Monday, 3 October 2011

The French Connection

As mentioned in my post on Passion and being a passionate traveller among other things, I thought it would be a good idea to publish, some of my travel related adventures. I started with Hong Kong in Asia, moved on to Tanzania in Africa and am now shifting to Europe.

The idea

To me, travelling is an essential part of the journey through life. In my opinion, securing an opportunity to travel, is akin to securing an income every month. Both are required to be able to live a life, fully. Usually.

Some time back, I was introduced by a friend, to a social network called Couch Surfing. The philosophy of this network is quite simple. It is a network that lets you develop an understanding of peoples, places and cultures. In short it promotes inter cultural connections.

When I was based in Muscat, I became an active member of this network. Whether it was meeting up with like minded people who were already residing in the city or hosting people who were aiming to develop a better and more local, rather than 'touristy', understanding of Muscat through me.

My first 'guest', who has eventually turned out to be a good friend goes by the name of Bernard. He is French and an intrepid traveller who has been to many parts of the world. A complete gentleman, he was my first experience of hosting a person through the network.

We had a great time in Muscat, during the week he stayed over. We connected easily and became friends. I was able to learn so much from his various travel experiences as well as the good values by which, he lived life. By the time he was about to leave, we had discussed and agreed that I would visit him in France. In a place called Antibes.

This series is a recollection of the wonderful time I had, thanks to his generosity, in the beautiful French Riviera.

Pre-trip preparations

The old adage is that a journey begins with the first step. Today, it is more likely to be the first click. So with the trusty mouse and laptop in hand, I searched for the best airfares to Europe. Managed to get a good deal with Emirates Airlines. Tickets booked and confirmed.

Now comes the bit about the visa. As I mentioned in my African Safari post, as an India passport holder, one of the key activities in getting ready for international travel, involves getting the visit visa sorted out. Went off to the French consulate. Found out that I was eligible to get a Schengen visa. However, I would pretty much need to provide every possible document demonstrating my ability to reside in France for a week and more importantly, a strong committed reason to actually return back to Muscat.

Many a times, I have thought about this. I understand that the Indian government has not entered into reciprocal arrangements for providing visa on arrival norms. However, the main reason why the Indian passport holder has to prove s/he will return back to place of residence is simply because there have been way too many Indians who have managed to get into a country and vanished without a trace, to eventually surface as a illegal worker and after a point of time becomes the citizen of that country or a neighbouring territory. All in the pursuit of a better life. Understandable, given the systems and great governance of our beautiful country, until a few decades back. It does mean however, that even today for any Indian, who wishes to travel to another country, unless the immigration officials are satisfied that the person is a genuine traveller who intends to only visit and return, getting a visa becomes rather tough.

Thankfully, I received full support from my work colleagues and the management at the advertising agency where I was employed. Though I had all the relevant documents, I still went with some jitters to the embassy. Fortunately, I was approved to travel. Yes! What a sigh of relief.

The journey

Driving to the airport is such a joyful feeling. The joyfully trembling anticipation of getting into an aircraft, flying way above the clouds, the aroma of food and beverages being served, the superb in flight entertainment system called ICE on Emirates Airlines and above all the good service, especially as I was not on any of the UAE-India sectors. Flight was Muscat - Dubai - Nice. Flight from Muscat was good, no hassles other than the standard Dubai processes - remove the shoes, remove the belt, etc. Thankfully there was no iris scan this time.

As the flight from Dubai to Nice was taxing for take off, I could not help but notice how similar the Dubai airport looked to a caterpillar.

Dubai airport
While the infrastructure looked and is really modern in Dubai, the landscape is dry and dusty as behoves a dry desert environment.

Dubai viewed from above
While the Nice airport was not really comparable to Dubai, the difference between the Gulf and European landscape could not be more evident. Sun kissed beaches and a glimmering sea right next to the landing strip.

Nice, France - first view from above
Bernard was kind enough to come pick me up from the airport and drive us back to his beautiful house (more on it later). After putting my baggage in the room, we headed to a place called Juan les Pins which I would get to know well, over the next few days. Perfect, cool, crisp evening and a beautiful start to the trip.

It really was the French Riviera. I was finally here. What a moment. The beach was beautiful. The people were care free and relaxed. It was summer time, so long days and shorter nights. Going from a place in the middle east, where culturally it is not acceptable to show much of your body to a place like the south of France, where culturally it was acceptable to being very lightly dressed, if at all, was like a culture and perspective shake in some ways. Realisation dawns - the world is so different, just a few hours apart.

To me, nothing could be more starkly reminiscent than this beautiful sculpture of a nude lady waiting, by the board walk at Juan les Pins.

Sea Gull, Juan les Pins, France
The only creature gawking at me, while I was in my photographer mode. Nobody else, could care less about being photographed. Everybody appeared relaxed, having a good time, generally happy and carefree.

I was enlightened about a very interesting law about the beach area by Bernard. While private owners could restrict their space to only those people they wanted, everyone had access to the sea shore and a through fare area had to be provided. This meant that we could actually walk all along the sea shore for kilometres, while passing by restaurants and beach beds.

This beautiful mansion and beach resort, captured my eyes as I walked past. Finally, we called it a day. Went back to the house, had some great wine and an excellent dinner prepared by Bernard. We talked for a while, catching up on the time since we last met in Muscat. Then it was time to sleep. As I was sinking into sleep, I could feel my heart still beating out the message, "yes, yes, beautiful French Riviera, yes, yes".

Still more amazing experiences to come. In the next post. 


  1. Some great thoughts, nice tips and lovely pictures. Sorry, missed a fantastic narration. Great post Anish, BTW, what about your FB page?

  2. Hi Saru. Thank you once again for the lovely comment. I did great an FB page. Did you see the widget on the right side? Last widget. In fact, I would much appreciate if you could visit and let me know what you think? Any suggestions on improving this page and set up? Many thanks.


Your comments are welcome. I am all ears.

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