May 21, 2011

Riviera Fireworks

Paris, May 2010 - We had just spent three days in Paris on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. Our trip to the French Riviera began at the Gare de Lyon, where we boarded the TGV Mediterranee high speed train to Nice. The six-hour journey took us through rolling hills dotted with charming farmhouses and grazing cattle.

The French Countryside

As Contrasts of Europe is primarily a train tour I was glad that I had heeded the advice of previous travellers who recommended packing light, as each traveller is responsible for boarding and stowing their own bags on the train. There is also limited space, and some of our group members had to leave their bags in a car other than where they were seated.

The train was about to make a brief stop in Aix-en-Provence, and our tour director warned us not to get off. But one of our group members took a chance to check on their luggage in the next car. The whistle blew, the train resumed its journey, and he was left behind. (He was later dubbed Mr. "Bond" for his frantic race alongside the vanishing train!) Our tour director very calmly and efficiently made arrangements for Mr. Bond to catch a later train, and he rejoined the group in Nice in time for dinner. And no one got off a train again.

As we approached the French Riviera, the scenery changed to palm trees, terracotta rooftops, sailboats, yachts and swimming pools.

French Riviera

Hotel Massena, Nice

After settling in at the Hotel Massena (which was a last minute change in our accommodations) we had our first included group dinner at Sarao on the Promenade des Anglais. After a tasty meal we departed by bus for the evening excursion to Monte Carlo. We drove high into the hills above Nice, through tunnels and along the winding Middle Corniche which offered spectacular views of ravines, coastline and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

Monte Carlo was preparing for the Grand Prix of Monaco taking place May 13-16, and signs were posted everywhere.

Signs for the Grand Prix of Monaco

Our first view of Place du Casino was enchanting. We arrived at dusk, and looked downhill at the terraced gardens, with palm trees silhouetted against an indigo sky and illuminated fountains sparkling in the darkness.

Fountain in the Monte Carlo Casino Gardens

At the base of the hill was the legendary Monte Carlo Casino.

Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco

Gardens in Place du Casino

Hotel de Paris, Monaco

Suddenly fireworks burst into the night sky, providing a fairytale ending to the day.

Fireworks in Monte Carlo

During the bus ride back to Nice, our tour director passed around a newspaper article from Nice Matin about a freak 10-foot wave that had hit the Promenade des Anglais just days before our arrival, with photos of the destruction.

First we had dodged the Iceland volcano. Now we had just missed a freak wave in Nice.

Next:  Exploring Nice

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