30/9/10 - 14/10/10 22 °C
My trip to Australia and back was long and painful. Liz and Ashlee enjoyed their time in Marseille doing many of the tourist activities. They travelled on an open top bus tour of the city (pity it was a wet day), did a petit train tour of the city, went on a boat tour along the coast visiting the beautiful little coves along the way, and went on a wine tour of the Provence region. In short, they had fun and did not miss me at all!
On the same day I arrived back, Ashlee returned to England – not interested in spending time with her dad as she’d just spent a week with her mum. I was absolutely wasted with ‘travel shock’ and just slept most of the next day. On the Saturday we walked around the Port Viex area checking out the markets and enjoying the sunny morning before using the afternoon to pack our bags ready for the journey to Nice the next day.
Sunday morning the rain started to come down just before we left the hotel but luckily we were able to wait for a break in the weather before making the 250m dash to the Metro before the next shower arrived. The trip to Nice was a 2 ½ hour TGV ride (fast train) along the French Riveria coast line with its iridescent turquoise water and picturesque coastal villages, along the way we pasted Cannes (home of the famous film festival). The rain was left behind by the time we reached Nice but the cloud was starting to gather so we were pretty sure we’d get the same weather as we’d had in Marseille the day before.
Once we’d checked into out room, which was great as it had obviously been recently renovated with new bathroom, carpet and bedding, we decided to have a walk down to the beach – about a kilometre away. As we walked along the street we found plenty of stores still open on the Sunday evening and Liz with her consummate skill managed to add to our souvenir collection along the way. After checking out the beach and the old city we decided to have dinner at an Irish Pub (decent size and cost compared to the French fare), Liz upset the barmaid by asking if the Steak and Guinness Pie was traditional Irish or did it have a French twist to which the barmaid (who was an Irishwoman) replied ‘It’s an Irish Pub!’ So Liz had a good pie and I had some very nice BBQ Pork ribs which we both washed down with a Magners Cider – how I love the cider!!
Monday was cold, wet and windy so we decided to visit the local Tourist Office to see what we could do indoor, this was not really successful as there wasn’t really anything to do at short notice. So we grabbed our wet weather jackets and caught the train to Cannes, about 30 minutes away, where we once again visited their Tourist Office to find a Gen X customer service person who was so “over her job”. The explanation was rudimentary but we got the gist that most places we wanted to see where down near the waterfront.
The walk was only a few blocks but it was pleasant and interesting regardless of the rain. Liz took a liking to the Gucci shop but the area we most wanted to access, the Palais Des Festivals Et Des Congres, was closed as they were setting up marquees and stuff for a future function. This area has hand prints of all the Hollywood actors and is also the site of the Casino Croisette. As it was continuing to rain we walked back through the streets commenting that this was the place to test the limit on your Platinum Amex card if you had one – we don’t in case you’re wondering. Didn’t see a tourist shop in the area we walked around! Feeling poor and wet we caught the train back to Nice.
Tuesday we visit the Italian Markets in San Remo and Menton. It was a lovely morning with the sun shining when we visited the market which specialised in leather bags, clothes and accessories, it also had some fruit, vegetable, meat and cheese. We stayed about 3 hours during which we wandered around the markets and down to the waterfront – some of the motor cruisers looked more like small ocean liners! Unfortunately the wind had come up and the water had a vicious wind swell going causing plenty of spray as the waves broke over the stony beach.
Our next stop was Vintimille which is a small village between San Remo and Menton, we only stopped for 30 minutes and had a walk around the town but most places were closed for lunch. The next stop was Menton was another small town on the border between France and Italy which was very quiet but had a nice old section of town and an impressive marina. By the stage we reached here the wind was almost gale force and the boats in the sheltered marina were bobbing about like corks in a bathtub but Liz and I ventured out onto the breakwall getting sprayed as the waves broke and almost blown over by the winds.
We were also supposed to visit Monaco but the tour had been changed (but not the brochures or internet) so Liz negotiated a partial refund. We decided to visit Monaco ourselves the next morning travelling by train and walking around and visiting the important sites, Casino and Princes Palace. We did get to see Monaco from above which was interesting in itself as the Country is only 1 km wide and 3km long.
Wednesday was supposed to be our last day in Nice and we had hoped to visit Monaco in the morning, but we didn’t realise that the transport strike had carried on to a second day so when we arrived at the station we found our train had been cancelled! So instead of Monaco we did the Nice open-top bus tour which was not pleasant as it was overcast and the breeze was cold. The tour lasted about1 ½ hours and visited the important parts of the city, Russian Cathedral, monastery, promenade, and port area. After the tour we visited the markets (flowers mainly), had lunch at the Irish Pub and walked back to the Hotel. We booked into the Hotel for another night so we could still get to visit Monaco on Thursday provided the train strike is finished by then.
At 2.00pm we were picked up by our driver/guide for our afternoon tour – Glass Factory & Olive Mill, it turned out that we were the only people – cool; a private guided tour. We drove south west for about 30 minutes to the La Verrerie de Biot Glass Factory which was amazing, workers in shorts, singlets and sandals wandering around with molten glass on long poles – Work Cover NSW Australia would die looking at this workplace! We watched as one guy made a 3 litre jug and another made 4 glasses in about 20 minutes and also saw what happened when things didn’t go right – smashed into the waste bin for reuse. The gift shop was well stocked with a wide variety of products – bowls, plates, glasses, jugs, vases, and lamps. Liz and I decided to purchase a jug and 6 glasses as an anniversary present, (thanks Bruce and Irene) they are very nice but plain and clear they did have bubbles through the glass which is a signature of the factory.
After this we travelled another 20 minutes to the Olive Mill where we were taken on a tour of the mill by Letitia who explained the historical and modern methods of extracting oil for the olives. Interesting and fairly basic compared to wine. Letitia then gave us a taste of the 3 olive oils produced at the mill – a local fruity variety and mild and fruity varieties produced from olives sources about 2 hours from Nice in the Provenance region near Marseille – you could really taste the difference between the different oils. Of course these the tasting also included wine to “cleanse the palate” between each taste. Liz also tried some black and green tapenade as well as some of the olives from different stages of maturation – green freshly picked (yuck!), green mature (these are picked early in the harvest season) and black mature (picked at the end of the harvest season). After this visit we recognised the following: I’m not a fan of olives and Liz likes Spanish olives better than French olives.
Despite the French rail strike on Wednesday we finally made our trip to Monaco. We caught one of the few trains travelling west. When we arrived in Monaco we walked straight to the Princes Palace to watch the changing of the guard – a fairly quick (10 minute) ceremony. A walk through the narrow streets around the palace area was appealing as there were a heap of tourist shops which contained a lot of gear related to the Formula 1 Grand Prix. They were all too expensive to purchase but it was nice to look.
We then walked back down the hill, across the road (part of the Grand Prix track) and onto the boulevard around the marina. The marina was full of very, very expensive boats (perhaps small ocean liners would be a better description), there was even one called LizLiz which Liz thought I may have bought for her as an anniversary gift (like I have a couple of million spare! Or at all!) We followed the marina around until the casino which wasn’t yet open but we waited until 2.00pm and entered for a look see. We gave each other 5 euro for gambling – Liz lost some of hers but I doubled my money!
So after a short visit we went back to the station to find a train heading back towards Nice – we only had to wait 50 minutes. At Nice station we asked if the strike was continuing tomorrow as we are travelling to Italy and up to Switzerland – bad news the trains are still striking but they are running a few buses that hopefully we take us across the border into Italy where hopefully there isn’t a strike. This area of the Cote d’ Azur has been so stunningly beautiful it will be a shame to leave.