Sunday, June 7, 2009

French Riviera & Monaco

On days 2 and 3 of our weekend away we stuck close to the small stretch of beaches in and around Nice. We spent the morning in Monaco, a tiny pocket of a country that feels rather invented. The whole of it is less than 1 sq. mile and ruled by a prince who lives in a Disney-looking castle.

You might guess from its small size and income-tax exemptions that Monaco is basically a bunch of fancy condos stacked on a harbor stuffed with yachts. Atop the crowded hillside also stands the church where Grace Kelly is buried and the famed Monte Carlo Casino. We stopped by the church but missed the casino. My favorite part of Monaco is driving the winding coastal roads on the way there. Grace Kelly filmed "To Catch a Thief" here. Ryan and I didn't have a convertible, but I still felt a bit glamorous.

After lunch we drove back into Nice and walked the Promenade Anglais along the water. Nice's fancy beach front was less glamorous than expected. All the beaches are rocky, and the expensive hotels seemed to be only full of snobby tourists. I kind of expected to see someone famous or something. It is just down the road from Cannes after all.

A better surprise awaited us in the Nice's old town center. Rick Steves' book offered up a great walk through the heart of the city and explained a lot of its history. We ended atop Castle Hill, which, as you might guess, was the site of Nice's castle. Nice was, until Napoleon, part of Italy; and many locals still speak Nicoise, a dialect of Italian. It started to rain, so we ducked inside a tiny restaurant and again ate way too much delicious French food.

My plane left Nice at 5:00 on Monday, so the next day we drove down the road to Antibes. This is a tiny village to the west of Cannes with a real sandy beach and a great market. It was nice to get away from the tourist crowds and just be mellow. It was even hot enough to swim a bit. Ryan and I got pretty pink from our sunbathing, but I got back on the plane with salty hair and a belly full of Camembert and Rose. As we touched down in windy, rainy, Berlin I felt a bit smug that for one weekend I had managed an escape to the beach.

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