Home Sweet Condo

posted 26 January 2005

Our "apartment" is actually a vacation condo; the "Résidence de l'Ange Gardien" is one of many all over France run by an outfit called Pierre & Vacances (yes, it means "Stone and Vacations," a very odd name, unless the company was actually founded by Mr. Pierre and Mr. Vacances). They would happily sell us a time-share in it, though I suspect the price would be as hair-raising as Laurence's driveway. Purusal of real-estate agents' windows (and about 30% of all businesses in Beaulieu-sur-Mer seem to be real estate agencies) reveal that two-bedroom condos are selling for about a $1 million at today's exchange rates, Our place is one of their larger units, designed to sleep up to seven, so the dishes are all supplied in multiples of seven--seven dinner plates, 14 spoons, etc.. The large bedroom contains a closet, a double bed, and just enough floor space to sidle around the bed. The other bedroom contains a set of bunk beds because the floor space is too small for twins or a double (not inconveniently small, but literally too small for them to fit). In the great room are two twin-size studio couches (oneof which conceals a trundle bed) that double as sofas; a dining table with four chairs and a stool (I guess the two youngest kids have to sit on the floor); and a kitchenette. Bathroom, separate toilet, a couple more closets, and a balcony complete the layout. Linen serfice is included, and cleaning is available for a fee. It's small, but not hopelessly so--I'm just glad there aren't seven of us! View of Villefranche

We're actually very happy with the place. The balcony stretches the width of both the great room and the larger bedroom, both of which open onto it through room-wide sliding glass doors. It's equipped with a table and seven chairs, plus a folding chaise longe (all white PVC), as well as a cafe umbrella and a folding clothes-drying rack. I've added a pot of rosemary, and by the third day the doves and sparrows were already trained to await their morning saucer of crumbs on the table (sometimes we get European robins and magpies). The view is gorgeous, as you can see even in this rather dim view of part of it. You're looking west, across the bay to Villefranche-sur-Mer. You can't actually see the lab,which is obscured by the tree behind the tiled roofs. The palm trees on the near side of the hedge are on the grounds of our résidence; the olive trees and other vegetation beyond are in the yards of private homes. The large hill in the distance is Mount Boron, which separates Villefranche from Nice, on the other side It's about a 300-m walk down to the cobble beach, and from there you can walk all the way around the bay to the lab. The path is paved or cobbled all the way, level, railed, and safe (at least in good weather), but in many places it's literally a ledge on the outer face of the seawall, well below the top. Around here they often refer straight-faced to "the beach" when they mean a place where you look straight down a stone wall about 10 feet to a narrow band of jagged four-foot boulders battered by small surf.

Villefranche mapOur place is in Villefranche-sur-Mer, but on the far side from the lab, actually closer to the middle of Beaulieu-sur-Mer (the next town east of Villefranche).  On this map from the lab's website, you can see the lab buildings, prominently marked "LOV," on one side of town (we're in the middle of the three).  On the other side of the bay, a small pencilled circle (between the white road and the black railway line) marks our apartment (just north of the point labeled "Les Deux Rups"). The little church symbol to the right of it marks the tiny Chapel of the Gardian Angel for which the place is named. (The round yellowish object to the right of that is a tennis ball, marking the municipal courts next door.) The larger pencilled circle marks my estimate of where the nearest bakery would be, though it turns out actually to be a little farther east.

The résidence is six stories tall, but it's built in terraces on the hillside. Our apartment, number 325, is on the third floor counting from the ground below our balcony, but in the elevator, it's level "-1" because it's one floor below reception, which is at street level on the uphill side, its entrance flanked by large potted kumquat trees covered with half-ripe kumquats. The terrace and surface of the pool are on that level, with the odd result that the entire pool is suspended above ground on pillars--they've planted grass under it!--and when we walk from the elevator to our door, one level down, we can look into the pool through the row of 30-inch portholes set in the sides of it below the surface (where we could wave to the swimmers under water, if there were any; it's still pretty cold and the pool is closed).

KitchenetteThis is the kitchenette (taken before we moved in--it's a little more cluttered now), complete with half-height fridge, coffee maker, and (most important) dishwasher. I'm having a great time experimenting with local ingredients, shopping for fresh baked goods daily, and benefiting from the beautiful produce in the markets, even at this time of year.

The bathroom is entirely serviceable except for one thing. The French claim, and actually believe, that some of their apartments and hotel rooms are equipped with showers, but (like Americans with cheese and the British with central heating) they have never really mastered the concept. Even in hotel rooms with actual showers, attached to the wall, measures for containing the water are inadequate and often completely lacking. The French consider the shower an inadequate substitute for a tub, suitable only for youth hostels and really cheap motels, and they can't imagine that anyone would actually prefer a shower to a tub. That's why you can't even ask in advance whether your hotel room or apartment has a shower--the answer is invariably either "no" or "all our bathrooms are complete, madam." The latter can mean either "yes" (there's a shower in the tub) or "no" (we supply a tub, so no shower is needed). Most often, what they describe as a shower is a hand-held sprayer at the end of a hose, often not long enough to use standing up, with no way to hang it up or even to put it down momentarily (because the force of the water makes it flail around, spraying in all directions). Add the complete lack of shower curtain or enclosure and walls around the tub that are often wooden or wall-papered instead of tiled, and you get the picture--a real nuisance.

Being aware of this problem--the only thing I'm ever homesick for in France is a real shower--I carefully studied the photos Laurence sent us of the apartment. The walls around the tub are tiled, and the hose on the hand sprayer is good and long. I therefore brought along several large self-adhesive plastic hooks (of the sort guaranteed to come off later without leaving a mark), which I've stuck up in strategic locations. At Carrefour (the local equivalent of K-mart, but more upscale), we bought wire and a plastic shower curtain (they are available, though I was prepared to cut holes in a cheap bedsheet if necessary), and we now have quite a passable shower. The hand sprayer wears a wire harness that fits over two of my hooks at head height, and the curtain hangs from two more--the floor stays dry, and all's right with the world.

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