It’s been less than a week and I’m already missing the beach. Something about water calms me…it’s like an instant shot of happiness 🙂 Maybe I need to get an “ocean waves” app or something…but then I’m nervous that it will make me want to pee all the time. Hmmm…I guess the next best thing to being there is staring at pictures!!! As I started looking thru my online photo albums, I realized that I’ve been BEYOND BLESSED to visit so many amazing places! And I’d like to share a few of them with you. So, get your pretend swimsuit, a very real cocktail, sunglasses and let’s go!!!
Hey everybody! My Mom and I finished our vacation in the French Riviera with 2 days in Monte Carlo. It is a beautiful place! Approximately 45 minutes from Nice by bus, Monaco consists of 3 distinct tourist areas: Monaco-Ville, Monte Carlo, and La Condamine. Most of this small country was built on a cliff. The streets are a bit narrow and since it’s built into a cliff, things seem a little congested but it is breathtaking so you sort of just overlook that. This place has a very distinct feeling of “money”…people have it. That is obvious. For me and my poor little pockets, well…I was pretending 🙂
When taking the bus from Nice, you will ride along the Low Corniche. If you want to take the route all the way to Menton (like we inadvertently did), it takes just an hour. You pass thru the beautiful villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, and Beauliu-sur-Mer on your way to Monte Carlo.
Once we arrived in Monaco, we checked into our FABULOUS hotel, the Monte Carlo Bay Resort & Hotel. The resort has a casino, gym (with free personal trainers) and a spa. I was able to hit the gym and get a good 45 minute run in before hitting the casino. My absolute favorite thing about Monte Carlo? THE CINQ MONDES SPA! OMG, this place is heaven on earth. Seriously. The purpose of our visit to Monte Carlo was to gamble & spend a day at the spa. Well, we lost at the casino (I love roulette and my numbers weren’t hitting all night…and I just knew I was about to hit it big and live the life of a newly rich jetsetting diva…but, it apparently wasn’t meant to be that day *sobs*). On the plus side, the spa more than made up for it.
I’ve been to countless spas and this has to be the absolute best in my opinion. We started out in the hammam to relax prior to our spa services. My first service was the “Aromas & Flowers Japanese Bath” — and it was the most fabulous thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was like Christmas! The Japanese Bath is essentially a big wooden tub that traps heat so the water never gets cold. You step into the tub of very warm water, then you have aromatherapy oils poured over you in the water. Once that is complete, rose petals are sprinkled on top of you. Next, the masseuse places a pillow under your neck and proceeds to give you a scalp and neck massage. Afterwards, you are left alone for about 15 minutes to relax. Once you are fully rested, the masseuse brings you peach tea, honey and dried fruit to snack on while still in the bath. Um, seriously…did I mention this was HEAVEN? Because it is. I do not think I will be able to replicate this in my own tub with some Calgon & Lipton. You already know I was notating everything because my next home needs a relaxation room like this.
After the Japanese Bath, I had an Oriental Massage which was basically laying on hot towels being massaged with warm oils. Total bliss. Once the services were over, I was taken to the “Relaxation Room” to lay down with more peach tea & honey. I would go back to Monte Carlo just for the spa. It was that fabulous. Want to know more about this fabulous resort? Check out my hotel review here.
The next day, Mom and I head out to do some sightseeing. We decided to take the bus from the hotel around this “city”. Word of caution…if you don’t speak French, you may be a bit challenged as there are no English translations and it’s not really clear where the stops are.
Monaco-Ville is the oldest section of Monaco and contains the Royal Palace, the Cathedral (which holds the tombs of Prince Rainier & Princess Grace), the Cousteau Aquarium, and the Exotic Gardens (pictures are in the slideshow below).
The district of Monte Carlo is the area around the famous Monte Carlo Casino (which has a cover charge and dress code). The area is absolutely gorgeous but it is very tight & congested since everything is built very close together. It’s also very expensive. Breakfast was 35 euro/per person…and this was a continental breakfast. Once you get over the sticker shock, you can really enjoy it and see that it is a wonderful place to visit.
The were a couple of cool sculptures across the street from the casino (which remind me of sculptures I saw in Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway).
Overall, the French Riviera was really nice and a wonderful experience. I can only imagine how wonderful it is when the temperatures allow you to get in the water. Nice was my favorite city as it lends itself to a lot to do. Monte Carlo is nice…but I would suggest that you day trip over from Nice. It’s not really worth 2 days unless you want to stretch it out. Cannes…that was one of those places where I can say I’ve been there. But, not interested in going back as there really isn’t much there to see.
Here are some of my favorite photos:
One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?” I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below). Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety. Most pickpockets target tourists. Looking like you belong goes a long way. Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.
1. Dress for the Country/Culture. Each country has its own style. Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy). With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters. Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).
- Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting. Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it). Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin). Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily. Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country. Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population. By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables). In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe). These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season). I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get. I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
- France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around. This means they take their fashion seriously. While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
- You can never go wrong with basic black. It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
- The French love black, navy and brown. I suggest using those as your base colors. You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf. Don’t have one? Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
- The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more. Most of all, it is attitude.
- Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored. I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape. I picked this tip up while visiting Paris. Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
- Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts. I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
- England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes. I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below). A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*). Don’t emulate that. Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.
2. Dress for the Season. Be sure to check the weather before you go. Weather Underground is a good resource. I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad. A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall. Going in the winter? Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo. I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one. First and foremost, you want to be warm. Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter. Your health trumps fashion. Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂 ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded. This jacket is so cozy & warm! I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it. The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty. This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!
3. DO NOT WEAR…
- Baseball caps! If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
- Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc. Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
- Fanny-packs! Seriously…just no. It’s not cute. Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire. I don’t even know how this item became popular. Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen. You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you. Use a money belt instead. It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen. This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
- Expensive jewelry/bags! A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton. Leave your valuables at home.
- White sneakers??? I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris. My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones. I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe. Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.
4. Must Haves.
- Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship. You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed. I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love. So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship. I even wear it around at home.
- Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome. Highly recommend! The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place. It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
- Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet. A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
- Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces. Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.
5. Handy resources. Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items: While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).
While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer. Hope it helps! Safe travels. Do you have any travel fashion tips? If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!