Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nice, Monaco, and Cinque Terre - Week 1

Nice, France

One of our favorite things about Europe are the beautiful outdoor markets where vendors under brightly striped awnings sell fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, honey, candy, fish, soaps, baguettes, and much more. We spent a morning wandering through, enjoying the scents, sounds, and sight of so many beautiful things and watching the locals make their purchases alongside tourists buying satchels of lavendar from Provence.

Another of our favorite things in France is the food. Especially the warm fresh breads and the delicious berry tarts.

We also spent a glorious afternoon on the French Riviera enjoying the sun and surf. We were surprised that there was no sand anywhere. The whole area is just covered in small, smooth grey, purple, and green rocks. At first we thought it might be uncomfortable, but it turned out to be bliss to be able to throw out a towel and lay out without getting sand all over everything. And the rocks were so warm and nice to lay on. It also meant that the water was a crystal clear aqua-marine. Oh, and of course since this is the French Riviera, there were topless sunbathers. But not as many as I had anticipated and it was almost exclusively the older women with leathery wrinkled skin who had their tops off. It reminded me of the changing room at the Rec Center I swam at during high school - laughably commonplace and not at all erotic. Within twenty minutes, the site of somebody's saggy boobs didn't phase us a bit. In fact, it became kind of a fun game to walk the beach and see who could spot a "nudy" first. Like "Where's Waldo?" but without clothes. Some of the men in tiny speedos made it a difficult call every now and then though to discern whether we had spotted the real deal or not.


Monaco is only a 25 minute train ride from Nice, and the whole country is very walkable because Monaco is so tiny. But it is all hills, and steep ones at that. Monaco has to be one of the cleanest, brightest places I have seen in Europe. The harbor was filled with million-dollar yachts that literally looked like miniature cruise ships. We trekked up to the Monte Carlo Casino and enjoyed the gardens, art, and exotic cars that were everywhere. I have never seen so many Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins (my personal favorite), and Bentleys in my life. Paul was drooling. It was just like "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous". In fact, you should imagine Robin Leach narrating this entry.

Anyway, we walked the route where the Grand Prix is held in Monaco each year which is easy to identify by the red and white striped lines painted along the route. All throughout Monaco there are signs about Grace Kelly, the American actress who married Prince Ranier of Monaco, and it was fun and interesting to stop and read those. We also hiked up another hill and wandered cobblestone alleys with tiny shops that surround the castle where the royal family lives before hopping the train back to Nice.

And if you remember my blog post about getting trapped at the Chateau d'Nice, here is a photo of the view that we were trying to get that night:

Cinque Terre, Italy

We rode trains between France and Italy that stretched along the coast. So pretty much the entire way we were able to see the blue-blue Mediteranean and all of the people who were swimming in it. If there was any sort of access to the water, there were people swimming. I will forever remember the Mediteranean that way.

Anyway, we spent three days in Cinque Terre which are five little villages built on the sides of cliffs on in tiny natural inlets along the Italian coast. People have lived in these villages for over a thousand years, fishing from the ocean and developing the mountainous slopes into terraced farming of grapes for wine and olives for oil. There is a trail between the villages that we came to hike, that takes you up into the mountains where the farming happens, and down next to the ocean where people swim and fish, and through each of the towns where you can stop to eat a gelato, browse souvenir shops, fill your water bottle from local fountains, or just relax on the steps of an ancient church building. Each village has its own look and personality and we spent some time in all of them.

Monterrosso has the biggest beach, filled with playfully stripped umbrellas that beachgoers will rent. Paul and I spent our last day in Cinque Terra here swimming in the perfect water.

Vernazza is the second town, and the one where we spent all three nights in a quaint affitacamere, or guesthouse. Our little apartment had two bedrooms and a living room with antique furniture and even a piano, and we had to climb steep steps that were actually part of the Cinque Terra trail to reach the front door. This was a killer workout for our quads. Vernazza has a great little marina where we watched a water polo match one night, and went swimming on another day. It is filled with cute rowboats that the Italians take such pride and care in, keeping them painted in vibrant greens, yellows and reds.

Corniglia is the middle town and has the most medieval feel to it. We ate the most amazing bruschetta for lunch on stone steps carved out centuries ago. Seriously, I have never had better bruschetta in my life and likely never will again. It was my favorite lunch of the whole trip.

Manarola has the most dramatic entry because there are no glimpses of it along the trail. Instead, you walk around a blind corner and there it is, majestically perched over a tiny marina. We went back by train one evening to watch the sun go down and take photos of Manarola in the evening light. We also ate at a really good restaurant here that I don't have photos of where I got some delicious ravioli - yum.

The hot afternoon sun made us pretty grody looking:

Riomaggiore is the last or first town, depending on whether you start the trail from the top or the bottom. We also went back here one evening by train to take photos of the boats bobbing in the water in front of the town. There were huge boulders that we clambered out onto which protect the little harbor from harsher winter waves in order to get these shots. It wasn't so bad in the daylight, but getting back over them in the dark was a little trickier, especially since I was wearing one of my skirts that doesn't have as much stride as some of the others.

There is so much more to say about Cinque Terre, but really its the kind of place that begs to be experienced. Hopefully Paul's photos convey at least a little of the flavor of what it was like there, but you also have to add in the sound of an evening ocean, young people laughing and swimming, the tinkling sound of silverware on plates at the restaurants with only six tables, the cold sweet taste of melting gelato, and the feeling of heat releasing from rocks after the sun has set to get a more complete sense of the place. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.


  1. Wow, those are some amazing photographs! Glad you had fun!

  2. Wow! What an experience. The photos are amazing. I especially love the evening photos and the one of Amy eating a baguette. Can't wait for more...

  3. That bruschetta looks fabulous! Great post & great photos. I can't wait to read about the rest of your trip.

  4. Excellent photos, excellent bruschetta, excellent stuff. I noticed one of your market photos under Nice was actually in Italian, the Pretty Woman one. The whole note reads "Pretty Woman; with sexy vanilla and porphyrin, no one will be able to resist you (not even Richard Gere)." My favorite photos were of the Cinque Terre mountains that go straight into the ocean, and the night shot of the harbor. I love Liguria.

  5. Great photos, you really catch the atmosphere. I would like to go there tomorrow

  6. AHHHHH! I want one of those little mixed berry baskets!

    I'll come back and read the whole post tomorrow (have to work now!) but do you speak French? I'm terrified of going someplace where I can't speak the language.

  7. So were the old naked ladies at the Rec Center in NP? Because I totally remember that! Heather, Christian and I would laugh so hard. It was hard to step foot in those showers and keep a straight face!

  8. This trip looks wonderful! I'm doing a similar trip in August and I was wondering if you stopped anywhere interesting on your way to the Cinque Terre from Monaco?

  9. How fun! We're looking at doing a week split between Eze and Cinque Terre, very similar to what you guys did! Looks gorgeous!


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