Nice

I’ve started making a list of places I want to settle down after I’m old, and it only keeps growing. Making a list is a good idea. That way, when I’m old and toothless, I can do eenie-meenie-miney-mo and just pick one. Hopefully, I must have made bags full of money by then.

So, Nice…this small French wonder, has made its way to my old-and-toothless list. It is a packet full of hypnotic surprises that pop out from every nook and corner to make your jaw drop to the ground and explode your mind. Located in the south-east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea, with prefect balmy weather, inviting promenade, old-world opulence and vibrant street life, Nice is a place you just can’t miss when you are in France. Thirty minutes bus drive from the airport to the hotel offers you the preview of Nice’s ochre-hued buildings to the left and transparent aquamarine waters to the right.

We had only two days in Nice. And in those two days we not only strolled its old streets packed with nostalgia, but also waddled over to the beautiful sleepy mountain village called Eze, drove to the fancy Monaco and Monte Carlo and then took a train to Cannes.

Reaching there: Reaching hotel from the Côte d’Azur Airport is super easy. Take Bus 99 that drops you at Gare de Nice-Ville Train Station.  We stayed at Hotel Ibis Nice Centre Gare which is a mere 5 minutes walk from the station. There are host of luxury and budget hotels as well as BNBs within earshot of the station as well.

DAY 1: When you have a schedule that’s full-to-the-brim, you waste no time napping. You toss the luggage into your room and take to the streets. That’s exactly what we did.
Talk to the locals and you’ll know how this city blessed with two winning factors – the sea and the Mediterranean climate – became a holiday magnet to the European aristocrats who were tired of those chilly winters back home. Take a look around and you’ll imagine yourself in the seventeenth century when the horse-drawn carriages tapped their way by the sea.

The half day hop-on-hop-off bus tour lets you enjoy all the benefits of a guided tour, including hassle-free transport and on-board audio commentary, and still explore the sights at your own pace.  This open-top bus offers unrestricted views of the enchanting surroundings. So gorgeous are the views that you’ll be in a dilemma whether to angle your camera for a perfect shot or to let your naked eyes drink in the beauty. You’ll be grinning all by yourself when sun makes you wince, the wind flirts with your hair, you stand in style to see the ocean, lose your balance and fall back on your seat, cheeks red having made a fool of yourself.


Get off the bus to explore attractions such as the Promenade des Anglais, Mont Boron, Matisse Museum, Chagall Museum, Cimiez and old Nice or remain seated as the bus takes your around.
This eye-catching building below houses host of IT companies.

You will pass by the tall buildings painted in charming pastels shadowing the narrow streets.


Am I wrong if I dream of living here? The photograph paints such a peaceful picture, does it not…


What should I gawk at? The architecture or the bluest of the blue skies…
Cutesy houses share the neighborhood with such illustrious hotels.


You’ll also see senior citizens fresh as daisies, walking their dogs and stopping by for a chatter as the furballs keep tugging at the leash.

The Promenade des Anglais:  can be best experienced around 4 in the evening. This is the time when the sun decides to be merciful and the place looks utterly glorious.
This 4 kms long stretch flanked by white-washed sands and the famous blue-and-white beach chairs, also has a dedicated lane for cyclists, skaters and the electric segway.  If you fancy joining them, rent one from the stations closeby.


With the sea lapping up at the promenade, settle back and relax as the sun is about to drown itself into those glistening blue waters. Some pictures are made by camera, few like these are made by the heart. They are the ones that never get erased. They just pop as soon as you close your eyes, regardless of the corner of the world you are in.

Vieux Nice: Immerse yourself in the local culture with a walk through Old Nice. The Old Town of Nice or Vieux Nice as the locals call it, is something you do not want to miss. It would be unfair to term it as site-seeing, because it’s really the beating heart of the city. It’s a gorgeous little town of winding alleyways, cobblestoned streets, petite butterscotch coloured houses, pretty little delis with chequered table-cloths and homely stores.


Cours Saleya: All this has hardly changed since the seventeenth century. But the centerpiece remains the Cours Saleya, a massive market square that’s permanently thronging in spring and summer. The mornings in Cours Saleya turn the place into a fragrant and colourful market teeming with fruits and flowers. Flea market is put up on Sundays. With the streets all lined up with souvenirs, paintings and loads of other stuff, you will get a lot of shopping out of the way as well.


Place Massena: Every city, no matter how big and modern, has a spot that its inhabitants hold dear to their heart. Place Massena is this enchanting square with a vibe so postcard perfect, you’ll  have to peel yourself out of here. It is one of those sites which concentrate the most stunning Neoclassical structures in the city and is bordered by buildings with impressive red facades and white-framed windows. Those men sitting atop the tall poles, they keep rotating and changing colors. Chill in the air, festooned with lights, the mist-blowing Fontaine du Soleil and buskers serenading at the road-side, this place looks spectacular and achingly romantic when night falls.

After a long day of excursion, when your tummy yells food, head to one of the many sit-out eateries in the old town.

Nice’s cuisine is a real surf-and-turf kind of deal, with an assortment of glistening fish, lobsters and lurid crabs on the display – all fresh from sea to the table. Not just the sea food, but there’s also incredible meat varieties that sit on the menu. If hunger pangs haven’t taken a good bite of you yet, grab a seat at one of cafes and dig into their buttery croissants, luscious pancakes and a frothy Macchiato.
But, if the tummy starts to rumble, get your hands, mouth and clothes dirty with an order of mussels with rice. They arrive like a mountain-on-a-plate, as if to mock your appetite and look gorgeous at the same time. But once you start, you won’t stop, except to wipe your smeared mouth. The server attaches a bucket at the side of the table for leftover shells. I love the sound of their clanking when each one of those hits the bottom. It’s fun and great way to kill time.

DAY 2: After a really early breakfast of fresh baked goodies and coffee, you will be picked up in a private AC vehicle for a half day tour to the mountain village of Eze and from there to the the world’s second smallest country that is Monaco. Fascinating eh!

EZE: While driving to Eze, your driver, who doubles up as your guide, will pull over at a vantage point from where you will have the spectacular view of Nice down below; also a vital spot for a selfie.


Isn’t this mesmerizing!

Drive further and you’ll find yourself going up a winding path, gawking at an imposing cliff on which the village of Eze is perched. The vehicles are parked just before the climb and you’re left with around 40 minutes to explore on your own.


Be seduced by the marvels of Eze – occasional archways, shady squares, tiny caves and ancient fountains which seem to be lifted straight out of a movie set and placed here. The rocky path that leads you up, is lined on both sides with restored stone houses and boxed colourful widows.


Flowered plants sit pretty on the window sil, giving the cobblestoned lane a charming look.


Wonder if all the mountain villages are this pretty…


Numerous small boutiques that sell arts and crafts suck you in like magnets. The handcrafted aromatic soaps that look like coloured pebbles are a winner. Lay your hands on as many as you can.


On the top is an exotic botanic garden, where an impressive collection of cactus, plants and rare vegetation surrounds the remains of an ancient chateau. Reach the vantage point for the sweeping views of the Riviera.

While on the way back, drop in for a private tour of the Parfumerie Fragonard – L’usine Laboratoire Èze. It’s actually at the entrance of the village.


Ever heard of a Nose? Not the one that pokes out of our face. This is a rather fascinating one without which, rather whom, the perfume industry will be like a fish out of water. A Nose is the industry jargon for an expert who’s spent years mastering the art of distinguishing fragrances in the snap of a finger.
We were given an activity where we had to put our olfactory system to test – identify the fragrances on testers. I got 9 correct out of 10 . Our guide declared that theirs could retire now that they had one in the making… me 🙂 . Guess I have an alternative career already.
You’ll be showed around and offered insights on the life cycle of soaps and perfumes. The lurid colors and aromas are hypnotic. Do not be surprised if you walk away with a bag full of them. I came home with Belle Di Nuit. It’s my very priced possession from France which I leave no chance to show off.


MONACO:
Prince’s Palace of Monaco
is a short drive away. Pace up to make in time for The Ceremony Of The Guards which takes place at 11:55 am everyday. Even if you do make in time, it’s a monstrous task to find a spot for the view, craning your neck and all.


Take a walk around the market, window-shop or just let your eyes devour the gorgeous hillscape of Monaco.


Circumambulate the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix Circuit, the much revered race track for the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco. Feel the adrenaline rush as you speed through the start line, cover the entire race track and then reach for the finish line, just like a pro.

Casino de Monte-Carlo does make a luxurious backdrop for an Insta-worthy selfie, doesn’t it.


CANNES:

It’s a short forty minutes train ride from Nice to Cannes. And if you happen to be there in the second week of May, you have a cherry on the cake. It’s that time of the year when the French Riviera is stuffed with glamour and glitz, when the stars descend the earth and sashay the red carpet in their resplendent best. It’s the Cannes Film Festival, which I’ve been following very closely for more than a decade, to see which celebrity’s worn what – an extravagant display of exquisite couture.

Take a walk alongside the promenade for some celeb spotting. You’ll see them up and close striking their perfectly rehearsed poses for the shutterbugs.


And sometimes the photographers love to be clicked too…


Waddle around and the Riviera will reward you with such breathtaking views you’ll remember for a long long time.


When your feet protest, make a dash to the station and board the next train to Nice; to be back in the arms of warmth, comfort and realness that no amount of showbiz will offer. It’s nice to be home.

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Paris

It takes centuries to write a history as breathtakingly beautiful as that of Paris; and the monuments, opulent palaces and museums stand tall with pride to tell it all. We spent two days and we barely managed to scratch its endless surface. No wonder Carrie kept gushing about her dream city and finally made her way there. You know Carrie Bradshaw…from Sex And The City. Her epic reaction when she sees the Eiffel Tower for the first time, mine was exactly the same…a complete melodrama replete with facial and hand gestures 🙂
So, Bienvenue a Paris – Welcome to Paris!
The land desperately coveted by the vikings centuries ago, the land of King Louis the XIV, the land of souffles and champagne… But above all…the mecca of fashion.

Autumm and Spring are the best times of the year to visit France. We chose the latter. The crowds are sparce, prices are low and nature is welcoming.
We didn’t really have that good of an experience from the airport to the hotel. We were duped of 100 Euros by the cabbie. He spoke Spanish. I know little Spanish. Thus, instead of being friendly, atleast with a language in common, he duped us. Haha. Unforeseen costs. Shit happens. Nevertheless, that was a good sign…good sign to all the memories that Paris had in store for us.

We reach the hotel, throw our bags and have a quick nap. In the evening, we head to the object of my fascination, ever since SATC…the Eiffel Tower. Our tour to the tower is actually scheduled for the third day. But there’s a kind of pull it has you just cannot resist. It pops up from every place, stalks you in almost every lane, and also plays peek-a-boo from your hotel window. Since we have the entire evening and no plans, we put it to good use – acquaint ourselves with the public transport system. Paris and its places are well-connected with Metro, the RER line, buses and trams. Buy a pass as per your necessity and number of days of stay, and you’re good to go. It’s hassle-free, economical and comes with few freebies too.

As a first-timer to Paris, the best option to explore this magnificent city is to book a HOHO (hop-on-hop-off) bus tour. With this tour you can explore the city at your own pace. It gives you the freedom to plan your own itinerary and explore the best of Paris’s landmarks for as little or as long as you like for the duration of your ticket. Ah! and you get a free poncho to take the unruly rains head-on.

I just love Europe for the food-on-the-go options it has. We pop into the supermarket adjacent to our hotel and pick up quick dinner – sushi, quinoa salad loaded with plums and nuts, pork sandwiches, crab mayo, chocolate muffins and cold coffee. Did I miss anything? Gosh! these could easily last our entire stay. It’s 9.30 and dark. The Eiffel has started to light up. So, we switch the light off, plonk on the jumpy bed and ogle at the magnificence and magnitude of the monument of my fascination. I could sit there and gawk all night, but my body has started to tire and eyes are closing.
Every late evening, the Eiffel Tower turns into a nocturnal spectacle, when the beams of light illuminate the monument into a gilded masterpiece, while its beacon shines over Paris. This is truely a sight to behold.

Palace De Versailles:
Who’d believe that this enormous and magnificent masterpiece sitting amidst the sweeping, picturesque gardens was once upon a time a humble hunting lodge. Louis the XIV visited these grounds as a little boy of 12. Then returned again in his youth only to fall in love with it. That’s when he envisioned an imposing, opulent and ornate masterpiece that would project the absolute power of French monarchy and seal his position as Roi Soleil, the Sun King.


Around 30,000 soldiers and workers toiled towards making the king’s dream come to life. Its 700 rooms are replete with frescoed ceilings and carvings. Light streaming in through the gold-framed windows in the Hall of Mirrors is divine, while the Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles) brim with geometrically designed walkways and fountains. No visit to Paris, or France for that matter, is complete without experiencing the grandeur of Versailles.

With this kind of enormity, it’s difficult to cover every room and corner in just one day. This is where the skip-the-line audio tour helps. There are tours that offer hotel pick-up and drops. I feel, it’s best to reach there on your own. The palace is located in the small township of Versailles, about 21 km outside of Paris, and is easy to reach by train. Catch RER C from Paris to Versailles Rive Gauche station. It’s just 10-15 minutes walk from the station through a quite lane dotted with dainty cafes, you’ll otherwise miss if you take the pick-up.
Book the skip-the-line tour in advance which also includes breakfast at Ore restaurant. Stuff yourself with their freshly baked buttery croissants, smoky sausages and steaming hot coffee before you start the tour.After shaking ourselves off the palatial dream, we take a train back to Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral:

The HOHO bus drops us off to another historical monument – The Notre-dame de Paris also known as Notre-dame Cathedral, visited every year by whopping 14 million people, and the count only continues to move north. This medieval structure is a finest example of French Gothic Architecture. The construction spanned two centuries from its conception to completion. Stained glass windows were a major attraction until they were replaced by the rosewood ones in the 18th century, and, these are equally stunning.

Move over from the windows and exquisite interiors to treasury and bell towers that soar to the skies. The top of the North Tower can be reached by climbing the exhaustive 400 odd steps, where you’ll come face-to-face with frightening gargoyles and a spectacular view of Paris. Also, among the treasures stashed here is the Ste-Couronne, the ‘Holy Crown’, which is purportedly the wreath of thorns placed on Jesus’ head before he was crucified, brought here in the mid-13th century.
The best part about visiting Notre-Damne is…eating.  There’s a host of upscale as well as pock-friendly cafes just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral. While you’re tired already touring the monument, tire yourself some more while waddling the street, glancing at each of the cafes and their displayed menus – although you’ll barely understand, and then you’re sure to settle down with anyone, irrespective of the cost.

Hop on to the bus and settle on the top side to get the best views of the city as the commentary runs on. The bus, leisurely makes its way over Pont Neuf – the oldest standing bridge over river Seine, the history of which you cannot afford to miss. The bridge is more than 400 years old and has a fascinating story to tell – a story of crime and commerce. Do keep your ears on the audio, eyes on the bridge and sites that surround it.

Soak in the magnificent architecture and history as the bus moves from one stop to the other. You’ll pass the Musee d’Orsay, that houses the earlier 19th century masterpieces by legends such as Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh to name a few.

Palais Garnier: Hop off the bus if you wish, at the awe-inspiring Palais Garnier also known as Opéra Garnier, perhaps the most famous opera house in the world, as it provided a setting for the famous 1910 novel ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’, which was then adapted into numerous films. Designed in 1860 by Charles Garnier, who was then an unknown 35-year-old architect, the building is a perfect blend of the Renaissance and Baroque styles.

Louvre Museum: You can’t claim to have visited Paris unless you’ve paid a visit to Mona Lisa. This mystical and mysterious painting by Leonardo da Vinci is said to be the most visited and the most parodied work of art and takes centre-stage in the museum. Spread over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space, the Louvre hosts over 35,000 pieces of artwork, the Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek antiquities to masterpieces by artists such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Take the skip-the-line small group tour or audio guide and devote time learning about the much revered pieces on display.

The Mona Lisa:

Winged Victory of Samothrace:

Venus de Milo:

Sleeping Hermaphroditus:

Coronation of Napoleon:

La Pyramide Inversée (The Inverted Pyramid):

Marveling at these masterpieces, you lose track of time. Literally. There’s so much to gape, so much to read, so much to soak in. You’ll have to peel yourself out of this spectacle. Literally. No wonder this is the most visited museum in the world.

Eiffel Tower: It was a darling of controversies, a subject to be written, drawn and sculpted, a mere metal object people loved to hate. It was a debatable relationship between architecture and engineering. But that did not stop Gustave Eiffel from turning his vision into a almost 1000 feet tall structure that was supposedly useless and inimitable yet incessantly imitated over years to come.

Book a skip-the-line guided tour and you wont have to brave the queues. The guide will escort you to the entrance from where you can take the elevator to the second level, where the winds are freezing and the views of the cityscape are jaw-droppingly sublime. Better have your batteries loaded, because you may want tonnes to pictures to make.
The giant wheel to the extreme left is Place de la Concorde. While the shimmering golden dome to the right is the Hotel Les Invalides.

Look how mesmerizing does River Seine look from the top:

And when you’re chilled enough, you may want to dethaw a bit with a steaming hot cappuccino, buttery croissants, gooey muffins among other warm and delish baked goodies. There’s also cutesy souvenir shops to take a replica of the tower that can easily fit inside your purse.

Place de la Concorde:
 The major public square in Paris, it was the site of many notable public executions during the French Revolution. It was this place where a guillotine was first erected by the new revolutionary government for execution of King Louis XVI by beheading.

Champs-élysées: You pronounced it as ‘Champs Elysis’, didn’t you? No no. It’s actually – Shawns Ely-say. We kept mouthing the former and made utter fools of ourselves. Multiple times. Gosh the French pronunciations! The name translates to “Elysian Fields” from the Greek mythology, meaning resting place of Greek gods and dead heroes.
Champs-élysées is the most beautiful, famous and fashionable avenue in Paris.

This beautiful tree-dotted avenue that once housed the nobility and was the famous meeting point for the politicians and intellectuals, is now a lot commercialized. Its buildings now house high-end fashion stores, chic cafes, cinemas and elegant offices. Take a stroll down the straight, long lane and you’ll know how far it has come from where it once started.

That’s me at my beloved brand. Hope to swing my very own LV someday. Not the first, second or third copy. The original 😛

Arc de Triomphe: 
Looking to the azure Parisian skies with utmost pride is Arc de Triomphe, the magnificent monument that honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. 
Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I and the eternal flame that burns in memory of the dead who were never identified in both the World Wars.
The Arc is located at the culminating west end of Champs-élysées and on the right bank of River Seine.
Inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces are the names of all French victories and generals.

Seine Cruise: Save the best for the last, is what I always do. Book a skip-the-line tour and hop aboard a boat with glass canopy that takes you leisurely through the beautiful Parisian boulevards. Put on your headphones and lose yourself to the hypnotic voice of River Seine as she takes you centuries back when it all began and Paris slowly but steadily became what she is today. Keep your eyes peeled as the boat glides past many of the major attractions of Paris like the Notre Dame and the Louvre. Pass through tunnels, locks and under the bridges as you cruise through some of the old and exotic Parisian neighborhoods that you don’t get to see by road. Evening I believe, is the best time to take the cruise. You know why? Because, witnessing the illuminated Eiffel shimmering in gold, like a flame burning in the dark, so up-close from the still waters is an experience of a lifetime.

Paris stands as a living, breathing reminder of its opulent heritage. Its allure lies in its ability to seamlessly blend a rich, cultural past with its new, vogue avatar, while promising us a unique sense of je ne sais quoi that’s tough to say good-bye to…