I do not have nearly enough money to play and stay in the French Riviera! I spent three nights in Nice, France and even headed out to Monaco for a few hours so that I could really see how the 1% lives. Or, based on those prices, the 0.01%.
It was a rainy and miserable morning so I took advantage of that to take care of a bit of housekeeping – laundry. Not the most glamorous start to a day in the French Riviera, but an appropriate rainy day activity. The rain finally let up enough that I ventured out to the train station, conveniently close to my hostel, to buy a return ticket to Monaco for the low price of €7.60. There is also the option of a city bus service, which only costs €3 return, but it can take over an hour (depending on traffic) and Busabout came into Nice the scenic way, giving us the opportunity to see Monaco from the highway, so I didn’t feel as though I was losing anything by taking the faster train.
Monaco was basically what I expected: quiet, clean and expensive. Prices in restaurants, especially those close to the casino or along the water, were significantly higher than those in Nice. The number one piece of advice from the girls who worked at the hostel was to pack a lunch or snacks and it quickly became obvious why.
The Grand Prix had been held on the previous weekend which made walking around the city a bit challenging. There were still safety barricades up along many of the roads, designed to protect bystanders and race attendees from the high race speeds. It also meant, however, that you could walk for up to five minutes in order to simply cross the road. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you have to backtrack another five minutes or so on the other side, it gets annoying.
I’ve never been in a place where having a Porsche was commonplace. It was like the Monaco version of a Honda. I did see some cheaper vehicles, all of which stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the luxury sedans and sports cars that prowled the streets. Monaco was definitely a place in which to be seen.
The Monte Carlo marina was one of the highlights of my visit to the principality. I’ve long had a fascination with superyachts, fed by a subscription to Vanity Fair… a magazine that seems to share my interest. The marina didn’t disappoint, with yachts and superyachts of all styles and sizes. There was a girl staying in my hostel who was looking for a job on a yacht – her goal was to be a stewardess – and she had been looking for a job for five weeks, bouncing between hostels and trying to keep costs down. She had completed a course, had registered for a job placement service and spent her time taking the train between cities on the French Riviera hoping to land an interview and eventually a job. The first position, apparently, was the hardest to land but as an inexperienced crew member she could expect to earn around €2000 a month, all expenses paid, during the yacht season which lasted from about May to early October in the Mediterranean. I don’t have the personality to work on a superyacht, but I sure would like to own one! Or even rent one for a while. In fact, I’ll take a normal yacht… I’m not that picky.
I explored for a few hours before heading back to Nice, eager to participate in the hostel’s €3 pasta and wine dinner. The wine was pretty bad, served from large plastic jugs, which is probably why it was a) only €3 and b) served with ice cubes in it. The spaghetti, however, was pretty delicious with lots of vegetables and we had an appetizer of fresh popcorn. All class, all the time.
A big group of us finished up our wine and headed out a bar that seemed to be a necessary stop for those on the backpackers trail. The Busabout guide had told us that people danced on the tables and it was a lot of fun – after getting there, I realized that I am either way too old or way too cranky for those types of venues. The cover band was pretty lame, people danced on tables because there was no floor space and they probably wanted some air… and drink prices were insanely expensive. Plus, everyone in there was a backpacker or foreigner. I met a girl who was working for a few hours a day in a hostel, in exchange for a room, and she told me that she was in Nice to learn French… and that Wayne’s was really the only place to go. I have trouble believing that there’s no bar for locals in the city! Plus everyone knows that your language skills improve exponentially in line with alcohol consumption. This girl was missing out on a vital opportunity,
I was up early the next day and wandered towards the contemporary art museum. En route, I took a meandering path through an outdoor promenade and park, a wonderful green space with wide pedestrian and biking access that goes through the city, just a few blocks from the beach. It had fountains for kids to play in and cool off, huge imaginative play structures and lots of benches and seating for picnics or lazy afternoons. The museum itself is always free and I figured an hour or so in air conditioning would be a pleasant respite from the sun. The gallery, however, is uncomfortably warm and I looked forward to my visit to the rooftop terraces where I could wander the roof of the museum (it is designed around a courtyard) either taking in some outdoor art, a garden or just peering over the edge to check out what was below and off in the distance. The fresh air was also very welcome, especially after spending some time in the stuffy building.
The gallery is on the edge of Vieux Nice and I ventured into the old city, browsing through the shops and checking out the restaurants. The girl at the hostel told me that the food in Nice wasn’t very good, unless you were willing to pay for it, and that I would do better to just stick with ethnic food for affordable snacks. Nice is also known for their moules frites (mussels & fries) but I was warned that it wasn’t mussel season, therefore I shouldn’t bother.
The beach in Nice is known to be quite rocky and once I finished in Vieux Nice I went to check things out for myself. I finally made myself comfortable (by removing the pointy rocks), settled in and got ready to relax… until the African-style drumming started on the promenade, just above me. I figured the street performance couldn’t go on for too long, right? Once again, I was wrong. After about 30 minutes of interminable drumming, I packed up and left, wandering a bit further down the rocks until it was almost drowned out by the sounds of the waves. The drumming didn’t stop at all while I was on the waterfront, an impressive display of stamina.
There are a dozen or so private beaches where you can pay €15 for a beach chair and umbrella, a worthy expense if you plan to spend the entire day on the beach. Locals were well prepared with either inflatable mattresses or cushioned pads, a smart choice when trying to get comfortable on rocks! Climbing in and out of the water was a humbling experience as well – rocks are generally slippery when wet, plus the waves push the rocks into a rather steep angle so that you basically have to scramble up, all dignity forgotten.
I strolled back to my hostel through an Italian food festival, snacking on free bread, olive oil, nuts, wine and cured meats. It was a slight detour, but I had the chance to walk a bit more along the beautiful waterfront before walking through a few more parks. Nice seems to be a very livable city – great climate, lots of green space and a decent public transit offering. Our guide had told us that lots of young French people want to move there, and it’s pretty easy to see why!