Last week, we took our first vacation ("holiday", they call it here) away from London (check out the pictures in the <Photo Gallery>). It's been so cold in London (unusually cold Londoners tell us, and then there was the record-breaking snowfall...) that we decided to go as far south as we could stand by train, so we chose the French Riviera with Nice being our home base. As our departure date came closer, we kept checking the weather outlook...it looked promising as Nice was consistently about 20F warmer than London.
We woke up early Sunday morning, walked to East Finchley station, and took the tube to St. Pancras International. While walking through St. Pancras, we happened upon a pantless woman. Seriously. In the train station. Her and her male companion walked right past us. She was wearing a standard-length shirt, pantyhose, and no pants! You could plainly make out the dark patch in the hoo-ha region! She was leaning pretty heavily on the guy/friend/customer (who was fully clothed, by the way, and even had on a coat that I guess he didn't think/want to offer his lady-friend) and may have been pretty out of it...at 8:00 on Sunday morning!
Despite that spectacle, we made it through passport control and got to our train on time. This train took us to Paris where we took the RER to another train station, where we waited to find out what platform to go to. When it was finally listed, we were in completely the wrong part of the station and couldn't find the track! So despite being an hour early for our train, we had to rush and just made it. We sat in our seats and prepared ourselves for the 7-hour train ride...which took 9 hours. First the train had to stop because of a "suspicious package" on-board, so that was encouraging. Everyone had to get their luggage and hop off the train and wait. Then we had to haul all of our luggage and ourselves back onto the train. Later, because our schedule was off from the bomb scare/"suspicious package", the train had to just stop and wait for other trains to get out of the way.
We finally arrived in Nice, tired and hungry...and it's cold. Apparently, while we were on the train, London warmed up and Nice got colder...the temperatures in the 2 cities were about the same the entire time we were there. Oh, well. Our hotel room was very nice and the people who worked there were wonderfully helpful...they even booked us a table at a nice nearby restaurant for a late (after 10:00 pm, at this point) Sunday dinner. We woke up the next morning, and we were all sick! Simone had gotten a bit of a runny nose a couple of days earlier, and now we were all stuffed up and coughing. Nevertheless, we were determined to enjoy our vacation! It was a beautiful, sunny day in Nice, and we set out to explore.
As is mandatory when traveling in France, our breakfast consisted of various French pastries (croissant, pain au chocolat, brioche au chocolat, and whatever else that looked good and I could point at). We walked down to Nice's rocky beach on the Mediterranean Sea and soaked up the exquisiteness. The city, the beach, the sea, the cliffs, the sun...just simply stunning. We walked up to the top of Le Chateau and the higher we got, the more amazing the views became. There were a lot of steps to climb, but we stopped occasionally to take pictures and gawk at the beach and city below us. There was a park with a playground at the top, so we let Simone burn off some energy...seriously though, no playground deserves to have as good a view as this one has! There were also a couple of cemeteries up here (and if you looked at out Eastern Washington Ghost Town pictures, you know we love old cemeteries!), so after we calmed Simone down from a mini-meltdown after leaving the playground, we explored the cemeteries. We walked down from the hill a different way and ended up in Vieux Nice, which is the Old Town part of Nice. It has narrow pedestrian-only streets, cool shops, quaint bistros, and is absolutely dripping with charm. We ate lunch at a little bistro next to a cathedral, and then we set out to explore more of Nice, a quick rest at the hotel, and then a nice dinner.
The next morning, we took a quick 30-minute train to Monaco. We thought that it was pretty strange that we took a train from France to Monaco (which is a whole separate country...or so they claim!), walked through the train station, and right out the door into Monte Carlo without even seeing one official looking person, much less having to go through customs or passport control! Maybe it was the customs guy's day off. Anyway, we made three fatal errors this day: we did not have any plan for Monaco, we did not have a decent map, and we exited the train station some weird way and ended up on top of a cliff overlooking Monte Carlo. From the crude map that we printed out from the internet it seems like you can just walk from here to there, but not so! Because the city is built on a cliff and because of so much construction, we ended up backtracking a couple of times and wasted a couple of very, very frustrating hours. We finally worked our way down the cliff and found the path that led up to Old Town Monte Carlo and the palace...which is on another cliff! While we climbed, climbed, climbed, we were greeted with more spectacular views of Monaco and ridiculous yachts below. The path came out right by the palace, and then we took another path that leads around the perimeter of the cliff. We popped into the cathedral and happened upon the graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace completely by accident (remember, we didn't have a plan). We then made our way to the Musée Océanographique, which is the aquarium that Jacques Cousteau was director of for 30 years...they even had the mini-sub and arctic cat that he used. We made our way through Old Town Monte Carlo (more narrow pedestrian streets, cool shops, quaint bistros, etc) and by that time we were too tired to try to figure out how to walk half-way across the city to see the casino, so we hopped on the train back to Nice for dinner and beddy-bye time. After Simone went to bed, I went out to see the Carnaval parade...I've never seen so much silly string in my life! Lots of people, loud music, and weird larger-than-life animatronic floats. Check out the <pictures>.
]We were still not feeling well the next day, so we decided to take it kind of easy. We stuffed our pie-holes full of French pastries, and then headed down to the beach. Simone fell into the water about 5 minutes later, so I put my sweatshirt on her and we went back to the hotel for a change of clothes. We then walked up to the Chagall Museum to check it out. Previously, I had only a passing knowledge of some of Marc Chagall's paintings, but after visiting the museum I am a true enthusiast. I don't pretend to know a lot about art, but I know there are some things that I just like and there are some things that affect me emotionally...and Chagall's work definitely stirs the emotions. I see a lot of people that like to stand way back to look at a painting, where as I like to get right up next to it to see all the nuances and textures of the brush strokes. Chagall painted for close-lookers like me. There are all kinds of things hidden in different shades of the same hue that you can't see until you get up close, and then they just suddenly materialize. Also, his paintings look chaotic but they are actually very carefully planned entire stories on canvas...remarkable. We also went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art for some artsy stuff, but there was nothing there that could compare to Chagall. The view from the roof of the MAMAC, however, was worth the price of admission...true, admission was free, but it was still a pretty damn nice view!
For our last full day in the French Riviera, we decided to take the train to Cannes (because we already had a map). Simone is a connoisseur of carousels, and she got to ride on the top of a double-decker carousel right by the beach! Cannes' beach is sandy (as opposed to Nice's rocky beach), so after lunch we bought a shovel and pail for Simone to play with on the beach. Despite it being kind of cold this day, we stayed on the beach for quite awhile. I saw an old castle/cathedral looking thing on top of a hill, so we decided to walk up there and check it out. Well, it wasn't that great, but it did afford us nice views of Cannes down below. We took a different path back down the hill and ended up in a cool pedestrian-only street. Lots of really cool shops and bistros (Cannes is a little more highbrow), and we got some chocolaty goodness at a little bakery. We took the train back to Nice to see the beach one last time and had a very nice dinner where I ate rabbit for the second time in my life.
The next morning, we had one last chance to munch on pastries before cruising across France at nearly 200-mph. There were no unexpected stops this time, so we made it back home in London on time. It still sounds weird saying "back home in London", but this is probably the first time that London has felt like home to me. We'll see if I still feel like that the next time someone shoves their way in front of me to get on the bus.
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