The French Riviera: Days 4 & 5 “Livin’ it up, Monte Carlo-style”

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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.

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Monte Carlo Bay

Monte Carlo Bay

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.

Japanese Bath

Japanese Bath

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.

Cathedral

Cathedral

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). 

Tomb of Princess Grace

Tomb of Princess Grace

Tomb of Prince Rainier

Tomb of Prince Rainier

The famed Monte-Carlo Casino

The famed Monte-Carlo Casino

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).

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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:

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Next stop…Milano!

The French Riviera: Day 2 “Nice is Nice”

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January 3, 2010

Bonjour!  Today was our first full day in Nice.  The weather was mild (but still needed a coat) and the skies turned sunny by early afternoon.  Nice is a beautiful city.  You will fall in love with the market, the buildings, the sea, the people!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got a bit of a late start today due to jet lag but once my Mom and I got started, we were good to go.  The first item on our agenda was to walk about 5 minutes to Avenue Jean Medecin to find a place for breakfast.  We found the perfect cafe which had the best croissants & cafe au lait!!!  And, it was just 8 euro for 2 people!!!  You can’t beat that. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter breakfast, we walked down to Place Massena (which is Nice’s ground zero — everything old meets new).  I tend to agree with Rick Steve’s when he says that standing here makes him feel like he’s in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.  It has that feel…especially with the curved buildings around a central place/piazza. It also reminds me of Disneyland in a way.  With the colorful markets, Christmas decorations, piped-in music of children singing songs…it really had a fairytale feel.  But, then they started playing a Michael Jackson song so…maybe a Neverland feel?

 

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After leaving Place Massena, I happened to see the most fabulous faux fur vest in a store window.  It was on sale and it fit.  It’s like the fates declared for me to have it! 

I was a bit nervous with the shopping because everybody that I see in France is tiny.  The store didn’t have sizes on the garments…I guess they could eyeball you to tell you whether or not you needed to keep on walking.  Although they spoke limited English (and I, limited French), the clerk & I were able to have a limited conversation…enough for him to ask if I was from South Africa.   

Which brings me to a point of observation…everybody who knows me well knows that I research my travel destinations thoroughly before I arrive.  Well, I had read several places that the French were a bit aloof and that you should have a rudimentary understanding of French or they would give you the side-eye.  That has not been my experience at all.  Most of the people I have met have been very friendly and understanding of my language “handicap”.  If we can’t figure something out with hand signals & my French/English phrase book, they find someone who can translate.  I do find myself defaulting to Italian when I’m searching for French words which just confuses them even further.  As far as people being rude, honestly, it’s the same as in the U.S.  As long as you are respectful and smile, the French will love you!

I met a guy named Bruno who was born in France but moved to Georgia (the U.S. state, not the country) when he was 16.  He actually owned a hair salon in Roswell for about 16 years or so before deciding to move back to Nice with his wife (who is American).  Bruno is fabulous…love him!!!  Now, I will admit that it is sometimes hard for me to understand accented English.  My friend, Abenaa (who is from Ghana), will testify to that.  I may have a blank look on my face while I try to figure out what you just said.  But, eventually, I will either get there or ask you to repeat what you said 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, back to our day.  We ended up shopping at the outdoor markets.  Let me just say that I absolutely LOVE the outdoor markets.  Nice is known for growing lavender and olives (and they have lots of it).  Everything is so fresh and upscale.  People are out with their dogs (they even bring them into cafes!).  Riley (my cocker spaniel) would be in heaven.  Maybe I’ll try to find him a little beret.  Of course, Riley is from the streets so I know he wouldn’t even entertain that.  Plus, he likes to fight so we’d get to walk about 2 minutes into the market before he thinks a Jack Russell terrier is mean mugging him and wants to go “introduce” himself.  He will probably write about it in his blog.

While in the market, I come across a beautiful painting and asked the seller if he is the  artist.  He says yes and we have a limited conversation (as he isn’t selling croissants or cafe au lait, I don’t have much more French to use).  I instantly fell in love with the painting as it seems so peaceful.

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After leaving the market with gifts for family and friends, we finally get to the the famed Promenade des Anglais (or “walkway for the English”).  It’s a 4 mile promenade along the Mediterranean Sea with stunning views of Nice around the bay.  This is what I had been waiting for.  The views are absolutely gorgeous!

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As we walked down the promenade, we came across some “rollerblade street performers”.  I have never seen anything like this.  They do all these rollerblade tricks to French & American hip hop music.  They were actually very entertaining.  We need that on Peachtree!

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After that, we continued down to the Palais de Mediterranee (which is gorgeous). 

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Once we completed the 4 mile walk, we headed back to our flat thru Old Town Nice. 

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Then back home to rest & blog.  Tomorrow — Cannes!  Au revoir!!!

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The French Riviera: Day 1 (Getting There)

*I’m migrating posts from my old blog to this site…so don’t get alarmed and think I’m suffering from dementia.  I still have at least 6 months before that gets ahold of me fully.*

French Riviera guidebook

January 2, 2010

Happy New Year everyone!!!  I pray that you all have a prosperous, blessed & happy 2010!  So excited to start the year off in Nice, France!  I decided that I was going to be a more patient person in 2010.  “New Nikki” is supposed to just brush off irritations and frustrations.  “Old Nikki” has been struggling with that concept for some years 🙂 

So, to that end, I decided to give US Airways another try for international travel.  If you read my Italy travel blog post from my trip in 2007, you already know that this was a big step for me as I had named them Beelzebub Airlines due to the drama that I had to deal with (delayed flights, lost luggage, etc).  So, New Nikki thought 2010 would be a year of second chances.  Sigh.  I arrived at Indianapolis International Airport 3 hours ahead of time since crazy folks had been out during Christmas trying to take down flights with firecrackers & possibly a 5 oz bottle of contact solution.  As soon as I stepped to the kiosk to check-in, the gate agent asked if I was connecting thru Philadelphia (where B-bub ALWAYS has an issue).  Once I answered affirmatively, the agent told me that he would need to re-book me on another flight since the flight I was scheduled to take in 3 HOURS would be late.  Apparently, the plane was having mechanical problems and they only have like 5 planes that operate nationally.  Seriously.  Why are there never enough planes to accommodate the mechanical failures?  Don’t they have Service Level Agreements with the manufacturers??? 

Anyway, B-bub Airlines decided to test New Nikki on the very first day of 2010.  The agent stated that instead of arriving in Nice at 10am, I would arrive late afternoon which effectively took out 1 day of my vacation.  New Nikki tried to see the silver lining, Old Nikki was like, “F&*K THAT!”  But, it’s a new year and I couldn’t cave 11 hours into 2010.  So, I sucked it up and tried to put a positive spin on it.

After waiting 5 hours, we are able to board the “repaired” plane.  The plane is pushed back from the gate…then the PA system comes on and the pilot says, “Brakes still don’t work.  Guess they weren’t fixed in Philadelphia.  Sorry.  We will have to cancel this flight.”  New Nikki — “At least we found out before we taxied too far”; Old Nikki — “F&*K THAT!”  I am a cracked plate, y’all.

Good news is that B-bub was able to get us on another flight within 30 minutes but I still missed my connection.  Which meant another 4 hours of waiting.  This caused me to drink a large number mimosas and wine in an effort to soothe my nerves.  Trust and believe that.  New Nikki tried to think “at least the international flight was only delayed by 10 minutes.”  Old Nikki’s response?  I think you already know.   I was able to leave B-bub in the dust and fly Air France from Paris to Nice.  Of course, B-bub is a bad influence because you know that after traveling for 22 hours, we get 2 crying kids in our row and the row behind us.  

I’ve decided that US Airways is like that friend you don’t really like but you feel sorry for them because they are so pitiful and against your better judgement, you decide to hang out with them.  You know the type.  They call, beg you to hang out and they even offer to drive.  Only to tell you after you are dressed and waiting that either 1) the car doesn’t have any tires or 2) they are running an hour late.  New Nikki has to side with Old Nikki on US Air.  It’s a wrap.

So, it took a total of almost 24 hours for me to fly from Indianapolis to Nice.  But, I am here and it’s fabulous so I’ll stop complaining.

We took a taxi to the apartment rental and let me tell you…these cabbies drive Audis and Mercedes and the few that I saw look like male supermodels (I’m sure there are a few that may not be runway ready but hey…New Nikki is trying).  Our taxi driver even turned up Jay-Z & Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” during the drive.  So, not only do you get a cabbie, you get a dj!

After arriving late afternoon, My Mom and I checked into our vacation rental.  I got the idea of renting an apartment from tripadvisor.com.  There is much more space and it’s cheaper than a hotel.  Great location, free internet, lots of room and it’s really peaceful.  We rented a 2 bedroom apartment from Nice Pebbles.  As you can see below, it’s a really cute little place and definitely a sight for sore eyes after a long day of travel. 

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We will do some sightseeing tomorrow.  Good night!

2012 Update:  New Nikki never made it back.  She tries to make an appearance every year but sadly, she ends up being beaten to death by Old Nikki in a fit of rage over something.  She’s going to try to make it work in 2013 but I think we all know how that is going to end.  Don’t tell her though…she has hope.  And clearly some issues since she’s talking about herself in the 3rd person.