After the intense historical, art and architecture overload of Italy, I decided to relax along the Mediterranean coast of France slowly making my way over to Barcelona where Marg joined me on Saturday.
The journey started slowly from Florence via Pisa, Genoa and then to Nice (8 hours by local train). As some of you might have remembered, my initial plan was to spend a few days in the Cinque Terra, south of Genoa. However, when looking into this possibility I discovered that many hotels and restaurants were shut for the season, so I decided to spend the extra days in Tuscany. The train did pass by the Cinque Terra, and their setting is indeed stunning, along the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, and therefore a definite stopping off point from March to November.
I arrived in Nice during their Carnival. All over Europe, many cities celebrated Carnival from the end of January until the middle of February. I had missed the ones in Basel and Venice, but hit Nice for the Mardi Gras parade. This involved a lot of elaborate floats with the theme this year celebrating the arrival of the Euro. The parade went down Rue Jean Medicin from the train station to the Promenade des Anglais, which runs a long the ´beach´. There was a huge crowd to watch the parade, with a ll the shops shut for the afternoon, but then like good Canadians (I mean French) they disbanded and went home or somewhere (where was the street party after???)
The most pleasant surprise for me in Nice was the huge variety of non European food that was available. I took advantage of this nearly every day. I did eat some of the local Provencal food, which was very good, as well as the pastries, which were exceptionally mouth watering (and filled with calories).
The interesting part of the journey from Italy through France to Spain was noting the gradual change in the construction of the housing, from classical Mediterranean to a more Pueblo style (I am using literary licence to invoke the stereotypical meaning of these styles). It was difficult to determine where the borders were by the style of housing since the change was so gradual. That said, the buildings were crying for a few coats of paint, which would have made this a picture postcard coastline.
The second day in Nice I journeyed to Monaco to see what it is all about. Where is Robin Leach when you need him?? Monaco had no problem with paint and the buildings looked superb. This was the Mediterranean town I had been looking for (it is not all glitzy buildings and yachts). Built on the side of the cliffs, Monaco has many more miles of roads than I would have thought. I walked along part of the Formula One route which snaked its way around many glamourous shops as it descended towards the port. The port is home to many luxury yachts, with about three very large ones in at the time I visited. The most amazing thing was how relaxed the place was and how little overt security there was. I was able to walk right up to the gang plank of the yachts that were moored there and no one seemed to care! Monaco has the Casinos of course, but has much more class than Las Vegas. There is also the Royal Palace and Gardens nearby which offered stunning views of the city and surrounding hills. And one more bonus was the free public toilets! I would certainly recommend Monaco as day trip for the non gambling sightseer, as it allows you to see what a ´finished´Mediterranean town looks like!
My only comment on the Riviera is that if you are used to the Caribbean as the definition of a beach, the Riviera doesn´t come close. The Promenade des Anglais looked a lot like Miami Beach (or is it the other way around?) with the palm tree lined boulevards and pastel painted buildings (yes these were painted!). But the beach is composed of ´river rocks´, with no white sand to be seen anywhere. Oh well can´t have everything.
To break up the journey to Barcelona from Nice, I spent one night in Avignon. This has an old town with nearly three miles of Ramparts that are in tact surrounding the city. The town was home to the Pope for nearly 70 years in the 14th century and has the Palais de Papes or mini Vatican where the Pope lived during this time. The most famous landmark in Avignon is the Pont d´Avignon which is the subject of a famous French nursery Rhyme. This was the first bridge built over the Rhone river in that section of France. Part of it got destroyed and now there are three arches left with the bridge now crossing only two thirds of the river. I wish that I had more time in Avignon and Provence in general as there were definitely more things to see and food to be eaten.