13 March 2011

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous [The French Rivera]

With no accommodation, I was living on the hope that someone from the Couch Surfing community would find my message on the website and wait for me at the train station... they didn't. So I set off to find the cheapest possible accommodation for the evening. Thankfully I was somewhat prepared, having done a little research on the available hostels before I left Marseille. The best value for money - in that it was the top rated AND one of the cheapest - was the Villa Saint Exupery Beach. And it really did live up to its reviews - being one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in, and all for €16! I booked for two nights, with the hope that a Couch Surfer would save me for the last day or two.

I dropped my gear and went for a wander. About 200m from the hostel was the promenade and beach. Had I died and gone to heaven? Blue skies, sun shining, a beach that stretched forever lined by palm trees, beautiful woman and clear blue seas. What else can I say?

That evening was fairly uneventful, apart from the fact that a Couch Surfer did come to my rescue! Can, an amazingly friendly and trusting guy, originally from Istanbul, was living and studying in Nice. He messaged me to say his couch was free, and we organised to meet up the next evening.

The following day I again woke feeling like crap, but not being one to waste a day I jumped on a bus to Monaco. Just a quick aside - I think basing myself in Nice was one of the best moves I could have made. For one; it is a beautiful city with an amazing beach, and two; you have such easy and cheap access to the rest of the French Rivera! The bus to Monaco cost all of €1, and took about 45 minutes. Just taking this bus is an experience in itself - there is some truly spectacular coastline between Nice and Monaco. Think dramatic cliffs, beautiful sandy beaches, amazing architecture - both the style and the fact that they have built where most people would say "that is impossible". But for people here; sheer cliff faces - not a problem!

Monaco is in a world of its own. I have never seen anything like it. There is so much money in such a small place. The houses, the cars, the BOATS! It all screams over-indulgence. While in Monaco I visited the Princes Palace, providing panoramic views over the whole city, and the famous Monte Carlo Casino. Just to get in the gambling area is €10! So no, I did not go in.

That afternoon I made my way back to Nice to check out the old town. It is actually one of the cooler old-towns I have visited, having a very authentic feel. While wandering through the old town this guy got my attention and started speaking to me in a language I could not understand. I finally got from him that he was Russian, in Nice for a conference or something. I tried to tell him I was going to Moscow in a couple of months and he got extremely excited. Even writing his number down and telling me to call him! This whole conversation in a mixture of English and Russian, in the middle of France. Go figure... Anyway, I found some steps leading upward and decided to check out where they went. It turns out there is a big castle on the hill overlooking the bay. Unfortunately half way up the hill I was yelled at by police and told it was closed... mid afternoon on a Thursday? OK... But I still got some good photos of the view over Nice.

A few hours later I met up with Can, we dropped my gear at his place, then headed out. I was actually really lucky as the Carnaval Closing Party was going on that night. It was meant to be on the Tuesday but they postponed because of the wind. WIN! The party was very cool, but the highlight was the fireworks. They were set up just off the shore, so everyone gathered at the beach to watch. First they had a big paper mache king which they set on fire. I asked why they did that - no one really seemed to know. But it was freakin' cool, so who really cares. Then they had five or six platoons all the way along the bay, all filled to the brim with fireworks. There was a massive synchronised show. Very cool. I got a quick video you can check out here.

The following day I woke up feeling worse than I had been the previous few days, so slept forever! When I did get up I decided to travel down the coast to Antibes and Cannes. I grabbed a bus, again €1, but this time it turned out to be not such a good idea. The trip was... well, boring. And took about two hours to get down to Cannes! My one piece of advice - if going up the coast; take the bus. If going down the coast; train.

I was a little disappointed with Cannes. Maybe because I had seen Monaco the day before and was expecting something similar. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful city, I just didn't think 'WOW'. There are some cool things, though. There are all these old dudes playing pétanque in the main square, that is lined with a whole lot of crazy trees. I also climbed a hill overlooking the city with beautiful views of the city and coast. I did visit the beach, which I think would have been stunning had it not been overcast and windy! The final thing I did in Cannes was visit the convention centre, where some crazy event was going on, and I did not have a special badge, so didn't stick around.

Learning from my mistake - I jumped on a train to Antibes, a nice little village, again filled with old dudes playing pétanque and crazy trees. I think the coolest thing about Antibes is the walls separating the old-town from the (crystal clear) sea. Check out the photos!

By the time I got home I was completely exhausted! Can invited me to go out with him and his friends, but my eyelids were already half closed, and I just couldn't do it. Add to that the fact that I had a 9:50am train to catch in the morning. So Can left me... in his house... all alone. How trusting is this guy? I mean, I would never take anything, let alone from someone who had shown me so much hospitality, but there are assholes in this world! Can - you are awesome! And I hope we get to catch up in Istanbul.

About 30 minutes ago I crossed the boarder into Italy, on board a train speeding my way toward Milan. Again, no confirmed accommodation, but hey, I'll work it out. I think I'll stay a couple of days in Milan before heading on to Venice.

A quick final note - I have started to record some interesting things about my journey - how many countries I have visited, and the amount I am spending on various things. Obviously there is not a lot there at the moment... But anyway, it is on the "Where Am I?" page. Check it out ;)

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