Day 8: Exploring Nice, Monaco, and the Côte d'Azur
Wake up ready to rub shoulders with the jet-set on the glamorous Côte d'Azur. Unlock the secrets of the French perfume industry with a visit to a perfumery, where fragrance experts waft exclusive scents from stoppered bottles. Then drive along part of the Grand Prix circuit in Monaco and walk with your Tour Director through the old town to visit the Royal Palace, yacht-filled harbour and the cathedral, housing the tomb of Princess Grace. The rest of the day is set aside for you to enjoy the French Riviera at your own pace. Hotel: Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice. Buffet Breakfast.
Breakfast was pretty shitty here, totally uncooked eggs, no hard boiled options, way over cooked bacon which could very possibly just have all been deep fried, dubious looking sausage, dangerously luke warm tasting quiche, and cold little pancakes. However it was here that I got acquainted with the espresso machines they have, first with café o’lait, and then the automatic cappuccinos. It had the perfect amount of foam. Although our room had no view, at least our breakfast was behind a glass wall looking out over the water.
After breakfast, we went to a perfumery. Well, Joyce did. I didn’t know it at the time, but Joyce had been there before and was looking forward to going back to get a soap she really liked. I would have just stayed at the hotel or walked about Nice by myself, but I was held hostage by the bus was going directly to Monaco after the perfumery.
However, I chose not to go the perfumery after discovering this was an option, and instead climbed back up the switch back hill driveway down to the perfumery, and walked along the highway listening to the Jimmy Dore show.
I passed on the way back up the driveway a Ferrari which was 120 euros to drive for 15 min, 60 to be a passenger, with prices going up from there. I wasn’t tempted.
Eventually I turned around and found my way to a souvenir store and hit a treasure trove of stickers, and got a Nice pin. I haven’t been collecting pins this trip, but I liked this one. I liked Nice, and it had some cool kind of bird on it which reminded me of the Albanian flag. I then wandered back down to the bus and met up with the rest of the group, and it was off to Monaco.
I had very mixed feelings about Monaco. It’s known for the casino which the Catholic Church overlooked because it was for rich people, for the grand prix race which takes place there, and for being a hot spot for the uber rich. Well I’m not big on casinos and we didn’t even go to the famous Monte Carlo Casino anyways. I’m not big on racing either, but it was nevertheless interesting to see the incredibly narrow streets, and to imagining these high performance open wheel F1 cars zipping around and finding it nearly impossible to pass each other. The obscene wealth offended me though, the same way the rows upon rows of private jets offended me in Nice. It just seems so fundamentally unfair. No human life is a billion times more valuable than another human life, especially when (as is usually the case (especially in Europe)) that wealth is inherited from generations back. Maybe it’s all this time in France, in the shadow of the great and continuing revolutionary spirit, with the words Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité etched into stone all over the country, words which have been and are still taken so seriously here, and yet thrown around so casually in the United States now only ironically. I kept joking to Joyce about sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches.
Still, it was nice to see these places regardless of how you feel about them, and the irony of complaining about extreme privilege while I am enjoying the privilege of being on this trip at all is not lost on me. The thing about these places thought, is that you really have to go and be there, see how it looks and sounds and smells, and feels to really see how you genuinely feel about these places. Before we left I did a lot of offline area downloading on Google Maps, so you can use it without Wi-Fi or data, and going places in real life is a lot like that, they go from being a vague idea to a vibrant reality. When these places are discussed in the future you can orient yourself in the space in your imagination like dropping the street view figure down onto the map and looking around. When I hear about or see Monaco in movies or books or on the news in the future I will remember a vivid reality, a real place, as opposed to having only a vague notion attached to the words. That is the invaluable value of travel.
We parked in a coach parking lot which was several levels and could fit several dozen on each level thought it was nowhere near full.
We then proceeded up these elevators that only had two stops, and despite the crowding were assured this was a pale shadow of the crowding at the height of tourist season. At the top there was a maritime museum we didn’t go into,
but out front there was the yellow submarine which supposedly actually inspired the Beatles song, and we saw this just a couple days after Ronald made us all sing along to ‘Yellow Submarine’. That kind of thing is always cool.
From there we went walked over to a hundred year old church made to look like a six hundred years old gothic cathedral (rich people…) in which was the tomb of Grace Kelly who was apparently once a thing?
I learned a bit about the Grace Kelly story, and shook my head at the American fascination with wealth, celebrity, and royalty while claiming to be all about whatever the opposite is supposed to be.
We proceeded to the far end of the plateau we had been brought up to and found out that there would be no changing of the guard ceremony that day and were only minorly disappointed. We did come to the wonderful lookout point we were promised where we could see the bowl which was the entire ‘country’ of Monaco. It was indeed quite a sight, but some of the massive yachts bothered me for reasons already discussed.
We killed time, I found a Monaco bottle opener and souvenir coin. The souvenir coins come in three different brands or so, but are two euros at every town or church or monument of significance and I like to get them all. Often the challenge is choosing between the two or three available, and not knowing whether to get the first one I see when I have the chance or hold out for one that may be better and risk missing out altogether. After killing some time which included Joyce getting a Coke Light and me getting a can of Heineken to drink while we walked through the narrow streets, we started working out way back to the meeting place in front of the museum.
We went through a garden perched precariously on the cliff, in a series of very narrow terraces with stairs and walkways which went much further down towards the water than we cared to go, and we were quite high up.
After we went back to the coach and were driving out of ‘country’, when we went through tunnels under the massive buildings, it was pointed out to us that the roadways sparkled because they ha crushed up diamonds mixed into the pavement.
Fucking rich people…
We then went to a place called Saint Paul,
which turned out to be right above the perfumery Joyce went to, and the clock tower was something I’d taken pictures of on my solo walk, and which Joyce had pointed out and said that if she was solo walking she’d have run up to the top of it. It was at this point I started getting bored with old walled cities. At this point in the trip, an old walled city starts to become just another walled city. It was a remarkable hike all the way to the top, through another garden at the very top, but it at least provided a pretty spectacular view while we were up there.
On the way back down we stopped at sweets vendor and I got some almond brittle and Joyce some nougat which I ate while working our way back down to the bus. On the way I scored a bottle opener from here as well, which I wasn’t expecting. I also posed very casually with a statue while I ate my almond brittle and had Joyce take a picture.
Then it was back to Nice, and I had a mission at this point. I hadn’t run since several days before we left, and I had been scheming for a couple of days to go for a run on the promenade. As soon as I came home, I put my shoes on, my running shorts and shirt, donned my bandana, and I headed out. Earlier in the day when I was on my solo walk, I decided against having a beer because I was planning on running later. It is so tempting seeing beers in practically every fridge in stores, often cheaper than Coke Light. Of course alcoholism is seemingly less of a problem here, but that’s a whole other thing. I kicked myself after the beer in Monaco because I forgot that this had been my intention, but it was earlier enough that it wasn’t a problem. Anyways, I headed out onto the promenade, and at first I felt super goofy about the way I looked, especially since at first I had to walk down the street a bit on the hostel side and wait for quite a while before being able to cross the road to the sea side and start running.
Also, before I left the hotel I had a hell of a time trying to get on my phone both the music I wanted to listen to while running, as well as appropriate podcasts for when I was just walking. They were both on different SD cards, and I couldn’t just copy the songs I wanted to listen to over to the other, or just the podcasts I wanted to listen to over without copying everything which would have taken hours. In the end I just copied a few long podcasts over to the one with music on them, and then had to do a LOT of skipping to next song while running. However, once I started running, and I found a good song to run to, it was a positively magical experience. It was late in the day but the sun was still out. There were tons of people, some just walking along, lots of cyclists going back and forth on the separated bikeway, a ton of other runners running past me going the other way past me, or passing me going the same direction… There were super interesting signs on the side of the road, a guy with a bubble rope with like, eight apertures all blowing bubbles out with the wind, words like PAIX, LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ painted on the sidewalk in big letters, people on the beach below me… I went three kilometers before I started to feel any fatigue.
I thought later on about what I’d been hearing on the news about cities in southern France, particularly Nice instituting a ban on the so called Burkini. First of all I of course find it very amusing that a country would at once say that you’re not allowed to be naked, and at the very same time say that you’re not allowed to be covered up. It sounds kind of Kafkaesque on the face of it, and beneath the face of it it’s pretty unusual to say the least for a state to order women to show more skin by law. In any case, I certainly didn’t see anything to do with that at this time; it certainly wasn’t the season. However, I was struck throughout my time in France how much Arab and Muslim influence and presence I noticed without it seeming to be a problem, to the point of even seeing Halal sections of grocery stores at least once.
I came across the memorial on the promenade where the attacks happened. I felt a lot.
When one of the attacks in France happened I put an Iraqi flag over my profile picture on Facebook while everyone was putting a French flag on theirs, because far more people had died in a terrorist attack in Iraq around the same time, but no one cared about them. It bothered me that the loss of white European lives seemed so much more tragic for people than far more brown lives lost in some Middle Eastern hell hole which the world gave up on a long time ago. To me lives are lives, and the lives of Iraqi men, women, and children senselessly slaughtered are worth no less than white European lives. I get it that we’re humans and that the more another people’s culture overlaps with our own, the more of an emotional resonance we have with them, but it’s still a bias that bothers me.
My feelings about this haven’t changed, but when I saw the memorials in Nice, I was moved. Men, women, and children were celebrating their independence day, just waiting for the fireworks to start when they were mowed down by a truck. Eighty something were killed, with three hundred something injured, many of whom were still in the hospital when I was there. That day I was French, that day I felt solidarité, and while I resisted posting it on Facebook because it’s so insufferable a things to say, I kept thinking #notlettingtheterroristswin. They want us to be too afraid to live our lives normally, too afraid to visit places like France.
The geopolitics are obviously very complicated, but you defeat the intent of terrorism by living life, laughing, and soaking in a place like Nice. It is defeated by not letting it scare you out of enjoying your life however you can. It is defeated by flying to France and running the Promenade Anglais instead of being too afraid to travel at all. I was thinking about it because two nights before one of our fellow travelers, an Indian Australian woman named Rajani Srinivasa, when we were all asked to say why we chose this trip, said she came because she wanted to support normalcy in the wake of the attacks, and to support the French people. I liked her answer very much and had it on my mind as I ran that day.
Anyways, I ran around the bend at the far end of the promenade and basically came to the end of it and had only gone four and a half kilometers. I usually run six though, and I thought that distance would be at least that. So, I turned around a post and kept running. I stopped at the massive World War One and Two memorial carved into the mountain face and took some pictures, as well as taking the required moments to reflect on the reverence I felt for the loss and struggle the memorial represented.
I still felt really good so I kept running, stopping to take pictures along the way of things I’d wanted to take a closer look at as we drove by them earlier that day.
By now I was thinking I should see just how far I could go, and I started thinking that it must be about ten kilometers back to the hotel based on where I’d turned around. The sun was in my eyes on the way back but it was still great to be running there. I passed several people who I’d already passed when I was going the other way, they had obviously also run a certain distance and turned around.
Soon after I started running after leaving the hotel I saw a guy who must have been in his sixties running with no shirt, and thinking ‘when a guy in his sixties is clearly in far better shape than you are…’. Seven kilometers later he passed me again, seemingly still going casually strong, while I was in a very challenged state. I found it so funny that I’d thought that of him originally, and then to so long afterwards see the same guy.
There was one part on the promenade where small cones that looked like upside down solo beer cups had been laid out and there were people inline skating the slalom, but there were also long board guys, a guy with roller skates which just had two laterally mounted wheels, all kinds of things. Joyce and I came across this same area later that night, and there were still people at it, including a long board guy who had plastic balled gloves which he’d go down on and swirl around on the ground between his long board and his palms.
There was also a girl doing amazing things with her skateboard, she seemed to be dancing on and off of it as it rolled down the promenade. I didn’t manage to get video of her doing it but it was truly amazing to see.
On the return trip I also passed three soldiers with large machine guns (from my Call of Duty playing I’d guess a SAW? But I’m probably wrong). It is a relatively common sight in France these days, as they are still under a continuing official state of emergency since the first large attack in Paris a year ago. Pretty much every other place we stopped we saw three soldiers with machine guns walking around and keeping an eye on things. Later in the trip the woman who said she’d taught Justin Trudeau commented that it made her feel safe. It didn’t make me feel safe. Quite the opposite really. For one thing there’s this thing called crossfire. Also, them feeling like they needed that kind of extra security pointedly made me feel unsafe. Lastly, I know enough to know that a show of force like that doesn’t actually make things safer, it’s just to make people feel safer.
At some point on my way back, I spotted Joyce, who was walking down the promenade to greet me and she took some pictures.
Several kilometers back she had texted me to ask how much longer I would be, and she had come out to walk along to meet me. At first I walked with her, but then I told her I wanted to do the full ten kilometers to see how it went for me. So I ran on, but understand that at this point I was certainly quite regularly alternating between walking and running, though I was still doing both. I was only at nine and a half kilometers-ish when I got to our hotel, so I turned around again and kept going until I had completed the full ten kilometers in one hour and sixteen minutes, and very proud of myself. I decided to walk on and meet up with Joyce again, and when I did we walked back to the hotel together.
As soon as we got home I grabbed a beer from the fridge and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had posted on Facebook when we first arrived in that hotel room about the sweetness of when there’s an exact same beer in the minibar fridge as you brought with you, allowing you to have a cold beer as soon as you get in without having to pay minibar prices. After that I had a second beer, and then had a shower. FINALLY a good shower. The side was still only half built, but it actually had a shower head situated up high which had reasonable water pressure positioned at an appropriate angle.
I can’t remember where it was exactly, but the previous time I tried to take a show, it was singularly the worst shower ever in the history of showers. It literally was even a shower at all! It had a handheld shower head on a hose, but no mount to put it up into a shower position. I had to hold it up the entire time I was up there. UGH. Miserable. And don’t even come at me with the first world problems bullshit.
This shower was pretty okay though, and- oh right, my wound. I knew there was something wrong with my foot two thirds into my run, I wondered if there would be pooled blood in my shoe when I took it off. Nope, just an unfortunate blister already shorn off on the outside bottom of the arch on my left foot. I avoided as much as possible letting my bare wounded foot touch the always questionable floor of the hotel room.
What I didn’t really notice until the next day, was a significant pain in my left foot on the left side shooting up the ankle. It still hurts today several days later, and not insignificantly. I strongly suspect I may have bruised the bone or something. I’m sure it will get better gradually, but it certainly is happening gradually. I keep saying ‘ow my foot hurts…’ I’ve also been randomly saying to Joyce ‘YOU’RE a (whatever sounds funny)’ from South Park’s ‘YOU’RE a towel…’. It’s like ‘that’s what she said,’ but a lot broader in its application. YOU’RE a tart… YOU’RE a Cahors… Its fun. Well… it amuses me at least.
After my shower, it was time to go to dinner. We took a cab to the old town of Nice, to the same area where we’d had dinner the other night. The cab driver turned out to be from Chamonix and we talked about how much we liked Chamonix as well as Nice. He seemed impressed that I’d gotten into the box up on Mont Blanc. He as an odd Frenchman though, he told us that he didn’t really like soccer but was big into hockey, and that after he dropped us off he was going to go watch ‘the’ hockey game with his buddy. I’ve also noticed that here in French it’s always monsieur, not hey guy, buddy, chief, big guy… monsieur. Always. I like that. We also talked about all the problems with uber and our disdain for it. Joyce observed that she looked into it and that it would have cost the same, but of course there is no extra insurance for the passengers, no taxes being paid for the road infrastructure, no taxes going to local governments, and all of the profits going back to the United States, where the would no doubt be routed through Ireland or something to avoid paying taxes on it even there. When he dropped us off Joyce asked him if she was supposed to tip him as she pulled out 25 euros and he said it was 20 euros. He said ‘er….. you can if you feel like, but….’ She then dug into her purse for a single euro. I told her afterwards I would have just given him the 25 euros, especially since we liked him so much and talked with him.
After stopping at a souvenir shop to get me a bottle opener and souvenir coin, we then found a nice place for dinner (again, no pun intended). My priority was onion soup, as had been my priority since that first night, trying to find an onion soup as good as we had then. We sat down in front of a vacant band set up but the server assured us that they wouldn’t be playing for over an hour, and then five minutes later they started playing. I enjoyed it though, and we found that we could still talk and decided to stay where we were.
The onion soup was very good, but it was just bread with melted cheese on top, none of the mythical cheese on the bottom I loved so much that first night. Joyce had a warm goat cheese salad, which confused me at first because it was listed as chèvre which I thought was horse, but horse of course I soon realized is cheval while chèvre is goat.
Anyways she really liked it and when I tried it I also thought it was quite good. For an entrée I had a lasagna which was also very good, though more creamy than I had expected.
Joyce had a ravioli which she really liked and again, I found very delicious as well.
We then decided to walk home. This was not our original intent, but we never came across a taxi and at some point it just became apparent that we were walking the whole three kilometers back. It felt like a long walk, but it was a good one nonetheless, despite how complain-y as Joyce was, which perfectly understandably given how much and how far we’d already walked that day. Still, it gave us the chance to spend even more time seeing the city and in a differently light from the other side of the street and I appreciated that.
We looked through the fences to another monument for the attack, and got closer to other permanent monuments we’d only driven past before, and it was great.
Yes, I definitely like Nice.