Exploring Monaco, Nice and Menton
02.05.2007 - 05.05.2007 26 °C
Driving the Cote d'Azur - 2 May
Driving from Cannes to Menton (on the Italian border) can be completed in two or three different ways. Autobarn - 30 minutes, Freeway - 1 hour, every single little cove, bay, marina, avenue and lookout - 4.5 hours +. Our choice should by now be obviouse to all of you.
Arriving in Menton we had brought with us a pair of numb bums, fresh stocks of tea, tomatos and pasta, around 200 extra photos and glorious recollections of the amazing coastline. Our days to come were solely dedicated to exploring the coast, in particular the seaside principality of Monaco, Nice and our local refuge, Menton.
To add to our excitement, Camilla had selected a campsite high on the hill overlooking Menton and the mediterranean.
Day 1 - Monaco - 3 May
There are a few good reasons to either visit or live in Monaco. The benefits of a tax haven, a casino which is known to lose, a castle and real live prince, and a grand prix circuit that closes down the entire country each year.
Our exploration of this enormous country (less than two square kilometres) began at the casino.
'WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU ARE NOT OPEN AT 10am IN THE MORNING'. Aghast at how they could make any money at all we stormed off around the perfectly manicured gardens complete with scaffolding, holes and workmen setting up for grand prix to the tourist office. 'WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CANT DRIVE FAST AROUND THE RACETRACK!' Aghast we took their advice and our issues to the palace.
Glamourous living is one thing, then there is being the ruling family of Monaco. Like being the boss of a roast chicken shop there are only 20,000 citizens to keep happy, heaps of Casino income (who knows how) and tourist dollars everywhere. The castle holds a commanding view in all directions over the little empire below. It seemed fitting from this position that we gorge on delicious pastries for a while.
Changing of the guards was our first induction into the formalities of being in a principality. With the throngs of other tourists we clustered around the entrance to the palace to see a parade of fluffy headed muskiteers (alright guardspersons). A marching band and a couple of dozen salutes later and it was time for us to make a bee line to the visitors entrance.
Our visit to the palace grand apartments was guided by an english audiotour which proved both interesting and comical. At one point it was clear that the author of the dialogue was trying to impress the 'Family' with comments such as 'resplendant, divine, exquisite...' and most memorably a single request; 'don't be distracted by the splendour of the throne room and forget to press the green button'. Disappointed to not have seen the royal toilet around the corner we were only marginally distracted by the Palace Throne and thankfully remembered to press the green button just in time for more haughty taughty commentary.
Lunch in a principality is a difficult choice but at last we decided to turn down the personal invitation of the Prince and order a couple of mouthwatering woodfired pizzas. On our way back to the car we stopped off at the post office to get a post card sent home then out onto the promatory for a closer look at the Museo Oceanigraphique. Feeling that the palace was sufficient entertainment for today we did not go into the museum, instead we grasped the handrails tight in the gale forced winds to appreciate this great building.
Time to find out how Monaco looks from the track. The most exciting part about our one hot lap of the grand prix circuit was Steve making formula one car noise as he approached and departed every turn. We don't need to go into detail about the pitch he could reach at the end of the straight so let us just say it was hilarious.
Our betting budget set (AUD$20 - hey big spenders) we strode confidently through the sea of Bentleys, Ferraris, Jaguars and Rolls Royce to stand bewildered at the door. Our entire betting budget would be blown if we paid the 20 euro entry fee (probably in place to ensure they don't go broke again). The casino is a beautiful building so we admired the architecture, watched a few hundred tourists eagerly fork out their daily betting budgets from a distance.
Driving back through the stunning towns along the coast we huddled under the ramparts at Menton for a warm brew. As the rain teased with splatters of gusto we stood firm and felt all the better for it.
Day 2 - Nice - 4 May
The capital city of the Maritime Coast in the south of France is around 1 hours winding drive past road works and buses from Menton. We started late (which basically means we are even more enthusiastic about life if that is possible) only to find out that having a car is a real burden. Unfortunately, the 'beast' needs more than just apple cores and grass to keep it going. As we rounded the Port East into Nice the red petrol light had been on for a good 10 kms.
Finally we snaked our way into a parking station, ran for the toilets (30 centimes), put on our wet weather gear and strode off persistant in our quest to see Nice. 5 minutes later and the wet weather gear came off, our waiter came over to take our order and we sat watching the rain over the rims of our teacups. Adventurous we may be but silly we are not.
Rewarding our diligence the sun came out and lit up the wet pavement, market umbrellas and rocks on the beach. Nice is gorgeous but not our first choice for lying on the beach sunbaking as it is made up of some of Europe's finest skimming rocks. As the waves break they drag pebbles down the bank rattling, and air pops below the surface which sounds like clinking of chains. Very peaceful, add some dolphin sounds and a few waterfalls and you have a relaxation cd to market.
Our walking tour of Nice was more of an amble through the historic streets and stretched as far as the headland overlooking the busy East Port. It is great seeing the maritime activity such as Nice where the large passenger ferries to Corsica depart.
On our way back across the coast to Menton we stopped overlooking a bay for gourmet cafe Hall style sandwiches (Blue Cheese, Avocado and Salami). Tucked neatly inside the bay where two cruiseships actively ferrying passengers to the shore. The smaller of the two was a glamourous yesteryear model while the Galaxy 2 liner (almost as big as Queen Mary) sat proud.
A short 2km detour (totally on purpose) took us into Italy and back again.
Goodbyes are always difficult, first Loustic now the Beast. It was not clear how affectionate we had become towards Toyotas little baby until we were trudging (and puffing) up the 317 stairs to our campsite on the hill.
Day 3 - Menton - 5 May
It has become apparent that there are luxury items we take for granted in Australia. The following list has been composed for your review:
[/list]LUXURY ITEMS WE CRAVE
[*]STEAK (big red juicy slabs of medium well bbq meat)
[*]Peanut Butter - AUD$10 per 400grm jar seems a little steep
[*]Pillows, queen sized bed
[*]English written and spoken language
[*]Wardrobe consisting of more than 4 items
[*]Washing machine, dryer and iron
[*]Hair dryer / straightener (Steve is very upset)
[*]Butter, sweet delectable butter
[*]Shower and taps that don't need to be pushed every 2 seconds
[*]Eating at a table with chairs
Today was a thong day. Please note there are only 4 thongs between us and they only go on our feet. We are in need of rest and relaxation so the reference above has become law within the team to ensure the toes do not permanent mold to the shape of our boots.
On Thong Day we spent a large proportion of time on lunch, sitting drinking tea, internet and general louping around. Thankfully the luxury items list was addressed. We ate in a seat twice, wow, consumed a whole stick of butter between us and cooked up bangers (that is as close to steak as we can justify) and mash.
Since we had time up our sleeves we wrote up the following tally for our own reference throughout the trip but thought you might enjoy a giggle. At the end you may realise that independant travel (the only way to go) is not all roses.
TALLY OF BITS AND PIECES (as of 12 May)
[*]CUPS OF TEA - 110 cups (55 boil and mash) in 30 days
[*]ACCOMMODATION - 27 Nights Camping, 19 Hotel, 7 Friends
[*]TRANSPORT (Main Legs) - 3 Planes, 13 Trains, 8 Buses, 5 Metro Systems, 1 donkey, 7 days car (France 450km, Italy 2km), 1 small tourist train, Hiked 84 kms and counting (does not include approximately 10km/p day sightseeing), Kayak 6km
[*]MEALS (Self Catered) - 33 cooked and numerous cold
[*]BAGUETTES - greater than 100
[*]ESCARGOT - 2 meals
[*]NAUGHTY PASTRY TREATS - we will never tell
[*]ICE CREAM - 8 times (just hit Italy so keep an eye on this one)
[*]MACDONALDS - 1 snack (big mac), 2x icecream, 3 toilet breaks
[*]DOG POO - 1 known step in (Steve)
[*]INJURIES - Steve: finger cut from 'knife of death', foot cut from climbing rocks barefoot in Verdon Gorge, Hayfever every second day - Camilla: sore foot/almost blister from hiking 28km in one day, rolled ankle down stairs in Florence
[*]LOADS OF WASHING - 1 (not a typo)
[*]WARDROBE MALFUNCTIONS - Steve, whole cut in jumper and since discarded, set fire to sleeve of softshell; Camilla, cut out of wet weather jacket due to zipper catching
[*]LONELY PLANET - Steve used it as a mallet to put in tent pegs, hence large hole in the back cover (Camilla suitably not impressed)
[*]LEFT BEHIND - shampoo in Cannes, floss in Marseille, compass in Moustiers
[*]MONEY FOUND - 1.50 euros (score)
As you can see we had plenty of time to navel gaze. Menton is a fabulous base for exploring the Cote d'Azur, heaps less crowded than the bigger neighbours and interesting in its own right. Although we opted for the car on both our excursions it would be easy (if not easier) to use the regular bus or train service to any of the famous destinations. To top off a great few days worth of holiday we had the most commanding view from the embassy, a great luxury that could not be topped.