East of Eden. I mean Nice. East of Nice.

by Colleen Morrow in

With our exploring west of Nice done, it was time to tackle east of Nice with day trips to Èze and Monaco.

Èze was up first. We took the train into Èze-sur-Mer, which is along the coast, but the village we wanted to see was way up at the top of one of the hills. I think they are hills, I don't think they are big enough to be considered mountains. Maybe foothills? Anyway. Neitzsche spent some time in Èze and travelled a goat path between the two parts of the village, which has now been named the Neitzsche Path and is open for hiking. It started as a gently sloping asphalt path before quickly turning into concrete steps, which made way for crumbling concrete steps by the halfway point, which then transitioned into rocks. The total elevation was about 400m and we finished in about 50 minutes. We stopped fairly frequently as the views were really beautiful, both of the sea and of the ravine between the foothills. Once we reached the village, we continued climbing up to the Jardin Exotique where we were rewarded with even more gorgeous views and lots of cacti. Èze was founded by the Romans so it had even more of an Italian feel than the rest of the places we visited.  We explored the old village's streets, which were really narrow alleyways, that all twisted and turned back onto each other so it was hard to tell what you had seen and what you hadn't. At one point, I think the alley we were in was a hotel with the rooms opening directly onto the alley. EDP picked up a small painting from a French artist of the steeple of the church in the village. The colours are really vibrant and it's lovely to have something from a place we visited. 

We were back in Nice earlier than expected so we threw on our swimsuits for a few more hours on the beach with our books. Neither of us ventured into the water this time around but one of us did take the time for some tarte tatin and a wee nap.  Yeah, it was me.  Once the wind picked up and the sun started to hide away, we packed up and headed back to the hotel before heading to a lovely little Italian restaurant that had a really lovely tarte au citron.

Our last day, which was also Thanksgiving, was spent in Monaco.  We got an early start on the day since we had a lot to pack in. We started at the Jardin Exotique, which was much larger than Èze's and had amazing views out over Le Rocher and the ports.  Once we had our fill of cacti and lovely vistas, we headed onto Le Rocher to take in the old city.  First up was the Palais Princier de Monaco, where the royal family still resides, so the portion open to the public was limited but included the throne room where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III got married and the rooms where large state gatherings are held. From there, we headed over to Cathédrale Notre-Dame-Immaculée, which was beautiful in a way that we weren't used to seeing cathedrals. It had the same vaulted ceilings and archways we've seen many times but wasn't covered in marble, the stone was simply polished. It was less opulent but had a really striking effect that I didn't expect. We also made it to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, where I really enjoyed the aquarium, particularly the turtles. The building is absolutely stunning, both inside & out plus the views from the roof were pretty incredible. We got to see lots of whale skeletons, along with old-timey diving equipment and lots of stuffed birds.  After some lunch, we picked up a path that wound through Jardins St-Martin to head down to the main port to check out the ridiculously huge yachts. More than one had a helicopter pad and one even had a helicopter on its helicopter pad. I don't even have a helicopter, let along a yacht to land it on. We walked along the water over to the Japanese gardens where I unintentionally fooled a large number of koi into thinking I was going to feed them (I only wanted their photograph) before heading to what was EDP's highlight for the day - the Monte Carlo casino. The casino's atrium is typically open to the public but they were setting up for some sort of event so there wasn't a lot to see when you went in but the casino itself, which we did take in, was really beautiful. It was early in the day - around 3 - so there weren't very many people inside and we headed into the main gaming room where we started with a Thanksgiving round of champagne/kir royals. One of us spilled his drink when he was coming close to finishing it and had it replaced by the bartender. The other one of us then regretted not being a Spilly McSpillyPants and having no free refill.  Then it was time for a bit of light gambling.  The gaming room only had roulette and blackjack, the latter of which required a minimum €25 bet. Buy in? Ante? I'm not really familiar with the lingo.  EDP wanted to play something but that was a little rich for his blood so we settled at a roulette table where he quickly hit on one of his numbers, multiplying the stack of chips in front of him. He traded some in for another colour so that I could play a bit, too, which I did by alternating the minimum between red and black. This winning strategy soon had me up €40 but by the time EDP had finished playing, I was only up €20. Since he was the source of my capital, I returned all my winnings to him.  Finally, it was time to head back to Nice for one last dinner (which was the largest Greek salad I've ever had in my life...) and getting a good night's sleep before our flights home.  

The trip home was uneventful, we were able to get seats together for both our flights. When we got to the airport and through security, I had a small panic attack because there were TONNES of cancelled flights.  Ours was not but there were a lot of flights within Europe that were cancelled. A quick check on Twitter revealed nothing terrible had happened to ground flights so we grabbed some breakfast before heading to our gate where we figured out there was a national strike against French labour reforms. Which included one of the air traffic controller unions. We're not sure if we were prioritized to get out since we were an international flight or if it was just dumb luck that we weren't cancelled but we weren't complaining.  Anyway, now we're home so it's time to start the process of going through through the photos.  I think I only took about 750, let's see how long it takes me to get through them all :)


Three More Beautiful Days

by Colleen Morrow in

Thursday was a quiet day for us. After a lazy start, we stopped at a little shop not far from our hotel to get pastries and a boisson chaud for our walk down to Vieille Ville - the old town. We took the promenade along the beach down to almost the very end before cutting back in to the tiny streets, entering almost exactly at Cours Saleya, the market. We did a quick wander through before heading into the depths of the old town, twisting and turning around the various streets to find the cathedral and Palais Lascarais. After a few missteps, we found our way to Cathédrale Sainte Reparate, which had a small square in front of it but was otherwise tucked right into other buildings. It wasn't like the large, open squares with cathedral taking a large place of prominence that we've seen before. We understand now that it likely would have been that way when first built but as space became sparse, buildings would have been built in the open spaces. The cathedral was quite lovely and quite ornate for its size. Then it was on to find Palais Lascarais, currently a musical instrument/modern art museum but was built in the 17th century for the Vintimille-Lascarais family. After several more installations that I didn't understand, we headed back into the city streets to make our way back to the market to pick up some tasty treats for lunch.  We acquired some salami, cheese, olives, strawberries, grapes, and bread, which we took onto the promenade to enjoy overlooking the water. It was a really excellent lunch. Then, it was time to hit the beach. We had reserved sun beds at the beach across from our hotel and sprawled out with our books and some beverages. We did venture into the water, where the waves literally knocked me over onto my butt (which helped me aclimatize to the water pretty quickly!) and let the waves carry us around for a bit before heading back up to soak up more sun before the wind picked up and we got too chilly to stay out any longer. 

Friday was one of our earliest starts, getting up and at it around 7. We were on a train to Cannes shortly after 8 and in Cannes around 9, making our way down to the water and the port to find the ferries to Îles de Lérins. We started with the larger of the two islands, Île Sainte-Marguerite, where we took in the old fort, with its Musée de la Mer, which is where the Man in the Iron Mask was held and is buried. We did not solve the mystery of his identity while we were there. Back in Cannes, we had lunch at a beachside restaurant before catching another ferry, this time to Île Saint-Honorat, which houses a monastery, along with a vineyard. The church was beautifully simple, which is a nice change from the typically ornate churches we see but what we enjoyed most was the ruins of the fortified monastery, build right on the water, giving us amazing views of the sea. We also discovered a pizza boat - anchored between the two islands, you can go to the boat and eat your pizza there or it'll deliver pizza to your boat! Then it was back to the mainland to walk past the Palais Des Fesitivals, currently hosting the slightly less glamourous duty free and retail travel products convention (no red carpets rolled out for them) before enjoying a champagne cocktail in advance of the train trip back to Nice. 

Today was another light day with only three things planned - finding the antique book market, climbing up Colline du Château for amazing views of the city and our food tour. Well, when we got up and going this morning, I forgot about the book market and we were up early enough that we decided to do the hill before our food tour. The hill is the highest point in Nice and is where the old castle used to be. There are several ways up but we took the stairs - all 300 or so of them. It was a nice climb, we stopped several times to look out over the city and the baie des Anges. There wasn't much at the top but they are working on excavating the castle so we'll have to check out their progress on our next trip (next trip? Yes, we're going to buy a pizza boat of our own and fund our retirement plan of sailing the Mediterranean with it.) 

From there, it was time to meet our guide for our food tour.  Delightfully, EVERYONE was on time and we got started with a little breakfast square that had pine nuts, raisins and Swiss chard in it. It was the best Swiss chard I've ever had. From there, we started winding our way through the old city, tasting candied orange peel and chocolate covered almonds from the oldest store in Nice, where Queen Victoria used to go for tea, socca - a kind of pancake made from chickpea flour, truffle salt, olive oil, fresh goat cheese, pastise (an anise flavoured liquor), stuffed vegetables, espresso, a small platter with ham and cheese, gelato and LOTS of rosé.  I think there was more but I can't remember now. It was all really delicious (except the pastise, but I had extra rosé instead.) Our guide, Ally, was such a delight, she knew so much about the city and its history, despite only being here for a few months.  Food tours have quickly become our favourite way to see a city and learn about its history - and this one was no exception. Happily, the book market I had forgotten about was in one of the squares we stopped at so I got to sneak in a peak at it, too, which was great. Also, maybe my favourite part of the tour was learning that you can walk into a wine shop AND GET WINE IN BULK. One of the first stops on our tour was to get a litre bottle of water that our group quickly emptied. Then, we took the empty bottle into a wine shop and they filled it up with red table wine for us - for €2.45. An entire litre of it. Which we then enjoyed as we wound through the old city streets before heading to the non-touristy market to see where the real Niçoise shop. Such a great way to see the city, enjoy some food and learn some history. 



Nice is Nice. Like... Really Nice

by Colleen Morrow in

It's Day 3 of our Côte d'Azur adventures and we're already trying to figure out when we can move here. 

Day 0 was the start of our travels, with EDP leaving hours before me in San Francisco before we met up at Pearson for our flight to Nice via Zurich. Because we had different itineraries, we weren't on the same ticket so weren't able to sit together on our flights. That's okay, we've got lots of together time now that we're here.  

Day 1 was the last bit of travelling with our arrival in Nice around 10am. We headed straight to our hotel on Promenade des Anglais (Hotel Negresco, which we've now had two people tell us is the nicest in the city - but don't get too excited, we're in a separate wing with a garden view) where we dropped bags off before walking up to the Matisse museum. Our walk was beautiful, with the sun shining and signs pointing our way, making it relatively easy to find, though primarily uphill. The museum held a tonne of work by Matisse - including sculptures, paintings and the paper cutouts Matisse gravitated to later in life, including one of his famous blue nudes. From there, we headed back to hotel, where we had a bit of a wait for our room still, so we went across the street and sat watching the beach and the sea. Then we got checked in, showered and headed out to dinner not far from the hotel before crashing early on in the evening (e.g. 8pm for one of us) and sleeping until almost 9 on Tuesday morning. Hey, we needed it - neither of us slept much on the plane.  

Tuesday was our day trip to Antibes, which started with a short train ride over to the town and walk along the port, gawking at the fancy boats before turning into the old town to head up to the the Picasso museum. It wasn't quite what I expected - mostly sketches - but there was a photography exhibit of dozens of photos taken of him through his life. From there, we made our way to the market to pick up some snacks for the afternoon and then grabbed some lunch before taking the bus to Cap d'Antibes for our afternoon plans. Originally, we had planned on walking the painters' trail, basically, a walking tour of where a bunch of painters used to hang out. But then I learned about Le Sentier du Littoral, a 5km hike along the sea, which was stunning. We were on varied terrain, ranging from a paved stone walkway to rocky landscapes. The views were amazing, we saw several really, really big yachts (at what point do they become ships?) and enjoyed the crashing waves along the shore. Then it was back to Nice for the day, grabbing a bottle of champagne on the way back to hotel to enjoy before dinner. 

Today was another vigorous day. We took the train out to Cagnes-Sur-Mer where we walked over to the Renoir museum, which is in a home he owned and painted in. I didn't realize he had been so struck by arthritis in his hands, which were often bandaged. The house was beautiful - and they've recently renovated it to make it more in line with how it would have been when Renoir lived there. After that, we headed to the historic city, which might as well have been on a mountain, given how high the climb was to it. I didn't appreciate how hilly Cagnes-Sur-Mer was so we weren't adequately prepared for how thirsty we were at the top, where Château Grimaldi sits. This was an odd little duck, being a 16th century castle that houses both medieval artifacts and modern art. It was... interesting. But the views were spectacular - on one side was the sea and the other was the mountains. I even managed a view Ativan-free photos on my own! Then, we wandered back down through the historic city - much easier going down - and caught a bus to Vence to look at its historic city (not quite as hilly) and visit the Matisse chapel. 

The Matisse chapel is actually the Chapelle du Rosaire but everyone knows it at the Matisse chapel.  Matisse desiged every single detail over the span of about 3 years, when Matisse was well into his 70s. It was beautiful in its simplicity, using his paper cutout style in the stained glass and simple (yet amazing) drawings for the murals. We also saw a number of the vestments he designed for all the different times and celebrations of the liturgical year. Then it was back to Nice where I spent some time reading by the sea before an amazing dinner, at which I ordered two desserts. I'm on vacation, I'm allowed!

Tomorrow, we stay in Nice, checking out the old town here and spending some time on the beach. It's supposed to be another beautiful sunny day, so it should be a good one! 


A Long, Long Weekend in Nice

by Colleen Morrow in

In four weeks, we're off to the Côte d'Azur. And this trip is a big change of pace for us. Our last two trips were road trips, where we rented a car and covered a lot of ground - the Ring Road in Iceland and prior to that, parts of the Romantic Road & German Alpine Road in Bavaria. Before that, we were in Peru, which had us travelling around a lot and was definitely more adventure-y. Even thinking back to all of our other big trips, this one is different. This trip is going to more resemble one of our weekend city adventures but we'll be gone for 10 days instead of just 3 or 4.

Why such a different kind of trip? Generally, since I do most of our planning and I try to cram in as much as humanly possible, we're going non-stop while we're away. EDP usually has to specifically request some downtime, otherwise, I'll schedule every single minute of every single day. But with EDP's recent job change, we've had major lifestyle changes and are only seeing each other about once a month. Which calls for a slower paced trip, with more time to sit with good wine, good food, and good company.

Enter: The French Riviera. Or Côte d'Azur, as everyone but the Americans call it (our guidebook is American, even if we are not.) We're basing ourselves in Nice for just over a week and while forecasts probably aren't overly accurate this far out, we're expecting low-to-mid-20s temperatures and skies ranging from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny. From our base there, we're going to explore Nice and only do short trips out of the city, going no further than an hour away to check out:

  • The Matisse museum, the market, the antique book market, a food tour, and the beaches - all right in Nice
  • Vieux Nice with its Cathédrale Ste-Réparate, Cours Saleya, and Palais Lascaris
  • St-Paul-de-Vence & Vence, two hill towns, to see the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence (built and decorated by Matisse) and possibly the Fondation Maeght (I keep going back and forth on this one - I'm not really a modern art fan and reviews are mixed)
  • The Îles de Lérins & Cannes for Marché Forville, the fortress where the man in the iron mask was held captive, a monestary/winery, and the famous Hotel Carlton & La Croisette
  • Antibes for the Picasso museum, a walk along the Painters' Trail, and the Cours Masséna to see old Antibes.
  • Monaco where I hear there's a casino or something like that
  • Èze, a "perched village" nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean, to follow the Nietzsche path and see the Jardin Exotique 

I've got our rough itinerary together, now it's time to go back over it to iron out all the details and make sure everything fits together. Then it'll just be the wait for departure day.