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Published: August 12th 2007
Most people have always dreamt of a holiday in the South of France - cruising on your yacht in the beautiful Mediterranean, stopping by at some of the most luxurious ports in the world, and enjoying the never-ending sunny weather on the beach. Well, apart from the yacht bit, I can now officially say that I have done it - are you jealous? Well it gets worse...if you ARE jealous ;-)
At the end of my train ride from Genoa, was the sunny seaside town of Nice. Famous for the mega-rich superyachts moored in it's port, the city-side beach, it's azure waters and the town's laid-back charm, it is indeed a holiday haven.
Except, that Nice was actually a lot bigger than I had thought. My hostel was up the top of the hill, and the bus ride up there was a good 15 minutes, passing through many streets than looked like any other city. Home to 370,000 people, Nice is very much a city in it's own right.
Nice also doesn't feel like a typically French city, unlike Paris. Nice's location close to the Italian border, and the palm trees and endless sunshine probably play a part in this.
Fountain In Place Massena
The fountain in the main square of Nice.
Indeed some parts of the town resemble the small Italian fishing villages I visited in the Cinque Terre.
The hostel was a bit of a nuisance to get to, but it was certainly worth it. I booked the Villa Saint Exupery instead of other more central hostels because it was voted as one of the top 10 hostels in the world by Lonely Planet in 2005, and it was easy to see why.
Housed in a former monastery, it's terracotta tiled corridors and old chapel that is now the common area, really gives it a unique character. The common area had 12 free internet stations that were always full (internet is a backpacker's best friend), and was where people ate, drank and each shared their travel stories, beneath two large stain-glassed windows (though you do feel a little guilty getting pissed in an old chapel). The mixed-sex dorms slept between 6-13 people each, and there were heaps of dorms. As is usual hostel protocol, you always say hi to your fellow roommates, so you already meet a few people once you get to your room. So combining this with a busy common area, 1€ pints of beer (Ottweiler from
The Streets Of Nice
One of the streets in the old part of town.
Germany - actually not bad for 1€) and the general relaxed vibe of Nice, this created a cracking atmosphere around the hostel that was fun to be a part of. The hostel even gives you a free pickup and lift to the nearest main bus stop, which is another way to meet fellow hostellers while you wait for the hostel mini-van.
When I first called for the mini-van I was greeted by a very familiar sounding voice - and I understood every word she said, as opposed to the Franglais that I was expecting. Sure enough, when the mini-van arrived it was driven by a Kiwi girl from Taupo, working a European summer at the hostel. Another Kiwi guy from Howick, checked me into my room. The staff were always friendly and helpful, which also contributed to the hostel's vibe. They were also looking for more people to work at the hostel, and I must say that it would be a pretty cool thing to do for one summer.
And to top it off, my Ecuadorian roommate couldn't stop telling me how he "went crazy" as soon as he arrived at the hostel, because of all the hot girls walking
The Principality Of Monaco
The home of fast cars, fast boats and fast money.
around here. He wasn't wrong ;-) Nice's local female population weren't too bad either ;-)
Needless to say, I extended my stay for an extra day here just minutes after arriving ;-D
As I mentioned earlier, you always have a chat to your roommates, and in my dorm, were two Brits from London, Rick and John. We got along well, and it turned out we had a lot in common too - Rick was a Manchester United fan and both were into their football, so naturally we had plenty to talk about as well as sharing some of the stories from our travels. Rick and John were at the end of a month long tour of Europe, and were heading back to London the next day.
Later on that night, the three of us went into downtown Nice to try and catch Manchester United's pre-season friendly with Inter Milan. It wasn't on show unfortunately at the Irish pub (yes, another Irish pub) we went to, but they were showing Newcastle vs Juventus (Newcastle won 2-0) so we thought that would do, and sat down for a few beers.
I've got their contact details, so it'll be cool catching up
The Prince's Palace
Prince Albert's official residence in Monaco. Because he still actually lives here, you can't take any photos inside.
with them again when I eventually get back to London.
The next day, I took 30 minute train ride to the second-smallest country in the world and the epitomy of high-rolling - Monaco.
Within it's 1.95 square kilometre territory, is more wealth than you can shake a stick at. It's size also means that it is easily walkable, and you can cover the entire principality in a day.
Monaco is an official country, with it's own red and white national flag and royal family, and currently presided over by Prince Albert of Monaco.
My first port of call was the Prince's Palace. A 7€ tour got you inside, where you could witness firsthand the wealth of the royal family, where the palace's imacculate rooms are decorated with priceless antiques from all over the world. Also, Prince Albert's father Prince Rainier III, was famously married to beautiful Hollywood actress Grace Kelly in the 1950s. She is almost worshipped here, with numerous paintings of her all over the palace, as well as posters of her all over town. The theatre here in Monaco is also named after her.
After taking a snap of the stunning Museum of Oceanography built onto a
The famous casino of Monte Carlo.
cliff, I then walked the route of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. Having watched this race several times, I had always wanted to come to Monaco and witness the stunning background scenery of the race firsthand. The grand prix is a street race, so when you look at the streets, you wouldn't even know that they have a race here every year, apart from red and white race kerbs on some parts of the route that are permanent fixtures.
It was exciting walking the "track" and recognising all the various turns and landmarks of the race. In particular, I have always wanted to be in one of the apartment rooms overlooking the famous hairpin turn. The "apartment building" though, that you see in the race, is actually a hotel, so I imagine the price to actually rent a room on race day there would be astronomical. In another lifetime perhaps...
Along the track, is perhaps the most famous icon of Monaco, in Monte Carlo - the casino. A well kept building on the outside, I attempted to sneak a look inside. However, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and a cap with my daypack, the doorman wasn't having any
Cute fishing village between Nice and Monaco.
of it, and requested that I leave my cap and bag in the cloakroom which would've cost €'s I'm sure. To enter the gambling area itself costs 10€, with a high standard of dress required i.e. a tuxedo. Actually, a nice shirt and trousers would probably be fine, but nevertheless I got the feeling that I didn't belong here. The carpark suggested as much, filled with Mercedes-Benzs (not 1985 ones unfortunately Amit), Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Porsches.
The grand prix track also passes through the port, filled with superyachts and luxury liners. How cool would it be to cruise the Mediterranean on your pimped out superyacht, stopping anywhere you pleased? One day...;-)
On the way back from Monaco (on the most packed train ever) I stopped at a cute, small fishing village called Villefranche and enjoyed a couple of authentic, French chicken bechamel pies, on the rocks by the beach.
That night, my mate Davies arrived in Nice. After a 24 hour train ride from Madrid, he was glad that I had booked us an extra day in Nice. We will now be travelling practically the rest of the trip together, bar four days in the middle of
The Walled City Of Avignon
Fantastical Avignon, out of some medieval fable.
August. It's cool to have someone to travel with, as it can get a little boring on your own.
The next day, we went up to the hilltop park in Nice, where you get some spectacular views of the city. The rest of the day was spent at beach, bathing in the pure, azure waters of the Mediterranean - perfect.
At night we had some 1€ beers and chatted to some of the other hostellers. This is one of the great things about travelling, and we've now got the contact details of Carlos, a Spanish guy who'll be able to show us around Barcelona when we get there. You always enjoy places a lot more if you with a local, so I'm definitely looking forward to Barcelona and it's awesome party reputation.
The next day, it was time to leave the Cote d'Azur, but not before we made one final stop in Antibes, another superyacht haven. French woman certainly like to let all hang out on the beaches here, as we were surrounded by them. Not that I'm complaining, of course. After a quick swim in some really nice water (still not a fan of the rocks at the
Inside The Walls
...are ye olde cobblestoned streets.
bottom of the water though), it was back on the train to Provence, and in particular, Avignon, regarded as the most beautiful city in Provence.
With it's medieval stone wall completely surrounding the old town, from afar, Avignon looks like something straight out of a fairytale.
Inside, the narrow, cobblestoned streets and old buildings continue Avignon's medieval charm.
Certainly the highlight of Avignon is the Palais des Papes, a huge ancient palace, complete with rooks and turrets. You almost can't believe how intact the palace still is after hundreds of years.
Also worthy of note, is the Pont de Benezet, an old wooden bridge on the Rhone River which was partly washed away during floods a couple of hundred years ago.
Not so amazing was our hostel, situated on a camping ground right next to the river - which stunk! Must be one manky river.
There were no keys for our dorm and my bed, situated under the light, was full of little bugs. The mosquitoes here were vicious as well, biting me several times, including three on my face! The local who blasted Akon all night on his car stereo next to the hostel didn't help matters either.
Palais des Papes
Kick ass medieval palace in Avignon.
Avignon is definitely pretty to look at, there seemed to be dearth of things to do. The one full day we spent there was a Sunday, so basically nothing was open and the town was dead. There are plenty of places to dine however, and for us, cheap Vietnamese food and crepes were the order of the day.
Our next stop for one night was Toulouse, rugby territory as you could tell from the numerous posters and advertisements for the upcoming Rugby World Cup. Toulouse is apparently France's fourth largest city and fastest growing, as well as being a student town - which meant unfortunately, that a lot of the population had gone home for the summer.
Apart from a couple of churches and the main square Kapitol, there isn't really much to see in Toulouse, although like most French cities, aesthetically it is nice to look at.
I also encountered the first rain that I had seen since I left London here.
That night, I met up with Agathe, a French girl I had met in New Zealand, and a few of her friends. I met Agathe through my French neighbour Greg, who lived in the same block
The main square in Toulouse.
of flats as me in Ponsonby. Agathe used to live in Toulouse, which is why I thought she might be there. She doesn't anymore, but as it turned out she was visiting friends in Toulouse on that very night, so it was just our luck that we were able to meet up for a drink.
Agathe and her friends were good fun and after a few Kronenbourgs, we ordered a couple of bottles of the sweetest wine I have ever tasted. It went down so easily, that we unknowingly went though several bottles of it, including a free one kindly given to us by the bar for our custom, and before I knew it, it was Hammertime. My French seemed to improve markedly after a few glasses as well - must be something in the wine ;-)
Having said goodbye to Agathe and her friends, we somehow managed to grab a kebab (which interestingly enough is what French people also eat after a night out - I'm thinking that this is universal?) and stumbled back to our (lucky for us) cheap, centrally-located hotel.
However, I would feel the effects of this night for the next two days...
A Few Wines In Toulouse
But an awful, awful hangover. From left to right: You know what - I can't remember his name, Davies, me, Agathe, Agathe's boyfriend Olivier and Arnaud.
off to Spain now, and sunny, sandy San Sebastian...ahh it's a hard life.
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