My alarm sounded off at the ripe time of 4 AM, but I surprisingly wasn’t tired, even though I had stayed up packing until 12:30. It’s hard to feel unexcited when you’re traveling to one of the most beautiful, and arguably richest, areas of the world. I put on a blue dress, because you have to look somewhat appropriate when hanging out with the wealthiest 1%, ok so I was hanging out with them, but I was going to their homeland, which is close enough in my book. Melissa and I lugged our suitcase down the bumpy streets at approximately 5:15 in morning–we were off to the French Riviera.
This trip is one of two that was included with study abroad costs, and was through our school. We waited at probably one of the sketchier areas for the trip leaders and bus to arrive, because of course they were late. Italian time, where being 15 minutes late is considered early. Anyway, our swanky double decker coach bus rolled up, not on time, and Mel put our bags away while I snagged some seats. There were two sets of four person seats with a table, so I took one of those because I figured the table might be nice. Mel didn’t want to sit there, but she later learned to love it when we realized how squished everyone else was on the bus.
The bus ride was about 5 hours and we drove the majority of it along the Italian seaside before crossing into the French Riviera. While the ride was peaceful, one can only handle a bus for so long.
We arrived at the Medieval town of St. Paul de Vence, France around noon. To be honest I wasn’t very excited to see this place of all the cities and towns we would be visiting over the course of the two days. While Medieval towns boast a lot of history, every single country in Europe has them. I am not exaggerating. Especially in Italy, the outlying towns in Tuscany are mostly medieval and after visiting a few of them, along with medieval quarters in other cities, I was about done with seeing high walls and towers. I definitely judged St. Paul de Vence too fast though, because it turned out to be my favorite medieval town.
The town is known for being a prominent artist community, home to some famous French artists, sculptors, and painters over the years. Apparently, the town is bustling in the summer, but while we were there, I think our school were some of the only people in the town. We only had about an hour and a half there, but it was more than enough time. The town is so tiny, but has so many amazing features.
We first escaped from the masses of our school group because being surrounded by 50 other students was too much for me. We walked up to a viewpoint that looked out onto the countryside. I feel like panoramic views are kind of becoming my thing because I always seem to find them and take pictures at them wherever I go.
From there we just wandered, but it was barely wandering because we stumbled across the same streets multiple times. We stopped at this fountain, which was on most of the postcards stores were selling. It was not until later that I realized it marked the highest point in the town. We enjoyed the window displays of the local artists and as quaint as the town was, by the time 2 PM rolled around we were ready to move onto our next destination–Nice, France.
It was about another hour to get to Nice, which was back in the direction of Italy. We checked into our hotel, which was SO NICE. My hostel in Barcelona was nice as well, but there is a clear luxury is having a big shower with your own room and comfy bed.
Once we dropped off our bags, we headed downstairs for a walking tour the school provided through two local guides. We started off in the Old Town area, comparable to every other Medieval town in Europe, I told you every town has one. The start of the tour was pretty boring, because there’s really only so much history and architecture one student can take. And, too be honest, everyone just wanted to hit up the boardwalk and beach area.
I think our tour guide could tell we were a little restless after having been up since 4 AM and sat on a bus most of the day. We eventually arrived at the promenade and the tour guide took us up to an overlook that offered yet another beautiful, panoramic, this time of the Cotê d’Azur or Blue Coast. This is what the French Riviera is called in French and the name is derived from the different shades of blue that can be seen in the Mediterranean Sea. This was my favorite part of my time in Nice. A great view, with good friends, in a perfect location.
We walked back down the promenade and moved on to the main strip. We stopped for macaroons and ice cream along the way. The macaroons just looked delicious so Melissa and I split a box, but the ice cream was sub par. Apparently it is the most famous and delicious ice cream in Nice, but it was not anything special. Along the strip, the guide pointed out Elton John’s house way up on the hillside, and eventually lead us back to the hotel.
Since I was there with my school, dinner was provided and was typical French cuisine. I think that the restaurant dialed it down though since they knew we were American and wouldn’t enjoy escargot or caviar. They served us tomato soup with bread, chicken covered in a mushroom marsala sauce and a chocolate mousse for dessert. I was more than pleased with the meal as I was expecting something much worse.
That night we decided to live how the people of the French Riviera do and hit up the local casino. After checking our passports we bought a voucher to play the games. Obviously all of the instructions were in French, so we had no clue how to play anything. We wandered around like helpless little Americans before settling on slots because you really can’t mess up slots. Being that it was my first time at a casino, I just kept pulling the lever on slots until I lost all my money. I went into it knowing the Nice Casino would be taking all of my euros so I just enjoyed the experience rather than actually trying to win anything.
We were pretty exhausted after a complete day of traveling and sightseeing so we turned in for the night to get ready for the next day of traveling. That morning we packed back into the bus to head to the village of Ezé, France. Unfortunately, everyone moved seats and Melissa and I were stuck on the upper level aka 3rd class with the peasants. Just kidding, I’m being dramatic, but our original seats were so much better than the one’s we were stuck with the second day. One funny point was that we were about 5 minutes late while leaving, which is honestly pretty good when dealing with a group of about 50 kids, but the chaperones got really mad at us and said the lost time was coming out of our free time. I wanted to laugh at the situation because we were just as late leaving Florence and they didn’t care, but when it was our fault it was a huge dilemma.
There are three roads that take you to Ezé, a low road, a middle road and a high road. The low road was too small for buses and the high road was a little out of the way so we drove along the middle road. The views of the coast we terrifying and amazing at the same time. One historical fact about these roads was that on the high road was where Grace Kelly died after getting into a car accident with her daughter.
We arrived in Ezé 15 minutes later and toured the Fragonard Perfumery. We were able to see where and how the perfume is made. At this factory all of the soaps, perfumes, eau de toilettes, lotions and scrubs are handmade. Even the duck shaped soap had hand painted beaks. Fun fact, is that it takes 3 tons of roses to create one liter of essence. Essence is what is used to make perfumes smell the may they do. Fun fact number two, perfumes and eau de toilettes are different. Perfume is the most concentrated form, where eau de toilettes are diluted, which is why perfumes cost most money because there’s most essence in each bottle.
We walked through the store at the end and decided to spend a questionably large amount of money on a rather small container of perfume, but hey when in France.
After the tour we only had about a half hour left. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough time to go into the actual town of Ezé, but we walked up to a hillside cliff that had a great view of the side of the city and the water. We took one pictures and hiked back down before driving to Monaco.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, after the Vatican City-State, and is a principality, meaning it’s run by a Prince. Prince Albert, Grace Kelly’s son to be exact. The royal family of Monaco has been ruling the country since the 1200’s and is one of the longest running royal families in the world. Some of the richest people in the world live here and the country has one of the world’s strongest economies. Residents of Monaco don’t pay taxes, which is why real estate prices are so high, and people can even pay to become a citizen of the country.
We first started out in Vieux-Ville, or Old Village part of the country. We saw Prince Albert’s home, the changing of the guards and took pictures overlooking the port of Monte Carlo.
We walked around, bought some postcards and then went off to find the church where Grace Kelly was married and now buried.The church wasn’t anything special and the grave was just a flat surface with her name on it. I wasn’t too impressed and I might get slayed for saying this, but I don’t even really know who Grace Kelly is. I know she was an American movie star who married into Monaco’s royal family, but other than that I don’t know much.
We grabbed a quick sandwich for lunch which happens to be a common occurrence. I don’t mind it though, I actually like it, when you only have a few hours somewhere it’s much more fun to spend the time exploring rather than sitting in a restaurant for an hour paying for an overpriced meal. After eating, we walked over towards the Princess Grace gardens, which sit on the seaside and have flowers everywhere. This was my favorite location of the entire trip just because of it’s unaltered natural and serene beauty. After walking through them we made our way back to the bus which was taking us to the other side of the country to the Monte Carlo district.
A lot of people think that Monte Carlo is all Monaco is, but the country is split into four sections and Monte Carlo just happens to be the most famous quarter. We saw the famous Monte Carlo casino and the main square which featured what critics claim to be the world’s best restaurant as the world’s best chef works there. I obviously didn’t go eat there because who can afford a dessert that our chaperones described as “three times the price of a dinner.”
Melissa and I walked around the city, but since it was a Sunday everything was closed and I mean everything. Not a single store or shop was open, so after walking around and looking forward to going in some of the high end stores, we called it a day and made our way back to the square before boarding the bus to come home.
The bus ride home was a miserable, long experience as we were stuck in Italian traffic on the only highway in the country that only has two lanes. Mel and I survived by jamming out to some Ellie Goulding and High School Musical, but we were happy to be back on Florentine soil when we arrived home.
It was an overall enjoyable weekend filled with picture perfect views. Traveling to these magical places makes my life feel like a live action postcard, and the French Riviera was no exception. The Cotê de’Azur lived up to it’s name with the 60 degree weather and complete sunshine, but now it’s time to come back to reality of school. I have mid-terms this week, but one of my best friends, Carlyn, from school is coming to visit me so I’m sure she will help make the week bearable. After my mid-terms I leave for spring break, so I’ll be sure to update everyone on that when I return.
Ciao for now,
All photography by Emily Houston.