December 1, 2016, Thursday:
Everything's Nice about Nice and Monte Carlo, Cote d’Azur
We left Genevieve’s place rather early in the morning for our train to the Cote d’Azur after quick showers. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy the breakfast pastries that Geneveive and Frederic had laid out of us—brioche de pralines (which is a specialty of Lyon), pain de raisins and pain de chocolate. But we carried them with us to enjoy at our leisure once we were on the train.
To our enormous surprise, we needed reservations for the train to Nice and since we did not have them, we could not board the one that was leaving shortly. Instead, we got reservations for the following one (that left at 11.00 am). We ate our breakfast pastries with hot chocolate that we picked up from Paul’s Patisserie at the station and had them in the waiting room.
Train Ride to Nice:
We did board our train at 11.00 am and gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of yet another lovely train ride through the heart of France. This ride took us through Provence and the folk- song town of Avignon (Sur le Pont d’Avignon, on y danse, etc.) where we passed by one of its famed aqueducts (it was not the Pont du Gard although I have seen that before on another visit to Provence about 30 years ago!).
However, the real glory of the ride began once we passed Marseilles and reached the azure-blue Mediterranean coast where the scenery changed dramatically to reflect the rocky red coastline and the snazzy towns that have mushroomed along it. Indeed we took many pictures of the dazzling waterfront with its low-growing trees, its snaking highway (made famous in many Hitchcock films), its pretty white towns and then the well-known cities that have made the area famous: Juan Les Pins, Antibes, Cannes. Boats of varied size and shape were moored in the waters, hotels perched at the edge sported interesting shapes and forms and when we arrived in Cannes, its unmistakable palm trees defined it very well. This drive is one of the most beautiful in the world and I was glad that we were able to do it by train so that Llew too (who usually does the driving) could enjoy it fully.
Touring Nice on Foot:
Eventually we arrived at our destination—the city of Nice. We had made a reservation in the Hotel du Midi which happened to be just a five minute walk from the station. We popped into the Tourist Information Center, got ourselves maps and asked for suggestions on how we could spend the few hours left to us—as it was already 4.00 pm and we had only a few hours before daylight disappeared. The lovely lady gave us very precise instructions and we set out for our hotel to drop our bags off and start our exploration of the city on foot.
Hotel du Midi turned out to be just lovely. Its location was splendid, it was cozy and clean and met all our needs. Since it was just about morning in Los Angeles, we thought of Facetiming with Chriselle as it was her birthday and we were keen to made facial contact with her before setting out on our sightseeing jaunt. We were very lucky that we were able to get her for a few minutes and were able to convey our wishes before a bad connection ended our call.
Then, stashing our stuff away, we grabbed our maps and set out on foot to find Avenue Jean Medecin which is the main artery that cuts through the city and arrives at the waterfront. When we passed by the Church of Notre-Dame, we stepped on for a visit to pray for Chriselle on her birthday.
Avenue Jean Medecin is a busy thoroughfare, lined on both sides by stores of all kinds as well as fast-food places. We walked briskly towards the water but stopped at Cours Saleya where a large sculpture saying ‘I Love Nice’ had been set up in front of a series of water fountains. Indeed Nice is a very pretty city and Cours Saleya with its pink-fronted low arcaded buildings and its Christmas Tree made a good entry point for our stroll along the famous waterfront.
A Stroll Along the Waterfront in Nice:
Nice has a very wide promenade that was filled with joggers, dog-walkers and flaneurs when we arrived there. The Promenade des Etats-Unis leads to the Promenade des Anglais which is the most hip part of the scene. The beach is sandy and wide and, in summer, is covered with near-naked bodies, sun-bathing. On this chilly evening, it was quite deserted, but we did walk towards the waves and attempted to dip our toes into the water. Once at the Promenade des Anglais, we admired the hotels on the other side as twilight had fallen and the lights had come on across the street. Sunset painted the sky in appealing autumnal shades of yellow, salmon pink and cream. The Hotel Negressco is particularly striking and we entered its lobby for a little look around.
Then deciding not to waste precious time, we retraced our steps, this time along the road passing by all the grand hotels and arriving at Cours Saleya in search of Fragonard, the famed French perfumier who has its base in nearby Grasse—where the perfumes are actually made and where the flowers are grown. Thankfully, Fragonard’s showroom in Nice was well-stocked and I ended up buying the soap and perfume I wanted to replenish my stocks. We then walked back to our hotel to leave our packages there and decided to take a train to Monte Carlo in Monaco that was just a 20 minute drive away with the idea of having dinner there.
Dinner at Bouchon in Monte Carlo:
We found a train from Nice to Monte Carlo leaving within ten minutes and off we went to one of the world’s ritziest cities in one of the world’s smallest countries—Monaco. Although it was already dark when we arrived there, we asked for directions on foot to Bouchon, a Lyonnaise-style eatery that offers traditional French food. We were told to head towards the waterfront—so off we went. I have to say that speaking fluent French is a huge advantage as it was so easy to get anywhere simply by asking for and receiving directions.
En route, we passed by the world-reputed Grand Casino set in a fairy-tale like building. I would have liked to step into it, but Llew was hungry and wished to eat dinner. On we went past some of the most beautiful buildings and swankiest shops. Indeed, in the soft reflection of fluorescent lights, Monte Carlo glowed softly. It was quite magical indeed.
When we arrived at Bouchon, we found it to be the perfect French place. We started off with red wine then moved on to steak-frites and an assorted cheese and fruit place for dessert. We did not hurry over dinner as we felt sure we had plenty of trains to get us back to Nice. But at the end of our meal, when I took a look at the time table, I found that the last train to Nice had left long ago! We were stumped as to how we should proceed—would a cab be in order? Would we end up spending a night in pricey Monte Carlo?
Without wasting any more time, we paid our bill and hurried along to the station by tracing our steps back and found that a train would actually be leaving in exactly 6 minutes! There was no time to lose. We hotfooted it to the platform and managed to make the train in the nick of time—the female conductor actually waited for us to board it before giving the signal for departure! I was a panting mess when I plopped down in the train, but at the end of the day, we made it back to Nice at about 11. 30 pm, walked to our hotel and made straight for bed after what had been a most exciting day.