Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Europe Leg: French Rivieria (Ooh La La) and into Spain

And the great European migration continues .... we moved from Italy to the South of France, arriving in Nice after midnight. 

Day 2:  We woke up in Nice and spent the morning exploring the downtown area.  It was a little rainy and cold, but not unpleasant.  Nice has just finished this ambitious project to put a “green beltway ” through its town… basically a wide swath of land with gardens and fountains and walking / biking paths. It has these awesome fountains which – when not actively spouting water – mist a little and cause an eerie smoke-like atmosphere.

We then took a bus up to the village of Eze (in the hills above Nice and Monaco) for lunch at the 2-Michelin starred restaurant: Le Chevre D’Or.  When I was a teenager, my mom took me and my sister to this exact restaurant for lunch.  Not accustomed to super fancy meals, the whole experience made a lasting impression on me.  On this trip, I got to duplicate that memory with my boys.  And the Chevre D’Or is, exactly as I remembered it,  super fancy with incredible food and amazing views all down the sea coast. 

We spent almost 3 hours at lunch - with course after course - of food art.  A serving of asparagus with fancy truffle shavings:

Another example of the level of food architecture experienced:  this was my dessert, a lemon tart.  But the tart and meringue and everything is served under glass and looks exactly like an actual lemon.  Then you cut it open and inside is the tart.

After lunch, we waddled away and through the old town of Eze. There are lots of galleries and shops and the town is so pretty it drags you in and holds you hostage.

Early evening found us in the principality of Monaco. Monte Carlo is the playground of the very rich and probably famous.  Within 5 minutes of getting off the bus, we saw a Maserati (driven by a 20 year old), a Lamborghini (65+ man with 25 year old blondie) and a MacLaren. #playground-for-the-rich-kids-of-instragram.

We first toured the Monte Carlo aquarium (a very nice one but no match for Melbourne's) 

And then ... the Monte Carlo casino:  James Bond - stand back - we are now in town. Although granted, James Bond had the whole black tie, fancy car entrance and we had wrinkled and somewhat smelly travel clothes (with 2-3 days of wear), dusty tennis shoes and we arrived by foot from the train station.

But we came with great attitude and Ben gambled with as much grace - but far less cash - than the other millionaire guests.  His entire experience lasted 15 minutes, 10 hands of Black Jack.  Most importantly, he went in with 50 Euros and came out with 50 Euros.

And then, having had a Michelin starred lunch and a fancy gambling evening,we turned into Cinderella and slunk back to our ultra-humble digs in Nice.  For tonight, there are bonus points if you stay in a super cheap hotel which - in Nice - means we slept in an un-airconditioned basic room with a bathroom the size of a phone booth and sticky carpet on the floor.  Plus it's above a Thai restaurant so there's a powerful aroma of curry.

Day 3:  We left Nice before dawn and took a train to Cannes.  Our mission – during the one hour train layover – was to go to the Forville market and gather some supplies for a train picnic.  What a beautiful market: fresh fruits, cheeses, sliced meats, dozens of types of bread, baguettes and rolls (be still my carbohydrate adoring heart).  We stocked up and stocked up and stocked up.

Embarrassing scavenge… be a public performer for 15 minutes. There are 150 points for this public shaming, so I was about to start singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on a street corner when we found a for-share piano and – after much begging and whining – Rainey agreed to play.  He was GREAT. 

Next, a 4 hour lay-over in Montpellier, France, which is a lovely town but the weather was pretty awful by then (cold, rainy) so we definitely did not get to see its best side. Nevertheless, we stored our bags at the train station and set out exploring. 

Fountain of 3 Graces in town square (another topless statute of beautiful women)

Second Triumphant Arch (they are everywhere).

We ended the day in Girona, a true treasure.  I have never been there (or frankly even heard of this town) and it’s wonderful.  So wish we could have spent an entire day here.  Girona ROCKS!!!
One of the scavenges for tonight was to book a place to stay through Air BnB (or some similar website), i.e. not a traditional hotel room.  We lucked into a triplex apartment in the heart of the medieval section of town right by the Girona Cathedral.  The walk to the apartment was up a cobble-street alleyway (how cool is that?)

When welcoming us, the owner noted that one of the walls of the home is an original Roman-era wall (1200+ years old)…WOW!!!!  This was our backyard… ancient wall behind and on the left.

Look at the view from our bedroom (at the top of the house)… phenomenal.

Plus the cathedral (really - not figuratively - in our backyard) is a real sight

I was totally charmed by Girona.  We wandered in and out of the alleyways.

And found the lucky lion, whose butt you have to climb up and kiss

After dinner we walked along the river.  The houses rise directly from the river banks (hope the river never floods) are all painted slightly different colors (so cute). 

Then over the Eiffel bridge (made by Gustav Eiffel himself: of Eiffel tower fame)

Day 4: We spent most of today traveling to and from Andorra… small principality country in the Pyrenees mountains.  I’ve never been there before and, for the record, I have no need to ever go back. To be concise: Long journey, very little reward.  The main town is a nondescript village with lots of tired looking duty-free shops, a rushing river down the middle and – the only highlight – a real Saldavor Dali clock sculpture in the main square.  If you have never been to Andorra, don’t bother.

Day 5:  The last day in Europe found us up and out of the hotel by 7AM and, by check-in at 11AM, Rainey and I had walked 7.1 miles and seen all of the Gaudi houses plus cathedral as well as the entire Las Ramblas.  It was a beautiful spring morning and being able to just walk around (instead of being jammed into a taxi or rushing to catch a train or tram or bus) was awesome.

Got to love the cathedral where Gaudi gave Jesus NO face (or actually square-face) and put a creepy death image at Jesus's feet. Very dark.

This was a long, hard leg with lots of travelling, late nights, early mornings…  but what a great time we had !!!  

We head today for another Continent – Carthagena, Columbia.  Another new country.  YAY !!!!

Observation: European cities have really interesting sculptures all through their towns ... In parks and by crossroads and on street corners.  Just walking by them make you feel more cultured.  Seems like something America should adopt.

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