Nice, Monaco and Cannes
Oct 27, 2010
|Thanks to limited train services we jumped on a train that took us through the beautiful hillsides of Monaco, which peaked interest, on our way to Nice (pronounced Niece), France.
The rail station in Nice is purported to be a bit seedy in the guide book. So the plan was to leave the area quickly and get to a hotel. As it turns out, we showed up with no reservations due to the fact that until that very morning we were not sure if we could take a train to Nice or not. So we stopped into an internet/phone store with individual booths. I began to desperately search for a place with a good room in a great location. After using our 30 minutes of paid internet I found an upscale hotel with a doorman, two stops away, one half-block off Messina Place which included breakfast. Navigating a new tram is always a bit of a challenge but Nice made it easy. One euro buys you a one way ticket, the tram runs one way then a direct reciprocal route. Can’t get lost, love it! The hotel told us which stop to take but we could not find the hotel. We asked a local woman for directions, she pointed our way and then followed us to make sure we got there as we lugged our backpacks and roller suitcases down the cobblestoned street. And people say the French aren’t friendly. Now we could enjoy our time here and try out my lousy French language skills on a few more locals.
The beach boardwalk with rollerbladers, bikers and people strolling along is a magnetic draw in this town. The coastline of Nice is long, miles in fact. One beautiful day we rented bikes and rode for two hours at a quick pace from Nice well beyond the airport and approaching Cannes to the west. We hiked up to Castle Hill on a rise above the charming harbor and were treated to views of the sea below. We enjoyed a few older churches, nothing breathtaking in that respect.
Typically hotels in Europe have a very nice breakfast which we take advantage of, have a light lunch and then a dinner after 7:00 p.m. This is the time restaurants open for dinner. We had many nice meals out here. There are large gathering areas just two blocks inland from the beach with dozens of busy restaurants. There were a few that got our attention, one especially made Mike happy, spaghetti with clams. The French can definitely cook well. Did I mention they make damn good gelato? As it turns out much of the food there is Italian inspired.
With Cannes (kahn) just a few miles away by bus it seemed we would have to check it out. The bus was a local inland bus and took about 2 hours to get there. It was crowded and not interesting so we vowed to take the train back. As soon as we disembarked we found the beach boardwalk just a couple of blocks away and enjoyed a beer there. We strolled along their very long promenade with the beautiful people out and about, walked the docks taking in the sight of more mega yachts. One was named Imagine and had big gold records plastered all around inside the open main salon area. Not sure who owned it but someone affiliated with the Beatles and/or John Lennon. Not much else to do so we found a kebab and found the train station and headed back to Nice.
One other stop not to be missed was the country of Monaco, land of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly. While in Europe, Prince Albert announced his engagement and stated that they would be married in the courtyard of the palace with his people. If I recall correctly there are about 2500 residents in Monaco from about 40 different countries. We rode a city bus along the windy coastal road to Monte Carlo, the capital. By luck, we arrived with about 30 minutes to spare to see the changing of the palace guards. So we scurried up the fortress to the palace courtyard high above the Pacific and waited to see. No Buckingham Palace with the Beefeaters and gates. This was much less pretentious and the scenery was much more beautiful. After a 10 minute show, the guards were changed, the barriers removed and the tourists scattered. With that done we headed off to see the casino at Monte Carlo.
On the short boardwalk to the casino we found roller coasters, games, food booths, etc. next to more mega yachts. It appeared that this is a permanent fixture here. We were there on a Sunday and found many families enjoying crepes and each other’s company.
The casino is open to the public starting at about 1:00 p.m. Since we arrived an hour early it became clear that we would sit at the café just outside the entrance facing the casino, perfect for people watching. Beautiful, expensive cars were valet parked at the casino entrance. Many of the women were sporting furs, jewelry and facelifts. Mike sipped a beer, $19 USD and I had a cappuccino for $9 USD, the scenery, priceless…….In European cities we have found that items at cafes are typically high. So basically, it’s the cost of renting a table. It was pretty cool being there and taking it all in until a tackily clad, loud mouthed, middle aged overweight American started to yell across the quiet outdoor café to a friend. I wanted to slap this guy, the epitome of an ugly American. Some people have no sense. The 100 or so people at the café just sat looking at this guy in amazement.
Once our passports were scanned and the fee paid we were able to enter the casino. Due to the entrance fee of 10 euro each, many tourists do not enter. We found this to be quite smart on the part of the casino. Inside was beautiful and elegant. There were serious gamblers to be had at the tables keeping track of the play on tablets. Mike thought he would play a little blackjack until he realized that the table minimum was $100 euro, roughly $140 USD per hand. Oh well, we played the machines for an hour or so and left with our meager profits. Great experience nonetheless.
The crowded bus ride back was shared with another ugly American. This time a woman from Atlanta, GA. How do I know? Everyone in the bus could hear her life story. Busses, metros, trains, etc. are typically quiet and courteous places. The volume of conversations are kept low making people who speak loudly stand out in the crowd, in a bad way. The bus was so packed and the traffic so slow on a Sunday evening we decided to step off for quiet and fresh air and walked the remaining mile back to our hotel.
After 5 fun days and miles of walking and biking in this town we departed for the Cinque Terre in Italy.