Wednesday, March 25, 2009
NICE & MONACO....Did we see Albert?
Monday, March 23, 2009 Traveling to Nice
By 8:30 am we decided to check out of the hotel and start the final leg of this journey by driving to the car rental place in Avignon at the TVG Station. Headed in the right direction with minimal maps we stopped along the way to get gasoline. We found that we were getting closer and closer to the center of Avignon without having seen any road signs for either the TVG Gare nor any streets that we could recognized. Finally stopped to ask some questions when we were practically at the city walls. A young fellow gave us some help and apologized profusely for not being able to speak English! I replied that we were in France and I should be speaking his language; not the reverse. But, he headed us in the right direction; it helped that he showed us where we were on the map I had; and soon we were speeding along the walls of the city heading towards the southwestern side of Avignon. We knew if we crossed the river we’d gone too far; we saw our first sign on top of the street where we should have (note: should have) turned and suddenly we were crossing the Rhone River on a divided highway with no possibility of turning around. I took the first off ramp and we found ourselves on a tiny little country road and it felt like we were in a village again. Our time was rapidly vanishing with all of these detours but after a couple of miles of twisting and turning blind corners, vola; a main street appeared and we were able to go back over another bridge about a mile north of the first bridge and soon there were signs directing us to the TVG Gare!
We arrived at the TVG Gare about 9:45 am with only a few more bumps but we arrived prior to 10 am, our designated return time, and that was what was important. Ironically, when we looked at our mileage, we had traveling exactly 700 km from the time we picked up the car nine days ago. So…it must have been preordained that we made those tiny deviations in our route this morning.
Our train to Nice left right on time at 12:17 pm. Pleasant ride in a full car, we worked on our computers most of the time during the three hour ride.
We had a rather uneventful trip until the end; Mary decided that we needed to get prepared to get off the train before it arrived. So in Cannes I went forward to the baggage area to get our suitcases unlocked and Mary moved forward to the end of the car nearest the baggage room. I had no sooner started doing the lock when two unsavory looking young men jumped aboard and moved into the baggage room with me. They appeared to be up to no good and were probably looking for baggage to steal. They stood there near the door and I stayed with my bags at the back. The conductor came in and spoke to them. They both got off the train and within a minute the one was back. It was a Mexican Standoff. I kept waiting for the train to move as I was sure he’d just jump off when it started to move; tick tock, tick tock, the train doesn’t leave! Suddenly four policemen come on the train and demand that he leave; he does a dead man’s drop backwards landing on my foot as I tried to move out of the way! The police didn’t fall for his sudden seizure and picked him up and carried him off the train. Then they came back to check on me and make sure I had my baggage and that I was ok. Finally the train began to move and everyone relaxed as we headed for Antibes and then Nice in rapid succession. Arrived only a few minutes late and easily walked the one hundred meters to our Hostel Baccarat.
We were looking forward to the young people but apparently there are not many staying here; we’d registered for a twelve bed mixed dorm; they’ve put us up in a four bed, with an in suite bathroom and said we probably would have it to ourselves for all three nights. Best of all … the Internet wifi works in our room; all for twenty Euros each per night. It’s not an area we’d want to be walking about in at night but since we’re always in early that’s not an issue. We do look out the window at one of the many unusual shops in the area…note the photo in the slideshow. The owner has an unusual motor scooter with dual front wheels that is parked there all day every day.
We settled in and then went out to walk to the beach; an easy half hour stroll each way. We stopped long enough to touch the Mediterranean Sea; water was cold and although there were many people at the beach everyone was fully clothed. A nice way to spend our first afternoon in Nice.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 Monaco … we saw Prince Albert, we think!
Made our breakfast in the kitchen downstairs from items purchased yesterday at the grocery store and packed our lunch at the same time to take with us to Monaco.
Walked to the train station and caught the 9:36 am train to Monaco, a twenty minute ride along the Mediterranean Sea better known as the French Rivera. The villas cling to the side of the cliffs and the massive yachts bobbled in the blue waters below as we whipped in and out of tunnels along the steep coastline.
Arrived in the station and walked out to a picturesque chapel at the base of the mountainside; we never were able to figure out the name of it. From there we could see the Port filled with everything from small sailboats to some of the biggest yachts that I’ve ever seen. The Grimaldi Palace looms above the port but our first goal today was to walk up to visit the Monte Carlo Casino and the Opera House. They sit together at the top of a hill and were designed by Garnier who also did the Paris Opera House.
But, as we stopped to take a photo of the sign showing the way to the Casino across the street; we suddenly realized that a motorcade was coming towards us; about six police motorcycles with lights flashing surrounding three black Mercedes, one with a flag, whipped by us so fast we didn’t realize that our cameras were still set on telephoto and we missed the best shot of the day. But we know that Prince Albert was in the car with the flag! We later saw him drive out of the Palace just before the changing of the guard in the same car but with only one other vehicle and the police motorcycles.
We found a bicycle team in front of the Casino preparing for a day’s ride together. They were all wearing matching jerseys, white with red piping and the name of the Casino across their backs. The ages ranged from young to over sixty so it was definitely not an endurance race, but fun to watch them start on their trek. We attempted to walk into the Casino and were politely but firmly told that we were not allowed to enter. Must be the levis and backpacks. We could have gone into the other one a block away that has slot machines if we had wanted to check our backpacks but the lure of dropping a Euro into a machine was not great enough for the trouble.
We then walked past all of the hotels and stores that literally smelled of $$$$$ before heading down the hill back towards the train station and the Prince’s Palace that stands on the opposite end of town. We arrived at the Palace just in time to join the crowd that had gathered for the daily changing of the guard at 11:55 am. Drum rolls and marching pomp and circumstance with less than a dozen soldiers in colorful uniforms. We left early and walked through the old streets to the Cathedral where the Royals are buried including Princess Grace and Prince Rainer.
Sat on a bench with another couple in front of the church to eat our lunch; we saw many tourists doing exactly the same thing all over the old town. It seems as though packing a lunch is becoming popular with all age groups.
We walked back to the train station and spent some time chatting with a father, daughter and son (all adults) from Pittsburgh while we waited for our train. They are in the midst of a whirlwind one week trip and had come down from Paris yesterday and were returning today. The son is well traveled and is showing his father and sister a bit of the magic that he’s been enjoying on past trips. A big Formula One fan, they’d walked the route today in Monaco and he’d purchased a hat signed by Lewis Hamilton who is in first place in the Formula One series of races.
Back in Nice before 3 pm we were surprised with a light sprinkle of rain this afternoon. We decided to attend the 6 pm Mass at the Nice Notre Dame Cathedral that is only a couple of blocks from our Hostel. Then purchased our food and brought it home with us to eat in the kitchen where we found a young couple from Wales eating their dinner. We enjoyed sharing travel stories with our meal.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Museum Day
Slept in and figured out my problem of being sluggish and a light headache for the past two days at breakfast today. Those little instant coffee tubes of coffee were for “tiny coffee cups” and when I put one into my large mug it was as bad as drinking decalf. This morning I put two in one cup and soon the nagging headache of two days was gone and I was invigorated and ready to face the day!
The weather outside was cool but very pleasant in our windcheaters (that’s British for windbreakers) for our walk to the Marc Chagall Museum only about a mile away from the Hostel. We arrived just as it was opening along with three large buses: two had teenagers and the other was a tour group. The museum is very small so it was a crowded view of some remarkable paintings. For modern art we both really enjoyed the paintings, stained glass and a beautiful mosaic over the pond in the center of the museum. The museum is so small that one can easily see all the art in depth within an hour.
Got out the trusty city map and found our way about an equal distance on the other side of our Hostel to the Russian Church. Built in the late nineteenth century by Nicolas II, it is the only Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia that is designated as a Cathedral per the guide book. There are many steeples with onion tops and nearly every inch is covered with mosaic tiles so that it glimmered in the sunlight. The interior was richly done in gold and more mosaic tiles. We spent about half an hour inside with the English Guide Sheet reading about the various icons and their history.
Walked back to our Hostel stopping at a small grocery store along the route where a wonderful French woman looked at us with a puzzled expression and said “twins” but in French; and we removed our hats and said “Oui” and I held up seven fingers and make a zero…she looked surprised and then she wrote the number on a pad and we shook our heads yes, and then she wrote sixty two for her age. Language is a beautiful art and its amazing how many ways it can be expressed.
Tomorrow we have a ten hour train trip to Rome; changing trains in Genova. We have four nights scheduled at a B&B apartment near the train station. Not sure just what it will be but we’re excited about being in Rome for the weekend.