Swaning around in St Tropez
11.10.2007 25 °C
Leaving the mountains behind us at last we arrived at the coast at St Tropez. St Tropez had once been a tiny, poverty stricken fishing village on the Mediterranean until in 1956 a film crew arrived to make another one of those mysogynistic, self indulgent films the French so excel at. It could have just been another one of those films watched only by film students and pretentious wankers except that it introduced a young lady who simply burnt up the screen - Brigitte Bardo. The film "And God Created Woman" launched both her career and St Tropez's. From now on every rich bastard in the western world wanted to sit on a beach in St Tropez in the hope that a woman like Brigitte Bardo would could wandering up out of the water, f*ck him like there's no tomorrow, use and manipulate him and completely screw up his life. And you know what? Once the rich bastards started arriving, so did those women.
As a playground of the rich and famous St Tropez really wasn't the kind of place we would usually visit while travelling. The most common phrase in our travel vocabulary seems to be "That's too expensive. Do you have anything cheaper?" Unfortunately it was not a phrase that people in St Tropez understood. The car parking was F-ing expensive, accommodation was ridiculous, food was extravagant, and drinks were simply out of this world (9 euro for a middie of beer!!!! F*uck ME that's like $15 Australian dollars! FOR BEER!!!!! JESUS HELP ME!!!!!).
That little rant aside, we had a great time in St Tropez. The first thing we did after parking the car (6 euro AN HOUR! - sorry) was wander down to the tourist office to check on accommodation. The tourist office was manned (manned!) by a couple of suitably gorgeous young ladies, who cheerfully advised us that the cheapest room in St Tropez was in the vicinity of 80-120 euros. As we were looking at the bottom end of that market (at LEAST) they couldn't actually make the booking for us so, using their map, we wandered around the city (it's fairly small) confirming with the various hotels that they were all fully booked. The one place that did have a single vacancy was 120 euros, but we were frightened away by the lady on the reception whose make up was so fiercely applied that I thought she was either a transvestite in her later years or the preserved corpse of Tammy Bakker. Urrggghh!!! So we wandered back to the tourist office.
There was one alternative in town - an apartment. It only cost 90 euro and for some strange reason we'd originally turned down the idea, but we were now desperate. The ladies at the office made a call and the owner came down a few minutes later. He took us through the backstreets around the cathedral, through a non-descript doorway and up 4 flights of narrow, curving stairs (now I remember the reason!). The apartment was stunning. A tiled wall created a separate space for the toilet and bath but otherwise it was simply a large room. But it was clean, stylish and trendy, like a minimalist loft apartment you see in the movies. It was great. What's more the owner gave us his carpark space so we could park for free. EXCELLENT!!! Keys in hand, we collected the car and drove to the harbour (where we had a pass for the carpark). It was a bit of an effort to lug the bags all the way from the harbour, across the waterfront, past the rows and rows of multi-million dollar yachts and then up the stairs to the apartment, but it was worth it. We had a loooonnnnng soak in the bath, tizzied ourselves up and then set out to check out the night life.
We cruised along the waterfront restaurants and bars, checking the scene and - more discreetly - checking the prices. Suffice it say we didn't end up choosing one of the premier restaurants, but settled in a very nice little Breton creperie. The food was nice and inexpensive and they served house wine by the litre so when we left we were feeling very good. We kicked on to a funky and cool bar a street back from the waterfront. It was so cool in fact that the only people allowed in there were the staff. A hostess, dressed in a suitably retro 1960s outfit (like something from Austin Powers) helped us take a seat at the bar. The drinks menu consisted of expensive cocktails or extremely expensive champagne. The champagne came in two sizes - bottles or jerraboams. Nothing smaller. No beer. So we settled in for a cocktail, watched the rugby on the wall sized flat screen TV and drank very very slowly. The place still hadn't filled by the time we left and the only people who seemed to be enjoying the ambiance were the staff.
We wandered past a couple of other bars. We went into one but the red lighting was so garrish we thought we'd stepped onto the set of some 1970's porno. In fact, the whole place had the vibe of swingers bar with rich, but badly dressed men ogling overtanned, older women. This was definitely the wrong place to be hanging so we left. We finally settled on Le Grand Joseph, a very exclusive waterfront bar. All the seats face the waterfront so you can watch the pretentiously wealthly eating on the back decks of their cruisers (let's call them cruisers, not yachts - yachts have sails and these things were more like small ocean liners). As if to emphasize their superiority it was de-rigour for the wealthy to turn their backs to us plebs to landward. Really, it didn't really look like those people were having that much fun. If I had a multi-million dollar cruiser at my disposal I'd be inviting people to come about and make a party of it.
Le Grand Joseph was an interesting bar. The floor was of black sand. A few doors up its partner, the restaurant bar, had a white sand. As we stood out the front a stretch Hummer pulled up and a couple of suspicous looking characters went into the restaurant. A policeman tried to get the chauffer to move the car. It turned out the car belonged to some Russian mafia types and they didn't really feel like moving the car. There was a vigorous debate and eventually both sides backed down. The driver moved the Hummer a few feet and the policeman's wife and children were released without harm.
For men with really small p*nises, the stretch Hummer is a great car. It draws crowds who all want to stand around gawp and take photos (myself included - but I wasn't impressed, honestly. It's a stupid car). It especially draws young ladies who suddenly become all very keen to sacrifice their morals to climb aboard. Two young (probably underage) American girls asked us if we knew who's car it was and what they could do to get in. We said we didn't know and we could guess, respectively. It seemed a fair trade to the girls, but as the mobsters were still busy threatening the policeman's family, they decided to cruise on somewhere else.
Excitement over, we entered the bar. Two middle aged ladies - guests - were dancing on table at the entrance, which drew the attention of many middle aged gentlemen. We cruised around the bar a couple of times. It was nice and the prices weren't as extravagant as other places (9 euro for middie - what am I saying???) so we bought a round and settled down. 9 euro also gets you a plate of chocolates with your beer. Normally chocolate and beer doesn't go well together but on this occasion we made an exception and gobbled them all down. By chance we started chatting with two American girls sitting at the table next to us. They asked us where we were from and we said Australia. "Oh yeah, there are a bunch of Australians out the front.", one of the girls said. "They're from some sport team or something. Is it soccer?" Shelly and I looked at each other. "You don't mean the Australian Rugby Team do you??" "Yeah, that's it. We had a couple of drinks with them earlier. We can introduce you." Anyway, I'm sure Shelly didn't mean to knock me off my chair as she jumped up, but as soon as I picked myself up, dusted off the footprints on my chest, we were standing at the Wallabies table introducing ourselves. "So, you following the games?". one of them asked. "Nah, not really.", I said. "Don't follow rugby at all. In fact, I think it's a stupid game really. Just a coincidence we're here." Oh man, did they laugh and laugh - then they punched me in the face. No, not really. We congratulated them on their recent success (smashing Japan) and they welcomed us to their table for a chat. Perhaps "we" isn't the right word. It was probably more like 'they invited the girls to their table' and I just tagged along. It wasn't the whole team either mind you, just five of the team who were having a little time off. The rest of the team was in Marsailles. We mostly spoke to Sean Hardman, a hooker (whatever that means?). He was a great guy and, as Shelly so politely pointed out, "didn't sound like a Queenslander" (Aussies will understand what that means). It was a great night.
We were moving just a little slower the next day (funny that!). We had to be out by 11am and we wanted to check out the beaches. After all these years of travelling I am still waiting to see a beach populated as far as the eye can see with young, beautiful, blonde haired, buxom beauties baring their breasts - to NO AVAIL - not in France, not in Germany, not in Croatia (the home of nude beaches) not in Italy, not in Rio, not even in Cancun! For this failure I blame Shelly. Somehow or other she manages to ensure that on the one day we go to the beach it rains, or a storm blows up, or something else happens. I think she is in league with the devil to thwart my evil plans. After what seemed like an interminable drive into a rural wilderness we saw a sign for la Plage de Pamplonna - St Tropez' long, famous beach. We pulled into a dodgy looking carpark, paid over our 5 euro and wandered down to the beach. It was hot, but windy and the beach was largely empty. Not only that, but it was nothing compared to an Australian beach (especially the beaches in Western Australia). The whole place in fact looked shabby. It seemed so out of place with St Tropez' reputation. So, we left after only a few minutes, passing on our way out two of the rubgy boys looking just a little worse for wear!
We drove down the coast towards Nice. There were some nice towns and gorgeous views, but to my mind it wasn't really an appealing area. Maybe because I'm not a beach person I find many seaside towns boring and often ugly. We stopped for lunch in one of the many beachside towns and had a very ordinary pasta, served with studied indifference. We jumped onto the motorway and then sped to Nice. We managed to navigate our way into the city and found the railway station. The streets around were littered with hotels so we pulled into a carpark, squeezed into a bay and paid 'a tip' to a couple of dodgy characters to "protect" the car, ie, please do not steal from the car while we're gone. We looked at three hotels and took the most expensive - the other hotels were bordering on disguisting. The reception of our hotel was manned by a small fluffy, well manicured dog which sat on the counter and called to her equally well manicured owner whenever someone approached. With the room secured we rushed back to the car - which hadn't been robbed thankfully (money well spent!) - and drove to the train station. There we dropped off our trusty hire car. It suddenly felt like the holiday was at an end.
We'd been to Nice before - in 1998 - as part of a Contiki tour, so Shelly decided to go shopping. I went sightseeing, however, Nice really isn't that nice. In fact the most impressive sight I saw was a well tanned, very fit young lass walking down the central boulevard in a thin, partly see-through, lemon yellow dress, with a dangerously plunging neckline and no underwear. I did not however, see the right hook Shelly landed on me to remind me we're married. Sorry Dear!!!
We ended our French adventure at a little restaurant in the old town. We had a set menu for 13 euro - I think we gnocchi with roquefort cheese - and it was excellent. As we moved onto desert the table next to us was taken by the strangest set of couples we ever laid eyes on. Two women, probably in their mid 60s, tanned a dull red, with skin like old leather, and wearing makeup painted thick and garrish. One lady - the older looking one - dressed like an EMO with black eye makeup and all the facial piercings. They were partnered by two 20 something, well dressed young gentlemen. In other circumstances we might have thought they were mothers and sons (or grandsons), but that was not the way they behaved. It seemed more that the two gents - who seemed gay - were playing the part of attentive toyboys to their older wealthy patrons, fawning over them, lighting their cigarettes, paying them outrageous compliments- everything except pay for anything, then the ladies wallets came out.
The next morning we dragged the bags to the nearby railway station and bid adieu to France. We took the train to Genoa, then on to Verona, where we visited our good friend Roberto for two days. By good fortune Roberto had just returned that evening from two weeks in the Greek Islands. Verona is one of our favourite cities in Italy and this was our third visit, so we took things very easy. Shelly shopped and I found an internet cafe and attempted to update the blog (not very well actually - I only got as far as Carcassonne) and booked accommodation for Dubai. Two days later we were back on the train to Milan and Malpensa airport. We were off to the last gasp of our holiday.