The Royal Paradise

A haven for the rich and famous, a haven for glitter and glamour, a haven for tax evaders set among the picturesque mountains and washed by the blue Mediterranean … This is all about the second-smallest country in the world which nature and men collaboratively made into heaven… We might not be too knowledgeable about its history, but we know this is where wealth and money are blissfully happy to be… A perfect set for a beautiful fairytale in Hollywood style, so much revenue generated and glamour luring in the affluent people in the area tucked away by the nature which seems to bow to the wealth and bring it to its glorious best there…

A place fit for princes and princesses, earthly paradise, was supposed to be our final stop of the French Riviera. Were we going to feel comfortable here, too? Well, the beauty of the scenery left us astounded and overwhelmed. You still have the blue of the Mediterranean, perfectly green trees, a gentle breeze… But it felt as if there was a Chanel #5 drop dispersed in the air or some other very chic and delicate touch that made the Mediterranean look its bluest, the trees their greenest and the breeze the most gentle… Monaco arguably has the highest concentration of beauty in the world and offers a perfect adventure and getaway for those individuals for whom the money isn’t really an issue… Man is really capable of conquering the nature and tailoring the surroundings to feed their ambition and we didn’t have to drive too far away from Nice to realize that…

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The views make your head spin and leave you incredulous especially as you find out that jaw-dropping house overlooking the bay is owned by a popular and ridiculously rich businessman and politician, our fellow Russian… Russian people love to show off their wealth in unthinkably extraordinary ways… We are only allowed a brief stop here to get the best of amazing photo opportunities. That gives us a very captivating, sparkling-blue idea of what money can buy… This is Monaco-Ville, one of the districts of Monaco, perched on the rock where the city originated in the 13th century. It is too beautiful to be a dream but what they have in common is that they didn’t last too long for us…

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It was time to see more of the tiny country. The area gracefully occupied by the royal state seems so compact that I wondered if we were going to cause any disruption to the tranquil serenity of what is hard to believe to be home for about 30 thousands residents. It came across as more like a place you would come to celebrate life and make it a big indulgent party rather than somewhere to live day-to-day lives.

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Usually where there is money, there is a lot of adrenaline, testosterone and speed… So Monaco is also world-wide known as a venue for a major sporting event, Monaco Grand Prix and there are monuments of speedy fancy cars reminding you of that. I’d love to witness the squealing of brakes against a gentle Mediterranean breeze, to me these seem to clash. I guess I need to see the race being televised to get a feel for what it is like. It might send my heart racing. The view alone did anyway…

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We stopped to be dazzled by the Oceanographic Museum perched on top of a beautiful hill. It boasts the largest marine collection in the world and having seen it even just from the outside gives us something to boast about… I wouldn’t believe a view to be so awe-inspiringly beautiful even if I saw it on a movie screen. As they say, it’s just too beautiful to be true… It’s so beautiful it hurts and you think you’d been living your life for this moment to finally arrive…

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Driving down an underground parking area gives us a breather feeling like a moment to refresh and refill ourselves after being on set of a romantic epic, Grace Kelly style. As we go up to explore the paradise on foot, we see pictures of her son Prince Albert II and his wife gracing us with a royal smile. Even a touch of ordinary life had a dazzling royal shine to it.

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A huge wow-moment for me was the view of our next set, the Fontvieille harbor with pristine white yachts and splendid modern architecture. It had to be seen to be believed! This is so much more than just a postcard view. This is where the sea gave way to the human-made beauty. There is simply not enough space to accommodate all the wealth, therefore the area was reclaimed from the sea to display a tiny bit of it. It is hard to believe those glamorous vessels are ever used because they seem to be so perfectly lined-up to be a landscape to never forget. Can they take you anywhere more beautiful than Monaco..?

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After getting some souvenirs, none of which can really do justice to what you see here and will be revering and dreaming of back home, we witness the Change of Guards at the royal palace. It looks surprisingly less opulent than what you would expect it to be. The Grimaldi family ruled the country for 700 years and here is a statue of François Grimaldi to commemorate his capture of the fortress. The place feels super safe and occasional groups of tourists all seem to be out of place because it doesn’t look like your average tourist destination. It’s royal on the royal scale!

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What do you do when you can afford to spend money like water? You go where the water is the bluest blue and gamble like hell in this paradise. Some people in our group were entertaining hopes of winning some. “Good luck!”, thought we as we ditched them to go to a different paradise that would keep us boasting probably for the rest of our lives! As if the royal paradise wasn’t enough, we headed to the best place to be, the Monte Carlo beach! We were doing it the royal style! En route to the beach, we found The Champions Promenade paying tribute to the greatest footballers and it made us proud to see some Russian names and footprints. Don’t get me started on how bad the current Russian national team is… That was a walk with a view for a champion! I felt like singing “We are the champions, my friend!” Actually, there was another Titanic moment I wished to relive and that was spreading my arms into the air and screaming “I’m a king of the world!” Royal delusions in a royal country…

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That was a beach experience to remember, whatever beaches I will hopefully embark on in my life! Enjoying it all for free was an amazing bonus. Splashing in the bluest sea, having fun with the flirty waves with beautiful high-rises surrounded by a mountain landscape would be worth giving up a glorious Hollywood career to move here if I were Grace Kelly… Enjoying the leftover of Nice peaches was the cherry on the Mediterranean cake. At one point, I just laid back and put on a song called “Paradise” on my player to suit the moment… I knew I would be playing it during my trip and that was the time! Will my idea of paradise ever change from that? I’ve got my whole life to find out…

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Feeling like royally sophisticated sunbathers, we were leaving surprised to be back to “normal” life when I saw a bus stop and leisurely sitting here taking in what was a world away from what my routine bus experience is like… I was wondering how ordinary locals felt about living alongside the rich and famous…

It was time to leave and our fellow travelers weren’t lucky to win that day but they looked quite happy about the whole experience. Travelling to the French Riviera made us more relaxed and laid-back and what did we have to lose compared to big gamblers? I’m not sure anyone got a serious ambition of making it big and getting a property here in the region that was designed to enjoy life, sea and sun, but I guess we all had a common ambition, that was to come here again! Before we did, all we could do was to reminisce and splash in the sea of memories… Mediterranean, I can’t wait to feel you on my skin again… Au revoir, Monaco! Au revoir, Côte d’Azur… Je t’aime, ‘Méditerranée’!

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Nice – NICE or not NICE?

Before we set out for our overnight stay in Nice, we had a quick stop at Grasse to visit Parfumerie Fragonard. This might get a lot of ladies jealous, I know! How beautiful and peaceful this part of the world seemed and even if I didn’t deserve to be in paradise, I felt like I belonged there! The factory was set in an intimate location and didn’t look like a factory at all. We were given a short tour and introduced to some basic techniques. Perfume-making is a very elaborate process. Honestly, I’m not a fan of perfume because I haven’t found my signature scent yet that would somehow bring out my personality. I though buying a perfume here would be a good idea. We were given a few scents to choose from and that was very confusing to figure out which one appealed to me and I went for a fragrance which seemed to smell fine (still not 100% perfect!). A lot of ladies shopping at the same time is too much for me so we didn’t take too long to choose. I wasn’t meant to find my perfect fragrance here in the deep blue of the Mediterranean but maybe I will somewhere else, miles and miles away from here… The ladies from our group all seemed to be happy with their purchases and the whole coach was filled with a variety of scents. I was starting embracing a different notion of France because scents and fragrances were always part of it but their combination with the sun and sea of the French Riviera added a new flavor to it, just like the one I was smelling on the coach… Both fragrances I got were a bit disappointing though because they didn’t last throughout the day but it was a good memory to get them there. There are so many fragrances in the world and I still might find the one when I least expect to…

A sunny and picturesque road was taking us to Nice and that was so NICE! When you’re here, you get this feeling everyone is busy taking a rest from everything and the rest of the world doesn’t seem to matter any longer. A long stretch of the deepest blue and here we were in the second most visited city in France… I didn’t get the city’s energy at once but it seemed different to that of Cannes. There seemed to be a more ordinary, day-to-day life going on here, I thought…

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VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

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We checked in our hotel, it was near the train station. It was NICE to find out our room was overlooking a lovely pool outside. I caught up with some things online because an Internet access can be an issue in France. I couldn’t wait to hit the beach and take advantage of having the rest of the afternoon to ourselves! Our hotel was said to be within an easy walking distance from the beach but we’d been struggling for a bit to find our way. The city wasn’t making much of an impression on me because I seemed to have a different idea of what a seaside city (probably like the one I wish I had been born in) was like and what I saw somehow didn’t live up to it. I just knew something wasn’t right…

We did some shopping at Monoprix (France’s major retail chain) and got some things for our little picnic at the seaside! Yes!!! Wine was on our shopping list of course because we didn’t drink much of it and we’d been in France for three days! I mentioned that wine can be very cheap here and comes in all kinds of varieties. Remembering our quest to open our wine bottle back in Paris, we were looking for small bottles that could be easy to open. That was a bit difficult but we did find them in the end! What for me was an absolute must to get for our picnic was… cheese! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love cheese!!! That was one of a major draw in France for me apart from all the romance… I was really spoilt for choice, I’d never seen so much cheese in the same space!!! I had no idea which one to get and I ended up getting a set of five different cheeses. It was heaven! I was going to have my cheese fix!

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We dropped into some more shops and they were pretty much like those you can find anywhere. As we were leaving one, the theft alarm mistakenly went off and we had to go back in again to prove we hadn’t stolen anything… Shoplifting is never part of the plan for us really! It wasn’t too NICE! It was getting very hot as we heard a tram approaching. The sound it made was very terrifying! It was like a warning siren or something and this sound has haunted me up to this day! As we continued our walk, I looked to the right and saw a smaller copy of… the Notre Dame! That is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice. It lent our afternoon a Paris feel… Without it, it would have been hard to believe we were actually still in France!

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We found ourselves in the main city square, Place Massena and it was just NICE and quiet with the statue of Apollo at the centre. There are also statues of seated men that I originally didn’t pay attention to. We bought some lavender bags which smelled really soothing and Mediterranean and a couple more souvenirs to take back home. Tranquility was in the air and even though Nice seemed like a busier place than Cannes, no one looked busy or preoccupied and it felt like every single person on the street was out having a lazy time… As I was walking Place Massena, I was wondering what that was that kept lots of artistic talents coming here in search of inspiration… I still couldn’t get it… I wasn’t able to see through all these buildings…

And here it was, second time that day! The Mediterranean! Bonjour!!!! I was ready to take another dip, a longer one this time! But those pebbles on the beach… No! I wasn’t definitely enjoying the beach there as much as I did on the Isla Santa Margarita. Going for a swim was a bit painful. Waves there were just so strong that it felt like they could have washed me away! But we were having fun and forgot about the beach not being too comfortable and who were we to judge anyway? We were in the Mediterranean!!! We decided to seize the day and stop grumbling! Wine, cheese and sea… That was a beautiful evening we spent surrounded by sunbathers from all over the world and I loved how people there wouldn’t give you weird looks or anything, everyone seems to be busy basking in the sun and minding their own business! The combination of the breathtaking scenery, hot sun, NICE wine and delicious cheese I was lucky to have all to myself made me feel like one happy person…

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Pebbles and waves were now part of the fun! As the late evening started settling in over the Mediterranean and people started leaving the beach, we took a walk along the famous Promenade des Anglais. Wealthy Englishmen chose Nice as their winter holiday destination in the late 18th century and this is when “The English Way” was built. It was a really brilliant idea and it felt so romantic for me, a teacher of English, to be walking along that Promenade admiring the Mediterranean stretching miles and miles and breathing the air of relaxed joy. In the evening the whole seaside scene seems to be changing… The famous Hotel Negresco, which dominates lots of pictures of Nice, was seen at a distance. It was time to head back to our hotel which might be tricky to find. We asked some ladies for directions but their English was below average and they weren’t any good. We were walking past lots of intimate cafes, small shops and Nice didn’t feel like a seaside city as we were moving away from the Promenade des Anglais. I still was struggling to get its atmosphere… Was that appeal lost forever now or was it lost upon me? Anyway, we safely made it to our hotel. The streets didn’t feel too safe and inviting as if there was some dust in the air that clouded its beauty and affected my judgment of the city. I got ready to go to bed after watching BBC World News for a bit. That had been a magnificent day full of sunshine and the blue Mediterranean, I would never forget it! Bonne nuit, Nice!!!

We woke up early for our brief tour of Nice. It was our final day in France and we loved some croissants and coffee for breakfast. It turned out, some people from the group were so tired the day before that they didn’t even get to go to the beach, bless them. That was a beautiful Provence morning and I was wondering what had been happening on these streets while we were asleep… There were virtually no people and the Mediterranean charm seemed to be opening up.

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Beautiful markets with lots of Provence specialties looked very inviting and charming. We got some peaches and they were perfect and smelled of summer and good times…

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We were shown some administrative buildings as well. The gem of this tour was a climb onto Chateau Hill. It was quite a long way up and a nice workout. We were only given 15 minutes to explore it and it was well worth the effort because the view from up there was breathtaking! Man and nature, all united… That was a view everyone needs to experience at least once in a lifetime and I feel blessed I have had that beautiful moment that felt like a dream I didn’t wish to wake up from… We even left behind a small engraving marking our climb up here on the railing… It’s wonderful thinking about our names being written somewhere above the Mediterranean…

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We had another quick walk along the Promenade to enjoy the palm trees, sun-tanned people and the Mediterranean of course… Nice turned out to be something different from I thought it was.

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As we were leaving, we saw a busier, industrial part of the city and that was when I realized, it wasn’t just about the Mediterranean, it was also about over 300 thousand people living in this seaside city. Is Nice overrated? I guess it might be and I know something was missing for me there… A seaside city is not just the sea and beach facilities, it’s the atmosphere. To sum up, the city is NICE but not perfect… Au revoir, Nice!
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