Villefranche-sur-mer, Monaco, Nice and Cannes
As soon as I had a travel document in hand, I firmed up my revised travel plan: I decided to cut short my stay in Europe and return to Hong Kong in the first instance: it’s essential to get a new ID card and HKSAR passpart in time for my next trip to India starting on November 10. I changed my itinerary to depart from Berlin on October 24 to Barcelona on October 3.
As a result, though I missed the trip to Iceland from September 16 to 26, I was able to join my friends for the Monaco Yacht Show (MYS) on September 27 and 28 as planned. In this way, I could also join the post wedding party in Pontevedra before taking an overnight bus to Madrid on September 26. After Monaco, I would go to Nice before leaving for Barcelona on October 2 and for Hong Kong the following day.
September 27Wednesday: Madrid, Spain – Nice , France – Monaco
The overnight bus from Pontevedra to Madrid was spacious with comfortable leather seats. I paid less than €40 with a discount and was able to sleep for a few hours on the bus. I woke up when the bus arrived in Madrid south bus station. I took a metro with one change to the airport. I was charged a surcharge of €3 in addition to the metro ticket fare. Hence it would be cheaper and more convenient to take the train to the airport direct.
The short flight departed around 10:30am and I arrived in Nice before noon. I had a frustrating experience with an irresponsible staff at the tourist information counter who provided me with wrong information. I asked her how to get to my hotel in Villefrance-sur-mer and showed her the address. She told me without thinking to take bus 210 which fare is €22. The taxi would be €80. I was surprised by the expensive bus fare. But Nice being Nice, everything can be expensive.
When I was at the ticket office of the bus station, I asked for a ticket for bus 210. Then I noticed the destination on the ticket was ‘Cannes’. But once the ticket was issued, the staff of the ticket office though sympathetic were unable to help. They told me to take bus 98 to the last stop and then bus 81. The ticket costs €6 and is valid for an hour.
I would stay in Villefranche – sur -mer (Villefranche) with Alice for two nights. I like Villefrance where I stayed two weeks in 1988 when attending a short French course. It’s nice to be back in this pretty town on Cote d’Azure. The bus stopped almost outside Hotel Versailles. Alice whom I first me while working in New York, was already in the room when I arrived at 2pm. We had a lovely late lunch by the pool overlooking the old town and the sea. She is a great travel buddy: we went to Rome when I was working in London.
After lunch, we walked to the lower part of the town which is dominated by an imposing fortress. We followed the coastal path and found the restaurant where we would meet up with Robert, our host, for dinner at 8pm.
Robert is a successful entrepreur who business ranges from IT, real estate to publishing. I was introduced to him by Alice while I was working in London. During that period, his business brought him to London several times a year to the UK. He is a wonderful host and I have met through him many interest people including art dealers, businessmen and professionals. This time is no exception. I am delighted to Johnson and Vivien, Greg and Vanessa, and Tony. Ted, a doctor and publisher of a luxurious magazine in London also flew in for the event. They are all connoisseurs: I had a wonderful seafood dinner with good wine. We were not back in the hotel till 11:30pm. I had a long day and was ready for bed!
September 28 Thursday: Monaco Yacht Show
Today’s highlights included a visit to the MYS in the afternoon and a dinner hosted by Robert at the new Monaco Yacht Club in the evening. Alice and I had a good sleep and did not get up after 9am. After having coffee and croissant in a roadside cafe, we met up with Greg and Vanessa who gave us a lift to Monaco at 11am.
Alice and I spent three hours strolling around the city centre. During this visit, I find Monaco a picturesque, colourful and stylish city of fantasy of pleasure and luxury. One cannot escape the sight of luxurious hotels, brands and shops everywhere one turns his/her head. The streets are lined with the world’s most expensive sports cars. Luckily, the city also exhibits a wide range of architecture especially those of the ‘Belle Epoque’..
Monaco is a tiny independent city-state on France’s Côte d’Azure with an area of 2.02km² and a population of about 40,000. It is the second smallest and most densely populated sovereign state in the world. Known for its upscale casinos, yatch-lined harbour, the MYS and the Monaco Grand Prix, it is a playground for the rich and famous, due to its tax laws. About a third of its population is said to be made up of millionaires, more than in Zurich and Geneva.
I must thank Robert for inviting me to MYS. Otherwise I would never have had a chance to see the world famous yacht show featuring hundreds of super yachts which price tags easily exceed over US$20 million. Robert had kindly arranged a one-day pass for us. We went on board three 50- 70m long yachts. Each boat is purpose-built with a master bedroom and four en-suite guest rooms. I love the sea and enjoy looking at the interior of these luxurious boats which reflect the taste and character of their owners. The boat built by the Dutch Feadship Shipyard is like a floating home. The two yachts by the Italian Ferretti Group though slightly smaller, are sleek and sportive. One of the boats belongs to a member of the Ferreri family. I saw many old photos of the family and stars with their Ferrari cars.
We were back in the hotel after 5pm. After taking a rest, we had a beer in the terrace watching sunset before heading to the Monaco Yacht Club at 7:15pm. Though the traffic was not too bad, we did not arrive at the Yacht Club till 7:45pm. Just in time to join the cocktail party where I met two dozen guests. I sat between Ted and Vanessa and had a relaxing evening with excellent food and wine. By the time we finished the dinner it was after 11:30pm. I must have been over-excited and drunk too much champaigne and wine. Hence, a sleepless night.
September 29 Friday: Villefranche-sur-mer – Nice
All my friends were leaving today. Alice’s flight would be departing for Germany around 3pm. We spent the morning strolling in Villefranche old town and on the beach. I had stunning views of bay, the charming old town, the Villefranche Fortress near the water and another fortress on the ridge.
Alice’s car picked us up at noon. She kindly dropped me off at Hotel St Goddad in Nice. I went next door to have a big bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles which was edible but not delicious for its price (€10). After lunch, I went to the Tourist Office at the railway station to get a map and brought a 2-day French Riviera Pass for €38 giving free entrances to 50 sites, day trips and many other activities in and outside Nice. Great value!
Nice, located on the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea with an area of 72km² and a population of about a million, is the fifth most populous city in France. Around 350 BC, Greeks of Marseille founded a permanent settlement and called it Nikaia after Nike, the goddess of victory. The town has changed hands many times and was part of the dominion of Savoy from 1388 to 1860 before being re-annexed by France.
Given its natural beauty and mild Mediterranean climate, it came to the attention of the English upper class in the second half of the 18th century when the aristocratic families spent their winters here. The city’s main seaside promenade, the ‘Promenade des Anglais’ owes its name to visitors to the resort. The landscape, soft light and clear air have drawn many artists to the area. Today, it receives some 4 million tourists a year.
I spent the afternoon in two museums. The National Museum of Chagall is purpose-built to house the artist’s 17 paintings which make up the Biblical message based on the Old Testament. In addition, there are other paintings, drawings and an outdoor mosaic wall. I like Chagall and his unique style and bold colours. The permanent collection is awesome and most impressive.
The Museum of Matisse is located at the end of the Boulevard de Cimiez is lined with grandiose mansions of the ‘Belle Epoque’. By the time I reached the museum (which is next to the Archaelogy Museum with many exhibits of the Roman time), it was after 5pm. I saw some paintings and sculptures. But they are not as numerous and impressive as I had thought.
I continued my walk to the Monastery of Cimiez and visited the impressive Church of St Francisco. In the cemetery next to church I found the grave of Matisse which is unbelievably simple and bare! I walked all the way back to my hotel and had a take-away of rice noodles for dinner. I never get tired of noodles. I had a good sleep as I was tired.
September 30 Saturday: Cannes & Nice
I got up very early and took a local bus to Cannes. The standard bus fare is €1,50 as compared with €22 for the express bus from the airport to Cannes. From the bus, I watched an amazingly beautiful sunrise: the rising sun was soft bright red against a silky sky and a milky flat sea. For the first time, I can understand why painters for centuries have been mesmerised by the colours of Côte d’Azure.
Cannes is another rich men’s playground famous for its annual film festival. La Croisette is known for its waterfront promenade lined with palm trees, luxury Belle Epoque hotels, beaches, port, resaurants, cafes and boutiques. Le Suquet, the old town is charming with narrow row old staircases, winding alleys and ambience. The Lérins Islands including Ile Sainte Marguerite and Ile Saint-Honorat, offer a relaxing break from the city.
I arrived in Cannes shortly after 9am. A leisure stroll through the city soon took me to the Promenade de. La Croisette where I found a Tourist Office. The Riviera Pass enables holders to take a free ride to the two Lérins Islands, both of which had been inhabited during Roman times. The receptionist told me to ferry to Ile Sainte Marguerite would depart at 10am. I hurried to the Quai St Pierre walking past the port which was filled with sailng boats.
The ferry was full and took 15 minutes to reach Ile Sainte Marguerite, which is 3.2km long and 900m wide with a surface area of 170 hectares. The round the island trails is about 8km long. The major attractions include the Royal Fort with a cell where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask had been held for 11 years, a pong, an expansive forest and numerous caves and beaches. I first walked to the Fort which is now a museum. I gave it a miss and followed the coastal trail to the eastern end of the island. On the way, I saw a cemetery and later a stone structure where canon balls were fired. Then I walked along the path on the southern side of the island all the way to the Forestry House before taking the Eucalptus Street to the pier. I intended to catch the 12:45pm ferry. Otherwise I would have to wait till 2:15pm. By the time I was 400m from the pier, it was already 12:45pm. I knew my chance of catching the ferry would be slim. I am not a person to give up easily. Anyway ferries are often late (unlike Swiss trains!). I was right: passengers were disembarking when I was approaching the pier. Finally I was back in Cannes shortly after 1pm.
I loved to visit Ile Saint-Honorat known for its fortified monastery built between the 11th and 12th centuries. Today, Cistercian monks lives in a monastery built during the 19th century. But the ferry would not leave till 2pm. I therefore moved on and head to Le Suquet which was once a fishing village.
I followed a path to the fortified Tower of Mont Chevalier on the hill top. The tower now houses the Musee de las Castre. I did not go in as I could not use my pass. But I stopped at the picturesque Notre-Dame de l’Espérance built in the 16th century where a wedding was about to take place. The picturesque old town is dotted with beautiful courtyards, balconies with flowers and colourful houses . I was most amused by the narrow frontage of some of the houses which is probably less than 3m.
I had mussels for lunch in a popular local restaurant close to Rue Mey-nadier, a busy pedestrian street renowned for its specialty gourmet boutiques. Marche Forville the local market was already closed when I arrived after 2pm. As I intended to spend more time in Nice with my pass, I took the 2:45pm bus back to Nice.
I was not energetic. A ride on the small tourist train would be perfect. I took the one leaving at 5pm and had a wonderful ride. The train goes through the old town and up the Castle Hill where normal cars are prohibited to enter. From the top of the hill, I had panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and the city. But it was too hazy for a postcard photo.
It was almost 6:30pm when I returned to the Tritons Fountain outside the old town. The lights gradually came on and the city took on a romantic look. I was lured back to the old town, strolled leisurely to soak in the atmosphere. The narrow streets were full of shops, eateries and people. Though I was not hungry, I could not resist the temptation to eat! I had Thai rice noodles and a beer for less than €20.
I passed through an expansive urban park before reaching Place Masséna with eight lit-up figures each sitting on top of a pole. The park with a fountain on the ground was magical: over a hundred water shoots coming up and going down were lit up in red, blue and white. Both locals and visitors stopped to watch and take photos. I had an enjoyable stroll back to my hotel near the railway station. A great day!
October 1 Sunday: Nice
I was in Nice once in 1988. But it’s only during this visit that I discover its charm and beauty as a result of its mixed French and Italian heritage and a Mediterranean touch. Today I visited three museums. First I strolled through the park in order to reach the Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 2010. There was special exhibition on the ‘Nice School’. I discovered Yves Klein whose works I first saw in an exhibition in Argentina earlier this year, was one of the founders of the school. Here I was introduced to some of its leading artists. I am particularly impressed by the unique and delightful works by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002). But what surprised me most was the small but well-designed garden on the roof top. The panoramic views of the city and old town are stunning.
Then I walked to the old town and went to Palais Lascaris a 17th century aristocratic building which is now a museum with a collection of over 500 musical instruments. The historical musical instrument collection, France’s second most important collection, is formed around the bequest of the 19th century collection of Anoine Gautier, a native son of Nice. Though I know nothing about music, I am impressed by the exquisite collection with instruments dating from the 15th century. The collection of harps, violins and clarinets is amazing.
My final stop was the Museum of Photography near the Flower Market. It was interesting to look at some old photos showing Nice and its buildings of different architectural styles. I was hungry but did not want to waste time on eating. I bought a roast chicken for €5 and had a picnic lunch in the ‘Promenade des Anglais’. It was too windy, cloudy and chilly.
There are too many museums in Nice. I decided to use my pass for the last time on the hop-on hop-off bus. The bus set off at 3pm and I thoroughly enjoyed my 2-hour ride which took me to all the places I had been before. Anyway, looking at the port, Villefranche-sur-mer and the city on an open-roof bus with commentary is relaxing and a good way to finish my visit. I got off at the railway station and returned to my hotel for a brief rest.
In the evening, I decided to return to the charming old town for the last time. I found a tiny restaurant and ordered a seafood platter for €18 and a glass of rosé for €3. I could not believe what I got on the plate: four oysters, three cooked prawns and snails, three raw clams and mussels. What a wonderful feast!