When Marie offered me a Côte d’Azur birthday pilgrimage recently, I gasped and shivered with absolute delight. It was the best present ever. But without missing a beat, the raspy little voice of reason whispered in my ear: “Oh? And how are you going to make this happen without sabotaging ‘work’?”

You see, work, with its inglorious cliché of putting bread on the table and a roof above our heads, had been steadily creeping from the intended status of a means to an end to that of absolute ruler of my life, like a parasite slowly gaining control over its host. A modern disease. One work ring to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. It was time for that to stop. 

So as I scratched my head in hesitation, we planned my first true, non-working vacation in five long years. Sure, we had gone to Chamonix in 2019 but even then I had done some remote work when I could. Before that, my only real disconnection from the parasite had happened when we escaped on road trips while in South Africa, the last of those being Mokala in 2017, eons ago. The bottom line is I just did not remember what it could feel like to ignore work for two full weeks.

Her plan was simple: twelve days split between two bases of operation; one in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume to explore Provence, the other in Vence to roam around Côté d’Azur. A rental car. Cameras. Lots of saucisson. After all, saucisson brought Marie and I together. The forecast was iffy, la pluie serait au rendez-vous. We’d make it work.

La pluie était au rendez-vous

This trip report will be split into a few sections as it is photo-heavy, and I am starting today with the lower-quality but incredibly eloquent aerial shots from our flights. A brief introduction, however, is probably in order.

I grew up in the south of France, spending most of my youth in Antibes and later a couple of years in Aix-en-Provence. When the safety bubble of our little family exploded, my sister and I opted to move to Canada with our mom. I remember being attracted by an easy life, snowy winters, large cars, color TV, the huge family who would welcome us there, maple syrup, peanut butter and toasters. I was that shallow. In addition I had been flunking school and the Québec education system would eventually bring redemption. Life went on, it threw a wrench into my carefully crafted aviation career goals, I drifted, drifted some more, landed, bounced, relocated and here I was in New York in early 2024, so many years later, about to go back to the source.

I would be seeing most places we visited for the first time in five decades! My head was full of broadly introspective question marks. I had left a precocious teenager and was returning a much older—if not wiser—adult. Would it still be there? Would I recognize it? Would it move me? Did I still belong? Would I fit in? Did it matter?

Antibes, home sweet home, with Juan-les-Pins to its left, then Cannes, and the Alps in the background

I will later seek to answer all those questions but to start with, I have prepared a wrapper of aerial imagery encompassing two directions of travel and as many continents, four flights, moody weather and fleeting light, a beginning and an end. As always with aerial photography, a disclaimer: these were shot casually with a smartphone, through an airplane window. I edited the best I could but they almost systematically suffer from a cocktail of side effects such as atmospheric haze, diffraction, reflection, low light, window scratches, ice, shake and motion blur.

Life sees us stockpile memories, and doing so we keep leaving a little bit of ourselves behind in exchange. With my nose glued to the plexiglas, I was able to spot so many familiar spots, so many places which are forever part of me. Flying is a bit like turning the pages of a three-dimensional encyclopedia. Our world from the air is magnificent. Enjoy.

N.B. The gallery below is large, the thumbnails are set to load progressively as you scroll down to avoid slowing the page too much. That being said, there is no need to scroll all the way down, I recommend simply clicking on the first image, the few seconds (or more) it takes to appreciate a photo in full view will allow the next one to be ready seamlessly. Use the overlay icons or your keyboard arrows to navigate, and go full screen if you can! Higher-quality ground-level images will follow shortly.

P.S. Il est évident que tout ceci ne sera suprêmement intéressant que pour une minorité de… deux, à laquelle je dédie cet petit voyage aérien dans le temps. Un éditeur m’accusa jadis d’avoir écrit un “tour du monde autour de mon nombril”. J’apprécie finalement l’ironie de ce commentaire mordant, mais risque de succomber de nouveau car comme chacun le sait, le siège de la mémoire, c’est le nombril.


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