Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Semana Santa 3 - France

The Food Tour 2012 wrapped up in southern France, along the French Riviera. We had crepes, gelato, fondue, baguettes, cheese, and wine. Lots of wine. Oh Nice. Let's see, where to start with Nice...
After walking around Geneva for a day, Nice was like a breath of fresh air. In all the ways that Geneva was bland and French looking (while not actually being French), Nice was refreshing and Italian-esque (while still actually being French). Ironic. We learned during our walking tour that Nice has actually only been part of France for the last 150 years, and that before that it was Italian territory.

After a brief mishap of arriving in downtown Nice with no further instructions of how to find our hostel and very low phone credit, we got settled into what I might call the best hostel I've stayed in so far. It was a little far from downtown but its views from a hill overlooking the city were so pretty that it made up for it.

As we were waiting in line to check in, there was an ad on TV playing for the sailboat cruises offered by the hotel. It was just a video loop of girls lounging on the boat in their bikini's and then jumping in the water and shouting and having fun. I had been watching it for a while when all of a sudden Kaitlin noticed it. She said "Is it Shark Week??" And then as the group of girls were splashing about in the ocean having fun, she started chanting "Shark! Shark! Shark!" No dear, no.....no it's not.... :)

Friday in Nice was by far the most relaxing day of our trip. We spent some time hanging out on the beach, took a short walking tour of the old town, had an authentic French picnic on a hilltop overlooking the boardwalk, saw some Roman Ruins, and found better Italian gelato than we had in Italy. We also learned twice how not to open a wine bottle. The first mistake resulted in red wine all over Lisa and Kaitlin's face and shirts. The second mistake however, left red champagne dripping down walls of our hostel, and covering Kaitlin's sheets and suitcases. While she was in the shower. Completely unaware........Oops.
Place Masséna, the main and most impressive plaza
Fruit & Flower market
All the buildings in the old town used to have painted walls like this, but this one is the only one that's still around today.
Baguette, cheese wheels, pear and wine: a poor Frenchman's lunch.
Bay of the Angels, French Riviera
Walking through roman ruins = happy Emma. And these were exceptionally well-preserved.
Don't we make a good Roman family? (I'm the baby, if you couldn't tell.)
Part of the main road that went through the ruins. It was so interesting to see 2,000 year old remains leading up to such a strikingly new and modern building.
This is what happens when you pop the cork without thinking. It looked like somebody was murdered. Thanks to laundry soap and a magic eraser and a couple hours of good hard scrubbing, the sheets turned back to white and the wine almost disappeared.

On Saturday we woke up early to make the most of a day trip to Eze and Monaco. Eze is a small medieval village with incredible views of the Riviera. It's perched on top of a cliff about 20 minutes up the coast from Nice. We spent the morning exploring the winding cobblestone roads up to the top of the cliff.

Then it was off to the real attraction of the day, Monaco! To be honest, Monaco was not at all what I was expecting. Considering that it is it's own country and has the most millionaires per capita, I was expecting something like a gated community with a ridiculous amount of fancy cars, people in suits, and lots of glittery buildings. (Not really sure why i always pictured it with glittery buildings, but I did.)
Instead, the city bus from Nice took us right to the center of the city in front of the casino and dropped us off. No customs, no country borders, no security, nothing.

The casino was very impressive. And there were tons of fancy cars. And lots of people in suits as well. And a boat in the port with a heliport. So yeah, there was a fair share of money being thrown around there. But there were also condos, high rise apartments, little wooden boats, and a surprisingly large amount of broken-down crappy cars. Basically, Monaco didn't resemble its own country: it looked just like any other town along the coast, with a few extra rich people.

The Monte Carlo Casino. Fun fact: residents of Monaco aren't actually allowed to gamble there.

On the way back from Monaco the bus dropped us off in a little fishing village, Villafranche, known for its beautiful beaches. We never made it to the beaches though, because we couldn't figure out how to get all the way down there from the highway. So instead we spent 2 hours walking around the cape on the highway, getting passed by not 1, not 2, but 3 buses that wouldn't pick us up.

Once we were finally back in the city, we found our favorite gelato place again. It took an hour of searching, but yeah, it was that worth it. (The place is called Fenocchio, for any of you planning trips to Nice in the future.) We tried flavors like rose, lavender, lilac, cactus, mojito and cinnamon. It was the best gelato I've ever had, hands down.

Once we were full on gelato, the real fun began. Our tour guide had recommended a restaurant that was built into an old city bunker, underneath the city. He said it was cheap and had amazing fondue. We were already full, but really wanted to give it a try. We figured we could get one to split and call it good. Unfortunately, we learned once we had sat down and ordered drinks that splitting meals wasn't allowed. "There are four of you and you are taking up a table, why would you only order one dinner? That doesn't work", the waitress explained in her broken English.

I have never felt the blood drain so quickly from my face, or been so at a loss for words. Image being stuffed, and told that you have to order your own entire dinner. (And eat it all, because clearly if sharing meals is not allowed, neither is taking it home in a doggy bag.) I was ready to say "sorry!" and pay for the drinks and leave, but that would have been rude. So, two bruschettas, one salad, and a beef and wine fondue later, we had literally eaten until we were sick. The food was delicious, and so it was almost worth every bite, but not quite.

Back at the hostel, recovering from our dinner fiasco and tram ride, we realized we still had to magic erase the champagne from the walls. That was a fun night...

On Sunday it was back to reality, back to the land of jamón y queso and less fattening foods. And Spanish. A language I actually speak. Gosh, it felt so good to be able to communicate again!

 Soaking up the rays one last time.