Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Riviera paradise

I'm going to be sad when I leave Nice on Sunday. I wasn't sure what to expect, coming here--staying in Nice was my way of avoiding buying another round trip ticket to and from the US and spending three weeks in the cold. But I love this city, and this region, and now I understand why so many people vacation in the French Riviera.

Last Tuesday was an interesting evening. Two friends my from class and I decided to check out a French-English language exchange at a pub by the port, which ended up being fun. The pub staff set it up so that ~3 francophones and 3 anglophones would be sitting together, so we would switch off languages every ten minutes or so, and then switch groups every 20 minutes. It was good practice, and nice to meet some actual French people! Afterwards, we went out to another bar in Old Nice that looked like a cross between a bomb shelter and a ship's mess, but was actually quite fun. Needless to say, I was a bit tired in class the next day.

On Saturday I took a day trip to the next town over, called Villefranche. Like most of the towns here, it has a cute old part, a nice port, and then modern apartments spreading up the mountains. I strolled around the steep old streets for a while, admired the harbour, and then (and this is very logical), since I didn't feel like walking back to the bus stop, walked all the way back to Nice. It was about 4 miles/6.7 kilometers, and so beautiful. The path wound around the point separating Nice and Villefranche, then led up the hill and back down to the port in Nice. I took a good nap after my walk, then went out to a bar with an Australian friend from my class that evening.

On Sunday, since I didn't have anything planned, I set out in the afternoon and just wandered for around 2.5 hours, eventually ending up at the Promenade des Anglais and eating a sandwich on the beach. A very peaceful afternoon.

Today was by far the most exciting day of my week–-I headed over to Monaco (~40 minute bus ride) to see the Festival International de Cirque de Monte Carlo! I had heard about it, and it was pretty cool to see. I got there a little past 2, managed to buy the cheapest ticket available (the very last row in the chapiteau!) and got in just as the show was starting at 2:30. It was a fun show, though it went for almost 3.5 hours, much of which was scene changing--taking the lions' cage out and setting up the flying trapeze rig. My favorite act was a handbalancer who had won a "Clown d'Or" at this year's festival.

The city of Nice is getting ready for a big festival too--Carnaval! According to my host mom, Nice's Carnaval is the largest in Europe. They've been setting up guard rails and bleachers for the past week or so, but sadly I'll be leaving before the celebrations start in February.

Dinner time! Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Is it really winter here?

Winter in the Riviera isn't really winter. The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and I was out in just a long-sleeved t-shirt today. I keep thinking back to last January, when I was in Québec freezing (but having a good time!) and understanding why so many rich people choose the French Riviera as their winter escape.

I've had a good first week of french classes. Usually, my day goes somewhat like this: I have breakfast at 8 with my host mom, and head to class at 9 (a five-minute walk away from the apartment I'm living in). Class goes until 11:30 or 12, so then I head out and get some lunch. Later in the afternoon, I usually take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais (I'm in love with that walk), then head home when it gets dark around 5:30 and try to convince myself to do homework (a difficult task). I've done a bit of exploring in Nice—I've seen the shopping mall right near me, and have walked around a bunch—but otherwise I'm not planning on doing much more touristy things, like museums. Dinner is at French time—around 8—with my host mom, and sometimes with the other girl who is staying here, a Korean student at the University of Nice.

This weekend I took an excursion with two classmates to Eze, a medieval town a short bus ride down the coast. We hiked up a hill with spectacular views, and then explored the tiny windy streets of the town on top of the hill. It was a wonderful hike (steep!), a beautiful day, and a very cute old town.

Saturday evening I had dinner with the owners of the apartment that my parents and I rented, and a couple of their friends. All in all we were 6 anglophones, and had a wonderful home-cooked dinner. It was better than any restaurant—we had multiple courses, including stuffed dates and souffle and lots of wonderful wine—and a fun time all around. Sunday was therefore a lazy day, though I took my daily walk on the Promenade with an Australian classmate.

I don't have many plans for this week other than the usual class time and wander time. I'm taking this is a sort of structured vacation—my brain isn't quite ready to switch out of relaxation mode. Of all the places to take a vacation like this, I think Nice is the best.

'Til next time :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nice (part 1)

Ok, there are so many terrible Nice jokes. Even just writing that title felt like I was making a joke. Well, Nice is nice. Nice is great. And I'll try not to make any more Nice jokes in this post.

My parents and I spent a wonderful week in Nice. We stayed in a rented apartment, which was homier than a hotel. Each day we'd have fresh baguette or pastries for breakfast, and then go exploring. Since I'm bad at remembering things chronologically, I'll just give little descriptions of some of the trips we did.

The most "exotic" was our visit to Monaco—a whole new country! I just get so excited about crossing borders. Monaco is actually tiny and full of a lot of ugly apartment buildings, but it's also full of rich people and fun stuff. We saw the castle (which is quite disney-esque) and wandered around near the yacht-filled port. Even saw some signs in MonegasqueWe also went to the casino, of course, where I tried my hand at gambling (slot machines and poker machines) for the first time and was actually quite bored. I can't figure out what is so enticing about gambling, and I hope I never will.

My dad and I also took a day trip to Cannes—home of the famous movie festival—and Antibes, another town on the coast. Luckily we found cute old-town parts of both cities, with old stone towers that were much nicer than the modern apartment buildings. Also saw the convention center where the Cannes film festival is held, which was pretty cool. The craziest thing—especially in Antibes—was the amount of yachts. Mon dieu. So many rich people with giant shiny yachts. It was like a forest of masts. Could hardly see the water.

Anyway, we also spent some nice times in Nice. Saw some cool Roman ruins (those Romans went everywhere!), as well as an old fort on a hill near the old town. We did a lot of wandering around old Nice, and had some great meals in restaurants here. One of the awesome things about Nice is that they still use Provençal here! Not sure if I've heard it spoken (I think it sounds like Italian) but many of the street signs are written in both Provençal and French.

I've also fallen in love with the Promenade des Anglais—a sea-side walkway that runs all along the shore. It's always packed with people, walking, running, biking, and roller-blading or just sitting and enjoying the view. The beach is mostly pebbles, but the water is bright bright blue (that's why it's called the Côte d'Azur) and some people are brave enough to swim. I took a six-mile walk there yesterday, and took two more walks there today. :)

When my parents headed back to the states, I headed over to my host mom's house. I'll be staying here for three weeks, taking a 2.5-hour french class every day. My host mom is a ball of energy and very hospitable, and I think I'll really improve my french while I'm here. I had my first class today, which went well. It's only 8 students, and the teacher seems quite good. So for now I'll say à toute à l'heure!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in the vineyards

Hello! Welcome to my adventures around the world, part 239 or something. I'll be chronicling here my month in France, and my semester in Turkey. And whatever comes next, which I haven't figured out yet. Enjoy!

Hello from drizzly Nice, France! I've been in France for about a week, enjoying good food, wine, and temperatures above freezing.

I started this trip by flying Boston-Dublin-Paris, then waiting for a chilly, hungry, sleepy 4 hours at the CDG train station before boarding a train to Bordeaux, and then another one to Macau, the town near which my mom's friend lives. I finally arrived at our friends' house, which is in the middle of thousands of vineyards. We spent a few cozy days taking walks in the vineyard and celebrating Christmas with my mom's friend and her two daughters. Lots of fires in the fireplace, and good soup, cheese, bread, wine, and sweets! It was a very cozy Christmas.

Our first excursion was a drive along La Route des Chateaux—driving through endless vineyards, passing a chateau (castle-like building hosting a specific type of wine) every 5 minutes or so. We visited a few chateaus, but mostly enjoyed driving by and seeing the beautiful façades and slate towers in the late-afternoon sunlight (the sun goes down early here!).

The next day we explored the city of Bordeaux, which is smaller than Paris but still as beautiful. We got some beautiful pre-sun-set views from the cathedral tower and did some serious exploring of the city.

Our next excursion was to the walled town of Saint Emilion—straight out of the middle ages or so, filled with old stone buildings, and cobbled streets (which are actually not made with cobbles, but paving stones--cobbles are small round stones. fun fact). We had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant near the beautiful old church and cloister, and bought some of Saint Emilion's famous almond macaroons.

Finally, we made another day trip to Arcachon—a cute sea-side town. Though in winter it's pretty empty, it was still nice to explore a bit and see the cute houses and the beach. We took a detour to la dune de pyla—the largest sand dune in Europe. It was quite large, though given that I haven't seen any other sand dunes in Europe, I'm not quite sure what to compare it to.

After an early night on New Year's Eve and a 9-hour train ride from Bordeaux to Nice, we are now ensconced in a cozy apartment here in Nice, ready to explore some of this city's sites and some of the rest of the French Riviera. After today's drizzle the weather is supposed to be nice—and in the 60s every day—so I'm looking forward to it.