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Published: September 20th 2010
The same causal chain of events that sent me to Estonia, also led Adina and I to the French Riviera. After our long since planned road trip from Sweden to Italy was postponed indefinitely, Adina and I immediately began making alternative travel plans for the week she was already scheduled to be off from work. Only a few days before we actually set off for France, we impulsively, and with no foreknowledge of the area, bought flights from nearby Gothenburg to Marseille. It was only after we had already purchased our flights and looked at a map of the area that we determined we would head immediately to the Riviera region.
After landing in Marseille, a predominantly industrial city on the Mediterranean coast and France's second largest city after Paris, we managed our way to the train station and onto a filthy, yet somehow romantic, train car which wound a beautiful coastal path across vineyards, through mountains, and occasionally just upon the edge of the Mediterranean. After what had already been a long day of traveling by car from Halmstad to Gothenburg, plane from Gothenburg to Marseille, and then train from Marseille to the Riviera, we were both ready to
jump through the window of our train car to be in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.
We got off the train in Nice (pronounced like the english word "niece"), which would be our base for the duration of our trip. After checking in to our accommodation, we went directly to Nice beach. The shores along Nice are unlike any I have been to before. It is a beach made of pebbles, the only evidence of sand at random portions of the surf zone where waves had pushed all the rocks aside. The stones that comprise the beach are polished perfectly smooth and range from grapefruit size to dime size, and while the shore appears to be only shades of gray, under closer examination, the smallest stones displayed a full array of colors. Rather than searching for shells, I found myself digging through the stones for the prizes beneath the surface. The waters here were a perfect turquoise color, different from Hawaii. It wasn't so much a the crystal clear blue water. It was more of a milky opaque turquoise, almost glowing. Uniquely Mediterranean. After a brilliant purple sunset, we took the long way home, strolling the Promenade des
Anglais, wandering the festive streets of the old town, enjoying street performers in the spacious Place (plaza) Massena, and happy to be just where we were.
With Nice as our home base, we made many day trips around the region during our week long vaction. On the first day we hopped a bus to St. Jean Cap Ferrat, a community located at the end of a cape only a few kilometers down the coast from Nice. From St. Jean Cap Ferrat we followed a coastal path on a two hour hike. Our walk began with views of the coast and nearby port to the east, and as we rounded the cape we were welcomed with vistas looking down at the village of Ville Franche, a rustic hillside village with a beautiful beach of its own. The path itself navigated between the waters edge and a field of jagged rocks for most of the way. It was on this hike that I had my most memorable moment of our time in France.
At spots on the hike, offshoots of the path led to small coves and lounge areas where people could swim and relax. At one of these coves,
Adina and I stopped short when we saw the splendor of how women fish in the French Riviera... topless, tennis shoes and a tiny thong. As we had expected and observed during our time in France, everybody is topless at the beach. It's not as good as it sounds though, as most of the breasts at the beach are displayed by French senior citizens who look like they've been tanning in the sun for 40 years. Picture Aunt Magda in "There's Something About Mary." Moving on... we're all mature here.... no big deal... I mean we're not in middle school anymore people! But come on, she was FISHING... she wasn't sunbathing... she was FISHING... casting and reeling! Lucky for you all, while Adina posed for a picture, basking in the beauty of the Riviera coastline, the glare from the sun caused me to errantly zoom in over Adina's shoulder and capture our topless, thong-wearing fisherwoman. Enjoy.
The next morning we took the bus west to Cannes, famous for its annual film festival. The city itself didn't prove anything special to me, and why it became home to the biggest of all film industry events confuses me. We made a
short pass through the city where every window seemed to offer designer brand this or that and then strolled passed the ugly concrete auditorium that hosts the annual event, before parking at Cannes beach for the entire afternoon. Along with the rest of the city, the beach offered nothing special... large grains of sand comprised this narrow, overcrowded beach and though only a few miles down the coast, the water lost its turquoise luster. What made up for the rest of what Cannes lacked in my opinion, was the old city. I can't pin what it is, but that French romance blows in the air. Narrow streets offer one traditional Provence restaurant after another. We ate dinner at one of these restaurants for what proved to be an absolutely amazing meal. Fish soup. Escargot. Seafood pasta. Roasted duck. My mouth is watering just writing about that meal.
On our fourth day of our trip we met up with Adina's good friends, Bella and Tommy, who had coincidentally planned their own trip to the Riviera for the same week, and set off to Monaco, the world's second smallest country after the Vatican. I greatly enjoyed our day in this city
state. Clouds draped the cliffs on one side of the city while the sun rained in from the sea side. The streets were clean, and the city was artistically landscaped (quite the opposite of Nice in both regards). Our first stop was the Casino Monte Carlo, the ultra fancy gambling institution that is the keystone of Monaco's economy. Interestingly enough, the casino is only open to foreigners and forbidden to Monaco's citizens. From the casino we walked on to the royal palace, home to Prince Albert II. It is a beautiful palace indeed, perched on a cliff that looks over the entire principality. We continued through the old city, the royal rose garden, and then sprawled out on Monaco's man-made Larvotto beach for a few hours before returning to Nice for the remainder of the day.
Early the next morning Adina and I made our way to the medieval hilltop village of Eze, the final excursion of our trip. This village is a maze of stone walk ways and buildings dating as far back as 1306 and sitting 1400 feet above sea level, and which today, are only galleries and hotels. Getting their early, we beat the hordes of
Place (Plaza) Massena
This spacious square was always filled with locals, tourists and street performers. A great place to walk around at night.
tourists, letting ourselves get lost in the old streets of Eze and enjoying a picnic of French bread, cheese and grapes. After refueling with breakfast, we hiked down the Nietzsche trail, named after the German philosopher, from the village to the sea level coastline beneath. A short bus trip later, and we were back in Nice for the remainder of our trip.
We spent the next day and half lounging at Nice beach, satisfied with what we'd done and seen and looking forward to getting home to Sweden. We really enjoyed our time in Nice, a city that, to me, was a confusing dichotomy. While it possessed this truly romantic spirit, I did not know why considering that the locals fulfilled many French stereotypes with their condescending impatience and rudeness, and the streets were incredibly filthy, literally covered in shit. No exaggeration... every five feet of this city their was a recently deposited pile of dog poop. Like I said, the romance permeated the city nevertheless. It was also fun to immerse ourselves in a place so different from the daily cultures Adina and I are used to. The vain, trend setting material world of Nice is the polar
We had a picnic on the second night.
Wine, French bread, brie, olives, grapes. Good stuff.
opposite of the "all I need is my yoga mat, surfboard and the ocean" spirit of Kauai. We enjoyed playing along for a week, but left grateful that this was not where we called home.
We got back to Sweden and savored the last few days of my time in Halmstad. It was an epic trip indeed and until the next travels, wherever they may be, I once again send you all aloha from Kauai.
Note there are 4 pages of photos.
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