A Travellerspoint blog

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Paris

... a day of 3 parts

overcast 11 °C
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First full day in Paris - and I have to say it didn't start or end well, but at least the in between was good. Our hotel claimed that parking was available in a nearby carpark for 5.60 euro per day - turns out the car park has a 5 hour limit (between the hours of 9am and 7pm) and street parking has a 2 hour limit, so while we are here, I'm going to have to catch the train back to where we are staying in the middle of each day and move the car in the carpark and pay for another 5 hours. It will take a bit of juggling of our programme to make it work. And the end of the day problem was that the local Post Office Bank ATM swallowed my debit card when I tried to get money out tonight. Now I have to wait until they open in the morning to start negotiating for it's return (which may take a fax from the NAB - who I've already spoken to).

So onto the better stuff.

We started the day on the Ile de la Cite - the island in the middle of the Seine and had a look at the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle the associated church. From there we walked over to the Right bank and started wandering (initially without a map). We discovered such places as the Church of St. Eustache (supposedly the second most beautiful church in Paris). the St Jacques Tower, Forum Des Hales, Bourse de Commerce, Place du Chatelet, Palais Royal, Notre Dame Des Victoires (one of 6 Notre Dame's in Paris - but not the most well known one), Place du Theatre Fraincais & lots more.

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Then it was back onto the Ile de la Cite to see the well known Notre Dame Cathedral. At this point it's worth mentioning a standing laugh Cathy & I now have in that every cathedral or notable building that we go to see has scaffolding up on at least part of it while they do restoration - it's as if they had waited for us to come over.

While I spent the next hour taking care of the car parking, Cathy started to explore the Left Bank, which we continued together later - seeing the Pantheon. This was built as a Christian Basilica by Louis XV in the 18th Century in thanks for his recovery from serious illness after prayers to Saint Genevieve. But with the French Revolution it was turned into a people's temple and Christian aspects were removed or changed. it then went back to a role as a Catholic church for a while - but really today is seen as an secular altar to those who have given themselves for France. In a way it seems to sum up my perception of the French culture which seems to be verry secular and religion is peripheral.

We also looked in the nearby Church of Saint Etienne du Mont - which to us was one of the nicest churches, having a light airiness inside (not dark like so many of the other churches we have visited lately). It was made all the more pleasant by someone playing the pipe organ while we were there.

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Further wandering around the Left Bank took us past the Sorbonne, Jardin Luxembourg & the Palais Luxembourg which Mary de'Medici had built as her home instead of the Louvre after the death of her husband Henry IV - the gardens included a magnificent fountain (Medici Fountain). More wandering & tea then it was back around 8pm to our hotel.

Another general observation about Paris is the number of beggars & street people - it would seem there is a beggar on almost every cornr and lots of street people.

Posted by thomastour 11:54 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Who did design the Chateau Chambord?

......maybe Leonardo Da Vinci?

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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We arrived in Paris late this afternoon with two interesting stops on the way and easy traveling off the autoroutes for most of the way.

Chambord was our first destination. King Francis 1 of France initiated the building of the chateau, originally as a hunting lodge but it's architecture makes it an extravagant chateau. It was no where near completion when he died but was finished off by Henri 2nd and Louis XIV. Despite the vast dimensions of the chateau it appears graceful and well balanced. The chateau is made from tufa, a pale coloured calcareous stone that is soft and friable and lends itself to sculpting. Unfortunately it also lends itself to wearing out quickly and so some parts have been replaced and others are in the process of renovation in sympathy with the original design. The chateau is designed so symmetrically, based on a nine square grid, 3 x 3, with the middle square housing the main body of the building and circular adjoining chambers at each corner, the main staircase comprising two concentric spiral flights of stairs that it is thought quite likely Leonardo had a hand in it, though there is no official evidence as to who the designer was. In all the chateau houses 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms! The rooms have been decorated to show how various inhabitants had lived through the centuries. The top floor has an exhibition showing how the chateau was used to save precious works of art (including the Mona Lisa) from being stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

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Winding through villages, houses opening onto the streets and then farming lands we made our way to Chartres to see their 12th century cathedral. Most of the stained glass windows from the 12th century still survive and feature a lot of Chartres blue colour. The cathedral is one of the most beautiful surviving creations of the Middle Ages, the gothic steeple towering 115m over the main church body. Inside we found it very dark despite the numerous stained glass windows. There is a lovely plaza out the front where they have planted about a dozen large square shaped herb gardens and this gives the church a friendly welcoming entrance and lets you get far enough away to get the whole church in a photo!

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Leaving Chartres about 4.30pm we used the autoroute to speed us on our way to Paris.

Fortunately we found our accommodation (certainly far from the best we've experiences so far on the trip - in fact it's rather seedy) very easily and are now ready to explore Paris!

Posted by thomastour 10:04 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

There are three classes of people:

... those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see. (Leonardo da Vinci)

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Today was a day for ambling through chateau country. A short drive to the town of Amboise (referred to as Cite de Caractere - 'City of Character') took us past several villages and alongside a wide river that had levee banks on both sides.

Amboise is the home to 2 chateau's - first was Chateau d'Amboise which served as the home of the some of the Valois Kings of France, starting with King Charles VII. The chateau was set in a fortified area right in the centre of the town and features 2 cavalry towers which are large round towers with internal circular ramps suitable for the movement of cavalry and carriages up to and down from the castle ramparts. But the chateau itself was much more ornate than a basic castle withthe 2 remaining wings being in French late-Gothic style and Italianate Renaissance style in keeping with the French royalty having a desire to match the Italian culture of the time).

Included in the royal owners of the chateau was Francois I who brought Leonardo Da Vinci to his court for the last 3 years of Leoardo's life (more of that later). But under Henry III (mid to late 16th Century) the royal court moved from the Loire Valley to the paris region and the chateau's usage declined Then under Napolean a systematic demolition of it was started - with only 1/5th of the original remaining. However in the early 19th Century it Louise Philippe I was made King of the French (this is post-French Revolution) and acquired the chateau from his mother.

the chateau was also at one time the prison for Emir Abd El-Kader the ruler of Algeria who was captured by the French invaded Algeria.

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Just a short distance from the Chateau d'Amboise was a smaller Chateau du Clos Luce - which was the home of leonardo Da Vinci for the last 3 years of his life. It had previously been a royal residence (mainly used as a summer residence) - but Francois I gave it to leonardo to stay in for the period in which he was '1st painter, architect and engineer to the king'. In reality he was treated as a friend of the King and was given free reign to dream and create as he wanted. he could do as he wanted - not as others wanted him to. And he was a confident of the King - with there supposedly being a secret passage/tunnel between the chateau's which the King used to pay daily visits. Leonardo also designed sets for royal performances.

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As well as seeing the living chambers in the chateau there were models of a number of his inventions - small versions in the basement and more life sized versions in the surrounding Parc. The models of his inventions we saw in Florence gave a better idea of his genius - but it was still good to see how ahead of his time he was with his ideas.

A walk around Amboise was intresting - seeing a typical French town - but the not so normal were the houses & rooms built into the cliff face & castle walls. In some cases there would be sheer cliff face and on the front of it windows and doors and a wall - obviously the cliff had been tunnelled behind it all.

We also drove through and had a walk around the villages of Noizay and Vouvray - seeing more of the cliff face buildings.

This is a beautiful region of France and it is easy to see why French Royalty used it as a base for a period of time. there are lots more chateau's around and we only scratched the surface with what we looked at.

Posted by thomastour 09:03 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

What do you do when your husband the King dies?

… take over the chateau he gave to his mistress!

rain 14 °C
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On the road again – we headed north-east toward Tours, Quite an easy day's driving, around 3 ½ hours of highway travel (90kmh or 110kmh limits) with just a little bit of tollway (autoroute).

Our main aim was to get to the village of Chenonceaux and visit Chateau de Chenonceau which is also called the 'ladies chateau'.

This chateau was built beside and over the River Cher in the 16th century by Thomas Bohier (a tax collector) and his wife Katherine Briconnet (who designed the chateau). It was built on the site of a fortified mill that was partially demolished to make way for the chateau.

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Then it was later given by King Henry II to his lover Diane de Poitiers who made changes and then in turn when Henry II died, his widow Catherine de'Medici took it over and made further additions. She actually ruled France for a time from the chateau. Catherine de'Medici would seem to have been a real power broker, with 2 daughters becoming Queens and three sons who became Kings – so one of the bedrooms in the chateau has been given the name of the 'five queens' bedroom' in honour of the 2 daughters and 3 daughters in law who were queens.

The chateau was set in large grounds and included 2 formal gardens – one designed by Diane de Poitiers and one by Catherine de'Medici – they are both still maintained to look like they originally did. In front of the chateau is a tower that is the only remaining feature of the original fortified mill – and it was restored as part of the overall chateau construction.
The style of the chateau can be described as Renaissance and is currently furnished much as it was back in the 16th century.

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One aspect that Catherine de'Medici included in changes to the chateau was to build over the bridge that crossed the river – creating a great hall that spanned the river. Interestingly this hall played a part in both world wars. In WW1 the whole chateau was a hospital – with the great hall being a ward. And in WW2 the river was the border between occupied France and Vichy France and the French Resistance smuggled a large number of people through the hall and out of occupied territory. Also the Germans apparently had artillery kept at the ready to destroy the chateau if required.

At another point in it's history it was targeted by the revolutionaries during the French Revolution and the quick thinking owner (Madame Dupin) saved the chapel by turning it into a wood store and therefore camouflaging it's religious character. There are also some church ruins in Tours that date back to them being destroyed during the French Revolution - which we have found out included not just rebellion over the aristocracy but also over the power of the church. During the revolution - it was declared that all church property in France belonged to the nation, confiscations were ordered and church properties were sold at public auction and in some cases churches destroyed.

Also in the chapel at the chateau there are still some graffiti (inscriptions) by Mary Stewart's (Mary Queen of Scots) Scottish guards.

After our time at the chateau we found our way to Tours and had a little bit of a walk about the city – it is a fairly modern city with various historic buildings, including a train station designed by Victor Laloux who also designed the Musee d'Orsay in Paris - over hee they don't just crete standard looking railway stations - they make them a work of art.

Posted by thomastour 08:05 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Buenos Noches Espana

un Bonjour la France

all seasons in one day 15 °C
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We woke to a beautiful day with clear blue skies over San Sebastian, stopping near the beach I went for a walk along the walkway. It was just a gorgeous morning with the sunlight sparkling on the water between the two Montes, Igueldo and Urgull. On the beach people were setting up a volley ball net while one or two others swam and a dog chased a tennis ball being thrown for him. Heaps were out for their morning exercise jogging along the walkway, a few bicycles and a couple of photographers made their way along the shoreline.

Our next stop was Biarritz in France, also on the coast. An enjoyable walk along the coastline revealed surfing beach, impressive buildings, rocky islands, a bridge out to an island with a statue on top, sailing boats and lighthouse. More people out jogging along the shore while in the town patisseries and boulangeries (Bakery's) were open for business.

Bordeaux was our stopping point for today and we arrived at our hotel at around 1.30pm to find the gate closed and the place desserted! After a phone call someone arrived in 5minutes and let us in and gave us keys and password to get into the place. We set off into town as the day clouded up. Magnificent towers on their two outstanding cathedrals, St Andre and Eglise St-Michel, stand out from various points in the city. Although the city itself was quiet, heaps of people were out along the long shore of the river, lots of markets lined city streets and river frontage. We found ourselves at one very large market that was absolutely full of antiques. Not cheap antiques but VERY expensive beautiful pieces. Lots of items dating before anything you'd find in Australia. Geoff said he wanted to buy one but he would have had to get rid of my luggage! Ha ha!

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Bordeaux is a maze of renaissance buildings, lovely but lacking the colour of some of the other places we've been. Chocolatteries in France are works of art! We passed a couple with amazing creations in their windows from chocolate grand pianos and violins to motor bikes with side cars! I bought just a couple of little treats to keep us going. We discovered that lunch is the main meal of the day in France and as such not too many were serving or even open for dinner in the heart of the city. After wandering the streets we finally found a place that sold Thai food! We were so hungry by then we were almost going to go to Maccas! The Thai meal was lovely.

Wherever you are God is good!!

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Whirling ghosts on the Spanish plains

... or wind turbines in the mist

overcast 22 °C
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Today had quite aa bit of driving p going from Barcelona in the east to San Sebastian in the west, so we decided to split the trip in two and stop at Zaragoza for a few hours.

Zaragoza was a bit of a surprise, when we researched it we found that it had quite a history and that there was a lot to see there. But to get there we had close on 3 hours of driving and the day started with a fine mist that at times became a dense fog and almost disappeared several times but was still hanging around late in the day on the other side of Spain.

Some of the sights we saw in Zaragoza included the Torreon de la Zuda which is now a visitors centre but was built by the Muslims on part of the old Roman walls as headquarters for their Governer back in the 8th-14th Centuries. It later became a residence for the Aragonese monarchs. Underneath it and around it they had done some excavations of the old Roman ruins. And adjacent to it was a tower with a distinct lean on it. We don't know anything about the lean - but apparently in during the French-Spanish war it was the hideout for a French spy who directed attacks from it until discovered and shot. Speaking of that war - we also saw the tower were warning bells wee rung during the siege of the city to warn the inhabitants where the attacks were coming from. It was also the point where the white flag was raised.

The Basilica del Pilar was magnificent with mosaic domes and baroque style that was built between the 17th & 20th centuries. It features frescoes by Goya and other great artists and is one of the important catholic pilgramag sights. But it was rather strange to walk through it while a baptism, confirmation and mass were all taking place in separate chapels, we weren't alone in doing this and there were even security guards walking around.

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The main Plaza in the historic part of town was a blend of old and new, with modern sculptures and fountains complementing the historic buildings from various ages. Surprisingly it all went together fairly well. There were lots of other historic buildings which I won't list - but which provided a view of the history of the town through various ages and stages - including the Romans, muslims and kingdom of Aragon. And t went right up to the current - with Zaragoza having been the sight of a world expo only last year.

From Zaragoza we drove on through more mist - which really only disappeared as we got to San Sebastian. Our aim was to book into the hotel (5kms from the town on a hill overlooking it) and then go down and look around town and have tea. Apparently in San Sebastian it is normal for EVERYONE to go out on Saturday night. It was a warm night - 22 degrees (with a warm wind) when we arrived and still 21 degrees at 8pm. And the old town was absolutely crazy - we drove around (aimlessly - because we had no real clue of where we were) for close on an hour with no hope of finding parking. and finally settled on stopping for tea in a mainly residential area & even there lots and lots of people were walking around.

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Posted by thomastour 07:47 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Modernista's

... Barcelona's contribution to the world of architecture

sunny 20 °C
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We started our morning with a visit to the La Boqueria market; mango juice and fresh fruit salad. Then we bought tickets for the Barcelona Bus Touristic. We'd decided this was going to be the best way to see as much of Barcelona as possible in a short time.

We toured from Las Ramblas in the heart of the city up to Diagonal the main shopping strip and then around the city passing and/or stopping at the international railway station, Creu Coberta market, Placa d'Espanya, the Magic Fountain of Montjuec, Montjuic Hill, majestic Palau National, the Olympic arenas, cable cars of Montjuic, the World Trade centre, the harbour, Port Vell, marina, parc de la ciutadella and back through La Ribera and the Barri Gotic areas.

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Boarding the bus for the second line of the tour we passed/ stopped through more outlying areas of Barcelona city. The English commentary helped us appreciate more of the history and culture of Barcelona. We discovered that many of the buildings that have stood out have been in modernista style and designed by famous architects such as Gaudi who drew his inspiration from nature. Casa Mila, a Gaudi creation was inspired by the sea, thus, undulating walls;waves, iron balconies shaped like seaweed. Gaudi is also famous for his creations being so amazing that thet take a really long time to build and so some were finished after his death and one in particular `La Sagrada Familia' is still being worked on! Only 8 of the 18 planned towers have been completed and Gaudi died in 1926! We also visited Park Guell designed by Gaudi for his patron Count Eusebi Guell. It also was never finished but was given to the Municipal Council in 1923 and is now a public park. It is in a prime location with views over the city and is home to several buildings beautifully decorated with mosaics. A couple look a bit like gingerbread houses! Meditteranean style gardens, fountains, viaducts, buskers and people make this a livley place to visit.

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Hopping off the bus I walked up, up, up the hill to the site of the Placa Funicula and good views of Tibidabo. Then I walked back down again to Geoff who was waiting on a seat at the bus stop! Hopping back on the bus we passed the Palau Reial and then onto Barcelona Football Club before coming back into the inner city. We certainly saw more than we would have on foot and the bus was very convenient for hopping on and off of as they came past every 5 minutes or less.

Posted by thomastour 11:56 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Roman life underneath the city

... a whole Roman commercial centre underneath the centre of Barcelona

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Another day and more travel - this time a quick departure from France down into Spain for a couple of days. 300kms and we were in Barcelona before lunch - then had a bit of fun navigating around trying to find some parking. Don't aim to find street parking in suburban Barcelona any time during the day - it is chaos. The only option was high priced car parks, one of which we found that wasn't too far from a metro station.

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We got off the metro at Catalunya station we put us at the top of a street called La Rumbla which is about a kilometre long and has a wide pedestrian area down it's middle. As you walk down it you see amazing street performers (many live statues) and it seems to be in sections with progressively sections with - pet shops, florists, restaurants and of course souvenir shops. It had heaps of people wandering up and down it.

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Off to the side of La Rambla is the Merkat de la Boqueria which is a market selling fruit, veges, meat, nuts and a few other things. They say you can get virtually any part of any edible animal there! We didn't buy any meat, but did enjoy freshly squeezed Mango juice.

At the harbour end of La Rambla is a monument to Christopher Columbus - interestingly they ended up pointing him toward Libya rather than the New World (America's) that he discovered. Cathy went up a lift in the column and got some great views of the harbour and town centre.

We wandered along the waterfront - which has been the subject of significant devlopment (probably back in the 1990's for the Olympics) - then back up into the older part of the city which had a mixture of buildings from medieval times to the 19th Century - and lots of narrow winding streets.

Barcelona was originally founded by the Romans who saw a strategic importance for a city in it's position relative to the Mediterranean trade routes - so they set up a city for retired legionnaires. Over time it went through many different lords and masters and various changes in structure and fortifications. There are still elements of the old city walls in place and we went to the Museu D'Historia de Barcelona (after 4pm - because it closes for siesta from 2pm to 4pm!) for information on the history of the city and a walk under the current city to see some of the original Roman and medieval remains. They have created a terrific area under existing buildings (some of them being quite old themselves) where they have supoorted the existing building on piles and excavated the around the fabric of the old city that the building were build on - then put in walkways so you can walk around it. We wandered through a Roman villa and commercial centre (clothes washing, clothes dying, salted fish kitchens, winery establishments) with much of the old ground level remains in place - giving a great idea of how they worked and lived. We also saw some of the newer(!) medieval construction on top of the Roman.

Speaking of Roman commercial life - did you know that urine is apparently very good for use in the washing of clothes - and a Roman laundry would have a public urinal outside it as a way of collecting urine for use. But the governement would then charge the laundry a fee for the right to have the urinal - governments & taxes never seem to change!

It's amazing how the resused parts of one to build the next and all the time actually building the city up higher. You saw parts of carved columns & even tombstones used as blocks in the next generation wall build up on the site.

That just about did us for sightseeing for the half day we had - so it was off on the metro to find our accommodation (we did this because our initial sortie into the area where the accommodation was indicated that there was a bit of confusion with one way streets). After getting slightly off track we found the hotel, booked in and then headed back on the metro to have tea and pick up the car. It was hard finding a restaurant near where we had parked, but when we finally did find one that we liked the look of at around 7.30pm we were told they didn't open until 8pm. In fact the roads at around 7.30pm seemed like evening peak hour! So we killed a bit of time before being the restaurants first customers for the night.

Posted by thomastour 08:32 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A trip back in time

... in Medieval Carcassonne.

sunny 20 °C
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After breakfast at our hotel in Nice we rolled our luggage 200 metres to the Railway station, the pickup point for our rental car. After a small delay waiting for someone to turn up things moved very quickly and we found ourselves back on the road again heading towards Carcassonne. Geoff found the driving easier today as there were less trucks and less traffic generally in comparison to Italy. The French charge more to use their autoroutes though.

We passed through Riviera towns, then mountains, golden vineyards, farming plains and stone farmhouses in warm shades. We made good time to Carcassonne and are so glad we came here. Walking over the drawbridge into the walled medieval city is like walking into a fairytale; round towers with pointed roofs, battlements, narrow cobbled streets and stone houses, a Gothic basilica and 12th century chateau. We made our way to the Chateau and did the audio guided tour which gave us a good grounding in the history of the place. Carcassonne was already a prosperous town in the Roman era being on a trade route and the first enclosure was built in the 4th century. The first castle was built in the 12th century on the Roman wall. Through various plays for power within southern France the city was shaped and changed over time. In the 1800's the city was falling into ruin until an ancient tomb was discovered and a case was put up for restoring the town. Eugene Viollet-le-Duc headed a full restoration project, he also worked on Notre Dame.

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I can just see Rapunzel putting her hair down from one of the towers! We wandered the city streets and visited the Basilica Saint Nazaire. Our hotel is only a short walk down from the walled city and offers views of the city from it's terrace. As evening started to descend we continued on from the hotel and made our way to the river which offered stunning views of the town and mount on which the walled city stands. The arched bridge over the river has lights under each arch which change to around 7 different colours offering a choice of shades for your perfect photo!

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To finish a lovely day we found a quirky little restaurant that served delicious French food including melt in your mouth crème Brulee for dessert. Yummy!!

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Who beat the bank at Monte Carlo?

... Not us - we didn't even go into the casino!

sunny 20 °C
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Beautiful Nice - we woke up to a bright blue sky and lovely morning. the temperature was to get to around 20 degrees.

It wasn't the best night's sleep we've had, with the locals holding a meeting below our hotel window for a big part of the night. But that was soon overshadowed when we started exploring Nice in the morning. We wandered throughh the main part of town - from the slightly seedy area where the hotel is to very expensive looking shops all within a couple of blocks, then into the tourist shops before we hit the waterfront. Lovely wide corso with lots of people strolling, bike riding, roller blading etc. And there were people in swimming - not just one or two hardy folk getting exercise, but people just floating around or swimming leisurely in a quite flat sea. Cathy put her hand into the water and said it was reasonably mild. The beach is pebbles - or perhaps more honestly described as rocks because 6 inch diameter is a bit big for pebbles.

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We really enjoyed walking along in the sunshine, but then decided to climb Castle Hill overlooking Nice - the hilltop separates the town from the harbour and was part of the towns security in early days. There are the ruins of some of the earlier fortifications and numerous lookout points. We saw several big yacht surrounded by support craft and then realised that the Americas Cup qualifying races are happening here at the moment (Louis Vuitton Trophy) with yachts from New Zealand, Russia, Britain & Italy.

Also on Castle Hill there was a great park and even some cascades.

from there we walked down the hill (by the long route I think) past the harbour and around into what is called the Old Town. Here we encountered a large plaza and lots of narrow streets - mostly filled with shops and restaurants. In one the smell of spices was really strong as there was at least one shop selling spices in it.

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The Old Town was bordered by Castle Hill on one side and a a wide promenade (?) series of parks on the other that ran back toward the sea.

We also decided to hop a train and go back and look at Monte Carlo - only a 20 minute train ride away.

This was a change of pace - Monte Carlo seems to consist of high rise buildings going up the steep hills surrounding the harbour and lots of massive cruising palaces in the harbour separated by a thin strip of shops and carnival like entetainment. We walked around the harbour admiring boats that we couldn't even expect to go on (many would be larger than our house) and then found our way up to the famous casino. While Cathy took photos of the casino and surrounding parks, I just hung around looking at the cars. We saw more exotic/expensive cars in 2 hours in Monte Carlo than I had seen all trip so far. But the doorman at the casino seemed to treat people the same no matter what car they arrived in.

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But all too soon it was back to reality and onto the train back to Nice, a visit to a laundromat to do some washing and off to tea.

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