The Côte d'Azur

in which Rachel and I eat baguettes on the beach and try to choose five flavors of ice cream from over 100 different sorts and I observe a changing of the guards in a country whose very existence perplexes me.

After a late arrival in Nice, Rachel and I enjoyed hot showers and went to bed in what was supposed to be a shared dorm room, but which we actually had to ourselves.  Not a bad deal.  We had a comparatively leisurely morning, getting up some time around 8:30 or 9, then heading out to explore what Nice had to offer.  We started off in quite the wrong direction, which I realised more slowly than I care to admit.  But these were small things.  We finally righted ourselves, bought a baguette and headed towards the Promenade des Anglais, the main drag along the beach, built so that the English could have their afternoon strolls back in the days.

The water was unreal.  I don’t know if I have ever seen anything quite like it.  It was nice in Marseille, particularly on the Frioul Islands, but this was a different beast.

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they don't call it the Côte d'Azur for nothing, that's for sure.

The weather was relatively nice, though, as the forecast for the day pointed out, quite windy.  As such, swimming was clearly out of the question (not that I had other ideas):

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With the violent waves, however, I didn’t even want to risk my classic feet or hands in the water picture.  Alas, I felt like I had let my mother down.

Rachel and I did make many attempts at pictures to get pictures with dramatic waves.  But the timing was generally off–either with the waves or faces.  Here we have the waves, but I look a little special:

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Oh well, you can’t have everything.  We then proceeded to go up the castle hill, which involved plenty of steps but afforded nice views over a pretty ocean-side city:

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Nice from above. Just plain nice.

Vieux Nice was also quite nice, and we found ourselves a nice lunch of small Niçois foods.  We ate a nice assortment of them.  And with a nice red wine to wash them down.

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we were quite satisfied.

After a bit more wandering, we stopped in a a boulangerie for pastries (pain au chocolat: so much nicer in France than from Hen House in Kansas).  And then, feelign rather stuffed, we had espresso at a cafe near the Palais Justice before making our way for yet more food.  Definitely the best stop of them all.  Yes.  An ice cream stand with more than 100 flavors, ranging from crazy ones like avocado or tomato basil to more standard ones.  We settled on getting five scoops and sharing them.  But how to pick?!?

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decisions, decisions

After much deliberation, we settled on chocolate ginger, violet, orange blossom, jasmine, and butter-caramel-salt.  And they were all amazing.

Time, however, was drawing to an end for our time together, and after a brief attempt to find the Chagall museum before deciding there was really not enough time for it anyway, we returned to the hostel so Rachel could get her things and went on to the train station, where she boarded a train to St. Etienne, where she works.  And it was certainly sad to see her go.   Rachel and I go back to freshman year of high school, and though we kept in touch only sporadically during the early years of college, we have done much better in recent years, with visits in Berlin and Boston, and now Lyon.  It was wonderful to spend time with her, a nice reminder that, in the vocabulary of the esteemed Anne Shirley, kindred spirits always remain so.

I returned for a reasonably uneventful evening.  I wandered around Nice a bit more, enjoyed a fish soup, a local specialty, and then had another ice cream cone, this time going for Speculoos and dark chocolate, a delicious combination.  It was like graham crackers and dark chocolate.  But ice cream.  Mmm.

The next day was a bit complicated.  I had two particular goals in mind: first, and more importantly, seeing the changing of the guards in nearby Monaco.  Second, if possible, a stop in the Marc Chagall museum (and a third, perhaps, stopping by a store Kate and I enjoyed back in London, which had a branch in Nice).  When I had parted ways with Rachel, I had lost hope for accomplishing these activities–I thought the Chagall museum would have to go.  But then, after some deliberation, I came up with a solution.  Monaco was only a half hour or so away–why not simply return to Nice, instead of going straight onwards.  And thus, I went off to Monaco early in the morning.  The bus ride there was absolutely amazing.  And only 1€.  A bargain.  The views were spectacular–the road goes literally along the coast.

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view out the window en route to Monaco

I got off the bus at the “Casino” stop–yes, right outside the famous Monte Carlo casino.  Here I am, headphones still in:

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needless to say, I didn't go inside the casino

Before I continue, I just want to emphasize that Monaco is a very magical place.  Outside the casino, all in a row, I saw a Mercedes, a Rolls Royce, a Jaguar, another Mercedes, and a Bentley.  I KID YOU NOT.

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Again, a magical place, where everyone drives nice, expensive cars and where no one is permitted to be topless, except in the immediate vicinity of the beach.  I am not even making this stuff up:

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I then proceeded to the train station, mostly to buy a ticket on to Ventimiglia (why? a complicated matter–I had bought a train ticket to Monaco the previous afternoon, but I found out the cheaper bus was actually quite the ride, so I saved the other ticket for my ride onwards later that evening, but I didn’t need a ticket to Monaco, I needed one to Ventimiglia, the Italian border city, from where I would continue on to Genova and on to Rome).  And I stopped by the tourist information desk there and got a map of the country.  So absurd.

I then proceeded to the area of the palace, Monaco-ville, stopping off along the way to grab a bit of food for breakfast and to buy a postcard to send to the fam.  It’s not every day you get a postcard from Monaco, after all.   And then it was up (literally up!) to the palace itself.  The view was quite nice.  Here we have another self-portrait (I am pretty adept at them):

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you can see most of monaco behind me.

And then, at 11:55 sharp, it was time for the changing of the guards, the most anticipated moment of my brief stay in Monaco.  It was predictably absurd:

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changing of the guards

There’s nothing like pomp and circumstance in a country so small that it hardly seems legitimate.  After a bit more wandering in Monaco-ville, I headed back to Nice, where I did a bit of shopping (though, ended up purchasing only cookies to bring to Daniel) and a bit of ice cream eating (fresh mint and vanilla meringue) before going to the Chagall museum.  The museum was nice, though a bit small.  And then I headed back to the hostel, collected my belongings, and headed to the train station and on to Ventimiglia.  There, I killed an hour or so of time before taking the train on to Geno(v)a, where I had yet another hour to wait before my overnight train to Rome.  All went well, though, and at 5:51 sharp (amazingly on time!), the train pulled into Roma-Termini, and I set off to navigate to Daniel’s apartment there.

I was honestly completely sad to be leaving France.  It had been an excellent few days.  Not least because of Rachel’s company for most of my time there.

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