Nice, Antibes and Monaco

It’s been a couple decades since I’ve been in France, and it’s my first time in la Cote d’Azure. The clarity and color of the Mediterranean is astonishingly beautiful and I can’t wait to spend more time along its coastline.

I came here to celebrate my big 5–0, and absorb some warmth and sunshine before venturing north to Geneva for work. I also could use some chill-out time after that stressful last push to get everything sold and wrapped up in the US before my 1-way ticket here.

A couple highlights:

The last day of Carnaval in Nice.

Man, these guys know how to do an event right. It’s been running since the Middle Ages (1294 to be precise) so they’ve had a lot of practice. Apparently it’s one of the best known Carnivals in the world next to Rio. For a bit more history, you can read more here.

Unlike similar events in the US, no one prevents the crowd from getting up-front and personal. I was able to sit directly on the sidelines of the parade — and go up in the ferris wheel — and get shots like these with my wide-angle lens.

It’s a family event, with loads of delighted children throwing confetti (mostly into my hair, but all good fun).

Staying on the Promenade

While my AirBnb wasn’t the perfect apartment or location (about 2 miles walk from old town), it was worth it to wake up to this view every morning. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Nice, don’t be afraid to venture slightly out of old town along the Promenade.

Antibes

Whereas Nice is a large city — still quaint in the old town, but nonetheless a city — Antibes is a small, ancient walled town with roots going back to the 4th century BC. The walls surrounding the town were built in the 10th century to help protect against invaders from the sea. It’s nearly impossible to get lost but delightful to try.

I wish I’d gotten more photos of the town, the waterfront, the charming market and my deliciously fresh salad with smoked salmon and a glass of rose at a sidewalk cafe. But all in all, a highly recommended little town along the Cote d’Azure, and easily reachable by train or bus from Nice.

The charming streets of Antibes, France

A big birthday dinner splurge

I’ve never been known for my practicality, but as I was wandering around Monaco on my birthday I spontaneously decided… “hey. I only turn 50 once. Go big for dinner or go home.” It can be balanced out by spending a few weeks in Morocco living on the cheap. That’s the beauty of owning nothing; my expenses are entirely dependent on where I decide to stay, and it’s easy to take a counterbalance approach — balancing out extreme highs with extreme lows — instead of always taking the middle road.

So I wandered into the ultra-high end Hotel de Paris next door to the famed Monaco casino (where this car was parked) to see if I could get a seat at 3-Michelin star Le Louis XV. Apparently on Monday evenings it is possible to get a table. Despite the fact that I was dressed like a tourist, with my backpack and tennis shoes, they greeted me with grace and asked me to return at 8 pm.

I ventured to the ladies room to get cleaned up, changed my shoes (yes, I brought better shoes in my backpack), and enjoyed a pre-dinner glass of champagne in the lovely and aptly named Bar Americain. Whereupon I listened to live music and practiced my Franglais with the delightful bartender, who helped me fill in the gaps in my French vocabulary as I also did for him in English… which merited me a second glass of Veuve Clicquot on the house.

And then, from 8 until well after midnight, I enjoyed the most exquisite dinner of my life. The 4-course tasting menu was divine, service was impeccable, and the wine… oh, the wine. The white was already a favorite: Puligny Montrachet from Burgundy. The red, Villars-sur-Var Clos Saint-Joseph 2016, took me by surprise; I’m not normally a red lover.

Best of all were the people who worked there. Michael Bianco, the manager for the evening (from Sicily and speaks fluent French and English), ensured I was well cared for along with the rest of the staff. As the wine flowed, my Franglais started sounding a bit more like actual French.

The sense of camraderie grew as the other guests gradually closed out their checks and left for the night. At a certain point, I was the only guest remaining in the restaurant; my server pulled up a chair. Michael made fun. We all laughed. And I got a happy birthday song and a fabulous dessert.

I’d noticed a lovely young woman from China also dining alone, so Michael invited her over to join my table. Coincidentally, she was also staying in Nice. Not only was it enjoyable to chat over dessert and coffee, but she informed me that we’d already missed the last train back to Nice so I was able to split the cost of a taxi back (which would have set me back another 85 euros) at 1 am. All in all, a perfect way to usher in my next decade.

Last point: getting around France

Very few people spoke English, even (shockingly) at the information desk at the Nice train station. While many of the locals were delighted that I was making an effort to speak French, others were flat-out rude. Several people mentioned that many of the French are becoming increasingly more insular, weary of the rather open-door policies that the country has towards immigration. I feel fortunate that I’d taken several years of French in middle school and high school (that is all slowly coming back to me); I think it would be very difficult to get around here without some level of knowing the language.

I was also surprised that there was no (functioning) wi-fi on the trains headed up to Geneva. The first train advertised wi-fi but it wasn’t working. The main train from Marseilles to Geneva didn’t offer it at all. Only the double-decker trains have wi-fi, so it’s worth investigating what type of train before booking your ticket. I’d been planning on getting a Eurail pass, but since I need to work and be accessible while traveling, I will likely just fly.

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