Friday, 28 February 2014

SUNNY GLITZY COTE D'AZUR (PART 2)




Cote d'Azur, France
This entry is part of "France: From Paris to the Riviera" series...

We kicked off our honeymoon in the romance capital of the world (Paris), spent a few days in the relaxing Provence countryside... the last portion of our honeymoon was by the Mediterranean Sea: Côte d'Azur aka the French Riviera.

Detailed Itinerary: (what ended up happening) 

DAYS 1-7: Paris
DAYS 8-10: Provence (Avignon and surrounding areas)
... 
DAY 11: Nice
DAY 12: Cannes + Antibes
DAY 13: Nice + Èze Village
DAY 14: Monaco + Villefranche-sur-Mer
DAY 15: Nice TGV back to Paris








DAY 13: Èze Village + Nice
September 10, 2013 - Sunny

Nice on strike, France Nice, France Eze Village, France View from Eze of the French Riviera Nice Harbor, France Promenade des Anglais sunset, Nice France
Like any other day in Cote d'Azur it weather was predictably sunny, but unlike its weather our day was furthest from predictable.

First thing in the morning, the frequent and dependable tram was no where to be found.  We waited for approximately 30 minutes and the platform was jam packed with locals/tourists... until a fellow Canadian traveler informed us that all public transportation was halted due to job action.  We left the platform disappointed and confused because we relied on public transits exclusively for our travels.  Nevertheless we pushed ahead and chose to walk toward the train station (Gare Thiers) since TGVs and coastal trains might still be operational (our plans were to visit Monaco that day).


The 30 minute walk down Avenue Alfred Borriglione was uneventful but enjoyable.  Our sentiments changed drastically when we arrived at the train station as our fear became an reality - TGVs and regional trains were also shut down!  The train station was filled with frustrated tourists and I overheard some travelers that they had missed their flights back home (even though it was a major inconvenience we were grateful that the strike didn't take place on our departure date).  We had little choice but to wander around town on foot, and we ended up at a McDonald's (the slowest McDonald's in the world, but it was air conditioned lol) to do some last minute on-the-fly trip planning... and soon realized that we were attempting the near impossible.  Since J had some work that needed done anyways (she is very dedicated to her work... in fact she was working on her laptop until late the day before we got married lol), so we decided to head back to our apartment and have a lazy day instead. 

We cut through winding streets until we stumbled upon Avenue Alfred Borriglione once again, but unlike an hour ago the road was congested by pedestrian traffic instead!  French slogans filled the air and brigades of angry citizens marched down the avenue in protest.  I was initially upset by the protest for complicating our travels, but on reflection it was a blessing in disguise as the strike completed our genuine French experience! (France is famous for its strikes after all lol).  

...

Later that afternoon (around 1-2pm) I stumbled across an English article online that suggested limited restoration of tram and bus service...  since Èze was supposed to be only a 30 minute bus ride away, maybe our day could be salvaged after all!  We arrived at "Garibaldi" stop via tram, walked through a short pedestrian tunnel 100 meters away, and there were only a few souls waiting for the #82 bus that would take us to the mountaintop village of Eze (the tram ticket was valid for the bus ride as well, and make sure to take a photo of the bus schedule because #82 only comes every 1-2 hours).  The bus ride offered a beautiful view of the coastline dotted with villages and towns, and some private yachts the size of small ferries could also be spotted out in the water.     

Eze Village, Cote d'Azur France At Èze the sun was shining and the temperature was quite mild (18-20 Celcius?) aided by a cool sea breeze + elevation.  Needless to say I was finally comfortable with the temperature for the first time in days!  In front of us was an ancient medieval village that was constructed primarily of stone, and with its uniqueness & charm it wasn't difficult to understand why Èze was such a famous tourist attraction.  Although Èze remained popular among tourists, we roamed freely at a leisure pace without having our personal space violated (even with small pedestrian pathways that zigzagged throughout the village).  Such tranquil atmosphere was greatly appreciated by both my wife and I because it is rare for popular locations to retain its original "flavor".  At the same time however, Èze was obviously geared toward tourists since most ex-residences (at least the ground floors) were converted into tourist establishments such as art galleries, small museums, souvenir shops, etc.

Èze's atmosphere and architecture allowed for some unique photography, however due to its enclosed nature there were limited opportunities to experience/photograph the immensely beautiful coastal view that Èze was surrounded in.  In order to enjoy the coastal mountain views we reached "Le Jardin d'Eze" which classified itself as an "exotic gardin" but in reality it was just a nice relaxing space with a few cacti.  Needless to say the content within the garden did not justify its admission, but the view from the garden was worth any admission price.  An unobstructed, panoramic bird's-eye view of the Mediterranean at the top of a charming medieval village, combined for a one-of-a-kind postcard landscape.

Nice Harbor, Cote d'Azur France We quickly hurried through Èze as we realized that our #82 bus was due to arrive.  By the time we reached the bus stop there was already a healthy gathering of tourists... an hour and fifteen minutes later the bus finally arrived (job action?), and there was NOTHING civilized about the degree of line cutting that went on.  I was particularly angered by a group of middle aged Italian travelers (around 10-12 of them.. in their 40s) whom actually physically injured J's wrist.  I was about to punch that Italian not-so-gentleman but J refrained me from doing so... so for the next 45 minutes we were tightly packed into an over-capacity bus next to a group of strangers that I had no respect for.

Nice Harbor, Cote d'Azur France We hopped off the bus early at "Le Port" partly because the bus was too crowded.  We emerged from the bus and were greeted by a barrage of color and a comforting sea breeze.  Unfortunately we had no idea where we were but we proceeded to leisurely stroll along the harbor walk anyway.  Similar to old Nice the harbor-side buildings were painted in a variety of eye catching colors, and those colors were further accentuated by an orange hue during golden hour (first and last hour of sunlight).  We continued along the waterfront path for another 5-10 minutes until we reached a familiar sight: the base of Castle Hill! By that time the sun was about to set and the deep orange orb was near the horizon.  J and I found an empty bench and spent the next 15-20 minutes enjoying the sunset until the sun disappeared completely from the horizon.

Nice Sunset, Cote d'Azur France We continued down Promenade des Anglais and enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner at "La Voglia" (nothing fancy.. good location with decent food).  We encountered a fabulous older couple from Germany and shared some travel stories.  Nice was a lively city and it was evident as we strolled through old Nice at night with street performers and numerous events playing simultaneously, but we were too exhausted from the day's walk and decided to call it a night instead.

  

DAY 14: MONACO + VILLEFRANCHE-SUR-MER
September 11th, 2013 - Sunny

Fontvieille Harbor, Monaco Prince's Palace of Monaco Monte Carlo Harbor, Monaco Houses in Old Monaco Villefranche-sur-Mer Villefranche-sur-Mer
Cap d'Ail to Monaco I couldn't believe it when we saw the same group of inconsiderate/obnoxious tourist who injured J's wrist (from Eze) on the same train traveling to Monaco!  Luckily there were ample standing room on the train and J didn't get hurt from them... Instead of getting off at the terminus station (Monaco), we actually hopped off the train early at "Cap D'Ail" (translation: Cape Garlic hahaha).  From Cap D'Ail station we embarked on a 40 minute seaside walk into the Principality of Monaco.  The enjoyable walk took us through quiet residential neighborhoods while we hugged the Mediterranean coastline.  The only downside to this journey was the scorching heat... which was quickly alleviated by soaking my T-shirt in cold water from public taps along the way.

By the time we reached Monaco my T-shirt was bone dry.  It was actually a stunning transformation when we crossed the "border" from France into Monaco (there were no fences or anything... just an inconspicuous sign).  The contrast between the quiet unassuming village of Cap D'Ail and the thriving independent city-state of Monaco was jaw dropping.  The first structure we encountered was Monaco's soccer stadium Stade Louis II (we didn't visit the stadium but apparently it was possible for 5 euros... I learned this as I am writing this blog Googling for the name of the stadium).  We stopped next door for a quick bite to eat (and to rehydrate) and proceeded toward the first tourist attraction of the day: Prince's Palace.  

Fontvieille Harbor Prince's Palace of Monaco was situated on top of a hill (Rock of Monaco) that took about 5 to 10 minutes to hike up.  At the bottom of the hill was a shopping center (consider buying refreshments at Carrefour), a miniature zoo, and an antique automobile museum... On the hike up we were treated to a marvelous view of the petite city-state: A glamorous thriving city situated against majestic mountains to one side, and deep blue waters (and mega-yachts) on the other.  At the top a spacious square separated the Prince's Palace with "old town", and the famous Monte Carlo harbor can be seen in the distance.  Interestingly, my favorite view wasn't of the over-the-top Monte Carlo Harbor but it was rather the more intimate Fontvieille Harbor/marina on the opposite side of the rock. (Instead of fighting with other tourists for a photo spot of the Fontvieille Harbour at the top... consider going to the playground area below: same view minus ALL the tourists).

Prince's Palace of Monaco The Prince's Palace was minuscule when compared to other palaces we've seen in France.  Even though photography was prohibited within palace grounds, we felt the palace tour was well worth the admission price... it was both entertaining and educational considering I had trouble differentiating Monaco from Morocco before my visit. 

From Prince's Palace we continued down a walking path that extended around the perimeter of the "Rock", and within 2-3 minutes we were in front of a meticulously maintained church (Saint Nicholas Cathedral).  As we climbed the stairs toward the church's entrance guess who we ran into? (actually we heard them first)... the same group of irritating tourists from the train earlier today! (and on the way back from Eze Village!).  Saint Nicholas Cathedral was where many of Monaco's royalties were buried but there were really nothing exciting about its architecture... except the gigantic modern organ above the church's entrance.  Midway through our visit "that group of tourists" got kicked out of the church by a security guard for ignoring the nun's plea for silence.  (I know it is petty but it felt good :)

It always surprised me how little tourists were willing to venture away from a major tourist attraction because we were almost in complete isolation no more than 200 meters from the church.  Monaco's old town was similar to old Nice and Le Suquet but it was perfectly maintained... as if Monaco's "old town" was constructed yesterday.  We serendipitously stumbled upon the Canadian Consulate and it must've been the smallest embassy in the world haha.  We spent another 30 minutes around "Old Monaco" and then headed back down the hill for some less expensive cafe options to rest our feet.

Throughout our travels in France we noticed a green beverage being consumed by locals and we never knew what it was... and I regretted why I hadn't asked the question sooner.  Diabolo (pronounced dia-bo-lo not diablo) aka Diabolo Menthe was a popular hot summer drink that combined mint syrup and either Sprite or Perrier, and to be honest it was better than air conditioners haha.  Refreshed and energized we embarked on a 20 minute journey that took us half way across Monaco to the REAL Monte Carlo Casino (not the one in Las Vegas).

Throughout France there would be some graffiti even around the best areas of the wealthiest cities (Cannes) however there were zero graffiti around Monaco despite my best efforts to locate them. (I did find graffiti in Monaco, but they were painted on a mobile graffiti canvas better known as the regional TER train...).  We passed the Monte Carlo Harbor on the way to the casino, and some of the luxury yachts were beyond my wildest imagination.  There were multiple yachts that were over 4 stories tall, and a couple of personal "ferries" that even had helicopters on its helipad!!! (I double checked they weren't coast guards).

Monte Carlo Casino After we witnessed such excessive wealth we barely noticed the Ferraris or the Lamborghinis that littered around the parking lot outside of Monte Carlo Casino.  Hilariously enough, it was the mini cooper and a couple of Toyota Priuses that stood out in the sea of mega supercars.  In my opinion Monte Carlo Casino was a tiny and pretentious gambling den that we could've skipped because it simply was inferior in every way compared to casino resorts in Las Vegas.  It was getting late (around 4-5 PM) by the time we came out of the casino, and it was time to say goodbye to Monaco for Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Villefranche-sur-Mer streets Similar to Antibes, I immediately fell in love with Villefranche-sur-Mer.  This quiet coastal village was filled with character and it was the perfect location to celebrate our last night in Cote d'Azur.  We explored the winding streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer and outside of a few souvenir shops the village remained mostly residential.  To celebrate our honeymoon we enjoyed a romantic candle lit dinner by the ocean.  For the next 3 hours we reflected on our life journey, enjoyed the amazing cuisine, and admired the unobstructed beautiful seascape.  




DAY 15: NICE TO PARIS
September 12th, 2013 - Sunny

View from TGV
Our TGV for Paris was scheduled to depart in the late afternoon.  After we returned to old Nice for some souvenir shopping/lunch/diabolo it was time to pack up and conclude our honeymoon :(


The weather in the capital city turned significantly colder than we last visited (15 or so degrees).  It was hilarious to see Parisians in heavy winter gear (we even spotted a couple of fur coats) when I was oh so comfortable in my long sleeved sweat shirt haha.




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