Nice and Monaco
So it’s taken me way longer than I expected to write this series of blog postings about my trip to Europe1, so I’m going to wrap it up with one big long posting about my time in Nice. I don’t have nearly as much to say about Nice (where my goal was to do a whole lot of nothing) as I did about England and Ireland (where I did all the things). It does represent 6 days though, so the blog posting is long, but don’t worry because there are lots of pictures. Then I can get back to my normal blogging2.
When I booked my trip, I knew that my first two weeks would involve a lot of getting up early and running around looking at all the things, so I decided that my last week of holidays should be dedicated to rest and relaxation. A week of sitting on the beach in Nice, reading books for fun (as opposed to books about economics and organizational behaviour) seemed like it was in order.
The cheapest flight I could get to Nice from Dublin was via Zurich on Swiss air, but I didn’t mind stopping over because then I could technically say I went to one more country on the trip! Plus I got a stamp from Zurich in my passport, and who doesn’t love stamps in their passports? Plus they give you Swiss chocolate on the plane, so it really was win-win:
While in Zurich airport, I was surprised at how much advertising there was for smoking. They had kiosks for cigarettes in the airport:
Apparently putting carcinogens into your body is considered “creativity” if you work for Camel.
And a few cigarette company-sponsored smoking lounges:
I’ve gotten so used to smoking being banned pretty much everywhere I go that these things seem quite unusual to me!
Upon arriving in Nice, I checked into my hotel – a super tiny room, but it had a comfy bed and a free bottle of wine:
Then I headed straight to check out the beach. To get to the beach from my hotel, I had to go through Place Masséna, a town square with this big fountain3:
and these statues of kneeling men on top of poles:
The beaches in Nice stretch along the Mediterranean below a long boardwalk called the Promenade des Anglais ((Apparently the English started the tourism in Nice – hence the name.)) and since it was getting to be evening when I arrived, I just strolled along the promenade and sort of got the lay of the land:
After having spent two weeks with my mom and aunts – and 11 days of that with a tour group of 23, I found being on my own, well, lonely. Of course, this was exacerbated by the fact that I don’t speak French4 and it was a little depressing for an extrovert such as myself to realize that the only people I talked to for days on end were either financially compensated for talking to me5 or were creepy old men who knew almost no English other than how to ask me to go to their house6. However, once I realized that it was loneliness I was feeling7, I decided that I should just concentrate on the “relaxing” nature of this part of my trip, as opposed to the lonely nature of it, and I felt much better8.
On the whole, I ended up spending much more time wandering around Nice than I did sitting on the beach, which surprised me. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the beach – despite it being rocky instead of sandy9, it was actually quite comfortable:
My problem with going to the beach was that the beaches were very crowded with lots of tourists and I’d been warned that there are tonnes of pick pockets. Since I was traveling alone, I didn’t have a buddy to watch my stuff while I went swimming – which was what everyone else on the beach was doing. That meant that I could either bring my kobo e-reader and do some reading on the beach, or I could not bring it and go swimming instead – but not both. I thought about risking it and just leaving my kobo in my bag while I swam, but then I realized that (a) I had no books to read other than what was on my kobo and if it got stolen, I wouldn’t be able to read all the stuff that I was really enjoying reading and (b) I wouldn’t really get to enjoy swimming because I’d be paranoid about trying to watch my stuff while I swam!
So some days I swam and other days I read on the beach, but every day I did a lot of wandering, because it turned out that there were many cool things to see in Nice. I never ran out of interesting little alleyways with interesting little shops to look at. There were also lots of cool little markets, like the Cours Saleya Market du Fleurs – a flower market most days, but an antique market on Mondays:
And the Parc Chateau, which is a park that you access by either climbing 500+ steps up or taking the claustrophobic and terrifying old Ascenseur du Chateau (i.e., the elevator).
Once up in the Parc, you got to see fantastic views of Nice10:
And could cool off by this kickass waterfall:
I went up there several times to wander around and find nice shady places to read.
I found that I was kind of sick of eating, having done so much of it in Ireland that I ended up eating just twice a day – I’d have some yogurt, fruit, cheese, and a cappuccino at my hotel11 in the morning and then I’d go out for a dinner at night12.
One great thing about dining in France is that it really is cheaper to have a glass of wine (€3) than to buy a glass of pop or mineral water (€4)13:
Overall, other than the baguettes, which they serve with just about everything, I didn’t find the food to be that great. Perhaps I just had bad luck in choosing restaurants, but I went somewhere different every day and the only one that I think was better than just OK was Le Quebec:
And yes, I totally went there just because it was called “Le Quebec”. I had a pizza made in a wood oven and it was to die for!
After dinner, I would stroll down to the Promenade to read and then watch the sun set and the moon rise:
Then I would wander back through the Place Masséna, where the statues of men on poles would be changing colour and there were all sorts of extremely talented buskers to watch.
On my last full day in Nice, I mixed things up with a trip to Monaco. I’d booked it before I left and was originally supposed to go on my second last day, but something came up with the tour company14 and it got bumped to the last full day of my trip. By this point, I was really looking forward to having some company and I was not disappointed. The tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable and my tour group consisted of three couples – a couple from Belgium on a trip for their 50th wedding anniversary, a couple from Brooklyn on their honeymoon, and a couple from Washington, DC. Everyone was super friendly and were constantly looking out for me to make sure I didn’t get lost, since I was traveling on my own15. I also thought it was pretty cool to have the contrast of the newlyweds with the couple on their 50th anniversary trip, who had been on a trip to Monaco for their honeymoon!
On the way to Monaco, we stopped in Eze, a little medieval village in the mountains:
It was kind of neat to see these ancient stone structures in this little mountain village with people going about their business of running shops and art studios and restaurants.
Before leaving Eze, we checked out Fragonard’s cosmetic factory:
Eze is a perfume company, but their perfume factory is in Grasse – the factory we visited made cosmetics and soaps using the perfumes made in their Grasse factory. They do everything in their factory by hand – from making the soaps and cosmetics to filling the jars of moisturizers to folding the boxes that the jars go into, right down to hand painting the beaks on the duck-shaped bars of soap! While we were having our tour, one of my tourmates noted how relaxed everyone there was – even though they were at work! Nobody looked harried or rushed the way we do at our jobs in North America. “Back home,” one of my American tourmates said, “We’d call this “inefficient” and install a bunch of machines to do everything and then stress everyone out by insisting they make more and more product.” It really made us all want to quit our jobs and move to France.
The tour itself, like the ones I did in Ireland, was very informative. I’m not even big on perfumes, but I did find the stuff we learned there fascinating16. Such things include:
- It takes 10 years of training to become a perfume master – 5 years of university chemistry and 5 years to train your nose to recognized 3,000 different scents! They only take 10 new students per year to learn this trade and anyone working in the profession cannot smoke, drink alcohol, or eat spicy foods, because all of those affect your sense of smell.17
- The most expensive scent to make is rose. It takes ~3 tonnes of roses to make 1 L of pure perfume.
- There are four types of fragrances that you can make and they are defined by the ratio of the essence of the scent to alcohol. Perfume is the most concentrated (about 50-50 ratio of the scent to alcohol), followed by eau de perfum, eau de toilette, and cologne. Perfume is so concentrated that you only need a few drops and the smell will last all day.
Then it was on to Monaco! Naturally, we checked out Monte Carlo, where the casino is located:
Since we were there in the morning, we couldn’t go in as it doesn’t open until 2 pm. That didn’t bother me, because I kind of hate casinos18.
I did, however, enjoy checking out the fancy cars parked outside the casino, like this one:
And this one19:
And this Smart car:
Wait, what? Seriously, someone had a Smart car parked at the casino, along with all the Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Lamborghinis. And it had Monaco plates!
We drove the streets of Monaco where the Formula One Grand Prix is raced:
Look how fast we went through the tunnel – which I have been informed is one of the most recognizable features in all of car racing:
And, of course, we checked out Monaco-Ville, where the royal family lives. As I’d found with Buckingham, the palace in Monaco was nothing to write home about:
Not surprisingly, the cathedral was much more impressive:
The cathedral was full of tourists, but also full of people praying. As with the cemeteries in Ireland, I think it must be odd to be in a place to worship and having all these people taking photos and yammering away20. That being said, I was full-on tourist and took photos, including this one of Princess Grace’s grave marker, which is floor of the cathedral where she is buried along with many other members of the royal family21:
Some facts about Monaco:
- At only 2 km2, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world22.
- The House of Grimaldi is the oldest reining dynasty in the world, and it started with Francesco Grimaldi, who dressed up as a monk and basically just knocked on the door of the castle and was let in, since he was dressed as a monk. Then he drew his sword and took over the place and the House of Grimaldi has been running the place ever since. That was in 1297. To this day, the coat of arms of the House of Grimaldi includes monks with swords!
- The current monarch in Monaco, Prince Albert II, has at least two illegitimate children, but there are contracts stating that though Albert provides for them financially, they will not have the right to rule Monaco after he dies. He was married to Charlene Wittstock in July 2011 and the country is eagerly awaiting a legitimate child who can inherit the throne. Without one, Albert’s sister Princess Caroline is next in line.
After returning from Monaco, I resumed my usual schedule of afternoon wandering through the streets of Nice, had another OK dinner, and enjoyed my last sunset on the Promenade.
The next day I flew back to Heathrow via Geneva airport. Geneva airport is made up entirely of ads for banks and watches, so you really know that you are in Switzerland:
While in Geneva, I got another passport stamp, and then I got another Heathrow stamp when I arrived there, at which point I realized that I hadn’t gotten a passport stamp when I arrived in Nice. Boo-urns! Guess this just means I’ll have to go back to France another time!
- Because apparently when you aren’t on vacation you have life to deal with and can’t spend all your time indulging pastimes like photo editing and blogging. [↩]
- Read: ranting and showing you pictures of my frogs. [↩]
- You wouldn’t believe how many people were taking photos of themselves where they were making it look like they were grabbing that guy’s cock. [↩]
- Though I was impressed with myself that I could understand most of the words on a given menu without having to look at the English translations. Apparently though my French is rudimentary, it mostly consists of food-related vocabulary. Also, I learned that you can get by just fine in Nice knowing only “Bonjour,” “Bonsoir,” Merci”, “Excusez,” and “Je ne parle pas français”. [↩]
- Think: hotel clerk, waiter, cashiers in shops. [↩]
- I kind of felt like I was Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense and creepy old French, Italian and Spanish men were Haley Joel Osment. [↩]
- I’m not used to feeling lonely, because at home I’m surrounded by lots of good friends, workmates and classmates and am constantly in contact with my family. [↩]
- It also helped that I FaceTimed my sister a couple of times while I was in France. [↩]
- Interesting fact: The reason the beaches are rocky instead of sandy is that the decline into the Mediterranean is quite steep – you only need to take a few steps out into the water before you can no longer touch the bottom, unlike beaches that I’m used to where you can walk out very far before it gets deep – and if they had sand on the beach it would just wash away down the slope into the sea. Even the rocks have to be replaced regularly, but much less often than sand would. [↩]
- As you can see, the region really does earn its name, Côte d’Azur, which means coast of blue. [↩]
- The continental breakfast was included with my room. Sadly, their pastries were not very good, which surprised me, since I was in France! [↩]
- Although I might have a mid-afternoon cappuccino or a piece of fruit from a market. And one day I had a gelato, though honestly, I get better gelato in Vancouver. [↩]
- Thankfully, they give you an entire wine bottle full of ice cold tap water with every meal, or I would surely have died of dehydration in the 30+ degree weather. On a related note, I think I should serve my tap water out of a wine bottle from now on, because I swear it tasted better that way. [↩]
- I’m guessing not enough people booked for that day. [↩]
- Now I know how the one single person on my tour of Ireland felt with everyone on the tour watching out for him! [↩]
- There I go *learning* things on my vacation again! [↩]
- In related news, any profession for which you can’t drink or eat spicy foods is not one you’ll ever catch me doing! [↩]
- I personally don’t get any thrill whatsoever from gambling as I know that either it’s a game of chance (like roulette), in which case the odds are against me, or a game of skill (like poker), of which I have none so the odds are against me. And when it comes to something like slot machines, I know they are actually designed using a sophisticated understanding of human psychology to convince your brain that you are oh-so-close to winning so that you will gamble away even more money, and I don’t like people using my brain against me. I find even going into casinos depressing, because the people there either can afford to throw away money on nothing (which makes me jealous-depressed) or they can’t afford to but are doing it anyway (which makes me depressed-depressed). [↩]
- 1000 points to whoever can positively identify what kind of car that is. Because I have no idea. [↩]
- They even had ushers who would shush the crowd every so often, and the place would go silent… and then people would start whispering and it would get louder and louder until “sssshhhh!!!” again. And repeat. [↩]
- Only Grace’s and Rainer’s graves had flowers on them though. [↩]
- With the Vatican being the smallest. [↩]