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Published: June 11th 2013
June 8 and we are back on the train heading west to Aix en Provence. It has been pleasant having a base for a few days so we could enjoy the sun and sights of Nice.
After depositing our packs at the Hotel Durante on the 4th, we headed to the waterfront and the wide Promenade des Anglais - all those people lying out on a rocky beach!. First impressions of Nice was wide streets, old buildings with shutters and ornate wrought iron balconies. One block back from the beach along Cours Saleya were numerous restaurants ( tables on the pedestrian only street) and market stalls. A table for two was inviting us at Le Marche and we had the most excellent dinner, starting with an aperitif of Pastis (my new favourite drink). Kelly had Muscado l'asti ( sparkling Muscat).This was followed by a huge plate of grilled peppers, grilled sardines and nougat ice cream ( 3 courses for 19 euro each)
Our first full day in Nice had us starting with espresso and people watching at Cafe de Lyon on Blvd Jean Jaures. Not the cheapest coffee but you had to consider the location.
Walking back to the Cours Saleya, we wandered through the flower market and artisan stalls before heading up to the Citadel for great views of downtown Nice and the bay to one side and the port to the other. Lunch was eaten waterside at the port - two sit down meals in a row - I think I got the better deal with my grilled sardines that only looked raw compared to Kelly's steak that WAS raw and very tough ! Lunch menus are cheaper and smaller portions than dinner. Our return walk took us through parts of Vidux Ville ( old Nice) and into Place Garibaldi. - very ornate stonework on the buildings surrounding the square - until you took a really good look and realized it was painted decorations. The rest of the day we just wandered around and included a visit to St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. Kelly was wearing knee length shorts and was not allowed in, whereas a group of young girls wearing mini skirts were allowed - that made no sense what so ever
We had found a great coffee spot on Alsace Lorraine when we were walking around lost on
the previous evening so we started the second day with cheap coffee. The first destination of the day was St Paul de Vence, a recommendation on various itineraries. The bus ride on bus #400 from Albert 1 was only supposed to take 45 minutes. We probably spent at least that long not moving at all due to heavy traffic and narrow roads. Apparently this particular road parallels the toll highway so many people take it because they are cheap ( like we did when we had the car). An hour and a half later we had arrived at what turned out to be another very pretty fortified hill own. Didn't take us long to see the sights and it was back to the bus stop - for a quicker return to the city..
A mundane afternoon task was a visit to the local laverie (laundromat) where we got to hang out with some young kiwi guys who were on a Kon Tiki Tour through Europe. At least this time our clothes came out of the washing machine cleaner than they sent in, unlike Beaune.
And then it was off to Monaco to hob nob
with the rich and famous. The train ride along the coast gave us glimpses of pretty little fishing villages and what looked like REAL sand.The first challenge after we arrived in the train station in Monaco wax figuring out how to get outside (the entire station is underground) . Then it was case of stairways down to the waterfront. The yachts here made those in St Tropez look like bath tub toys. Try googling Lady Moura and Gu. All the yachts were wedged tightly together and were all stern tied to the dock. If the crew weren't busy docking or leaving, they were polishing and washing. Watching the procedure to leave was fascinating as a yacht squeezed its way out from it's bert - with assistance from crews on neighbouring boats
From the end of the marina we walked up to the Casino and Opera house, passing the sharpest hair pin bend in the Monaco Grand Prix. The balcony rooms at the Fairmont Hotel that over looked this area probably charged phenomenal rates during the Grand Prix. Crossing roads here was somewhat more perilous that we were used to. Drivers of Ferraris, Lamborghinis etc didn't pay too
much attention to the common folk, even if they were at cross walks.
The Casino was a beautiful building both inside and out. We had to check in our bags and camera and had to show ID before we were allowed into the Casino itself. The real gamblers (with lots of $$$$) go to a different area. Apart from the tables there were two rooms that had slot machines ( so tacky in retrospect ) but Kelly won 50 euros on his one and spin on the centime (penny) machine so we were happy cos then we afford a drink at the Cafe de Paris. Across the street. A Pastis there was 12 euro (normally 3 euro) and Kelly 's beer was 15 Euro (normally 6). But we did get free olives and crackers!
Our final day in Nice and we headed to the small seaside village of Villefranche. Getting there was another public transport adventure. Because of the bus hassle the previous day we decided to take the train (a 7 minute train journey). Arriving at the train station, the train that we thought we had just missed was 30 minutes late so
we joined the crowds on platform c to wait. Turned out that Friday is market day in Ventimiglia, Italy and is a hugely popular destination hence the massive amount of people. We waited and we waited and still no train. When an announcement came that the train would leave from platform A instead, there was a stampede across the tracks as this seemed easier than walking down the stairs and through the tunnel like you are supposed to. Now we were crammed like sardines into a train and still not going anywhere. A French girl near us translated the announcements that informed us they were getting a second train to join us because there would be a lot more people getting on down the line. So we waited and waited - the air conditioning kept going off and on - finally after an hour, we gave up and squeezed off the train, heading for the tram station. 1 euro 40 got us to the port and onto bus 100 that dropped us off in Villefranche 30 minutes later
There is not a lot of flat land on the coast and towns are built up the hill side.
We had intended to hike up to Mt Alban but after walking approximately 900 steps up the Campo Quadro stairway between the lower and middle Corniches (2 of the 3 coastal highways) in the heat of the day we turned around and went to the beach for a couple of hours. Looking out from the train the night before, we had thought the beach was sand, however it turned out to be tiny little stones - quite comfortable. Swimming in the blue ocean was very refreshing.
Catching the train back to Nice, we were squished in with the crowds returning from the market at Ventimiglia.
Dinner was a little restaurant near the hotel where we shared a pizza and cheese plate. The pizzas are thin crust, have heaps of cheese and minimal other toppings - quite yummy. Rather than going to bed on a full stomach we went for a promenade around old Nice. We thought there were a lot of restaurants around the Cours Saleya - that was nothing compared to the tables packed into every available nook and cranny on the narrow streets of the historical part of the city.
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