I just got back from a long weekend travelling to some beautiful cities. Six of us decided to pack into yet another tiny car (though this one at least was made for five, and being designated driver means that I get to be somewhat comfortable, though exhausted). We decided to go to Nice for the bulk of the trip though we stopped off in Aix for a night and a day to see the glorious little town. And of course, we all fell in love. Though it rained horribly the majority of the day and was gloomy if not raining the entire stay there, we adored it none the less, which shows just how magical it really is. We stayed in a cheap hotel which was funky to say the least, but was central. It had no elevator of course and Elze and I, who had the biggest heaviest bags, were on the top floor. So after grunting and dragging and stomping our way up the tiny spiral of old stairs we managed to make it to the top. Assured that we had awoken everyone we changed our clothes from the trip and went out for a beer or two, steered only by the noise of raucous enjoyment. A clever frenchman spotted the six of us, alone and weakened from exhaustion and decided to engage us in conversation. He asked us where we were from and we all smiled. Any time anyone asks us this it is quite entertaining, for they never expect us to be from all over the world! So we went around in a circle spouting out where we are from. America. South Africa. Singapore. Indonesia. Guatemala. Brazil. And, just like everyone else, he was surprised. But he had traveled all over and spoke a little spanish and we were entertained with him for an hour or so until we decided to retire for the evening.
The next morning we awoke to rain beating down on our window and were saddened that we wouldn't have a beautiful sunny day to explore Aix. But we decided to brave the storm and make good use of our umbrellas, of which we only had three. So we each found a partner and walked, arm in arm, down some tiny streets until we made our way to the Cours Mirabeau, which is a beautiful wide stone street that makes its way to the central fountain and round about. All of the shops were so charming and we stopped for a cafe and some souvenir shopping. We also bought a gigantic jar of Griottines, which are sour cherrys soaked in Cognac, for our future plans of sun bathing in Nice. Once we were along the Cours Mirabeau we decided it was time for lunch and split up into two groups. Those who didn't mind spending some good money for some good food (I of course was in the crowd) and those who did. The three of us who were looking forward to a Menu, made our ways through an old building into an open courtyard to the Cote Cours, a restaurant recommended to me by Helen's friend who live in Aix. And it certainly was wonderful! We sat under the safety of their outdoor "tent" which obviously could be opened if the weather had permitted it. I ordered the menu and had Eel for my starter, peanut chicken for my main course, and bananas and rum for my dessert. It was delicious with the Eel by far at the front of the crowd as the star of the meal. I cannot remember what Christy ordered for her appetizer, but it came with a tin of caviar which was absolutely spectacular and I had to exhibit some severe self control in order not to finish it and lick the empty tin. The owner and head Chef made his way around to each table and we were happy to speak with him. Not only was our meal lovely but the chef wasn't too bad himself. We managed to control our drooling long enough to let him know that we were pastry students and would potentially be interested in doing an internship somewhere in Aix and would he possibly know of somewhere to recommend. He offered that we could do our internship there, with him, in his restaurant, and we were more than pleased to shake his hand and take a card from him. He also informed us that he would be appearing on "Top Chef France," and we all expect that he will do well not only because he is talented as a chef, but also because lady viewers will be easily charmed by his appealing smile and pleasant attitude (something that is somewhat of a scarcity in France, especially when it comes to customer service).
After our meal, we continued shopping for a short while before making our way to Nice. The drive was entertaining, as always, since having five back seat drivers, three of which do not have drivers licenses, can be "interesting." We, of course, managed to get lost, and drove around in circles looking for our hostel. We asked an old french couple which way to go and they pointed us back the direction we had been, to which Elze replied, "I told you so!" and which she repeated throughout the navigational experience. After passing the same five streets a million times looking for OUR street, we finally managed to find where we needed to be. For reasons unknown to me (I was not there when the arrangements were made) we were staying in a hostel. Apparently it was cheaper, though it ended up not being so, and would force us to be more social. As we should have expected, the man at the front desk was extremely rude. We had reserved a room for just the six of us online, but were placed in a room with a seventh unknown person, and when we mentioned it he told us that it was not his fault and that that was just how it goes when you reserve through the website. We should know better than to think that anyone in france is ever responsible for anything. When we told the woman at the fron that the bathroom was out of toilet paper she informed us that there were two other toilets down the hall as if that somehow fixed the problem. As is standard in any hostel situation, we made our own beds, and I was surprised to find that one of the previous tenants had left a bit of themselves behind in the form of a petrified booger adhered to the mattress. At this point things were becoming comical and so it didn't exactly put a damper on the stay, though Elze and I certainly vowed never to stay in a hostel again.
We went out for a light snack (since we all had gorged ourselves at lunch) and went for a drink along a road filled with bars in Old Nice. Though or waiter was Irish he had obviously been in France for too long for the bad service had infected him. We drank our fair share of passion fruit mojitos and met two guys from Norway who bought us some drinks and who came with us to another bar when the pub we were at closed at the early hour of two am. The bar, The Blue Whales, was impossible to find and we wound our way from cobbled street to cobbled street until I asked a slobbering drunk fellow from Iceland if he knew where the Blue Whales was. He did, in fact, know where said bar was and even offered to escort us there. This turned out to be quite the treat, since there was a live band and our Icelandic friend was quite the music connoisseur. We all were entranced as we watched him, sweating and swaying, sitting on his chair, his eyes closed and his head either tilted slightly back or slightly forward, playing one air instrument to the next, with such fervor and such passion that we ourselves were taken away with excitement and became quite involved in the music ourselves. This continued until the bar closed and by the end of the night he had gone from drums to base to guitar and back again, making sure to spill an ample amount of beer on anyone around him.
We finished the night at about 5 am and made our way back to our hostel but managed to make a quick stop at a bakery that while not open was just beginning its day. We harassed the poor baker boy until the first batch of bed was out of the oven and he gave us two just to make us go away. We devoured them as quickly as a pack of sharks does a wounded seal and then passed out in our designated bunk beds. The next morning we awoke to the maid storming about our room at 11am. She angrily confiscated our trash bag and disappeared. None of us stirred but a good ten minutes later another woman entered the room and began scolding us in french. Again, we made no noise except for Christy who hoarsely squawked to her, "five minutes," before the woman turn on the light (which certainly felt forceful since it blinded me) and slammed the door. We all began to giggle though we were all, also, quite pissed and insulted. The truth was that we were expected to be out of our rooms from 11am to 3am so that they could do some cleaning. Apparently it took them four hours not to scrape other peoples phlegm from the mattresses and what not, and our presence in our own rooms was not only unwanted but also strictly forbidden. We bitched as we brushed, showered, and dressed, putting on our bikinis for a relaxing day at the beach. We simply could not believe that they would actually throw us out of our rooms! Though, at this point, it serves us right for being surprised by anything from the french who are unfortunate to work in customer service. You would think they were flogged on a regular basis. Perhaps they should be...
The beach was lovely, though it was not your traditional sand beach. It was made up of large stones and we all had to arrange our towels and bodies, moving this stone or that stone, to make a comfortable "nest" for us to lounge on. We ate our Griottine, turned from side to side, and dipped in the beautiful mediterranean, which was a magnificent aqua. It was somewhat difficult getting in and out of the water, since the tide was strong and threw rocks at your ankles and feet if you were close to shore. But we toughed it out and enjoyed a light swim between tanning sessions, cooling off sufficiently and getting a nice dosage of salt water in our hair and eyes.
We returned to the hostel after getting side-tracked by some stores (I had no choice but to adopt two pairs of beautiful shoes that I simply could not leave behind), showered and went out for some fresh seafood. We went back to Old Nice and had a few drinks at a bar with a live band, whose lead singer was a woman and a rockstar at that, but we turned in early since we were all exhausted from a long hard day of tanning. We stopped for some incredible ice cream, I had salted caramel and honey pine nut, and ate as we walked back to our beds.
The next day we made sure to be out of our room by eleven and decided to take a day trip to Monaco. We drove along the Moyenne Corniche which goes along the coast and is famous as the site of Grace Kelly's untimely death. In spite of such a morbid history the drive was breathtakingly beautiful. The Moyenne Corniche makes its was through a handful of charming little towns made up of gorgeous stone villas, twisting and turning between cliffs going up to the sun and cliffs going down to the sea. It was only a short trip to Monaco and we walked around, stopping at the Casino and Hotel De Paris (where we were asked to leave since we were not guests). We walked along the beach and went to lunch at a beachside cafe where we saw some beautiful men and were happy with service that was not french. After lunch we went to Old Monaco and walked through the royal garden to the palace. We were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guards and were even happier to see one guard come and give the guard on duty a pair of sunglasses to wear. It was quite unexpected. We also were lucky enough to see a bride enter the chapel for her wedding! It was beautiful and oh so romantic and we all imagined, as girls often do, about finding a beautiful rich man in Monaco to marry and live with in a beautiful estate overlooking the water. He would, of course, drive something juicy as all people seem to do in Monaco. We even saw a Porsche Spyder exactly like the one James Dean had parked outside of the Monte Carlo Casino.
On our way back to Nice we stopped in the tiny town of Eze. It was all stone and had miniature streets that wound about in a dizzying fashion. We got lost almost immediately, but did not mind and choose willy nilly weather to go left or right or up or down and mostly tried to follow the sun and the sound of the ocean. We stopped at a beautiful and expensive hotel and decided to go in just for one drink. These ended up being 20 euros and we sipped them as slowly as we could so that we could savor the moment on the beautiful hillside patio over looking the mountains and ocean. Unluckily we became trapped as a violent lightening storm forced us inside and the tempest kept us there. It hailed as hard as it could and we continued to suck on our melted ice since none of us could afford another drink but none of us wanted to leave and make our way back to the car in the storm either. Luckily the storm left as quickly as it came and we were able to strike up a conversation with our barman who informed us that they were looking for people to stage there (which means to work for free) and he gave us his card. We walked back, which took a bit longer than walking in since we had to turn around and change directions after reaching a dead end, and stopped for dinner at a less expensive but tasty little local spot.
I was happy that the storm was over as I drove the winding road back to Nice and we were all quite exhausted and quickly went to bed knowing we would have to get up early and make our way back home. It was so sad to leave though the storm had returned as was sending us home. Of course there was traffic the entire drive back and we were forced to stop at a McDonalds since it was that or add another hour to our trip. I almost cried. First off, I was eating McDonalds in France. Second, all of my travel mates were excited to be doing so. Third, there was an extreme line and the entire place was packed! Fourth, the fries were better than any I'd had anywhere else in France. Vowing never to sink so low again while in Europe we continued our trek home and made it back in nine hours when it should've taken only six. And now we all have to go to bed early since we are making an early trip out of town to get our medical exams for our Visas. At least this time I won't be driving and will be able to sleep in the back!
Love you guys!