Sunday, August 29, 2010

Eze, Monte Carlo, and dinner in Nice, France - June 15 2010

Initially we wanted to travel the South of France by staying in each city or town as we went from East to West. But just before we got there we realized that we weren't able to CouchSurf every single town and without CouchSurfing it would have been way out of our budget to stay in every little town. So we decided to stay in Nice for a longer time and do day trips to various towns nearby. 

First up: Eze! Eze is a small town which comprises two parts: the modern part, called Eze-sur-mer, which is at the bottom of the hill near the water, and Eze Village, which is the medieval village perched on the top of the hill. Although we saw some of Eze-sur-mer, which was a nice little town, we didn't really focus on it since we were more interested in the medieval village.

Here is a photo taken from the bottom of the hill on the edge of Eze-sur-mer. The village part is around the back of this hill. There were two options to get to the village: either wait for the bus or hike. Since we didn't really do much research or planning before coming, we found out we had about a 50-minute wait for the bus. We also didn't know what kind of hike was in store for us, but since we definitely didn't feel like waiting almost an hour for the bus, we decided to go by foot!

A view turning back at the very beginning of the hike. As you can see the houses sit on the side of the hill, and to get to them by car is a tricky drive. At the bottom right-hand corner you can see one driveway that zigzags leading up to a house. "Hairpin turn" is a serious understatement and anything bigger than a Smart Car would probably have a lot of trouble!

A view of the side of the hill as we're hiking up.

This is what the path was like for most of the hike. Sometimes it got a bit less path-like and more rocky. It wasn't Mount Everest or anything but it was a nice hike that wasn't too easy or relaxing.

Some other little town on the hill across from the hill where Eze sits.

At the end of the hike, it ironically puts you out at the dead end of a road where a luxury (5 star we think) hotel is.  The hotel is right on side of the hill at the foot of the village and we are sure they have an amazing view.  However, the doormen, or gatemen rather, wouldn't let us hikers in for a peek.  But going up to the village, you walk just above the hotel and its parking lot...These two half-a-million-dollar-each cars caught Stefan's eye.  In case you are a car buff, on the left, that IS a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster, and a Maybach...Stefan had some drool dripping off his face!  And we wonder why they don't just let random hikers into the parking lot! :P

Here's a cool illustrated map of the medieval village of Eze!

A little bar farther up the path from the cars, you get to see part of the hotel's garden. The garden seemed to be in different steps going down the side of the hill...and looked like a million-dollar spot to be!

The first glimpse you get of the buildings on the edge of the village.

This is a very good example of the type of roads that characterize the village of Eze. Obviously since Eze is a medieval village the roads aren't made for cars. We found it interesting that the place still felt very "lived in" even though they are missing something like cars which to us is a very normal part of everyday life. Aside from shops and some very small hotels, locals did in fact live in the houses here!

Three more photos around the town. As you can see it feels a little claustrophobic! But it felt very cute and brought us back a few centuries!

The steeple of the church that sits on the edge of the village. We didn't research it but judging from how it looks we assume the church is newer than the rest of the village :P

You may think we put this photo up to show you the mountains but really it's just because Cliff's so funny looking in it!

Okay, so now here's a picture to show you the mountains. As you can see there is a very cool roadway bridge that links two mountains!

A view from a more modern village that sits halfway up the mountain. This is a separate town that sits on the opposite side of the hill to Eze-sur-mer.

From Eze, we made our way (by bus!) to Monte Carlo, Monaco. Monaco is the second-smallest independent state in the world after Vatican City. It was very interesting to be travelling from Eze, which was such a small, modest, old town to a place like Monte Carlo, where so much money is on display! Our ideas of Monte Carlo was that it would be the South of France's Hollywood, and it turned out we were pretty bang-on. It's a very beautiful and well-kept city, where everything looks luxe!

To whet your appetite for the luxury, here is a very expensive and well-kept tree! This must be where money comes from.

Looking down towards the Monte Carlo casino. On either side of this strip of fountains are manicured lawns and two roads. It runs about half a kilometre down to the front of the casino.

Getting closer!

Looking back up the hill...

Can you smell the money?!

Not to be outdone by the hotel in Eze, the valet parking outside the casino was full of luxury cars. In this shot, a Ferrari, a Rolls-Royce, and a Bentley.

And in this photo, a Benz, a Maserati, and a Bugatti. Before you walk through the doors you've already brushed by a mere few million dollars! It was free to go into the lobby of the casino and the very (very!) tiny slot machine room opposite the cloakroom, but as we expected--and the cars outside proved--this was no low-budget, Joe Blow casino. It's obviously a place where big money is spent and in order to get into a room other than the slot machine room you have to pay an entrance fee. You can even buy "Season passes"! It's like Canada's Wonderland, but for stinking rich people.

A very cool-looking building to the side of the casino!

A picture of a small section of one of the few harbours in Monte Carlo. They're packed with massive yachts! The big one up towards the top left is apparently the biggest private yacht in the Mediterranean. It's also apparently owned by a wealthy Saudi Arabian. We can't remember if it was a prince or a business tycoon. In any case, he needs to share his wealth!

The back of the casino. It looks out over the edge of the city and onto the harbour so those overly rich people can keep an eye on their floating palaces (ie. yachts)!

The inner harbour and the hills behind Monte Carlo. There are two or three harbours that make up the city. The buildings on the hilltop on the left is where the palace is located.

Just another beautiful building...

Usually it's houses for sale in the window. First, we passed by a yacht sales office. But then we walked pass this place! It sold freakin' private jets!! Just in case you're walking home from the grocery store and you decide you need to slap down 20 million on a jet! (Actually you'd probably have hired monkeys doing your groceries for you. And they would be coming home in a limo.)

It might have been only the third time it rained since we started our whole trip! This was just a nice little arcade with some shops where we were caught in the rain.

This is a view of the city from the palace area.

Here is the entrance to the palace of Monaco. It sits on a peninsula between the two harbours of Monaco.     The palace is situated in an exclusive area of land; however it doesn't command the entire peninsula.  The neighbourhood surrounding it is very beautiful and fits in well with the feeling and architecture of the palace.

Here are some buildings that make up part of the neighbourhood. They're situated across the square in front of the palace.

This is the other harbour. Again, full of tiny boats. These ones may only be a hundred-foot yachts.

A view of Monte Carlo from the palace square.

For dinner we went back to Nice. We didn't have the balls nor the wallet to even attempt to find a place to eat in Monte Carlo (the prince of Monaco was too busy to have us over for dinner)! We walk around the old town in Nice to hunt for a good but reasonably priced restaurant. We walked through this really cut and out-of-the-way narrow street filled with restaurants during our hunt and noted one particular restaurant. We continued our resto-seach but eventually decided to head back to this particular restaurant. Since we didn't know the old town very well (and it's a bit of a labyrinth!) we had a little bit of trouble finding it again! We were a bit freaked out when we couldn't find it but eventually we did (hooray!).

Here is the street where the restaurant sits. It's the one on the left. It was called Le Maquis. If you ever go to Nice, HUNT IT DOWN, AND EAT IT. Yes, we meant eat it. The whole restaurant. It's that damn good!

Cliff's dinner: an "assiette niçoise," or Nicoise platter. It comprises of local specialties, such as petits farcis (stuffed veggies), pissaladière (a pizza variant with onions, olives and garlic as toppings), grilled peppers, mozzarella and mesclun. Oh yeah, and lots of olives!

Stefan's dinner, a pizza fermière.  So, in Italy we had a lot, A LOT of pizza, many not so great ones, but a few spectacular ones.  However, sorry Italy, you got outdone by a pizza from France!  This many not look like much, but holy shit balls...this pizza was not only massive (can you find the plate!?  It's on one, its just too small to hold the pizza pie!), but it was mouth busting fantastic!  The French don't cut their pizza's in the triangle shapes we know when you get a pizza, they just use a for and knife to cut away at it randomly.  As the pizza was about 1/3 larger then the plate, which made cutting pizza that is hanging over the edge of the plate a bit tricky...but I managed, oh I managed...not a crumb was escaping!  Naturally, it was made in a proper wood burning pizza oven, and the crust was thin crust...a must for a fantastic pizza.  One thing that may seem silly, was the crust shape!  It was like a piece of edible abstract art!  It wasn't really too round, it was kinda like a blobular shape!  There was something very authentic about it.  Anyway, it added to its taste, really:P  But on this awesome thin crust was chicken, onion, eggplant, cheese and creme fraiche.  Ok, listen, maybe nothing too wacky, but oh crap, I am tasting it now as I type this...It was the best pizza of the trip...perhaps of my life!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nice, France - June 13-14 2010

After Italy, our next stop was the South of France. The first place we visited was Nice! After a very busy Italy, we were looking forward to a more laid-back South of France. Here we come, fine wine and escargot!!

On the train trip, we changed trains from an Italian train to a French train. We really liked the Italian trains because they were cheap and frequent. Granted since they were cheap the trains weren't exactly the swankiest. When we switched trains at Monte Carlo to go to Nice, we were amazed at how nice and snazzy the trains were! Later we discovered that it wasn't a sweet deal where the trains were cheap and still new and classy...French train travel is expensive!

Here is a view from the train on the way to Nice! This is some little town between Monte Carlo and Nice.

Our first French meal! The cuisine in the South of France (especially Nice) is very influenced by Italian cooking, hence...pizzas and pastas everywhere! This was Cliff's pizza, one with lots toppings: ham, cheese, green pepper, red pepper, mushroom, chorizo, and a fried egg. It was SO good!! It was definitely comparable to the best pizzas we had in Italy.

Stefan was a little, well, actually, very sick of pizza by the time we left even though pizza was all over the menus in the south of France, he was not going to be eating pizza for the first French meal!  He ended up with a nice big salad!  It wasn't a mind-blowing salad, but very good, and worthy of a spot here!  It was greens, mushrooms, red peppers, cheese (of some kind!), olives (yack! Cliff got to eat those), tomatoes, croutons, and grilled chicken, with a vinaigrette.

One of the main streets in downtown Nice. Notice the tram tracks and how they have beautifully manicured grass in between them! It was so nicely done that it looked like the tram was driving through a golf course! It's a very simple but easy way to get more green into the city and we think a lot more cities should be doing this!

The main square in Nice, Place Massena. This is the main fountain there.

Another shot of Place Massena.

Here is a random street off of Place Massena (you can see it in the middle). Notice the random horse and carriage!

Check out this random merry-go-round plopped right in the middle of a parkette in downtown Nice! We found that in France it wasn't uncommon to find merry-go-rounds in unexpected places. It seemed a little odd but it was very cute, and help liven up the city.

A street in the old town.

A shot of the waterfront, looking westward. There's a very wide pedestrian walkway (which is not exactly pretty and could use some major TLC), and to the left of the walkway is the beach. The beach in Nice is a stone no sand!

Here is the edge of the city that's right on the waterfront. The beachfront is a few kilometres long and it's all done up nicely with bars, hotels, and cafes.

Looking the other way, you can see just how far the beachfront reaches.

Also, on the beachfront, volleyball courts! Oh, and Stefan. :P

The end of the beachfront. Around the corner from these buildings is the old port. At the end there you can see a little lookout point. On the hill there was something fancy...we can't remember now! Maybe some castle or something (can you tell we never went up the hill?).

Here is the view westward of the beachfront from the lookout point we noted in the previous photo.

Okay, so after having traveled almost two months, we finally broke down and ate non-local cuisine!! We were pretty good the whole trip with eating only food from the country we were visiting. However, in Nice, there was an English bar/pub called Wayne's and their burger menus were too enticing to resist!

Cliff got a bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg. Trust him when he says it looks a lot tastier in the picture than it was in real life. It wasn't bad per se, just...there. Not to mention it was €8!! With no fries! What a rip!

Stefan still wanted a break from Italian food, and was so excited to see a veggie burger on the menu! Now, like most of you, when we see "veggie burger" on a menu we expect a vegetarian burger patty with your regular burger toppings. However, sadly, when it was basically a friggin' omelette between two buns! Not being a fan of egg, this egg and vegetable mish-mash was definitely not what Stefan was craving. But it still looked really good and tasted alright.

Another thing in Nice that carried over from Italy: gelato! There is a shop there called Fennochio which carries 96 different flavours of gelato! Crazy! We didn't happen to get a picture of the whole shebang, but here are some very unusual flavours: thyme, rosemary, tomato and basil, black olive, tourte de blette (which is a local specialty--a type of vegetable tart), and avocado. We didn't try any of these...we opted for the more traditional chocolatey flavours!

Here's a very cute church that was in the middle of a square in the old town (a shopping/eating area).  The design is very cool!

Here's the back of the opera house in Nice. We didn't expect Nice to have such a nice-looking opera house, much less an opera house at all! One night we were walking by after a performance and you could totally see the girls changing through the windows on the second floor! Scandalous!!

In the big main street going down the centre of town there's a fairly long park with fountains and flowers, and featured this very cool sculpture. What is it? Don't ask us.

Here is a photo of a tram in Nice. As you can see it's very snazzy. A lot of the cities we visited on this trip had very new trams (they seemed like they were all made by the same company). However, one thing that was very different about the trams in Nice was their automated stop announcement soundbites. Whoever was in charge of those was definitely high on something! They were either male or female voices, and sometimes they would sound like robots, sometimes like they were under water, or in outer space, and sometimes there would even be xylophone interludes! No joke!! It was all the stranger that it seemed like we were the only people on the trams that seemed to find it so ridiculous. It was funny to see how all the locals didn't react to the hilarity at all! Granted, after a few days there we sort of got used to it...but it was still funny!

A look at Place Massena and the tracks that run through it. Follow this road to find lots and lots of shopping!

Here's a photo of a large, open area with greenery and fountains behind it. This is a continuation of the park that goes down the main road through the centre of the city. It's really great to see such a wide open space in a modern-day city, and that it's obviously been kept from olden times and hasn't been taken over by greedy corporations and urbanization!

This is another section of that same park, more of a garden/floral area.

Looking through a cool archway into the old town. The metallic gold ceiling was pretty cool, and the three different types of stones that make up the wall were pretty interesting too!

To conclude this post, here is a... Canada Grey apple?! What the?! Has anyone heard of this apple? We had never heard of them until we saw them here in Nice. Obviously we had to buy some. Sad to say, they weren't that good. Let's hope the French don't equate this apple with the quality of our country :P