Nice & the French Riviera, France
June 28-29, 2008
Sorry we are so far behind on our blogs. School is keeping us SO busy!
Our weekend on the French Riviera was a lot of fun! We took an overnight train from Metz to Nice and had a couchette (our first couchette experience!). Luckily, we were FINALLY able to get reservations on these trains after being repeatedly told they were sold out up until about 2 weeks before. (In Munich, they told us that groups of Koreans buy blocks of seats on a lot of trains and then sell the unused ones back at the last minute…).
When we first got on our train, someone was already in our couchette and in French (i.e. mostly through gestures) he asked us to trade with him because he had small children and he didn't want to disturb the other people in his other couchette. We had no problem with this and so we moved a few couchettes down. The other man in this couchette was a Belgian who spoke English and French, so he was helpful in letting us know what was going on. A few stops down the line, the conductor came to check our tickets. Apparently it was NOT ok for us to trade with the other man and his family, and the Belgian, the conductor, and the other man got into a huge heated debate all in French. Danny and I just sat in our beds trying to figure out what was going on and completely confused. Finally, our Belgian friend told us we had to move back to our assigned couchette and that he was going to have to be stuck with the man and his young children. We felt bad for him, but apparently there was nothing that could be done.
We got a decent night's sleep in our couchette, although we had the top bunks (on three-bunk high bunk beds) and the train did not glide on the tracks by any means so it was pretty rocky all the way. Danny did not sleep nearly as well as I did - somehow I've learned to sleep through anything on train rides - it's a GREAT gift!
We arrived in Nice early in the morning and, following the directions from our hostel, tried to call them for a pickup. Unfortunately, they did not answer, so we set off on our own to find the place. We took the city's new tram to the nearest stop and then had to figure out how to walk to the place. Good old Mr. Compass led the way…for the most part, we went in the right direction, but we missed one turn and ended up walking up a completely uphill road, carrying our luggage, just as the sun started beating down on us. It's wasn't fun, but when we finally found the hostel, it was great! We stayed at the Villa St. Exupery Hostel in Nice, which was ranked the #1 hostel in France last year and we had heard great things about it.
When we got there, we met up with Danny's friend, Danny Hartpence, from way back in the day, and his girlfriend Leigh. We grabbed some free breakfast at the hostel before heading out for a day at the beach. We were told by lots of people that Nice's beaches weren't the nicest of the surrounding beaches so we asked the hostel for suggestions. We ended up deciding to go to Cap d'Ail, a beach that was "part rock and part sand" (although we didn't find the sand) with caves you could swim out to and cliffs you could jump from. This description was slightly misleading, but…it was still a beautiful place, made even more beautiful by the 15+ beers the boys bought and the delicious baguette picnic lunch. The water was cold and refreshing, once you got past the pain of walking on the rocks in your bear feet…the best method was basically to just belly-flop in and start paddling as soon as possible! The cliffs really rose up straight out of the water, but finding a place to jump off of them required a paddle boat, which the four of us rented for 20 euros. The Dannys jumped off the cliff with a bunch of locals while the Leigh and I watched and took pictures.
The best part about the paddle boat was that it had a miniature waterslide on the back of it, which was nice for going for a mid-paddling dip! (see the pictures). On our paddleboat adventure, we also passed a nude beach - that's right. THAT was quite an experience in itself and we laughed about how they probably spot the Americans just by how we gawk at such a sight! We also paddled out to the only cave we found and since the water was too rough to bring the boat in, we took turns swimming. Leigh and I went first and we had pretty calm waters going in. I even thought we could make it to the back of the cave, but luckily I did NOT try that because once we got halfway in and were standing on a rock, a HUGE wave came in. I got knocked off and thrown around in the back of the cave and it was pretty scary because there were sharp rocks everywhere! Luckily I only got chewed up a little on the feet, butt, hand and leg - but it was pretty scary! Once we came back, the Dannys went in but they didn't really venture in as far as we did (girls are so much braver!).
That night, we were pretty exhausted, but had a good dinner of very inexpensive pizza at our hostel. After showering, the Dannys and I took a train to Monaco. (Leigh was tired and wanted to pack up some of their stuff.) The Principality of Monaco is actually its own country, although it is little bigger than any of the other cities in the area. It is apparently the 2nd smallest country in the world (the first being Vatican City we think). In Monaco, we walked to the Monte Carlo Casino, which was amazing! Talk about luxury…every car there was either a Ferrari, a Maserati, or a Porche. The Casino was huge and we, shorts and t-shirts, were apparently not dressed properly enough among the women in gowns to enter the casino, although Danny H., the best dressed out of all of us tried. We got some pretty amazing pictures, and then headed back to the train. We only had a limited amount of time because of the times the trains ran, but it was definitely worth seeing!
The next morning, the Dannys really wanted to go scuba diving, so we agreed to get up early for a dive that our hostel could arrange for us. Neither Leigh nor I were certified, but there was a pretty inexpensive dive that did not require that. We left by 9 am and went out on a boat with about six other people. There were also about three dive masters and the reason you did not have to be certified was because they paired up with you. We asked if there was anyway all four of us could go down at the same time and they told us if we waited to go last then we probably could. We swam in our wetsuits off the side of the boat while the other passengers did their diving. Once again, the water felt SO refreshing!
We had bought a disposable waterproof camera from the dive shop so we took some water pictures. One guy came up after his dive and said he had seen and petted an octopus…we all wanted to see that. When our turn finally came, we each went with a separate dive master but they let us kind of go in the same area. We were able to take pictures of each other and together and luckily Danny H. ended up with the camera, because he was the only one who got to see the octopus (we are still waiting to see these pictures!!!). I got to see and hold sea urchin which was pretty cool. Once you put it on your hand, it suctions to you so you can turn your hand over and it will stay put. Overall, the area wasn't quite as good as the snorkeling area we got to go to over spring break but it was still cool and having never been scuba diving before it was a neat experience for me. Danny is thinking scuba certification classes at the CRC might be a good Christmas/birthday present for me, so next spring break I can do the REAL thing!
After the scuba excursion, Leigh and Danny H. just wanted to take it easy and rest, so they went to grab a bite to eat and headed back to the hostel. Danny G. and I walked through the town of Nice a little bit and then hit up a grocery store and headed to the beach at Nice. This beach was also very rocky, but we laid-out and read and got in the water or under the outside showers when it got too hot.
We ran into some other kids from GTL kids who had been visiting Cannes. They asked us if we were going back on the 8:45 train too and we said yes…two of the four of them were staying an additional day. After our day at the beach, we went back to the hostel to shower and get some dinner. We had just been talking about how much we missed Mexican food and low-and-behold, the hostel was serving FAJITAS! We were really excited…We ate with Danny and Leigh. We got a 1.5 liter bottle of Sangria (one for each couple) from the hostel bar for only 5 euros and ordered fajitas After the meal, Danny G and I headed to the shuttle to be taken to the tram to go to the train station. It was about 8:15 at this point - plenty of time to make our 8:45 train….
…IF that is our train actually WAS at 8:45. We got to the tram and Danny had me check the tickets…departure: 8:17. Awesome…well, we took the tram to the station and hustled just in case the train was "retarded" (delayed) by some luck. But of course not…We did see another train that was going to Paris that left around 8:55so we thought we'd just see if we could get on that. I waited in line at the ticket counter while Danny went to go get some extra cash in case we just hopped on and got fined. The line did not move very fast, so we ended up jumping on the train. There were plenty of openings and the seats reclined almost completely. The even had leg rests that came up like a La-Z-Boy. We could have easily slept there for the night and caught an early morning TGV to Metz. Once again IF Danny hadn't looked out the window when we got to Cannes and THOUGHT he saw "Metz-Ville" on the sign at the next platform…
…He hopped off and ran around like crazy trying to see the sign better. He thought it said "retard" meaning the Metz train was running late so maybe we just beat it from Nice to Cannes. Finally, he decided that's what it had truly said and beckoned me with all the luggage off our lovely train to Paris. He also got yelled at in French for delaying the departure of the train but…it didn't matter - we were going get to Metz - we thought…when we got to the platform that had said "Metz-Ville" it ACTUALLY said "NICE-ville" so…we hopped back on the train to where we had started. Meanwhile the EuroCup soccer finals were playing and we missed the whole thing!
When we got back to Nice, we found an Internet café and checked when the next possible trains to Metz would leave - around 5:00 am. And it was not even midnight yet…I tried to convince Danny to go back to the hostel and maybe we could hang out with Leigh & Danny H, but they had been moved into a really small room for that night and Danny thought the hostel was too far, so instead we decided to camp out on the beach.
Once again, that COULD have been a good idea IF, as previously mentioned, the EuroCup finals hadn't just taken place and IF Spain hadn't just won their first major championship in ages…and IF there weren't so many drunk people celebrating around the city. We ended up finding a somewhat "quiet" area on the beach with lounge chairs and we were sleeping pretty soundly until some other people our age came and started throwing rocks at us and…then security came and shoed us all away from the chairs. Then we tried just sleeping on the beach - the rocky beach. It wasn't very comfortable but we got some shut-eye. It got pretty cold though and I was already fighting a cold so…after a few hours, we moved to a park in the town that had benches and literally slept like bums on a bench for the last hour of rest until the sprinklers went off - not our night!
Finally, we thought the tram should have started running so we waited for it to take us back to the station, but it never came. We started walking and made it to the station and got onto the train we needed - once again to Paris and then a TGV from there. We found a way to make the route, which required a TGV, to Paris shorter in hopes that we would be fined less that way - we had heard the fines could be as steep as 120 euros. Luckily, we were only fined about 30 euros total and we were able to purchase reservations on the TGV from Paris to Metz (by some miracle). We got back in the early evening, exhausted!
Overall, it was a good weekend, but our transportation DEFINITELY could have run quite a bit more smoothly!