29 August 2011


Cannes is a town east of Marseille, at the Côte d'Azur. Yesterday I got in a train and went there for the day. TGVs are pretty tight and not very elegant, with carpet on the floor, walls, and ceiling. Seats in first class are wider but that's about it. It also doesn't go very fast because the tracks are very curvy, following the valleys and shoreline, so the trip takes two hours. The windows were too dirty to see much.

Cannes has three sections, stretching along the curve of the bay: downtown in the middle has many fine old buildings, although not as fine as in Marseille. It's basically a shopping area. The view of the sea is blocked by a monumentally ugly concrete monster that houses the film festival, a casino, many shops, and the tourist office. The French are never afraid to spoil a beautiful view with big piles of concrete but in Cannes they have really outdone themselves. To the east is a more modern residential area that is completely uninteresting; at the sea it turns into an imprenetable chain of giant highrise hotels. Some of them look nice, like the old Carlton, but most are concrete blocks that look tolerable only in comparison to the festival building. The hotels own the beach and charge heavily for access. The beach is sandy, but not very wide and very crowded. Not attractive.

To the west of the center is a hill with the old fort, which is now a museum. It's a beautiful old building with thick stone walls, and a high tower in the center of its courtyard. The museum is quite nice, not huge but with many interesting exhibitions spanning the globe from Nepalese masks to historic Cannes souvenir paintings. The view from the tower is a beautiful panorama of the city and its beaches, and the countless glitzy megayachts in the harbor.

In the afternoon I went on a boat to Saint-Honorat, one of the two islands near Cannes. The boat there takes only 15 minutes, much of which is spent navigating a path through the countless boats parked between the islands. One of the islands, Sainte-Margherite, is larger and mostly a nature reserve, while Saint-Honorat has been owned by an order of monks for 1600 years, who still grow food here. Most of the monastery is closed to visitors, but they have a beautiful church (outside; inside it's pretty bare) and a big fortified tower that was used to defend the city. The views from up there are beautiful.

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