April Adventures: France and Monaco

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April 28th 2009
Published: May 17th 2009
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Store in NiceStore in NiceStore in Nice

I just think this is cool storefront, haha
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe--Anatole France

Ah France. Why do I like you so? I suppose the years spent studying the language have helped my bias, but that still doesn’t explain it all I think.
The trip to Nice wasn't, perhaps, so smooth (anything that makes me scared that I'm about to become a felon isn't smooth). But things calmed down once we entered the city. Chris, the K’s, and I arrived late the night of 9 April. Despite it being night, we managed to find our hostel pretty quickly. It was really close to train station, and luckily for us in an area full of restaurants opened late. The hostel was also full of Americans. They seemed to have just graduated high school and we loud. It was kind of jarring being with so many Americans. They talked like us! They used the same expressions! They dressed like us! It was as if we had been lost or something and had stumbled upon civilization. Not that I’m saying Americans are the pinnacle of civilization or anything!

We were starving, because we hadn't really eaten anything
Contemporary Art MuseumContemporary Art MuseumContemporary Art Museum

Unique museum, if not only for its location
substantial. It wasn't as bad as the trip on Easter would be, but still meals become all mixed up when traveling. So our grand culinary adventure upon reaching France was...McDonalds. Oh my, haha. See what happens when we see lots of Americans? We revert to our American behavior! In reality it was the only thing opened that late that looked like it wasn’t going to give us food poisoning.

After our fancy dinner, we walked around a bit. The hostel was situated on the edge of a big shopping area, a 20 minutes’ walk (or so) to the beach and le promenade d'anglais. The area of town itself was a little rough, but since we were traveling in a group of five there were never any instances of trouble. I would have felt a little less comfortable traveling there by myself. We walked around, looking at the houses and finding places for breakfast, before coming back to the hostel. The walk got us excited to explore the next day.

Traveling had, again, made us exhausted. I don't know why traveling does that. You basically sit the entire day. The most exertion you have is lugging some bags around.
Hello Nice!Hello Nice!Hello Nice!

One of the great views from the top of the museum
Nevertheless at the end of the day you are so tired. What a conundrum.

The K's and I were staying in a six-person room with our own bathroom. Chris was in a much larger room, with a much rowdier group. Thank goodness for our room! The hostel in general was very nice. The hostels in France seem to be more really cheap hotels, except for the fact you share your rooms. I can live with that though. In that traveling respect, I have certainly grown. Before I would balk at having to share a room with strangers. Sharing a bathroom would also have drawn protests. But hostels are simply that way to go when traveling. If I stayed in hotels the whole time I would be able to go one place! So sharing a room and bathroom, sleeping in bunk beds that creak and feel like they are going to fall down, having to pay for internet: it's all normal now.

The next day we spent entirely in Nice. We started out having breakfast, which was amazing. It was so French: coffee, jus d'orange, a baguette, and an omelet.

For me, the day started out kind of

Yeah, sorry I don't have details here. It is located in what I think is called Place Massena. It is a really cool and pretty square
rough. Traveling throws a lot of personalities together in close quarters. And despite how much you get along, after spending many straight hours together things can turn a little tense. The K's, and Chris, being so much more outgoing and loud than I, began to wear on me. In such a situation, I've found the best thing to do is just take a step back. You have to sort-of isolate yourself and enjoy the area you are in, until you fix your own mood. Studying abroad throws you with a lot of different personalities, and you have to be accepting. Something I have realized, but not yet accomplished. A work in progress, if you will.

We intended to go to a couple museums after breakfast. Kat led the way; she is the best with maps. I'm simply hopeless. I don't know why I can't get the orientation right, but maps are just useless with me. I have to physically walk an area before I can figure out how things connect. So good thing we had Kat with us! But even with her superior map reading skills we were having problems. We were trying to get there by walking and

Yay for Cote d'Azur
it soon become obvious that this might be a problem. Nice is a lot hillier than we were used to, and any route we wanted to take to get there involved walking around hills and up and down and curving and craziness.

Eventually we gave up. We are committed like that! In reality, we decided we didn't want to waste our day trying to find a museum. So we ended up wandering back down a hill to the main part of Nice. At first I was annoyed. We had spent a fair amount of time walking aimlessly and we were about to do it again. But eventually I calmed myself down. I am all about the museums; just walking a city seemed strange to me. But I was able to see several parts of Nice I hadn't seen on my high school trip. We discovered neat houses, little gardens, and parks. Walking around gave me a feel for the city, and I like Nice even more now. So, apparently, I have things to learn in that area too. My schedules and plans are allowed to be adjusted and the adjustments may turn out to be better than the plans.
Yep, stonesYep, stonesYep, stones

Sticks and stones may break my back, but the beach is still beautiful
Who knew?!

Our wandering led us to the Contemporary Art museum. I normally don't like modern art; I just don't understand why the artist did what he or she did. Not to say that is bad; but some pieces just seem so strange. Lately I've been trying to give modern art another chance, since it seems every city has a modern art museum. It's a slow process trying to like it, haha. The museum has an eclectic mix of pieces, and I did actually enjoy going through most of it. The best part of the museum was its roof. It was sort of an open garden and it had fantastic views of the city. We weren’t expecting that at all; we walked up a flight of stairs and let out a collective gasp. There were plants mixed with sculpture, and it was almost as if the museum was presenting the view as a continuation of its collection. Nice is so pretty that it very well could be.

After museums the next logical place to go is...the beach! Nice is so varied with things to do. You can go hiking, visit pretty parks, enjoy museums, or spend
A Hotel I will never be able to stay atA Hotel I will never be able to stay atA Hotel I will never be able to stay at

On the Promenade d'Anglais. This hotel is quite old and famous from the time when all the rich French tourists would visit the coasts. Expatriates were famous for coming here as well.
a day at the beach. One word of warning for the beach though: it is made of rocks. Yep, rocks . No sand on this Mediterranean coast. I don't know why it is like this. They aren't pointy or anything; they are almost like oversized pebbles. That shouldn't imply, however, that they are immediately comfortable. It is really hard to try and walk on them! Kaitlin, Katie and I went to stick our feet in the water, and had the hardest time keeping our balance. With sand, you can shove your feet in it and be pretty well anchored. Not so with these rocks! They shift about just as much as you do.

After awhile we got our bearing, and stayed on the beach for about a half hour. It was so relaxing, sitting in the sun, listening to the waves. We could see the coast of what I think was still France (could have been Italy or Monaco as well; Nice is so close to the two). We saw boats sail by and birds attempting to conquer the wind. It was gorgeous and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Again, just taking in the moment
Simply GorgeousSimply GorgeousSimply Gorgeous

Sigh. This makes me happy and sad at the same time. I wish Holland looked like this!
turned out to be the way to go.

Eventually we moved on, a bit reluctantly. We walked along the promenade d'anglais, the large walkway parallel to the beach. It is the main walkway of Nice, with a roadway next to it and all the posh hotels and casinos lining the other side. Basically, a place we could only ever walk along! The K's, Chris, and I kept up our wandering, walking the length of the promenade and then making our way through the interior of the city. We found a cute gelato place on the way. No, our gelato stops did not end when we crossed the border. Nice was actually a territory of Italy for some time, so it is easy to find Italian influences all over the city. Luckily for us, this included food. I never really like gelato until Europe; I didn’t really see the point paying extra for smoother ice cream. I’ve been converted for a couple reasons: first, it is basically the only ice cream offered in Europe, and secondly it is really much richer than ice cream. So, you know, I’ll choke it down.

After some tensions and tragedies (well, I classify
So we became children...So we became children...So we became children...

...and went on the merry-go-round. It was worth it.
my foot erupting in painful and burst blisters as a tragedy...especially when band-aids do not suffice), it was decided we should go back to the hostel to rest before dinner and souvenir shopping. Souvenir shopping was actually somewhat difficult in Nice; the spots are all located in one area, so for quite some time we weren't sure there we even any at all. We did find some good ones later. Souvenir shops are certainly my friend in Europe. Too much my friend? Maybe 

Later that evening the K's and I had dinner in the old city of Nice. We sat outside, in an area laden with restaurants and music filtering through the air. We had a wonderful meal and a great time relaxing. It was truly a beautiful night. It was almost a summery night, but I guess that’s what happens when you are on the Mediterranean. Chris, because the hostel was full when he tried to book the same nights as us, had to relocate to a bed and breakfast place, so he joined us after dinner.

Where did he join us? At THOR! Haha. Thor was a bar that was supposedly Viking themed, so naturally
Vieux VilleVieux VilleVieux Ville

A building in the old part of town
we decided to go there. It wasn't a crazily decorated as we thought, but it was pretty awesome. We sat upstairs where an American cover band played some Rolling Stones and Dylan. No one got one, but it was possible to order bear in a Viking helmet. It was a great night and a lot of fun.

The next day was Monaco day. We got up semi-early to catch a train to Monaco. Our early start was for naught, though, since our train was delayed and we had to wait for the next one. Meanwhile, the weather turned cloudier, and a wind picked up. I was a little worried it was going to rain. It never did, but the wind and clouds remained prominent the whole day. As long as it didn’t rain, I was fine. It is actually nice to have clouds for pictures; the sun can be too bright sometimes! Darn that nice weather in Milan.

The train to Monaco was a sight-seeing trip in itself. It took us past the Mediterranean; we were on the very edge of the coast. It was absolutely beautiful; one of the most beautiful train trips of my time in Europe. We went past Eze, a beautiful town I had visited when I came in high school. It is a town located on the top of one of the many hills in the region. The town is some compact cars aren’t allowed after a certain point. You hike up it mostly on foot, unless you are staying in one of the hotels. Then you luggage arrives by donkey.

Monaco's train station would not tell you that you just entered one of the richest countries in the world. It's kind of a disappointment: pretty simple and bland. But then you walk out of it and see yachts that are larger than your house. So the point kind of sinks in.

Nice is hilly, but Monaco takes the cake between the two areas. The country (and principality; Monaco isn't technically a kingdom because it is ruled by princes and not kings) was founded on an outcropping, and remains basically hills. Monte Carlo is on one hill and Monaco City on the other. They are two different cities, despite the fact you can see the other and they are separated by a half-hour walk. Yes, it takes about a half-hour, but only because you have to go down one hill and climb another. Half the time is spent catching your breathe. Stupid Monégasques. Don't they know I'm not used to hills anymore?!

We started out in Monte Carlo, kind of by mistake. Katie is really interested in Grace Kelly and she pushed for us to come to Monaco. Grace Kelly, a former Oscar-winning actress in the fifties, fulfilled every girl’s fairytale dream when she married Prince Rainer of Monaco. She was tragically killed in the 1980s in a car accident, and is buried in Monaco City's cathedral. That was our main goal, and Katie's mission for the day. So we started off on the wrong foot by walking around Monte Carlo. We got to see the Opera House though, and some great views of the Mediterranean (although, really, no matter where you go in Monaco you see the sea. It's kind of like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is just there ). So, to get to our goal, we walked down the hill, stopping on the way for some pizza. You must have sustenance before attempting the second hill, the location of Monaco City and old
Welcome to MonacoWelcome to MonacoWelcome to Monaco

Yeah, those boats are bigger than my house...
Monaco. We also checked out real estate listings. You know, just in case we came up with an extra few million dollars or so.

The hill where Monaco City was located on looked very, very daunting. In actuality it wasn't that bad. We “struggled” our way up it, pausing of course to take pictures and mug for the camera about of difficult it was. The route we took was an ancient-looking one up the side of the hill, ending up in front of the palace.

Monaco was founded by the Grimaldi family. Back in the 1300s, the founding member of the family apparently decided he wanted the territory. So, logically, he dressed up as a monk, infiltrated the city, and then laid waste to it (he had a whole bunch of armed monk-friends with him). In the stories of how a dynasty starts, I have to say that is one of the best I've heard. As a side note, I checked Wikipedia to double-check the date of the takeover and the article said an average person can cross the country of Monaco in 56 minutes! That pretty much rocks.

So, anyway, the K's and I
You too could own this carYou too could own this carYou too could own this car

If you lived in Monaco in the first place.
decided to take a tour of the palace while Chris people-watched. We were only allowed to see half of the palace, since the other half continues to be a working area for the royal family. The tour was pretty interesting since I really don't know too much about the family and the country's history. It was cool to find out that there was in the past a princess that ruled. I also learned that they family was distantly, and perhaps not by blood, related to Napoleon. I think the story went that Napoleon’s stepdaughter, or something, married one of the princes. That started the Monégasque obsession with all things Napoleon. There is a museum with anything associated with him: uniforms, papers signed by him, weapons, and more. It's actually quite a cluttered museum, but it was free with our palace tour, so why not.

Naturally our next step was what Katie had been waiting for all day: Princess Grace's grave (which actually seems quite morbid now that I type it out). We took the scenic route, walking through a garden that traced the edge of the cliff, looking all the way down to the yachts and boats
Father GrimaldiFather GrimaldiFather Grimaldi

Before he threw off the monk costume and claimed the city...
below. I guess I should say ships; nothing that expensive could be a boat!

The cathedral is pretty small for a cathedral but I suppose that fits the country. Like the time I visited in high school, the line to view Princess Grace's grave curves around the choir, taking you past the ancestors and descendents of the Grimaldi family. None of their graves have flowers, so you know you have reached Grace's and Prince Rainer’s (buried right beside her) when flowers start appearing. Once out of line, the simplistic beauty of the church becomes evident.

The rest of our time in Monaco was quite similar to Nice the day before: wandering. We continued down the hill/mountain, walking through the continuous garden paths and making our way to the sea. It was incredibly windy still so the sea was agitated; making waves splash up and we even got some mist off of them. It's not necessarily pretty there; despite all the luxury and haute couture, the landscape itself is a rugged beauty.

Monaco is full of these contradictions. We walked past tiny apartments that were situated on the bay full of yachts. We found a BMX biking competition
The PalaceThe PalaceThe Palace

It seems quite simple, but the inside is very pretty and befitting royalty, haha
down the hill from Hermès and Dior shops. Meanwhile, while walking back up to Monte Carlo, we saw preparations for next week's tennis tournament.

Yes, we walked back up to Monte Carlo (after the search for bathrooms. We ended up back in the train station, searching for one like we were on the Crusades or something. In the end, they were hidden. Really. There were these silver doors that blended into the wall, with no label, that were the public restrooms. Ridiculous). Figuring we should at least see the casino, we began the pilgrimage. Kat found stairs that would lead us a different route than the one by the street we had done earlier that day. I'm all up for different routes; it allows you to see more of the city. The problem with these stairs was the fact they were only a few degrees from being vertical. We climbed them anyway, given little choice when Kat bounded up them. It was certainly beautiful (or at least I assume so; I hope it wasn't the lack of oxygen making it seem that way) and in the end I'm glad we went that way. I can’t imagine them being part
Me in MonacoMe in MonacoMe in Monaco

Somehow I don't think my Nike jacket belongs...
of anyone’s daily commute though.

We walked through town, making our way through the stunning garden situated directly in front of the casino. It was if we were in Holland again, because tulips were everywhere. It was beautiful, and this was the perfectly orchestrated beauty one would expect in Monaco. No petal was out of place and every color strategically placed. We dodged traffic of cars we will never own (and that I can’t spell) to cross the street and go to the casino. I was a little scared we wouldn't be let in; I'm sure the doormen can size up one's savings account in a glance. However we were allowed in, at least to the slot machine area. The inside is interesting. Directly to your right are the machines. If you continue past that (ignoring the "yeah, right" glances from the front desk") you reach an empty room. On the left of the room is where the real action happens. A room, with its own doorman, filled with tables for the various games. High stakes indeed.

We stuck with the slot machines, not that we had too much choice in the matter!

I actually didn't gamble
Don't FallDon't FallDon't Fall

Taken from the garden in Monaco City
at all, but Kaitlin and Kat tried they luck. Kaitlin actually broke even, and played her first slots. So the day in Monaco ended on a high note. We meandered back to the train station and to Nice. Again I felt that tackling Monaco without a plan allowed me to experience the city more than I had when I came in high school. I got to soak it all in and simply enjoy my day there.

We arrived in Nice late in the evening. Chris returned to his bed and breakfast, while the K's and I puttered around the hostel, packing for our journey the next day. We ate our last meal in France at a place directly across the street from our hotel. It was a simple place, with the two waiters arguing in typical French manner. The food was amazing though, and, again, food and drink ended our day (and overall time here) on a high note. No matter what we were feeling before or how tired we had been, we bonded once again of the meal. Never underestimate the power of food.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Another look down...Another look down...
Another look down...

Hope you aren't afraid of heights
Monte CarloMonte Carlo
Monte Carlo

Tulips, with the casino in the background
Hills indeedHills indeed
Hills indeed

An example of crazy Monaco houses
Stairs of DeathStairs of Death
Stairs of Death

But we survived!

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