The French Riviera

By Megan Hulshizer

I’ve just returned back to grey and rainy Hamburg after a whirlwind weekend in the French Riviera, the Côte d’Azur, and I’m already dreaming of the day I’ll return.

One of my favorite movies growing up was the Alfred Hitchcock classic, To Catch a Thief. Starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and of course, the scenery of the French Riviera, the movie follows a former cat burglar (Grant) and an American heiress (Kelly), and their attempts to catch a new thief who is robbing from the wealthy elites during fabulous parties overlooking the Mediterranean. The duo set out to prove Grant’s innocence and of course, they fall in love along the way.  The film was shot in Nice, Cannes, Monaco and the surrounding areas, featuring gorgeous beaches and fancy hotels. Grace Kelly leads a daring car chase scene through the winding, hilly roads along the seaside. I fell in love with the movie many years ago, and I fell in love with the French Riviera this past weekend.

I flew out from Hamburg Saturday morning, and I arrived in Nice, France around 1 pm. I took the 99 bus straight from the airport to the main train station, which was conveniently near my hostel. Immediately I checked in, dropped off my things, and as I was preparing to head out to see the city, I met another girl staying in my room. Her name was Jordan, and she was from Texas. She was traveling for the summer and had also just arrived to Nice. Since she had already seen the beach and the viewpoint, we agreed to meet up a bit later after I had walked around a bit. I set out to the beach. The stone beach was packed with people enjoying the perfect weekend weather. The water is astonishingly blue, so blue it seemed fake. Beautiful buildings line the beachfront and palm trees sway with the gentle wind. I walked around with a starry eyed expression, I’m sure, taking in the gorgeous sights.

I ventured to the top of Parc de la Colline du Chateau, an area where a castle used to reside, but is now where there are green areas and parks to enjoy, and almost 360 degrees of amazing views overlooking Nice. Children were having a birthday party in the park, friends shared a picnic, tourists snapped selfies, and I soaked it all in. Then it was time for me to meet Jordan at the Opera so I headed down the numerous stairs. We checked out the Marché aux Fleurs, the flower market, which runs every day. Then, we simply walked through the old town, winding our way through the small streets, looking at the many shops, always managing to find ourselves back at the flower market somehow as we became more and more turned around, before heading back down a new street to see. The sun was beginning to set, so we decided to find a seat at a balcony of one of the bars overlooking the beach. From our little balcony, we could see the road passing below us, and because of Saturday evening traffic, we had some great people watching into the cars. Straight ahead was the blue water and the stone beach. The view was incredible. We started to get hungry so we ate at Wokshop, an Asian restaurant that had reasonable prices, which is all we craved. The restaurant was hilariously fancy compared to what we were expecting, since we had chosen it simply because our meals would be 10 euro. After dinner, we had drinks outside at at a bar that had live music, and was packed with people on a gorgeous Saturday night. Jordan tried a Monaco beer, which turns out is beer, grenadine syrup, and 7 UP. It was a sweet drink not unlike a Shirley Temple.

The next day was my newest country: Monaco! We learned that Monaco is less than a square mile in size and is one of the densest countries in the world. Also, the population is 30% millionaires. As much as I tried to make friends with the locals and score a ride on a yacht, I didn’t quite manage it. Jordan and I grabbed the train around 9 am for a quick 20 minute ride straight to the Monaco Monte-Carlo station. Since it’s not a large country, we decided to wander around. We stumbled upon the fanciest Starbucks I’ve ever seen, which is on a rooftop overlooking both the casino and the sea. Then, we sort of joined a tour group that was walking toward the casino in hopes that we could sneak in with them or get discounted tickets. Sadly, they weren’t going inside the casino, so we were out of luck. We paid the 10 euro entry fee into Monte Carlo, which I thought was totally worth it, because the casino is absolutely gorgeous. Every room was extravagant and more beautiful than the last. We were able to sit at the tables and wander. The casino doesn’t open until the afternoon so I wasn’t able to bet any money, which is probably for the best. We then began walking toward the palace. On our way we met the laziest dog, Daisy, who wanted to nap on Jordan. Although we wanted to kidnap the puppy, out of the goodness of our hearts we let her continue her walk with her owner. We made it over to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, and saw Monaco from above. At 11:55 am they had the changing of the guards, but there were so many people trying to watch, it was almost impossible for us to see much. Since it was nearing lunch, we decided to try a hidden spot that I had read about in the New York Times, Club Bouliste du Rocher. The article was from a few years ago, so I wasn’t sure if it would still be accurate, but it boasted a private boules club that was members only, but the public could enjoy a lunch there with stunning views of Monaco. The article was still partially correct: instead of a three-course meal for 16 euro, we both got pasta (14 euros) and wine (4 euros), but the food was good, there was only one other couple there, and the views looking down over Monaco were stunning.

It was time to find the train that would take us to our next destination, Èze. Because it was Sunday, the direct buses weren’t running, so we had to take a train, and then take a bus up the hill. Unfortunately, we had just missed the bus by four minutes, and the next one wasn’t due for an hour. We split an Uber with two girls from Lithuania, and up up up the hill we went. When you google “French Riviera,” a picture of Èze is literally what pulls up. It’s a beautiful medieval village on a hilltop overlooking Nice. Flowers were blooming and it was a beautiful day, so we walked through the super narrow streets, passing by art galleries, restaurants, and adorable shops. The entire village is quite beautiful and small, and very easy to see in an afternoon. There were also quite a few tourists on that Sunday afternoon, so I hate to think what it’s like in the high season.

We caught the direct bus back into Nice, and went back to the hostel to set our things down. There we met Angie in our room, who is studying abroad in Granada and spending the long weekend traveling. We all went to find some dinner together and had some drinks at Les 3 Diables, where everyone was watching the Nice vs Paris soccer match.  The entire crowd cheered and groaned, getting very enthusiastically into the game. It was an exciting match with lots of yellow and red cards and some vicious play. But Nice came out victorious in the end!

Monday was Labor Day in France, and fortunately, although local buses were not running, we were able to take the train over to Cannes. Cannes was setting up for the 70th annual film festival, and we took silly photos on the red carpet stairs and saw all the tents they were preparing. We ate a delicious lunch at Salsamenteria di Parma, before we continued our exploration of the city. We walked up steep stairs to a church that overlooked the city. It was windy but beautiful. Fortunately it had only rained in the early morning before we had left the hostel, and the wind blew the bad weather away. Unfortunately, the wind stayed with us all day, whipping our hair everywhere, but it was still wonderful. Since it was Monday and Labor Day, many things were closed, such as the museum atop the hill, but we wandered the streets and beaches of Cannes. I spotted a Radisson hotel that had a rooftop bar. We went up the elevator to the top and found great views! We ordered some drinks and stayed there for a while, watching small boats ferry the cruise ship passengers back to their boat. When we got the bill to pay, we discovered we had been overcharged (significantly)! Turns out, we had originally been given what I assume was the “off-season” menu that had cheaper prices, but then charged the “on-season” prices. Fortunately we were able to point out that our beers were actually 6 euros less on one menu than the other, and the staff was super understanding and charged us the lower prices. Thank goodness, because that was already a fairly expensive drink!

Jordan, Angie and I then stopped at a little stand and got gelato and a crepe, and walked by the cute carousel, walked along the beach, and enjoyed the warm sun. It was getting late in the afternoon, so we grabbed the train home, picked up some dinner at the supermarket, and took it down to the beach in Nice for a cheap seaside dinner with a view. Although it was windy, we found a little area protected from the wind to enjoy our meals.

Saldy, the next day I had to leave. I woke up to perfect blue skies yet again, wonderful weather, and a desire to stay, just one more day, please! Unfortunately I knew I had to teach class on Wednesday so I packed my things and caught the airport bus. There were so many other small villages and towns I wanted to visit during my trip, and I know I will have to return soon so I can explore them all.

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