French Riviera. French Dogs. And French Food!

We took a scenic ride down the coast of the Riviera from St. Rafael to Cannes. With blue skies and daytime temperature of 60ish the windy and twisty road through Agay and down to Cannes slipped by before we knew it. Spotting what some might say is the ubiquitous castle in France; we stopped in La Napoule-Plage to scope out an amazing castle restore at the turn of the century by the American Artist Henry Clews.

Clews was the sun of a wealthy New York banker who fled from the United States to Europe and finally settled in this fishing village on the Mediterranean. The medieval chateau he restored bears the inscription on the entrance “Once Upon A Time”. Today the castle hosts the Musee Henry-Clews and from what I understand offers an artists in residency program.

The fun part of my excursion to south France for this trip is my lack of planning and research. Certainly there are the highlights that I am excited about exploring. Following in the footsteps from historical figures such as Napoleon to the famed impressionist and modern artists of Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Chagall, Cezanne and Chagall. But spotting an imposing castle perched on the sea and pulling off to discover an artist and his passion for his art (he died in 1937) enriches the experience.

Cannes is famed for the International Film Festival it hosts annually where stars and celebrities worldwide dodge the paparazzi while hoping to rank high in a film contest that only is out flanked by the Hollywood Oscar spectacle. Perhaps not as famous but equally of interest to me, Cannes hosts an annual festival for advertising. Where agencies, art directors and copywriters worldwide throw their best ad campaigns to the judges in the hopes of walking away with a statue.

Bryan and I climbed the hill that is home to the Tour de Suquet, a 14th Century tower standing tall and proud adjacent to the Notre-Dame de l”Esperance, an historic church built between 1500-1600 that combines elements of both Gothic and Renaissance architecture. But for those who'd rather worship the almighty and ever present French mega fashion brands, Cannes hosts the chic and the classic. A shoppers Mecca. I knew things were somewhat amiss when I spotted a billboard that proudly claimed January 7-25, 2004 as the International Shopping Festival. Oh brother, get me out of here.

If you've ever traveled to France and spent any time in the major cities or resorts such as Paris, Cannes, Nice etc., you've probably noticed how fond the French are of their dogs. Particularly those small yappy lap dogs that seem to spend as much time at the coiffures as their owners. Now in the US and perhaps other major cities as a non-dog owner you might find it odd that dog owners carry small bags. Sometimes empty. And sometimes full, if not a bit warm; which might be nice in the winter if not wearing gloves. Yes. The terrible duty of cleaning up dogshit. Well after Bryan found himself in desperate need of cleaning his shoes I had to explain that of all the cities I've traveled over the years I have found the French simply don't like to clean up after their dogs. And damn there are a lot of dogs in France. This makes for a bit of a minefield for shoppers, walkers and otherwise street dwellers.

Ok. So it's not that bad. An espresso and crepe with an eyeful of people to watch, I'm liking Cannes. Even better. This is Sunday. The shops are closed.

As we headed out of Cannes Sunday night I couldn't help thinking how much I was looking forward to touring the medieval towns of Eze, St. Paul, Vence, Tourettes and more. Hoping to take in more history, art and architecture and less blatant consumerism when we drove buy yet another McDonalds. Not that it[base ']s unusual to see a McDonalds perhaps anywhere in the world. Knowing the resistance many French have to anything American, the sight of a McDonald[base ']s is like a pimple or wrinkle on their botoxless epidermis. But this one must be a true infection — it was a drive through McDonalds. That's right. Just a few miles from the see-me, dig-me beaches of Cannes a drive through McDonalds. Geeez.

Photos: (1) Henry Clews Castle now an art museum, cafe and artists colony near Cannes in France; (2) Looking over the roofs of Cannes; (3) There are a lot of dogs in France. And a lot of French with dogs that don't read roadsigns.