Thursday, June 11, 2009

Barcelona and the French Riviera (Nice and Eze): Minds stretched in new directions

by Richard L. Weaver II

We heard it said on the plane as we approached Barcelona, that the city was nothing like it used to be because it was too westernized. That same comment can be made about most large cities around the world, but it doesn’t mean (or should not mean) that large cities contain unusual or unique sights that should not be explored, seen, or experienced.

Upon landing in Barcelona, we were taken to our hotel (Hotel Diagonal), by taxicab, and if our hotel were representative of all of Barcelona, it is true that the city would not be worth a visit. It was the most modern hotel we have ever experienced with elevators that indicate which of the three will carry you to your designation but with no internal buttons of any kind. Key cards activated the lights in each room; buttons activated two layers of shades that covered the glass window that made up one wall; and a bathroom, that except in the room with the toilet, offered no privacy behind clear glass walls, were some of the “amenities.” Lights, furniture, decorations, telephone, and all other accessories and accents were ultra-modern, “colored” in gray, black, or white, and supported an angular or square decorative scheme.

From our hotel, we took the subway 4 stops to what we were told was a Barcelona “must see.” La Rambla — a one mile long pedestrian boulevard in the old city that blended old building facades with souvenir shops, small restaurants, and the largest collection of “street performers” we’ve ever witnessed. These were people dressed in a wide-variety of costumes who simply pose — standing like statues — to have their pictures taken by themselves or with passers-by, all for a donation. Pedestrian walkways were experienced throughout Europe (in Vienna, Austria, in small cities along the Danube, Mine, and Rhine River, as well as other places we have visited). Strolling, meeting, talking, and eating along these pedestrian walkways is a foreign custom with which many Americans may be unfamiliar, except, perhaps, at American malls. La Rambla, on a Saturday afternoon and evening, was a crowded, mass of people: loud, active, and busy.

The French Riviera — our first cruise stop after Barcelona — was nothing like my image of it. My image included a white sand, beach-oriented, playground. The Riviera consists of a number of cities, of course, and some we did not see may have satisfied my image. We moored and were tendered in at Villefranche, and we enjoyed an excellent excursion to Nice and Eze with a wonderful guide. We did not go to Monaco and its popular and main city, Monte Carlo, but here is what is interesting about that. We were having lunch at a little restaurant in downtown Florence, as part of another (later) excursion, and seated with us was a young lady and her mother from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and, as well, a lawyer and his wife (Jim and Susan Cousins) from Livonia, Michigan. Jim was extolling the virtues of the excursion into Monaco, and the lady from Kalamazoo disagreed with every one of his observations and said the excursion was an absolute waste of money. They had different guides and it was a different time of day (morning versus afternoon), and the experiences were 180-degrees different!

The beach in Nice is nice. It follows the coast for miles and is accented by a pedestrian walkway and palm trees, but the beach is of pebbles, not sand. It was there, just beyond the pedestrian walkway in the center of Nice, where the flower market is located every morning. That same market is turned into an afternoon series of small, outdoor, intimate restaurants. Following the flower market each day, the city hoses down the area and carts away the garbage. Then each restaurant brings out its own chairs and tables to fill each of the vacated, tent-covered metal skeletons.

The place that stands out in my mind thus far, however, is the old, walled-city of Eze that stood perched like an “eagle’s nest” at the height of an imposing cliff. The small narrow roads, archways, stone houses, shady squares, and ancient fountains made this town unique and picturesque. The only open area we discovered was a grassy park at the far end of the village that looked out beyond the walls toward the hills, villages, and other cathedrals in the distance.

Eze is a medieval, fortified village built on the top of a steep hill for protection. It was moved from the nearby coast to the hilltop during a period when pirates were plundering the region, but its history is remarkable. It goes back to the neolithic era towards 2000 BC and its name originated from the port of Avisio located in the bay of Saint Laurent of Eze (east of the commune).

Like so many European villages, Eze experienced numerous occupations and changes in village authority. For example, it was originally occupied by the Saracens. In 1229 it was confiscated by the Count of Provence, Raymond B ranger V, and after belonged (until 1388) to the crown of Anjou-Provence. Until the 20th century Eze was charged to care for plague-stricken leprous people. It was in 1414 that Eze was returned to the House of Savoy. In 1543, occupants of Eze freed themselves of their lords and formed a “communautas.” Following occupation by Soliman the Magnificent at about the same time, the village of Eze experienced destruction of its castle by French troops (1713), creation of the Brotherhood of the Rosary (1764), return of the village to France (1807), return to the House of Savoy (1860), and the final return of Eze to France in 1914. Excursion guides tend to stretch minds with their extensive understanding of history and their willingness to share what they know with their willing listeners.

Eze was an exception to the other cites and villages along the French Riviera because of its location and its preservation of its mediaeval ambiance. Villefranche, Monte Carlo, Nice, and Cannes, however, are all places for the very rich, and all are resort communities for many French people of the upper crust. We chose neither to shop nor eat in Villefrance nor Nice.

We were but four days through a 14-day cruise, and we discovered that just like the river cruise we took of the Danube, Main, and Rhine Rivers of Europe, the information — like that we discovered about Eze — overwhelms the senses, the experiences have no (or little) reference to what we have known and understood previously, and the boundaries of our minds continue to edge ever outward with the full understanding that minds stretched in new directions never return to their original dimension.


Everything you ever wanted to know about Barcelona can be found at the VISCA A CITY website — the official Barcelona city website. More information can be found as well at the Barcelona Tourist Guide. Also, at, Philip Greenspun offers, “A Phtographer’s Guide to Barcelona” which is well worth a look.

Check out for information about hotels, villas, vacations, rentals, and more. At, you get information on transportation as well as art and culture, climate, and lifestyle.
Copyright June, 2009 - And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

1 comment:

  1. This makes for a nice summer vacation of the mind!


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