Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Day 7 – Checking Everything off the List

With only one full day left, we really wanted to have a grand finale to our week on the Riviera. The one place we had missed because of the events in Menton a few days earlier was Monte Carlo in Monaco. We all agreed this cosmopolitan city of the rich and famous would be our prime destination. Another place that had been highly recommended by a friend was Villefranche-sur-Mer, a small town on the sea which is very close to Monaco and can be reached by train. We packed our day bags and headed to the train station once again.

Every day in the Principality of Monaco on the Palace Square there is a formal changing of the guard ceremony at 11:55. With the current train schedule it was going to be tight, but we were going to give it our best “Amazing Race” try to be there for the ceremony. The train ride from Nice to Monaco is very short, and we were lucky enough to get a seat with a view.

 The track runs parallel to the sea and affords some amazing sights along the way.

The train station in Monaco is built underground deep below the mountain which serves as Monaco’s northern border. As one can imagine property above ground is a very valuable commodity. Mainly because there is so little of it.

As one exits on the harbor side of the train station, they find themselves in front of the church of Sainte Dévote the patron saint of Monaco and Corsica. This chapel can trace its history back to 1070 and is closely tied to the House of Grimaldi the ruling family of Monaco. This is the small chapel where Princess Grace and the current Princess, Charlène de Monaco, visited following exchanging vows. They both left their bridal bouquet at the feet of the statue of Sainte Dévote.

After assessing the map in front of the station, we quickly determined where we needed to go to watch the changing of the guard.

The reality of two things jumped off the map: a) we must really hustle to make the event, b) it is an uphill walk! Moving at a swift pace we headed to the palace. However, there was so much to see! As we climbed, it was hard not to stop and snap a few shots of the harbor and the skyline of the city.

Not far from the crest of the plateau where the palace sits there was a statue of Prince Rainier III with a smile on his face. It was like he was laughing at the four of us saying, "nice try, but you will not make it in time."  We lowered our heads and picked up the pace for the home stretch. We reached the palace square to realize that we did catch the end of the changing of the guard. In fact, the very end of the ceremony!

These three soldiers marched out of the square and that concluded the event. They left one guard standing his post in front of the castle, as the crowd dispersed in all directions. Oh well, we had smiles on our faces, and we gave it a good 60 something effort.

We wandered around the palace grounds and were taking in a beautiful day, when we heard a familiar voice. It was Mathilde! She was giving a tour of Monaco for a couple and our paths just happened to cross. We caught up quickly on the happenings of the week and said au revoir. Yep, the world is a small place.

Trying to avoid the ever-growing crowd, we left the square headed to the church. It was only a few blocks away. Like so many churches in Europe, the size and beauty of these edifices are something to behold.

Around the outside of the altar, the royalty of Monaco is entombed in the floor. It is a history lesson of the Grimaldi family as one walks the perimeter the altar and encounters the final resting place of   Rainier III and his American wife, Grace.

Realizing the day was getting away from us and we had yet to eat lunch, more importantly a hydrate break was needed. We sat at a street bistro and enjoyed a wonderful pizza and hydrated.

There is something about nice looking young ladies and big beers on the Riviera.

As Isaac Newton once said, “What goes up must come down”. The down is much harder on Janet’s knee than up, so it was a slow enjoyable pace with lots of stops as we headed to the port. It was at one of these stops it became extremely obvious of where we were headed.

Anyone who knows Janet knows that light blue rectangles full of chlorinated water attracts her. Our pace picked up as we hit the flatlands of the harbor. Albeit we did stop for a race car picture.

The harbor area was a buzz with trucks, forklifts, and workman. It was hard to tell what was going on until we saw the sign.

Now we have been to the Annapolis boat show many times back in the US, but I can only imagine what boats would be on display at the Monaco Yacht Show. One thing for sure… they would all be out of our price range.

Leaving Monaco, we boarded the train for the short ride to Villefranche-sur-Mer. I am not sure what would be more difficult on daily basis; finding a parking spot or getting a seat on public transportation in France. The train stop in Villefranche is right on the beach.

Exiting the train, we could see why Monaco had become so crowded. Two cruise ships sat in the bay as their tenders were going back and forth loading passengers for the next stop on their itinerary.

We walked from one end to the other end of this enchanting village. The colors, the smell of the sea, and narrow streets made us realize that we were in a very special place.

The day was coming to an end, so we headed back towards the train platform. However, the ladies decided they needed a few minutes on the beach.

What a great way to wind down a wonderful day. Unfortunately, the time had come to board the train once again and head back to Nice.

Returning to the city, we walked to where our trip had begun, the Promenade des Anglais. Finding a restaurant with a view of the city we watched the sun set as our trip came to an end.

In the morning we boarded the big steel bird to return home. Walking out to board the plane we could see Nice in the distance. This had been a special week with special friends.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Day 6 – A Nice day in Nice

Since our arrival we have been on the go exploring the Côte d'Azur! The one place we have not really spent any time up to this point is in the city where we are staying – Nice. Being a Sunday, thinking many things would be closed, we all agreed that it would be a good day to stay local. Today would be a Nice day!

One thing that makes this Sunday different than most Sundays for us is the location of the church. At home, we have a 25-mile drive to Mass on Sunday, but this morning we opened the curtains, walked out on the balcony, and holy moly there was a church in our front yard.

No excuses for being late this Sunday!  The large church across the street is Saint-Pierre-d'Arène Church of Nice to be exact. The history of this parish goes way back in time, but in the modern era, the building you see was an enlargement of an existing building that began in 1914. The Dedication Ceremony was held in 1938, but the building was not complete. This still holds true and the church remains unfinished. There is no bell tower, some side altars are still vacant, and there are parts that still look like a construction site. The late 1930s and early 1940s were probably not a good time period to be building churches in France. However, we are not sure why it remains a work in progress. We do appreciate the convenience to the apartment, finished or not.

Mass was very pleasant, and of course in French. Following the sequence of the Mass was easy, however, following the Homily was not happening! The priest was a good orator and kept our attention even if we were clueless. Tom almost always goes into a deep level of concentration (aka falls asleep) at our home church when the homily is in English, but that was not the case this morning.

The plan of the day was to see Nice and climb Castle Hill. Instead of walking up the Promenade des Anglais we stayed on rue de France as we headed into the heart of old town.

Along the way, we stopped to enjoy the Promenade du Paillon - A very large green space with multiple fountains squirting water in sequence.

People lounged in the surrounding area or pushed strollers around the walk, watching the water come and go. And of course, there are those who venture out into the mystic…

For a Sunday morning, it was a happening place. We were not expecting to see too many things open, but that was not the case in old town.

There were plenty of stores and stands to explore, interesting items to taste, and of course window shop.

As we neared the end of old town, one could clearly see the waterfall high above.

Standing at the base of Castle Hill, a brief discussion between Tom and Janet on the merits of riding the elevator to the top vs the 426 step climb ended abruptly. Janet headed to the steps and began to climb. (Big Shout Out to Dr. Mike for a job well done!)

There are plenty of places to stop along the way and take in the beauty of the sea and the city.

We even stopped to visit with this invisible man. After exchanging hellos, we left him a few invisible Euros, and continued to climb.

The higher one climbs up the steps, the view just gets better and the water bluer.

Arriving at the top, there were a group of young children having the time of their lives. They were running around squealing, trying to pop giant bubbles as fast as the bubble man could make them. 

There was even a large science event ongoing for children to participate and learn. The plateau of Castle Hill was a happening destination.

Walking around the top afforded us better views of the harbor that we enjoyed yesterday.

It also allowed us to actually see  how big the private yacht Odyssey really is when compared the other respectable boats near the luxury yacht.

Overnight, a Club Med cruise liner had pulled into the port. This boat spends it winters in the Caribbean and Summers in the Mediterranean. An eastbound voyage should be in its near future.

After walking the entire 360 degrees around the top of the hill, we headed to find the waterfall. The cascade was nowhere near as impressive as the ones we had seen a few days earlier in the mountains, but provided a photo opportunity.

As the sun got higher, so did the temperature, and the crowds larger. We headed down the 426 steps we had walked up.

This called for a celebration! The bars and bistros were a buzz and finding a shady table was a little difficult. An Irish gentleman moved aside and shared his table as all of us were glad to get off our feet.

All four us wine drinkers had a common thought – It is time for a large beer! When our refreshments arrived, we were totally blown away by the strength of the waitress. Three large beers in the palm of one hand, and one small beer she had already put down in the other. Our cold libations went down so smoothly and without a doubt they were well deserved.

We headed back to the apartment to regroup. We realized there was one more item that needed to be checked off. We headed to the sea! Yep, it was time to get wet.

Tom braved the water first and announced it was not tooooooooooo cold for a warm October day.

Janet followed him into the sea a short time later. Immediately, she began to do the thing that makes her the happiest – Blue Water Swimming!

We exited the water and checked off swimming the beaches of the French Riviera on our must do list.

As the sun went down on this day, we cleaned up and headed out for dinner. Tonight, we would dine at one of the restaurants that Mathilde had recommended to us, La Maison de Marie. The table shared stuffed squash blossoms with warm goat cheese that was wonderful.

For main dishes here was a rustic rabbit dish, truffles and pasta, as well as beef stew with stuffed ravioli. All were wonderful and filling.

We sat reflecting on the day, retelling stories, but in the distance, we could hear our beds calling.  Lots of walking today, a swim in the sea, and just another wonderful day with friends.