France

Beautiful Èze

On a beautiful Sunday morning, I decided to go to Èze – my Lonely Planet guide said that U2’s Bono owns a villa here, so it had to have a nice view, right…?

I caught the #82 bus from Vauban to Èze village – NOTE: it’s important that you catch the bus to “village” instead of “sur mer” which means beach, otherwise it’s going to be a steep long hike upwards… The bus ride was quite pleasant and only took about 25mins or so. When we arrived, everyone beelined it to the village. I had read that there is a nice garden-like place that you can visit once you reach the highest point. In any case, there is a Tourist Information office which provide you with maps and suggest good places to see whilst in Èze village.

The village was quite small but charming nonetheless. There are alot of artist studios both work on canvas, and clay works – whether it be kitchen plates or pretty decorative tiles. The village has a medieval feel to it, with it’s winding lanes and alleyways. There are a number of nice vantage points that provide a nice view. I somehow managed to find my way to the entrance to the highest point to see this “garden”. I paid the 6EU entrance fee and began to make my way around. The garden is basically a cactus garden – every single possible type of cactus was there…. I made it up to the top and as I looked over at the coastline of Èze, I thought WOW this is truly spectacular, no wonder Bono has a villa around here somewhere…

After exploring the village, I started my walk back down. I had asked the tourist information office if it was possible to hike down all the way to the beach – they said that it was and it would take around 45mins at a steady pace. The hike down was really nice, although at times I thought I was a tad bit crazy as there was no one on the trail for the first 30mins and no cell phone signal! (though it was fine, I was paranoid for no reason!!) The weather was so so good, and I was so glad that I was hiking down and not up! I came across a few people after 30mins who were huffing and puffing – on two occasions I was asked as to how long there was to go (at least thats what I thought they said in French), and with my basic French and some sign language I would tell them that there was still some time to go, wish them “bon chance” and kept on going…

I made it down in exactly 45mins! I didn’t know where the access point to the beach was, but I followed a groups of guys who had just unloaded paddle boarding gear from the car and were in board shorts. I think they knew I was following them but I didn’t care. Turns out I was right, they led me to the seaside – as it was covered in rocks NOT sand. I found myself a nice place to sit and had my packed lunch. I couldn’t resist the amazing turqoise pristine water, so I rolled up my trousers and dipped my feet into the water – oh so nice! but I also cut my toe on the rocks (I HATE ROCKY BEACHES!!). Just chilling by the seaside was so nice, but I could feel my feet burning so I thought I should keep moving (yes I know I should put sunscreen on but I never burn – clearly only in France I burn…)

Next, I walked over to Beaulieu Sur Mer – which was the next beach/bay over. In actual fact, I was going to catch the bus back to Nice, but after waiting 20mins at the stop, I grew impatient and began to walk. And I’m so glad I did. The coastline was absolutely stunning and the sun was shining – loving life! There was a port called “Port de Beaulieu-sur-Mer” that had ALOT of nice yachts! (I have a thing for boat…). I didn’t stay here long, I walked along the harbour and continued walking to the next bay. Oh and the houses that I walked past were absolutely beautiful – I wouldn’t mind a summer villa here…

From Beaulieu sur Mer I walked to Villefranche sur Mer and this was a very busy beach! There were alot of locals here though, unlike the other beaches… The wall was covered in nice pink/purple flowers and the water just looked so inviting! I ended up buying an ice-cream and chillin’ by the water. By this stage, I had walked about 6km, so I thought I should catch the bus back – and given that I knew that bus #100 went along the coast I decided to get to the main road and get on the bus. BIG MISTAKE! the train station was only a short walk from the beach. I even asked the workers there how long it would take me to walk up to the main road, it took AGES! plus the road was all windy and it was a steep ascent! anyway, I managed to get to the main road (eventually) and luckily didn’t wait too long for the bus…

It’s a really nice walk from Èze to Villefranche, particularly because I had the path all to myself… I would definitely recommend it, only thing is to remember to bring water…!

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Magical Monaco F1 Grand Prix

Firstly, make sure you buy your train ticket 2 days (or so) before the race. As I was catching a train from Nice to Monte Carlo, I had bought my train tickets the day I arrived in Nice (2 days prior to the race). I arrived at the train station and low and behold a massive queue! Surprisingly, I didn’t have to wait too long and before I knew it, I was on the train, on my way to the Monaco F1 Grand Prix!

I checked my ticket to see which end I had to leave the platform and honestly it doesn’t matter too much. I had to collect my ticket anyway. I completely forgot to check the collection point, but my feet remembered where to go from last time! Upon collecting my ticket, I made my way over to a stand (mind you there are ALOT of them) and bought myself a pair of ear plugs. Even though the cars weren’t as loud as they used to be, it was still deafening….

I had missed the Porsche race and even the first 10 laps or so of the Renault race. But I made my way to my section and was seated. Let me describe my surroundings: on my right hand side I had full view of the pit lane, infront of me was the general admission area (I felt sorry for those peasants as I was seated there last year and I knew how they felt!), abit to the left was the iconic grandstand (K I think), then to the right was the harbour with all the swish boats and behind me was the pool. Yes I was in the Pool Complex. SUCH AWESOME SEATS!!!

So the Renault race had to restart due to the massive accident – so I guess I was lucky in that I got to see that whole race. The car that got totalled was actually lifted off the track with a crane, so we actually saw a car hanging mid-air! As this race ended, people in orange jump suits lined the track. I then understood that Prince Albert and Princess Charlene must be coming out (these people were the safety measures) to do a lap in a nice blue super car. They waved as they went past. Next up were the racers: I was cheering for the Aussie Daniel Ricciardo in Team Red Bull. They were all in a bus and were being interviewed (we could see it on the screen infront of us).

Not long after the race began – and off they went! It was amazing! Round and around they went – I was lucky that I had three bends in my vision. Seeing the racers coming out of of the second bend always had me thinking “oh no, that was close” but they know this track fairly well… Then again, this track is so unforgiving that one little tiny mistake will cost you the race. And thats what happened to Alonso and Massa, both whom crashed at various stages of the race. Hamilton was in the lead the entire time, but after the second crash he went into pit lane, which I really did not understand why. The safety car came out and did a few laps and then there were only 5 or so laps to go. His team mate Nico, very smartly, didn’t go into the pit and finished the race as winner! YAAY! second time I got to see this amazing racer win the Monaco Grand Prix! Hamilton is a sore loser, he didn’t even stay and chat after the podium, nor did he shake the cliche champagne bottle… he sulked his way off… I stayed right till the end and watch all the interviews etc.

I exited the track and slowly made my way back to the train station. I came across a jazz band in the middle of the street and they were so cheerful and happy. Alot of people had stopped and some even begun to dance – it was really awesome!

The streets of Monaco following the race were very joyful and fun – very festive atmosphere!

The Monaco Grand Prix is just magical – if you like motorsports I would definitely DEFINITELY recommend going, at least once if your life time. AND make sure you get good seats, otherwise you won’t enjoy the experience….

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Nice is simply Nice

I always meet lovely people on the flight to Nice – this time a father and son were seated beside me. Such a nice story: the son (late 20s) had paid for everything for this weekend as a gift for his father’s 60th birthday. Now this was not an ordinary weekend in the south of France – the Monaco Grand Prix was on! The father was so excited – you could just see it in his eyes. I must’ve come across a tad bit deaf, the man was Welsh and had a very thick accent, so I had trouble understanding him… But the three of us were super psyched for the big race! Both father and son were a little disappointed when I told them that I wasn’t particularly fond of Hamilton – the son even said that I was possibly the worst person that they could be seated next to! HA! they were ofcourse joking…

I love arriving in Nice – the airport is just by the sea, and the view is AMAZING! Seeing as though I was here last year around the same time, I kind of knew where I was going… I caught the bus into town and settled into my apartment that I booked from Airbnb. I was staying right in Garibaldi Square above Cafe Turin (Nice’s most expensive seafood restaurant). The next morning, I realised that staying on the square was a HUGE mistake as it is so so noisy! The waiters of Cafe Turin begin to take out the tables and chairs at about 7am! I mean who eats fish for breakfast….?!?!

I explored the old town, I love the winding streets full of cafes, restaurants and shops. I was very impressed with my memory as I remembered where I was going and didn’t get lost at all! Last year my friend Refika and I found a very nice homely restaurant called Restaurant du Gesu – so for my first meal I wanted to go back there. I found it and I was seated, but I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the Nice onion pizza thing was called! And the waiter was very rude this time – he ruined the whole experience! BUT the Italian couple next to me were very friendly and we had a nice chat. In fact, the man was adamant that Australians spoke another language… he was hilarious!

I went to Nice Port and saw that the same row boats that were there last year. It was just nice seeing how some things don’t change… The familiarity of it all was lovely. I hiked up Parc de la Colline du Château (make sure you have good shoes on) on a sunny day and the view from here was spectacular! Make sure you go right up to the top – the signs aren’t too good (abit  misleading actually) but when you eventually make it up the top, it’s definitely worth it!

There are markets on the inner street parallel to Promenade des Anglais (the end that is furthest away from the airport) and they sell everything from flowers, to fresh produce, to olives and sundried tomatoes. Really good value! I bought cherries from here and they were amazing!

Place Massena was nice as usual, and at night there are various street performers. There are also fountains here – and there is even a fountain show in the evening. During the day, the fountains become misty…

Every morning I would go to Paul (the bakery) and ask for a baguette, croissant and a cafe latte. For dinner, besides my first night in Nice, I usually got something to eat for takeaway and sat by the seaside. Nice is thought to be very expensive, but you can easily get by on a budget – you simply have to be travel smart.

Gelato: don’t be fooled by the long line of people waiting to buy gelato from this place in the old town (near the justice building I think). I didn’t get a chance to have it last year, so I was curious this year. I bought 2 scoops and it wasn’t that nice…

As I waited for the airport bus, 30mins later I find out that there is a strike. The bus never came. Luckily a group of 3 people were also going to the airport, so I shared an über with them. In fact, 2 of them were on the same flight as me back to London! They were a great bunch of people and I was lucky enough to share a ride with them to the airport =)

Nice was simply Nice, I could easily turn this into a yearly pilgrimage….

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From Paris With Love

Day 1: Friday 22nd August 2014

My friends and I arrived at Gare du Nord train station via the Eurostar from London St Pancras in the afternoon. I booked an apartment for us to stay in the lovely neighbourhood of Le Marais on Airbnb. Following our host’s instructions, we made our way to the metro station called “Republique”. We had a bit of difficulty entering the metro…. Upon entering the metro, both my friends got stuck between the barriers due to their luggage and couldn’t get through. Luckily for us, a kind Parisian man helped them get through by swiping his own metro card. It was actually quite hilarious – we all couldn’t stop laughing…

Once we settled into our lovely apartment, we decided to make our way to Champs de Elysees and see the Arc de Triomphe. We each bought a book of 10 metro tickets, and made our way to the grand boulevard. Once we arrived, we all were amazed at the hustle and bustle, and the sheer awesomeness of this boulevard!!! But hunger got the better of us, so before we began to really explore, we thought it best to satiate our hunger. Following dinner, we were keen for dessert – low and behold we found ourselves right in front of La Duree! We all bought a handful of delicious macarons and divulged in the sweet sensations as we walked around the lively grand boulevard.

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IMG_8699wmDay 2: Saturday 23rd August 2014

We all had different museums to visit, and we thought it best to get there early in order to avoid any queues and to enjoy the masterpieces without the chaos. Meryem was visiting the Lourve and given that she didn’t know too much about art, I gave her advice on what she absolutely must see (besides the obvious Mona Lisa). As I had already visited the Lourve 2 years ago, I told Meryem to say “hi” to Mona from me and kept walking to the Musee d’Orsay.

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I was very excited to visit this museum as it had loads of work from the Impressionists – my favourite era! As I entered the museum, I was surprised at the layout it seemed a little confusing. There was a whole bunch of sculptures and statues in the middle with separate rooms on the left and right. My mission was to first see work by Van Gogh (he is my all time favourite!!), so after asking the first museum employee I had seen, I bee-lined it to the Van Gogh section. AND oh how wonderful it was!! By far the highlight for me was the self-portrait that had a blue background. I then made my way to the section that displayed work from my second favourite artist – Monet. I was intrigued to see a lot of his earlier work here – which made me realise that even though these were amazing, I preferred his work once he had moved to Giverny.

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We all met up for lunch at the bakery “Paul” in Saint Michel, which I had an amazing baguette with Brie, tomatoes and salad. Seeing as though we were in the neighbourhood, we thought it’d be nice to explore St Germain and the Latin Quarter. As we began walking we came across the gelateria “Grom” and I couldn’t contain my excitement! I first came across Grom when I was in Siena, Tuscany in 2013, by far one of the best gelato’s I have ever had! We all couldn’t resist, and what better way to spend walking the streets of Paris with a tasty gelato in hand! We made our way to the Pantheon and were disappointed to see that the dome was under construction. However, the scaffolding was cleverly covered up by JR’s art installation of his “inside out project”. I was aware that he had a magnificent art installation inside the actual Pantheon, but we didn’t have much time, so we had to give it a miss…

We then made our way to the Luxemburg gardens to sit by and watch the world go by. The gardens had beautifully manicured lawns with colourful flowers in bloom – was such a spectacular sight to see given the backdrop of the bright blue sky. As we made our way back to our apartment, we crossed over the Pon des Arts – the bridge whereby everyone has “sealed their love” by locking a padlock and tossing the key into the Seine below. At first, it appeared to be a nice gesture, but the amount of lockets that were on the bridge was actually quite shocking! Moreover, to think that each of these locks were also accompanied by a key that was thrown into the river annoyed me slightly. This is intentional pollution of the river Seine, and I’m sure there are other ways for one to declare their love… so please if you do go to Paris, do not follow what everyone else has done – otherwise YOU will be also contributing to the pollution…

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For dinner we were meeting my friend Leonié, who was a local. So we met her at the metro stop Commerce and she took us to a nice French bistro called Le Café du Commerce. I ordered the Grenobloise fish dish, which I was a little disappointed, as it was not filleted nevertheless, the taste was actually ok… I was in awesome company and that is what mattered most! We then bid farewell to Leonié and walked to the Eiffel tower. Sharon was challenged to do the ice bucket challenge, so as we were in Paris, she thought it would be unique to have the Eiffel tower in the background of her video. As the sun was just setting, we were lucky to see the tower in this light. We made our way up the hill to the Trocadero Gardens so we could have a nice view of the tower. As I was shooting away with my camera, I heard a familiar voice behind me. As I turned around I could not believe my eyes – it was my friend Caio and his fiancé Rosanna, whom I had met when I first moved to Cambridge! I knew that they were in Paris as well, but what were the odds of running into them in such a crowded place! It was really nice to see them! As the big hand approached the hour, Sharon was ready and proceeded with her challenge with the Eiffel tower sparkling in the background. I was given the honour of pouring the bucket of cold water over her head, which in turn, she nominated me!

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Day 3: Sunday 24th August 2014

I wanted to show Meryem and Sharon the artist quarter of Montmarte, as it has a nice vibe to it. Upon our arrival, I wanted to get a jump shot of all three of us with the Sacré-Cœur in the background, however, this proved not as easy as what I thought. We all could jump, it just wasn’t synchronised… After many failed attempts we decided to climb the stairs of the Sacré-Cœur and enjoy the view of Paris from atop. From my last visit, I knew that there was a mini plaza just behind the basilica where there were artists sketching the portraits of tourists. This area was very crowded, but we managed to weave our way through the lanes of artists and easels. Some were very impressive, and I must admit, I was nearly tempted to have my portrait sketched as well! Once we had enough of the artists’ quarter we made our way back down to the metro and along the way took selfies in front of the infamous Moulin Rouge.

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Our next mission was to find a Pierre Herme boutique to sample more macarons. From my previous trip to Paris, I enjoyed Pierre Herme macarons more than La Duree. So both my friends, Meryem and Sharon were eager to try macarons from this boutique. We ended up at the one near Opera and oh my goodness – the taste was amazing, it was as if fireworks were going off in my mouth!

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We made our way to Notre Dame and admired the amazing gothic architecture of this beautiful building. After saying goodbye to Quasimodo (no really, there was a man in front of the cathedral with a mask that looked like Quasimodo scaring passers by…), walked along the river till we heard music at the Tino Rossi Gardens. I had read online that on Sundays, locals would dance here. So, we found ourselves a spot to sit and watched the Parisians twirling away to samba/salsa beats. One hour into watching the locals dancing away, I realised that there was an actual DJ on the far left! This was such an amazing experience; people were here – both young and old – to simply dance under the sun. Let me tell you, most, if not all the people that were dancing, could really dance! It was nice to watch…

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Day 4: Monday 25th August 2014

We bid farewell to Meryem at the early hours of Monday morning. Sharon and I caught the train to Vernon and then a bus to Monet’s Garden. The weather wasn’t too great, in fact it was lightly drizzling. As soon as we arrived at Monet’s residence with our electronic tickets (trust me this is a must to avoid the queues…), we raced over to the lily pond before it got too crowded. And what a sight it was! If you have ever seen a Monet water lily painting, just imagine that his garden looks identical to what he has painted! We walked around the pond, and the grounds of the garden – which had very beautiful colourful flowers in bloom! We also explored Monet’s house and got told off for taking photos in the kitchen, for no obvious reason… As it was raining, we didn’t want to get drenched, so we didn’t get a chance to explore the little village. Instead we thought it best to head back into Paris.

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I had purchased the passport ticket, which allowed entrance into the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee l’Orangerie. After my visit to Monet’s Garden, I thought it was an opportune moment to visit the Musee l’Orangerie. You see the unique thing about this museum was that Monet had donated a series of eight Nymphéas and had requested that they were displayed in two oval rooms. As I entered the first oval room, I was in awe of the paintings, after just seeing the actual garden, then seeing the huge water lilies hung before me was a surreal moment. After spending some time in the oval rooms, I went downstairs to see work by Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse – only to name a few. This museum was definitely worth visiting, and I would strongly suggest purchasing an electronic passport ticket to avoid waiting in queues…

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For dinner we decided to dine locally in Le Marais. Finding a restaurant that was open on Monday was actually quite challenging. All the ones that were on the list of great restaurants on TripAdvisor were closed! To avoid further disappointment, we simply walked into a restaurant that looked semi-decent. I was eager to try a crepe from the creperie across the road, and after a horrible crème caramel for dessert, I thought I was deserving of a freshly made nutella crepe. It was delicious and for 3€ you really couldn’t go wrong!

Day 5: Tuesday 26th August 2014

I was aware that Tuesday was one of the busier days for visiting Versailles, but we didn’t have any other option as we were leaving the following day. We arrived in Versailles at around 11am and were gobsmacked at two things: the hugeness of the palace AND the amount of people who were queuing to get into the palace! All these people also had pre-purchased their tickets just like us, so we also joined the line… I kid you not, there were 5 lanes of people in the shape of a snake the length of the entire “driveway”. Having said all of this, we waited only 30 minutes till it was our turn to enter the grand palace. From the first moment we entered the palace, you could simply feel the wealth of the French kings. We followed the masses of people, most of who were listening to the audio guide, through all the rooms of the palace. And finally we arrived in the Hall of Mirrors – and what an amazing hall it was indeed! The wall was completely covered in mirrors with gold trimmings, and the ceiling had several paintings also in gold frames together with enormous crystal-like chandeliers with parquetry floors. It was definitely the highlight of Versailles for me!

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By this stage we were beginning to feel as though our sugar levels were dropping, so we were delighted to see the sign for “Angelina’s”, as we knew this was one of the best places to have a hot chocolate! After having a spot of lunch and dessert, we were back on our feet to finish the visiting the rest of the palace. We hadn’t bought tickets for the garden as this was very much weather dependent. And by the end of the palace visit, we were quite tired and decided to make our way back to central Paris via RER. We stopped off at the Galeries La Fayette, as I was eager to see the interior of this amazing building – not that I could afford anything from here. Everything was basically high end designer… nevertheless, the building itself was spectacular, particularly the ceiling…

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We met my French friend Farva for an early dinner/snack. She took us to a creperie in Saint Michel that she used to visit frequently in her student days. I went for a savoury crepe (tomatoes and cheese) and it was scrumptious! We enjoyed our crepes at the Luxemburg gardens. We stopped over at Grom again to have one last gelato (I highly recommend pistachio and salted caramel).

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Day 6: Wednesday 27th August 2014

As it was our last day in Paris, Sharon and I thought it would be nice to have a late breakfast at an artisan bakery. My friend Farva informed us that if a boulangerie (bakery) has artisan in front of it, it means that the bread etc is made fresh that day and is not frozen baked. We set off on a mission to find an artisan boulangerie – but we must have been walking in the wrong direction, as we didn’t come across any! In the end we settled for a café, which ended up having nice wait staff. We wanted to randomly explore the streets in our neighbourhood, so we walked to the northern parts of Le Marais and back to Chatelet, where we came across an artisan bakery. We were both delighted and immediately bought dessert to accompany our lunch.

Paris was amazing, I definitely recommend everyone to visit this amazing city! If you are based in London, the Eurostar has offers where a return trip to Paris can cost as little as £59 (actually this is the current offer!!!). When you do visit Paris, try and do things off the beaten path, this will enable you to enjoy Paris as the locals do (and mostly avoid the other tourists!). Due to lack of time, we weren’t able to go on a street art tour, as I’ve been told that there are amazing street artworks in the 10th arr. But I’ll just have to save that for next time! Oh and definitely eat as many macarons from the good boutiques as possible – definitely worth the calories!

 

Merci for reading and au revoir…