Nice, France + Monaco

Nice, France
September 2nd, 3rd, 4th 2010

Didn’t really explore Nice very much. Walked along the main street a lot to get to/from the beach. I said a while back I preferred sandy beaches. After seeing what real pebble beaches look like, I changed my mind. I think the one in Split was a one-off because it was small and wasn’t laid out the way the beaches in Nice were. They are both great in their own way. Pebble beaches are a lot easier to clean up from. Sand doesn’t get into every nook and crevice of your shoes/clothing/bag.

Did spend part of my last day visiting Monte-Carlo in Monaco, a 20-minute train ride away. Visited the Old Town there (a small area filled with a few tourist attractions, tourist shops, and also Prince’s residence, where at 12 pm, a crowd of tourists got to see the changing of the guard, who have some snazzy sharp uniforms). Went to check out Monte-Carlo Casino and on the way, saw a bunch of Ferrarris and Lamborghinis drive past me on the road. Found them all parked in front of MCC, where all the tourists got to take a closer look and photograph themselves standing next to them. It made me think of what it was like to be so utterly filthy rich. Also saw a few Bentleys and a Rolls Royce parked in the area. I checked out the menu at a cafe next door to the casino; a bowl of soup costs €15, sandwiches cost €20+. Insane and good thing I wasn’t dying of starvation.

I ate Chinese food almost every meal at this point-and-pick fast-food Chinese joint down the road from my hostel. I would pair a dish and a bowl of white rice or noodles. The food was surprisingly good, decently priced but more importantly, it brought a little familiarity and comfort to my travels. I can’t begin to tell you how comforting and delicious a bowl of white rice tasted.

Nice, France Pics

Potential snags are coming up…

Russian visa, how do I obtain one outside of the USA? This is going to be tricky. My initial plan was to travel to Helsinki, Finland and apply at the Russian embassy there but it’s not so simple. Not only do the Russians require a ton of documentation (which I may or may not have on me at the moment), they might outside reject my application since I didn’t apply for it in the USA. I am going to take a shot in London, see what the Russian embassy there says.

This might be the same for India and China down the road but not as bad as Russia I think.

So US$130 for a Russian Visa…and all the hassle…is it worth it for St Petersburg and Moscow? A tourist visa is only for 14 days I think… I have to think about this one. Maybe bypass Russia altogether this time around?

Paris, France (Part Trois)

Paris, France
May 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th

PART THREE

It was time to check out today. I didn’t have any other place lined up so I decided to visit M.I.J.E. Hostel to see if they had a bed for the night. I had to meet Jerry (the South Korean guy) at 9 am and I woke up at 7:45 am so I was really pressed for time (good job Ken, for snoozing).

I did snag a single room for €50 (ouch!!) but had no choice, I didn’t want to take the time scouring other locations and I’ve heard good things about this place so I took it. It would give me some private time/space to read/write. I’ve been with roommates since the trip began and sometimes a little space at the end of the day is nice. That’s one thing I miss about home…having a HOME.

I ran all the way to Notre Dame (after taking a few trains) and ended up there around 9:20 am. Jerry was not to be seen. I knew he’d leave but I stayed on to eat breakfast (some cookies and water) and fed all these pidgeons. I decided to head to the Louvre and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I ran into Jerry while touring Paris?” Nah, it’s not gonna happen. Too many tourists, the city’s too big, the attractions are too big, the chances are minimal.

Off to the monster of a museum they call the Louvre. People tell me it takes a whole day to explore because the place is ginourmous and damn were they right. We’re talking acres here. I was really sick of it after the first two hours. Nothing but endless rooms of sculptures, old antiquities. After a while, they all begin to look alike so I breezed past all of them, trying to find my way to the paintings.

There were a bunch of massive massive paintings in addition to normal sized ones. I didn’t quite get to appreciate them all because again, I was breezing through them without stopping to look closely. I wanted to get to the Mona Lisa, like all the tourists. The bloody thing was so unimpressive to be honest. It was small, enclosed in a glass case, surrounded by barriers. Leonardo Da Vinci did a lot better things than this piece of work if you ask me. Screw her supposed “mysterious smile”, I bet the lady in the picture was just smirking at all the tourists looking at her, thinking to herself “What a bunch of suckers!”.

As I was trying to find the exit, guess who I run into? Jerry! My God, the chance of that happening was laughable. I explained my side of the story on why I didn’t show up. Then this oldish Asian lady walks up and Jerry jokingly said she was his girlfriend. Turns out she’s a copy-painter at the Louvre, a Korean-French artist (At the Louvre, you’ll see several artists parked in the galleries, copying the original paintings). When she left, he went like “I’m going to f*** her”. I was thinking “Uhhh, I hardly know you and you’re making creeper jokes like this?” Plus this pervert Korean guy was in his 30s maybe? The lady must’ve been in her 50s and looked very homely, not even a MILF…bloody Korean fella. I hope he was joking. I was too creeped out by him in general so I said goodbye politely and that I had to go visit some other places while he had coffee with the painter.

I was way too tired from all the walking. I went back to the hostel to rest until later that evening when I would go visit the Eiffel Tower and Arc d’ Triomphe. I wanted to watch Paris at the top at night anyway.

There are many kids staying at the hostel. It is noisy as they run up and down the halls, banging doors shut, screaming, playing, talking in French. I realized how great it must be to grow up in Paris. Every museum I’ve been too, there are always a few groups of kids and their teachers. All the kids would be sitting down in front of a piece of art and an art teacher would explain it to them. Field trips must be wonderful with so much culture in this city. How many American kids can say “Yeah we went to the Louvre for a field trip”?

I open my eyes. It was an hour or so later. The sound of the kids is gone. I lay in my bed in my small hostel room, half asleep. Tonight was my last night, I better make it count, so I head out. As I turn the corner of Rue de Fourcy, I am met by the sounds of a band playing some fun energetic style of music with their tubas, trumpets, drums. A crowd gathers and we listen to them play. It was so much fun. I think they were students, just having fun on a Friday night, entertaining the Rue de St. Paul crowd.

Anyway, I go check out the Arc D’ Triomphe, then walked toward the Eiffel Tower. I chose to climb up the stairs to the 1st and 2nd floors since there was hardly a line for that option (the line for the lift option was really long). It’s cheaper too. It’s not an easy climb as there are so many steps but I get a nice view on the 1st and then the 2nd floors. From here, the wait to the top is about 2 hours. I had to deal with the line to get a ticket for the lift up (everyone has to use a lift in the final ascent) and then there was a long line to the lift itself…but it was perfect timing since it was very dark by the time I actually got to the top and the city was lit up. Beautiful beautiful Paris.

Paris from the top

I get downstairs and there’s a huge gathering of people in the streets. Everyone’s on roller blades and it must be some roller blade marathon or something. At the stroke of midnight, everyone blades off.

On the way back to the hostel, in the subway, there was a group of drunk French students singing away. I shoot some video and one of them comes up to me and asks me where I’m from etc. Turns out they are from one of the biggest party schools in France. Everyone gets on the train and you would think they’d be quiet and proper on it…nope, they start singing loudly again. Pretty funny group.

The next day, I still didn’t know if I wanted to go to Brugge or Brussels. I’ve been buying bus tickets at the last minute and not having any hostel reservations in advance in the next country. I’ve been lucky in that I could secure hostels the day I get to a country but in more popular cities, it won’t be so easy. I decided from here on out, I should try to plot my course a bit more and also plan a few days in advance.

Ok, Brussels it is.

PARIS FRANCE PICTURES

Paris, France (Part Deux)

Paris, France
May 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th

PART TWO

I decided to visit a few things today: The Musee d’ Orsay, the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral. I also wanted to check out the Arc d’ Triomphe and Eiffel Tower at night.

On a dormmates recommendation, I decided to hop onto the Batobus (boat bus) and take a scenic journey around the River Seine. It would stop at several locations that included the above. I would just hop off, do what I want, hop back on and it would take me down the river to the next attraction.

It was a wet rainy day. When I got the the Musee d’ Orsay, I was without an umbrella. There was a long line outside and I didn’t want to wait in a line without one. So I headed into town, looking everywhere for a shop that sold umbrellas. I passed by a sandwich place and since I was ravished, I stopped to get an appetizing roast beef sandwich. The rain continued while I sat outside, watching people walk past me, as I enjoyed my sandwich. After finishing, I continued my search. I was about 10 minutes walk into town and I still didn’t find any shops, even after asking several locals where they bought their’s. I finally came upon a shop that sold €20 umbrellas (they all looked cute and made with quality). No way I was paying that much for an umbrella though. I finally found a shop near where I started and I guess shop owners realized the rain would get umbrella buyers and they brought out their secret stash from the backroom (or I was just bloody blind and didn’t see the multitudes of umbrellas on sale at almost every store I passed). €8 and I got myself a little black umbrella. I felt proud.

I made my way to the Musee d’ Orsay line only to be met by a multitude of street vendors trying to sell €5 umbrellas…boy, I was mad I overpaid by €3 and had to walk so much just for it. And guess what? None of these umbrellas are worth a damn. The rain got heavier, and it actually leaked through my umbrella! I was being rained on by an umbrella!

Well, after all that waiting and touring the museum (I must say, quite a bit of art in there, from sculptures to sketches to paintings), only paintings interested me. Specifically, impressionist style ones (Monet, Renoir, Manet, Van Gogh).

Anyway, made my way back to the Batobus and went down the River Seine to the St Germain des Pres Church. It was the main church of Paris before Notre Dame came along so it’s pretty damned old (Notre Dame began construction in 1163 so imagine how old this one is…). I thought it was an interesting church, full of Roman influences in their design and artwork on the walls. Nothing to really write home about though.

Of course, the next one blew me away. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was just…jaw dropping. It began construction in 1163 and didn’t finish until slightly under 200 years later. It was huge, as if made for giants. The artwork and architecture was so exquisite, so fine in detail. It was as if God built the place and his angels decorated it. I have never ever been blown away this much by a structure. The engineering involved (for its time) was tremendous. I am now interested in finding out who designed in and how they built it.

The Notre Dame square outside was filled with tourists from all walks of life. I was asked by a South Korean man to take his picture and we started chatting. Turns out he’s traveling solo as well. It was still raining and we took a walk to the Concierge but it was closed. I told Jerry that I’d meet him tomorrow at 9 am outside Notre Dame Cathedral and we’d go tour the Louvre and Eiffel Tower as a group.

I didn’t have time to do the Louvre (or anything else really) since it was already evening. I went to walk to the Rue de Rivoli in search of clothing but all I found along the stretch behind the Louvre were tourist shops selling everything that had “I Love Paris” on it. I stopped to get a quiche and wolfed it down in an open square. I finally found the shopping district but most stores were closing so I was SOL, stuck with the same clothes I was wearing, the only things I had after losing my other set in Cork.

Upon getting back to the hostel, I was dead tired and after trying to deal with massive internet problems, I went to bed.

Paris, France (Part Un)

Paris, France
May 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th

PART ONE

I am standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There is a slight breeze on this chilly night. The city is lit up like a galaxy of stars. A man has just proposed to his girlfriend and she said yes. Everyone around is admiring the beauty of this city at its highest point. In the distance, you can hear music being played as a crowd of people are gathered at the bottom of the tower, preparing for some sort of event. I look into the distance, just trying to soak it all up. I will never want to forget Paris. I love it.

I didn’t have a great first impression of Paris. I barely got any sleep at the airport in Dublin before flying in. I was thrown into a completely foreign country language-wise and managed to find my way onto a subway train called the RER-B, which would take me from the airport. The train smelled of piss. I got lost trying to figure out how to get to my hostel since there are so many damned streets going in all directions. When I got to my hostel, I had to take 6 flights of stairs to get to my room. I was dead tired, it was hot outside, I was pissed off. And since it was only 11 am, I decided to go explore the town a bit. I got lost again, trying to find my to the Basilique du Sacre Couer. There’s a long long flight of stairs leading all the way up. I was dreaming up ways to tell everyone what a shithole Paris was, cursing all the way up the stairs.

Then I got to the top.

I was met by a beautiful church. It was full of tourists which annoyed me because it made me feel like one. ‘I’m not one of them’ I tell myself. ‘I’m a traveller, not a tourist’. I’m an idiot, my apologies. But the view from the Sacre Couer was amazing. I saw Paris sprawled out for miles ahead of me. I saw what a huge city lay in store for me to explore. The church itself was magnificent but that’s because this was my first Parisian church. I haven’t seen anything yet…

I decided to walk back to the hostel and turn in early. I think I made some pasta for dinner. But I really wanted to sleep so I could be fresh for the French Open the next day. All those stairs and walking really helped knock me out all night.

I woke up to a fairly wet day. Knowing that the French Open gets rained on sometimes, I decided to wear my rain jacket instead of my usual fleece. Getting to Roland Garros isn’t hard, took me a while to figure out the metro train system here but it’s really easy when you have a map showing all the lines and connections. For Euro 1.60, you can take the train twice, not counting all the transfers between.

I followed the crowd at the Port d’ Autueil station all the way to the Roland Garros front gates. Once I got in, I immediately went to find out what matches were scheduled for the day (I bought a magazine that had the day’s matches). I decided to check out Marin Cilic, Mikhail Youzhny, Tomas Berdych, and Stanislas Wawrinka play. Watching those guys play was unreal. They hit so hard yet so accurately. I would have to return Cilic’s kick serve by overheading, it jumped THAT high.

After Cilic won the first set, I decided to go check out Youzhny. I was walking toward his court when a guy stopped me and asked if I would answer some questions so I agreed…turns out I was being interviewed by The Tennis Channel! That was awesome…he said I would appear on TV, I don’t know if that’s true or not though. They mainly asked what I bought, what I was planning on buying…I didn’t really buy anything so I think I threw them off a bit since the interviewer’s looked like “Oh…ummm…well…make up anything so we can have something to show…” LOL I tried to make my magazine purchase sound interesting but I also ended up saying “I’ll definitely be getting a T-shirt”. I didn’t though, it was 35 Euro for a t-shirt!

Anyway, once I got done checking out Youhzny, I went back to Court 2 for the Berdych match but the women’s match was still going on so I decided to watch anyway. It started raining though and everyone got out their umbrellas or those with rain jackets/ponchos like myself just sat there. I should’ve gotten an umbrella. So I waited out the rain…when it stopped, an elderly lady and her grandson and daughter sat next to me. Me and the elderly lady, Marie, struck up a conversation. When she found out I was visiting Paris, she started recommending places to visit and eat, it was great. Throughout the rain delays and matches, she was chatting with me and I even got to meet Paul (the grandson) who shared a love for football (his team was Lyon, he was excited I knew the players he named as his favorites). Marie’s daughter, Valerie, didn’t speak English so it was up to Marie to translate for us. Valerie offered me these awesome cookies a couple of times, I ate them up (I later bought a box at a grocery store). There were 3-4 rain delays, stopping matches multiple times, which got annoying. After everything was said and done, after I watched all the tennis I could watch, after parting ways with Marie and her family, I decided to head home. It was about 7:30 pm. Although I didn’t get to see Federer/Nadal/Novak/Roddick/Murray etc. I was happy that I got to attend the French Open, watch some good tennis players, converse with a few locals.

That night, I slept pretty darn good. I had to wake up early the next day to go visit downtown Paris.