We decided to sleep in for our last day in Nice and took the tram to Catedrale for a breakfast by the fountain in front of the Palais de Justice. We even saw a few judges walk by in their black robes!
Our destination that morning was Colline du Chateau. The map didn’t have a proper street name to patch us straight through so we guessed and walked through a market near the cliff where we found stairs! We climbed and stopped at the first panorama with a tiny tower. There was an accordian player perched on the wall, adding a fitting ambience to the view of the Mediterranean, Nice, and the airport down the shore along the horizon. We climbed more stairs and stopped at the waterfall (the one we saw lit up our first night on the beach in Nice). It was a 30 ft high fall, manmade when the city made the area a park in the 18th century.
Up again we went until we happened upon the ruins of the old cathedral. The apse and nave were partially visible as well as the majority of the foundation. Walkways leading up yet further were beautifully laid with stones on their sides depicting flowers and other geometric patterns. We followed the path to the top of the old castle, saw the sights, looked at souvenirs then headed back down to find the cemetery in the park- no luck. We ended up on the other side of the hill by the harbor.
We walked along the bike path by the boats, got out of the heat in Notre Dame du Pont (had a leg bone relic from a saint in nearby Vence), got lunch, then started our death march to find the Matisse museum on the other side of town. We were hopeful when we finally came across signs but then those disappeared and we were left pointed in the direction of the Chagall museum instead. We went up an obscure stairway at the advice of a shirtless man in an apartment window who overheard our conversation. On and on we walked til we saw more signs, walked down the roads the signs pointed to, and then eventually came to a dead end in a fancy apartment complex. Ugh. We gave up after walking forever to find the place, went down a random road heading down the hill, found the tram and took it to the hotel so we could nap and re-group before heading back out.
At 3:30pm, we headed out to do some shopping. Our first stop was a chocolat shop, Jeff de Bruges. There was one sales associate in the store, an older woman in her late 50’s who knew some English. She was so sweet and helped us pick the perfect chocolate and complimented my sis on her French (we all just wanted to hug her!). We dropped the chocolat off at the hotel so it wouldn’t melt and took a tram to the Centre Nice Etoile shopping area. We perused the shops for about an hour, (I bought a red silk scarf) and then grabbed a sandwich for dinner and ate on the fountain in the plaza. We went back to our hotel room, packed, took a glace/crepe break at 8 pm, showered, and packed some more. Before bed we shared pics from the trip with eachother and called it an early night since we had a 4:15am check out for our 7:00am flight.
(Cab ride for 3 to the airport= 37€.)
We left our hotel a little before 9:30am and grabbed pain au chocolates for the 20 minute train ride to Monaco. Upon arrival, you could instantly sense the opulence of the principality. The train station was clean and the exit hallway was covered entirely in shiny marble. Outside in the middle of the road was a large topiary of the royal seal and adjacent to that was a large grand prix model car and racer statue. To the left was a small and beautiful church a bit out of place since the roadway was right there.
We walked up the hill to the left toward Monte Carlo and took in the harbor full of yachts below. Rows of pastel buildings crept into the mountainside which was grayed due to an incoming rain shower. Small gardens lined the walk up the hill- each had a statue and marble flooring. At the top of the hill, you could see the Grand Casino, a smaller cream and ornate building overlooking the Mediterranean. The area surrounding it was full of top end stores like Hermès, Valentino, Cartier, etc. and all the cars were Jags, Rolls, and Mercedes.
The casino opened at 2pm but since we were there around 11am we decided instead to check out the gift shop and walk around. We then went back down the hill, through the town and back up a terraced hill to the palace. Behind a statue of Garibaldi, was the older part of the building made of stone in true medieval castle fashion. The residential area of the palace was slightly more modern in architecture and was painted peach.
I took a tour of the palace for 6€50 because I had my college ID with me (always bring a student ID to Europe for discounts!). We were handed audioguides which we pressed to our ears for a self-guided tour, like Alcatraz back in the states. a greeting from the Prince of Monaco welcomed us in the courtyard- the weird thing was that in the address he referred to the principaity as both Monáco and Mónaco… so we were confused as to its true pronunciation. Inside the palace we saw guest bed chambers, the weapon room, the throne, and a beautiful 6’ painting of the royal family in 1981. Grace Kelly looked stunning even in her old age!
After the tour, we went souvenir shopping, grabbed sandwiches, and explored the surrounding businesses near the palace. We were quite satisfied exploring for half a day so we used our train day pass and went to Ventimiglia, Italy! The town unfortunately was somewhat run down and our plans for having an Italian dinner went down the drain.
We walked through a park and sat out at the beach for a few minutes to take in the view. The sky was overcast, clouds covered the mountains, the beach was rocky, and the water was choppy but it had the most magnificent ice blue color. Bummed that I didn’t get to show the girls a good time in Italy, let alone get to say ‘ciao,’ we pulled out the map and chose another destination along the coast to explore for the rest of the day.
We chose a French fishing village, Villefrache-sur-Mer, which reminded me a lot of Cinque Terre, a bunch of fishing villages in Italy. The beach was accessible through a tunnel under the tracks. We followed the harbor to a tiny market where we stopped and enjoyed some gelato. The rest of the afternoon was spent leisurely shopping in the Old Town near the citadel. We left before sunset after wading in the water a bit, traveled one stop on the train, grabbed a sandwich for dinner, walked to the Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas de Nice (Russian Orthodox church in Nice- it closed an hour before we got there so we couldn’t go inside), then hung low in the hotel the rest of the night.
We went to the Nice-Riquier station 5 minutes away from our hotel around 8:30 am and bought a train day pass called “Pass Isabelle” (12€ ticket available in the summer months that allows unlimited trips along the Côte d’Azur). Our guidebook was very helpful laying out which towns had sand vs. rocks for beaches- we decided to go to Cannes because it had sandy beaches.
Cannes looked like Nice but it had a more commercial/luxury vibe with more hotels on the beach front. The water was icy pop blue toward the sand and it got darker as it reached the yachts in the harbor. The public beach was small, but not overly crowded and we plopped behind 3 older Italian men in Speedos who, we quickly found out, had no shame staring at us the entire time we sunned.
I loved swimming in the water. The area was marked off with buoys and the swimming area practically abutted where the ships were chillin’. I swam way out past the dock to see the amazing view of the hills and the town. Also, along the harbor was a group of US flags that were being flown at half-mast for the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. It warmed my heart.
We left the beach around 2 pm, putting in a good 4+ hours seaside, and walked along the main drag by a place that looked like a convention center. (We think that’s where the have the International Film Festival each year.) On the sidewalk we saw squares with copper colored hands so we followed it along the building and saw that it was just like Hollywood’s Walk of Fame! Among the notable hands, we saw Julie Andrews (we’re hand twins!), Mel Gibson, Cameron Diaz, Depardieu, Sylvester Stallone, Meryl Streep etc. It was so fun! Across the street there was an outdoor market and I bought a beautiful pair of earrings for 12€ that I fell in love with at first sight!
After getting some glace we boarded the train for Nice, showered, got dolled up, and went out for dinner. We walked about 15 minutes to the plaza which had a great looking seafood restaurant but it was super expensive, so we walked to the next corner restaurant, looked at the menu, and sat down. Sike! It was only happy hour and we didn’t find out until after we ordered our drinks. I ordered a Côte d’Azur red wine which came chilled. It was gross.
We left after drinks and a small bowl of stale chips and walked down a side street in the Old Town where we came across La Restaurant Mama :) It had everything on the menu and it was priced reasonably for dinner PLUS it came with a complimentary glass of Rosé wine. I ordered the beef entrecôte with gorgonzola sauce (came with frites, salad, and quiche), my travel companions ordered gnocchi. We sat outside, people watched, and planned the next day’s adventures for the rest of the evening.
Our train to Nice was delayed by a half an hour so we ended up leaving Lyon around 10:45 am. We sat in a more private section of the car next to some older French people who brough along lunch for the ride. The man next to me was old. He read the paper and made noises/remarked about the article he was reading to himself. The man across the aisle had the most absurdly hilarious laugh I had ever heard! He twittered in a high pitch only to repeat the sound on an ascending scale for a solid 15 seconds at a time. (The closest equivalent I can find is this clip at 1:24.) We all tried so hard to stifle our laughter.
When we got to Nice four and a half hours later, we took a tram to the hotel, settled in, then went for a walk. We found lots of shopping (I bought some French rose perfume and Beaujolais wine for the parents’ 26th wedding anniversary). We then had kabobs at a place called “Le Petite Kabob Nicois” nearby Place Centrale. The guy had a fun personality and told us what each item was in English. He was from Turkey but lived in Nice for 12 years.
After kabobs we walked across the street to a glace carte (menthe blanche for €1.80). We did more shopping as we made our way through the Old Town which reminded me a lot of Cinque Terre, Italy. The buildings are pastel colors, the roads windy and I later read in my guidebook that Nice, or Nizza, belonged to Italy until 1860! Win for architectural recognition :)
We came up to a board walk-esque road past the market and opera house and went on to the rocky beach below. The beach in Nice is extremely rocky with smooth, large, stones. If you want a sandy beach to lay out on, head South. We sat and watched the sunset with a full moon reflecting on the Mediterranean. A most ideal introduction to the Côte d’Azur.
We started out around 9 am, grabbing breakfast croissants from Le Snack de Pinocchio (a hole in the wall resaturant with a Pinocchio theme), then took the Metro across the river to the Old Town. From there we took the funicular through a stone tunnel built in 1903 to the top of the hill for our next destination. The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was a beautiful church with an amazing view of Lyon below. The morning light cast a light haze over the city, the sunbeams sparkled on the river below. The large, white church stood stately in stark contrast to the cerulean blue sky. It wasn’t a very old church. Even inside the crypt, we saw art as modern as the 1970’s on the wall which differed from anything else we had seen in France.
We took the funicular back down and talked to two tour guides with a group of Americans in our car. We chatted on the way down, said we were on holiday etc. One of my travel companion’s feet were cut up and blistered from all the walking we had done so I asked one of them if a pharmacy was nearby. To our luck, the guide told us that there was one right outside of the station where she could buy band-aids and tape. Sure enough, on the corner was a pharmacie painted in Tiffany blue with the neon green cross symbol up top.
After that brief pit stop, we re-entered the station and took the funicular to the other side of the hill toward the Roman amphitheaters. They were the oldest in France dating back to 15 BC! To the left was a small one and on the right was a considerably larger one. Both had great acoustics and to this day are still used as performing venues. We re-enacted our own Greco-Roman tragedies and climbed to the highest point of the stone structure to take in another breathtaking view of Lyon under a clear blue sky.
After exploring the ruins we took the funicular back down the hill and walked to the Old Town, popping into the nearby Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon (where Henry IV and Marie de’ Medici were married). Our next stop was the Musée Miniature et Cinéma. It was a multi-level museum dedicated to the miniature props used in film. We saw stuff from Independence Day, Harry Potter, Star Wars etc. At the last exhibit was the actual workshop of the guy who makes the miniatures (he was in there!). It was the most random musée I have ever been to!
We were starving at that point and the aroma from the cafes and pastry shops were almost too much to bear! We ate at a nearby trattoria where I ordered a 4 formaggi pizza made with French cheese, a delicious twist! After lunch we crossed the Rhône River to get back to the newer part of the city and walked along Rue de Constantine to go to the Musée des Beaux-Arts. (Free admission if you’re under the age of 26. SCORE!) There were Egyptian things, Rodin statues, Greco-Roman pottery- including a plate from Gubbio, a larger than life statue hall- and best art I’ve ever seen, “Les Mangeurs de Ricotta” by Vincenzo Campi. The Matisse/Picasso exhibit we came to see was closed.
We grabbed some sodas at a Lebanese restaurant (actually there were quite a bit of international/kabob restaurants in Lyon) near the opera house a block behind the musée, then we strolled along the main drag and shopped. We sat down and rested on the large statue that said ‘ONLY LYON’ in the Place Bellecour. Despite the space of the enormous square we ended up sitting next to a guy who had a massive, live snake on his lap. Thoroughly creeped out, we took the Metro to the hotel, napped, grabbed ciabattas from illy by the train station, came back to the hotel, packed for Nice, and watched BBC World News.
We checked out of our Paris hotel and got to the train station at 9:15 am where we ate croissants while waiting for our train’s platform to appear on the screen. Being at a train station with other people catching connections to their destinations is one of my favorite parts of traveling in Europe. The hustle and bustle is organized and the transient atmosphere alludes to an underlying current of excitement.
We boarded the train (my 2 travel companions in 1 car and me in the other since I preferred the solitude to write in my journal). The passing scenery of rolling hills and French country architecture was beautiful, just like the provincial town straight out of Beauty and the Beast. When we got to Lyon, we bought our tix for Nice, another 65€. We got our lunch in the train station and sat out in the little plaza with a hundred or so other people coming and going. Our hotel was literally right around the corner (perfect location!) so we unpacked and figured out a game plan for our first day in Lyon.
We then took the Metro (entrance in the plaza in front of the train station) and tram to the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation (Nazi museum) which was in the former building of the Gestappo HQ. It was interesting to learn about the French involvement in WWII plus admission to the musée was free! It was also funny that there only seemed to be Americans there! We were behind a small group of old men and women who looked too young to have fought, but old enough to remember the war. We also saw Barbie’s house in the exhibit.
Afterwards, we Metro’d and walked to the Parc de la Tête d’Or which was a large and beautiful city park. Inside was a botanical garden, a lake, and a zoo which we walked around with the locals. There were clean bathrooms nearby and a guy in line asked if I was speaking English or German. I wasn’t taken by surprise because know English is a Germanic language, but it was still fun to have an outsider validate the similarity!
We walked along the lake (the paddle boat station was closed) and found a bench to sit on by the path along the shore. After seeing a bunch of people on bikes, we went up to the park gate to see if we could rent bikes, like Capital Bikeshare. We could’ve done it but 1) our credit cards didn’t have chips so they only worked sporatically in France (much to our frustration buying train tickets) 2) they would hold a 155€ charge (um yeah, not happening).
We then took the bus to the mall by our hotel, explored the shops, and ate sandwiches for dinner (Mormon elders on their mission were behind us in line- couldn’t seem to get away from other Americans that day!). After resting and using the computer at our hotel, we went out in the plaza for some glace- straciatella for the win!