Wow – DELAYED much. Not entirely sure why I’m still keeping this up – but meh!
So I’d forgotten to write about my quick trip on the Train du Pigne (Train of Pines) from Nice towards Digne le Bains in Provence, France. I took this train trip, thinking happily of my father the whole way (who is OBSESSED with trains & pretty train journeys) – purely for the sake of taking a famous scenic train trip!
Tired at the moment and don’t have an amazing amount to say about it, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.
I am writing from cold January London – and have just spent the past few weeks being pursued sneakily by snow and the COLDEST SNAP Europe has seen in like 60 years hahaha – so looking back on these photos in summer sun is making me very jealous…of myself…
And of course for my father, the obligatory train related photos
The journey usually can take a whole day or even a few – I took a few hours! It was made in super efficient Angela fashion right before my trip up to Marseille (already blogged about).
The next blog post will FINALLY be about Paris! A few months (half a year in fact) behind. HAH. Reminiscing
I rocked up to the huge youth hostel in Tours, which was cold and institutional. On a major plus side, I had paid for a dorm room but got a twin room all to myself. Sweet deal – privacy! Skype chats! Being as messy and loud as I wanted! Ahh thank you giant hostel
Already on the cab ride there, I could see how gorgeous the town was – even more so than Aix en Provence! The fountains, the old mansions on either side of wide boulevardes lined with towering old trees, the quaint old town with huge squares filled with al fresco seating and the smell of crepes…sigh!
Originally I had planned to bike around the Loire and see whichever chateaux I wanted – but seeing as I hadn’t ridden a bike in 10 years or so, I opted for the bus that would take me to a select few of the more famous or more grand chateaux. There are over 30 chateaux in the region, I’d go crazy trying to choose otherwise!
Glad I did, because I found myself sitting next to the gorgeous and delightful Jo, with whom I spent my entire time in the Loire, and then subsequently Paris! I was dumb enough to accidentally delete almost all my photos from the Loire (sad face!) so many of the photos below are courtesy of Jo – thanks love!
I’m no expert on French aristocracy or art or architecture, so I won’t pose as one. To follow are simply images that I feel capture our fairytale 2 days amongst turrets, spiral staircases, decadent furnishings, rich fabrics, blue skies, green grass, flowers upon flowers and hedge mazes
It wasn’t only the chateaux that kept us absorbed in our fairytale, but also the amazing gardens! Mum & dad, these go out to you :p
Ahhh so much gorgeousness. All we needed were the dresses and corsets (and big hair) and we would’ve been set. That, and to get rid of all the other tourists, hah.
Loving you Jo, glad we had the fairytale together!
Next post – Paris! Jo + the Aussie gang, picnicing, climbing endless stairs and art coming out of our ears!
Oh dear, that doesn’t sound too optimistic does it?
Honestly, it was enjoyable, but I think I could have done it much better with some more foresight. There were one or two missed opportunities that could have been better taken advantage of!
In Nice, Patrick and Claudio (the Italians who taught me to drink espresso, haha) had almost convinced me to waylay my France plans and simply spend my summer weeks on the Italian coast! Ohhh I was so tempted, and in hindsight wish I had – regardless, I had a blast in France.
Originally, I had no plans to come here. It was only really a base from which to explore the calanques (gorgeous sea inlets) and Aix en Provence.
Turned out to be quite an interesting place in itself! Similar in architecture, and it had a sprawling old port with hundreds of boats, though definitely not as glistening as the Riviera ports. The whole place had an air of organic mess. Does that sound bad? There was much more Arabic than French spoken. In fact, had a great Moroccan meal and good Irish pub banter (one of the only ‘happening’ places we came across). The hostel owner was totally odd but entertaining, and Aaron the frat boy American played tour guide.
Aix en Provence
Coined as a beautiful town full of old stately mansion decadence, cafe culture, colourful markets and Cezanne, Aix en Provence was a huge drawcard. Made the daytrip with the gorgeous young French Canadians Marie-lou and Stephanie.
We had actually really wanted to get out to lavender and flower fields – the idyllic swaying scenery that Provence is famous for. Unfortunately, the lavender harvest was already over, and local buses just did not work out for us! My one regret for Provence – but oh well! Had a great day at the market stalls and learning about the influence Picasso and Cezanne had on eachothers’ work.
As much as I enjoyed this pretty place, the Loire Valley (next post) was in my opinion much more gorgeous!
Enjoyable? Of course, all my travel is! I wouldn’t call them essential stops though. It was time better spent as extra days in the Riviera, Loire Valley or Paris I reckon.
Still hugely behind, but more posts on their way!
Nice started off in a haze of brain exhaustion and ridiculous hours.
So I admit, I could have found a better way to get there, but the way my trip timing worked out, I was on a bus that would get me to Nice at 2am the day before I originally planned to arrive.
- No accommodation booked for that night
- I thought I’d hang out at the bus station from 2am til morning
Problems? What problems?
The only other passenger getting off the bus at Nice at 2am was Suzzanne, another Aussie girl. Upon seeing the dodgy bus station, there was no way I was staying there on my own til morning! She had a hostel pick-up, but couldn’t reach them on her phone. No payphones in sight. After wandering around, we finally got a taxi, and used the driver’s phone to call the hostel. Eventually we got there, and ended up crashing on their common room couches. The common room also just so happened to be a 24-hr bar!
Drunken backpackers, a flirtatious chef and broken glass = disturbed sleep for us!
At 4am a guy asked us what we were doing there, and after feeling sorry for these homeless sweet girls, gave us a free private double room! (He turned out to be the owner) Ended up scoring a whole bunch of free stuff off this hostel, which I didn’t even book a room in!
Such was my start in Nice.
Originally I had only planned on spending 3 nights here. With every daytrip up and down the coast (previous post) I fell more in love with the Riviera. With every night, I fell more in love with Nice. Eventually, I even stayed in town during the day and explored Nice itself.
Easily, Nice ended up being my favourite place of all the Riviera towns I visited.
My original 3 night plan turned into a whole week, and I loved it!
Had many funtimes with so many great people. Photos ensue
Nice Beach & Promenade
Blue seems to be a common theme throughout my Riviera photos…lucky me
Vieux Nice (Old Town) …mainly by night
…despite the fact that I really did spend some daytimes here too! I did live there after all! I really should have taken more photos of the cobblestone alleyways…
Old Port side
Ah Nice – how I love you.
Also – go to the Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC) *love* !!!
(still ridiculously delayed, but we’re catching up!)
FINALLY! A new post?! These are over a month late now, but I will get through them!
More on my Nice adventures later First, a quick recap on the various daytrips I did from my base in Nice.
Had found Travis from Cali, Diana from Quebec and Justin from the good ol’ land of OZ – so off we went!
A super pretty medieval village high above the glistening coast.
The precarious walk down to Eze sur Mer was gorgeous, but rocky as! Apparently Bono lives down there, though personally, I think there are much nicer beach towns on the Riviera that one could choose…if one was a well-moneyed rock sensation…
I grew up watching a really random movie called “Once upon a Crime” – a classic in my eyes, with James Belushi, Cybill Shepherd and John Candy (RIP) – a murder mystery comedy set in the Monte Carlo casino. Obviously, that meant that Monaco was a must-see on my Riviera trip.
Funnily enough, I can hardly remember what the casino looks like in the movie, but seeing it in real life didn’t convey the same sense of magic and well…murder mystery. Lesson: don’t attach James Belushi to travel expectations.
All pretty all the same
Another gorgeous (but quiet) Riviera town. A good half day, but more painful pebble beaching. The views though, as always, are stunning.
Ah, the famous film festival. Anything going on here outside of that? To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much, but ended up loving it!
The boulevardes are buzzing, the cars and luxury yachts are as plentiful as the designer stores, the hotels are grand, and the beaches are SAND!
Possibly my favourite beach, simply because the sand situation was perfect
Tiny pebbles = comfy on the feet + no sand in your bag = perfect!
…and only 5min from Nice!
Figured I had to pay it a visit from all its fame and hype.
To surmise: it’s pretty, but so is every other town. It is however a bitch to get to from Nice. First, train to St. Raphael (about 50mins), then a ferry to St. Tropez (1 hour) which only runs about 4 times a day. Get your timing right, or else you’ll end up waiting round for hours, or only have a tiny amount of time in St. Tropez! Don’t make my mistake of leaving Nice in the afternoon – go early!
St. Tropez itself was lined with artists, pretty pastel buildings, rich yachts and upmarket alleyway shopping (oh, and yummy bakeries – but then again, they’re everywhere in France!)
Nice itself was magical and full of night revelry, but more on that in the next post.
My first sunny day in Barca was spent alone, and after a few hours of wandering around, I could safely say
“Pammy, I am so jealous you get to live here for the next 3 months!”
Barcelona introduced itself to me with its bustling main tourist square Plaza Catalunya, and huge boulevard Las Ramblas, which I noticed had very distinct stages:
- Tourist stands everywhere
- Poseurs in their garish garb smiling for photos with the hope of coins
- Bird stalls?!
- Flower stalls
- Merkat Boqueria (love!!!)
- Street sketch artists
- Street art vendors
On either side of the Las Ramblas, cafes had their tables pouring out onto the street in al fresco glory, pharmacies were everywhere (a common trait in France too), grand theatres, huge shiny shops and dodgy tobacconists…and alleyways that piqued my curiosity, branching off into the old mazes of Barri Gotic (to the left) and shabby chic Newtown/Surry Hills-esque streets of El Raval (to the right).
All of this finally led me to the glistening Port Vell, where I happily sat watching the sky darken, writing in my journal amidst the enticing smell of waffles, and the ominous presence of huge gulls and tourist hordes.
At first we stayed in a hostel about 15mins away by Metro. Loving the city centre, I decided we would be happier staying at one of the party hostels near Plaza Catalunya. Lucky there were spots for our last 2 nights!
Barcelona gave me a variety of nights. From quiet romantic girl-dates with Pammy, over good food and water views…to clubbing by the beach, climbing structures on the sand at ridiculous hours of the morning and getting my all-purpose-moshpit-purse stolen (thank goodness nothing important was in there).
PS. Don’t buy 1 Euro beer from the shady guys selling it on the street – they store them in the sewers. Sewer beer!
New friends and funtimes all round.
Dali theatrics in Figueres
Dali could very well have been the crazy old man sitting outside the entrance. The moustache and eccentricity fitted like a glove. Had Dali not died in 1989, I would have been tempted to pursue my theory further. The museum is a converted theatre, the largest surrealist piece of art in the world. Dali’s aim was to create an entire surreal experience for the visitor!
One thing I didn’t realise was the amazing range and depth of skills Dali had. He wasn’t just a fantastic painter with intriguing surrealist themes, but he did EVERYTHING! Loved the pop art installations, the sketches, the sculptures, the squid ink paintings…
High Holiness in Montserrat
Another daytrip landed us in a cable car up to a bulbous mountain range (that was ridiculously phallic up close, everywhere) and a high-up monastery and cathedral. A day of fine views and further enlightenment.
City of Gaudi
I don’t even know what to say about this – but wow.
Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting Barcelona to be so ‘radical’. Gaudi put these strange buildings up back at the start of the 1900s – can’t even imagine something like this back in the day in Ausor even now!
To be honest though, don’t know if I’m the biggest fan? They are amazing regardless!
Overall, Barcelona has a little bit of everything, and I leave it with mixed feelings. It’s bustling and cosmopolitan, with fantastic culture, an amazing art scene and an abundance of establishments I could easily turn into regular haunts – as well as being one of the dodgiest places I’ve seen – oh what character!
A special place in my heart
A gorgeous daytrip for the Mezquita. All-wise town planner Cory was telling us about how Cordoba used to be the most important medieval city at one stage. I really should remember more about the history – dumb tourist!
What is amazing though are the candystripe arches in the graaaaand Muslim Mezquita – which was then taken over by Christians – so in the middle of this amazing Muslim architecture is a giant cathedral! A sight to behold.
This was the day, however, when we were wandering around in 47 degree heat – felt a little woozy for the rest of the night but managed another night at Sevilla’s Feria anyway. Ole!
The Alhambra – another amazing piece of grand Muslim/Moorish architecture. History lesson? Won’t find it here. What I will say though is that the detail on everything is amazingly intricate. The carvings and mosaics on every wall, the vaulted ceilings that look like those 3D visual illusions, the perspectives you get from walking through the layers of decorated archways – *sigh*!
We stayed in the old Moorish quarter Albayzin, which was cool, albeit a little freaky at night. The alleyways are ridiculously tight. There were some points where there was literally 3 cm on either side of the taxi going up. Eep! (The buses in this part of Granada are all itty bitty minibuses for a reason!)
We did Granada way too quickly – want to come back here and do it all properly, as well as other bits we totally missed.
Then I was off on the early plane to Barcelona! Even managed to get my luggage down to 15.5kg! Post coming soon (I’m like 2 wks behind now!) …