We had a light breakfast at our hostel not far from Cinque Terre, and took their shuttle to La Spezia where we walked the distance with several other Americans to the train station, where we took a roughly 2 hour train ride through the rest of Northwest Italy along the coast into France, with our destination being the beautiful city of Nice in the French Riviera by the early afternoon.
Our hostel–Hostel Pastoral, was quite close to the train station and tucked into an unassuming building and much more subtle of an establishment. We buzzed the door to be let in by a young guy working the desk at the time. He was the definition of being a French bro, without being obnoxious. He was helpful, showing us to our rooms and then giving us some of the highlights of the city to go to for the rest of the evening.
We shamefully grabbed a bite at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (yes they have those), where I tried ordering food with one of the phrases that my lovely girlfriend Rachel (French minor) emailed me to so that I might communicate basic things. When I ordered in French, the girl behind the register spoke back in English ‘Do you want a drink with that?’. I just need to work on my accent.
We headed off down one of the gorgeous roads of Nice past a miniature looking Notre Dame to the center of the city which held plaza and park space, including an area where dozens of small fountains made rhythmic patterns to the endless delight of little kids. Towards the sea, The beautiful boardwalk called the ‘English Promenade’ lies above the several miles of pristine beach. We opted to go up “Castle Hill” to the left of us instead, which is an old fort that gives an impressive panoramic view of the city. There was a Communist block party at the top, with lots of Che Guevera pictures, feminist slogans, booths, and general fraternizing. I bought a crepe with chocolate syrup in it–my first of the French treat. We walked around the whole fort, up to the very top and around the length of the walls. I snapped endless photos of the city from up here. The beauty of the coastal city was at its finest and most impressive here, enhanced even further by the sunset. From here we headed back to our hostel by a different route to take in more of the city, walking past lots of cafe and market areas that were filled with people for a world cup game.
At the hostel we were rooming with two Australians, one of who was a rather extroverted girl who was very diva like. She wanted to go out on the town with us to find some late night food, and so we all did. We found a pretty classy restaurant with seating outside, with the intention of only grabbing a small bite. The diva Australian begins ordering 3 different desserts to be shared, which given the prices had us a bit worried, but she ended up covering the whole bill. She aspired to be an “adult entertainer” and went into detail about how she was reading a book by her role model who was in the industry, and talked extensively about her life in general. She was traveling in Europe alone for something like 6 months on her own. She was a nice person, and by far the most interesting person I can recall from the trip.
The next day we took the short train ride to Monaco, the small independent country in the Southeastern corner of France, famous for its casinos and flowing in financial wealth. It was a dreary day when we got there, with consistent drizzle. The port, with its yachts and smaller boats directly in front of us. We used a map to head up to the famous Monte Carlo Casino. It was a few minutes away from opening, so we wandered through an oriental looking park and pond area and looped around until it was. Jacob couldn’t get in because he was wearing a tank top, but I went in briefly to check it out. The lobby and the people in there looked large on wealth. No cameras were allowed, I had to check my bag in, and there was a 10 euro charge to get into the casino itself, probably to ward off tourists like me. I grabbed a pamphlet advertising an orchestra that was to perform there with pieces from the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and then headed out because I couldn’t say it would’ve been worth 10 euro to watch richer humans gamble.
We walked down some streets, the same streets that cars race down during grand prix events, and came to a beautiful Japanese style park with huge koi fish swarmed all over the little ponds. Beyond that a little ways we passed an interesting architectural structure that was presumably a sort of administrative building, and then came upon a pristine sandy beach with crystal clear blue waters in front of some luxury hotels and beach restaurants that lacked swimmers and sun bathers because of the weather.
We started walking off to the other end of the city, and car dealerships. The cars everywhere we looked were all incredibly luxury. I saw sticker prices in some windows of cars costing 200,000 euros. I’m not much of a car guy, but these were cool. Circling the port we first came to, we went past a bunch of shops and up a large hill and fort to the prince of Monaco’s small residence, if I recall correctly. On this long stretch of hill flanking the city was also an impressive church, an aquarium which I wish we had the time for, and a small park which we walked through. Looking over the other side of the hill was a beautiful port which I had seen pictures of as the typical symbol of the city, with luxury apartments rising modestly around it. This was the last stop in Monaco, one that was accompanied by better weather than when we first got there, and we headed back to the train station to hitch a ride back to Nice.
The next morning I had the modest breakfast they provided there, and we packed up our stuff and left it by the cool guy who checked us in a few days before, and went off into the city. It was a bright, sunny, and hot day. We walked through a mall which held nothing of interest to me, but then went to the square with the fountains and park space from before. A jazz festival was being setup in the city that was to take place a few days after we left. I got some great photos in this bright day, and some even better ones at the coast we headed to again. This time we walked right, into the English Promenade which had apparently just hosted an iron man event. We picked a spot on the beach and sat there for a good hour on the smooth rocks that dominate the shore, where I dipped in cool water frequently and took more pictures.
We wandered through some of the markets which held lots of random and interesting items, like it was a garage sale. We ended up getting some things at a touristy souvenir shop for our families though, and then went to a Subway chain to grab some lunch before catching our train. It was here that I watched a hornet fall out of the sky, and like a slow motion wreck, sting Jacob in the arm. More amusement for me. Finally, we grabbed our stuff at the hostel, and headed for the train station, off to our final destination of Paris, France.
The French Riviera, Nice, and Monaco, are beautiful places rich with so much more to explore than we did. But I’m glad I got a good taste of them.