This post was typed up over several different points in both Croatia and Bosnia. Today’s entry is on my time in the French Riviera, known as the Cote d’Azure in French.
I arrived in the town of Nice (pronounced like “niece”) after dark and in the rain. Nice was to be my home base for exploring the rest of the region and my hostel was only a short walk from the sea. Arriving at night, I couldn’t see the water but I could hear it. The next morning I got off to a great start by spilling some of my drink on the floor and a little yogurt on my pants. In my defense, I didn’t realize those tables were that unstable and easy to bump. Thankfully those messes were easy to clean. After dealing with the morning’s misfortunes, I geared up for the day and went first to the beach. The beaches on the French Riviera are mostly pebble beaches and the waves are small. The water is a deep azure blue, which looks great when the sun is out. There was plenty to do that first day, but I started by taking a seat on the rocks near the water’s edge and sitting there for 15 minutes or so. Normally on when travelling overseas I’m trying to make the most of every hour, but every now and then I’ll have short periods of intentionally doing nothing. With my moment of zen over, I got up and took a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, which literally means the “British Promenade.” The French Riviera is a popular tourist destination these days for people around the world, but it was originally the British, Belgians and Russians who were known for staying here. Back then the British wanted to be able to walk nearby the beach without actually going onto the beach, so the promenade was built. The promenade is just one section of a walkway that extends a long distance – all the way from under Castle Hill in the east to some place far out to the west in the distance. I walked from the area around my hostel all the way to Castle Hill and then turned back into the old town, or Vieux Nice as it’s called, and checked out the morning market. Every time there’s an outdoor market I pay a visit, though I almost never buy anything. I saw some interesting stuff, including a lot of soap (I guess southern France is known for making fancy soap). From there I explored the old town, checking out the back lanes and taking note of any ice cream or gelato shops I came across. I then climbed Castle Hill, which disappointingly does not have a castle on it. Apparently there used to be a castle up there but it was demolished by one of the French kings who thought it wasn’t needed any longer. There’s some good views of the town from up there, but there’s really no other reasons to go up there other than to take pictures. Coming down from the hill, I followed the green-way city park back to the beach and there I dipped my feet in the water. It was a bit colder than I expected, though certainly not cold. I then walked out to the Marc Chagall Museum, which is inconveniently located beyond the train station and it took me about 30 minutes to get there on foot. Marc Chagall got famous in the mid 1900s, and as some of you know, I’m generally not impressed with modern art, but I had read good things about this museum, so I decided to take a chance on it. I found some of Chagall’s work interesting, but others not so much. Many of his paintings are Old Testament scenes, and the influence for much of his work came from his Jewish upbringing in Russia. I returned to the hostel to make dinner and ended up talking with a Belgian girl in the room about various things going on in both Europe in America. As some of you know, explaining the nuances of America to others can be a bit tricky, and I’m not sure that I did the best job of discussing the parts which she didn’t understand. When it was all done I ate and then went out to take a night walk along the beach promenade. There were now a few street performers, along with the guys selling knockoff handbags. I got gelato from a shop nearby the town courthouse, which generated a Facebook photo that some of you might have seen. So ended the first full day in Nice.
On my second day in Nice I took a day trip out to the principality of Monaco. Finding the bus stop for the bus to Monaco proved harder than it should be, but in the process of looking I ran into an American couple who were also trying to find the bus, so we formed a search party that tracked it down after a half hour of searching. The bus to Monaco was packed to capacity, so I stood for the 45 minute ride along the coastline. I got off at the bus stop near the palace and was able to get up there just in time to catch the tail end of the changing of the guards ceremony. Monaco can’t boast a guard changing ceremony as large or flamboyant as the one at Buckingham Palace in London, but the guards put on a decent show while tourists are busily taking photos. With the ceremony over, the crowd started to disperse and I got some photos of the area around the palace. I considered going into the palace, but decided against it since it was guaranteed to be disappointing after my previous visits to Versailles and Chenoceau. Instead I went over to the Monaco Cathedral, where various Monaco royalty are buried. While I was there someone started playing the pipe organ, though I’m not sure why as there was no service going on at the time. A short walk from the cathedral is the Monaco Aquarium, which used to be run by the famous Jacque Cousteau. I was unsure about whether or not to go in, but I decided to take a chance and went in. The lower levels had large tanks full of various fish and other creatures, but I was much more intrigued by the upper levels which held the skeletons or large whales and sharks, along with old diving equipment. After finishing at the aquarium I went down to the harbor, which is full of large yachts, and walked around to the other side. Moving uphill, I reached the Monte Carlo casino. Peasants like me are allowed to enter the casino lobby, but you have to pay a fee to enter the main hall and the poker rooms have a dress code, which I clearly did not meet. No photos are allowed, but I was able to sneak a few in the lobby. At that point I was more or less finished in Monaco. The whole principality is less than one square mile in size, so you can see the whole thing in just a few hours. On the bus ride back to Nice, I got off at the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. I had seen the town on the ride to Monaco, and the harbor looked scenic, so I took a walk down there and got some photos. The town also has a fort that’s no longer in military use, though it appeared to be closed to the general public. I looped back up to the bus stop and caught the next bus to Nice, which was just as crowded as the morning bus to Monaco. By the time I got back to the hostel it was time for dinner. Afterwards I washed some of my shirts and took another night walk around Nice. Later that night I did some blogging and booking my ferry ride from Venice to Rovinj. These and other things kept me up until 2:00am.
My third day in Nice didn’t start out so well, as several days in a row of being up late and getting up early were finally catching up to me. It wasn’t until around midday that I felt awake, and for most of the morning I felt like I was wandering around in a tired haze. I visited the morning market again and spent some time sitting around on benches and in a church. The sun seemed stronger than normal, so I stayed in the shade. Originally I had been thinking that I would pay a visit to the town of Antines that day, but the tiredness took all the initiative out of me. While sitting on a bench and looking at a map, it occurred to me that I hadn’t gone to the beaches west of the area around my hostel, so I got up walked for just over a mile in that direction. My exhaustion finally let up during the walk and I was feeling much better. On the way back I checked out the Fine Arts Museum, which had a mandatory combo ticket with some other museum that too far away for me to reasonably reach on foot. While walking back to the hostel, I noted that the western beaches were much less crowded than the eastern ones by the old town. It was 3:00pm, and since I was on the Cote d’Azure I figured I might as well go in the water. My hostel let me borrow a beach towel and I went back to a beach called Plage Neptune. It was getting windy and clouds were moving in. The beaches in Nice are pebble beaches, which make the footwork tricky and it’s generally recommended for people to wear sandals or swimshoes in the water. I wore neither, and my feet took a beating on all those small rocks. When I came out of the water I had to exert myself, as I seemed to be sliding backwards with each step. I toweled off and then stood around for a few minutes feeling good about taking my first swim of the trip. There was not much else notable that happened that day. I conducted some more “research” by eating at McDonald’s for dinner and got gelato for dessert while listening to a violin and cello duo performing on the street. My time in Nice, and France, was nearing an end. In truth, I would be returning to Paris at the end of the trip, so it wasn’t really the end but it still felt like it. I was about to transition to Italy, where my love of gelato was about to turn into an unhealthy obsession.
As of right now it is 6:50pm in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I leave for Istanbul tomorrow, where I’ll hopefully be able to do some more blogging and maybe get one Italy post finished.