll through the city centre.

Lunchtime at Tachbook Street Market, ten minutes north of where I live, is bustling with activity, offering food from every culinary corner. As I make it through to the other side, I spot a group of identikit businessmen all in dark navy suits, clutching a white plastic bag in their right hands with whatever delicacy they’ve opted for from the market. The bags mirror each other as they jostle, the group moving in a uniform formation almost eerie to the eye. Only one is without a blazer; it’s nice to see someone who dares to stand out from the crowd, even if it just with your items of clothing for a midday meal.

Then it’s through Victoria, nowhere near as manic as when swamped with miserable Monday morning commuters. There’s a pub advertising afternoon tea, “elegantly served with Pimm’s.” I can’t help but wonder, what makes the service so elegant? The fact that it’s Pimms, or do the bar staff twirl their way across the room like ballerinas, pirouetting as they pour the jugs from a great height and creating a red, fruit filled waterfall? So many questions, creating another of London’s little mysteries.

It might be the middle of the day- one of the better times for commuting in London- but it’s also the school holidays, and there’s a huge queue for tours of Buckingham Palace that stretches round to the front of the building itself. Tourists strain against the railings, scanning the soldiers for the slightest movement. There’s always people there, but in the middle of August, there are a LOT of them. In Liverpool, they’ve introduced “fast walking lanes” for those who are on a mission, not in the mood to dawdle; London could certainly use some of those at the prime camera-clicking locations.

Green Park is equally manic, a mix of lunching workers, fitness fanatics fitting in an afternoon run and school groups stampeding along the paths; the only oddity is a patch of barren earth where a tree used to be, now roped off but full of pigeons. The Pokemon Go craze has slowed down now, but before there were huge swathes of individuals dotted across the green, staring at their phones and occasionally looking up to where they imagined their target to be.

There’s a bloke fixing some kind of box near Berkeley Square, and what you may ascertain to be true workman fashion, there’s a plumber’s crack for all to see. An elderly gent in a suit has slowed his pace to fully take in the sight before him, gazing with an intensity that is bemusing to the point of almost amusing. Maybe he’s gay? Maybe he’s taken with buttocks in an entirely heterosexual way that is just aroused by curiosity? Maybe he also finds it funny? What I’d give for him to laugh out loud right now.

As I near Oxford Circus, there’s a tourist taking a picture of an ice cream advert on the side of a bus. I shouldn’t judge, but an ice cream advert? Tourists seem to take pictures of anything these days; the bus wasn’t even particularly red. And those are just some of the sights that caught my attention on the way to work; palaces, parks, posterior. Maybe I watch others a little too intently, but given the fact that the sheer number of people can be a negative for some- and it can be an annoyance at times for most- you have to find some quality to it.

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