I know, I know – how many parts to this trip are there?? I didn’t realize I would get this many posts out of this one vacation, but I feel like I have to break it up; otherwise, the blog post would be way too long and you’d probably lose interest or fall asleep before you finished reading it. So really, I’m trying to do you a favor.
Our journey from Florence to France was the most memorable because we finally got to see the ocean! It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen salt water and, for the fist time in ten years, I wasn’t able to go on our annual beach trip to the Texas coast with all of my Texas friends (miss y’all!). But the views of the Italian coast definitely helped me get over my homesickness – the water was gorgeous! We followed the highway along the coast of northern Italy and into France, admiring the Mediterranean waters (technically, the Ligurian Sea) as we traversed through the hills. We literally went through the hills, one tunnel after another after another. We had never seen so many tunnels! And between each tunnel was a bridge, so we were cutting straight through the middle of the mountains and soaring over the valleys. This went on for miles and every tunnel and every bridge is given a name that is designated on a sign, along with the length of that tunnel or bridge given in meters. I found that pretty interesting – someone had to come up with an awful lot of names!
When we arrived in Nice, it was refreshing. The roads were wide, traffic wasn’t bad and the ocean was right there. Our hotel, Hotel Gounod, was lovely and just a few blocks from the beach. The hotel staff were very nice and gave us an excellent suggestion for dinner, a place just down the street called Le bistrot de l’atelier. All four of us ordered socca, a local dish that originated from the Ligurian coast. It is a crepe made out of chickpea flour and can be topped with pretty much anything you can dream of. I had mine topped with chorizo and squid, Ross had the chicken and avocado. It may sound a little odd but believe me, it was delicious!
Ross and his dad were excited to finally get back on their bikes. One morning they rode out along the boardwalk and had planned to ride along the coast to the neighboring town of Monaco, located 22 km away. Remember the old saying “the best laid plans…”? Let’s just say this plan should have been laid out under the bed and forgotten about. The boardwalk along Nice is nice and flat – but that ends pretty quickly. They rode for about a mile, got to the first hill, huffed and puffed their way to the top, looked out over the ocean and at all the additional hills between them and Monaco and said, “This ain’t happening.” Needless to say, Joan and I saw them back on the boardwalk a lot sooner than we had expected.
Nice is an interesting mix of old and new. There are wide, glitzy boulevards that are very contemporary. Yet nestled among the new is the old town, displaying simple European charm with winding cobblestone streets, cute cafes, and stylish shops.
Joan and I ran into a colorful outdoor farmers market that is a perfect place to pick up fresh, healthy foods ripe for a picnic.
Of course, the best thing about Nice is that it’s located on the water. The beaches aren’t sandy, they are mostly covered in small pebbles. But this doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying the French sunshine and turquoise blue water. It feels almost sacrilegious to not have a boat here. There are boats everywhere and “boat” really isn’t the correct term. Yacht is the correct term. Big, luxurious yachts with hot tubs on the deck and a staff of ten. In other words, ridiculous. This is the French Riviera, after all, and the reputation is all true. I’ve never seen so much wealth in my life and all four of us kept saying, “What the hell do these people do for a living?!” It’s enough to make you seriously question your path in life up to this point, but it was fun to see. We took a boat tour along the coast and got to view all the multi-million dollar mansions with their own private beaches. Own a home here and you just might be neighbors with Elton John, Tina Turner, or Bill Gates.
Ross and his dad share a favourite past-time – playing poker. So a day trip to Monte Carlo was definitely on the books. We took a short drive along the coast and into Monaco, which is actually a country (a constitutional monarchy), and parked the car in Monte Carlo, a district within Monaco. We were all excited to see the famed Monte Carlo Casino, feel like we were high-rolling with the likes of James Bond. But, though beautiful, it was somewhat of a disappointment. The casino was very small and pretty empty, so the usual gambler’s energy wasn’t in the air. And there wasn’t any poker! Plus, the drink prices were outrageous – Barry bought Joan and I a mojito (at least we can say we had a drink in Monte Carlo) and the bill was 36 euros! The place is fun to see but if you really want to gamble, I’d suggest finding another casino.
Nice was both exactly what I had expected and a pleasant surprise. I expected the glitz and glamour, the luxurious yachts and huge mansions. There were no shortage of those. But the big surprise was the attitude of the locals. And by attitude, I mean that there was none. None of the haughty French airs that people hear about, the refusal to speak English even when they know it fluently. Everyone was relaxed, laid back, and greeted us with a friendly smile – as if they were actually happy that we were there. People on the street would even stop to help us when we looked lost. All of this, plus the fantastic ocean views, make Nice a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. This place and its people are so very nice, so I’d say the town is aptly named.
Next stop: back to Italy for a lakeside retreat on Lake Como!