France- Nice, Cannes and Monaco

On Monday, the 13thof April, I left Switzerland and headed to the South of France. My plan was to stay 3 nights in Nice and also go to some other places in the French Riveria. The shortest way for me to get from Interlaken to Nice would have been to go straight south through Milan and then west, but there were no trains/combination of trains that worked out for me to take that route on this day. So instead I had to take the somewhat longer trip west out of Switzerland to Lyon and then south to Marseille and the over to Nice. This trip took up most of the day’s sunlight, but I got a lot of reading, writing and ipod battery killing done. 

I arrived in Nice, France at about 6pm and had a couple of hours before the sunset. My hostel was only a block from the train station so I immediately went and checked in and dropped my stuff off. I then went to spend the last hour and a half of sunlight exploring the city. My hostel was located on the north end of the city center, and right on the end of the main street- Avenue Jean Medecin. I took a stroll all the way down this street, which took about 15 minutes, and it ended at the boardwalk and beach. I went down onto the beach and was surprised to find that it was one of the beaches that is not sand, but instead a pebble one filled with small and very smooth oval-shaped rocks. I walked down the beach for a little bit and then along the famous promenade des Anglais (boardwalk). I continued along it for a while as the sun set and madeit around Le Chateau (a park jutting out into the sea) and all the way to Port Lympia, which was filled with massive yachts from all over the world.

I then started to head back and went through VieuxNice, the old town, which has a lot of narrow alleys lined with old tall houses, with the Baroque Cathedrale Ste-Reparate at the center. I then made it back to the Avenue Jean Medecin where I got some food from a street vendor (doner kebab) and then headed back to the hostel. At the hostel I caught up on some Internet time and also talked with the other people in my hostel for a while. The people I talked with the most were two guys from Finland, a guy and a girl from Singapore, and two girls from America that study in Paris. The forecast for the weather the next day was supposed to be perfect and so I called it a night and planned on spending the next day on the beach.

I got up early and after I got ready I went straight to the          mall? Well, in order to go to the beach I was in dire need of something that I had been without my entire break; flip-flops. There was this really big and nice mall, Nice-Etoile, really close to my hostel and so I went there first thing and found the best looking pair of cheap flip-flops I could find and went back to the hostel to drop off my shoes. I put on my board shorts, grabbed a towel, shades, and ipod and headed to the beach.

It was still pretty early and so I decided to spend some time walking the way down the boardwalk I hadn’t been yet while the sun was still heating up. I had been warned about what I would see at the beach, but it was more extreme then what I thought it would be. And by this I mean naked people all over the beach. At first it wasn’t to bad while it was still early, but as the sun started to warm up, the tops started to fall off. By naked I guess I mean mostly just topless women with the occasional thongs and then men in speedos. And while I thought this might be a good thing, it really wasn’t at all. Were not talking college girls playing volleyball and frolicking topless in the sun (there were a few though), but more of big 50-year-old women with their saggies out. It was really quite hard to ignore too; they were everywhere. I did see plenty of good-looking women, but they were definitely over-shadowed by the older ones. By the time the sun was at its peak I would say at least 50% of the women were topless.

After walking up and down the boardwalk for a little while I found a nice little spot of the beach to claim as my own (that didn’t have any gross boobs to close) and I took my shirt off and laid down to get my bronze on. After a while of sunbathing I was getting a little hot and decided to test out the Mediterranean waters. I figured it would still be a little chilly, but there were a good number of people in the water and so I tried it out. I got about waist deep in it and decided that was enough and got out and back into the warmth of the sun.

I spent a couple of hours on the beach and after getting bored enough and realizing that this was the first time I had had my shirt off in a long time, I figured I better get out of the sun before I turned lobster red. I then took my time slowly wandering back towards my hostel while exploring parts of the city I hadn’t yet been too. I also grabbed a bunch of fruit for an afternoon meal from an open-air market.

After getting back to my hostel I hung out there for a while and talked with some of the people in my room for a while longer. I also realized that I had definitely got plenty of sun while on the beach and had my first burn of the year. I then decided to join the two American girls who were studying in Paris for the night. We weren’t sure what we were going to do, but the first thing was to find some food. The girls kept talking up this fast-food chain Italian place that was just in France and was supposed to be amazing. It was quite a far walk away but we headed towards it. By the time we finally got to it we had missed closing time by 15 minutes.

We were in a cool little area of town that I had yet to see at night yet and it had a ton of outside seated places to eat and we picked a nice looking local one. For dinner we had a bottle of French wine and I went for a traditional meal of a  falafel filled with meat, eggs and all sorts of stuff, delicious! After dinner we went to the center square of Nice to meet up with one of the girls friends from Paris who was just getting into town.

We weren’t sure if we wanted to go find a club to party at for the night or just chill, but we ended up deciding on just going down to the beach and taking it easy. We sat and talked about our travels and adventures and what not for a good two hours on the beach. The two original girls had just come from Barcelona and that is where I was going after France. I was already excited to go, but they really built it up as the greatest place on Earth. They kept talking about how cool the city was, how great the beaches were, how crazy the clubs are and one kept bringing up her Spanish “boyfriend” (She met a Spanish dude who she spent the entire 4 days with while there).

These girls weren’t quite my type of people. They were more of the rocker-chick types with piercings, tattoos and fuck the system attitudes. But they were fun and interesting none-the-less to hang out with for the night.

The next morning I woke up early, ate breakfast, got ready and packed my messenger bag and headed to the train station. The plan for the day was to spend the morning until early afternoon in Cannes and then the rest of the day in Monaco.

It was about a 20-minute train ride to the city of Cannes. As most of you probably recognize, Cannes is famous and known for as the home to the world-famous film festival. What was once a fishing village, now turned millionaires playground, Cannes hosts the International Film Festival every May.

When I got to Cannes I first headed towards the beach. I went down onto it and tested out the water with my feet and walked down it for a little while. The sand there was perfect. Once again I came across way to many top-less women though, even though it was still early in the day. I then walked down the seafront promenade, La Croisette, for a while and took a stroll around the Vieux Port and checked out the ginormous yachts from ports all over the globe.

After the port I came to the main auditorium for the film festival. On the plaza in front of the auditorium there was a big event happening put on by Sony. The 2009 Cannes Sony World Photography Awards were currently going on and they were putting on the big display to promote themselves. Directly in front of the auditoriums red-carpeted front stairs was a stage. On the stage there were a group of four 20-year old-ish kids performing. Two of them were the top girl and guy trick footballer in the world and the other two were two of the top parkour athletes in the World.

There were performances going on every hour and I watched one right as I got there. The two footballers were doing crazy ball tricks that I had never even seen before. Then the two parkour guys started running, jumping and doing flips all over the place. For those of you who don’t know what parkour is a relatively new sport that is especially popular in Europe. An Internet source defines it as an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body. But it is basically running and jumping off of things, onto things, from building to buildings, and doing flips off of any obstacle. Lot of examples of it can be found on youtube, but another one would be the opening chase scene of the newer Bond film Casino Royale.

The two guys I watched were really good and were doing things that you wouldn’t think would be physically possible. I had watched and been amazed by a good amount of it online, but seeing it in person is insane.

I then went into the giant Sony tent that was set up right next to the stage. Inside the tent they had on display tons of cameras and people trying to sell them. But the main attraction inside for me was the UEFA Champions League football trophy. This is one of the most prestigious football trophies in the world (only behind the World Cup Trophy) and I had been following the league pretty closely and it was currently in the semi-finals stage. They had a professional Sony photographer taking pictures of people standing next to the giant trophy with a soccer ball in their hands too. The people would then get a print off of the picture inside a nice little Sony folder. I had been watching for a while trying to figure out if this was free or not, and I finally decided that I thought it was, so a got in the short line and waited my turn to get my picture taken with the trophy. It ended up being free and I got a sweet 9×11 print off picture to take with me. Such a cool little surprise.

I then climbed the red-carpeted front stairs to the main auditorium, got my picture taken in front of it and stood in the spot where Ari Gold and Vinny Chase sold the film Medellin for 1 dollar on Entourage. I then got some food from a street vendor and went back to the beach to chill out for a little while.

At about 2pm I took the hour train ride back trough Nice and to Monaco. Monaco is a tiny independent principality, and it is the 2nd smallest country in the world behind the Vatican City. Monaco is the name of the country as well as the capital city. It is ruled by Prince Albert II and is the world’s most densely populated country, with much of this due to it being a tax-haven.

I had heard from other people in my hostel that it might not be a great time to go to Monaco because there was a tennis tournament going on. This tournament happened to be actually a big event and Rafeal Nadal ended up winning a few days later for I believe like his 5th straight time. I did not run into any trouble with the tennis crowd though.

Monaco is only 3 kilometers long, which I pretty much walked the length of along the beaches and boardwalks in under an hour. Probably the most popular, as well as most well-known, area of Monaco is Monte Carlo. This was the area I was in for the majority of my time in Monaco. It is also where most locals live and also where many of the luxurious hotels are too.

While in the Monte Carlo area I went down onto one of the beaches. I had read how all the beaches in Monaco are artificial and made of imported sand, so I was expecting an amazing beach. While it was nice, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Instead of a pure white, finely grain sand, it was actually made up of small pebbles (much smaller than in Nice). I walked around the beach and boardwalk area of Monte Carlo for a while and enjoyed the perfect weather.

Next I went by the famous Le Grand Casino. This is supposed to be one of the most famous casinos in the world and has helped put Monte Carlo on the map. Two James Bond films, Never Say Never Again and Goldeneye, feature the casino in them for part of the movie. The casino is absolutely massive and looks more like palace then a gambling facility. I was tempted to go try to double up the money in my pocket a few times on a roulette table, but I withheld temptation.

Monaco is also very well-known for the Monaco Grand Prix, a Formula One race. This is one of the most prestigious, important (forms the Triple Crown of Motorsports with the Indy 500 & the 24-hours of Le Mans) and dangerous races in the world. It races around the tight streets and corners of Monaco with lots of elevation changes and a section through a long tunnel (which I walked through). The course takes quite some time to set up, and while I was there they were in building giant grandstands in the harbour, that would be transferred to different parts of the city closer to race time. I have heard from people that it is one of the most ridiculous and expensive sporting events you could want to ever attend. It is not even suppose to be that good for the spectators to watch, but I guess if you’re a baller and could afford it and then still have enough cash to enjoy yourself at the giant casino afterwards, more power to you.

Also, for those football (soccer) enthusiasts, the great American soccer prodigy, Freddy Adu, plays for Monaco’s football team in the French Ligue 1. I didn’t run into him.

After a few hours in Monaco, I headed back to the train station and boarded a train back to France. I can safely say that this was the least amount of time I ever spent in one country, as well as it being the smallest country I have ever been in. I liked Monaco a lot, but it was definitely not meant to be a place for a backpacker like me. One difference I noticed about Monaco from Cannes and Nice was that there were a ton more families there it seemed like (meaning a ton of kids there). And I am sure that all of the families were insanely rich. But I actually was able to visit one of the richest countries in the world and not spend a single cent.

On arrival back in Nice that evening I went back to my hostel and chilled for a little bit. I then headed back towards the Italian fast food place I had tried to go to with the girls the previous night. I had seen that it was open later on this night, and I barely made it in time and got a big box of chicken carbonara. For the price it was well worth it and delicious.

After I ate I spent the remainder of the night just walking around the boardwalk, beach and parts of the city I hadn’t been to yet. I got back to my hostel eventually and hung out with the girls from Paris for a while and watched a movie with them. The next day I got up early and spent the day traveling along the Mediterranean by train to Barcelona, Spain.

The south of France was totally different than any part of my backpacking trip I had been to yet, but I loved it. Instead of the traditional tourist sites (castles, forts, bridges, cathedrals and clocks), this was more of a just relax on the beach and enjoy the weather part of the trip. My whole trip I had had great weather, and my time in France was the best of it. I got to spend time on three totally different styles of beaches (surrounded by gross boobs) and catch plenty of rays. I once again met some really interesting people and ate some great local food too. Out of the three places I visited there (Nice, Cannes, Monaco) I would say that Cannes was actually my favorite, and also had the best beach. Maybe someday I will be going back to Cannes to take part in the film festival as an actor/agent/director/paparazzi/entourage member, who knows!?

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