Full of Food and COVID in France
A Family Holday Vacation to France, December 2023
My family and I visit our relatives in France every couple years. We had been planning to travel to France for some time, but to put it nicely, we are very bad at planning. I knew that if we were to go, I would at least need to help to plan our flight itinerary. After some frustration and finesse, I was able to find some good flights which my dad graciously booked for us all.
Saturday, December 16
Our first leg was SFO-ZRH (San Francisco to Zurich, Switzerland.) But, the flight didn't depart until 7 PM so we practically had the whole day to ourselves. Unfortunately, my dad tested positive for COVID-19 in the morning, but he was pretty healthy and decided to move along with our plans but just wear masks. In the morning before the flight, we went to a library book sale and then had lunch. It was already getting dark by the time we got to the airport in the late afternoon. I unfortunately had to check my luggage, because the wheels made it just an inch too tall. We got on the Swiss Air 777 plane and took off. The flight was 10 hours and a half, which is never fun. There were some movies and things to do, I tried my hand at the Chess game provided on screen, and could never get close to defeating the AI. Is this airplane secretly a chess supercomputer? I frequently stood up and walked around and actually met a Swiss university researcher, who submits scientific codes to machines like the one where I work. After what felt like days, we finally landed without me getting a wink of sleep. However, this flight was the smoothest trans-Atlantic flight I've ever been on, so kudos, Swiss Air!
Sunday, December 17
By now, it is Sunday and we are stuck in the Zurich airport for a couple hours. Plenty of the airport shops have walls and walls of chocolate, including my favorite, Toblerone! Our second leg of the trip was ZRH-NCE which was a much shorter flight. It was interesting that we had to take a bus to get to the plane. Finally, around 7 PM local time we land in Nice, grab our baggage (which were the first out on the carousel!), grab our rental car, and head to Cannes. We saw my Grandmother, Jacqueline, briefly before going to bed at our AirBnB (which was in the same apartment complex!) Unfortunately, I didn't get much sleep.
Monday, December 18
I was feeling very ill this day and pretty sure I know why. Even if I didn't get COVID-19 from my dad, there were no shortage of people coughing on the planes. So unfortunately, I just stayed home and got some rest.
Tuesday, December 19
I took a COVID test which to no surprise, was positive. I'm hoping that since I've been vaccinated, this will be over quickly. Actually, I am feeling a bit better already from yesterday. I stayed home again to stop the spread, and get over this as soon as possible and start to enjoy my vacation.
Wednesday, December 20
I've nearly recovered this horrendous disease. I had a staple French breakfast, a croissant with raspberry jam. Later, we went out as a family on a short walk in an old but beautifully decorated cemetary and saw the resting site of Jacqueline's aunts and cousin, Pepe. Then for dinner, my sister made some delicious risotto, but too bad I hadn't recovered my sense of taste yet.
Thursday, December 21
I made it this far, over the worst and finally feeling better. Today was much more interesting as a result, and I hope that no more words in this journal are wasted on COVID. Despite (still) not getting enough sleep, the day started off to a great start. I woke up at 4:30 and got up around 7:30, a bit before sunrise. We have a view of the Mediterranean Sea from our AirBnB. On top of the spectacular sunrise, there was an awesome silhouette of Corsica, what I would call the "Hawaii of France." After breakfast, we went over to Jacqueline's and all of us went to the Marche Noel, the Christmas Market in downtown Cannes. Like a typical street fair, most of the vendors sold jewelry, but one that was pretty interesting was someone who sold umbrellas that folded the other way to keep the water within, instead of dripping out, when brought inside. We literally bought 100 raviolis and also stopped for crepes. Normally, I go for the sweet ones, with sugar or Nutella, but I wanted to try a savory one so I got a cheese-filled crepe; the crepe was awesome but the cheese was a bit disappointing. My family wanted to do some more shopping but I started getting some brain fog so Jacqueline and I just watched the water fountains. When they were done, we piled into the car and drove to La Croisette where we had a view of Saint Marguerite island. Also, someone was there shooting staged videos of a really expensive car - maybe for a commercial? I looked up the model later and it was a Bentley Continental GT, with the base price of $250,000!
So, if you ever see a commercial for a Benteley Continental GT that was filmed in Cannes, I was there!
With a car full of Christmas goods, and a phone/camera full of pictures, that was a wrap. Later that evening my dad's cousin Veronique with her 2 grandkids stopped by at Jacqueline's for a visit. For dinner, my mom (who was also sick) and I head back to our "quarantine zone" (a.k.a. the AirBnB) to eat dinner. It will probably be a while before testing negative...
Friday, December 22
All of us went to Biot today, a fortified old village in the hills. There is a really neat glass workshop where they handmake and sell unique glassware - where the glass is filled with tiny bubbles! We watched the craftsmen make some vases, explored the glass art museum, and I got myself some cups to bring home. After the workshop, we went to the downtown Biot area, where there was a holiday boutique happening. We got some souvenirs and gifts there, and then looked in a beautiful old church there.
After returning to Jacqueline's from Biot, we made those raviolis for lunch from yesterday's market. They were interesting; one side of the ravioli was yellow and the other side was green, and filled with cheese and spinach. They were tasty, but a bit dry with only butter and no sauce.
After lunch, without Jacqueline, we went to Mouans-Sartoux for their sale of santons, which are figurines to make miniature nativity scenes called creches. Most of them are already painted, but some of them can be bought specifically to be painted. We bought several different santons to add to our growing collection, and afterwards we went to a bakery where my dad got roasted chestnuts. I thought they were nasty...
On the way home we stopped at Lidl, a grocery store and bought way too much stuff. Luckily, we were parked close so it wasn't too much trouble to bring everything out to the car. For dinner I had leftover raviolis and added tomato sauce, and they were much better that way. That's all for today, now I desparately need to catch up on my sleep.
Saturday, December 23
Today we wrapped gifts in the morning, and then had veal pockets for lunch. It was made like a stew with vegetables, and the veal was very juicy and full of stuffing. Normally I don't like this kind of food, but I thought this meal was very good. After lunch, we drove to the town of Vallauris for shopping and sightseeing, but mainly (gift) shopping. We did again explore the very old Church there. However, on our way out, we watched a Christmas-themed street show, with acrobatics, juggling, and other tricks. We finished the day by ordering pizza from a place called Mister Pizza. I got a thin crust Italienne, and it was delicious.
Sunday, December 24
It's Christmas eve! This morning, my family and I went to Cannes to see the Suquet, which is a very old and historic church on the top of a hill. Inside, there was a beautifully crafted creche that had music and was animated, thanks to Jacqueline's cousin Pepe, whose grave we went to see on Wednesday. After the Suquet we walked a little bit along Le Croisette and saw plenty of truly expensive boats. We stopped breifly for drinks at a place called La Muse where I had a sirop de peche/peach syrup. For some reason, it always tastes better coming from a restaurant. On the way back, we went to the farmers market and bought several fruits and some saucisson, and then stopped for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant called Xuan le Printemps at the request of my sister. We all ordered appetizers of nems, which are egg rolls eaten with lettuce, and then I had some noodles with chicken. Not very French, but still good! Later in the evening we went to L'Eglise Sainte Philomene in Le Cannet for Christmas mass. It was very crowded and of course all in French except for the Latin bits. On our way back out to the car, we took some pictures of the city hall that was all decorated and lit up by a projector playing Christmas animations. For dinner back at Jacqueline's, we had several appetizer-like dishes like mini quiches for example, and then opened some presents.
Monday, December 25
Joyeux Noel! The 4 of us and Jacqueline left early today to drive to Toulon, where my uncle Franck and aunt Corinne live. On the way there we stopped at a familiar place. It was a highway rest stop with giant plastic turtles (for kids to climb on.) We'd stopped there several times before when my sister and I were kids. Once we got to Toulon, we had a bit of trouble finding Franck's new house. He came out and guided us to his house, which was very close to his old one we'd visited last year, where both were on a steep slope. The first thing I noticed was his rooftop garden which was full of cactuses and succulents. From the roof, there was an awesome view of La Rade de Toulon (the bay). Other than that, I didn't notice too many differences between his old house and new. Inside we met Corinne, my cousin Emilie, and her baby. Emilie's boyfriend Jimmy was also there and took us on tour of the house. The downstairs area was huge, much bigger than I anticipated with 3 bedrooms and a lot of storage space. The pool in the backyard also extended a bit underneath the house which was weird but really cool.
Sadly, Emilie and her troupe had to leave before lunch. We ate foie gras, turkey, pommes-dauphine, and farce (stuffing). I also tried an oyster for the first time. And possibly the last time. After lunch we played bocce ball in Franck's small gravelly front yard, and then opened gifts. Franck got me some nice naval themed shot glasses. Too bad I don't drink much. I sat with my family and chat with Corinne a bit, and learned that she has a very interesting job. She does hypnotism for mental healing and has a client she practices on. Franck then showed us all some very old "Super 8" film from the 70s, when he and my dad Marc were just kids. It was interesting to see what they and Jacqueline were like back then and I learned a lot about his and my dad's history.
Tuesday, December 26
This morning, Jacqueline, my dad, and I walked over to see the very small church L'eglise Paroissale Saint-Joseph on our way to the boulangerie (bakery.) It was neat to see the sign on the front of the church denoting that it is in the parish of Saint Nicolas. At the boulangerie, we grabbed a baguette, and some croissants at my request.
Later in the morning we visited the cemetery of the resting place of Walter, who was my grandfather (Jacqueline's husband) and Julie, my great grandmother. We also saw the grave sites of Jacqueline's father and her uncles, whom I'd never met. Today I realized how little I know of my ancient family. I learned that Walter served in the French military in Africa and Julie made clothing for the French army.
After we left the cemetery, we made a surprise visit to my dad and Jacqueline's friends, Nicole and Richard. We stayed outside of their house for fear of spreading Covid, but their house was magnificent. There was a pool with a small poolhouse in the backyard, and a huge garden of vegatables and flowers. They also have a very tiny and adorable dog, that the name unfortunately alludes me.
Then, we went back to Jacqueline's for lunch just in time to leave again. This time, to see my godmother Jocelyne and great aunt Pierrette in Nice. I know we are not supposed to pick favorites in our family but I absolutely adore Jocelyne. She is now retired and takes pictures in art museums. We got to their apartment and Pierrette had baked us a delicious apple pie, but unfortunately I was not hungry so I only had a small taste. Then Jocelyne and my family went out to walk about Nice, and we saw the sunset on the rocky beaches, some strange-looking sculptures, and finally ending at another Christmas market. There was no shortage of food and drink there, so I got a crepe with Nutella. It was much better than last time! We ended up buying even more gifts at this market including more santons. I have no idea how we're going to bring all this home, since we were already packed completely full on the way here!
Wednesday, December 27
In the morning I went with my parents and Jacqueline to E. Leclerc, which is basically like the Walmart of France. We again bought way too much stuff, including yogurt, chicken, chocolate, bathroom supplies, and more nems. The poor guy at the checkout had to scan all of our items which took several minutes. Franck came over for lunch and we had chicken and tomatoes with mozarella.
After lunch we all went to yet another cemetery to visit the resting place of our uncle Marc, who owned a restaurant called Chez Marc where we always used to eat. Then we left the cemetery to see our aunt Christiane who was married to Marc. At her house we also saw Veronique again and her husband. We explored their property and played with their two dogs, and then sat and talked for a long time. More sweets were served, and I had some of an almond pie (galette des rois) which is a traditional French holiday treat. Veronique also showed us the sign they took down from the entrance of Chez Marc. It was a little sad, but I'm glad they were able to keep the sign, and actually, there is still a sign on the road showing the direction to the restaurant.
We returned home to Jacqueline's for dinner and served the nems we bought earlier today. We also played belote which is a French card game played in pairs. I played with Franck against my parents and they kicked our butts. I can't believe that already tomorrow is our last full day here.
Thursday, December 28
This is our last full day in France. I woke up very early today but couldn't go back to sleep. My dad was awake too, so we walked over to Jacqueline's and saw Franck before he left for work. Then we went back to our AirBnB to do laundry and start packing up. The owner paid us a brief visit to ask us what we thought of her place and to see if anything needed attention. And finally, being the last day, I test negative for COVID!
For lunch my mom made us lasagna made with Italian sausage, it was delicious and I ate a bit too much. We had a bit of a relaxing afternoon, but did walk over to pick up some bread at the boulangerie and then we all drove over to the coast for a short walk. Then we returned back to the AirBnB again to finish up packing. After some packing and more lazy afternoon, we headed back to Jacqueline's for dinner and Franck came back over. I calculated that in total, I ate about 5 pounds (US) of chocolate on this trip, or about 4% of my body weight... I love chocolate, but this is completely absurd. After dinner we played belote again and looked at some old photo albums. I'm very sad that we're leaving so early tomorrow morning, but I'm glad we got to do so much on this trip, despite my illness. Our flight departs Nice at 10:00 AM tomorrow, but we're planning to check out of the AirBnB around 6:30 AM. That means; early to bed, early to rise.
Friday, December 29
I awoke around 5:30 AM to finish packing my last few things and get ready for the long voyage. We saw Jacqueline in the morning before leaving and said our goodbyes. It was an extremely dark morning, the sun didn't come up until we got all the way to the Nice airport. We dropped off the rental car and took a tram to get to our terminal. We checked our baggages (the concierge didn't charge us for it!) and went through security. Luckily it wasn't too crowded in the airport so we were able to get breakfast there pretty easily. I ate a croissant and a sandwich wrap. We boarded the plane to Zurich and were stuck for 30 minutes before we could take off. It's rather annoying that they don't let us off the plane, but I suppose that would cause even further delays to get everyone back on. I got a window seat and got an awesome view of the Alps, covered in snow. We landed in Zurich after an hour or so and had 2 hours to get to our next flight which was all the way across the large airport. We took another tram to get to the other terminal, and had to get our passports checked twice (or thrice, for my mom) before getting to the gate. Things were already appearing to be delayed, and when we finally boarded, we were stuck on the plane for a whole hour before starting to move.
For lunch on the plane they served a few options and I got macaroni and cheese, but it was weird. There were potato and apple bits in it. I didn't like it. After my computer died, I walked about the plane and met another techie who was also stretching his legs. It was a ridiculously long flight and we were in the plane for a total of 13 hours, probably the longest I've ever been in one plane. I dozed off but unfortunately I did not get any substantial sleep. After getting off, we waited through customs, grabbed our bags, finally drove home and went promptly to sleep.
Despite getting sick for a while, it was an awesome trip, and after returning home I discovered I had taken nearly 500 pictures. I looked through them all and posted some of the best ones on my Instagram and created a page on my website for those photos.